Connect with us


The tragedy of 1971 and the farce of 2021



by Rajan Philips

There is no political straight line from the 1971 JVP insurrection to the ongoing Rajapaksa presidency. But the sociopolitical compulsions that gave rise to it and the brutal manner of its suppression left a long shadow over everything that came after. Fifty years on, the shadow still looms and spans the remembered tragedy of 1971 and the real time farce of presidential politics in 2021. The farcical status of the presidential system came into full view last week, with the idiotic utterance of a State Minister that 6.9 million Sri Lankans directly elected “a Hitler” in 2019. And the German Ambassador had to remind Sri Lankans by tweet that Hitler should be “no role model for any politician.”

The 1971 insurrection was launched against the United Front government of the SLFP, the LSSP and the CP, elected barely an year earlier, in May 1970, on the Front’s socialist Common Program and with a landslide victory. The leaders of the LSSP and the CP soaked their pens and voices in gall in denouncing the JVP leadership for the uprising, while sympathizing with the followers who perished as cannon fodder in the misadventure.

“An infantile form of negative nihilism,” perorated Pieter Keuneman over Radio Ceylon two days after the insurrection started. Colvin R de Silva esoterically invoked Lenin, dissected Rohana Wijeweera’s own words, and condemned the insurrection as a “foredoomed Ultra-leftist adventure.” Ten years after the 1971 uprising, Hector Abhayavardhana delivered the ultimate verdict of contempt, calling it the work of “a private army (of Rohana Wijeweera) based on the marginalized” rural populations.

But for all their denunciations, the two Left Parties could not prevent the havoc the insurrection would ultimately wreak on their once powerful organizations and the formidable presence they brought to bear in national politics in spite of their electoral frustrations. Every political party in Sri Lanka was shaken by the insurrection. But the Left Parties paid the heaviest price and suffered electoral slaughter six years later, in the 1977 elections.


Insurrection as backdrop

The insurrection started even as the United Front government was preparing a new constitution to sever the island’s last ties to the British Crown and usher in a new Republic based on popular sovereignty. But because of the insurrection, the country became a Republic in 1972, while under Emergency Rule. The LSSP had invested heavily in the project of the new constitution, with Dr. Colvin R de Silva as the obvious Minister in charge. His imposing legal position was that the Ceylonese parliament did not have the power to amend or remove the “unalterable and entrenched clauses” in the Soulbury Constitution. Hence the recourse to having elected MPs constitute themselves into a constituent assembly, separate from Her Majesty’s parliament, and create a new constitution outside the fetters of the old. To create, indeed, as Dr. Colvin would colourfully describe it, “not merely despite the Queen, but in defiance of the Queen!”

The JVP insurrection both disrupted and rushed the process of constitution making. The insurrection weakened the Left and strengthened the Right in the government and in parliament. The new constitution reflected the dominance of the Right and reeked of ethno-majoritarian supremacy. It was also the constitution of the government without the broad consensus in parliament involving the opposition. Absent that broad consensus in its adoption, what was obviously the biggest democratic virtue of Colvin’s Constitution, namely its utmost flexibility including total replaceability, became its fatal weakness.

Another fatal flaw, it is fair to say with the hindsight of 50 years, was the constitutional status of the Head of State. The Head of State in the First Republic was a mere appointee of the Head of Government. Dr. Colvin R de Silva was logically and practically correct, in rejecting JR Jayewardene’s idiosyncratic advocacy for an elected president in addition to the elected parliament – because of the inherent absurdity of counterposing two elected institutions at the summit of the state.

But he (Colvin) left the door open by failing to provide in the constitution an appropriately substantial mechanism for instituting the Head of State. Both flaws played straight into the waiting hands of JR, Colvin’s good friend and old classmate. Even though it was a quirk of history and not any mass movement that had brought JR Jayewardene to that point in his long political life when he was suddenly able to do whatever he wanted to do.

The 1972 Constitution could have provided for much more than feudal appointment of the Head of State by the Prime Minister, and a lot less than the redundancy of direct election by the people that invariably came later with the Second Republic. Insofar as Parliament (the National State Assembly) was the “supreme instrument of state power” in the First Republic, an appropriate provision could have been for parliament to elect the Head of State by a plural majority from among candidates from outside parliament and satisfying whatever criteria that could have been stipulated in the constitution.

Why have one? – scoffed JR Jayewardene, if the Head of State is to be simply appointed by the Prime Minister. So, six years into the First Republic, Sri Lanka went through a second constitutional overhaul – from a parliamentary system that the JVP had ridiculed and revolted against, to a presidential system that the JVP or anyone else knew nothing about. Regardless, the JVP leaders became the early beneficiaries of the new presidency because Prime Minister-turned-President JR Jayewardene chose to pardon them and free them from jail. In President Jayewardene’s calculations, by letting the JVP out of jail and leaving them at large in the country he would be able to divide and weaken the left and opposition forces. JRJ managed to do that right through his two terms as the first Executive President.

Although the 1971 insurrection was exclusively limited to the Sinhala youth in its mobilization and operations, the insurrection had a demonstration effect among the Tamil youth. Slighted and alienated by the 1972 Constitution, and discriminated by media-wise standardization in admissions to university science programs, the Tamil youth were beginning to foray directly into politics and to them the 1971 insurrection was a demonstration that political violence in Sri Lanka was a feasible political avenue.

In a wholly different set of circumstances, both internal and external, Tamil political violence proved itself to be far more durable than that of the JVP, and took on the proportions of a civil war that dragged on for decades. It took a lot longer and more than one government, even more than one country, to finally isolate, defeat and eliminate the LTTE, the principal force of Tamil political violence. In the end, the LTTE too was militarily decimated just as the JVP had been earlier crushed by the Sri Lankan government. It is twelve years since the LTTE’s defeat, but the shadow of that defeat and the manner of its execution also looms over Sri Lanka and its politics.


International Situation

With the still looming twin shadows of the JVP insurrection and the LTTE war, it is appropriate to ask the counterfactual question as to what other path, or different paths, would the course of Sri Lankan history and politics over the last 50 years have taken if the JVP leadership had not launched the insurrection in 1971. Answers to this question can be explored in two domains – the domestic and the global. The changes in the global domain over the last 50 years have been many and they are also highly significant. Sri Lanka could not have remained insular to the outside changes, and it has not.

In his address to the Criminal Justice Commission that was set up to try the accused JVP leaders, Rohana Wijeweera offered a staggering disclaimer. He both disowned responsibility for the insurrection and blamed others for precipitating it in his absence at the decision making meeting. Writing on the 50th anniversary of the insurrection, Lionel Bopage, another key JVP leader at that time, uses the insurrection as leitmotif to provide an expansive and inclusive background to the 1971 insurrection and to attach a brief peek into Sri Lanka’s descent to corrupt authoritarianism over the last four decades under the executive presidential system.

The inclusive aspect of Dr. Bopage’s recollection is in recounting the acts of discrimination by the state of Sri Lanka against the Tamil minorities in the fields of citizenship and language rights. Such a recounting was not part of the JVP’s five-lecture syllabus that preceded the April (1971) experiment in violence. To their credit, Bopage and a significant number of his former front-line comrades have taken a positive and progressive position on Sri Lanka’s national question, initially involving mostly the Tamils and now increasingly extending to the Muslims. The official JVP, on the other hand, has blown hot and cold on the national question, and the post-Wijeweera JVP even underwent a significant split in 2008 over this very question. Be that as it may.

Bopage in his anniversary article contends that the JVP’s disenchantment with the first budget of the UF government, whose campaign the JVP had supported in the 1970 parliamentary election, and the desire “to bring about the social change” the JVP was looking for, that “escalated into the April 1971 uprising.” While acknowledging, “shortcomings and mistakes were made,” Bopage argues that “the struggle was fundamentally driven by the international situation and the nature of the repression at that time.” He accounts that “under the international and national circumstances … in the 1960s, 51 countries in Africa, North, Central and South America, Asia and Europe had pro-US dictatorships established. The genocidal nature of such intervention was clearly evident in Indonesia.” And the world situation was such that “all the alternative left groups at the time heavily believed on the path of armed struggle.” How did any or all of this apply to the JVP and to Sri Lanka in 1971?

The late 1960s, the formative years of the JVP, were indeed years of youth protests in many countries world-wide. Often, these protests targeted military and bureaucratic establishments, or they were protests against wars, such as in Vietnam, or against apartheid in South Africa. But unlike in Pakistan, closer home, where students led the revolt that finally brought down Ayub Khan after more than a decade in power, there was no political cause celebre in Sri Lanka that warranted an armed uprising. There was no dictatorship in Sri Lanka in 1971. The only time Sri Lanka ever came close to a military putsch was in 1962, and that too was aborted without a shot being fired, due in no small measure to the social and kinship sinews that crisscross institutional boundaries within the state structure.

One unnecessary outcome of the 1962 coup was the ‘religious and ethnic cleansing’ within the armed forces, that would create its own problems later when Tamil militants took to arms. Otherwise, given Sri Lanka’s size and limited social stratifications, the familial and kinship ties provide a powerful social bulwark against the armed forces encroaching on the political terrain. On the other hand, it was the JVP’s insurrections and the LTTE’s war that pulled the army out of the barracks to the streets and jungles almost as a permanent fact of life.

That all of this had to begin and solidify under a government that included the LSSP and the CP was the worst unintended travesty of the 1971 uprising. Both parties had been persistent opponents of the use of Emergency Rule and the deployment of armed forces against the people. In 1956, the LSSP even called for the disbanding of the army because there were no external enemies. Prime Minister Bandaranaike jokingly responded that he was not going to give the LSSP its revolution on a platter. More to the point, the government that the JVP revolted against in 1971 was a democratically elected government with wide popularity. It was not planning any auto-dictatorship. Its only representational deficit was on account of the minorities. It was a significant deficit but that was not one of JVP’s priorities at that time.

The LSSP as was its wont, saw the emergence of the JVP as “one of the more important by products of the breakdown of Stalinism on the international scale.” If the Lumumba university background of Rohana Wijeweera lent credence to this assessment, the assessment made sense insofar as international socialism was still a viable project. It was so at that time and for more than a decade later. That was the external premise to the JVP’s internal adventure in 1971. But the global situation began to change fundamentally by the time the JVP leaders were freed from jail after 1977. Its biggest local manifestation was the incorporation of Sri Lanka into the global open economy. Politics would not be the same, either nationally or internationally.


(To be continued in three more parts: JVP’s Second Coming and India’s Peace Keeping by Force; JVP partaking in governments; Executive Power and Political Emptiness).



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


How energy sector shut its doors to the public



by Moshahida Sultana Ritu

Earlier this month, the five percent electricity price hike and 78.2 percent gas price hike by the Energy and Mineral Resource Division raised concerns about the accountability of the government, and consumer rights. The December 2022 amendment of the Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (Berc) Act 2003 empowered the government to set power and energy tariffs on its own under “special circumstances,” without a public hearing by the Berc. Before the amendment, any price hike proposals used to be considered by the Berc after a public hearing, during which residential consumers, businesspeople, bureaucrats, civil society members and rights-based organisations could express their opinions. Hence, there was at least a mechanism to invite public opinion. Now, the door has been closed to any discussion.

The amendment Bill was placed in Parliament on January 22 to be vetted, and will be passed in the next few days. The government is justifying the amendment by citing the present situation as an emergency period or special circumstance.

I would call this a textbook example of “regulatory capture.” George Stigler first introduced this term in the 1970s. Stigler argued that governments do not create a monopoly in industries unintentionally. Rather, they deliberately protect the interests of producers who capture the regulatory agency, and use regulations to inhibit competition. The result of such monopolies – in the name of liberalisation and competition – is often a transfer of public resources to private producers through price hikes, and at the expense of exorbitantly high social costs.

When electricity liberalisation began in the 1990s, electricity regulatory bodies were created in many countries to protect public interest. Regulatory bodies were seen as safeguards against uncontrolled market price hikes as private electricity producers intended to maximise profit. Following the global neoliberal trend, Bangladesh also established the Berc in 2003.

In the past, Berc, bestowed with the regulatory power to act in the public’s interest, set the tariff in ways that may have benefitted private power producers in different ways. But there was at least a mechanism of accountability, no matter how ineffective the role it played in protecting public interest. The recent decision of taking the power away from Berc and empowering the Energy and Mineral Resource Division to set prices reveals that the government does not feel the need to hear the public’s voice anymore. Even if they claim they care about public opinion, this is a sham statement.

Before the gas price hike in the industrial and commercial sectors, the media was flooded with the information that businesspeople were ready for a price hike because of the desperate need for gas to continue production. It may seem that the government has actually heard their voices and decided to increase gas prices so that LNG can be imported with the additional revenue. In reality, we are still in limbo about understanding how the government will pay the dollar amounts for imported LNG. Dwindling forex reserves have already brought up so many examples of our inability to pay for imported energy that it is difficult to understand how it will be used to meet essential import demands.

Because of dwindling forex reserves, not only has the import of LNG become uncertain, but so has the import of coal for Rampal and Matarbari power plants. Unless potential avenues are opened up to ensure an inflow of foreign currency, how will the government pay? The absence of new dollar-earning sources worries us. If there had been a public hearing regarding the recent gas and electricity price hikes, this question could have been discussed in public. Concerned citizens could have asked about the government’s plans.

The fact that the price of gas did not increase for residential users this time around gave off a false impression that the price hike would only affect businesses, and not residential users. The whole focus was put on the demands of industrialists, who have been endlessly suffering from a gas crisis. There is no doubt that their concerns need to be addressed. But how can we ignore the potential effects of the gas price hike on the power sector, which will ultimately impact the whole population?

Gas price hikes in the power sector will eventually put further upward pressure on electricity prices. Sooner or later, residential users will be affected. Besides, existing inflation will soar as a result of increased costs of production in industries. Eventually, all will be affected. But where and to whom do we pose this question?

Berc is no longer functional, although its functionality in the past was already questionable. Despite having the capacity, why was Bapex not given the responsibility to drill wells, and why was the Russian company Gazprom appointed to construct wells instead, at a cost three times higher than what Bapex had offered? Why were “gas funds” – created with revenue generated from previous price hikes and intended to be used for the development of local gas – loaned out to import LNG? Why did the government not utilise the gas funds to extract onshore and offshore gas?

For these answers, we used to wait for public hearings where activists, politicians, experts, and the Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB) could question the concerned authorities.

Now, with the excuse of a crisis, the government has decided to take decisions that are more non-transparent, more controversial, and less justifiable than ever before. Slamming the door on our queries is what the government has decided to do instead, with its December 2022 amendment to the Berc Act.

It is definitely telling that the phenomenon of “regulatory capture” has existed in the past in different forms when the process of power liberalisation started in Bangladesh in the 1990s. The independent power producers (IPPs) started to produce electricity at high costs, compared to publicly owned plants. Using the power crisis as its excuse, the government facilitated IPPs.

In the last three years, IPPs were paid nearly 60 percent of the capacity charges from the revenue earned from selling electricity. Similarly, when the Quick Enhancement of Electricity and Energy Supply (Special Provisions) Act 2010 (QEEES) was enacted, rental and quick rental power plants started operating by bypassing competitive bidding and selling electricity at exorbitantly high rates. Over the last 10 years, the capacity charges for private power plants has become so high that it exemplifies how private producers misused the QEEES Act to transfer public money in favour of private gains for rentals and quick rentals.

There is a sharp difference between past examples of regulatory capture (through the QEEES Act 2010 and Berc Act 2003) and the new form of regulatory capture (the December 2022 Berc Act 2003 amendment).

In previous instances of regulatory capture, preventing competition used to be justified with the excuse of crises and for “protecting the interest of the public”. The present “special circumstance” rationale does not recognise the social costs of price adjustment at all. The new form of regulatory capture only ensures producers’ interests by preventing public hearings.

How can the government ensure that a handful of people will take right decisions on behalf of thousands of inflation-affected people? How will we know what is happening behind closed doors?

The Daily Star/ANN

(Moshahida Sultana is associate professor at the Department of Accounting and Information Systems at Dhaka University.)


Continue Reading


S L – a cauldron of casualties and trouble



Cassandra has stopped watching news at night for the sake of her wellbeing and peace of mind. Watching English news at 9.00 p m on a local channel caused her to toss and turn or wake up at the ungodly hour of 2.00 am to again toss and turn, but this time mentally with suppressed anger, frustration, and fear for the future surfacing and consequently inundating the mind with unease. Why all this? Because Sri Lankan news is always of protests, ministerial pontificating with next to nothing done to lift the country from rock bottom it has been thrust to; and violence, murders and drug hauls. All worrying issues. The present worry is spending 200 m on a celebration that most Ordinaries, the public Cass means, DO NOT Want.

What are the issues of the week just past? Hamlet’s disturbed and disturbing ‘To be or not to be’ twisted to ‘Will happen or will not.’ That specifically relates to the LG elections scheduled for March 9. The government has tried every trick of delay just because they face sure defeat – the combined Elephant and Bud that rules us as of now. Everyone else shouts for elections and follows up with the threat to come out on the streets. That seems to be Sri Lankans most resorted to pastime. And we dread the melees; the water cannon, police brutality and the disgrace of saffron robed, bearded and hair grown men in the vanguard of slogan lofting shouters. All a useless and worthless expense of energy achieving nothing but tear gas and water shooting, and remand jail for some. Some of these protests call for the release of one such IUSF protester deemed to be a terrorist by a draconian law and confined in solitary imprisonment for far too long.

A shot or more of arrack or kasippu was resorted to by men and excused by other men as necessary mental trouble relievers. A woman would imbibe a bit of brandy if not a sleeping pill to ease her troubled mind and thus queasy gut. Not any longer if one takes advice that comes pouring in via social media.

Canada’s new move on Alcohol Guidance

As questioned by Holly Honderich in Washington BBC January 18: “What’s behind Canada’s drastic new Alcohol Guidance?” She says a report funded by Health Canada warns that “any amount of alcohol is not good for your health and if you drink, less is better.” This is contained in a 90 page report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction. Health issues result from the intake of more than standard drinks and these include breast and colon cancer. Honderich says it may be a rude awakening for the roughly 80% of Canadian adults who drink. The ratio is higher, Cass presumes, in this resplendent isle with its arrack, illicit brews and toddy both kitul and palmyrah. So the comforting statement that was earlier in vogue, that a daily tot of alcoholic drink is good for health, is sent overboard by the Canadian advice. Of course now with money so short except in the hands of the corrupt, the latter advice will have to be taken, voluntarily or otherwise, by most Lankans.

Prez Gotabaya and his advisors’ ruling

We have all seen at least on TV, farmers mourning their yellowing crops of paddy and heard their heart-rending cries of hopelessness at the loss of a third harvest due to the utter crime of overnight stoppage of chemical fertilisers and pest control. Cass wonders how the ex-Prez who decreed this and his advisors sleep at night having blighted long term the entire agriculture of this predominantly agricultural country. Farmers cry out they are in debt, have no money to feed nor school their children; added to which hospitals are bare of medicines.

A highly-educated and experienced agriculturist sent Cass an email the gist of which is that rice farmers all over the island report a ‘yellowing’ of paddy, stunted growth and dead plants in patches. They had all used ‘compost’ issued by the govt. There is a hint this could be due to a nematode infestation. If correct, this has grave implications. It has occurred in tea with no easy cure. Only costly fumigation was effective, eventually. Once rice paddies are infected it would be very difficult to control – almost impossible; already impoverished farmers can bear no further expense.

A three wheeler driver told Cass that river bed soil had been mixed with thrown away household garbage (both obtained free, obviously) and sold as organic fertiliser. I hasten to add this is hearsay, but the obvious truth staring all Sri Lankans in the face and sending shivers of apprehension down all spines is that this Maha season crop is kaput; gone down the drain with farmers cheated and someone or some persons having made money from the deal.

Pointless it is to curse those who were in the racket; useless to commiserate farmers and their families; impossible to compensate them. Will those responsible for giving out dangerous fertiliser for distribution be traced and brought to justice? Never! However, that word ‘never’ is now pronounced with a mite of doubt after M Sirisena and others were dealt justly by judges of the Supreme Court. There are glimmers of hope that wrong doers, actually criminals who bankrupted the country and damaged its agriculture, will be dealt with suitably.

There will be no Aluth Avuruddha for the backbone of the country in April since celebrations centre around a good harvest and R&R after a Maha season of toil and filling bins and storehouses with bountiful paddy. This was pre-Gota days. Now it is all round misery since urban dwellers sorrow, and also suffer, with the farmers who supplied them with food.

Clear stats given to prove inefficiency of the state sector

A video clip came to Cassandra with Advocata CEO Dananath Fernando speaking on the inefficiency of the public service due to being too many in number. Dananath is much admired and spoke clearly and convincingly. He said more conversing with Faraz Shauketaly on Newsline presented by TVI channel on Tuesday 24 January at 8.30 p m.

Dananath said our bureaucracy is inefficient and ineffectual. Main reason being there are too many to do the work. His fact check went like this. In India for every 177 members of the general public there is one (01) government officer or as named earlier ‘government servant’. In Pakistan the figures are 117 to one. Bangladesh is almost the same. In Sri Lanka (hold your breath!) to every sixteen (16) citizens there sits one government officer, mainly twiddling his/her thumbs. It would be interesting to know the ratios in developed countries. But the very relevant to us countries have been named by the Advocata finding. Cass does not need to spell what the result is; she has already indicated it with the image of the thumb twiddler.

We knew the bureaucracy was over staffed, bloated and bulging big like the leaders we have: 225 in parliament, then local councils and pradeshiya sabhas. And in each of them, law makers, decision takers and those who carry them out are far too excessive in number and cost the government excessively in salaries, infrastructure, travel modes; etc. etc. So Advocata asks how development, or even mere running of the country can be achieved efficiently and effectively. A further shock, at least to Cass, was dealt by Dananath in proving the point by revealing statistics for the police service. 50% of the entire police force is deployed on security duty to 225 MPs, Ministers and state VIPs while the balance half is expected to provide safety and security to 22 million people! Lop sided and thus the country slants to sink or disintegrate. It has already slanted to bankruptcy and begging as never before and selling the meager money making ventures we possess.

How did the public service get so bloated? Again the guilty are, or were, those in power. They kept sending persons with chits and they had to be employed. Reason? Sympathy for the jobless? Not at all. Pure unadulterated self-interest so votes are assured them.

Rise up and show thy face, thou olde pensioner

That’s a government order to be observed by the old; most finding walking difficult and many finding the necessity to gather some money for three wheeler hire denting their January budget. But present yourself to the Grama Sevaka of your area is a must if you want to continue receiving your pension, now totally inadequate; but still very grateful for. Hence the procession of the old and weak leaning on walking sticks, even crutches or on willing supporting arms offered them.

Some years ago, questioned by Cassandra, an obliging woman Grama Sevaka said that those unable to present themselves are visited in their homes by officers. We do hope this is done since there must be plenty thumb twiddlers in this government department too.

Bravo Hirunika!

Cass most definitely is an admirer of beautiful Hirunika. She’s garnered another kudos by her latest action, OK, gimmick if you like that word to express the way she has shown displeasure, censure, disagreement of the general public on holding an elaborate National Day event to celebrate 75 years of’ democratic self-rule’ at the exorbitant cost of Rs 200m.. That expression itself calls for comment. Termed National Day it is far from being thus with so many protesting various issues. Celebration is a blatant falsehood. Feb 4 should really be a day of mourning, since the Nation is in the dregs of corruption, misrule and bankruptcy. Self-rule here equates to selfish rule by the leaders for themselves and misrule for us the public. Democracy is dead, actually it was totally dead during previous regimes but has revived somewhat lately,

And how did Hirunika express censure? By having black bows knotted on the posts erected to prop covered spaces for the march past, etc. Black connotes death, mourning, displeasure, bad times. Of course at expense, the bows will be removed before the posse of horses and motor riders and security cars conducts the Prez to the s venue. Cass entertains a jaundiced wish that the entire DPL Corps will, non-diplomatically, ignore invitation and not be present at the celebratory event. Rows and rows of empty chairs might convey the message of non grata, rather disdain for the powers that be. Ranil may be respected still, but those backing him and even guiding his hands are NOT.

Cheers till we meet next Friday!

Continue Reading


Gandhian Ethics




The word ethics is derived from the Greek word ‘ethos’, which means ‘way of living’. The judgement of right and wrong, what to do and what not to do, and how one ought to act, form ethics. It is a branch of philosophy that involves systematising, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviour.

Morality is the body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion, or culture. It can also derive from a standard that a person believes in. The word morals is derived from the Latin word ‘mos’, which means custom.

Many people use the words Ethics and Morality interchangeably. However, there is a difference between Ethics and Morals. To put it in simple terms, Ethics = Moral + reasoning.For example, one might feel that it is morally wrong to steal, but if he/ she has an ethical viewpoint on it, it should be based on some sets of arguments and analysis about why it would be wrong to steal. Mahatma Gandhi is considered as one of the greatest moral philosophers of India. The highest form of morality in Gandhi’s ethical system is the practice of altruism/self-sacrifice.

For Gandhi, it was never enough that an individual merely avoided causing evil; they had to actively promote good and actively prevent evils. The ideas and ideals of Gandhi emanated mainly from: (1) his inner religious convictions including ethical principles embedded in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Christianity; (2) the exigencies of his struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the mass political movements during India’s freedom struggle; and (3) the influence of Tolstoy, Carlyle and Thoreau etc. He was a moralist through and through and yet it is difficult to write philosophically about his ethics.

This is because Gandhi is fundamentally concerned with practice rather than with theory or abstract thought, and such philosophy as he used was meant to reveal its ‘truth’ in the crucible of experience. Hence, the subtitle of his Autobiography ~ ‘the story of my experiments in truth.’ The experiments refer to the fact that the truth of concept, values, and ideals is fulfilled only in practice.

Gandhi’s ethics are inextricably tied up with religion, which itself is unconventional. Though an avowed Hindu, he was a Hindu in philosophical rather than a sectarian sense; there was much Hindu ritual and practice that he subjected to critique.

In his Ethical Religion, published in 1912 based on lectures delivered by him, Gandhi had stated simply that he alone cannot be called truly religious or moral whose mind is not tainted with hatred and selfishness, and who leads a life of absolute purity and of disinterested services. Without mental purity or purification of motive, external action cannot be performed in selfless spirit. Goodness does not consist in abstention from wrong but from the wish to do wrong; evil is to be avoided not from fear but from the sense of obligation. Consistency was less important to Gandhi than moral earnestness, and rules were less useful than specific norms of human excellence and the appreciation of values. Politics is a comprehensive term which is associated with composition and operation of state structure as well as its interrelationship with other states. It is activity centred around power and very often deprived of morals. With its power-mongering, amoral Machiavellianism, and its valorisation of expediency over principle, and of successful outcomes over scrupulous means, politics is an uncompromising avenue for saintliness. Inclusion of ethics in politics seemed to be a contradiction to many contemporary political philosophers.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak among others warned Gandhi before he embarked on a political career in India, “Politics is a game of worldly people and not of sadhus.” Introducing spirituality into the political arena would seem to betoken ineffectiveness in an area driven by worldly passions and cunning. It is perhaps for these reasons that Christ himself appeared to be in favour of a dualism: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” In this interpretation, the standards and norms that apply to religion are different from those relevant to politics.

Gandhi by contrast, without denying the distinction between the domain of Caesar and that of God, repudiates any rigid separation between the two. As early as 1915, Gandhi declared his aim “to spiritualise” political life and political institutions.

Politics is as essential as religion, but if it is divorced from religion, it is like a corpse, fit only for burning. In the preface to his autobiography, Gandhi declared that his devotion of truth had drawn him into politics, that his power in the political field was derived from his spiritual experiments with himself, and those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means. Human life being an undivided whole, no line could be drawn between ethics and politics. It was impossible to separate the everyday life of man, he emphasised, from his spiritual being. He said, “I feel that political work must be looked upon in terms of social and moral progress.” Gandhi is often called a saint among politicians. In an epoch of ‘globalisation of selfcentredness’ there is a pressing necessity to comprehend and emulate the moralistic dimension of Gandhian thought and re-evaluate the concept of politics. The correlation between ends and means is the essence of Gandhi’s interpretation of society in terms of ethical value rather than empirical relations. For Gandhi, means and ends are intricately connected.

His contention was, “For me it is enough to know the means. Means and ends are convertible terms in my philosophy.” Gandhi countered the assertion that ends vindicate means. If the means engaged are unjust there is no possibility of achieving satisfactory outcomes. He compared the means to a seed and the end to a tree. Gandhi stuck to this golden ideal through thick and thin, without worrying about the immediate results. He was convinced that our ultimate progress towards the goal would be in exact proportion to the purity of our means.

Gandhi believed that “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” His seven social sins refer to behaviours that go against ethical code and thereby weaken society. When values are not strongly held, people respond weakly to crisis and difficulty. The seven sins are: (1) Wealth without work; (2) Pleasure without conscience; (3) Knowledge without character; (4) Commerce without morality; (5) Science without humanity; (6) Religion without sacrifice; and (7) politics without principle. Gandhi’s Seven Sins are an integral part of Gandhian ethics.

The Satyagraha (Sanskrit and Hindi: ‘Holding into truth’) as enunciated by Gandhi seeks to integrate spiritual values, community organisation and selfreliance with a view to empower individuals, families, groups, villages, towns and cities. It became a major tool in the Indian struggle against British Imperialism and has since been adopted by protest groups in other countries.

According to the philosophy of Satyagraha, Satyagrahis (Practitioners of Satyagraha) achieve correct insight into the real nature of an evil situation by observing a non-violence of the mind, by seeking truth in a spirit of peace and love, and by undergoing a rigorous process of self-scrutiny. In so doing, the satyagrahi encounters truth in the absolute. By refusing to submit to the wrong or to cooperate with it, the satyagrahi must adhere to non-violence. They always warn their opponents of their intentions and forbid any tactic suggesting the use of secrecy to one’s advantage. Satyagraha seeks to conquer through conversion: in the end, there is neither defeat nor victory but rather a new harmony. Gandhi’s Satyagraha always highlighted moral principles. By giving the concept of Satyagraha, Gandhi showed mankind how to win over greed and fear by love.

There was no pretension or hypocrisy about Gandhi. His ethics do not stem from the intellectual deductive formula. ‘Do unto others as you would have them unto you.’ He never asked others to do anything which he did not do. It is history how he conducted his affairs. He never treated even his own children in any special manner from other children, sharing the same kind of food and other facilities and attending the same school. When a scholarship was offered for one of his sons to be sent to England for higher education, Gandhi gave it to some other boy. Of course, he invited strong resentment from two of his sons and there are many critics who believe that Gandhi neglected his own children, and he was not the ideal father. His profound conviction of equality of all men and women shows the essential Gandhi who grew into a Mahatma.

The question of why one should act in a moral way has occupied much time in the history of philosophical inquiry. Gandhi’s answer to this is that happiness, religion and wealth depend upon sincerity to the self, an absence of malice towards others, exploitation of others, and always acting ‘with a pure mind.’ The ethical and moral standard Gandhi set for himself reveals his commitment and devotion to eternal principles and only someone like him who regulated his life and action in conformity with the universal vision of human brotherhood could say “My Life is My Message.” (The Statesman/ANN)

Continue Reading