Third Power

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Activism, Friends, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life)

An early morning discussion was triggered between Shoaib and me in relation to the view expressed by Arundathi Roy in an interview to Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN. But our discussion was not on her thoughts specifically but an offshoot of her views.

We were speaking of how counter-hegemony, with ideals and dreams for a better tomorrow, also becomes hegemony in itself when it manages to overthrow hegemony. We both agreed on that. But Shoaib is of the belief that you have to be a part of the power structure to fight the system. And I somehow cannot accept that, though I don’t have an alternate plan to fight, for I believe when you are a part of it is hard to fight it for you are chained in more than one way. I believe that power is corrupt. And when something becomes a part of the power structure then it weakens itself, it appears to me.

History has seen the world changing with two kinds of powers, namely- the power of violence and the power of law. The power of love is spoken by all but this idea of love is restricted to family-circle. The great Jayaprakash Narayan, in the introduction to a book by Vinobha Bhave quotes the example of the early days of Christianity when the followers of the religion constructed communities based on love. He says that with the spread of Christianity and its acceptance as the State religion of the Roman Empire, the influence of the principle of love on society became weakened.

He observes that, “So long as Christianity was not a state religion, Christians withstood the corrupt practices of the Roman empire with great courage and heroism in a completely non-violent way in accordance with the teaching of Jesus. But after it became a State religion, practically all efforts to give a non-violent shape to the political, economic and other aspects of the life of society came to an end.”

J.P. quoting the example of Ashoka, who accepted Buddhist dharma and vowed that he would never make war again, points out that “It does not seem, however, that Indian society in Ashoka’s time was permeated of non-violence or compassion.” To J.P. non-violence doesn’t mean mere absence of violence. To him “the exploitation, oppression, gross inequality and other social evils,” which exist within the legal framework of the State are all aspects of violence even though there may be no “open violence.”

With these two examples J.P. clarifies that he is not trying to say that it is the failure of Jesus or Buddha. To him the teachings of Jesus and Buddha, in the examples he mentioned, failed because these movements became official State religions and lent their support to the State’s organized military and legal power. To him because of this “it was not possible for them to create a society based on non-violence.” He observes that the power of love was “swallowed up by the power of the State, non-violence was lost in violence and compassion in the law.”

When Mao announced that “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” he was just speaking about the harsh reality of modern human culture. Gun is just a metaphor of violence and oppression, it appears to me. This idea of power corrupting ideals and pro-human goals and dreams come across beautifully in the short story TALE OF THE STAIRS by Hristo Smirnenski. Let me narrate the story now:

“Who are you?” The Devil asked him.

“I am a plebeian by birth and all ragged folk are my brothers. How terrible the world is, how wretched the people are!”

It was a young man who spoke with head erect and clenched fists. He stood at the foot of the Stairs – a high white staircase of rose-flecked marble. He gazed fixedly into the distance where the grey crowds of poverty stirred like the turbid waters of a swollen river. The crowds surged and seethed, raised a forest of thin black arms, thunderous cries of wrath and indignation rent the air and the echo faded slowly and solemnly like distant gun-fire. The crowds grew and grew nearer in clouds of yellow dust, single silhouettes showed more distinctly against the grey horizon. An old man approached, bent low to the ground as if seeking lost youth. A barefoot little girl clutched his ragged clothes and stared at the high Stairs with mild cornflower-blue eyes. Stared and smiled. Then thin grey figures came all in rags, singing a long-drawn funeral chorus. Someone whistled shrilly, somebody else thrusting his hands in his pockets laughed loud and harshly and insanity blazed in his eyes.

“I am a plebeian by birth and all ragged folk are my brothers. How terrible the world is, how wretched the people are! But you there, you at the top there…”

It was a young man who spoke with head erect and fists clenched in manace.

“So you hate those up at the top,” the Devil asked, and styly leaned forward towards the young man.

“I shall have my revenge on those nobles and princes. I shall cruelly avenge my brothers – my brothers whose faces are as yellow as sand and who groan more bitterly than the blizzards of December. See their naked bleeding bodies, hear their groans! I shall avenge them. Let me go!”

The Devil smiled: “I am the guardian of those at the top and without a bribe I shall not betray them.”

“I have no gold. I have nothing with which to bribe you… I am poor, a youth in rags… But I am willing to give up my life…”

Again the Devil smiled: “O no, I do not ask as much as that. Just give me your hearing.”

“My hearing? Gladly… May I never hear anything any more, may I…”

“You still shall hear,” the Devil assured him, and made way for him. “Pass!”

The young man set off at a run and had taken three steps in one stride when the hairy hand of the Devil caught him.

“That’s enough! Now pause and listen to your brothers groaning below.”

The young man paused and listened.

“How strange! Why have they suddenly begun to sing happy songs and to laugh light-heartedly?…” Again he set off at a run.

Again the Devil stopped him. “For you to go three more steps I must have your eyes.”

The young man made a gesture of despair. “But then I shall be unable to see my brothers or those I go to punish.”

“You still shall see them…” The Devil said. “I will give you different, much better eyes.”

The young man rose three more steps and looked back.

“See your brothers’ naked bleeding bodies,” the Devil prompted him.

“My God, how very strange! When did they manage to don such beautiful clothes? And not bleeding wounds but splendid red roses deck their bodies…”

At very third stair the Devil exacted his little toll. But the young man proceeded, willingly giving everything he had in order to reach his goal and to punish the well-fed nobles and princes. Now one step, just one last step remained and he would be at the top. Then indeed he would avenge his brothers.

“I am a plebeian by birth and all ragged folk…”

“Young man, one last step still remains. Just one more step and you shall have your revenge. But for this last step I always exact a double toll: give me your heart and give me your memory.”

The young man protested.

“My heart? No, that is too cruel!”

The Devil gave a deep and masterful laugh: “I am not so cruel as you imagine. In exchange I will give you a heart of gold and a brand-new memory. But if you refuse me, then you shall never avenge your brothers whose faces are the colour of sand and who groan more bitterly than December blizzards.”

The young man saw irony in the Devil’s green eyes.

“But there will be nobody then more wretched than I. You are taking away all my human nature.”

“On the contrary, nobody shall be happier than you. Well, do you agree: just your heart and memory?”

The young man pondered, his face clouded over, beads of sweat ran from the furrowed brow, in anger he tightened his fists and through clenched teeth said: “Very well, then. Take them!”

…And like a swift summer storm of rage and wrath, his dark locks flying in the wind, he crossed the final step. He was now at the very top. And a broad a smile suddenly in his face, his eyes now shone with tranquil joy and his fists relaxed. He looked at the nobles revelling there and looked down to the roaring, cursing, grey ragged crowds below. He gazed, but not a muscle of his face quivered: his face was radiant, happy and content. The crowds he saw below were in holiday attire and their groans were now hymns.

“Who are you?” the Devil asked in a low sly voice.

“I am a prince by birth and the gods are my brothers. How beautiful the world is and how happy are the people!”

I guess it was for this reason that Gandhi used to say that those who had faith in non-violence should not enter politics. And possibly it was for this very reason that Vinobha advised the lok-sevaks not to join political parties. It was for this reason, i guess, why Vinobha came up with the idea of lok-niti (government by the people) as an alternative to raj-niti (conventional politics)

My discussion with Shoaib this morning was an offshoot of the comment made by Arundathi Roy in the context of the State declaring war on Maoists. And now as I am speaking of Vinobha and his politics I must mention his idea of the THIRD POWER which he said is “a power which is opposed to the power of violence and distinct from the power of the state.”

Vinobha was often asked as to why he doesn’t accept responsibility in the Government of the nation. To this question he once answered: “Two bullocks have already been yoked to the cart; of what use would it be to take me as a third? The best way for me to help the cart along is to repair the road that it can travel in the right direction.” He continued to say, “We must devote ourselves to building up an independent “people’s power,” and that in itelf will be our true service.” To him, ‘people’s power,’ as i said earlier meant a power inhering in the people which are totally opposed to the power of violence, but other than the power of law.

When Vinobha went on to form the third power or the people’s power he requested his co-workers to not identify themselves as the Sarvoday group or something alike because it could go on to become a sect or take a form of institutionalism. He urged his workers to identify themselves with the common run of humanity and to work among men simply as fellow human beings.

Working with the common run of humanity and with me simply as fellow human beings is what my senior friend and my teacher Harsh Mander is doing. He, as many of you know, was an IAS bureaucrat till he witnessed the attacks of 2002 in Gujarat. After he met the victims of the communal attacks in Gujarat, he resigned form his post and started working individually for the cause of the oppressed. In an interview recently he said, “As for the individual fight, it does get difficult at times to bear constant opposition from strong forces. After the Gujarat carnage we took up the issue of sudden closure of 2000 FIRs without any proper investigation to the Supreme Court and won the case. It was one of the highest points of my life.” To do this he had to move out of the power structure. Now he is a THIRD POWER and I try to draw my lessons from him, his teacher Gandhi- who also was a kind of THIRD POWER- and yet another disciple of Gandhi- Vinobha.

Coming to the matter believed by Shoaib, I have my respects for his views and I guess he should try and do what he can, in the path which he believes in (fighting against the system by being in the system/ using the masters language against the master) and finally what matters is that we need to bring a change. It doesn’t matter as to who brought the change, you or I.

26 October 2009

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