The American humour writer P.J. O’ Rourke says the Soviet Union did not collapse because of Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher or Star Wars; it collapsed because of Bulgarian blue jeans.
The Kannada writer S.L. Bhyrappa who tilts at the windmills of history like a latter-day Don Quixote, is no humourist; even the Sancho Panzas who sit at his lotus feet wouldn’t accuse him of a sense of humour. But the “Arun Shourie of the South” can still crack a joke, with a scowl.
Speaking five days after the 63rd anniversary of independence—at the 72nd chaturmasya of Sri Visvesha Teertha swamiji of the Pejawar Mutt, go figure—Bhyrappa has declared, apropos nothing, that India did not attain freedom because of non-violence or hunger strikes.
But because, well, the British were bored and tired of staying on.
Maybe even plain pissed—in their Bulgarian blue jeans.
“The British did not leave India because of ahimsa or upavasa satyagraha. You can only cleanse your conscience with a hunger strike; you cannot drive out the British.
“After World War II, the British were sapped of all energy. Moreover, the troops stationed in India were agitated. This was the main reason for the British to leave India.
“At the time of granting independence to India, the then prime minister was asked how much ahimsa had been a factor. He replied very little.”
Implicit in this line of thinking is the belief that the independence movement was a passive one, not an active one. That freedom was something that the Brits gifted us, handed down to us; not something that Indians fought for and won. In other words, if the Brits didn’t want to give it to us, we wouldn’t have got it.
Implicit is the belief that all the wars, mutinies, marches, strikes, boycotts, sacrifices were futile exercises that we now humour ourselves with in Amar Chitra Katha comics. In other words, the Brits didn’t take any note of them and wouldn’t have at all if their energies and attentions hadn’t been otherwise diverted.
Implicit is the belief that independence was a sudden, spontaneous, off-the-cuff development. An event not a process. That after 200 years of rule, the Brits just woke up on 7 May 1945 and decided enough was enough. That none of the months and years that preceded it had any role in it. In other words, had it not been for WWII, we might as well have kissed independence goodbye.
In other words, we must thank Adolf Hitler for engaging the Brits in a war that fetched us freedom?
Above all, implicit in the quasi-rant against ahimsa and satyagraha is a palpable lack of belief in, and contempt for, Gandhian modes of protest. In other words, a vote for un-Gandhian aggression and machismo, sotto voce, as chain-mailed by other patron-sants of the sangh parivar before, like this one here in 2008:
“World War II ended in the summer of 1945. In the general election that followed, Winston Churchill lost to Clement Attlee. With the war-torn economy a shambles, Britain was in no shape to hang on to the vast colonial empire. In March 1946 Attlee decided to grant independence to India.
“The following years saw independence granted to many colonies—Burma, Ceylon, Ghana, Malaysia, British Guyana and others—that had no history of freedom struggle. So it is correct to conclude that independence to India was a given with or without satyagraha. The truth is that non-violence was inconsequential in achieving India’s independence. “
Of course, it is a point of view, one which those who hold it are well entitled to hold.
The only question though: would S.L. Bhyrappa‘s negative post-facto vote for ahimsa and satyagraha have turned positive had the characters behind them boasted different surnames or belonged to the other end of the ideological spectrum, one of whose brave members pumped three cowardly bullets at 5.45 pm on 30 January 1948 into the upper thigh, abdomen and chest of the man who was its apostle?
Photograph: courtesy S.L. Bhyrappa
Also read: S.L. Bhyrappa on Avarana