Resolution of Conflict : A Gandhian Way

K. D. Gangrade


A question is generally asked as to what would have been the response of Gandhi to the September 11, 2001 attack in America on its World Trade Centres and Pentagon; December 13, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament and rioting in Gujarat in 2002. Let me cite an interview which the Mahatma gave in the early afternoon on 30th January, 1948, to Margaret Bourke White. She had come to interview him for LIFE magazine. She asked Gandhi whether he would persist in his theory of nonviolence in the event of a nuclear attack on a city? The Mahatmas reply was that if the defenseless citizens died in a spirit of nonviolence, their sacrifice would not be in vain; they might all pray for the soul of the pilot who had thoughtlessly sprayed death on the city. This was his last message of compassion to mankind. He said: Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.


Gandhi further said: I do not believe in shortcuts which involve violence. However, much I sympathize with and admire worthy motives, I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest causes. There is, therefore, really no meeting ground between the school of violence and myself.


The heart that bled at the sight of the misery of others was bled to death on 30th January, 1948 with three-death-dealing slugs buried deep in it. The Mahatma has gone the way of all saints. His spirit lives and that spirit will continue to live among us, as long as India survives.

Swami Vivekananda, speaking in New York had said: Since death is inevitable, let it go in a noble conquest, and what conquest is nobler than the conquest of the lower instinct of man? Unless we are prepared to pay the price to achieve mastery over our lower self, the highest self cannot be unfolded and revealed to us. The goal of human life is to manifest the divinity which is within us. Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached. For centuries, we have seen change. From the Unreal lead me to Real; from Darkness lead me to Light; from Death lead me to Immortality.

With the modern day inventions we are able to fly like birds faster than the speed of sound, swim faster than fishes and remain alive under water. Man has walked even on the surface of the Moon. But as human beings we are not at peace with ourselves nor with the world around us.

In fact, we are under tremendous stress in the present Times. On the one hand the world talks about globalization and aims at a borderless world. On the other, we worry about petty personal gains. The only solution to this problem is that we need to work towards changing our mind-sets. We must wage a war against anger, hunger and illiteracy.


There is a common notion that violence is essential for demonstrating the strength of our response, an idea we have absorbed for too long from angry people around us. But are they the ones who inspire our deepest respect? Violence is a response of frustration and weakness when we are at our creative worst. We should ask ourselves and call upon our people to come up in their ingenuity and compassion with solutions that will match a Gandhi, a Buddha, a Ashoka, a Akbar and other great people of our land. Were they weak people? The nations leaders are merely our reflection and reflection of present society.

The only answer is that every Indian (or people of the world) should introspect and remove the seeds of hatred he has within for other communities, nations, people of a different religion, caste or colour. There is need to focus not on the differences but what makes us alike, a common humanity. Let us first kill the hatred and anger within us and prepare for a future of genuine good, future for the whole continent and the world.


In Gandhis view, cult of violence had to be rejected at all costs and at all places. He taught us that Indian way to resolve conflict is not to struggle over values and claims to scarce resources and power in which the opponent or enemy is either neutralized or eliminated. But that our aim should be to develop harmonious relationships between different communities, castes, religions and other groups and to replace hatred with love and affection. The contemporary world situation which is ridden with violence should steer the whole international community to examine the value system the world intends to follow.


In competitive politics, the political parties are engaged in a race for political supremacy. What is the principal purpose of the race? To gain political power either to build or to destroy the nation for personal or party gain or both. Much intelligence and energy are going into this effort. Yet it seems more important than ever that an even greater effort is made to achieve positive and mutually helpful human relations. This cannot be done by mere political forces. Among several others, political parties and leaders, instead of creating harmonious relations, have created hatred, and men have become thirsty for the blood of other men.


The world and specially India in todays scenario has not become a better place to live in despite more than five decades of independence. No doubt, we have many spectacular achievements in science and technology and other fields to our credit. But, in the development process adopted by us, we have alienated man from man.

The time has come now for rethinking on the issue. Mahatma Gandhis decision to march to Dandi was a message so simple that it reached every one. Through the march, Gandhi tried to provide means for the lowliest to undertake the change of self and take part in the change of society. The purity of means is an end in itself. Gandhi, in his scheme, put the people at the centre. His policies and programmes were designed to secure full support and participation of the people and to develop capacities in them to work as members of one world community. The people felt that he was talking to them directly rather than through impersonal means of communication. He emphasized self-discipline, truth, satyagraha and nonviolence as some of the methods to achieve the goal set by the leaders through active involvement of the people. He said, I am endeavouring to see God through service to humanity. One important corollary following from this is that loving and serving mankind is also part of Gandhian ideal. This reminds me the story of Abu-Bin-Adam, the noble hearted and loving Arabian Chieftain. Abu-Bin-Adam one night saw in his dream a luminous angel writing something. Being asked by Abu, the angel told him that he was sent by God to find out the devotees of God and prepare a list of their names. Abu said, Why then have you come to me? I am not a devotee of God. But if God asks you to prepare a list of those who love their fellowmen, then of course you can include my name. The angel did not say anything and disappeared leaving back the list he had prepared. Abu-Bin-Adams name was on the top.


In fact, the basic Gandhian principle in working with people is to lead them from conflict of interests to a community of interests. Gandhis goal was to bring about a community of interests by holding it up as the common good, by making Sarvodaya the motivation of all individual action. It is a process of the right discernment of the context for the sake of right action which would help to take it from conflict to harmony without sacrificing any value to that harmony. Gandhi as the father of the Indian Nation and as an effective national leader, succeeded in uniting the people of India as he was able to integrate different dimensions, the peoples task, behaviour and socio-economic behaviour and did not utilize one at the expense of the other.


Mahatma Gandhi won commitment from his followers and he had the skill to get them involved. He had a keen understanding of people and set of principles for dealing with their motivation, emotion, pain, trust and loyalty. India suffers from ethnic differences and economic backwardness. Indian politics consists of both the politics of group identity and the politics of resource allocation. The political conflicts would be minimized if the politicians do not interfere in the formation of group identities or allocation of resources. Gandhi maintained that the basic human need was to rise above animal nature and transcend it so that man could be creative and cease to be merely a creature. He did not think that love and hate are antithetical drives; they are both answers to mans need to transcend his animal nature.


Mahatma Gandhi had a holistic view of life. Accordingly, his development philosophy revolved around man, his society and environment (nature) and their respective and simultaneous development. He believed that instead of man exploiting the society and both exploiting nature, there was a symbolic way of life in which they were in harmony with each other. In his frame of reference for development, man is the centre of attention. The objective is the moral and spiritual development of man.


Man is primarily his consciousness, his capacity to be self-conscious, and his built-in potentiality to judge between good and evil. Because that will help him in his evolution to higher levels of being rather than obstruct his path. This gives him a leverage not only to aspire for higher levels but also to endeavour to attain them.


Gandhi believed in this effort and the path he outlined lay through ethical, moral and spiritual disciplines. The keynote of his ethics is love which means a near identity of interest with every sentiment. This love has to be expressed in the form of service and sacrifice. His ethics in relation to material things and property consisted in his concept of Trusteeship. Every human being is a trustee not only of his faculties and attainments but also of everything he comes by, and trusteeship consists not only in using his powers and goods properly but also in using them selflessly and for the well-being of others.


Most of the present breed of leaders have taken to politics as their main source of income or livelihood. In the Gandhian era, particularly the Indian leaders gave up their lucrative professions and took to politics not as a means of livelihood but to join the struggle for Indias freedom from foreign rule and to build a New India. They did not expect anything in return. Their values must be revived to build the nation and maintain its unity and peace.


The decline of virtues to live together (coming together is beginning, keeping together is progress and working together is success) can be described in four stages from 1900 onwards till today. In the first period, the virtue is at its fullest. In the second, virtue diminishes somewhat. In the third, virtue diminishes further. And in the fourth, virtue is at its lowest. Gandhian way is the only way to reverse this process.


Sri Jayendra Saraswati of the Kanchi Sankaracharya observed that there are two kinds of outside elements direct and indirect political pressure, money and so on. In the context of Gujarat, I will refer to a story. Once a King named Parikshit died of snake-bite. Overcome by grief, his son swore that he would avenge his fathers death by wiping out the sarp-vansh. He would put to death all snakes. Friends advised him that one unfortunate incident could not justify violence on all snakes. It would serve no purpose and would certainly not bring back King Parikshit back to life. This is what is happening in Gujarat today. One mistake was committed at Godhra. If a few members of a particular community commit violent acts, we cannot hold the entire community at ransom. The see-saw violence in Gujarat must be brought to an end forthwith and peace should prevail (The Times of India, Rule of Peace, April 27, 2002, New Delhi. p.12). The brutality of the truth hits one in the stomach. This is a chilling reminder of times ahead. The State will make noises but not take concrete action to stop violence altogether.


That all men are equal like brothers, is a supreme moral truth. It is reinforced by modern science. However this is only in theory and the ethics of equality in practice remains no more than a pious dream, totally beyond mans reach unless both Ahimsa and Science find equally a place in our lives.


Man has to learn a lot from Nature. In Nature, harmony is the normal rule and conflict an exception. Members of the same species never kill one another. Their fights are either sports or ritual. There are a few species which deviate from the rule. And the greatest exception is human species which calls itself homosapiens man the wise. Homosapiens torture and murder one another in war and peace with abandon, wantonness which has no parallel in Nature.


To conclude we may recall Einsteins statement (20th November 1950) which is very inspiring and so relevant in the atomic age.


The most important human endeavour is the striving for morality in our action. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life. To make this a living force and to bring it to clear consciousness is perhaps the foremost task of education, including adult education. The foundation of morality should not be made dependent on myth or ties to any authority lest doubt about the myth or about the legitimacy of the authority should imperil the foundation of sound judgement and action.

The foremost task of educationcharacter building must find a first place, above all, in the training of teachers and adult education workers.


No religion has ever been able to establish its superiority to all others. This truth has been expressed in the Rig Veda: Ekanm Sat Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti (the truth is one, the wise calls it by many names). Swami Vivekananda has rightly said: If anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart and point out to him that on the banner of every religion will soon be written inspite of resistance: Help and not fight, Assimilation and not destruction, Harmony and Peace and not dissension. (Ezkiel Isaac Malekar, True Religion is Respect for Life, The Hindustan Times, May 1, 2002, New Delhi, p.2).


Atomic Age : The Gandhian Way

In the Atomic age without Ahimsa, i.e. compassion and wisdom, there can be no survival of mankind. In his foreword to Swami Ghanandas book, Shri Ramkrishna and His Unique Message (1970), Arnold Toynbee, an historian of international repute says: At this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way (Gandhian Way). In the Atomic Age, the whole of human race is based on utilitarian motive. This should be given up and the Gandhian way should be followed to achieve world peace and harmony. Gandhi, the greatest political genius of our times indicated the path to be taken to achieve the cherished goals.


In Gujarat each one of the 100,000 refugees in the relief camp is a wounded human being, burdened with memories too harrowing for words. The death of a million people, said Lenin, is statistics. But the death of a single human being is tragedy.

Jonathan Swifts words should resound in our ears: We have just enough religion to make us hate each other but not enough religion to make us love each other.


Riot Fundamentalists

Few people understand the anatomy of communal riots better than the psychologist, Sudhir Kakkar, author of the Colours of Violence: a Study of Hindu Muslim Conflict and Riots. Kakkar is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Study of World Religions at Harvard University. He provides psychological perspective to the events in Gujarat in his interview with Rashmi Sehgal. (See for details, The Times of India, Saturday, April 27, 2002, New Delhi, p.12).


Why do risks occur, especially among communities which have a great deal of interdependence due to economic, historic and sociological reasons?


Possible Causes of Riots

Donald Horowitz has done the most comprehensive study of these riots all over the world. He concluded that for a riot to take place, there must be a long standing animosity between the groups, even if the degree of this enmity is vastly exaggerated in the time leading to the riot. The target group is perceived as aggressive and constitutes a political threat on one whose strength appears to be augmented by its extra-territorial affiliations.


Donald Horwitz has identified four indispensable elements which need to come together for a riot to occur:

1. A hostile relationship between the groups.

2. A response to events that engages in the emotions of outrage or wrath of one


3. A keenly felt justification for violence as punishment of the other group for

wrong doing.

4. An Assessment by the rioters that violence carries little risk.

At the time of a riot, the version of eternal conflict between Hindus and Muslims gains ascendancy while in times of relative peace the focus shifts back to a history emphasizing commonalities and shared peace of the past.


Polarisation of Indian Society

Rajni Kothari says: ... this time it was not some stray happening in one area (Godhra) but a development that can lead to an increasingly growing conflict between Hindus and Muslims. Within India, human rights devotees see the growth of a dangerous onslaught against riot. It is not just one community but the whole secular and democratic ethos of the country... The result is a dangerous polarization which goes beyond Gujarat and could take on national character... He further says, ... the polarization that is emerging is not just inter-communal. It is also urban versus rural, westernised versus indigenous, opposing segments on communal lines within diverse regions, as well as within institutions. Such a spread within educated people is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this polarization. For it is from these professional classes that middle ground was found ... It is this shifting of the middle ground and the accentuation of polar positions that matters me and others. (See Rajni Kotharis article, The Hindustan Times, Wednesday, May 1, 2002, New Delhi, p.8).


Social Harmony

Social harmony or social order is created when people need each other. If A needs Bs help, he must gain and keep Bs cooperation. Bs response in turn will be determined by how much he needs A or by the benefits he can derive from the association. Cooperation is always potentially unstable. Its attainment raises such questions as : Who needs whom? Who is dependent on whom? What resources do the parties have for social exchange? The dependency and reciprocity are key conditions that affect how much cooperation there will be and what form it will take. Cooperation has a positive dependency and exchange may have social importance and in understanding relationships.


Mahatma Gandhi gave to his autobiography the title: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. He wrote in 1925: What I want to achieve, -- what I have been striving and pining to achieve these thirty years - is self-realisation, to see God face-to-face, to attain Moksha (salvation). I live, move and have my being in pursuit of this goal... The experiments (narrated) are spiritual or rather moral, for the essence of religion is morality. And he further says: I claim for them nothing more than does a scientist ... I have gone through deep self-introspection, searched myself through and through, and examined and analysed every psychological situation. Yet I am far from claiming any finality or infallibility about my conclusions. One claim I do indeed make and it is this. For me they appear to be absolutely correct, and seem for the time being to be final ... And so long as my acts satisfy my reason and my heart, I must firmly adhere to my original conclusions. In the concluding chapter of The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi says: My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth ... and ... the only means for the realization of Truth is Ahimsa ... After all, however sincere my strivings after Ahimsa may have been, they have still been imperfect and inadequate, as a result of all my experience, that a perfect vision of Truth can only follow a complete realisation of Ahimsa. And he continues: I must reduce myself to zero. So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility.


There is a chapter with the title Face to Face with Ahimsa. This refers to the first Satyagraha in India initiated by Gandhi and after twenty-one years of preparation in South Africa. Writes Gandhi about his meeting, early in 1917 with indigo cultivators at Champaran (Bihar): It is no exaggeration, but the literal truth, to say that in this meeting with the peasants I was face-to-face with God, Ahimsa and Truth. Further, I began to prize non-violence only when I began to shed cowardice ... The path of true non-violence requires much more courage than violence.


Gandhis experiments are moral-spiritual experiments. The basis of morality is self-control or self conquest through self-suffering. And indeed declared the Mahatma in his book Hind Swaraj: Swaraj is self-control. Einstein said: Liberation from the bondage of the self constituted the only way towards a more satisfactory society.



Modern science and technology has produced neighbourhood, but not brotherhood or sisterhood. Geographical distance has decreased but people have become more distant. Man has got alienated from himself. With all the facilities of modern means of communication, man must learn to live and let live. Maulana Syed Athar Hussain Dehlvi says that in the Hadis it is mentioned that a person whose neighbour is angry with him cannot be a Muslim. If the neighbour is not a Muslim, then according to the Prophet, your responsibility is even greater to help him to trust you. The Prophet defined the neighbourhood as being 40 houses in the front, and back right and left. The 40 houses will also have a 40th house. So the Prophet made the entire world a neighbourhood. Religion begins with ones neighbour. To provocatively promote unity, we need to house Hindus and Muslims together. (The Times of India, Voice of Sanity, April 30th 2002, New Delhi, p.12).


We should be ashamed of resting or having square meal so long as there is even one Muslim or Hindu man or woman without food or work, the Mahatma emphasized. Unless Hindus and Muslims learn to live together in peace and harmony, India as we know it, will cease to exist.


Self should be able to conquer one self. It is of utmost importance to always remember that real foe of man ever present deadly and most difficult to conquer is within himself. Others can help him or her in fighting the enemy outside but it is of little avail because it is important to fight the enemy within (Gita, 111 (43)). The Buddha says: If a man conquers in a battle a thousand men, and if another conquers himself is a great conqueror. Self-control is the foundation of all human development and earnest seeking. As one great soul has said: I sought my soul, I could not see. I sought my God, my God eluded me, I sought my brother or sister, I found all the three. This is the profound lesson we should learn to live in peace and harmony. We should realize that a computer has no choice of its own; the choice belongs to its programmer (i.e. men or women). This is the fundamental distinction between a computer and its programmer. That is to say, Kingdom of God is Within Us and we have to search it in our selves.


One must understand that religion is a searchlight for inner self, while politics is for running of the country. The voters should elect leader who would stand up for the peoples right without worrying whether it would fetch them votes. Moreover, the voters must bring forth individuals (politicians) who are upright and have strong ethical and moral conviction.


Mahesh Bhatt writes: A couple of years ago a senior assistant of Jaya Prakash Narayan came to meet my philosopher friend, U.G. Krishnamurthy. Jaya Prakash has succeeded in persuading 600 dacoits to lay down their arms in North India, said the assistant with a flourish, hoping to make an impression on U.G. All very well, replied U.G. and asked, But what is he going to do about those 600 dacoits whom we have put (chosen) into the Parliament? How is he going to save the people from their blood-thirsty games? (The Times of India, May 5, 2002, p.12).


In the Brihadarnyaka Upanishad, there is an episode of contemporary importance. God, men and demons lived with their father as students of sacred knowledge. On completion of their studies, God requested Prajapati, their father and principal teacher to give them benediction. Prajapati uttered the word da which all the three groups understood in three different ways. The Gods interpreted it as dama an instruction to control themselves. Man took the word to be datta, i.e. to give. Men are by nature avaricious and hence not willing to distribute their wealth according to the best of their ability. The demons took it to be daya. The demons are generally cruel, hence the stress is on compassion. All the three evils mentioned are present within us. They must be overcome to achieve peace and harmony.


The Gandhian way is the only way and let us make an honest attempt towards this before it is too late. Let us go forward with the Gandhian alternative and let historians record that at least an attempt was made in this direction.


We have failed to project the revolutionary Gandhi who offered a healthy vision of life based on self-respect, self-help, non-exploitation of man and nature, non-violence, etc. All our arts, science and technology, and social sciences should be geared to this direction if we care and have concern for human survival.


The communal disturbances which were earlier confined to large cities and towns seem to have spread even to villages as is the case in Gujarat carnage of 2002. The traditional amity seems to have receded yielding ground to religious passions. Gandhi believed in three sources of integrative religion the integration of personality which recounts the individual to his own nature, integration with his fellowmen, and integration with God, the supreme spirit. Gita refers to the triple process of integration Yajna, Dana, Tapas and exhorts everyone to practice the necessary discipline to build up personality to create a new social order base on equality and to establish God as the Creator of life. Gandhi put into practice meticulously spiritual programme of integrating all aspects of life.


The motto of the material world is to kill or be killed. Whereas that of the Gandhis spiritual world is to live and let live. In life, everyone respects values, but these we want to see in others not in integrating ourselves. This process needs continuous effort and work on the part of all the institutions which socialize men. Family, education, religion and political heads of all these institutions must change themselves in order to achieve the cherished goal of integration. They need to see themselves as educators and learners. Rabindranath Tagore beautifully put it this way:

       A teacher (leader) can never truly teach unless he is learning himself.

       A flame can never light another lamp unless it continues to burn its own flame.

It is easy to renounce the material world but true renunciation is when one renounces from the heart. For such a person, everything flows effortlessly. A process of reconciliation and compromise is needed between the warring parties to avoid conflict.


There is strong tendency in human society to take shelter in scientists, loved ones, and leaders of political, religious, psychological and philosophical movements. We pattern our lives after our role models in these fields. The role models to be emulated have to be of certain stature to salvage Indias position.


Mahatma Gandhi had said: God is not a person. God is an eternal principle. Similarly, in Indian society all should realize that unity in diversity is there to bring social harmony among people of different religions.


We can atleast pray to God to bring sanity to man so that he does not become an enemy of another man or his religion. Prayer benefits us in many ways. Our prayers should be for blessings in general, said Socrates, for God knows best what is good for us. R.L. Stevenson was more specific: Give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulations, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another.


Gangrade K.D., Eternal Relevance of Gandhi, New Delhi: Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, 2002, pp.31-34.


Gangrade K.D., Gandhi Since 50 Years of Azadi, New Delhi: Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, 1999, pp. 14-2.


Ahmed Feroz, (ed.), Atom Self, Collection of Lectures delivered by D.S. Kothari, New Delhi: New Age International Publishers, 2002, pp. 377-37.


Radhakrishnan N., Gandh : the Quest for Tolerance and Survival, New Delhi: Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti and Gandhi Media Centre, 1995.