Mahatma Gandhi's 388km Salt March in 1930 was in protest against the British Imperial monopoly on the must-have mineral. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Mahatma Gandhi's 388km Salt March in 1930 was in protest against the British Imperial monopoly on the must-have mineral. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

According to United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution A/RES/61/271, October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, is observed as the International Day of Non-Violence. 

After the liberation war of 1857, the Indian subcontinent faced many problems: Political, economic, religious and social issues and threats were prevalent throughout the subcontinent. Hindu and Muslim feudal lords were desperate to be a part of every conspiracy and movement to protect their interests.

Personal and economic interests divided the society in all corners. The tendency to change religion by force or fear remained quite prevalent.

 In a 1987 book whose Urdu title translates as “The Tragedy of Muslims in Subcontinent,” while discussing how Islam spread in India, well-known Pakistani historian Mubarak Ali explained that most of the Hindus who converted to Islam did so to protect their interests, lands and businesses.

Some Hindus converted to get jobs and privilege under the royal governance. Those who did so because they were impressed by the teachings of Islam were very few in number. Faced with atrocities and injustice, Hindus also took the opportunity to rise to the political arena with a new vision. 

The British colonialists occupied the subcontinent with skillful use of economic, political and colonial strategies. Political, religious, economic, social and cultural tensions between Hindus and Muslims were triggered. In this regard, extremist Muslims and Hindus, in their own way, sparked hatred and differences each other.

Both Muslims and Hindus launched freedom movements. Subhash Chandra Bose, Kaka Sanober Momand and Faqir Epi led guerrilla movements against the British. These resistance movements appeared effective on the surface but in reality they were insignificant against a powerful adversary like the British Empire. 

Therefore, non-violent and peaceful resistance was the only option available to Indians (both Muslims and Hindus) to struggle for freedom against the British colonial power. Non-violent strategy was the best choice for Mahatma Gandhi and Pashtun nationalist Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (known as Bacha Khan) to fight for India’s freedom.

In this way, non-violence was strategy, not philosophy.

In philosophy, the status of a question or the nature of any problem is analyzed and observed on a logical basis. Some philosophers, such as Plato, considered ideas to be the ultimate truth. Aristotle, on the other hand, argued that ideas are nothing without matter; therefore, he posited that both ideas and their physical existence (matter) reinforce each other.

Some philosophers look for solution of problems on the basis of rationalism and empiricism. Philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau say that only good and humane policies give birth to an ideal government, which plays a leading role in establishing a perfect state.

Philosophy can tell you the nature of the problem and give logical arguments for it. In order to solve the problem and achieve desired goals, one has to adopt a strategy: Go to jail or not? Fight an imperialist power or not? How to prevent abuse of rights? What should we do to get freedom? A national freedom movement doesn’t need philosophy but strategy with different paradigms to play political cards smartly. 

Practical work has to be done to solve political problems. Gandhi and Bacha Khan did the same; going to jail, not resorting to violence, persuading workers to protest as well as holding political talks with the British and urging them to leave the subcontinent was a strategy, not a philosophy. Encouraging Muslims to quit India for Afghanistan was a political strategy Gandhi used to enhance Hindus’ influence over the British Raj. 

In modern times, the strategy adopted by the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM) led by Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen against the Pakistani establishment is a fine example of non-violence. One should not term it as a philosophy of non-violence. It’s a political strategy wisely adopted to avoid confrontation.

Pashteen knows direct confrontation with the establishment will prove disastrous. His focus on protests, strikes, sit-ins, public gatherings and seminars are the core characteristics of his strategy to fight the case of war-affected Pashtuns in Pakistan. 

The strategy of non-violence was the compulsion of Gandhi and Bacha Khan. If they had resorted to violence, they might have had great difficulty liberating the subcontinent from the British Empire. The violent liberation movements led by the likes of Chandra Bose, Kaka Sanober and Faqir Epi were also parts of a political strategy to keep the spirit of freedom alive and worked as backups that further strengthened the strategy of non-violence.

These strategies effectively strengthened the national movement and forced the British to leave the subcontinent. 

Thus the independence of the Indian subcontinent and the establishment of modern Pakistan and India were the results of political strategy, not philosophy.

Rahim Nasar

Rahim Nasar, an Islamabad-based security and political analyst, contributes to national and international newspapers on regional security, political and strategic affairs with special focus on South Asia, Central Asia and Indian Ocean regions. He tweets on @RahimNasari.