Gandhi regarded pure non-violence as the most powerful one. It was non-violence of the brave satyagrahi. He called it as soul or spiritual force (Spiritual Power) which is invincible and never-failing. It could move mountains, transform life and flinch from nothing in its unmistakable faith. It has the unique capacity of winning adherents, building up morale and invoking sacrifice, arousing public opinion and weakening the adversary.
He was so much convinced of its potency that he advised many allies during the Second World War to fight aggression by non-violence alone. A votary of such non-violence or satyagrahi had to observe very strict discipline. One had to take vows like rishis (seers) of ancient India and undergo a comprehensive moral and spiritual discipline to adopt total Ahimsa.
Gandhi himself, while in South Africa and later India, transformed himself step by step, from common man dressed in English clothes to a saint, a rishi or a mahatma by appearance, word, thought and deed: ‘My earthly possessions consist of six spinning wheels, prison dishes, a can of goat’s milk, six homespun loin clothes and towel and my reputation, which cannot be worth very much.’ He believed in the ideal of non-possession.
Very soon he attained the stature of an avatar (incarnation), and wherever he went, people cried, ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai’ (Hail to the Mahatma). Village folks began to revere him like a god, prophet, avatar and god man. The number of his followers, accepting this line, was not very large. Only a few men had full faith in his non-violence as a creed. There were millions of men and women who in line with India’s religious traditions, praised, sympathised and backed up the sayings and doings of the Mahatma without subscribing to his creed.
All this made him a ‘super-power’ unto himself. But Gandhi’s non-violence of the brave was more a wish, possibility or imagination. Most of those statements were made merely as eulogy or poetry to attract people at large. According to the traditional Shastras the power of non-violence of the brave (Spiritual Power) was supposed to dawn on a satyagrahi only after he attained perfection of soul, which none of the satyagrahi could do so.
Gandhi continued to strive to attain non-violence of the brave, but actually could never reach that stage. He continued experimenting with his search of Truth till the end of his life. Therefore, it is not possible to conclude that he ever attained the ordained power of non-violence of the brave.
According to him, the real secret of non-violence of the brave was ‘self-suffering’. It was the unfailing instrument of a non-violent satyagrahi to evoke the best in the opponent. In inflicting suffering on the satyagrahi, the opponent helps in his own defeat. The satyagrahi thrives on repression inflicted on him by the opponent, and no amount of violence can crush the soul in him.
Ahimsa is the most efficacious in face of the greatest ‘himsa’ (violence). There is no such thing as defeat or failure in non-violence because in satyagraha to suffer is to win. The struggle may be slow or long-drawn-out but he regarded it as the wisest way for it was the surest. For him it touched and strengthened the moral fibre of those against whom it was exerted. Use of non-violence benefited even the opponent. It touched the people most for whom that non-violent struggle was launched. In fact, all these are tall claims and personal wishes of Gandhi as Mahatma.
However, owing to their religious background, the masses continued to believe, despite Gandhi’s own rebuttals, that the Mahatma had mastered non-violence of the brave, and was able to attain all goals claimed by him. The people were so eager to see the image of their Mahatma as real that they, overlooking the role of so many national and international events, concluded that the realisation of India’s freedom was the result of the power of non-violence alone. The tragic assassination of the Mahatma, and the propaganda made by the post-independence leadership, the Congress party and the press reinforced this impression.
At many places, Gandhi himself had made it clear that by perfection in non-violence, he meant the perfection of ‘striving’, and not of actual attainment. He himself believed that perfection was unattainable. His perfect non-violence was impossible as long as man in human body was living.
He, perhaps, stood at the theoretical level of pure non-violence, but often operated at the level of non-violence as policy or expediency: ‘Mine is a struggling, striving, erring, and imperfect soul.’ That non-violence did not prove unfailing. Gandhi’s winning over the adversary, even on the basis of his long self-suffering, could not become a reality.
However, because of Gandhian leadership, non-violence did flourish in India. There were many favourable conditions permitting the conduct of Gandhian movements. The Government of India was operating under the charge of the British parliamentary democracy which wanted to keep up the show of’ rule of law’ ongoing. Non-violence could also flourish owning to the British understanding of law and justice. Courts, big and small, while punishing a culprit looked into the existence of evil intention underlying a particular act.
In the absence of evil intention, the result, outcome, effect or consequence related to satyagraha acts did not remain very important to the rulers or courts. The pattern of Gandhi’s non-violence of the brave operated on this ground only. Movements under leaders committed to pure non-violence were likely to remain peaceful. The eventual transfer of power to India also remained peaceful.
Thus, the power of non-violence of the creed was actually not the most effective one as Gandhi has thought and claimed. It was rather the power of the people who thought Gandhi to be the most powerful leader because of his non-violence. This power appeared to be increasing because of the sufferings of the satyagrahis which attracted their sympathy and identification owing to their faith in common values.
Gandhi infused values around non-violence of the brave, and organised the people into a mass-movement. It was rather the Initial Formative Power of Gandhian non-violence, not an actual power. Non-violence as ‘creed’ did not form an independent source of power despite all tall claims.