Resolving conflicts Gandhian way


The Gandhian conflict resolution wheel has three major spokes: conflict is a reality of life, hence unavoidable; if conflict is unavoidable then it must be experienced and addressed through nonviolence; and the reality of conflict must be mediated through the nonviolent means towards conflict transcendence. The pragmatic politician in Gandhi recognized conflict as a feature of human life. He would adopt an ontological view of the conflict โ€“ that conflict and life are inseparable. Such an approach implies that there are conflicts at multiple levels and everywhere โ€“ within individuals, families, larger groups, societies, states, and the world. Gandhian conflict lexicon hence would not neglect any of these conflicts and make use of this Gandhian logic to explain a conflict โ€“ when there is no harmony in what we think, say, and do, then there is a conflict. He would apply this logic to all conflicts, even though its operationality would vary from conflict to conflict, and from level to level. The othering, greed, hatred, selfishness, immorality, and their various avatars give rise to violent conflicts, and unless their origin is understood and addressed, such conflicts remain protracted.

If conflict is an inevitable reality of life, then the question is how to address it? Broadly, there are two means โ€“ violent and nonviolent. Gandhi would call the former immoral or evil, and the other moral, as it is based on moral force or soul force. He did not claim he discovered this principle or was the first one to apply this principle. He acknowledged that this principle is โ€˜as old as the hills,โ€™ and he would credit those who discovered this principle as โ€˜greater geniuses than Newtonโ€™ simply owing to the logic that despite knowing the methods of violence and use of arms, they realized the futility of violence and engaged in nonviolent methods. The means of nonviolence, for Gandhi, emerges from an unwavering conviction. He displayed this conviction while in action in South Africa and India. When one of his colleagues argued that there was not a single instance in history when a freedom struggle was organized through nonviolence, Gandhi replied there are yet many pages to be written in the book of history. This Gandhian conviction permeated the followers of Gandhi during the freedom struggle. Nonviolence is the only means for conflict resolution and if this method fails, Gandhi would argue, the fault is not in the principle, but in the practitioner.

How is this Gandhian framework relevant to South Asia? How can his thoughts be fruitfully used without undermining the cultural values of the groups and communities in South Asia? There are myriad possible pathways, some of which are perhaps yet undiscovered as they would need human ingenuity, but they would need, for implementation, bold political leadership, and vision. Dialogues, summits, talks, meetings of foreign secretaries, attending ceremonies have values in this direction, but they would not be useful unless they originate from the very ontology of nonviolent belonging. Towards conflict resolution, Gandhi would probably point out at the failures of the past summits and agreements and appeal the leaders to introspect and reflect on the past policies, and then act creatively. The policymakers need to understand, appreciate, and implement this Gandhian way. It is an arduous task; it needs courage, conviction and persistence. As the past seven decades have shown, the words and deeds, colored by the othering, have failed to bring the desired result, peace. But, did not Gandhi say, it needs more courage to be nonviolent and work for peace than to fight and kill?

Elsewhere, in the context of South Asia, I focused on various types of engagements to promote belonging and emphasized that psychological engagement is the fulcrum of these engagements. There are elements that are common to both Hindu and Muslim cultural systems which could be cultivated to promote belonging. This is not to suggest that there are no differences between the two cultures, but to suggest there are elements of commonalities that need recognition. It is necessary to connect filaments of both the cultures. It is necessary to think out of the box and engage the common people in this peace project. Gandhi pinned his hopes on students as carriers of peace and wrote on August 18, 1947, just after a few days of partition, โ€œStudents are the makers of the future. They cannot be partitioned.โ€ On another occasion, he called the youth โ€œto shed your indifference, inertia and sloth and throw yourselves into constructive work with all your heart and soul.โ€

In the 21 st century globalized world where the ideas of a borderless world are popular, India and Pakistan need to move forward and gear their state machineries for peace and belonging. It needs a Gandhian emphasis that violence has not resolved the India-Pakistan conflict. It is not that there are not attempts to build peace, but either they were symbolic and lacked political will and vision. There are spoilers with stakes in the continuation of the conflict, as the conflict keeps the political, intelligence and war machinery greased with resources, and legitimizes their existence and othering projects. But the othering cannot thrive infinitely, and even if it goes on, history stands witness, it will not address the conflict, rather it will protract the conflict, and exact further psychological, cultural, political and economic costs. The learnings from the past need to be accelerated and the leaders, business houses, opinion makers, civil society and nongovernmental organizations must come forward in a framework of engagement and belonging. Of course, a movement of people for belonging, Gandhi would argue, is important. This will be a gradual process, but it must be done in the right earnest. That will be in salience with the Gandhian vision of a nonviolent conflict resolution, in which othering becomes history and belonging becomes the future, and present becoming the field of nonviolent praxis.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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