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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Some more reflections on a Saturday afternoon…I


There is a serious concern among many in India that Narendra Modi may become the next Prime Minister. This concerns stems primarily because of his unapologetic advocacy of the Hindutva ideology and his resolute refusal to apologize (or be remorseful) for the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.

The media was abuzz all of last week as some of the biggest names of India’s business world gathered together to shower encomiums on him for his “spectacular achievements,” with the Congress spokesperson reminding the world that the German corporate sector shared a similar fascination for Hitler in the 1930s, and while doing so conveniently forgetting the party’s instrumentality in at least two equally gruesome massacres in the past.

The social media was fervently discussing ‘isms’. A particularly interesting debate involved capitalism and how the “capital class” in India by endorsing Modi is encouraging communalism.

The ideologies that espoused class struggle became obsolete because they fell short of two fundamentals requirements of human life – freedom and development.

The proponents of the ideologies claim that they remain relevant even today and protest that it was the practice of these ideals that subverted freedom and failed to deliver the promise of development.

Perhaps, they are not wrong.

Individual freedom is at the heart of this debate, and was at the basis of the differences between two eminent French writers Andre Gide (1869-1951) and Roman Rolland (1866-1944).

Both supported communism – Gide briefly and Rolland during his lifetime.

Rolland is known in India because of his association with Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, and because Swami Vivekananda’s interpretation of the Vedanta influenced him. Along with Leo Tolstoy and Gandhi, Rolland was a firm believer in non-violent non-cooperation.

Rolland was an early advocate of the Soviet Union and its form of communism. He remained a lifelong supporter (surprisingly) even of Joseph Stalin.

It may said in his defense – if it is necessary – that the worst excesses of Stalinism remained concealed until Rolland’s death, and the West took note of the autocratic intolerance of the Soviet state only after the Second World War ended. 

On the other hand, Gide supported Soviet Communism for a brief period but rejected it after a visit to Soviet Union in 1937.

Frederick John Harris’s Andre Gide and Romain Rolland Two Men Divided details the differences between these two French writers over many issues including the most crucial one – the interpretation of what constitutes art.

The book also discusses the different interpretation they gave to the role of the individual and individual morality in a society, and how the communist ideology as practised in the then Soviet Union dealt with this crucial question.

Harris notes, “…both believed that the communist revolution would necessarily achieve harmony and the general well-being of humanity, for this was mankind’s destiny and its truth. Both recognized the value and the necessity of liberty in a well-developed society, and both knew before going to Russia that Soviet society would not in all respects live up to their own personal aspirations. Rolland, however, returned convinced just as he was before his departure, that despite all, Soviet Russia was on the right track; Andre Gide returned with the impression that the Soviet experiment had derailed somewhere along the line.”

Continued in the post below...

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