Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Chanakyaniti primer

This was something that was meant for our recent Yuva varg in our part of the 3rd rock. Unfortunately, it was rejected by our superiors as "too intellectual" for newbies to grasp. Therefore, I am posting it here, in the hope that somebody would pick it up and live these great quotes from the timeless master. Basically, these are quotes from Chanakya's nitishastras that I found to be relevant for our time. The reorganization into different groups was to make reading through them more convenient. Chanakya had classified them chapterwise, and each chapter had quotes related to various parts of life, which made it a bit complicated to 'capsule' views.

I have divided these shlokas into four groups, viz: (1) Money matters (2) Family and Friends (3) Learning (4) Miscellaneous. In most shlokas, I have included an explanation that would describe it appropriately.

Money matters: In this section, we will understand Chanakya’s attitude towards wealth.

a) Chapter 1.6: One should save his money against hard times, save his wife at the sacrifice of his riches, but invariably one should save his soul even at the sacrifice of his wife and riches.

Explanation: This quote not only advises a person to be frugal in terms of spending money, but tells him/her that it is more important to be a stable life partner and foremost, be a sensible man/woman having a pure soul

b) Chapter 1.7: Save your wealth against future calamity. Do not say, “What fear has a rich man of calamity?” When riches begin to forsake one even the accumulated stock dwindles away.

Explanation: Always live frugally and save for the future. In this regard, we are reminded of one line from the Native Americans “we always borrow the present from our future generations.” Corollary: we have to save in the present for them.

c) Chapter 3.11: There is no poverty for the industrious sin does not attach itself to the person practicing japa. Those who are absorbed in maunam have no quarrel with others. They are fearless who always remain alert.

Explanation: For the people who work hard, there is no disadvantage that can put them out of action, and whether they are poor or otherwise, it doesn’t matter. Similarly in other cases a person with discipline can come through adverse circumstances.

d) Chapter 12.21: He who is not shy in the acquisition of wealth, grain and knowledge and in taking his meals, will be happy.

Explanation: Food, wealth and knowledge are important aspects of life, and must not be given up at any cost.

e) As centesimal droppings will fill a pot so also are knowledge, virtue and wealth gradually obtained.

Explanation: Knowledge, virtue and wealth are to be gained gradually.

f) Chapter 15.5: He who loses his money is forsaken by his friends, his wife, his servants and his relations; yet when he regains his riches, those who have forsaken him come back to him. Hence, wealth is certainly the best of relations.

Explanation: Total negligence of monetary wealth is not a good idea. Wealth is a natural part of family life and has to be given its due importance.

g) Chapter 15.6: Sinfully acquired wealth may remain 10 years, in the eleventh year it disappears.

Explanation: All wealth one acquires in his lifetime must be through honest means.

h) Chapter 16.11 I do not deserve that wealth which is to be attained by enduring much suffering or by flattering an enemy.

Explanation: Wealth should be desirable only if it is earned with some honor.

Family and Friends: In this section, we will see Chanakya’s views on how to pick friends, and how to raise offspring.

a) Chapter 1.2: He is a true friend who does not forsake us in time of need, misfortune, famine or war in a king’s court, or at the crematorium.

Explanation: Not needed.

b) Chapter 2.5: Avoid him who talks sweetly before you but tries to ruin you behind your back, for he is like a pitcher of poison with milk on top.

Explanation: Just as too much sugar is bad for the health, too much sweetness in a person should raise doubts. You can make out that this person is a backstabber when he starts criticizing others before you. It is possible as a corollary that he could also be criticizing you when he is with others.

c) Chapter 2.6: Do not put your trust in a bad companion, nor even trust an ordinary friend, for if he should get angry with you, he may bring all your secrets to light.

Explanation: Be choosy in picking friends, since a bad might not be able to keep secrets when he is angry. Pick friends that can keep secrets. Such persons can hold their cool even when they get angry with you.

d) Chapter 3.14: As a whole forest becomes fragrant by the existence of a single tree with sweet smelling blossoms in it, so a family becomes famous by the birth of a virtuous son.

e) Chapter 3.15: As a single withered tree, if set ablaze, causes a whole forest to burn, so does a rascal son destroy a whole family.

f) Chapter 3. 16: As night looks delightful when the moon shines, so is a family gladdened by a learned and virtuous son.

Explanation: Above quotes show how a worthwhile offspring benefits the family and how a rascal destroys the whole family.

g) Chapter 13.6: He who is overly attached to his family members experiences fear and sorrow, for the root of all grief is attachment. Thus one should discard attachment to be happy.

Explanation: This can aid people who stay far away from their families for work or some other purpose. Short term distance from families can generate a lot of longing for people who are overtly attached to their family members. They can do better without such attachment, both at work and in maintaining their peace of mind.

h) Chapter 12.17: Realized learning (vidya) is our friend while travelling, the wife is friend at home, medicine is the friend of a sick man and meritorious deeds are the friends at death.

Learning: In this section, we will try to discuss Chanakya’s views on education.

a) Chapter 2.10: Wise men should always bring up their sons in various moral ways, for children who have knowledge of niti shastra and are well behaved become a glory to their family.

Explanation: Never lose focus on educating your offspring in moral sciences. Only a properly disciplined one can bring glory to the family.

b) Chapter 2.12: Many a bad habit is developed through over indulgence and many a good oneby chastisement therefore beat your son as well as your pupil; never indulge them.

Explanation: Loving a child/student is not the same as not hitting/chastising/scolding them. Parent’s teacher’s first purpose is to ensure the spread and retention of knowledge, behavior and discipline and where these are interrupted, some chastisement should be done.

c) Chapter 4.18: Fondle a son until he is five years of age, and use the stick for another 10 years but when he has attained his 16th year treat him as a friend.

Explanation: Thisis about rearing a child. A child below five years might be too fragile to undergo a beating, so he must be treated with care. As the child reaches 5, his true learning, process begins, and to instill in him those values that will form the base of his future, he might be needed to be beaten. At some age, when he develops his compass for life, he must be treated as a friend. Intimidation in this phase can stunt his maturation and delay his emergence as an independent player in the society.

d) Chapter 10.3: He who desires sense gratification must give up all thoughts of acquiring knowledge and he who seeks knowledge must not hope for sense gratification. How can he who seeks sense gratification. How can he who seeks sense gratification acquire knowledge and he who possesses knowledge enjoy mundane sense pleasure.

Explanation: Sense gratification and knowledge acquisition cannot go hand in hand. To gain knowledge, renunciation of worldly pleasures is a must.

e) Chapter 11.10: The student should completely renounce the following eight things: his lust, anger, greed, desire for sweets, sense of decorating the body, excessive curiosity, excessive sleep and excessive endeavor for bodily maintenance.

Explanation: Chanakya wants the student to renounce the above items in order to get disciplined and to aid his learning process.

f) Chapter 13. 17: As the man who digs obtains underground water by use of a shovel, so the student attains the knowledge possessed by his preceptor through his service.

Explanation: Continued service of his master in a disciplined fashion aids a student in learning.

g) Chapter 10.1: One destitute of wealth might not be entirely destitute, but a man devoid of learning is destitute in every way.

Explanation: The most important wealth in the world is a good education, without that a person is really poor.

Miscellaneous: These are shlokas on various topics, ranging from the need for dharma, charity, organization, control, and other such objects that consist of small, but very vital pieces of human nature that should not be neglected.

a) Chapter 5.2: As gold is tested in four ways by rubbing, cutting, heating and beating, so a man should be tested by these 4 things, his renunciation, his conduct, his qualities and his actions.

Explanation: Herein, Chanakya lists 4 criteria according to which a man should be tested. What a man renounces indicates what he is ready to forbid himself of for the greater good of a particular cause. His conduct indicates what kind of leader he can be. Qualities of a man would indicate how others should deal with him. And lastly, his actions would indicate the focus he has towards getting to the goal in an organized fashion.

b) Chapter 5.12: There is no disease (so destructive) as lust, no enemy like infatuation, no fire like wrath, and no happiness like spiritual knowledge.

c) Chapter 8.2: Low class men desire wealth, middle class men both wealth and respect but the noble honour only, hence honour is the noble man’s true wealth.

d) Chapter 8.15: Moral excellence is an ornament for personal beauty, righteous conduct for high birth; success for learning and proper spending for wealth.

Explanation: An ornament is a piece of jewelry that beautifies a woman. When a personal feature is an ornament, it serves to beautify an already existing trait. With this principle, Chanakya suggests ornaments to the above mentioned traits.

e) Chapter 8.16: Beauty is spoiled by an immoral nature; noble birth by bad conduct; learning by not being perfected and wealth by not being properly utilized.

Explanation: The above are features persons possessing a particular trait should not develop. Beauty is only skin deep when somebody’s nature is immoral. Similarly, an ill-mannered prince is of no use. Education must be perfect and a person should be able to apply all the basic tenets learned. When a person is a spendthrift, there is no advantage of his being rich.

f) Chapter 11.2: He who forsakes his own community and joins another perishes as the king who embraces an unrighteous path.


g) Chapter 11.3: The elephant has a huge body, but is controlled by a goad; yet is the goad as large as the elephant. A lighted candle banishes the darkness; but does that mean the candle is as vast as the darkness. A mountain is broken even by a thunderbolt, but is the thunderbolt as big as the mountain? No, he whose powers prevail is really mighty, what is there in bulk?

h) Chapter 12.20: The wise man should not be anxious about his food; he should be anxious to be engaged only in dharma. The food of each man is created for him at his birth.

i) Chapter 13.2: We should not fret for what is past, nor should we be anxious about the future, men of discernment deal only with the present moment.

j) Chapter 13.11: The hearts of base men burn before the fire of other’s fame and they slander them being themselves unable to rise to such a high position.

k) Chapter 13.16: He whose actions are disorganized has no happiness either in the midst of men or in a jungle – in the midst of men his heart burns by social contacts and his helplessness burns him in the forest.

Charity and Control:

a) Chapter 5.11: Charity puts an end to poverty, righteous conduct to misery; discretion to ignorance and scrutiny to fear.

b) Chapter 16.10: Even one who by his qualities appears to be all knowing suffers without patronage, the gem though precious requires a gold setting.

c) Chapter 14.13: If you wish to gain control of the world by the performance of a single deed, then keep the following fifteen , which are prone to wander here and there from getting the upper hand of you; the five sense objects, the five sense organs and organs of activity (hands, legs, mouth, genitals and anus)

d) Chapter 15.17: There are many ways of binding by which one can be dominated and controlled in this world, but the bond of affection is the strongest. For example, take the case of the humble bee which although expert at piercing hardened wood becomes caught in the embrace of its beloved flowers.

e) Chapter 16.20: One whose knowledge is confined to books and whose wealth is in the possession of others, can use neither his knowledge nor wealth when the need for them arises.

f) Chapter 17.3: That thing which is distant, that thing which appears impossible and that which is far beyond our reach, can be easily attained through tapasya for nothing can surpass austerity.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A forgotten hero reconstructed

----Book Review written for Centre Right India @ click ----------------------

Operation Red Lotus is a book written by Parag Tope, with inputs from the contemporary elements of the Tope family on India’s first war of freedom from the British in 1857. The book gets its name from the red lotus used by the participants in this war. Aside from memories of the family patriarch Prabhakar Tope, what makes the book unique is that it uses several otherwise unknown and forgotten pieces of info on the war, which include original and untranslated letters in Urdu, Bundeli, eye – witness accounts in Marathi, a revised view of English reports on the war to give a dramatically different story.

There are many positives in this book, most particularly, the very large number of myths destroyed by the book. One of the biggest myths laid to rest are that this war had no creative component that could prepare for the future of India after the war. This view was also expressed by Savarkar, whose work on 1857 I had previously looked upon as an important assessment of war. This is laid to rest in the book by presenting a translation of one of those many Urdu letters that were part of communication between the field officers and Tatya Tope. In the run up from the third Anglo – Maratha War (1818) to this war (1857), the British slowly crushed India’s economy. Local industry was shut down, people heavily taxed and overt forms of evangelization viz. converting to Christianity for less taxes, violence on temple premises, etc. were rampant. Indian officials in the British Government couldn’t get promoted beyond the rank of a Subedar. The leaders of the revolution recognized all of these as part of the tyranny and oppression of the British rulers and the war was originally based on a promise to uproot these, and restoring a liberty in personal life, trade and properties (ref: Azamgarh declaration, Delhi Gazette, 28th September 1857).

The book also deserves credit for decoding the previously unknown code of the red lotuses and chapatis used in the war. The petals of the red lotus are explained as soldiers ready to participate, while the stalk of the lotus flower represented a platoon. Each platoon had about 25 – 30 soldiers. Conveniently, a red lotus also has 25 – 30 petals! Each soldier was made to pluck a petal. The number of petals remaining on the stalk would indicate the percentage of the soldiers in a platoon not participating. Chapatis received by a particular village represented that only that village that was selected to provide food for the travelling armies. A complete system of communication, involving recruitment and logistics was thus the objective of these hitherto unexplained symbols during the war.

As a general of Nana Saheb, Tatya Tope was the man instrumental behind planning the whole operation. Nana Saheb coordinated with other leaders such as Bahadur Shah, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Baija Bai Shinde and Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. They collaborated so as to keep the planning and preparations as covert as possible, and some leaders such as Baija Bai continued to feign neutrality throughout the war while covertly supporting it to the hilt. Capital was sourced from civilian landlords and bankers such as Seth Lakshmichand of Mathura.

The mission of the operation was to mobilize Indian soldiers of the English East India Company (EEIC), to overrun their garrison, and capture a predetermined location (a city and neighboring villages). Following a liberation of a sufficient part of the country, the goal was to create a government that would represent the India that the leaders of the operation wished to create. The war started on the 29th of March, 1857 with the outburst from Mangal Pandey and for the next few months, the revolutionaries notched up a string of victories. Delhi was liberated on the 10th of May, followed by Kanpur, Lucknow, Gwalior and Banda. On 4th, 5th and 6th June 1857, Azamgarh, Varanasi and Allahabad were liberated. Faizabad, Daraiabad/Barabanki, Salan, Sultanpur and Gonda were liberated by 11th June 1857. At around the same time in Central India, Jhansi, Naugaon, Gursarai, Banpur and Orai were also attacked and the English were on the backfoot in these towns. Kanpur by 27th of June and Lucknow by the 5th of July. An Indian government under the name of Bahadur Shah Zafar was in place by the 25th of August 1857. This government would funciton until the May of 1858.

While all of this is relatively well known, what is relatively less known is how the war was lost. The answer lies in the English realization that it was the Indian villages that received the Chapatis that were responsible for providing for the troops. The English then simply flattened these villages and left them without any human trace. In particular, the area chosen for clearing was that of the Grand Trunk Road. Regions where villages were ‘cleared’ now became no – go areas for the Indian troops (w/o a caravan of supplies), and became a convenient passage for English supplies and reinforcements and a springboard for their attacks into territories captured by the troops. The Indian loss was more because of the inability to guess the depths to which the English could stoop down to preserve their power. Possibly millions of Indians died in this campaign of the English which created a sanitized corridor from Calcutta right upto Kanpur. The irony is that two islands in Andaman and Nicobar are even today named after the commanders of this massacre, Brigadier General Havelock and Lieutenant Colonel Neill. One wonders if the outcome of the war could have been different if the leaders of the revolution had invested more time and more men at understanding British history of war and knowing the English capacity for genocide and mass destruction while at the same time remembering lessons from previous encounters with Muslim barbarians like Temur Lang. The villages might then have been protected against massacres by the English and some of the damage could have been averted, possibly increasing the efficiency of the revolutionaries’ maneuvers against the English.

There is also a good description of the later phases of the war. After the fall of Delhi (through a British siege causing starvation of the troops stationed there), Tope established a second HQ at Kalpi and with covert support of Baija Bai Shinde rebuilt his war machinery, developed extensive logistic lines (which hitherto did not exist as the revolutionaries’ plan A was to rely on villagers), and executed brilliant battles most importantly that of Kanpur in November-December 1857 in which he succeeded to recapture Kanpur briefly and reinforce Lucknow to lighten the pressure on Nana Saheb and other who were holed up there. Other important battles of this phase included Tope’s protection of Lakashmi Bai from Hugh Rose and the siege of Charkhari.Tope was also successful to enlist support from the Gwalior contingents, which proves false erstwhile theories of the inactivity of Scindia leading to the defeat in the war.

Human shields used by the English troops, gory details of wanton massacres by the English and their Scottish and Irish mercenaries, elaborate battle maps and troop movements, a detailed description of Tatya’s strategic moves at extending the War to other theaters, the massacre at Jhansi after Rani Laxmibai’s escape, previously unknown roles of other heroes in the war and a new proposal of the date and manner of Tatya Tope’s death are other noteable facets of the book. The book has also captured the global repercussions of the 1857 war and has drawn a possible link between the revolution in India and the American Civil war. On the flip side, it appears in some sections that there is a vendetta between the author and establishment historians that he is seeking to prove wrong. For instance at page 156:

“For R.C. Majumdar who for some is India’s ‘greatest historian’, Bahadur Shah was a ‘dotard’, a senile old man. Majumdar was obviously not very impressed with Bahadur Shah, who ‘dared’ to rise against the English, when he was supposed to be nothing more than a ‘puppet in their hands’. ”

The same book by another author might be excused, but given that the author is related biologically to the subject matter of the book, i.e. Tatya Tope, one expects higher standards from him. Due to this, there is a risk that some readers might believe that the book is performing some kind of hagiography. It also robs the hope that the book can be used as a history textbook on the subject, which is the need of the hour and which in my opinion has to be completely emotionless. Nevertheless, for the large amount of new data that the book brings forth, it is a first of its kind and is a must have for history wonks from all sides of the spectrum as a stepping stone towards getting the final history of India’s first war of freedom.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Maneesha Panchakam

(Translation from : Maneesha Panchakam by Swami Chinmayananda)

The word 'Maneeshaa' in Sanskrit means conviction and panchakam means a collection of five shlokas. The stotra reveals the normally strong association with the body and the mind which makes even a strong person like Aacharya Sankara starts following a mechanistic mode of life.

The story behind this Panchakam begins with a Aadi Shankara going for a bath at the Ganga in Kashi along with his disciples. Shankara saw a dirty sweeper coming along. He shouted out to him to get out of his way. This was not only a moment of carelessness, but it was a seepage forth of the customs of that time, the very customs that Shankara sought to fight. The response of the sweeper and reply by the sage forms the body of the Panchakam. Shankara sees the divine in the sweeper, and heralds him as his Guru since the sweeper is able to see that he is not what is seen, but he is part of that Self which is compartmentalized into all of us.

Sweeper to Shankara:

अन्नामयादान्नमयम्थ्वा चैतन्यमेव चैतान्यात ।
द्विजवर दूरीकर्तु वाञछ्सी किं ब्रूहि गच्छ गच्छेति ॥

Oh! the best among the twice born, by saying 'move away - move away', do you wish to move matter from matter, or you mean to separate Spirit from the Spirit?

किं गंगाम्बुनी बिम्बितेओम्ब्र्मनौ चंदाल्वातिपयः
पूरे चंत्रमस्ती कच्च्न्घतिम्रित्कुम्भ्योवोर्म्ब्रे।
प्रत्याग्वस्तुनी निस्तारान्ग्सह्जान्न्दाव्बोधाम्बुधौ
विप्रोअयम्श्व्प्चोअय्मित्य्पिमहन्कोअयम्विभेद्भ्रमः ॥

Is there any difference in the 'jewel of the sky' when it is reflected in the waters of the Gangaa or in a ditch in the way side of a slum? Is there any difference in the space as such, be it in a golden pot or in a mud pot? In the ocean of the self existing Blissful consciousness, in the inner Self, devoid of thought ripples, how can there be this delusory distinction" this is a braahmana and this is a dog eater?

Shankara replies as follows:

जग्रत्स्वप्न्सुषुप्तिषु स्फुत्तारा या संविदुज्ज्रुम्भ्ते
या ब्रह्मिदिपिपीलिकान्त्त्नुशु प्रोता जगत्साक्षिणी ।
सैवाहं न च दुश्यवास्त्विती दृढप्रज्ञापि यस्यास्ति चेत
चन्दलोअस्तु स तु द्विजोअस्तु गुरुरित्येषा मनीषा मम ॥ १ ॥

This indeed is my deep conviction: he who has realised that he is not the seen, but that he is the one Consciousness that illumines all experiences during the waking, dream and deep - sleep states, the one Consciousness that is the sole witness of the entire play of the universe, the one Consciousness which is the very Life Spark in all forms from the Creator down to the ant, he alone is my Guru, be he a sweeper, be he a braahmana.

ब्रह्मैवाह्मिदम जगच्च सकलं चिन्मत्रिविस्तारितं
सर्वं चैताद्विध्य्या त्रिगुनायोशेषं मया कल्पितम ।
इथं यस्य दृढा मतिः सुखतरे नित्ये परे निर्मले
चन्दलोअस्तु स तु द्विजोअस्तु गुरुरित्येषा मनीषा मम ॥ २ ॥

He who, in his direct experience of the Immaculate Supreme - Bliss - Eternal, has come to the firm understanding that the entire universe is but an extensive play of Pure Consciousness, all projected by his 'ignorance' expressed in the three moods of his mind, while he himself is but that Brahman - he alone is my Guru, be he a sweeper, be he a braahmana.

शास्वन्न्स्वरमेवा विश्वमखिलं निश्चित्य वाचा गुरोः
नित्यं ब्रह्म निरंतरं विमृशता निव्याज्शान्तात्मना ।
भूतं भावि च दुष्क्रुतं प्रदहता संविन्मये पावके
प्ररब्धाय समर्पितं स्वव्पुरित्येशा मनीषा मम ॥ ३ ॥

He who has done long reflections upon his teacher's words that this world of change is permanently in a state of flux; he who has tamed his mind to a true state of quiet and poise; he who has brought his mind, devoid of all dissimilar thoughts, constantly to contemplate upon Brahman; he who has burnt up all his past and future residual-vaasanas in the fire of Pure Consciousness; he who has offered his body to live through and exhaust its present destiny he alone is my Guru, 'be he a sweeper, be he a braahmana.'

या तियार्न्ग्नार्देव्ताभिराह्मित्यांतः स्फुटा गृह्यते
यभ्दासा हृदयाक्ष्देहविश्या भांति स्वतोअचेतनाः ।
तां भास्यैः पिहितार्क्मंदाल्निभां स्फूर्ति सदा भावयन
योगी निवृत्मंसो हि गुरुरित्येषा मनीषा मम ॥ ४ ॥

A yogee with his hushed mind lives, meditating upon That, which expresses as 'I--I' the subjective individuality in all creatures: plant, animal, human and angels; That, by whose Light, mind and senses and body are all enlivened to activity, even though they are all made up of inert and insentient matter; That, which illumines everything as Sun from behind a bank of clouds - He alone is my Guru: this is my firm conviction.

यात्सौख्याम्बुधिलेश्लेशत इमे श्कद्यो निव्रुता
याच्चित्ते नितरां प्रशान्त्कालने लब्ध्वा मुनिनिर्व्रुतः ।
यस्मिन्नित्यासुखाम्बुधाऊ गलित्धिब्रह्मैव न ब्रह्मविद
यः कश्सित्सा सुरेंद्रव्न्दित्प्दो नूनं मनीषा मम ॥ ५ ॥

During its moments of utter quiet, a yogee's mind gains that Ocean of Bliss, a tiny droplet from which is sufficient to make Indra and others feel contented and happy. Such a one who has dissolved his individual intellect in this Eternal Ocean of Bliss, is verily Brahman, not a mere Knower of Brahman - That rare one, whose feet are worshipped even by the very King of Gods indeed, he alone is my Guru; this is my firm conviction.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mass Movements: How they begin and how they must be ended.

In the concluding part of our series on mass movements, we shall discuss how they begin and how they must be ended in order to achieve a long lasting change in the society. The first part of the series is here.

For these movements to arise, Hoffer [1] describes in "the true believer" that it is essential that the prevailing order is thoroughly discredited. For this this happen, not only should there be blunders and abuses of power by the rulers, but a sufficient articulation of these by men of words. Until these people come about, or until they have a grievance, the prevailing order will continue until it falls by itself or is felled by a neighboring country. To capture the attention of the men of words is so important, that even after the mass movement is successful, these men need to be glued to the cause. Their disgruntled can sweep the young turks from power. Examples for this kind include the stability of Imperial China where an alliance between bureaucracy and the literati was important. The Taiping rebellion then was started by a failed scholar. A similar case existed in the partnership of the Roman Empire and the Greek men of words, and a similar case exists in India, between the Congress party and its journos. We also have our disgruntled men of words at the moment, but it seems they are waiting for their numbers to grow.

The next step of manning the movement is to be done by the fanatics. One might ask why should the men of words precede the fanatics? This is because a fanatic usually shows a virulent extremism for his cause which acts as a culture shock to the prevailing populace. They would rather listen to a man of words. This man would then introduce the people to the new ideas in a piecemeal fashion. Moreover, the authorities are less likely in most cases to muzzle him. In the long run, such men can undermine the people's faith in an existing order and pave way for the fanatics.

The fanatics then move in at the ripest moment. With utter ruthlessness, they will go about tearing the old system to shreds. The words of the litterateurs are now adapted while the men themselves are shoved aside, and the movement is hijacked by them. Where the mass movement is a mild affair in the hands of the litterateurs, who only try to reform the present, the fanatics now wage an all out war on the present. Usually, these fanatics, who themselves are failed men of words come out only when the struggle with an existing order becomes a protracted one.

This is the most dangerous phase of a mass movement. The fanatic doesn't rest once victory has been won, but seeks newer extremes and if an enemy outside the movement cannot be found, this will lead to factionalism. The victories thus won against the old order may soon be lost. This is where the men of action must step in and succeed the fanatic, thus helping to stabilize the movement and freeze its victories. A successful mass movement must have three distinct type of individuals at the outset. It could also be possible for one person to change his outlook, but such changes have mostly been found to be temporary. Once power is won by the fanatics, these practical men stop the conflict with the present and preserve the power won by the movement. The vigor of the movement is to be sapped at this moment and used to form institutions to serve the people. Whereas during the reign of fanatics, devotion to the cause is prized, during the reign of the men of action, duty to the institution is to be given more importance. All this has to be done initially using vocabulary from the days of the fanatics, so as to not disrupt abruptly the continuity from the earlier era.

For a mass movement to be successful, there is the inevitability of the unpleasantness (if not evil) of the active phase of the movement (the phase wherein the movement sets out to acquire power). This is where the fanatic rules supreme. He appears ruthless, self-righteous, credulous, disputatious, petty and rude and often sacrifices or makes one sacrifice much that is dear to oneself in the present. For a mass movement with a worthy cause, it is essential that this phase ends as soon as possible. Nationalist mass movements that have been successful, such as the French and American Revolutions, have had active phases which were relatively short. In the case of India, the failures of the Congress party might be attributed to its not being dissolved once India was liberated from the yoke of the British rule. With the termination of the active phase, the individual is released from a collective discipline. This causes a burst in creativity [2], which was earlier strangled under the fervor of the active phase of the movement.

To terminate the active phase of the movement, firstly, its aim must be concrete rather than be uncertain. As Oliver Cromwell said, "A man never goes so far as when he does not know whither he is going." Usually, this concreteness is delivered by identifying the enemy to be overthrown, and once that is done, starting the reorganization process. Hoffer also recommends a homogeneous population to be essential for an early termination of a mass movement, however, it seems to me that a perception of homogeneity is more essential. Another factor that might lead to such early terminations of mass movements is the degree of submissiveness of the people. A more submissive a culture, the longer the active phase of movements.

Summary: To summarize, a successful mass movement in the Indic context must have the following features at the very beginning of it.

1) A concrete definition of what it is going to deliver.

2) Presence of all three groups of people, viz: the men of words, fanatics and the practical men of action.

3) Propaganda and dissemination of information must first be started by the men of words, followed by action taken up by the fanatics and they in turn should be suceeded by the men of action.

4) A perception of unity of people is a must. Any attempts to thwart this perception need to be defended with utmost vigor.

5) The active phase of the movement must be terminated immediately after acquiring power. Such maturity ends collectivism, revives individualism in the people, and the resulting creativity might even lead to rapid progress in the society.

6) The people should be made rebellious enough about their individualism so that they themselves would not allow the active phase of the mass movement to continue beyond acquisition of its aims.

7) Lastly, if there is any possibility of the mass movement failing, it needs to be disrupted before it takes off. This is because this will create a tendency of having repeated mass movements without sufficient thought to it. People generally do not like getting drawn into such repeated struggles, and finally when the moment is ripe, they would not be willing to sacrifice for the movement, knowing that it too will fail like the ones preceding it.


[1] Eric Hoffer: The true believer

[2] Careers of Milton, Bunyan, Koestler and Silone.

[3] Quoted by J. A. Cramb, "The Origins and Destiny of Imperial Britain" (London: John Murray, 1915), p. 216.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mass Movements, a SWOT analysis

Political movements can be of two types. Some can be intellectually oriented, to which most of the elite are attracted. These are characterized as having some high ideal which might be the bedrock of the current society but towards which attention has been missing for a long time. However, this does not have immediate short term applications and it is difficult to motivate many people towards such causes.

The rest are mass movements - i.e., which can attract large numbers of people to their fold by virtue of having as one of its causes something that holds fruitful to many people of different walks of life at the same time. A few specimens as have happened in India are Mahatma Gandhi's movement against the British for India's independence, JP Narayan's movement against Indira Gandhi calling for her to resign and Anna Hazare's brief for short term fixes such as his campaign against alcoholism in Ralegon Siddhi, his earlier 'fast unto death' against corrupt ministers only to get them resigned and the recently concluded fast for an anti corruption bill. The sway of mass movements among the lips of many is that numbers of people rooting for a cause can give concrete results to meet that cause. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi often harps the line that a mass movement is needed for public development.

Whether mass movements can be successful or not or whether they are beneficial to the masses will be left for the reader to decide. But in the view of the permanent fascination of the average Indian for mass movements of one type of the other, it becomes necessary first to examine this entity called the 'mass movement'. The purpose of the post is to examine the phenomenon of mass movements by a commonly used management tool - the SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities and threats) analysis. Putting all of these on the table at the same time for a particular entity would make it easy for one to choose to take a decision of deploying that entity or not deploying it.

(Below as extracted from Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer" [3])

1) Strengths:

(a) Large numbers of people batting for a particular cause can lead to its successful implementation.

(b) If a people are backward, successful modernization can perhaps be brought about only by united action that is offered by a mass movement.

(c) A mass movement can dent another of an opposing doctrine. What is required here is a better corporate structure of accomodating those of the other doctrine. The more it can endanger a sense of bonhomie, the greater the chances of its success. This is because the raw material for mass movements and the minds that are attracted towards them are about the same. This works both the ways hence also finds a mention in weaknesses.

(d) Being able to create a perception that performing an act will lead to a moment of glory. For this glory, mass movements are able to create an awareness of an audience, that our deeds will bring an applause from our contemporaries or will be remembered by the generations to come.


(a) Has the possibility to be derived from a state of anguish of the failed and not necessarily far sighted. As Thoreau said, "If anything ail a main, so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even.. he forthwith sets about reforming the world." [1]

(b) Can attract unworthy elements of the society who are lost causes on their own might and actively seek to add to their worth by associating with such movements. This is corroborated by observations that when mass movements are around, crime in the society declines.

(c) If two mass movements cohabit a place, there is a possibility of interchangeability of cadre. In Germany between the wars, there was always a certainty of the youth opting for the communists.

3) Opportunities:

(a) Holds a promise of sudden and spectacular change in living conditions of supporters. The driving forces used for the same are religious and nationalist fervor for change.

(b) To offer a substitute for individual hope. Mass movements can dope the followers with hope of the future, while making them sacrifice the present.

4) Threats:

(a) Derives from the belief in omnipotence of a particular ideology. For e.g., Lenin and the Bolsheviks had faith in the power of the Marxist doctrine before setting out for their utopia. In the case of Nazis, they had a belief in an omnipotent leader and the techniques of blitzkrieg and propaganda as tools for irresistible power

(b) People supporting mass movements usually have an extravagant conception of the prospects and potentialities of the future, are ignorant of the difficulties involved in their undertaking. Experienced people are less likely to lead or support mass movements.

(c) An intelligent mass movement leader will recognize that the fuel for mass movements comes from the ability of the movement to make members sacrifice rather than seek self interest. When such a leader comes to place, the movement becomes ever lasting as goal posts initially set for the movement keep shifting and people are coerced to permanently live to sacrifice. For e.g, according to Hitler "the more posts and offices a movement has to hand out, the more inferior stuff it will attract, and in the end these political hangers on overwhelm a successful party in such numbers that the honest fighter of former days no longer recognizes the old movement. When this happens, the mission of such a movement is done for" [2].

(d) It holds immediate threat to the unity of a family, as individuals not bound to a family are more likely to be supportive of a mass movement than a person who is bound by responsibilities of a family.

The outcome of mass movements - as Eric Hoffer puts it, is determined by two factors, one of which is how well its active phase is concluded after achieving its goals. The longer a movement stays volatile, the less beneficient it becomes. The more beneficial mass movements have been short lived - for e.g. the Reformation, the Puritan, French and American revolutions. Many nationalist movements fall into this category. The other factor for determining the outcome of a mass movement is to see how well it can usher in the next phase after the mass movement is concluded which is to have a more distant goal, something that ushers in a reign of stability, and can build enduring organizations towards achieving this distant goal. We will examine this at a later date.


[1]: Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Modern Library edition (New York: Random House, 1937), p. 69.

[2]: Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1943), p. 105.

[3]: Eric Hoffer, The true believer

Saturday, February 12, 2011

HUF and the caste system as a solution to proselytism

We shall continue to delve into Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer". In section 32, page 40, Hoffer discusses the attitude of mass movements to families. As India continues to Christianize, these will be some of the behavioral changes we should expect in Indian nature and learn to deal with it.:

"The attitude of rising mass movements towards the family is of considerable interest. Almost all our contemporary movements showed in their early stages a hostile attitude towards the family, and did all they could to discredit and disrupt it. They did it by undermining the authority of the parents; by facilitating divorce; by taking over the responsibility for feeding, educating and entertaining the children; and by encouraging illegitimacy. Crowded housing, exile, concentration camps and terror also helped to weaken and break up the family. Still, not one of our contemporary movements was so outspoken in its antagonism toward the family as was early Christianity. Jesus minced no words: " For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me" [1]. When He was told that His mother and brothers were outside desiring to speak with Him, He said: "Who is my mother? And who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother, and my brethren!" [2] When one of His disciples asked leave to go and bury his father, Jesus said to him: "Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead." [3] He seemed to sense the ugly family conflicts His movement was bound to provoke both by its proselytizing and by the fanatical hatred of its antagonists. " And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents , and cause them to be put to death." [4] It is strange but true that he who preaches brotherly love also preaches against love of mother, father, brother, sister, wife and children."

In the face of proselytism of any kind, especially evangelism, it is important to not fall in this trap of universal brotherhood. And what could be the obvious solution to this? A strong and united family is one of the best chances to survive against evangelism, a symbiotic system that can not only keep each member well nourished physically, mentally and socially, but can also provide more room to preserve the Hindu ethos. Today's nuclear and sub nuclear families will lose it in the long run and in the absence of the ethos, it is only a matter of a few generations that evangelical vultures will swoop down on us. A Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) is the ultimate barrier for these vultures.

Eric Hoffer warns us about this as well:

"As one would expect, a disruption of the family, whatever its causes, fosters automatically a collective spirit and creates a responsiveness to the appeal of mass movements."

While a case can be made against the HUF as being too large and with too much friction, at the bare minimum, we should strive to have one whole functioning unit of a family system for the sake of the culture, comprising of grandparents, parents and children. Being associated with a family can in itself provide a deterrent from walking over to the other side.

Unfortunately, Hoffer did not live in today's age of 'money for religion' and hasn't commented on it. In that scenario, there is a possibility of whole families being converted at a time to Christianity. In such a scenario, not only would families have to be created, but we need to have strong links of our families to other families in the neighborhood as well. Starting small scale neighborhood distress help groups on the scale of co-operative foundations to help the poor and needy as well as assisting people to get self employed will be a good move in this regard.

While India's cities might need an artificial construct like this, rural areas already have that set up in the pre existing caste system [5]. Not only does the caste system ensure heterogeneity and continuation of the decentralized Hindu ethos, but charities run by caste members makes it easier to run public services and reach the poor and the needy, a more stable counter to petrodollar muftis and the evangelizers and fractionation of families that might happen with the furthering of industrialization in India. Few things need to be cautiously tread on though while using the caste system to solve today's problems for instance, same standards of justice for all groups and giving everybody an equal chance to have a piece of the pie (of national resources).

Note: The word caste has only been used as a translation for the word jati and not in any derogatory sense.

[1]: Matthew 10:35-37.
[2]: ibid, 12:47-49.
[3]: ibid, 8:22
[4]: ibid, 10:21
[5]: R. Vaidyanathan. Three major conflicts and India's strategy.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why proselytize?

Earlier, we had commented on proselytism from the perspective of imperialism and class warfare (link: (1) and (2) ). We had however, not attempted to understand the proselytizer. The following is an excerpt of proselytism from the psychological perspective from Eric Hoffer's book: "The True Believer". The objective of this post is to understand the mindset of the proselytizers. I request that this post be accepted as an addendum to our earlier two posts on this topic.

Whence comes the impulse to proselytize? [3]

Intensity of conviction is not the main factor which impels a movement to spread its faith to the four corners of the earth: "Religions of great intensity often confine themselves to contemning, destroying, or at best pitying what is not themselves." [1] . Nor is the impulse to proselytize an expression of an overabundance of power which as Bacon has it "is like a great flood, that will be sure to overflow. " [2]. The missionary zeal seems rather an expression of some deep misgiving, some pressing feeling of insufficiency at the center. Proselytizing is more a passionate search for something not yet found than a desire to bestow upon the world something we already have. It is a search for a final and irrefutable demonstration that our absolute truth is indeed the one and only truth. The proselytizing fanatic strengthens his own faith by converting others. The creed whose legitimacy is most easily challenged is likely to develop the strongest proselytizing impulse. It is doubtful whether a movement which does not profess some preposterous and patently irrational dogma can be possessed of that zealous drive which "must either win men or destroy the world." It is also plausible that those movements with the greatest inner contradiction between profession and practice - that is to say with a strong feeling of guilt - are likely to be the most fervent in imposing their faith on others. The more unworkable communism proves in Russia, and the more its leaders are compelled to compromise and adulterate the original creed, the more brazen and arrogant will be their attack on a non - believing world. The slaveholders of the South became the more aggressive in spreading their way of life the more it became patent that their position was untenable in a modern world. If free enterprise becomes a proselytizing holy cause, it will be a sign that its workability and advantages have ceased to be self - evident.

The passion for proselytizing and the passion for world dominion are both perhaps symptoms of some serious deficiency at the center. It is probably as true of a band of apostles or conquistadors as it is of a band of fugitives setting out for a distant land that they escape from on untenable situation at home. And how often indeed do the three meet, mingle and exchange their parts.

[1]: Jacob Burckhardt, "Force and freedom" ny: pantheon books, 1943 p. 129
[2]: Francis Bacon, "Of Vicissitude of Things," Bacon's Essays, Everyman's Library edition (New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1932), p. 171.
[3]: Eric Hoffer, "The True Believer"New American Library edition p. 102-103