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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 29, July 10, 2010

A Research Project on Gandhi and M.N. Roy

Friday 16 July 2010, by R M Pal


I wrote the following outline of a comparative study of M. N Roy and Gandhi in 1992, when I retired from Rajdhani College, University of Delhi. I did not intend sitting idle and wanted to do some research on Gandhi and M.N. Roy. I thought I might be able to keep myself engaged in writing on this subject and a friend of mine, who knows my background, suggested that I should be able to get a grant from the ICSSR for doing research on this topic. That’s how I wrote the outline. One day I went to the ICSSR office in New Delhi and asked the officer in-charge when I could meet him to discuss this topic. He advised me to meet Prof Iqbal Narayan, Director of the ICSSR, and told me that I could get into his office. I had read about Prof Iqbal Narayan who is a political scientist. He was pleased to receive me and asked me to sit down. I gave him a copy of the outline but he added that I had no formal degree in political science not to speak of having a Ph.D. He said that according to the rules of the ICSSR, one has to have a Ph.D degree in any subject and added that the outline was excellent and that he was in a position to sanction a grant of Rs 25,000 for a brief study. I started reading all the relevant literature, specially the original writings of Gandhi, M N Roy and Jai Prakash Narayan.

Then one evening in 2002, I had an attack of cerebral thrombosis, which resulted in physical disabilities. Fortunately, I did not have any mental disabilities but I had severe muscular pain, which prevented me from doing any serious work. Since then I have not been able to pursue my studies in a systematic manner. Meanwhile, I spoke to a number of political science teachers in colleges and universities. If any one of them is an ambitious student desirous of pursuing Ph.D or research on this topic, I will be very happy to give any assistance to such a scholar. Since there has been no response, some former colleagues of mine suggested that I might get the outline published in The Radical Humanist and the weekly journal Mainstream. I write for these publications frequently. I hope some young scholars on reading this outline might feel inclined to take up this topic for research.

Brief Outline of a Research Project on a Comparative Study of Mahatma Gandhi and M.N. Roy with reference to their Political
Philosophy and Political Practice

1. On the face of it Gandhi and Roy would seem to represent two entirely opposite trends and points of view in modern history, especially in modern Indian politics. Gandhi, an apostle of non-violence, drew his inspiration from the Gita, Tulsidas and the Hindu religious Bhakti tradition. Roy, initially a revolutionary nationalist, then a Marxist, and in his last phase a radical humanist, was highly critical of religion, especially the Hindu tradition. Gandhi took a negative view of science, technology and modern civilisation while Roy held that India’s social, political and economic regeneration depended on the spread and application of scientific attitude to the problems of life. Gandhi sought reconciliation between the British and Indians, the landlords and peasants, and the capitalists and workers. For most of his career Roy stressed the irreconcilable conflict of interests, which, in his view, was at the heart of imperialism, capitalism and landlordism.

Except towards the very end, Roy was out-spokenly opposed to Gandhi, and he consistently advocated an alternative leadership to Gandhi in the Indian National Congress and outside it. The contrariness of the one to the other is so pointed and deep that a comparative study may seem to promise little fruitfulness.

2. However, a closer view of these two very outstanding Indians suggests that contrariness notwithstanding, they may also have significant affinities which may provide clues not only to their respective personalities and careers but also to the historical context in which they lived and worked. They were both unambiguously committed to their respective ideals and brought into politics a moral dimension, which is hard to find in India today. Towards the end of his life Roy recognised in Gandhi the presence of certain rare qualities of spirit which characterised his own personality and which rarely survived the stresses and strains of a political career. Certain affinities between Gandhi and Roy in his last phase have been noted by political analysts like Dennis Dalton, Sibnarayan Ray, Amlan Dutta and others. These, however, require to be examined in depth and detail, which has not been done so far.

3. The historical context in which they both lived and worked was characterised by the break-up of the British Empire on one hand and by far-reaching political revolutions on the other. In the transformation of the empire into a Commonwealth of nations India played a vital role. How did Gandhi and Roy view this “decolonisation” process and take part in it? The First World War also activated forces which led to a series of revolutions. Roy advocated all along “revolution from below”. How did his notion of “people’s committees” compare with Gandhi’s concept of Gram Panchayats? To what extent do their common opposition to centralism and advocacy of decentralism reflect the very distinctive nature of the Indian tradition and Indian socio-cultural reality? To what extent did these two opponents of each other contribute unwittingly together to the formulation of a political philosophy, which is basically different from the political philosophy that evolved in the West together with the growth of capitalism?

4. Besides comparing the political ideas and ideals of these two personalities, it is also important to examine the extent to which their political activities were in consonance with the principles advocated by them. This involves not only a careful and comparative study of their published works, but also a close scrutiny of their conduct as political leaders. Such a study may not only offer a more reliable view of their personalities but also illumine the nature of twentieth century Indian politics.

5. I have here only indicated in general terms the scope of the project which I intend to undertake. As my research progresses, it may be necessary to narrow the inquiry to more limited aspects within this frame. In my estimate the project will require two years full time research and study.

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