English Writings of D V Gundappa - 10

This article is part 10 of 12 in the series English Writings of D V Gundappa

DVG was a person of the people. His spectrum of contacts extended between the extremes of traditional scholars and true-blue Marxists. Long-standing interaction with a wide variety of people had provided him a window into the recesses of social life that usually remain unnoticed. His prodigious learning in political philosophy and statecraft contributed to his insight into world affairs. All this put together enabled him to see communism for what it is even when it was at an incipient stage in India. In a closely argued essay titled Revision of Socialism he offers a masterly critique of socialism, capitalism, and communism. The gravitas of the matter expects quoting his words at some length:

While the ethical ideals of Socialism are all one could ask for, its weakness is in its inability to enlist and mobilize those gifts of individual initiative and personal ability which are the keys that open the gates of success in industrial enterprise and business management. The best that a man has in him, lying there latent and idle, can be coaxed out and harnessed to service only by the magic of a reward which can tempt and quicken his private self. Take away the incentive of prize and distinction assignable to special merit, you will have, in the hallowed name of a mechanical equality, desiccated the sap-root of the plant of prosperity. On the other side, the limitations of Capitalism on the ethical side are obvious and well known. Men are to it merely the “means” to an end, — having no value save as tools for the capitalist’s gold-digging. Labour is simply “hand-power” to be bought as cheap and used up as relentlessly as possible. Capital’s interest in labour is the dairyman’s interest in the cow.

               The red evangel of Communism is frankly the outlawing of private motive and the negation of personality. It is the direct antithesis of democracy in that it ignores that which constitutes the vital principle of democracy, — namely the value and significance of the individual and the free self-development of every human personality. Communism offers rationed comfort to the body in return for the suppression of the soul by the citizen. We are no doubt given something to eat; but we shall have to eat only that something, which is not entirely or even largely of our personal choice. This denial of freedom for the play of the human spirit is the fatal flaw of Communist philosophy, notwithstanding all its generous concern for the lot of the masses.

               Marx started from a fundamental misconception about the nature of man: that the stomach is the man; that the chief good of life is that which is good to eat; that the tummy is the mother of morality. This scheme of values seems a cynical perversion of history to its wide-eyed student.

               […] A sound philosophy must recognize that man is both body and soul and seek a way of reconciling the hungers of both … The call now is for a larger concept of equity. Humane equity rather than mathematical equality should be our guide. (pp. 122–23)

               No communism and no socialism are possible in the pure realms of the spirit. The value of all social and institutional life is merely as part of a course of discipline for it. (p. 320)

People who encounter DVG for the first time might think of him as an idealist who revels in empty abstractions. Nothing could be farther from truth. While he was an unabashed idealist, he knew full well the yawning gap between ideals and hard action. Here is a small sample to illustrate his acceptance of the practical side of things:

[…] A political idealist is hardly ever more lucky with his material than is the poet or the painter with his. The picture before the mind’s eye may be ever so beautiful, but the natural crudeness of the medium, — vote or word or pigment, — can bring out the vision of perfection only very imperfectly. The lips of theory announce gold, but the hands of fact hold out brass. (p. 150)

DVG had predicted the grave consequences of a single-party parliament even before the Congress actualized the idea after India attained political freedom. All through his life he stressed on the importance of having non-partisan, independent institutions in steering public affairs:

A party would always want to win and keep power; and to this end, it would carry on propaganda to influence the judgment of the public. Success at the polls, and not truth or justice or moral right, becomes the first concern in its propaganda. Against the evil of misdirection and fraud inherent in such propaganda, one possible remedy is the existence and activity of more parties than one, so that the fear of vigilance and exposure by a rival will act as a check upon each party’s excesses. One-party parliament, even though of popular election, is only formally a democracy, but virtually a dictatorship … There must be non-partisan, independent institutions of citizens to act as judge between power-seeking parties and give disinterested guidance to the public in the election of representatives as well as in the forming of opinion on all public issues. (p. 152)

DVG stood witness to the degeneracy of Congress, particularly after India attained independence. He repeatedly warned against its supercilious attitude and offered corrective measures. Here are some of his observations picked at random:  

Power is as much a disintegrator as an integrator. So long as power remained a far-off object to be fought for and won, the rank and file in the Congress had uppermost in their minds a sense of the need for complete unity. It is just as natural that after the prize has been captured, there should be scramble among them for shares. Search unites, gain divides. This is a law or human nature. (p. 231)

               Great undoubtedly is the Congress; but the country is greater. Congress is great because it till now recognized the country as greater. (p. 236)

               The worst of the overgrowth of the Congress is the cessation of all open-minded study and discussion of public questions in the country. (p. 237)

               The demoralization that has overtaken Congress is, in sober truth, nothing but the normal working out of the less lovely elements of our common human nature. We should have been surprised if such demoralization had not come about. That it has come about can surprise no one except those who made the mistake of thinking that the members of the Indian National Congress are somehow superior to the rest of the human race; that they are made of gold while the rest are of dross; that the Congressman is somehow immune to the weaknesses and temptations which ordinary human flesh is heir to. Those who would cure the Congress of the malady must therefore seek other remedies than the easy one of re-chanting the name of the Mahatma or repeating his phrases and formulas. (pp. 240–41)

We have seen that DVG had submitted a scheme for the Reform of the Hindu Mutts as far back as in 1923 (Selected Writings of D. V. Gundappa, vol. 3, pp. 143–67). He had then condemned the State’s involvement in religious matters. He took up the issue for consideration again in 1949. We can only marvel at the prescience of his observations:

When a government or a parliament attempts to meddle with anything pertaining to religion, it lays an impious and possibly mischievous hand on what it does not understand. The legislator setting himself up as arbiter on an issue of religion, particularly of a religion not his own, exalts the gross above the subtle and prejudice above understanding … He who would be a proper judge of things in that realm should be a man of deep psychological self-experience and insight into spiritual truth. Is our average legislator such a man? (pp. 170–71)

DVG brilliantly juxtaposes two words — ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘secular’ — and demonstrates how Sanatana Dharma embraces all forms of customs and beliefs. This is of special relevance for us today when Hinduism is facing flak from all quarters and being labelled as ‘outmoded’ and ‘regressive’:

The word “cosmopolitan” connotes a degree of positive, though non-discriminative, sympathy as contrasted with the cold neutrality suggested by the word “secular.” The twelfth century Hindu King Bittideva illustrated the cosmopolitan spirit characteristic of the true Hindu when he, a Jain by birth, felt free to express in action his preference for the tenets of Vaishnavism, without however turning the least bit of a renegade towards his previous faith. He continued his patronage for his ancestral religion and let his queens live in the faith of their own free choice, whether Jainism or Vaishnavism or any other. Lithic records left by him testify to the unitarianism of his belief — whether the deity worshipped was Keshava or Shiva or Arhat. There are inscriptions of a fourteenth century king of Vijayanagar recording how, when his Jaina and Vaishnava subjects had a serious quarrel about a point of ceremonial precedence, the Hindu unitarian king called them together at his court-assembly and exhorted them to conciliate each other and live in brotherly amity, — promulgating as an edict the pact so arrived at. Such instances of the cosmopolitanism of Hindu rulers are numerous and can be cited from our own day. (pp. 172–73)

To be continued.




Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

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