April 16, 2009

Evo Morales brings Gandhi to life in Bolivia

Filed under: manifesto,opinion article — newritings @ 9:43 pm
president of the people, for the people
president of the people, for the people

Just as the architects of the so called clash of civilisations, departs from high office in and around the White House, non -violence gets some new life in the hood. I am talking of the Bolivian leader Evo Morales who the took the unprecedented step of going on a hunger strike against his own country’s right wing faction of legislators that wanted to deny him and the people (indigenous) their right to a greater say in the political life of the country. Morales’s political party MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) supported a referendum to give the indigenous people more rights – for the first time – in the former Spanish colony in the US imperialist backyard.

The Morales hunger strike began on 9 April. And only ended on 14 April when the Bolivia’s Congress voted into law the will of the people. It was widely reported that president Morales had earlier condemned the opposition for being “racist, fascist, selfish” because they had refused to ratify the law.

The law permits Morales to stand again for election on December 6, and reserves 14 congressional seats for indigenous candidates and also permits expatriates to vote.

MAS, the Movement for Socialism, the party and movement that Morales leads is most likely to win, the December elections.

The success of the non – violent way I guess works when the full moral weight of the society leans on the side of those who are on the side of justice, whilst an active international world is observes. For all the constitutional and transformation challenges Morales faces which often has been accompanied by violence, this is a radical break to be followed as it has worked before in many other countries and in different contexts. In India, under the leadership for Nehru-Gandhi and the Congress Party, many will argue it played its role in expelling British colonialists.

Mahatma Gandhi has inspired millions in this way of struggle and when I was at school (South Africa) was “fortunate” to be present with my late school friend Vigen Chetty, the funeral of communist, South African Mervy Thandray, influenced by both the radical thinkers like Marx-Engels, Mao, and Gandhi. He was an austere academic, respected, loved and lived the talk, of which words were apparently few but meaningful.

Recently, various people in the subregion, including Bishop Tutu went on a fast and hunger strike in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, it is true to say that there are many, mainly on the left, who think that this soft power is for sissies and at best is ineffective against the power of men like Mugabe, or the Israeli military etc. So why does this situation persist? This, I cannot truly answer, but would suggest that the experiences of Morales and Gandhi before him shows that under certain circumstances this power can work.

It is not surprising that the ideas of non violence permeated the radical movement as Gandhi as early as 1906, initiated a campaign of non violence called Satyagraha, to protest against the British government discriminating against Indians using the occasion of the government s recent action against Indian families when it invalidated the Indian Marriage.

It was much later in India where Gandhi, when he returned to India after returning after 21 years, to which a comrade from India joked: ¨we gave you a lawyer, and you sent us a Mahatma.¨

The Gandhi album records this period thus: in 1914 Mohandas Gandhi returns to India at age 45 after 21 years of practicing law in South Africa where he organized a campaign of “passive resistance” to protest his mistreatment by whites for his defense of Asian immigrants. He attracts wide attention in India by conducting a fast –the first of 14 that he will stage as political demonstrations and that will inaugurate the idea of the political fasting

The celebrated salt march against British power in 1930, saw Gandhi walk village by village for 165miles to the Arabian sea in Gujerat, to produce salt from sea water in defiance of a British monopoly on salt production.

In 1932 Gandhi begins a “fast unto death” protesting discrimination against the so called India’s lowest caste “untouchables” (dalits). Some other tactics used include boycotts of British goods, and after six days of fasting wins an agreement on improving the rights and status of Dalits,

So when Morales finally ended his hunger strike, after 5 days, Mahatma Gandhi long dead, killed by a Hindu extremist 6 decades ago, smiled on his and the people of Bolivia, marking a new beginning from the testosterone politics of the region.


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