The Golden Jubilee Distinguished Lecture series organised by the School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad seeks to facilitate the dissemination of knowledge on a wide variety of topics through many insightful lectures. The audience was graced with the third lecture by Prof. Karuna Mantena on the 16th of February on the topic, “Scaling up Satyagraha: Miscalculations and Discoveries”. The welcome address was delivered by Prof. Jyotirmaya Sharma in a light-hearted manner, engaging the audience and setting the tone for the lecture. The event was chaired by Prof. K.K. Kailash who introduced the speaker with mentions of her extensive qualifications and accolades alongside special mention of her study of Gandhi and non-violence in context of nationalism and colonialism.

Prof. Mantena began her address by setting the temporal landscape of the origins of the Satyagraha movement in India referring to this time period as one of mass mobilisation and the emergence of Gandhi as a leader. However, the crux of the lecture centred on the idea that the roadblocks and miscalculations faced, led to accelerated conceptual innovation through new forms of Satyagraha. She made a reference to ‘the tree of satyagraha’ conceptualising the roots to be that of ‘satya’ and ‘ahimsa’ with the branches being indicative of the three primary forms of Satyagraha i.e. Civil Disobedience, Non-Cooperation and Constructive Satyagraha. The failure of the Satyagraha movements, underlined by the tendency of mass politics to devolve into violence was emphasised upon; being characterised by Gandhi as ‘Himalayan Miscalculations’. Prof. Mantena asserted however, that these miscalculations led to new discoveries, new theories and innovations due to Gandhi’s will to continue to engage in mass politics and adapt to the challenge of scaling up the Satyagraha with the looming potential for crisis and violence.

Further, Satyagraha was contextualised as having first been practised in South Africa and later being applied to India on an expanded scale. It became an evolving experiment over the span of 4 decades leading to the generating of theory through practice. Prof. Mantena explained this phenomenon through what Gandhi called his ‘epiphanies’ which occurred during moments of crisis thus leading to theoretical innovation which was political in nature. To Gandhi, these epiphanies marked the sudden convergence of his spiritual and political views leading to not only the evolution but also strengthening of his position. The beginning of the Civil Disobedience movement in praxis after the Rowlett Satyagraha was marked by the conundrum of how to civilly disobey the draconian sedition laws. For Gandhi, unjust laws meant that citizens essentially had the moral duty to disobey such laws; he prescribed the practice of creative acts of disobedience such as collective jail going. However, this practice turned bloody very soon with increasing violence across the nation leading to Gandhi being called upon to put out fires and the churning of the rumour mill with regards to speculation of Gandhi’s imprisonment leading to further uproar and violence. This led to Gandhi calling off the movement but this crisis cemented the need for self-correction in his mind.

This self correction emerged through Gandhi’s new insights into the causes of violence wherein he gained understanding of how deep mental lawlessness existed in the minds of the Indian citizens since the laws followed by them were due to fear and not civic duty as such. This in turn pushed him to invent new forms of Satyagraha such as civil resistance or the swadeshi movement. Most important was the formulation of the Non-Cooperation movement which was meant to avoid the problems of Civil Disobedience. This included methods of mass mobilisation such as hartals and boycotts (although Gandhi was largely against the latter) which brought about a new way to contest unjust laws through refusal to cooperate which gave rise to the consent theory of power. Gandhi’s eagerness to differentiate between Non Cooperation and Civil Disobedience was succinctly underlined by Prof. Mantena who further conveyed Gandhi’s frustrations with the former having to reckon with the latter at the peak of its mobilisation despite his attempts to separate the two. The speaker mentioned the contrast between defensive civil disobedience and aggressive civil disobedience in passing with regards to Gandhi’s contemplation of whether to escalate the movement or not. However, such concerns were rendered moot with the Chauri Chaura incident marking the final in a series of mistakes that marked the end of the movement.

Prof. Mantena drew the audience’s attention to the very interesting aspect of the psychological underpinnings of the breakout of violence attributing it largely to the frustrations of the elites thus differentiating violence from mob violence. Yet another discovery of Gandhi that was illuminated by the speaker was that of collective power. She lucidly explained how collective power was essentially a demonstration of force through numbers thus leading to the negation of the principle of non-violence. The importance of ‘numbers’ was emphasised in terms of how it led to the distorting of the sense of power alongside the problem of agency turning into lawlessness. A paradox emerged in that, the non-cooperation movement succeeded in overcoming fear of the government but at the same time it was also a demonstration of power. Through the previous assertions it became evident that violence was not merely a product of ignorance and thus the purpose of Satyagraha was shifted to being an alternative to violence. It was, in this way, tasked with mitigating violence it itself generated through the use of formal structures.

In her concluding remarks Prof. Mantena placed heavy emphasis on the self limiting of action as the seeds of progressive self restraint. She also pointed out how the very definition of non violence was challenged. Yet another important point was that although Gandhi was critical of the problems of mass democracy, he focused on refining the conception rather than abandoning it altogether.

This engaging lecture was followed by a question and answer session. This brought more insight into the changes that occurred in the practice of Satyagraha after the outbreak of violence following the Rowlett Satyagraha along with more clarity on Gandhi’s idea of how violence to him undermined the moral clarity as well as the objectives at hand. Further, Prof. Mantena pointed out the lack of work on Satyagraha and how focus was brought to the idea after its adoption in the African-American Civil Rights movement in the US which in turn brought about the strategic nature of mass movements as opposed to being just about numbers.

The vote of thanks was delivered by Prof. Anagha Ingole expressing thanks to Prof. Jyotirmaya Sharma, Dean, School of Social sciences along with gratitude towards the Institution of Eminence for its collaborative efforts. Thanks were also extended to the speaker, the audience, staff, students as well as the volunteers. Thus, the event was concluded in pomp and rigour with many informal discussions stemming from the interesting lecture delivered by the speaker being undertaken over refreshments.


  • Report by: Ann Elza Varughese, M.A. Political Science