Dialogue  July-September,  2010, Volume 12 No.1

Significance of Hind Swaraj in the Modern World

Naresh Kumar Ambastha

This article is d5evoted to the study of some aspects of Gandhi’s life and thought. Gandhiji has made a unique impact on the mind and heart of his age and the present era has also realized them, although many of the values that he deeply cherished were –and still are- at a great discount in the world. This is a good time and opportunity for learned scholars, politicians and as well as students to assess some of the results of this impact as objectively as possible and to examine his relevance to the modern world. There are many persons — not all, by any means; his detractors — who sincerely think that the Gandhi era is over They recognize that he led the freedom struggle excellently—but in many other fields results are neither easily perceptible nor mature—but having done that, his role has been completed and many of his teachings are not really valid now in the new trend, particularly  among younger generation who did not have the stirring experience of actually seeing him and coming under the spell of his personality. Is this a really correct and complete assessment? I hope to examine some facets of this attitude in this article. Modern World, which finds expression in comforts, possessions, free self-expression, fast locomotion, automation of work and mechanization of life and relation and conflicts, monetization of values and degradation of quality, is a malady in need of a cure. According to Gandhiji, Civilization does not make much of morality or religion but ignorance; pushes a man to a religion of body-cult. This is irreligion, involving enslavement of men and women to labour in hazardous conditions. Modern civilization is destructive of humanity and of itself. In religious terms, it is Satanic, ushering in Black Age.        
        It is well known that ‘ Hind Swaraj’ was originally written in Ganghiji’s mother tongue, and later translated into English by him and published serially in “ The Indian Opinion” in
South Africa. During the last 100 years from the day of its first publication, so much has been spoken and written about the book and Gandhiji has written himself so much about his ideas, his values and the course of his spiritual growth and it is difficult to say something new about him. Sixty years after his death and a hundred years after he wrote his first seminal, though somewhat crudely written book, Hind-Swaraj, Gandhiji suddenly emerged as a possible answer to the global crisis of human values and numerous other unresolved contradictions, such as between affluence and poverty, freedom and repression, technology and man, terrorism and non-violence, corruption and honesty, social relation and alienation, etc.  It is a small booklet and a Main Script for the entire modern civilization.

     Lovable personality of Gandhiji: —Gandhiji was a practical idealist who tried his very best to solve various difficulties and problems in a rational and scientific manner, keeping in constant view certain basic principles which could not be sacrificed even for the liberation of the motherland. Gandhian thought is not based on some fads or utopian fantasies, as the so-called intellectuals in India and abroad assume; neither the ideas of the Mahatma, though resting on the foundation of certain eternal truths, are eminently practical and realistic. We shall be overlooking his advice and guidance at great peril to India’s vital interests and well-being.

     During the last two decades, our country has achieved notable results in various sectors of national development, and it would be improper to underestimate or denounce our own achievement. Nevertheless, the fact remains that we have not been able to resolve some of our basic problems as of hunger, poverty and unemployment. Further, while endeavouring to increase the rate of economic growth, we have not paid adequate attention towards strengthening the ethical standards of our people and even that of the Parliamentarians. Gandhiji always stressed the imperative need for raising the moral stature of human beings, while attempting to raise their standards of material living. He repeatedly reminds us that a nation cannot become great merely by erecting huge buildings, establishing giant factories and multiplying wealth for economic prosperity. While all these are important for upgrading the living standards of the people, a country becomes really great and worthy of respect only if her citizens imbibe the sterling qualities of the head and the heart which inspire them to sacrifice gladly their individual good for the larger interest of the nation.

     Gandhiji's whole life, as he said, was a continuous experiment in the search of truth. He was always learning, always seeking, always ready to learn. In the preface to his book “ India of my Dreams” he has pointed out: “ I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after truth, I have discovered many new ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly.” So, weighing every step he took, in the political as well as in other fields, in the scale of moral values, he grew not only in mind, which is not so rare, but also in the power of the spirit, working out an amazing harmony in what are usually considered discordant elements in most men’s personality. The main inspiration in his life was God. But after God, the source of power and inspiration for work lay in the people, whose service was his life’s ideal. He attuned himself in his life to the deprived, the exploited, the poor, the hungry, the Daridranarayan who constituted the large majority in the country.  His contemporary leaders lived a life that was quite cut off from the life of the masses. They did not speak in their languages or dress like them or live in their style and were not really concerned with their problems or their miserable conditions. Gandhi ji changed all that. A man of the people, he equated himself with the people. He deliberately reduced his standard of living to that of the poorest and the lowliest so that they might look on him as one of himself and might not feel hesitation in opening their hearts to him. The well beloved Sarojani Naidu did once say, with her waggish humour, that “it takes a great deal to keep Bapu in poverty” But no one can deny that he ate, dressed, traveled and lived as an ordinary man and a poor villager and carefully cultivated the capacity of non-possession. “ As days went by I saw I had to throw over-board many other things which I used to consider as mine and a time came when it was a matter of positive joy to give up these things…. Exploring the cause of that joy, I found that, If I kept anything as my own, I had to defend it against the whole world”.

     He was a Very Ordinary Person who had trained himself to meet and mate with the ever-present element of goodness in every person and every situation and so to create from moment to moment a fresh chance for a better life. Gandhiji was essentially a very humane person, gentle, modest, affectionate, humorous, ready to talk to everyone, never giving the impression that he considered you inferior and himself superior. Ganghiji’s highest quality, however, was his all embracing humanism which did not recognize the usual categories of the high and the low, the rich and the poor or of the religious or political labels which men and women wore, or the caste names under which they paraded themselves or suffered their ‘fated’ ignominy. He called himself a socialist and defined socialism as a social order in which “ the prince and the peasant, the wealthy and the poor, the employer and the employee are all on the same level. Looking at society the entire world over, there is nothing but duality or plurality. Unity is conspicuous by its absence. But, in the unity of my conception, there is perfect unity in the plurality of designs. Let us ask ourselves how much we have done to identify ourselves with the masses? Have we bridged the gulf between the surging millions and us? To what extent do you share the life of the masses? I confess that with me it is still an inspiration.”

     There had been individual Englishmen and women and a group of dissenters who sided with the Indian freedom movement and were against their own government. But in the year of Gandhi’s Birth centenary, the British Parliament, representing the entire British,  passed a unanimous resolution, placing on record their acknowledgement of his great work for the people of India and the world and his friendship for the people of the U.K. “that this house, on the occasion of the centenary year of Mahatma Gandhi, desire to place on record its acknowledgement of his great work for the people of this country, his life of simplicity and understanding which demonstrated to the world the importance of the brotherhood of man, the rejection of violence and the achievement of peace: and urges that strong support be given to the United Kingdom Committee responsible for celebrating the Gandhi Centenary in this country”.

     It must, therefore, be admitted that, even in the present blood shot temper of the world, when some of the most cherished values of life are being defied and derided, good does sometimes triumph and vindicate itself, that it is possible to fight hate with love, darkness with light, ignorance with wisdom which is not knowledge but the grace of knowledge.

     Gandhiji took an integrated approach to life, and tried to weave insights, derived from different disciplines, into a single unified view. In twentieth century no one, except Karl Marx, had undertaken such an enormous task. Gandhian totality has confounded specialists who tended to take a partial and distorted view of Gandhiji. He had been called a philosophical anarchist, a believer in agrarian primitivism, a subsistence economist, anti-technologist, a religious leader and so on. None of these views does justice to Gandhiji because no closet, senior common room theorizing can aptly describe him.

     The kind of questions Gandhiji asked just about a hundred years ago is the ones which now face both the underdeveloped and post- industrial societies. Since Gandhiji was not a futurologist, there must be some explanation as to how he anticipated the threats to humanity that emanate from technological determinism, to calm the greed created by consumerism and vulgar hedonism, structural violence, alienation, etc. Ganghiji’s anticipation of the coming problems of humanity was not based on empiricism or deviations from either pre-fixed ideal position or pre-modality. Seems that he was able to ask these questions because he tested and judged every aspect of human activity in a scale of some ethical norms and values. Gandhian values were derived from his own philosophical ideas that he arrived at as a result of his historical, spiritual and material knowledge and his experience. These values reflect his understanding of human nature, of social and production relations, of man’s constant struggle against forces that try to push him down into one kind of oppression or another and of his attempts to rise above his existential situation.

    Romain Rolland regarded Ganghiji’s spirit as “ the perfect manifestation of the principle of life which will lead a new humanity on to new path” 1(Mahatma Gandhi, by Romain Rolland, publication Division, 1968; p 128) Thant reiterates that “ Ganghiji’s philosophy has a meaning and a significance far beyond the confines of his country or of his time” 2(Mahatma Gandhi: 100 years; Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1968, pages 373-374) I believe that Gandhiji was a glorious triumph of moral and spiritual powers over all the material forces that the world can boast of! May we be worthy of this great Master who was born in India, but soon became one with the human family and was, ultimately, attuned to the infinite.

     Ganghiji’s concept of Civilization: —:In 1909 in his booklet ‘Hind-Swaraj’, Mahatma characterized modern civilization as a “a disease” and  “a nine days wonder” for it “ takes note neither of morality nor of religion” (Hind Swaraj, pp 20-22 and 92) He holds that moral purity and spiritual stamina are of incomparably greater survival value to civilizations than physical might and material prosperity. The evils associated with modern civilization touch practically every aspect of life. With the progress of science and technology, the last one hundred years have given man greater mechanical mastery over nature than during the rest of history. But this achievement is far from making man wiser or happier and it is a misfortune. Material progress has spelt moral ruin.

     This moral lag expresses itself in man’s inordinate love of wealth and power. The profit-motive that lies at the root of capitalism has blinded him to the ideal of service. Love of power has been one of the most important causes of war and conflict and its increasing destructiveness.

     Obviously democracy cannot run along with capitalism and war preparations. The latter require a high degree of total and centralized control.  Most of the civilized States are today tamely submitted to the tyranny of dictators of one kind or another. Nationalization of conscience of intellect is fast becoming ordinary feature of life in the modern State. This blind worship of wealth and violence cannot go indefinitely without the human race relapsing into savagery. But according to Gandhiji “Civilization is not an incurable disease” (Hind-Swaraj, p 22), though it requires a drastic, revolutionary remedy. This remedy is, according to Mahatma, the cultivation of non-violence in all spheres of life.

   Concept of Soul-force in Hind-Swaraj:— Fortunately we are celebrating the100th years of Hind-Swaraj. Ganghiji’s philosophy of Hind-Swaraj deserves to be studied because it embodies the lifelong researches of the greatest exponent of non-violence. It is the most original contribution of India and the entire world to political thought and political practice. While Gandhiji had a very kind and compassionate heart, he did not hesitate to carry on tireless crusade against injustice, both in South Africa and in India. According to him, it was a sin to suffer unjust behaviour at the hands of another person or organization. Though the concept of soul-force is based solely on his conviction. Gandhiji invented the concept of soul-force in the pretext of world wars and exploitation by British imperialism Now, we have to use it against growing terrorism, armaments, nuclear explosions, international sale of arms and ammunitions, corruption, deforestation and capitalistic planning at the cost of mass-welfare The culture of violence and brute force must be replaced by the culture of non-violence and soul-force in every walk of life. Let us hope for a new world community where people make love the guiding principle of life. Morality, character, sacrifice, truth fearlessness must prevail in the life of individuals and nations. If the soul-force prevails, no doubt heaven will be on the earth.

    Relevance of Hind –Swaraj:— Can a gospel of love be ever irrelevant? I think that the essential portion of the Hind-Swaraj and the arguments contained in it so far as the true meaning of Swaraj is concerned, is as relevant or perhaps more relevant today than when it was written by Gandhiji a hundred years ago. Very few people or almost nil among the youths have the vaguest idea of what Gandhiji wrote in Hind-Swaraj and what kind of Swaraj he wanted to build up in India. Gandhi’s views as expressed in that small booklet have been ignored mostly, both by the rulers of Independent India and by the intelligentsia. It is from social, ethical, religious and finally spiritual point of view that Gandhiji criticized in Hind-Swaraj the Western culture, its craze for machinery, selfish attitude of lawyers in regard to disputes and litigations, or of doctors in curing diseases. The British system of Education teaches the gospel of hatred and violence and the institution of war, fought with progressively deadlier and more destructive weapons, provided by modern science and technology. From deeply ethical point of view Gandhiji defined self–government or Home-Rule, as not just driving away British from India, replacing them by Indian administrators and establishing Parliamentary democracy here, but as control by citizens over their own-selves, as self restraint and self rule. Swaraj literally stood for self-control in the ethical, religious and spiritual sense in Gandhi’s life scheme. Distinguished Indian thinker Kautilya wrote in his Arthasastra:” The aim of all the sciences is nothing but restraint of the organs of sense. Whosoever is of reverse character, whoever has not his organs of sense under his control, will soon perish, though possessed of the whole earth bounded by the four quarters.” He further stressed, Sukhasya  Mulam  Dharmah; True happiness could be found only in Dharma.” Gandhiji did not entertain a shadow of doubt that India must progress according to her own genius and ancient culture and plan for a progressive economic system which would lead to greater prosperity without eroding the qualities of simplicity and higher values of life.


Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati