Dialogue  October-December, 2010, Volume 12 No. 2

Relevance of Hind Swaraj

Kailash Chandra Pant

The life-force of any society is reflected in the transformations it goes through. But it is not necessary that every change is for good. That is why a dynamic society has to keep its conscience alive. It must be able to distinguish between what change is acceptable and what is unacceptable. If a society doesn’t have the ability to discriminate then the social changes may destroy the basic foundations of its social structure. In the process the very identity of that society is lost. This is exemplified by the history of civilizations. The civilizations of Rome, Greece and Mesopotamia have become extinct. The Indian social structure even while undergoing changes according to the need of times, maintained continuity and strong links with its basic tenets. Today it is universally acknowledged as the oldest civilization and the Vedas as the oldest scriptures.

After the Islamic invasions this country witnessed rapid social changes. The pace of such changes became quicker during the British rule. However during the last one century, under the influence of European civilization, which is also defined as technological or industrial civilization, not only our social structure is undergoing changes, but our values are also geting eroded.

In this era of change, when we refer to a slim book Hind Swaraj by Mahatma Gandhi, some people would question the very relevance of discussing a book in the beginning of 21st century which was written in the first decade of 20th century. Therefore, issue of relevance needs to be addressed first. In the very beginning I have mentioned that a live conscience is essential to decide on the acceptance of social change. We will have to set some definite criteria for the exercise of such conscience or wisdom. Gandhiji in his ‘Hind Swaraj’ has provided the basis for such criteria. This book was published in 1909 when India was under British subjugation. The British rulers were not only exploiting India politically and ecomically but were also trying to distance us from our cultural and civilizational roots. The education system was being used to brain-wash the Indians. Even when he wrote the book he had apprehension that the Indian youth may not fully accept his views. That is why the book addresses a fictional reader whose doubts it endeavours to clarify. Therefore, when we try to understand the relevance of Gandhi it would be appropriate to become a skeptical participant in Gandhi’s dialogue with his readers.

Gandhiji relates the prerequisites of ‘Swaraj’ at the very outset in the book. He is not in agreement with the impatience of the youth who either tend to criticise or ignore the achievements of the preceding generations. In this context he discuses contributions of Dadabhai Naoroji and Gopal Krishna Gokhale in detail. He categorically states that only those who are mature and experienced can enjoy ‘Swaraj’. This sentence has significant implication. Thus a Society which cannot meaningfully evaluate the achievements of its ancesters lacks depth, cannot seriously analyse issues, can neither achieve Swaraj nor manage it successfully. It is noteworthy that when Gandhiji made this statement the youth of the country had been stirred over the issue of partition of Bengal. The youth of that period not only hated the British, but were also against those who had any kind of relationship with them. It was eager to throw the British out of India. Gandhi talks about a mature society in the background of this impatience of the youth. Gandhiji makes important statement – “It is not correct stand that those who do not agree with our views are the enemies of the nation.” If we relate these views of Gandhiji to the present state of the country, we will comprehend how right he was? Those who took over the reins of political power in the country wasted their energy in denigrating the achievements of the previous generations. Different sections engaged themselves in undermining the role and importance of Subhash Bose, Veer Savarkar, Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Bhagat Singh, Azad and even Rani Jhansi. It appeared to be a vain effort to enhance their own stature in the process. This can neither be nor should be the mental make up of a society which cherishes ‘Swaraj’. Societies like it are prone to be subjugated or succumb to disasters. It is the lack of this maturity which reduces the legislators into Aya Rams and Gaya Rams, and ushers in political instability. The society has no time to even think of how much resources, energy and time these immature people are wasting, much less oppose them.

The most important aspect in any discourse on ‘Hind Swaraj’ is the meaning of “Swarajya”.  Gandhiji was right in his apprehension that the majority of leaders, youth and people in the country perceived Swarajya in a limited sense. In their view it was enough if the British left India. They felt that the laws, legislations, the police and army and the administrative structure set up by the British will survive their departure and there will be no difficulty in governing the country. On the contrary. Gandhi wanted to replace the British system by a truly Indian system of governance. He asserted “when India will become English then it will not be called Hindustan but Englishtan. It is not the Swarajya of my dreams.”

Have we, even after Independence, not continued the British laws? Have we not copied the Govt. of India Act 1935 in our Constitution? Have we not accepted in its entirety the British system in police, army, administration and the judiciary? We even adopted the British Parliamentary system while Gandhi described British Parliament as a prostitute (Veshya). He explained the system: “If there is no one to put pressure on her she would not do any thing. That is her nature. She is a prostitute because she lives as the keep of the Cabinet. To-day her master is Asquith, tomorrow it could be Balfour, and the next-day a third one”.

In this context, Gandhi opined about the members of the British Parliament in following words.” When the Parliament is in the session, its members either stretch and sleep or doze while sitting. … The members of Parliament are found to be selfish and showy. If we apply this formulation of Gandhiji on our 21st Century Parliament and the state legislatures we will know how correct was he in his assessment? Our elected representatives are engaged in shouting, raising their pay and allowances, are absent from the Houses or are busy canvassing Ministers for their personal work. Even sixty years after Independence, no member of Parliament has considered it essential to move amendments to the Constitution to drop the provisions which encourage discrimination among the people. Why Bharat should continue to be known as India? Why English continues as official language? Why common civil code is not being implemented? These issues should figure among the priorities of any independent country. But is it so? The answer is no? Then why not? It is because we failed to evolve into a mature and thinking society. That is why we are misusing our Independence indiscriminately. Every one is engaged in plunder and self-aggrandizement. In this process of mindless plunder we do not even pause to understand that the people have lost faith in politicians and the political system.

Gandhiji also invites our attention to another important point. In the electoral system the newspapers enjoy almost a cult-status for the voter. Voters form opinions based on newspaper reports. Newspapers have become unreliable and present the same thing in different hues. One newspaper will present a leader as credible, another will paint him as unreliable. A country which has such media what would be the fate of its people? We Indians have seen in the recent election the phenomenon of “packaged news” which has destroyed the credibility of the newspapers. Are the views expressed by Gandhiji in the beginning of the twentieth century not relevant today? Do we not discern in him a visionary and farsighted person? His views on this point alone justifies his being called a Mahatma.

Presently, our country is coming completely under the influence of western civilization. Gandhiji having lived in midst of this civilization, had experienced that it is  destructive. This civilisation justifies worldly attainments and physical pleasures. Gandhiji gives an interesting example to underscore the above formulation. Earlier people were physically tortured or coerced to become slaves. Now they are being enslaved by the temptations of money and consumerism. In this analysis Gandhi is hinting at the Indian philosophy or thinking which searches for happiness not in the outer world but inner-self. It pointedly compares the values of a philosophy, which is concerned with the well-being of people, with a civilization which enslaves people. Today, if we analyse the changes that have taken place in our society we will see that it has become mad in the blind race for wealth. We are losing our humanity in the process. The virtues of brotherly love, harmony and sensitivity are becoming extinct.  

The lust for wealth is a longing which is never satisfied. How unaware and insensitive are we to the fact the number of sick people in the country is on the increase  day by day, inspite of rapid growth of doctors and hospitals. Expansion of health services is a real challenge before the world. Everyday a new disease is discovered and then starts a search for a medicine to treat it. We do not even know the side effects and reactions of the medicines. Many die of being administered wrong medicine. Bitterness between individuals, societies and nations is on the increase and is bound to lead to conflict. Now even the possibility of clash of civilisations is being openly discussed. The Western civilization appears to be gearing up for new conflicts, having already passed through a phase of serious class conflict. It appears it is a civilization prone to conflicts. That is why Gandhiji is proponent of Indian civilisation which stands for harmony and synthesis. In this phase of civilizational changes we will have to vitalise our social conscience so that we can discriminate as to what can be accepted or rejected from the Satanic western civilisation. What is a matter of concern is that after Independence we are fast forgetting the warnings of Gandhiji and have started feeling proud that Bharat is becoming India.

On this aspect Gandhiji has expressed his anguish in the following words: “I am of the firm opinion that Hindustan is being trampled not by the British but by the contemporary civilization and is entangled in its web……….Dharma (religion or duty) is very dear to me, therefore, my first regret is that Hindustan is straying from the path of Dharma. Here the meaning of Dharma is not linked to the Hindu, Muslim or Zoroastrian religions. But the Dharma, which is the core of these religions is disappearing from Hindustan and we are turning away from God.” Is this view point of Gandhiji not relevant to-day? The greed for wealth has turned us into ‘Adharmi” (non-righteous). This proof is evident in the decline in inter-personal, family and social relationships.  

After Independence, efforts have been made to propagate a viewpoint that India was never a nation. It is a conglomerate of separate nations. This perception has been propagated by the same intellectuals who had already accepted the supremacy of the European civilization. Their misconception was rooted in the fact that they considered the prevalent notion of word ‘nation’ synonymous with our ‘Rashtra’. In the western world the word nation is a political concept, while in India ‘Rashtra’ has a cultural connotation . For us the ‘Rashtra’ is part of the broader concept of ‘Dharma’. In this context the analysis of Gandhiji is relevant.” It is the British who taught us that we were not a nation (Rashtra) and it will take hundreds of years for us to become a nation (Rashtra). This assertion has no basis. Before the advent of British in India we were one ‘Rashtra’, our thinking and our way of life was one. That’s why Britishers were able to establish one state. It is they who created differences among us later. The visionaries who, set up pilgrimages at Rameshwaram, Jagannathpuri and Haridwar were not fools. They knew that God can be worshipped in homes also and if one has pure heart piety can be earned at home. But they also realised that the nature has created India as a country and, therefore, it should also be a ‘Rashtra’. They created different centres for pilgrimages to inculcate a sense of unity, which has not happened anywhere else in the world. We Indians were one and are one, more than two Britishers can claim to be. It is you and me, who claim to be civilised, have developed a misconception that in Hindustan we are different nations”.

Summing up the entire discourse on the subject, the conclusions reached by Gandhiji are important for us and make the relevance of Hind Swaraj self-evident. Gandhiji avers:

“I believe that the Indian civilization cannot be matched by any other in the world. Nothing is visible around us which can equal the seeds sown by our ancestors. Rome is in ruines; Greece is known now in name only; Egypt lost its preeminence; Japan has been caught in the stranglehold of the West and nothing as of now can be said about China. The Indian civilisation, however, still stands strong in its foundations, despite suffering some set-backs and damages.”

       The relevance of Gandhiji and his Hind Swaraj is in the fact that it beckons us to free ourselves from the grip of inferiority complex and break out of the chains of ideological and intellectual slavery.  


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati