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


Mahatma Gandhi: Unfinished Revolution


Naresh Kumar Ambastha



In the conflicting era of Globalization, Gandhiji is suddenly emerging 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, social relation and alienation, etc. We have traversed more than six decades since our Independence. Although we have achieved a lot, but have we been able to ensure the genuine up-liftment of the weaker sections of our society that is, those who are weak both economically and socially? Regrettably, we cannot answer in the affirmative. The Gandhian values, which constituted the bedrock of our national movement, are being continually undermined and mutilated by influential segments of our polity. Mahatma Gandhi has done enormous work for India’s society and the world and even for ourselves and had done it astonishingly well.  Some intellectuals say that the country needs Mahatma Gandhi because country is drifting away from its cherished goal of welfare state. Guru Rabindranath Tagore wrote “In the barbaric age men’s hunger did not impose any limit on its range of food which included even flesh but with the evolution of society this has been banished from extreme, possibly in a like manner, we await the time when nothing may supposedly justify the use of violence whatever consequences we are led to face. Because, success in a conflict may be terrible defeat from the human point of view, and material gain is not worth the price we pay at spiritual cost. Much rather should we lose all than barter our soul for an evil victory. We honour Mahatma Gandhi because he has brought this ideal into the sphere of politics and under his lead India is proving everyday how aggressive power pitifully fails when human nature in its wakeful majesty bears insult and pain without retaliating. India today inspired by her great leader opens the new chapter of human history which has just begun.” 1 Independence Day and 2nd October are not occasions for rejoicing but for sorrows that the people of the nation are still far from the goal of social and economic equal opportunity which Mahatma Gandhi cherished and for which in his own inimitable way he strove all his life. It is universally established that the biggest contribution Gandhiji made to our national life was to teach us the value of mass mobilization and mass action and to teach people to shed all fear. He clearly believed that exploitation of many by the few must end. The hungry millions are entitled to work, live respectfully in fair ways. There have been few rich who have cornered the bulk of nation’s wealth leaving millions of people semi-starved. In the battle between the haves and have-nots, the whole weight of Government should be thrown on the side of latter. But unfortunately it is not happening; the Capitalist class has grown more powerful than ever before, monopolies have been firmly established. The idea of Gandhi’s trusteeship has been completely ignored since Independence. Our 400 million people remain more or less where they were when the British quit India. The essence of Gandhi's teaching does not lie in Ahimsa or Truth, but in his deep concern for the poverty stricken masses of India, and so long as poverty remains any where in India, and so long as  there are entrenched economic interests and conspicuous affluence among a minority, the dreams of revolution remains incomplete.     

We are experiencing increasing massacres, poverty, hunger and hunger deaths, farmer’s suicide, depression, distress, suppression and exploitation. All these explain that we have not moved far away from the colonial policies where the white man’s burden to civilian non-whites. To day the only difference is that the elites among the non-whites are justifying their exploitative behaviour against the poor rural people especially the Tribes and Dalits. The welfare state’s intervention has politicized the various socio-economic cleavages further as its development policies protect the interests of the elites against the marginalized. The political parties claim to represent the down-trodden and weaker sections and offer the hope of a brighter future for India. But the ground reality reveals the continuing victimization of tribal and their displacement, expropriation of their lands, increasing atrocities on tribal women and Dalit women. We have the evidence of occurring pogroms and criminalization of politics, riots, endless violence in Singur, Kashipur, Kalinganagar, Narayanpatna. These experiences awaken us to engage in serious rethinking of Democratic State as well as an active civil society which Mahatma envisaged.

After collapse of communist movement a mega social structure is being built up mindlessly in our world with an increasing insistence on efficacy required for an industrialized society, ignoring practically the growth of wisdom that can rightly guide human progress in critical times such as at the present. The theory, rather myth, of liberalization that the market is always efficient and right and public service and public intervention and regulation always wrong has not worked in reality. In fact, it has proved a disaster to the wellbeing of the common people who have not benefited from the so-called “trickle-down effect” In our present civilization, there is a feeling that the world is sinking under the weight of several problems such as terrorism, acute corruption, aggressive violence, and Plutocracy. It has placed selfishness at the core of human existence. Self-aggrandizement is elevated to the level of a meta-value from which every other value emerge. Consequently, the entire human energy is being spent on increasing and appropriating material wealth and physical comforts. Justice, equality, equity, fraternity, love and selflessness have been scrupulously eliminated from almost all human transactions; Human psyche got desensitized and brutalized. It is quite logical to raise the question: why should we maintain this civilization that has led humanity to such an impasse? We need a more humane, just and sustainable world. We have to construct alternative models in light of the insights provided by Gandhiji.      

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.

Marx and Gandhi originated from a desire for the welfare of masses. The cause of the have-nots is the basic sentiment running through both. The common point between Marx and Gandhi is the extreme concern of both for the suppressed and the oppressed, the resource-less and the ignorant, the dumb and starving sections of humanity. Gandhi and Marx want to establish an order, which would make these masses co-sharers in the gifts of nature and fruits of human labour and genius. But while Gandhiji insists upon adherence to truth and non-violence for achieving the object, Marx does not care about the quality of the means, provided they appear efficient enough for achieving the end as quickly as possible.

Ganghiji’s paradigm consists of five concepts. First convictions of Gandhiji is Ahimsa.There is law of love governing all things. It is an ontological word meaning Being; a metaphysical word meaning Reality; an ethically behavioural word meaning loving non-violent, attentiveness to all living things Brahmacharya does not connote only individual celibacy but it connotes austerity. Self purification means “purification in all walks of life” 2 the law of Ahimsa cannot be observed by a man whose heart is not purified. Realisation of God is a far cry for him. The path of self-purification is hard and thorny. Man can purify himself perfectly only when he makes himself free from all kinds of evil motives, passions, attachment etc, not also from deeds. Asteya is a vow in Gandhi’s life.   Gandhiji was very strict in regard to actual practice of honesty in day-to-day dealings, Aparigraha/Non-possession  determines the economic aspects of Gandhiji’s philosophy. It is another discipline , which directly enables man to lead  a simple life and indirectly inspires him to form classless society. Possession means preservation for the future He believes that seekers after truth never preserve any thing for tomorrow. It is usually seen that the rich keep a superfluous stock of things which are far more than their need, and are found to be neglected and wasted, where as in the same society , million are found to be starving for want of sustenance. Therefore, it should be duty of the rich to take initiative in non-possession in order to uplift the common masses from their poverty-stricken condition For if the rich curtail their needs to a certain moderate limit, then it will be easier to utilize the excess left by them for the removal of the poverty. Gandhiji writes, “civilization in the real sense of the term, consists not in multiplication but in the deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants, which promotes real happiness and contentment and increases the capacity for service”3 All these are for the whole community of the human society.

What was distinctive in Gandhi was that he united constructive work with struggle against injustice. The unique amalgam was his Satyagraha. Social evils and injustice must be resisted; to co-operate with them is to accept them and to get assimilated with them. A free man not only constricts but fights injustice. Satyagraha is the soul force and Truth. The Satyahrahi should not have any hatred in his heart against the opponent. The issue must be true and substantial. The Satyagrahi must be prepared to suffer till the end for his cause. His 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 of 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. His 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. Gandhiji 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 may look on him as one of himself and may feel no hesitation in opening their hearts to him. Sarojani Naidu once said with her waggish humour: “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” said Gandhiji.

Sarvodaya means the rise and well being of all. It is an ecologically enlightened, traditionally respecting and labour-intensive. A decentralized system of village economy with cottage industries can come about by the tireless application of disciplined human intelligence. Gandhi’s emphasis on the eradication of untouchability was a part of Sarvodaya. The untouchables forming a vast number of Indian populations constituted, not merely economically but socially, the most depressed sections of the society. It is no part of Hindu Religion. It is a foreign matter. We have achieved some measures of success in wiping it out. In August 1932, British Prime Minister announced the communal award scheme. It was a devilish plan to disintegrate Hindu-community through representation to its depressed classes. So Gandhiji opposed it tooth and nail with his unique weapon of fast. He wrote to the British Government that “the Depressed classes whose representatives should be elected by the general electorate under common franchise no matter how wide it is”.4 The fast had a spectacular effect on the Indian mass mind. It brought unity among Indian leaders. The British Government resiled from its stand; and the purpose being served, the fast could last only for four days. Thus Mahatma saved Hindu Community by his unique weapon of fast.

Every one's economic uplift and social assimilation thus became the simple discipline of every Indians effort at Sarvodaya. Sarvodaya meant social rehabilitation; the maimed and the diseased parts of the society must be made healthy and whole again. To mend a tear, to heal a wound, is the restless urge of an organic, truly human outlook, everywhere it reaches her the tendrils, the tiny green shoots of the Growth.   

Global Swaraj means individual and societies move towards Self-rule in the process and interrelated with four other concepts. In the society of Gandhiji’s vision the communities would be self-sufficient for their basic needs in their surroundings.Bapu recognized that having the low per capita land availability in villages; the Indian peasant needed some additional craft work that could be pursued easily by the family without much capital investment. He wrote in 1919: "without cottage industry the Indian peasant is doomed. He can not maintain himself from the produce of land.” In 1921 he wrote, “I have seen women beaming with joy to see the spinning wheel work for they know that they can through that rustic instrument both feed and cloth themselves.”

An interesting episode is related here. Hearing the efforts of Gandhiji, an Indian mill owner called upon him to convince him that the best way of reducing the dependence on imports was to establish more Indian mills. I am not doing exactly that, Gandhiji replied “but I am engaged in the revival of the spinning wheel.” What is that — the mill owner asked, feeling more at sea.

After explaining his work to him, Gandhi concluded,, “I swear by this form of Swadeshi because through it I can provide work to semi-starved, semi-employed women of India. My idea is to get these women to spin yarn, and to clothe the people of India with Khadi woven out of it.”

It is clear from this episode that Gandhi’s concern was not only confined to reducing the dependence on foreign mills, he was equally eager to reduce the villager’s dependence on domestic mills in the context of the produce which could be made by villagers themselves. Mahatma was well aware how hidden state subsidies help the big industry and hinder the cottage industry. In open Market a more organized industry will always be able to drive out a less organized industry, much more so when the former is assisted by bounties and can command unlimited capital and can therefore afford to sell its manufactured goods at a temporary loss. Such has been the tragic fate of many enterprises in this country.

The centralized system of production has over-exploited the earth and given birth to unemployment and helplessness. It has put the consumers and producers in to two distant corners, and has created a plundering army of unproductive people, managers, bankers, brokers, advertisers, transporters and the like. It is essential to start a programme to proceed towards decentralized society. It did not mean that every one would literally have the same amount. It simply meant that every body should have enough for his or her needs. “To each according to his need.” It was also the aim of Marx. The peasants produce the food and go hungry. They produce milk and their children have to go without it. It is disgraceful. Everyone must have a balanced diet, a decent house to live in, and facilities for the education of his children and adequate medical relief.

“We live in an age which is aware of its own defeat and moral coarsening, an age in which old certainties are breaking down, the familiar patterns are tilting and cracking. There is increasing intolerance and embitterment. The creative flame that kindled the great human society is languishing. It is our pride that one of the greatest figures of history lived in our generation walked with us, spoke to us, and taught us the way of civilized living. He who wrongs no one fears no one. He has nothing to hide and so is fearless. He looks every one in the face. His step is firm, his body upright, and his words are direct and straight. Plato said long ago,” There always are in the work a few inspired men whose acquaintance is beyond price”5    

The Revolution which was started by Bapu was not carried forward by the labelled Gandhians or even by a handful of dedicated men in different political parties. It can only be carried forward to success by mass mobilization and mass action on basic social and economic issues with keeping secular fabric intact.


    1.  Modern Review, September 1934.

    2.  Yarvada Mandir, p 24.

    3.  Harijan, June 10. 1939, p 160.    

    4.  Ibid 18.8.32

    5.  Radhkrishnan, 15 August 1956.   


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati