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

Beyond Hind Swaraj

Ramjee Singh


The last sentence of Hind Swaraj, differentiates this book from an arm-chair academics or utopia because Gandhi says: “my conscience testifies that my life henceforth is dedicated to its attainment.”1 This shows a sense of his commitment which necessarily implies a programme of action. No one realised better than Gandhi the tragedy of speculative thought without action and social action with personal commitment. Bulwer joins Gandhi when he says that “books are but waste paper unless we spend in action the wisdom we get from thought”2. That is why Gandhi and Gandhism without militancy is tantamount to reaction of the worst type and Gandhians without commitment are no doubt goody goody persons merely helping status quo. Diwakarji is, therefore, right when he says that it is not only necessary to experiment with truth in our own life (satya sodhanam) but also “to establish truth” in society (satya samsthapanam).3 Truth and non-violence were not only personal virtues but they have their societal character. Hence, non-violence without crusade against exploitation and corruption is lifeless pacifism. Hind Swaraj, reflects the real spirit of Gandhism because it is all war and no peace. It disturbs the status quo at every point and at every step. Hence the natural corollary of Hind Swaraj is struggle against injustice and exploitation against expansion of capitalism, economic and cultural imperialism, consumerism, militarian and the last but not the least industrialism, which is at the root of many of the vices stated above. Hence the task beyond Hind Swaraj was not of rewriting a second Hind Swaraj after studying the criticisms on this book but formulating and implementing action programmes or Chhutakara. Gandhi was approached from time to time to revise the book but he always confirmed the truth of what he wrote in 19094 and which he himself circulated in 1910 among his English and Indian friends. With his usual stubborn straightforwardness, he says: “I have nothing to withdraw from what I have written”5 ... “there is not one word in Hind Swaraj that cannot be substantiated. If I have to rewrite it today, I may change the language but never the thought”,6 after the stormy thirty years through which I have passed. I have nothing to alter the views expounded therein”7 ... “I still abide by whatever I wrote about railways, etc ...” 8 “My experience has confirmed the truth of what I wrote in 1909”.9


These utterances of Gandhi reflect his sense of commitment hence Professor Soddy’s allegation that the approach in Hind Swaraj was some kind of utopian vision is unjust. Hind Swaraj is neither like Plato’s Republic or Thomas Moore’s Utopia, which are examples of very fertile imagination. To some extent, it can come along with Communist Manifesto whose primary purpose was not contemplative enjoyment of the existing world but its active transformation. These are critics who regard Gandhian prescriptions as simply impracticable because they think that various problems like unemployment, population growth, food shortage etc., could not be solved without resort to industrialisation. Some critics go so far to hold that all the evils we see in the type of development are usual and there was no need to reverse the process. However, recent critics of industrialisation have not only gone beyond the evil effects of Urbanisation, Crime, social disorganisation, smoke and dirt, desolation of nature, exploitation of labour and others as were pointed out in the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century, they have reinforced many of Gandhi’s apprehensions and objections which questioned the very basis of its dependence on the present-day technology. For example, the depletion of non-renewable resources has been highlighted by the club of Rome thesis viz., The Limits of Growth.

Many of the key mineral resources will be exhausted within the next 50 years. The world reserves of platinum, silver, tin, zinc, lead, copper, tungsten, uranium 235, natural gas and crude oil will be exhausted by the end of this century.10 The U.S.A consumes between 30 to 50% of world’s annual production.11 although it has only 6% of world’s total population. This is supported by the “Blueprint for Survival”, a statement by 33 top scientists of Britain. They warn that “continued exponential growth of consumption of materials and energy is impossible. Present reserves of all but a few metals will be exhausted within 50 years if consumption rates continue to grow as they are. Obviously, there will be discoveries and advances in mining technology, but these are likely to provide us with a limited stay of execution”.12 It means that industrial technology of large scale industries have been responsible for depleting natural resources. Through mechanisation of agriculture, there has been “Rape of the Earth” degrading the soil (Jacks & Whyte). The other most dangerous hazard of indusrialisation is environmental pollution. Our entire global eco-system has been seriously endangered. Apart from releasing tons of toxic materials from radio-active elements of hundreds of nuclear reactors, they have posed a threat to our very existence.

Thus nuclear power and nuclear weapons are inextricably linked. Fritjob Capra, therefore, holds industrial technology responsible for severe degradation of eco-system and impending global extinction due to continuing proliferation.13 To think that if industrialisation is socialised, it would be free from the evils of capitalism, is wrong. Gandhi says: “The economic imperialism of single tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 (now 780) millions took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.”14 It means that according to Gandhi, exploitation was due not only because of capitalist mode of production but also because of the very nature of present day machine technology. Hence, socialisation or nationalisation was not a guarantee against exploitation. Besides, Gandhi also questioned the “values of increased productivity or “multiplication of needs”, which has become the characteristic feature of modern civilization. But we must remember that “the mind is a restless bird; the more it gets the more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied. The more we indulge in our passions the more unbridled they become.”15 The Indian seers therefore, set a limit to our indulgences. In fact, happiness is largely a mental condition. “A man is not necessarily happy because he is rich, or unhappy because he is poor. The rich are often seem to be unhappy, the poor to be happy”.16 It is perhaps in the spirit that the Bible says - “Blessed are the poor ...”. It is not perpetuating poverty in society but freeing the whole society of the limitless consumerism and wants. Recently, SPAN magazines of U.S.A has reported that as many as 25 million people in U.S.A alone have opted for some sort of voluntary simplicity cutting down their requirements for their happiness. It reminds us of Socrate’s reply to a question as to “what is the secret of happiness?”. His reply was: “How many things you can do without?” Regarding Bertrand Russell’s plea for minimising human labour trough maximising technology perfection to secure more time for recreation as well as for cultivation of knowledge of science and culture, Gandhi had his reservations. He felt that “if we set our hearts after such things, we would become slaves and lose our moral fibre.”17 The Indians in the past after due deliberation decided that we should only do what we could with our hands and feet. They saw that “our real happiness and health consisted in a proper use of our hands and feet”.18 They further reasoned that “large cities were a snare and a useless encumbrance and that people would not be happy in them.”19 Today it reminds us of Spengler’s warning in his masterpiece Decline of the West that unwieldy cities are signs of a perishing culture. Gandhi calls them ‘cages of human spirit and fountains of devitalization and delinguency. It is a pathological phenomena”. Schumacher advocates that Small is Beautiful. John Galbraith while warning against the mad rush for industrialisation says” : “Sabbath was made for man, not for Sabbath”. This means that industry should not be made an end in itself. Hence according to Gandhi, “it behoves every lover of India to cling to the old Indian civilization even as a child clings to the mother’s breast.”20 The ancient Roman and Greek civilisations perished because they had opted for materialistic and hedonistic ways of life while the Indian civilization, despite the ravages brought by foreign domination has kept its head high, because, civilisational ideal of India lays stress upon duty and morality. Morality is not something transcendental, it is to attain mastery over our mind and our passions. Hence Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj’ is a manifesto of freedom of India from moral and spiritual slavery. Gandhi’s denunciation of railway, machinery, professional institutions such as lawyers, doctors should not be taken literally. They are umblematic and have metaphorical significance. Gandhiji has used rather crude language about machinery and we cannot therefore, say that “machinery” was a ‘moral evil’. So replying to a question whether he was against all machinery, Gandhiji said: “How can I be when I know that even this body is a most delicate piece of machinery? The spinning wheel is a machine ... What I object is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such.”21 “Machinery was welcome only if it did not lead to concentration of wealth in few hands.”22 We could invent, occupy and use science and technology ... without exploitation .... without loosing mastery over them.23 He was “socialist enough to say that such factories should be nationalised, state controlled ... The saving of the labour of the individual should be the object, and not human greed the motive.”24 His criterion for the dividing line which machinery to accept or not was simple—”Just where they cease to help the individual and encroach upon individuality.”25 Taking into consideration this amount of flexibility in Gandhi’s approach to the machinery, we cannot brand his  criticism against industrialisation either as subjectivistic or unreasonable. A recent Unesco study points out at the “lack of Community satisfaction” in modern industrial civilisation, where more than 60% boredom and 90% work without understanding immediate significance. Material advancement does not mean moral progress.   

However, the theme of Hind Swaraj is not just the moral inadequacy and extravagant pretensions of modern civilisation, but its treacherously deceptive, hypnotic and self-destructive tendency. But to call this analysis simply as subjectivistic or moralistic is unjust. In fact, it is based on sociological and psychological findings. G.D.P. Cole, who did not agree with Gandhi that ‘Western civilization is of necessity at enemity with human soul” admits that “Gandhi’s case against the West looks infinitely stronger than it looked to us Westerners thirty years ago.”26


What to speak of the Utopias, even Communist Manifesto, which avowedly proclaims not only to interpret the world but also to change, it, lacks the amount of personal commitment and involvement as Gandhi did demonstrate throughout his life. No doubt, Marx exhorted the Proletariat to action but he himself assumed the role of a friend, philosopher and guide and could not involve himself into active struggle as Gandhi did. Marx will be remembered as a master theoretician, hence Vinoba calls him as the great seer Maha Muni. Gandhi derived all his theories from experience and practice. The Communist Manifesto, like any other book is addressed to others, especially to the workers. In the Hind Swaraj, the primary initiator and actor is Gandhi himself. In any Candhian action, the initiator must be “the Self of the person engaging in this action.”27 Gandhi was engaged throughout his life in a bitter struggle and search for modes and principles for a more humane life beyond modernity.

He exhorted as well as indulged into action programmes as he felt that “strength will beavailable to him who will act”.28 He is not to be downhearted with the views of Western. “personalist philosophers like Martin Buber who believe that mankind has no choice in the matter of modern industrial ‘civilization, that a reality once created cannot be avoided and has to be lived through in relationship in order to reach the crest beyond.”29 He was prepared to continue his fight even alone. If there be only one man, he can fight because he thought it as a Satanic civilisation. He believed that “Indian civilization is the best and that the European is a nine-day wonder, such ephemeral civilizations have come and gone and will continue to do so.”30 This is based not on the force of the soul but on brute fore.

For achieving Swaraj, Gandhi presented a 19-point programme of Action entitled Chhutkara in Gujarati, which means the “emancipation or liberation”. He is convinced that there is no ground for pessimism and despondency, because “only the fringe of the ocean has been polluted, it is those who are within the fringe alone need cleansing.”31 The vast majority of the farmers and village dwellers have not been polluted and they still adhere to the life-values of Indian culture. The “polluted minority” are the lawyers, doctors, the wealthy and the like which was affected by the Western civilization but even they were eager to have Swaraj and Gandhi enunciates 19 Point Programme of Action for them as cleansing operation. The doctors, the lawyers, the bureaucrats, the technocrats, the rich, and the professional parliamentary politicians are the creatures of modem industrial civilizations who belong to the non-productive parasitical middle classes. They are the most trusted bodyguards of Western civilisation. But they constitute a minority. If they change their life-style, Swaraj can easily come to us. Hence, Gandhi’s programme of action concerns only this polluted minority. He classifies the entire programme of action under four heads.

(a) Liberation from foreign language : The first and foremost item of liberation is liberation from the English language. Language is closely connected with life and our culture. We cannot communicate our ideas and emotions through the medium of a foreign language. “The foreign medium has caused brain fag, put an undue strain upon the nerves of our children, made them crammers and imitators, unfitted them for original work and thought, and disabled them for filtrating their learning to the family of the masses” .32 Gandhi further says that “the foreign medium has made our children practically foreigners in their own land.”33 It has prevented the growth of our vernaculars. Unless we advance the cause of the vernaculars, “We shall not be able to remove the growing intellectual and cultural gulf between our men and women and between the classes and the masses. The vernacular medium alone can stimulate originality in thought in the largest number of persons.”34 Therefore, as the first and foremost item of liberation asks the ‘polluted minority’ to make use of the English language only on rarer occasions.35 Needless to say that 95% of people do not know English and even those who know donot use it in day-to-day discourse and work.

(b) Liberation from the lawyers : Gandhi wants to free Indian people from the lawyers because, according to him, “that lawyers have enslaved India, have accentuated Hindu-Mohammedan dissensions and have legitimised English authority.”36 They will, as a rule, advance quarrels instead of repressing them. They are glad when men have disputes. Petty pleaders actually manufacture them. Their touts like so many breaches, suck the blood of the poor people. But the greatest injury they have done to the country is that they had tightened the English grip,37 because it would not have been possible for the English to carry on their Government without law courts. What Gandhi has said about the lawyers necessarily applies to the judges because they are first cousins and the one gives strength to the other.38 Hence Gandhi asks the lawyers to give up their profession, and take up a hand loom; devote his knowledge to enlightening both his people and the English, to refuse to be judge, and not meddle with quarrels between parties.”39

(c) Liberation for doctor : According to Gandhi, the business of the doctor is really to rid the body of diseases but they interfere with the natural way of life and encourage us to break the laws of nature without impunity. They intervene and donot allow nature to work. The result is loss of control over the mind. Doctors take to their profession not with a sense of serving humanity but to obtain honours and riches.40 So the doctors should give up medicine/and understand that rather than mending bodies, he should mend souls. Curing one disease by suppressing it through diabolical anti-biotic drugs and vivisection is invitingly a disease-nexus. He should tell the patients the cause of their diseases and advise them to remove the cause rather than pamper them giving useless drugs.41

(d) Liberation of the rich : As Bible says that a camel can pass through the eye of a needle but a rich man cannot go to heaven. Similarly. Gandhi feels that possession and happiness go ill together. Hence Gandhi’s advice to them is to use his money to establishing handlooms and commit no indulgence. He should know that we shall become free only through suffering.42 Gandhiji felt that apart from the English language, the lawyer and the doctors, the rich people have been most responsible for encouraging European civilization in India for which “even deportation for life to the Andamans is not enough expiation.”43 He should speak out his mind and fear no one and the last but not the least that he should not avoid any duty by saying that he shall do a thing when the others also do it.

Conclusion: Gandhiji had written Hind Swaraj after his tantalising experiments in South Africa and his life work in India is an unfolding of the programme of action. So he said in 1921 : “I am individually working for the self-rule pictured therein”. It is Hind Swaraj which inspired him to cultivate fearlessness, non-violence and love and self-reliance and voluntary poverty. He fashioned his entire life in the light of the opinions expressed in Hind Swaraj. Being a Gujarati, he extensively used Hindustani, nay set up programmes to propagate it. He abjured modern medicine and took to naturopathy. Though he used railways he travelled in third class. He gave up all his personal possessions. Through a network of constructive programmes, he taught and trained thousands of individuals to re-order their private lives according to the prescriptions in Hind Swaraj. He also set up scores of organisations and institutions like all India Spinners Association, A.I. Harijan Sevak Sangh, A.I. Village Industries Association, A.1. Nai Talimi Sangh, A.1. Nature Cure Association, A.I. Prohibition Council and others to translate the values laid down in Hind Swaraj. Constructive Programmes aimed at creating “a new life style” and new organizational pattern. On the other hand, he spearheaded so many programmes like Non-co-operation, Civil Disobedience etc. for achieving parliamentary Swaraj and  for fighting injustice. In fact, Satyagraha and Constructive Programmes proved to be a double-barrelled programme of action.

Hence, when we are discussing Hind Swaraj, we must follow the logical corollary and go beyond. Unless it is followed up immediately by some programme of action (Whether it is civil obedience, non-cooperation and boycott or taking up constructive programmes, a book like this would be rightly deemed as the product of a fossilised mind. That is why, we have said that Gandhism minus commitment is nothing. Hind Swaraj without Satyagraha and constructive programme is a crude Utopia. At individuals’s level, such commitment would mean boycott of multinational consumer goods, opting for Swadeshi, boycott of five star hotels other vulgar show of wealth and minimising the use of english language. The key to Hind Swaraj lies in action programmes.


    1.  Gandhi, M.K., Hind Swaraj, Ahmedabad Navajivan Publishing House, 1939 (Rev. New Edn), p. 110.

    2.  Dictionary of Thought.

    3.  Diwakar, R.R., Samsths Kula, Delhi, Raj Ghat, Vol. 18, No.9, Dec. 1987, pp. 5-6.

    4.  In 1919 (after 10 years of publishing the book), he wrote to Maganlal, Collected Works of Mahatama Gandhi, Vol, 15, p. 340; In 1921 to the Critics, D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma, Vol. 2, p. 17; In 1921, he wrote in the Foreword to the book, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 19. pp. 277-78; In March 1922 while commenting on a leaflet ‘Gandhiraj’; in CWMG, Vol. 23, pp. 38-39; In 1924 at the time of undergoing operation on his appendicitis, CWMG, Vol. 23, p. 348; In 1929 in reply to SC Das Gupta, CWMG, Vol, 42, p. 125; In 1938, in Aryan Path (Special Number) CWMG, Vol. 67, pp. 169-70; In 1939 replying to a friend ‘unbridegeable Gulf’, CWMG, Vol. 70, p. 342; in Oct. 1939 talking to the Executive for Gandhi Seva Sangh, CWMG, Vol. 70, p. 296; on 14.6.’45 writing to Krishna Chandra, CWMG, Vol. 30, p. 325, last letter to Jawahar Lal Nehru, CWMG, Vol. 81, pp.319-20.

    5.  CWMG, Vol. 24, p. 548.

    6.  CWMG, Vol. 42, p. 125.

    7.  CWMG, Vol. 67, p. 169-70.

    8.  CWMG, Vol. 80, p. 325.

    9.  CWMG, Vol. 81, p. 319.

  10.  Cloud, Preston, “Relation Mineral Distribution”, The Texas Quarterly, 1967.

  11.  Gawn, Sussane, Moving Towards a New Society, Philadelphia, 1976, pp. 64-65.

  12.  Ibid., p. 89.

  13.  Capra, Fritjob, The Turning Point: Science, Society and Rising Culture; London, 1983, p. 3.

  14.  CWMG, Vol. 38, p. 243.

  15.  Gandhi, M.K., Hind Swaraj, What is True Civilization”?,

  16.  Ibid., p. 6l.

  17.  Ibid., p. 62.

  18.  Ibid., p. 62.

  19.  Ibid., p. 62.

  20.  Ibid., p. 63.

  21.  Ibid., p. 8, Preface to the New Edition (Note by Mahadev Desai).

  22.  Devadutta, “Symposium on Hind Swaraj’, Gandhi Marg, Oct. 1973,
p. 267.

  23.  Diwakar, R.R., “Symposium on Hind Swaraj”, Ibid., p. 271.

  24.  Hind Swaraj, Preface to the New Edition (Note by Mahadev Desai),
p. 9.

  25.  Ibid., p. 9.

  26.  Aryan Path, Sept. 1938, p. 429.

  27.  Sant, Kishore “Gandhian Frame of Action”, Hind Swaraj A Fresh Look (ed.), N. Prasad, New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1985, p. 215.

  28.  Gandhi, M.K., Hind Swaraj, p. 101.

  29.  Sant, Kishore, Ibid., p. 217 .

  30.  Gandhi, M.K., Hind Swaraj, p. 10.

  31.  Gandhi, M.K., Hind Swaraj, p. 93.

  32.  Gandhi, M.K., Young India, 1.9.1921.

  33.  Gandhi, M.K., Young India, 21.4.1920.

  34.  Gandhi, M.K., Hind Swaraj, p. 102.

  35.  Ibid., p. 54.

  36.  Ibid.

  37.  Ibid., pp. 55-56.

  38.  Ibid., p. 57.

  39.  Ibid., (Item Nos. 2 to 5), p. 102.

  40.  Ibid., p. 60.

  41.  Ibid., (Item nos. 6,7,8), p. 102.

  42.  Ibid., (Item Nos. 9-19), pp. 102-103.

  43.  Ibid., p. 103.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati