Awareness Course on Gandhi and The Contemporary World

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Item Code: NAG408
Publisher: Indira Gandhi National Open University
Language: English
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 8126615079
Pages: 184
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 11.5 inch X 8 inch
Weight 410 gm
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Book Description



The pre-political discourse with primacy of social issues assumed a political character with the establishment of the Indian National Congress in 1885. The radical nationalism in India that followed in the 1890s had both a conservative and a revolutionary side. On the one hand the pride in Indian culture defended by Dayananda and Vivekananda became an integral component and on the other hand the Western methods of mass agitation and Western concepts like liberalism, socialism and the notion of the rule of law penetrated the Indian mind with equal vigour. The debate between the, Extremists and the Moderates within the Congress reflected the process of change in Indian political theorising and the dual nature of modem Indian political tradition. The rise of Extremism was also helped by political actions like the Partition of Bengal in 1905 and the failure of the Moderates to secure substantial concessions from the liberal government in Britain. Simultaneously the impact of important events like the rise of Japan and its achievement in defeating an European power, revolutionary movements in Russia, the Sinn Fein movement in Ireland, the struggle for freedom in Egypt, the adoption of a constitution in Persia, the introduction of representative institutions in Philippines, the Young Turk revolt and grant of responsible self-government to Transvaal and Orange River Colony created a new enthusiasm and clamouring for change within India.


Gandhi emerged in India at this critical juncture with the rising expectation of the people with the twin impact of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The educated circles in India because of his spectacular success in South Africa, already knew Gandhi. He consolidated this goodwill with his new kind of leadership in Champaran, Kheda and Ahmedabad. He became the undisputed leader of the Indian Nationalist Movement.


Gandhi was primarily a political activist whose writings emerged mainly during the process of social, economic and political actions. He was a prolific writer with an attractive, easily understandable prose style. Most of his writings were situational and constituted only a fraction of his activities. Because of this, he did not attempt any in-depth study of any particular pheaomenon or concept. "One cannot ... turn to the writings of Gandhi for definite statement in political theory. Gandhi was a political actionist and a practical philosopher as he was not a theorist. His writings abound with inconsistencies ... one result of his persistent habit of thinking in public. Whatever philosophical formulation he made were inspired by and directed towards the solving of immediate problems. The unsophisticated' explanations, which Gandhi offered for his methods, his objectives, his policy, and creed, were part of a programme of action. They should not be interpreted in terms either of theory or of practical master-planning" (Bondurant 1967: 7). Gandhi produced only four book-length works. The most important of these was his autobiography, which first appeared in a serialised form in one of his journals. Gandhi was conscious of the inadequacies of his writings at the theoretical .and scholarly levels. He insisted that his life was his message' and that he should not be judged on the basis of particular actions or writings.


As a matter of fact, my writings should be cremated with my body. What I have done will endure, not what I have said and written. I have often said that even if all our scriptures perish one mantra of lshopanishad was enough to declare the essence of Hinduism- but even that one verse will be of no avail if there is no one to live it (Gandhi cited in Bose and Patwardhan 1967: 56).


Being an activist, Gandhi was also careful when making predictions and outlining his conception of ail ideal state. In 1942, in an answer to Louis Fischer's question about the structure and the shape of the Indian society after independence, Gandhi replied that the future of Indian society was largely beyond his grasp. He also admitted that he was not a widely read person and once remarked that he could count the books that he had read on his fingertips. In reality he had read more than 300 titles which included the works of Ruskin, Thoreau and Tolstoy and from whom he had drawn in-depth inspiration both for his actions and for his thought. He was also well informed about the predominant schools of economic thought and was influenced by Marx' Handbook of Marxism, Smith's the Wealth of Nations and Snell's Principles of Equity (Gadre 1971: 3).


Gandhi As A Critic Of The West And A Seeker Of Indigenous Roots: Gandhi exhibited considerable influence of Western thinkers like Ruskin, Thoreau and Tolstoy throughout his life. He regarded Socrates as an example to emulate and even translated Plato's Apology in Gujarati. In basic principles of politics, he had a marked preference for anarchism, which essentially belonged to a radical Western tradition. In organisational matters, the Western imprint was .clearly discernible in him. In matters of personal conviction like vegetarianism, some Western groups and writings influenced him. In spite of being influenced by the West, Gandhi rejected Western civilisation both as a model and' as an inspiration. In this he differed considerably from other non-Western revolutionaries like Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and Frantz Fanon who not only "rejected the Western political and economic domination but also their traditional ways of life of their own people and especially the religious elements that provided the foundation for the ancient cultures of Asia and Africa, replacing them by Western political forms and by Western technologies" (Woodcock 1971: 12).


Fanon's perception showed some interesting contradictions into the dilemma of Third World revolutionaries. Fanon forcefully pleading for de-colonisation in The Wretched of the Earth (1961) was utterly contemptuous of the imperialists. He denounced the Europeans virtually as war criminals. He regarded European opulence as scandalous "for it has been founded on slavery ... and that it comes directly from the soil and from the sub-soil of the underdeveloped world." Ironically, in spite of this severe indictment, Fanon could conceive of change only with the indispensable help of the Europeans and by rejecting indigenous ways. Gandhi, on the other hand, wanted to keep the windows of his mind open while his feet firmly entrenched in his own culture.


Gandhi rejected the Western civilisation for two reasons. First, its basis was extreme inequality and second, it dehumanised and depersonalised the individual. Like Rousseau, he rejected modem technology and industrialisation because these led to misery and inequality. He focused on this relative fall apparent from the Italian example in the Hind Swaraj (1909). In this example he specifically mentioned the working class and the common people whose aspirations were ignored by the ruling class and Mazzini's Italy was still in slavery. For Gandhi the content of independence was important for true freedom lay in the freedom of the working class and the poorest. Western technology and its concomitant way of life was alien to Indian traditions. It was also inadequate in fulfilling India's requirements and hindered any meaningful or real development of the individual person. As such, the ideal state would consist of self-sufficient villages and communities based on truth and non-violence. Gandhi desired a free India that would not emulate the Western path. This meant giving up machinery, modern methods of transportation, modern medicines and machine-spun cloth. Though he modified some of his ideas subsequently like accepting small-scale industries and those industries where labour was not useful or desirable, he adhered to the overall thrust of his initial arguments as articulated in the Hind Swaraj.


From Ruskin he listed what his teachings meant to him (cited in Woodcock 1971: 23-24):

a) That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.

b) That a lawyer's work has the same value as the barber's in as much all have the same right of earning their livelihood for their work.

c) That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsmen, is life worth living.


Gandhi learnt from Ruskin that an unequal social order de-linked from the realities of labour could not allow for the possibility of non-violence. Like Ruskin, Gandhi also firmly believed in restricting wealth and placing tools in the hands of those who could use them. Ruskin's principles inspired Gandhi to work out the basis of his concept of 'bread labour' and of making the community organisation responsible for the welfare of the labourer. Gandhi asserted that none is superior or inferior with reference to the job that he does. He thereby emerges as an advocate of the concept of proportionate equality whereby everyone receives a minimum of living wage and differences among individuals could be permitted beyond this minimum on the basis of differing needs. Ruskin's ideas on political economy were the bedrock of the economic principles of Gandhi's ashram organisation. Tolstoy's faith in love and the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, the Bible and the New Testament and Thoreau's notion of civil disobedience influenced Gandhi in evolving his concept and method of satyagraha.


Civil Disobedience: Gandhi borrowed the phrase civil disobedience from Thoreau whom he read for the first time in 1907 while he was held as a prisoner in a South African jail. Though Gandhi acknowledged his debt to Thoreau for this concept, it is Gandhi who could be labelled as the first civil disobedient in the sense in which the term is used today. Gandhi integrated the concept with his overall commitment to non-violence, satyagraha and dignity of labour which enabled him to transform Thoreau's limited conception as a pursuit of a solitary conscientious individual into a technique and programme of dynamic mass action and method of social change. Following Thoreau, Gandhi also advocated the emancipation of man from the outside bondage, from self-imposed imprisonment or civilisation that has diseased the mind and the soul of the modern human being. However, Gandhi differed from Thoreau in stressing on strict non-violence, on a general duty of civil disobedience and on the need to try and exhaust all forms of constitutional political actions like petitions and appeals. In elaborating the meaning of civil disobedience Gandhi assimilated ideas from Ruskin, Emerson and Tolstoy with Indian traditions giving it a universal significance and relevance.


Gandhi rejects the term passive resistance as too weak and preferred civil disobedience for it suggested active resistance to unjust laws. Subsequently he used the term satyagraha. In 1922 when Gandhi became a non-violent non co-operator from a loyalist of the Empire, he writes, "non cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good. But in the past, non-cooperation only has been deliberately expressed in violence to the evildoer. I am endeavouring to show to my countrymen that violent non cooperation only multiplies evil and that evil can only be sustained by violence, withdrawal or support of evil requires complete abstention from violence". He pleads guilty for his actions and asked for the maximum punishment under the law. He made no attempt to defend himself. Prior to Gandhi none in India advocated the use of non-violent techniques for fighting injustice.


Civil disobedience, for Gandhi, was based on a profound respect for the law in general and should be resorted to non-violently and publicly. The disobedient(s) must be willing to accept full penalties including the rigours of jail discipline. Resistance must be respectful, restrained and civil for "disobedience without civility, discipline and discrimination, non violence is certain destruction". A satyagrahi cooperates not out of fear of punishment but because cooperation is essential for common good. Gandhi spoke of common good without denying the individual a pivotal role. The individual is vested with a moral law and duty (dharma). As a bearer of moral authority one has a right and even the duty to judge the state and its laws by the standards of dharma which in turn combines satya and ahimsa. Dharma, Satya and ahimsa are the cardinal tenets of Gandhian philosophy. The individual could challenge and even disobey the state for all tales violate satya and ahimsa. Gandhi wrote "every citizen renders himself responsible for every act of his government. And loyalty to a capricious and corrupt state is a sin, disloyalty a virtue. Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state becomes lawless or, which is the same thing, corrupt; and a citizen who barters with such a state shares its corruption and lawlessness".


Civil disobedience is a moral right of every individual, a 'birthright that cannot be surrendered without losing self respect'. Disobedience to evil laws is a moral duty, which is why Gandhi described the resisters as 'real constitutionalist' for in disobeying and accepting punishment they are obeying a higher law. The existence of injustice justifies political resistance and that political protest is basically moral. Like Locke and Jefferson, he believed that loyalty to a 'constitution and its laws need to be reviewed and affirmed once in every generation.


Gandhi prescribed non cooperation (strikes, resignation from offices and titles), picketing, economic boycott, fasting and non payment of taxes as different techniques of satyagraha. Insofar as non-payment of taxes is concerned, he advised caution and recommends its use only on final occasions for taxes constitute the life support of a government and refusal would mean the death of the government. In its positive sense satyagraha involved constructive programmes like communal harmony, removal of untouchability, prohibition, khadi, encouragement of village industries, sanitation, basic and adult education, upliftment of women, health and hygiene, and promotion of a national language.


Gandhi prescribed these aforesaid measures for he realised the need to re-establish the elf-worth and dignity of the Indians blunted by years of colonial domination. He emphasised that India got subjugated because of her moribund and repressive Social customs. He made Indians sensitive to the urgent need for questions relating to social justice. His constructive programme implied that Gandhi desired to limit the ambit of the political and that of the state. His focus was the civil society and the role of the individual within it. Thus he was able to evolve satyagraha as a technique for was action and mobilisation, and a tactic for social change.


Gandhi's perceptions were determined by the British colonial experience and the liberal democratic philosophy on which it was based. Rejecting the notion of state absolutism, the liberals did not defend the supremacy of the individual against state. Instead they granted the right of the individual to judge and question and if necessary, disobey political authority. However this right had to be exercised only after exhausting all other available options. Gandhi accepted this aspect of the liberal tradition but coalesced it with his preference for 'enlightened anarchy' or participatory self-rule and the idea of common good.


The Gandhian technique of satyagraha also demonstrates the intricate relationship between means and ends through a philosophy of action. In its approach to conflict Gandhi never sought compromise but a synthesis. A satyagrahi never yields one's position, which one regards as the truth but is prepared to accept the opponent's position, if persuaded, and in that there is no sacrifice of either position or concessions. There would be an adjustment, mutually agreed, to the satisfaction of both parties.


Conception of The Ideal State: Gandhi's ideal state was the future ideal for India in particular and not a prescription for all countries. He was careful to mention the distinctive characteristics of India and stated that "India's mission is different from that of others" (Gandhi 1947: 9). The India of his dreams would be a society "in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice; an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people; an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony" (Gandhi Ibid: 9). Such a polity would be free from violence and exploitation, based on equality, self-sufficiency and an economic order free from conflict between capital and labour. In such a society there "can be no room ... for the cur e of untouchability or the cure of the intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men. Since we shall be at peace with the rest of the world, neither exploiting, nor being exploited, we should have the smallest army imaginable. All interests not in conflict with the interests of the dumb millions will be scrupulously respected, whether foreign or indigenous .... This is the India of my dreams .. .I shall be satisfied with nothing else" (Gandhi Ibid: 9-10). Gandhi was convinced that India could fulfil his dream for he has inherent capacity to free herself. He remarked, "my faith in her ability to solve the economic problems that face her millions has never been so bright as it is today" (Gandhi Ibid: 10).


The concepts of swaraj, nationalism, socialism, industrialisation, individualism and the state were the elements, which would actualise this ideal. Swaraj was of special significance and it means not just 'independence' but freedom from all kinds of restraints. This makes the use of the word (in the practical sense) difficult. Gandhi used swaraj to mean 'positive freedom' i.e. to participate in the process of politics in every way possible, rather than seeing the state as a negative institution restricting its activities to the minimum. It did not mean that the state was an all-powerful institution; rather, an intimate relationship should exist between the state and its citizens. It meant participatory democracy.




Unit 1

Emergence of Gandhi


Unit 2

Birth of a Satyagrahi


Unit 3

Gandhi's Emergence in the Indian Politics: Towards a Great Future


Unit 4

From Home Rule to Swaraj: Ushering in of the Gandhian Era in India


Unit 5

Gram Swaraj


Unit 6

Social Reform


Unit 7

India of Gandhi's Dream


Unit 8

Gandhi's World-View






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