Icon of non-violence
The enduring significance of Gandhi to a large extent lies in Hind Swaraj, the fulcrum of his moral and political thought.
THE MAHATMA'S ANSWER: "Hind Swaraj was written ... in answer to the Indian school of violence". PHOTO: THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
A vision for India
Let my friend [referring to V.D. Savarkar and colleagues] remember that Hind Swaraj ... as the booklet itself states, was written in answer to the revolutionary's arguments and methods. It was an attempt to offer the revolutionary something infinitely superior to what he had, retaining the whole of the spirit of self-sacrifice and bravery that was to be found in the revolutionary.
Young India, May 7, 1925.
IN the entire collection of Mahatma Gandhi's (October 2, 1869 to January 30, 1948) writings, currently 100 volumes, there is one, deceptively, slim work Hind Swaraj (1909) which occupies a unique place and essential to comprehend his thought. Were Gandhi only an architect of India's non-violent, freedom struggle and a moral philosopher-activist who gave ahimsa, swaraj, satyagraha, swadeshi, and sarvodaya, and equality their original connotations, then history would certainly constrict his import. It is in Gandhi's unrelenting innovation, application, and expansion of these ethico-political tenets, which gives other "experimenters in truth" similar scope to test and progress in their praxis, that his relevance has transcended time, origin, function, and appeal. Every publishing house, worth its black ink, welcomes an original, substantive, and insightful work on Gandhi of which there continues to be a stream. This itself should silence sceptics about Gandhi's pertinency.
The relevance of Hind Swaraj
The enduring significance of Gandhi, in no small part, lies in Hind Swaraj, a clearly written and easy to read book which Raghavan Iyer calls "the point d'appui [the fulcrum] of Gandhi's moral and political thought." Iyer says, "the essential relevance of Hind Swaraj is perhaps even more poignant today owing to the deepening and spreading sense of alienation, especially among the young, from the beliefs and values of an acquisitive, if affluent, society."
Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj on the return voyage from London to South Africa (November 13 to 22, 1909), aboard the RMS Kildonan Castle. He travelled to London to place the Asian struggle in the Transvaal before the Imperial government and public. Gandhi's aim was to get the British to accept Indians in South Africa as equal citizens of the Empire, irrespective of race, or colour, or religion, and to lift restrictions on immigration of educated Indians to South Africa.
A question rarely asked is: why did Gandhi write Hind Swaraj? Was there one important reason that spurred Gandhi to write this seminal and polemical work, as it is a dialogue between the "Reader" and "Editor"? The latter was Gandhi and the former were Indian extremists who, in 1905, came to prominence in London. By 1907, India House was the hub for "youth sent on a scholarship scheme" to terrorise the Raj by murdering, important British officials and exporting arms to India. Thus, they expected the British to grant India independence.
Consequence of an "encounter"
James Hunt, an American scholar, in Gandhi in London (1978) answers the question. Hunt writes, Gandhi "had his most public encounter with ideology of terrorism," during a dinner to celebrate the Dussehra festival on October 24, 1909, at Nazimuddin's restaurant in Bayswater, London, and that "as a consequence of this encounter Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj." (p.236) The existence of an "ideology of terrorism" is evidenced by the murder of Sir William Curzon-Wylie, an aide to the secretary of state for India, Lord John Morley, in July 1909, by Madanlal Dhingra, a student and member of this group.
Gandhi and V.D. Savarkar (1883-1966), a fanatical anarchist and spokesperson for Indian terrorists extradited in 1910 and transported for life in the conspiracy to murder the British Collector of Nasik, A.M.T. Jackson spoke at this dinner. Gandhi in "A Word of Explanation," Young India, January 1921, writes, "It [Hind Swaraj] was written ... in answer to the Indian school of violence ... I came in contact with every known Indian anarchist in London. Their bravery impressed me, but I felt that their zeal was misguided."
Gandhi's moral and principled argument with Savarkar and "the Indian school of violence" was that violence was intrinsically evil and opposed to human values. Hence, its ends of purportedly gaining swaraj for India were immoral and abhorrent. Further, he argued: what did the terrorists envisage for free India after British departure? In other words, was terrorism and turmoil going to be used against free Indians? Gandhi using polemics as a literary device in Hind Swaraj dialogued with the anarchists, who posed as nationalists, on various critical issues pertaining to India and unambiguously concluded that, "violence was no remedy for India's ills". Instead, Gandhi called for "a gospel of love in place of hate ... replace violence with self-sacrifice ... pit soul force [satyagraha] against brute force."
Gandhi wanted an India where terrorism and violence weren't an option to resolve conflicts. Violence created more violence and was a downward spiral into doom, death, and destruction of the social fabric. Gandhi pleaded life-long for non-violence; dialogue; consensus-building; love and understanding of the opponent; religious tolerance; massive employment schemes to give productive employment for India's millions, especially its youth; rebuilding India's villages and creating ecumenical communities of care and concern; promotion of local handicrafts and skills; self-reliance in agriculture and industry; production of need-based basic goods and services; empowering communities to participate and create their own political structures from bottom-up; encouraging self-help projects for human development of all so that swaraj would not result in dependency; making basic education a priority; ensuring that all Indians irrespective of their religion, caste, class, colour, or education were equal and had equality of opportunity in every sphere of life; and that one's moral values would underpin every activity.
Gandhi said, "I must confess that I do not draw a sharp line or any distinction between economics and ethics. Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral and therefore [we] ... insult the naked by giving them clothes they do not need, instead of giving them work they sorely need." Is this the India that you want?
The writer is a Gandhi scholar who teaches at the University of Tokyo.
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