The Statesman -
Gandhiji’s Hind Swaraj is both intense and far reaching. In this
write-up one gets the preview of the nature of ugly events to come.
The Council for Social Development and the India International
Centre (IIC), both of New Delhi, jointly sponsored an international
seminar on “Social Development and the Human Civilisation in the
21st Century” from 12-14 February at the IIC on the occasion of the
centenary of Hind Swaraj.
Other collaborating organisations were three well known universities
of Delhi and some other universities of Brazil, Peru, the USA and
South Africa. It was reported that a couple of delegates from the
Latin America were members of armed Marxist partisan groups for some
time. But later on they sought the other path as armed
insurrection movements did not yield appropriate results.
There were large number of foreign delegates along with the
participants from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Participants included known Gandhians, academics, Marxist
ideologues, and free lancers from various professions, and
scientific and intellectual community. A couple of critics of Gandhi
also joined. It was a highly eclectic and stimulating ensemble of
intellectuals, non-conformists and activists who gathered there to
think and talk about the relevance or otherwise of Hind Swaraj a
hundred years after it was written.
Though this event dominated the busy IIC for three consecutive days
with packed audiences both in the auditorium and four other
seminar/lecture rooms, the media, both print and electronic, totally
ignored it. There was not a word in the Delhi Press and not a
milimetric footage on TV.
Delhi’s highly charged political establishment from the right
through the Centre to the counterfeit Left showed no interest in the
“antiquated” philosophy of an “archaic” philosopher-activist who
contributed so significantly to the history of mankind in the first
half of the 20th century.
Hind Swaraj has an interesting history. It is written in the
Platonic dialogical style. Gandhiji wrote it in ten days between 13
and 22 November, 1909 on board the SS Kildonan Castle on his voyage
from London to Durban. He wrote it in Gujarati. When his right hand
got tired, he wrote with his left hand. And he wrote on as if under
inspiration (Parel:2007). Later in 1910 he wrote it in English. But
that was not a translation of the Gujarati text. It was also an
original version. Thus, this little book has two original texts —
Gujarati and English.
Anthony J Parel, a noted Gandhian scholar, stated in the seminar
that to properly understand Hind Swaraj one had to read both the
texts. Some of the Gujarati words drawn from Sanskrit had several
nuances. Such variations of meanings could not get reflected in the
English text. Since most of the Indian readers excepting those who
are Gujarati speaking could not delve into the Gujarati text, one
had to depend on the English version to get an idea of Gandhiji’s
philosophy and plan of action.
The style of writing of Hind Swaraj was not only innovative, it was
breathtakingly fresh. He followed the mode and manner of the
Dialogues of Plato. Plato followed his Master’s dialectic process as
a means of truth. “Socrates believed that the authentic method of
the philosopher is the analysis and intellectual progression through
question and answer dialogue” (The Dialogue of Plato p.xi).
As a seeker of truth, Gandhiji was fascinated by this dialectic
dialogical process. Hence he brought in two characters in Hind
Swaraj—the Reader and the Editor. It was quite obvious to a lay
reader that the Editor was Gandhiji himself. But who was the Reader?
The Reader posed the question to which Gandhiji as the Editor
offered replies. The personality of the Reader was a bit of an
Mr. Parel, in course of his presentation at the seminar, suggested
that in the first place Gandhiji himself appeared as the Reader to
resolve some of his own doubts. That was one facet of the Reader.
Secondly, in 1908-09 Gandhiji had long discussions with V.D.
Savarkar regarding getting rid of the British rule in India. They
Hence Gandhiji sought to reply to Savarkar through the dialogue.
During the same period he met almost all the revolutionaries who had
gone to England and tried to convince them about the futility of
violent methods of ejecting the British. He particularly responded
to the thesis of V. Chattopadhyay, a staunch believer of armed
struggle who was the brother of Sarojini Naidu. Chattopadhyay was
later on killed by Stalin during the great Soviet purge of 1937-38.
The fourth person was Taraknath Das who was a member of the Anusilan
Samiti of Bengal and who stealthily migrated to Canada and later to
the USA. He was the editor of Free Hindustan. Das was in
correspondence with Tolstoy. Tolstoy wrote a letter to a “Hindoo
editor of Free Hindustan” a copy of which reached Gandhiji in London
And the fifth person was Krishna Varma who was the organising genius
of the Indian expatriates in England at the beginning of the 20th
century. In firming up his own theory, he thought it fit to counter
the thesis of those who held contrary views but whose opinions
Gandhiji valued highly as all of them were great patriots and men of
honour who had made immense self-sacrifice.
The book has 20 small chapters. In 1937-38 when the Congress came to
power in some provinces Sophia Wadia requested all the ministers,
MLAs, and the British and the Indian members of the Indian Civil
Service to read and re-read the book. There is no record to show how
many of them actually read the book, though Gandhiji was politically
quite active then.
Today one may as well ask why should one read this book with its
“obscurantist” and “obsolete” views. To answer that one has to ask
whether all his ideas have really become irrelevant and out-of-date
today. All depends on how one would like to read the book. If one
read literally, one might find that some of the ideas would not
relate to the present realities. Looking at it symbolically one
would find it highly relevant. Even taking it literally one would
find some answers quite valid today as they were a hundred years
In Chapter-IV “What is Swaraj?” the Reader gives his own idea of
Swaraj that when we would have our own flag, our own army and navy
and when our voice would be listened to in the world. To that the
Editor replied “...In effect it means this: that we want English
rule without the Englishman. You want tiger’s nature but not the
tiger, that is to say, you would make India English. And when it
becomes English, it will not be called Hindustan but Englistan.”
Gandhiji was sharply criticised for his views on machine and
machinery. Mahadev Desai recalls the criticism of Professor Delisle
Burns. He said: “This is a fundamental philosophical error... But
even the spinning wheel is a machine and spectacles on the nose are
mechanisms for bodily eyesight”.
When confronted with this direct 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: a little tooth pick is a machine. What I object to is the
craze for machine and not machinery as such. The craze is for what
they call labour saving machinery. Men go on ‘saving labour’ till
thousands are without work and thrown on open streets to die of
starvation. I want to save time and labour not for a fraction of
mankind but for all. I want concentration of wealth, not in the
hands of a few, but in the hands of all. Today machinery merely
helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it
all is not philanthropy to save labour but greed. It is against this
constitution of things that I am fighting with all might”. (Preface
to the New Edition of Hind Swaraj, pp 7-8 Navajivan Trust, Ahmedabad).
In the same interview, he praised Singer’s sewing machine as “one of
the few useful things ever invented”. When he was asked what would
be his reaction when such machines would have to be produced in
power driven factories, his straightforward answer was “Yes. But I
am a socialist enough to say that such factories should be
nationalised, state controlled. The saving of the labour of
individual should be the object and not human greed the motive”.
(ibid p 8).
These are profound thoughts. If we went forward in time we would
find the reflections, nay, the repetition of these ideas in Article
39 of our Constitution which, inter alia, mandates the State towards
“(a) that the citizens, men and women, equally have the right to an
adequate means of livelihood;
“(b) that the ownership and control of material resources of the
community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good;
“(c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in
the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common
And almost ninety years later, the UNDP endorsed Gandhiji’s views on
greed driven development as “jobless, rootless, ruthless” growth.
Symbolism of Hind Swaraj is both intense and far reaching. In this
write-up one gets the preview of the nature of ugly events to come.
The current crisis in the financial world is the result of
unrestrained and brazen greed, avarice and rapacity. And the
governments round the world instead of punishing these fraud masters
are pouring in honest tax-payers’ monies into hands of the very same
financial rogues whose unabashed roguery caused this enormous human
calamity.In Chapter-VIII - The Conditions of India, in reply to
interlocutor’s query Gandhiji replied: “It is a bad condition. In
thinking about it my eyes water and my throat gets parched”.
That was 1909. What he would have found in 2009? In spite of near
double digit growth for nearly a decade we still have 315.48 million
women, men and children below the poverty line ~ living a life of
hunger malnourishment and misery. The last three deciles of this
population numbering approximately 100 million constitute the
universe in which they have no other asset than their own body
making them vulnerable to the vicious system of bonded labour. It is
as well that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is not here to suffer this
The writer was secretary to the Government of India, ministries of
finance (revenue) and rural development and executive director,
Asian Development Bank, Manila