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Gandhi Showed How Religion Is Used In Politics1

By Vishal Arora

Mahatma Gandhi said his mission was to win self-rule. He did not mean it as an exclusive term nor did it connote theocracy. Gandhi's vision was broad enough to encompass various faiths.


Those who believe religion cannot play a constructive role in politics must study how Mahatma Gandhi led India to win independence from the British rule with a struggle that was founded on religious beliefs.
Gandhi said his mission was to win Swaraj (self-rule), which he envisioned and portrayed as “Ramarajya”. Ramarajya was not an exclusive term, and nor did it mean theocracy. It called for establishment of a just and humane government and society which, according to him, was realising God on earth. Winning independence politically was only a small part of it.
Gandhi clarified that Ramarajya did not mean a rule of the Hindus. “My Rama is another name for Khuda or God. I want Khudai raj, which is the same thing as the Kingdom of God on earth” (Haimchar, February 26, 1947). He explained that politically translated, it is perfect democracy in which, “inequalities based on possession and non-possession, colour, race or creed or sex vanish; in it, land and State belong to the people, justice is prompt, perfect and cheap and, therefore, there is freedom of worship, speech and the Press—all this because of the reign of the self-imposed law of moral restraint” (The Hindu, June 12, 1945).
Gandhi’s Satyagraha (struggle for truth) movement, which compelled the British to leave the country in 1947, was also grounded on explicit and strong religious beliefs.

Satyagraha involved the use of soul force as against the body force and was characterized by passive resistance and Ahimsa (non-violence). It sought to awaken the inherent virtues in those against whom it was used, and not to suppress perceived evil in them by any physical pressure or force. Besides, it was focused on self-purification rather than judgment of the other.

According to Gandhi, non-violence was a more active force than retaliation, which increases wickedness. “I contemplate a mental, and therefore, a moral opposition to immoralities. I seek entirely to blunt the edge of the tyrant’s sword, not by putting up against it a sharper-edged weapon, but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance” (Young India, October 8, 1925).


Satyagraha had three inseparable components.
One, it was aimed at a just cause. He said, “I claim that the method of passive resistance…is the clearest and safest, because, if the cause is not true, it is the resisters and they alone who suffer.” (Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, G.A. Natesan & Co., 1933).
Two, it was effective but peaceful. “Passive resistance is an all-sided sword; it can be used anyhow; it blesses him who uses it and him against whom it is used. Without drawing a drop of blood it produces far-reaching results,” said Gandhi (“Hind Samaj or Indian Home Rule”, Navajivan Publishing House, 1958). He saw non-violence as “the end of all religions”. (Young India, May 29, 1924)
Three, it concerned impurities and weaknesses in the self rather than focusing on the evil in the object of resistance. For instance, he said it was the people in India who needed to change to earn the freedom. “It is the people alone who have to win swaraj; no man, not even the Viceroy, can grant it.” (The Hindu, May 29, 1921)

He also said, “When it (the government) sees the faith in yourselves which you will have displayed to the world by starting 20 lakh spinning-wheels within the time fixed, it will come down on its knees…When you have done this, the world will have realized, and so will have the Government, that you have faith in yourselves, that you really mean to have Swaraj.” (Navajivan, June 5, 1921)

Again, he said, “You must be religious and pure of heart. You must give up drinking and firmly vow to wear only pure swadeshi (indigenous) cloth…. You must bear in mind that no one who is wicked and of impure heart succeed in the non-cooperation struggle.” (The Hindu, May 29, 1921)
However, Gandhi’s use of religion was not idealistic, and nor was he over-optimistic about the realisation of his dream of Ramarajya. “It is a dream that may never be realized. I find happiness in living in that dreamland, ever trying to realize it in the quickest way.” (The Hindu, June 12, 1945)

His pragmatic approach can be gauged from the fact that he did not aim at becoming consistent in his views, but was open to new ideas based on experiences in life. “When anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the latter of the two on the same subject,” he said. (Harijan, April 29, 1933)
Besides, Gandhi was not like some of his contemporaries, who too were using religion in their
respective struggles for independence. What set him apart was the fact that while others highlighted worldly interests of religious communities—which created hatred and jealousy, he introduced tenets of various religions in politics with a vision that was broad enough to respect the needs of all communities.  Religion, he said, in its broadest sense governs all departments of life, including politics. (Madras Mail, December 22, 1933)

Unfortunately, it is the misuse of religion that we see in politics of the day, and not the use of virtues found in religion.


1. Spero News online, February 1, 2008

Vishal Arora writes for CBCI and appears here with permission.