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
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
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
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)
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
Religion, he said, in its broadest sense governs all departments of
life, including politics. (Madras Mail, December 22, 1933)
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
and appears here with permission.