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This article refers to the concept of Swaraj as propagated by Gandhi. See self governance for general usage of the term Swaraj.
For the automobile manufacturer, see Swaraj Mazda.
Mahatma Gandhi (right)

Swaraj can mean generally self-governance or "home-rule" (swa- "self", raj- "rule") but the word usually refers to Mahatma Gandhi's concept for Indian independence from foreign domination.[1] Swaraj lays stress on governance not by a hierarchical government, but self governance through individuals and community building. The focus is on political decentralization.[2] Since this is against the political and social systems followed by Britain, Gandhi's concept of Swaraj laid stress on India discarding British political, economic, bureaucratic, legal, military, and educational institutions.[3]

Although Gandhi's aim of totally implementing the concepts of Swaraj in India was not achieved, the voluntary work organizations which he founded for this purpose did serve as precursors and role models for peoples movements, voluntary organisations and some of the non-governmental organisations that were subsequently launched in various parts of India.[4 ] The Bhoodan movement which presaged land reform legislation activity throughout India, ultimately leading to India discarding the Zamindari system, was also inspired by the ideas of Swaraj.


Key concepts

Swaraj is a kind of Individualist Anarchism.[5] It warrants a stateless society as according to Gandhi the overall impact of the state on the people is harmful. He called the state a "soulless machine" which, ultimately, does the greatest harm to mankind.[6] The raison d'etre of the state is that it is an instrument of serving the people. But Gandhi feared that in the name of moulding the state into a suitable instrument of serving people, the state would abrogate the rights of the citizens and arrogate to itself the role of grand protector and demand abject acquiescence from them. This would create a paradoxical situation where the citizens would be alienated from the state and at the same time enslaved to it which according to Gandhi was demoralising and dangerous. If Gandhi's close acquaintance with the working of the state apparatus in South Africa and in India strengthened his suspicion of a centralized, monolithic state, his intimate association with the Congress and its leaders confirmed his fears about the corrupting influence of political power and his skepticism about the efficacy of the party systems of power politics (due to which he resigned from the Congress on more than one occasion only to be persuaded back each time) and his study of the British parliamentary systems convinced him that representative democracy was incapable of meting out justice to people.[7] So he thought it necessary to evolve a mechanism to achieve the twin objectives of empowering the people and 'empowering' the state. It was for this that he developed the two pronged strategy of resistance (to the state) and reconstruction (through voluntary and participatory social action).

Although the word Swaraj means self-rule, Gandhi gave it the content of an integral revolution that encompasses all spheres of life. "At the individual level Swaraj is vitally connected with the capacity for dispassionate self-assessment, ceaseless self-purification and growing self-reliance".[8] Politically swaraj is self-government and not good government (for Gandhi, good government is no substitute for self government) and it means a continuous effort to be independent of government control, whether it is foreign government or whether it is national. In other words, it is sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority. Economically, Swaraj means full economic freedom for the toiling millions. And in its fullest sense, Swaraj is much more than freedom from all restraints, it is self-rule, self-restraint and could be equated with moksha or salvation.[9]

Adopting Swaraj means implementing a system whereby the state machinery is virtually nil, and the real power directly resides in the hands of people. Gandhi said, "Power resides in the people, they can use it at any time."[10] This philosophy rests inside an individual who has to learn to be master of his own self and spreads upwards to the level of his community which must be dependent only on itself. Gandhi said, "In such a state (where swaraj is achieved) everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbour";[11] and also "It is Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves."[12]

Gandhi explained his vision in 1946:

"Independence begins at the bottom... A society must be build in which every village has to be self sustained and capable of managing its own affairs... It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without... This does not exclude dependence on and willing help from neighbours or from the world. It will be a free and voluntary play of mutual forces... In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever widening, never ascending circles. Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual. Therefore the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it."[13]

Gandhi was undaunted by the task of implementing such a utopian vision in India. He believed that by transforming enough individuals and communities society at large would change. He said, "It may be taunted with the retort that this is all Utopian and, therefore not worth a single thought... Let India live for the true picture, though never realizable in its completeness. We must have a proper picture of what we want before we can have something approaching it."[14]

Efforts for implementation

In 1917, Gandhi asked Indians nationwide to sign a petition demanding Swaraj. This petition was supported by, among others, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Ram Manohar Lohia. Critics include Muhammad Ali Jinnah (who said that only a constitutional struggle could lead to independence; see Proposed Indian Round Table Conference 1922) and Rabindranath Tagore.

In 1919, the Navajivan Trust, a publishing house, was founded by Gandhi to educate through publications common Indians about the principles of Swaraj, in their native tongue. The trust is still in existence today and according to its initial promises is totally self reliant having accepted absolutely no donation or grant throughout its existence.[15]

Since achieving Swaraj could not be possible without the elimination of all forms of domination, Gandhi decided to undertake a number of constructive activities aimed at reducing the dependence of Indians from the British and simultaneously also making them self-reliant. Therefore, he founded many voluntary organisations throughout his life to carry out such social welfare programs. The All India Spinners Association, the All India Village Industries Association, the Harijan Sewak Sangh and the Leprosy Foundation were some of the organizations he formed. The thrust of all these activities was social and not political. Gandhi also decided to popularise the spinning wheel in India to make hand-spun cloth out of Khadi. The intention was to reduce India's dependence on foreign made cloth. This movement called The Khadi Movement later gained fame by the term Swadeshi. Gandhi himself spun and weaved cloth from spinning wheels and handlooms in his ashram. The spinning wheel or the Charkha became a symbol of the Indian freedom struggle, and was incorporated into many flags.

At the Indian National Congress annual session in September 1920, delegates supported Swaraj, and in the same year they agreed with Khilafat leaders to work and fight together for both causes. This can be regarded as the official launching of the Swaraj movement by the Congress. However, the Congress idea of Swaraj was significantly different from that of Gandhi. The Gandhian idea of Swaraj outlined in his book Hind Swaraj was not acceptable to many Congress leaders. Jawaharlal Nehru later dismissed it as "completely unreal" and declared that neither he nor the Congress had ever considered the picture presented in it.[4 ] The Congress treated Swaraj more as a politically inclined goal demanding complete political independence from the British.

After Gandhi

After Gandhi's assassination Vinoba Bhave formed the Sarva Seva Sangh at the national level and Sarvodya Mandals at the regional level to the carry on integrated village service - with the end purpose of achieving the goal of Swaraj. Two major nonviolent movements for socio-economic and political revolution in India: the Bhoodan movement led by Vinoba Bhave and the Total Revolution movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan were actually held under the aegis of the ideas of Swaraj. These movements had some success, but due to the socialist tendencies of Nehruvian India were not able to unleash the kind of revolution that was aimed at.

Gandhi's model of Swaraj was almost entirely discarded by the Indian government. He had wanted a system of a classless, stateless direct democracy.[16] In what is known as his Last Will and Testament Gandhi suggested the disbanding of the Congress as a political forum. He said, "Its task is done. The next task is to move into villages and revitalize life there to build a new socio-economic structure from the bottom upwards."[17] He wanted the Congress party to change into a constructive work organisation - Lok Sewak Sangh was the name he proposed - to conscientise and mobilise the people to work and struggle for Swaraj. However none of these objectives were achieved when India became independent. India, although a federation, got a strong central government. Representative democracy, rather than direct democracy was adopted. The Congress Party was not disbanded. Rather it went on to become one of the frontrunners in running the government of India.

Additionally, modern India has kept in place many aspects of British (and Western) influence, including widespread use of the English language, Common-law, industrialization, liberal democracy, military organisation, and bureaucracy.

See also


  1. ^ What is Swaraj?. Retrieved on July 12, 2007.
  2. ^ Parel, Anthony. Hind Swaraj and other writings of M. K. Gandhi. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, 1997.
  3. ^ What is Swaraj?. Retrieved on March 3, 2007.
  4. ^ a b What Swaraj meant to Gandhi. Retrieved on September 17, 2008.
  5. ^ Non-Western Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context. Jason Adams. Retrieved on March 18, 2007.
  6. ^ Jesudasan, Ignatius. A Gandhian theology of liberation. Gujarat Sahitya Prakash: Ananda India, 1987, pp 236-237.
  7. ^ Hind Swaraj. M.K. Gandhi. Chapter V
  8. ^ M. K. Gandhi, Young India, June 28, 1928, p. 772.
  9. ^ "M. K. Gandhi, Young India, December 8, 1920, p.886 (See also Young India, August 6, 1925, p. 276 and Harijan, March 25, 1939, p.64.)
  10. ^ Jesudasan, Ignatius. A Gandhian theology of liberation. Gujarat Sahitya Prakash: Ananda India, 1987, pp 251.
  11. ^ Murthy, Srinivas.Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy Letters. Long Beach Publications: Long Beach, 1987, pp 13.
  12. ^ M. K. Gandhi. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule. Ahmedabad, Gujarat: Navajivan Publishing House, 1938.
  13. ^ Murthy, Srinivas.Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy Letters. Long Beach Publications: Long Beach, 1987, pp 189.
  14. ^ Parel, Anthony. Hind Swaraj and other writings of M. K. Gandhi. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, 1997, pp 189.
  15. ^ The Navjivan Trust. Retrieved on March 3, 2007.
  16. ^ Bhattacharyya, Buddhadeva. Evolution of the political philosophy of Gandhi. Calcutta Book House: Calcutta, 1969, pp 479.
  17. ^ Jesudasan, Ignatius. A Gandhian theology of liberation. Gujarat Sahitya Prakash: Ananda India, 1987, pp 225.

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