Gandhi is rightly regarded as father of Indian nationalism. It was under Gandhi that the national movement became mass movement. Gandhi is the next logical step in the evolution of India as a nation after Aurobindo. There is lot of continuity in the thoughts of Aurobindo and Gandhi.
Gandhi cannot be regarded as a political philosopher in the conventional sense of the term. According to professor Humayun Kabir, Gandhi was not a philosopher but a strategist. More than a philosopher, he was psychologist. He understood the mass psychology. Hence Gandhi emerged as the most successful mass leader. There is a transition in Gandhi. Gandhi also moved towards spirituality. From a master strategist, he became Mahatma.
Gandhi can be described as a man of action. Gandhi never claimed to know the truth. Gandhi always inspired people to find the truth. Gandhi denied the existence of Gandhism. However Gandhism cannot be denied because there are many persons who consider themselves as Gandhian. According to survey of Times magazine, Gandhi is the second most loved personality after Jesus Christ.
Source of influence on Gandhi.
Religious texts. Bhagwat Geeta, Ramayana, Buddhist and Jain texts, Bible, Koran. Besides religious texts, he was influenced by Leo Tolstoy’s book KINGDOM OF GOD WITHIN YOU. John Ruskin’s book UNTO THIS LAST. Socrates, Plato, Rosseau.
In his autobiography MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH Gandhi writes that the drama King Harishchandra had deep impact on his personality since childhood.
Important Ideas of Gandhi
1] Non Violence / Ahimsa
The foundational principle of Gandhi. It is in the foundation of all other ideas of Gandhi. For Gandhi, Ahimsa was his religion, his creed.
Gandhi defines ahimsa as a path for attainment of truth/God. Ahimsa as a path to attain God can be established on the basis of ‘ends and means theory’. Gandhi believed in the continuity of ends and means. If end is to attain the God/Truth, the simple logic is follow what Gods did rather than what Saitan did. He was inspired by Jesus Christ, Lord Ram, Buddha. The life of these personalities reflect love, sacrifice, brotherhood, non-violence. Hence Gandhi came to the conclusion that if objective of life is attainment of truth, ahimsa is the path.
Features of ahimsa.
Ahimsa should not be seen in a narrow and negative sense of the term i.e. ‘not committing violence’. Ahimsa should be understood in a broad and a positive sense. It is to be seen as a feeling of love, fraternity. One can follow ahimsa only when we have feeling of brotherhood for others.
Ahimsa as a broad concept.
It is not to be practiced just among humans, but to be practiced towards animals, birds, environment as well. Similarly the scope of ahimsa is as broad as the application in interpersonal relations to interstate relations.
According to Gandhi, ahimsa belongs to the world of humans because humans have soul. Himsa belongs to the world of animals because the soul is not so developed. Thus humans have reason, consciousness and animals are guided by appetite. It also means that those who apply himsa are humans only in appearance but not in substance/essence.
Starting as a political means, ahimsa became ‘creed’ of Gandhi.
Satya + Agraha = Insistence on truth.
Satyagraha is a means or strategy adopted by Gandhi in his struggles. It is based on the foundational principles of Gandhi. 1) Non-violence. 2) Ends and means.
Gandhi defined satyagraha as the conflict between good and evil. Indian freedom struggle was not an ordinary struggle. It was a fight between good and evil. British state represented evil whereas Indian represented good.
If we apply the logic of dialectics, satyagrahis are bound to win. According to Gandhi, the objective of national movement is to establish ‘Rama rajya’. If aim is to achieve Ram rajya, the methods cannot be that of Ravana. Thus satyagraha represents the continuity of ends and means.
Gandhi made difference between satyagraha and passive resistance.
Passive resistance was given by Thoreau, in Indian context advocated by Aurobindo. Gandhi was in the habit of giving new meanings to the existing terms. According to Gandhi, in passive resistance a) Person is not using violence because he thinks that the strategy of violence may not be appropriate in a given context. b) In passive resistance person think the other person against whom passive resistance is applied as his enemy.
a) For satyagrahi, non-violence is an act of faith, it is not a matter of choice. b) For satyagrahi, there is no enemy – satyagraha is against the evil and not against the evil-doer.
The aim of satyagrahi is to end the evil. According to Gandhi, if someone is ‘my enemy’, it means I will have to take the responsibility. I may have done something that has turned the other person into my enemy, hence I have to reform 1myself first. Hence satyagrahi has to make the sacrifice. Sacrifice is possible only when there is a feeling of love. It means one should love his enemy only then one can follow satyagraha.
Scope of the application of satyagraha.
Gandhi believed that satyagraha can be applied in all spheres of life. From personal to political. Gandhi started his technique of satyagraha in South Africa, kept on modifying the techniques, perfecting them. Gandhi proposed mass satyagrahas as well as individual satyagrahas. Satyagraha is the application of non-violence. Non-violence is the characteristic of humans. According to Gandhi, one cannot degrade the other human being without degrading himself first. When we use violence, we first degrade ourselves.
3] Critique of modern civilisation
Gandhi is not the first person, nor the only person to criticize modern civilization. In western philosophy the tradition started with Rosseau.
Gandhi criticized modern civilization not because it originated in the west but because of its nature. The two defining features of modern civilization are 1) Utilitarianism – It reduced man to the level of animals. Just concerned with the satisfaction of appetite. 2) Materialism – Over-emphasis on material pleasures. Led to the sacrifice of spiritual satisfaction.
What are the manifestations of modern civilization?
Gandhi made no difference in British colonialism and fascist imperialism. Thus imperialism, fascism are the manifestations of modern civilization. Gandhi called modern civilization as satanic. Because it degrades man from the status of human being to the status of animal.
Human beings which have capacity to become Gods end up becoming saitan. Modern civilization has not only harmed human society, it has also harmed the environment. According to Gandhi, the path of development which the western world has followed in the last hundred years, if rest starts following, at least 9 more earths will be required.
Source of influence on Gandhi.
In his critique of modern civilization, Gandhi got influenced by the works of Edward Carpenter. Edward Carpenter has demonstrated the negative consequences of modern medicines on human health. This led to Gandhi to think upon negative consequences on difference spheres of life.
What is true civilization for Gandhi?
True civilisation is a civilisation which does not degrade man to the status of animal, rather which makes man a better human being. True civilisation does not mean, satisfaction of wants but minimisation of wants. True civilisation does not harm environment, it does not harm society. Gandhi in context of India, did not favoured excessive mechanisation or production by machines. Instead of mass production, Gandhi favoured ‘production by masses’. Machines should not lead to the displacement of humans. Production should be for need and not for greed.
Gandhi hated the separation of ends and means, the so called Machiavellianism as the defining feature of western civilisation.
What is the real purpose of Gandhi’s critique of modern civilization?
1) We can consider it as a part of Gandhi’s ‘war of position’, an attempt to build counter hegemony. Gandhi’s critique questions the legitimacy of ‘civilising mission’ and ‘white man’s burden’.
2) Gandhi has discussed the critique of modern civilisation in his book HIND SWARAJ. In HIND SWARAJ he has given ‘blue print for the future path of development to be adopted by India’.
4] Concept of Swaraj
Swaraj can be considered as Indian version of liberty or freedom. Swaraj has been the goal of freedom movement. The concept of swaraj kept on evolving. For moderates, swaraj was getting greater representation of Indians in governance. For extremists like Tilak and Lala Lajapatray swaraj was ‘self government’. Aurobindo Ghosh, was the first person to interpret swaraj in terms of complete freedom from the foreign rule rather than the dominion status. Aurobindo also spiritualized the concept of swaraj. According to Aurobindo, the real meaning of freedom is ‘inner freedom’. The realization of the law of our being. The concept of freedom has to be compatible with the peace and harmony in the society.
Gandhi’s swaraj is inspired by Aurobindo. Gandhi has further expanded its meaning. Gandhi’s swaraj was also based on the ideas of Upanishad. As per Upanishads swaraj implies ‘self-control’ or ‘control on one’s desires’. Thus for Gandhi, there is no real swaraj without ‘self discipline’.
Gandhi’s swaraj is also inspired by Leo Tolstoy, who held that kingdom of God is within you. It means man does not require any external control.
Gandhi has explained swaraj in multiple spheres. 1) Political sphere – In political sphere, swaraj meant panchayati raj, democratic decentralization. A system of governance where individual is the center. Idea of swaraj results into Rama rajya. Rama rajya is a stateless society. 2) Swaraj in economic sphere – Economic swaraj will give a life of dignity to the millions of people living in the state of poverty. Economic swaraj is a party of Gandhi’s constructive programs. It included land reforms ( land to the tillers ), revival of cottage industries, promotion of Khadi. The model of economic development which aims to fulfill the basic needs without harming the environment. 3) Swaraj in social terms – Another very strong aspect of Gandhi’s constructive program. It includes fighting against the evils of communalism, untouchability. 4) Swaraj in cultural terms – Gandhi suggested that one should respect one’s own culture. If we will not respect our culture, the world will not respect us. Culture is a part of person’s identity. However Gandhi didn’t had orthodox views. Gandhi believed that one should accept the good things from all cultures. He held that we should keep our windows open but doors closed. “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”
Thus Gandhi’s swaraj was aimed at addressing problems of India and regeneration of India.
We can call it Gandhi’s socialism. There is not much originality in Gandhi’s sarvodaya. Sarvodaya was the Gujarati translation of John Ruskin’s book UNTO THIS LAST. What is the theme of sarvodaya? Gandhi’s constructive program which aimed at giving the life of dignity to the poor.
As per sarvodaya, even when we cannot make people equal in terms of income, we can make people equal in terms of dignity. As per Gandhi, the work of a barber deserves equal respect as that of the work of a lawyer. Sarvodaya of Gandhi can be explained through following concepts-. 1) Bread labour 2) Trusteeship 3) Land reforms and 4) Revival of cottage industries.
Bread Labour – According to the concept, every person should perform some amount of physical work. Why? 1) Only then we will realize the pains and the hardships of those who perform physical labour. 2) Only then we will be able to appreciate the importance of manual works and we will be able to give the due respect.
Trusteeship – Trusteeship is Gandhi’s approach to deal with the conflict between labour and capital. Gandhi does not approve either the concept of class struggle or the necessity of violence. He also don’t feel need to abolish classes altogether. Gandhi believes in the possibility of harmony between the classes. Gandhi’s ideas come near to the ideas of socialists before Marx who believed in appealing to the conscience of the capitalist. Even in his theory of trusteeship, the fundamental principles are non-violence, continuity of ends and means, his view that there is enough for need but not enough for greed.
According to Gandhi, capitalist should consider not as the owner but trustee of the capital. Why? Capital is social production and not just the contribution of individual. What is Gandhi’s prescription? Capitalist can keep what is necessary for his needs as well as what is necessary for running the industry.
The surplus amount should be contributed for the well-being of the poors and overall good of the society.
Gandhi’s trusteeship comes near to Aristotle’s theory of property i.e. Private ownership but common use.
In practical sense, it can be applied in the form of corporate social responsibility. Gandhi’s trusteeship has been criticized by Marxist leaders and intellectuals like M N Roy. Marxist project Gandhi’s trusteeship as a means to protect the interests of the capitalist class rather than to provide justice to the poors. Marxist intellectuals project Gandhi as the spokesperson of the bourgeoise class. They also suggest that Gandhi himself belonged to the capitalist class.
Land Reforms and revival of cottage industry.
6] Gandhi on ends and means / Gandhi on role of ethics in politics.
Gandhi was critical of Machiavellianism. Machiavellianism stands for the separation of ends and means. Gandhi believed that the separation of ends and means is a cause of corruption in public life and is responsible for the evils like imperialism and fascism.
Gandhi considered Gokhale as his political Guru. It was Gokhale who has been emphasizing on ‘spiritualization of politics’. The need to bring ethics into politics.
Gandhi was also inspired by Greek thinkers like Socrates and Plato who have not separated politics and ethics.
According to Gandhi, politics without ethics and without religion is like a death trap. One cannot come out of the trap without the light of religion or ethics. Gandhi believed in purity of means over ends. In his book, HIND SWARAJ, Gandhi held that “it would be illogical to expect rose flower by sowing the seed of babool.” Gandhi applied the ends and means continuity in his struggles. Hence he called his movement as satyagraha.
The debate between the priority of ends and means remains the matter of eternal debate among political philosophers, giving rise to two schools of thoughts. a) realism. b) Idealism. Realism can be considered as short sighted approach whereas idealism is a long term vision. Being idealist means being ‘extreme realist’.
7] Gandhi on rights and duties.
“Rights are present in the duties in embryonic sense.”
Gandhi neither sacrifices individual for the sake of society nor sacrifices society for the sake of individual. Like Aurobindo, Gandhi looks for balance. The balance between rights and duties, the balance between individual and society. Gandhi is inspired by the philosophy of Nishkama Karma found in Geeta.
Geeta suggest to perform your duty and when we perform our duty, we automatically get our rights. Rights and duties are neither antithetical nor independent of each other. When we fulfill our obligations, we automatically get the rights.
Thus Gandhi’s theory of rights comes near to Laski’s theory of rights and duties. (Functional theory of rights.)
8] Gandhi on state.
Gandhi believes that state is antithetical to the idea of freedom. Gandhi is considered as anarchist. Gandhi’s Rama rajya is a stateless society.
State is not compatible with the idea of non-violence. Even the smallest state requires instruments of coercion. State is not compatible with the idea of swaraj. Swaraj means self control.
According to Gandhi, state is a symbol of weakness of man. Since man cannot control himself, state is needed as an external control.
9] Gandhi on education
Gandhi’s scheme on education is called as ‘Nayee Taleem’.
He suggests to learn from book of life rather than life from books. Focus on vocational education, the idea of ‘earn and learn’. Like Plato, Gandhi believes education to be lifelong experience and hence person should be capable of financing its education rather than depending on guardians or parents.
Gandhi gave priority to the learnings like social forestry, nursing, home science, handicrafts etc.
10] Gandhi on women
One of the biggest achievement of Gandhi was successful association of women with national movement. Women played leading role in Gandhi’s constructive programs.
However feminists believe that Gandhi’s approach was traditional, patriarchal. According to Gandhi, Sita and Draupadi should be the ideals for Indian women. Both are the symbols of moral strength. Ravana could not touch Sita because of her moral strength or character.