Gandhiji’s Ideology

Gandhiji’s Ideology

This article deals with ‘Gandhiji’s Ideology   – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

Influence on Gandhi

  • Raised in Port City (Porbandar) : people raised in port cities have tendencies to look outwards. They are less insular. Being raised on coast and interior makes large difference on psychology of people.
  • Jainism : Jains are people who adhere to idea of strict non-violence (ahimsa) . He was born in Porbandar where  people belonging to Jainism were living in large number.  
  • Vaishnavism : Vaishnavism is very much associated with Bhakti / idea of devotion.
  • His Parents (especially mother) : He learnt devotion from his mother. She used to hold on her Karwa Chauth fast even for 36 hours but didn’t break it until she saw moon. He learnt about fast from his mother  
  • His engagement with dissenting Intellectuals . These intellectuals were infact thinkers who were marginalized by the west itself. He was trying to build a coalition to the other west and tell to world that there wasn’t just one west which was oppressing them but other west too which dissent such tendencies. In a way, he was also trying to change the course of  fight as – He wasn’t only fighting for Independence of Indians but also to free Britishers from their own worst tendencies.

These intellectuals were as follows

1 . HD Thoreau On duty of Civil Disobedience

  • He was perhaps the first dissenter in US in real sense
  • When US entered into war against Mexico in 1840s, Thoreau objected this war of expansionism & he objected more to the fact that taxes which he was paying to state were used to fund the military. He wrote essay against paying such taxes & duty of Civil Disobedience
  • Gandhi was moved by the idea of Thoreau that if the state has passed the unjust law , then your duty is to disobey that law (note – this doesn’t mean disrespect of rule of law in general).
  • A law is unjust according to Thoreau and Gandhi if your conscience tells you that you cant obey that law and if you obey that law , you will violate higher law and that higher law is law towards god & fellow human beings.

But there was difference between Gandhi and Thoreau because Thoreau at no point of time was thinking having a collectivity in this Civil Disobedience by taking  society and nation as a whole . His civil disobedience was more of individual character & not collective.

2. RW Emerson

  • Essayist & Transcendentalist thinker
  • Gandhi took Concept of Individualism from him

3. John Ruskin

Art critic & wrote UNTO THIS LAST . He took idea of Sarvodaya (Well Being of All => Community Living) from John Ruskin’s Unto this Last

  • Unto This Last is an essay on economy by John Ruskin, first published in December 1860 . Ruskin said himself that these articles were “very violently criticized”, forcing the publisher to stop the publication after four months. Subscribers sent protest letters. But Ruskin countered the attack and published the four articles in a book in 1862.
  • This essay is very critical of capital economists of the 18th and 19th century. Essay also attacks the destructive effects of industrialism upon the natural world, some historians have seen it as anticipating the Green Movement.
  • Unto This Last had a very important impact on Gandhi’s philosophy. He discovered the book in March 1904 through Henry Polak, whom he had met in a vegetarian restaurant in South Africa. Polak was chief editor of the Johannesburg paper The Critic. Gandhi decided immediately not only to change his own life according to Ruskin’s teaching, but also to publish his own newspaper, Indian Opinion & start  a farm where everybody would get the same salary, without distinction of function, race or nationality, which for that time, was quite revolutionary. Thus Gandhi created Phoenix Settlement.
  • Gandhi translated Unto This Last into Gujarati in 1908 under the title of Sarvodaya (“well being of all”).

4. Leo Tolstoy

  • Radical anarchist Christian  – Argued that Christianity and teachings of Christ are two separate things.
  • Much before he made his acquaintance through correspondence, Gandhi read Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is within you in South Africa. Tolstoy denounced the accumulation of wealth by men and the wielding of political power because it led to many evils and participation in fighting or war. He wrote in book that evil must never be returned with evil, but with goodness.

5. Theosophists

Encountered with Theosophists (Madame Blavatsky , Annie Besant (in India) & Vegetarians) in England

  • Theosophy is a religious /spiritual doctrine which argues that there is a way for the human beings to communicate with divine directly . England during that time had become epitome of industrial materialistic society where there was little room for the common people for spiritualism 
  • These Theosophists were infact challenging the Christianity which tells a path of interaction with god which was mediated through Church.

Gandhian Ideology

Note : Gandhi’s Praxis

  • Praxis = Evolution of ideas over time depending upon need of the thinker to negotiate with new situation & in the process inventing new ideas.
  • Gandhi’s ideology was part of Praxis which kept evolving after learning lessons from experiences of life . In the process to make bridges with hitherto neglected people, Gandhi had to re-cast some of his political ideas in new language.
  • Gandhi has himself said – His ideas kept on evolving with time. Whatever he said in last was his final conclusion based on real time experiences.

1 . Satyagraha

  • Comprised of two words – Satya ie Truth & Agraha ie Force .  It is tool of nonviolent political resistance. It is force of truth.
  • Chief aspect of Gandhian ideology
  • Satyagraha was to be used so that by self suffering and not by violence the enemy could be converted to one’s own view . It was based on the premise of superior moral power of the protestors capable of changing the heart of the oppressors through display of moral strength
  • Gandhi in his Satyagraha used Force of truth (and hence it was different from Passivity of Monks which didn’t use any force)
  • Mahatma Gandhi consciously feminized India’s freedom struggle to win against the brute masculinity of British power using tool of Satyagraha .He saw his mother Putlibai and his wife Kasturba  use peaceful resistance against patriarchy at home. His mother would fast to put moral pressure on his father, and his wife would refuse any act that he asked her to do if she did not agree with it. He personally experienced the power that resists rather than destroys. He incorporated this knowledge into a political tool, satyagraha

2. Non Violence

  • Non-Violence formed the basis of satyagraha
  • Satyagraha could assume various forms-fasting, non-violent picketing, different types of non-cooperation and ultimately in politics, civil disobedience in willing anticipation of the legal penalty. Gandhi firmly believed that all these forms of Satyagraha were pure means to achieve pure ends. It excludes the force of violence because Man is not capable of knowing the absolute truth & therefore not competent to punish

Gandhi had following problems with Violence

  • Epistemological Argument – Man isn’t in possession of Absolute Truth (death sentence and later found innocent) 
  • Anthological Argument -How monsterous may person appear to us, there is always spark of divinity in him
  • Pragmatic Argument -It doesn’t work
  • Moral Objection – It creates a split between cognition and feeling 

According to Gandhi, Non Violence doesn’t need Violence to define itself. It would be narrow to define Non-Violence as absence of violence. It has far greater meaning .  According to Gandhi, Non-Violence is a mode of being, it is a mode of living and way of thinking . It means

  • How you live in world without doing injustice to anybody,
  • How to live without bleeding the earth’s resources and not taking what is absolutely yours (hence, present humans consuming more than what is actually their, is also Violence)
  • How do you forge social relationships.

Gandhi advocated abolition of Arms Act (which criminalises Indians from owning Fire Arms) despite the fact that he was ardent advocate of Non-Violence . Gandhi’s argument was , there is no virtue in being non-violent , when you have no other option in life. The only way to demonstrate your adherence to the idea of Non-Violence is when you have the ability to actually resort to violence but you renounce that ability. 

By Non-Violence, Gandhi didn’t mean passivity or not doing anything at all. In his idea of non-violence, first of all no harm is to be done to anybody and if situation arises in which there is need to do harm, that harm should be done to oneself and not other.

  • Gandhi’s concept of ahimsa evolved through confrontations with situations giving rise to moral dilemmas. For instance, Gandhi had to explain his concept in the context of war and to explain his own participation in the First World War. “When two nations are fighting,” he wrote, “the duty of a votary of ahimsa is to stop the war. He who is not equal to that duty, he who has no power of resisting war, he who is not qualified to resist war, may take part in war, and yet wholeheartedly try to free himself, his nation and the world from war.” He knew that some destruction of non-human life was inevitable. ( ethics IR)

3. Hind Swaraj

  • Other feature was illustrated in his book Hind Swaraj (written in Gujarati in 1908)   and that was  CRITIQUE OF MODERN CIVILISATION
  • This can be equated with Communist Manifesto of Communism. Hind Swaraj tells us about Gandhism like Communist Manifesto tells about Communism.
  • It is written in dialogue form between Reader and Editor (like Plato’s dialogues & Upanishads)

Main Aspects pondered in Hind Swaraj

  • Indians constituted a nation or praja since the pre-Islamic days. The ancient Indian civilisation-“unquestionably the best”-was the fountainhead of Indian nationality, as it had an immense assimilative power of absorbing foreigners of different creed who made this country their own. This civilisation, which was “sound at the foundation” and which always tended “to elevate the moral being”, had “nothing to learn” from the “godless” modern civilisation that only “propagated immorality”
  • Real enemy was not the British political domination but the modern western civilization which was luring India into its stranglehold . Indians educated in western style, particularly lawyers, doctors, teachers and industrialists, were undermining India’s ancient heritage by insidiously spreading modern ways. He criticized railways as they had spread plague and produced famines by encouraging the export of food grains.
  • Indians must eschew greed and lust for consumption and revert to village based self-sufficient economy of the ancient times. On the other hand, parliamentary democracy-the foundational principle of Western liberal political system and therefore another essential aspect of modern civilisation-did not reflect in Gandhi’s view the general will of the people, but of the political parties, which represented specific interests and constricted the moral autonomy of parliamentarians in the name of party discipline. So for him it was not enough to achieve independence and then perpetuate “English rule without the Englishmen”; it was also essential to evolve an Indian alternative to Western liberal political structures. His alternative was a concept of popular sovereignty where each individual controls or restrains her/his own self and this was Gandhi’s subtle distinction between self-rule and mere home rule. “Such swaraj”, Gandhi asserted, “has to be experienced by each one for himself.”
  • These ideas  look utopian and obscurantist in the context of the early twentieth century.

It is not strictly correct to say that Gandhi was outrightly rejecting modernity as a package . Throughout his career he made utmost use of print media editing Indian Opinion (in SA) + Harijan & Young India(in India) & travelled extensively by railways (& becoming man of masses due to railways) . Yet offering an ideological critique of the western civilisation in its modern phase , Gandhi was effectively contesting the moral legitimacy of Raj that rested on stated assumption of superiority of the west

Gandhi : Parliamentary democracy doesn’t represent general will of people but of political parties.Gandhis alternative was popular sovereignty where each individual controls or restrains her/his own-self.

4. Swadeshi

  • Gandhi advocated swadeshi which meant the use of things belonging to one’s own country, particularly stressing the replacement of foreign machine made goods with Indian hand made cloth. This was his solution to poverty of peasants who could spin at home to supplement their income & his cure for the drain of money to England in payment for imported cloth.
  • It is interesting to find that despite his pronounced opposition to the influences of Western Industrial civilization Gandhi did not take a hostile view towards emerging modern industries in India. Gandhi believed in the interdependence of capital and labour and advocated the concept of capitalists being ‘trustees’ for the workers. In fact, Gandhi never encouraged politicization of the workers on class lines and openly abhorred militant economic struggles

5. On Caste System

Gandhis idea on caste and varna were not consistent but evolved throughout his political discourse. Superficially we could say that :

  • Gandhi was against the caste system & untouchability as it existed in those times but was in favor of Varna System that wasn’t based on Birth
  • Gandhi looked at this institution as division of labor & symbol of stability of Indian society from early times. According to him, Varnashram reduces unnecessary competition so is a viable model for India.

6. Gandhi and Women

Gandhi was of the opinion that women were superior to men in their moral and spiritual strength. They had greater powers of self-sacrifice and suffering. On this account, women were capable of infinite strength, which they only needed to realize and channel.

Gandhi wanted to introduce a softer kind of politics (simply putting women in power doesn’t mean softening of Public Sphere). Gandhi’s model was – Men must be men but they must cultivate feminine within them. Similarly , women must remain women but they must cultivate the masculine within them. 

Gandhi’s Critique of Masculinity

  • His critique of Masculinity was tied to his critique of nation state . He was of the view that Nation State is the kind of entity which is masculine form of doing politics.
  • Nathuram Godse in his speech – Most important reason for murdering Gandhi was he was indulging in all things which were feminine. If India is placed in hands of person like Gandhi having feminine traits within him, India would sink into despair. Only way in which nation can earn respect in the world is by becoming masculine and strong nation state . He also argued that things like fasting and charkha were characteristics of women and weak persons and leaders of strong nations must not indulge in such things.

Gandhi and Politics of Sexuality

  • Sexuality is entire corpus of feeling & emotions that one have towards someone with whom one has attachment (not sex)
  • Gandhi renounced sex but not sexuality. Gandhi had lot of female companions and he loved their company.
  • Gandhi in later parts of life started to think sexual intercourse as act of violence.  

Gandhi had strong views on another key subject relating value of equality between the sexes. He was against gender bias in the training of children. He asserted that girls ought not to be taught to adorn themselves as that identified them as objects of desire without any other distinct human qualities. He was also of the opinion that housework must be divided equally between boys and girls as the home belonged to both. Also, both boys & girls ought to have vocational training in some occupation so as to assure them a future livelihood when need arose.

7. View on Trusteeship

  • Wealthy could not justly claim their property & wealth to be theirs entirely. The reason was that they could not accumulate their wealth without the labour and cooperation of workers and the poorer sections of society. Hence, they were logically and morally bound to share their wealth in a fair measure with their workers and the poor.
  • But instead of ensuring this through legislation, Gandhi wanted wealthy people to voluntarily surrender part of their wealth and hold it in trust for those working for them.
  • He defines trusteeship in simple terms: “The rich man will be left in ownership of his wealth of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for society.
  • Gandhi did not believe in inherited wealth for he was of the view that a trustee has no heir but the public. He did not favour compulsion in the surrender of riches because he believed that forcible dispossession of the wealthy would deny to society the talents of people who could create national wealth.
  • His method was to persuade the wealthy to act as trustees, failing which satyagraha could be adopted. But by the 1940s, he had come to believe that state legislation would be necessary to ensure compliance with the principle of trusteeship

8. Ethics of empathy

  • Unlike many contemporary liberal political thinkers, who put rights before duties, empathy and cross-cultural understanding are the ‘hallmarks of the Gandhian view of everyday politics.
  • The heart of Gandhi’s ethics of empathy is to look within oneself, change oneself and then change the world. 

9. Views on Clothing for Indians

  • Mahatma Gandhi wanted Khadi to be the national cloth. He believed that if Khadi was used by every Indian, it would go a long way in bridging the gulf between the rich and the poor.
  • However his idea of scant clothes did not make much sense to
    • Most people who could afford better.
    • Dalits and the Christian converts who found Western style dresses as giving them a sense of liberation from age old prejudices.
    • Khadi was costly and even difficult to maintain.
    • Muslims too did not accept Khadi.
    • Elite women too did not find home spun Khadi very attractive.
  • Congress leaders who were relatively well off switched over to Khadi because in colonial India Khadi symbolized the urge for free

It would be however misleading to say that Gandhi was introducing Indians to an entirely new kind of Politics. Mass movement organised by Tilak in 1890s ,activities of Punjab extremists & Swadeshi movement in Bengal had already foreshadowed the coming of agitational politics in India.  So far as mass mobilisation was concerned  Home Rule leagues of Tilak & Besant prepared the ground of Gandhi’s initial satyagraha movements (many of the local leaders of Gandhi’s early Satyagrahas came from  Home Rule league background)

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