About the Book
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was born in Porbandar on the western coast of India. His childhood and early upbringing were undistinguished but as an adult he initiated and was involved in a series of novel forms of peaceful protests which established him as one of the most important leaders of the twentieth century and one whose message and relevance transcended national boundaries. This meticulously edited volume, culled from the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, contains a representative selection of his writings focusing on themes which were central to Gandhi's philosophy. The reader is divided into eight sections and discusses the following in detail: Gandhiji's complete rejection of what is known as modern civilization together with its materialistic nature; the doctrines of swaraj and swadeshi, which meant more to him than mere independence from the British; the creed of non-violence, the centrepiece of his political theory; his role in mass movements, particularly in the Non-Co-operation, Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements; his views on women and sex; his arguments against caste and untouchability; his thoughts on capitalism and socialism; his commitment to a united India, his firm belief in religious tolerance and finally, his lifelong struggle towards the attainment of both Home Rule and Self Rule.
About the Author
Rudrangshu Mukherjee was born in 1952 and educated at Presidency College, Calcutta, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and St Edmund Hall, Oxford. He was awarded a D.Phil. in Modem History in 1981 by the University of Oxford. He is the author of Awadh in Revolt 1857-58: A Study of Popular Resistance; and an editor of Trade and the Indian Ocean World: Essays in Honour of Ashin Das Gupta.
Rudrangshu Mukherjee is Editor, Editorial Pages, The Telegraph and lives in Calcutta.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 at Porbander in the western coast of India. His father was an official of a small native state. He had an orthodox upbringing but went to London to train as a lawyer. He enrolled at the Inner Temple and was called to the Bar in the summer of 1891. Back in India, he could not make a successful career as a lawyer and moved to South Africa in 1893. Confronted with the rampant racism in vogue there, he began the first of, what he was to call later, his 'experiments with truth'. The main thrust of this experiment was to resist racial discrimination non-violently. It involved the peaceful violation of certain laws, the courting of arrests collectively, hartals and spectacular marches.
The South African experiment was to serve as a model of Gandhi's involvement in mass movements in India. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Indian National Congress and the Indian national movement was in disarray. In the aftermath of the swadeshi movement in Bengal, the Indian National Congress was split between Moderates and Extremists. There was, however, a growing awareness in the country of the various dimensions of imperialist exploitation and oppression. It was in this atmosphere that Gandhi made his first mark in Indian politics by organizing mass, non-violent protests in Champaran, Kheda and against the Rowlatt Act.
But before his emergence in the Indian political scene, Gandhi had already worked out some of his fundamental ideas. He articulated these in a booklet called Hind Swaraj. All commentators on Gandhi recognize this to be the most coherent exposition of Gandhi's world-view.' Gandhi himself saw the text as representing 'the views ... held by many Indians not touched by what is known as civilization.' His motive, he said, was 'to serve my country, to find out the Truth and to follow it.
Hind Swaraj is a trenchant critique of modern civilization but it also contains a statement of Gandhi's alternative to modern civilization and a programme for Indians to actualize such an alternative. Gandhi was emphatic about the superiority of Indian civilization and its inherent ability to withstand the onslaughts of modernity. Throughout his life, in all his major writings, Gandhi returned again and again to these themes.
The critique attacked all the major aspects of the 'modern philosophy of life,' -Gandhi emphasized that it was called 'Western' because its principal site was the West. On the surface, Gandhi's position has similarities with the romantic criticism of the moral and social depredations of advancing capitalism. Indeed, the two major influences on Gandhi, in the formulation of these ideas, were Edward Carpenter's Civilization: Its Cause and Cure and John Ruskin's Unto This Last. The former influenced Gandhi's ideas on science especially modern medicine. And Gandhi liked especially Carpenter's argument that the ever-increasing powers of production engendered by modern science and technology alienated man '(1) from Nature (2) from his true self (3) from his Fellows' and it worked 'in every way to disintegrate and corrupt man ... to break up the unity of his nature. From Ruskin came the criticism of 'political economy based on self-interest.' Ruskin's suggestion that 'that country is richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others? had Gandhi's approval. From Lev Tolstoy's political writings Gandhi took his ideas about the essentially repressive character of the State and about the moral imperative of non-violence. There is always the danger while discussing the lineages of Gandhi's ideas of overemphasizing the influences. Gandhi was thoroughly eclectic and his borrowings were not impaired by any considerations of scientific and theoretical rigour. Thus, while Gandhi borrowed from Ruskin and Carpenter, he rejected completely some other aspects of their thought. This distinguished Gandhi from the romantic critique of capitalism. Carpenter, for example, argued, drawing, in his own turn, from Lewis Morgan and Engels, that civilization transformed the nature of 'property' and thereby destroyed man's unity with nature. Such theories did not attract Gandhi.
Ruskin, again, was a historicist influenced by German idealism especially by Hegel. He was also a believer in the virtues of 'modernity' caring intensely, as R.G. Collingwood noted, 'for science and progress, for political reform, for the advancement of knowledge and for new movements in art and letters.' His attack on political economy did not call for a jettisoning of Reason and a falling back on 'conscience' and 'faith.'
This was, of course, completely unacceptable to Gandhi. He did not share this confidence in Reason and Science. He asserted that the scientific mode of knowledge was applicable only to very limited areas of human living. The assumption that rationality and science could provide solutions to all problems led to insanity and impotence.' ... mere intellect: Gandhi wrote, 'makes one insane or unmanly .... The reasoning faculty will raise a thousand issues. Only one thing will save us from these and that is faith.' There were very few things, Gandhi felt, that reason could help explain: where reason failed, faith worked. Similarly, he was not willing to accept arguments based on history. 'To believe that what has not occurred in history will not occur at all is to argue disbelief in the dignity of man: he declared. What history records are aberrations; history is 'a record of an interruption of the course of nature.' Neither science nor history has any privileged access to Truth. Truth was in morality, in one's own conscience and in the performance of one's duty.
Gandhi thus not only made a critique of modern civilization, civil society and its various institutions; the intellectual developments associated with modern civilization-Reason, Science, History, the dominant themes of post-enlightenment thought-met with his utter and complete disapproval and rejection. This rejection gave his arguments a uniquely self-contained character. The episternic vantage point for Gandhi was outside civil society and post-enlightenment thought. Unlike the romantics his critique was not an elaboration of the historical contradictions of civil society as comprehended from within it.
Thus the alternative to modern civilization that Gandhi posed had to be located outside the domain of civil society and the influences of modern civilization. And India was uniquely placed to provide this alternative, indeed, only India could provide the alternative since millions of Indians who lived in the villages had not been lured by the trappings of modern civilization.
I have written some chapters on the subject of Indian Home Rule which I venture to place before the readers of Indian Opinion. I have written because I could not restrain myself. I have read much, I have pondered much, during the stay, for four months in London, of the Transvaal Indian deputation. I discussed things with as many of my countrymen as I could. I met, too, as many Englishmen as it was possible for me to meet. I consider it my duty now to place before the readers of Indian Opinion the conclusions, which appear to me to be final. The Gujarati subscribers of Indian Opinion number about 800. I am aware that, for every subscriber, there are at least ten persons who read the paper with zest. Those who cannot read Gujarati have the paper read out to them. Such persons have often questioned me about the condition of India. Similar questions were addressed to me in London. I felt, therefore, that it might not be improper for me to ventilate publicly the views expressed by me in private.
These views are mine, and yet not mine. They are mine because I hope to act according to them. They are almost a part of my being. But, yet, they are not mine, because I lay no claim to originality. They have been formed after reading several books. That which I dimly felt received support from these books.
The views I venture to place before the reader are, needless to say, held by many Indians not touched by what is known as civilization, but I ask the reader to believe me when I tell him that they are also held by thousands of Europeans. Those who wish to dive deep, and have time. may read certain books themselves. If time permits me. I hope to translate portions of such books for the benefit of the readers of Indian Opinion.
If the readers of Indian Opinion and others who may see the following chapters will pass their criticism on to me. I shall feel obliged to them.
The only motive is to serve my country. to find out the Truth, and to follow it. If, therefore, my views are proved to be wrong, I shall have no hesitation in rejecting them. If they are proved to be right, I would naturally wish, for the sake of the motherland, that others should adopt them.
To make it easy reading, the chapters are written in the form of a dialogue between the reader and the editor.
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