The relevance of Hind Swaraj


Very little has been written in the mainstream media on ‘Hind Swaraj’ (Indian Home Rule), the famed book of Mahatma Gandhi in its centenary year though it can be of much use today to resolve the present crisis bedevilling the nation. It is his first book written between Nov 13 and Nov 22, 1909 on board the ship while returning from London to South Africa, and hence called ‘the sermon on the sea’ also.  It is simply amazing that such a great work, rated as one of the greatest ever. Gandhi did not have any amanuensis, but he wrote continuously. So much so, that when his right hand was exhausted, he went on with his left hand. The book, which encapsulates his concept of swaraj and the means to achieve it, has become all the more relevant today when the country is undergoing a sort of convulsion due to the offensive launched by the Naxalites and the State against each other and the effectiveness of the parliamentary system is being questioned so openly.

The purpose of Gandhi’s visit was to enlist support for the satyagraha movement that he was leading in South Africa. He held dialogue with Indian students studying there, and was appalled to find that they all were convinced about the legitimacy and effectiveness of violence as a means for achieving swaraj.

Gandhi was deeply disturbed by his talks with Savarkar. The latter was immensely influenced by Joseph Mazzini. He felt that Mazzini unified Italy by fighting the alien power through secret societies. Arms were obtained for these societies from neighbouring countries and their members were sent to various countries for getting trained in warfare. Savarkar openly called upon the youth to fight with arms to liberate their motherland.

Gandhi was also upset to observe that for the youth swaraj meant nothing more than the transfer of the reins of power from the British to the Indians. They had no complaint against the system introduced by the foreign power. Gandhi felt that such a country would not be Hindustan but Englishtan.

According to him, the biggest impediment to the realisation of true swaraj was the ‘modern western civilisation’ which gave primacy to physical and material comforts of man at the cost of moral and spiritual progress. For him, swaraj meant swa + raj.

He explained: “Real home rule is self-rule or self-control.” And, non-violence was the only means to attain it. He wrote, “If India adopted the doctrine of love as an active part of her religion and introduced it in her politics, Swaraj would descend upon India from heaven.”

This is the religion of love which is badly needed in today’s strife-torn world. After reading the book, John Middleton Murry commented that “the kindling of a vast and consuming flame of Christian love” was the only way to save the western civilization.

Gandhi’s doctrine

However, Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence was not fully accepted by his own party. In 1939, when the World War broke out, he wanted the Indian National Congress to adopt non-violence as its principle but the Congress accepted it only as a policy and rejected it as a principle.

Rejecting his idea of swaraj, Nehru wrote that the Congress had never accepted it: “A village, normally speaking, is backward intellectually and culturally and no progress can be made from a backward environment.”

Gandhi’s description of the British parliament as a sterile woman and even a prostitute has been hotly debated ever since he used the term. When Mahadevbhai suggested to him to change these words, he said that the expression may be changed, but his feelings remained the same.

He called it a sterile woman because it lacks creativity and works only under pressure. And he likened it to prostitute because it works under the control of ministers who go on changing, sometimes even overnight. How true! It’s a common knowledge how the legislature is controlled by the executive. Now, could we learn anything from him?

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