From Swaraj to “Poorna” Swaraj: Celebrating Gandhi

By Rabia Mohamed Ismail Abdul Rahim, NUALS, Kochi.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

It was on the 6th of July, 1944, that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, also known as “Mahatma” Gandhi was addressed as the “Father of the Nation” for the first time. Subhash Chandra Bose was the first to vest this title on Gandhi on a radio address. And for all the right reasons, the public wholeheartedly accepted this title for their knight in khadi attire.

The “Man with a great soul”, even today, almost 70 years after his death, is revered in India. His birthday, the Second of October is a national holiday and his image appears on the paper currency of all denominations. There is indeed an endless list of contributions, for which every citizen of this “Independent” country needs to thank him. He left an everlasting impact on the world at large because he always spoke and understood the language of the masses, socially deprived and downtrodden.

It is said that the Mahatma had two dreams in his life. The first, was to liberate our country from the dictatorial claws of the British, while the second was to liberate the citizens from oppression, injustice and inequality within the country. To quote his own words,

“I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice, an India in which there should be no rich class and no poor class of people, and an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony. This is the India of my dream.”.

His vision was to consider the whole world a single ‘family’. He fought against untouchability and was an advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity, both of which formed an essential ingredient of the Independence of India. Gandhi rejected any religious doctrine in conflict with morality and abhorred blind following. He saw exploitation as the essence of violence and hence insisted on the sharing, not only of political power and social respect, but also of economic opportunity.

Two main principles of Gandhi were that of non-violence, or in other words ‘ahimsa’ and of decentralisation. He expounded that with one, complimenting the other, his dream could be realized.

The Mahatma believed that the country would only be “free” in its literal sense when the poor enjoyed the same power as the rich, to get all the ordinary amenities of life that a rich man enjoys.

Gandhi did, ofcourse accept democracy to be a great institution, and encouraged it. However, he never failed to stress on decreasing the possibility of its misuse. Mahatma Gandhi emphasized upon the necessity, constant development and maturity of democracy in India. The democracy of Gandhi’s imagination valued fundamental rights as freedom and justice. And he believed that, through a democratic system of Government, the Ramarajya of his imagination would be brought to reality, wherein, each and everyone irrespective of their strengths and weakness, would get equal rights and opportunities  Gndhiji’s version of the Ramarajya would be an advanced version of democracy guaranteeing security and honor of one and all.

To Gandhi, an institution based on political power, could be the means of enabling people to better their condition in different walks of life, but could never help human beings to achieve the goal of life. He considered such an institution as not ideal to lead to a perfect national life. According to him, a perfect national life would be one, which was self-regulated and one, with no requirement of representation. He dreamt of a state of enlightened anarchy, where every person would be his own master, ruling himself to not cause any hindrance to anybody else. In the ideal State, therefore, there is no political power because there is no State.

He particularly stressed upon discipline, equal respect of law by all and priority to social will over the individual will in a democracy, in order to avoid the exploitation of the democratic institution. The Mahatma also laid great emphasis on healthy public opinion and responsible representation, for a strong democratic system.

Gandhi insisted that, democracy, so long as it is sustained by violence, cannot provide for or protect the weak. Further, he believed that democracy could not be worked out by twenty men sitting at the Centre. He insisted that only if it is worked on, from the bottom up, by the people from every village, would it be a success

During the struggle for independence, it had become quite clear that after achieving freedom, India’s nationhood would evolve within a democratic political and institutional setting. While some leaders believed in the necessity of a representative democracy, Mahatma Gandhi’s development discourse hinged on a village based participatory democracy embedded in his vision of the Panchayati Raj. He advocated for a decentralised, or in other words, federal system of government. Gandhi insisted that India could really develop, only through such an institution of Gram Swaraj, wherein there would be a proper distribution of powers and the separation of powers to minimise the possibilities of overlapping of powers, which would in turn lead to chaos in the system. He suggested that decentralized democratic political system is the only means to resolve the worldly problems. He strongly believed that such decentralisation was the only means to realize a non-violent democracy.

He urged that men should do their actual living and working in communities of a size commensurate with their bodily and mental stature, communities small enough to permit of genuine self-government and the assumption of personal responsibilities, federated into larger units in such a way that the temptation to abuse great power should not arise. The larger a democracy grows, the less real becomes the rule of the people and the smaller the say of individuals and localized groups in deciding their own destinies. 

Article 40, addressing rural local governments was inculcated in Part VI of the Indian Constitution discussing the Directive Principles of State Policy. It elaborates on Panchayats and the steps that a State is bound to take for the organization of such village Panchayats and the endowment of powers and authority on them, as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self government. Thus, decentralization was adopted by our government by embedding it in the Supreme Law of the country.

Gandhiji’s philosophy, laying stress on the goodness of human nature, unity of mankind, service of man, application of moral principles in individual as well as group life and inter-state relations, the non-violent process of change, social and economic equality, economic and political decentralization, tries to resolve the various kinds of tensions that disturb domestic and international harmony. It is capable of strengthening the forces of love, creativeness and joy of life and beauty. It takes an integrated view of man and emphasizes his spiritual nature.

Let me take this opportunity to express my gratitude, on behalf of my country, to this noble human being, for doing all that he did, to make this nation a little better than what it could have been. For thinking of those, who don’t exist in the eyes of most. For fighting for me, us, for all of us.

We owe it to his blessed spirit to strive to achieve the dream of an Ideal State, where we stand up for one another and stand together.