Gandhi’s Swaraj

Dr Alok Bajpai revisits Gandhi’s call to Indians for rule over self and not rule of self

On 15 August 1947 when Jawaharlal Nehru reminded us of our ‘Tryst with destiny ‘ Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, mentor for a majority of Indians was in Calcutta.

That he was pained and sad and kept away from Independence Day celebrations is an oft-repeated account of Gandhi’s absence in Delhi. That it was nothing personal is less emphasized.

Gandhi was aware of the reality like no one else.

Gandhi was not a man to sulk in anguish or be carried off his feet in jubilation. The Mahatma was active in exhorting people for right conduct. That day he advised Bengal ministers to serve the poor and not to get lured by wealth. He asked Hindus and Muslims to strengthen unity.

He was against momentary together- ness and expressed concern over the safety of people to Rajaji. The ‘one man boundary force’ as Mountbatten called Gandhi brought peace to Calcutta where a 55,000 force could not in Punjab.

But 67 years later what is more important is to pay heed to another event that took place the same day. People in their enthusiasm had almost invaded the Governor house, trampled over the lawn and flowerbeds. In a public meeting, Gandhi later said that about the chaos caused that he is glad that the people are happy and displaying people’s power. But he is sorry if people think that they can do what they liked with Government property. That is criminal lawlessness.

He hoped that the people had vacated the Governor’s palace as readily as they had occupied it and on their own. Gandhi warned that now that they were free, they should use their freedom with wise restraint.

Wise restraint

Wise restraint is what Gandhi talked of all his life and it will be wise to listen to this visionary at this moment in India’s history when talk of change is in air.

From the time he ambidextrously wrote Hind Swaraj in 1909, Mahatma Gandhi meant Swa- raj, rule over self and not rule of self. That is Gandhi’s most important inspiration for the youth of today.

For almost three and a half decade Gandhi’s message and teaching aimed at minimizing differences between people be it economic, religious or socio-political. He lived his life as an example and did not just preach, walking the talk mostly, demonstrating to India and the world the magic of practising love and empathy.

The world had watched as India pitched its battle for Independence between the 1930s and 1940s. The struggle was so different from all that was known. As Gandhi succeeded in his struggle, the world waited for India to emerge as a different nation and show a another way of civilization as practised by Gandhi.

But history intervened and India chose a different path on 30th January 1948. The Mahatma was reduced to photographs. He was killed but numerous photographs of his toothless smile decorated multiple walls and currency notes, relegating the Gandhian way of life to libraries and study departments, ostracized from real polity and public behaviour. The path treaded by contemporary India diversified so much that in our collective pursuit and greed for material prosperity we seem no different from others.

Now is the time to think about life and nationhood all over again and it is for the youth, future generations to rediscover values most important for survival and progress.

The only way

Social equality, communal harmony and dignity of labour are the only permanents that will bridge gaps between populations of this vast and very diversified country, leaving Indian minds free to creatively contribute to our common existence. And the only way to achieve this is to raise self-respect and reduce greed.

If this language sounds esoteric to young, post-modern minds then listen to this: He exhorted to us to raise self-respect and move beyond petty self-centeredness. Shramev jayate his new mantra is dignity of labour. Need for skill based and not certificate based training is autonomy. Each part of the body has to be healthy, is not appeasement but inclusive development.

Villages should be modernized and made self sufficient to make a strong country, to allow people in villages to live with decency. This is what Narendra Modi said in his maiden speech in Parliament just a few weeks ago, every word of his reeking of Hind Swaraj.

What Gandhi meant by rule over self, Modi says is discipline and commitment to the nation in any work that one does. Even if this is rejected as nationalistic jingoism by those on the side of left politics and those claiming Gandhi as an internationalist none can dismiss ANTODYA, a concern for the last man in society, the poorest man on the lowest rung of society.

Many have claimed concern over this man but acted otherwise. What is desirable for the youth as this great civilistion stands at a crossroad today is the talisman left by Gandhi who did not believe in magic, work being his mantra.

I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away. One of the last notes left behind by Gandhi in 1948, expressing the essence of his social thought.

The writer is a psychiatrist and Gandhi enthusiast. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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