Gandhi's Hind Swaraj: A Critique of Received Wisdom on Freedom, Democratization and Rights

14 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 5 Aug 2011

Date Written: 2011


Gandhi’s social and political thought is multidimensional. If its kernel is derived from India’s civilizational resources, its actual evolution was shaped by his experiences in South Africa and India. His political ideology was a radical departure from the past in the sense that it was neither constitutional loyalism of the Moderates nor extremism of the revolutionary terrorists. In his articulation of Indian nationalism, he sought to incorporate the emerging constituencies of nationalist politics that remained peripheral in the bygone era. Gandhi brought about an era of mass politics though he dismissed the role of the masses in the early part of the Non Cooperation Movement as nothing but ‘mobocracy’. Gandhi knew India, and especially the Indian masses. He could merge, argued Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘with the masses and feel with them, and because they were conscious of this they gave him their devotion and loyalty’. So, an analysis of the role of the Mahatma in India’s freedom struggle clearly indicates the changing nature of the movement in response to the zealous participation of various sections of India’s multicultural society. It was possible because Gandhi was perhaps the only effective nationalist leader who ‘truly attempted to transcend the class conflicts [by] devising a method which, for the first time, brought about the national aggregation of an all-India character’. This is where Gandhi was unique. Not only did he articulate the peripheral voices, he also translated them into action by linking with the obvious adverse consequences of colonialism. His social and political ideas are therefore dialectically constituted in the context of foreign rule. Gandhi simultaneously launched movements not only against the British rule but also against the atrocious social structures, customs, norms and values, justified in the name of India’s age-old traditions. While defining the character of the Gandhi-led nationalist movement, Nehru thus stated that Gandhi had a two-fold aim. Apart from challenging and resisting foreign rule, Gandhi launched a serious campaign against, to quote Nehru, ‘our social evils’. Besides freedom of India, the principal planks of the Gandhian non-violent struggle were ‘national unity, which involved’, he argued further, ‘the solution of the minority problems and the raising of the depressed classes and the ending of the curse of untouchability’. Hence, Gandhian thought is neither purely political nor absolutely social, but a complex mix of the two, which accords conceptual peculiarities to what the Mahatma stood for.

Suggested Citation

Chakrabarty, Bidyut, Gandhi's Hind Swaraj: A Critique of Received Wisdom on Freedom, Democratization and Rights (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Bidyut Chakrabarty (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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