Principal, Andhra University Post-Graduate Centre, Guntur


I propose to deal with Mahatma Gandhi's views regarding the ideal political and social order. His ideas on democracy may be developed along the following lines:


Democracy involves faith, hope and charity. It is based on the faith that all men are kin and each man is an absolute and in himself. Jefferson would say this is so, because they are all God’s children. Gandhi might agree, or might say this is so, because they are all manifestations of the one self. This implies that the natural light of reason shines in all men, may be in some more brightly than in others, but nevertheless in all; and that every individual has an intrinsic dignity and worth, second to no one else’s, and that individuals’ needs differ. So, each must have an opportunity to fulfil them. No one has greater rights than another; so everyone has an equal right to shape and control the institutions under which he lives and is entitled to equality of treatment under them. This also entails the belief that as all men are endowed with reason, their collective knowledge and experience alone can properly guide their collective action towards the welfare of all (sarvodaya). It follows that none may carry a lighter burden than another; duties and responsibilities devolve on all alike.


Democracy cannot be built without the hope that men can achieve the good life on earth in spite of the determinism in nature and the presence of moral and physical evil in themselves and in nature. Man is free to construct the kind of world he wishes to live in and has the capacity to do so. Without the hope that a man can be happy to the degree he fulfils his duties and responsibilities, there can be no incentive to build or preserve democracy, for in any other social order he cannot properly discharge them, or exercise his rights.


Democracy involves charity, love for fellowmen, Men are bound to be co-sufferers in this world, and are also the willing or unwilling causes of each other’s sufferings. They need mutual sympathy and compassion. Besides, it is through communion that a good deal of happiness comes. Through helping others comes a sense of fulfilment and a certain type of happiness. One enlarges his personality and raises it to a higher level by going out of oneself to the others and sparing their joys, commiserating in their sorrows and serving them. Men must support and sustain each other, and give comfort and solace to each other. One alone cannot be free, all must be free; one cannot be happy without all being happy; and only in the salvation of all is the salvation of one. It, therefore, behoves us to love our fellowmen.


The Gandhian faith could be explicated in the above manner. Gandhi, of course, did not use the term “democracy” as much as he used the other two terms: “self-government” (swaraj), and “the kingdom of God” (Ramaraj), which he defined as “sovereignty of people based on moral authority.” This is also what the apostle of Western democracy, Jefferson, meant by it. Both Jefferson and Gandhi considered individual freedom as a supreme value and used the moral standard to judge all political institutions. Neither of them could conceive democracy without a moral basis and purpose. Its great American academic exponent John Dewey defining it as a way of life which provides “for the participation of every mature human being in the formation of the values that regulate the living of men together,” held that it cannot be defended against totalitarianism without taking the moral position which Jefferson took. Modern Indian thinkers too have recognised this. The real guarantee of democracy, says M. N. Roy, is the moral conscience of the people in power. “The problem of human goodness,” writes Jayaprakash Narayan, “is of supreme moment today.” Except on the plane of Jefferson and Gandhi, it is not possible to solve this problem and provide an incentive to goodness. In the present day disconsolate world of doubt, despair and denial, democracy anywhere can survive and be strengthened only if men develop their moral sense and become loyal to it. Democracy is possible only in a world of moral certainties.


What sort of social order is most conducive to democracy? Here again Jefferson and Gandhi gave similar answers. Only life and work in small communities will permit men to have genuine self-government and personal responsibility. Otherwise they cannot have an effective voice in shaping their destinies. A social order which cannot make charity possible is not good. Charity cannot manifest itself without personal relationships.


It will be instructive to recall Jefferson’s plan for organising democracy in America. He wanted the country to be divided into thousands of self-governing “wards”, “little republics”, each directly exercising all civil and military functions as far as its affairs are concerned. According to what he called the “mother principle”, “governments are republican in proportion as they embody the will of their people and execute it.” Thus America would be a great republic built out of little ones, each a voluntary legal union of citizens who promise to each other to protect each other’s rights. People will exercise their freedom by asserting, respecting and enforcing the rights of each. Thus in this system, the will of the majority is not the sovereign, as Locke conceived. Nor is it the Hobbesian mutual compact of subjection to a sovereign for, as Thomas Paine said, to obey an individual is debasing. Neither should people as a whole be allowed to constitute a faction and endanger public concern (res publica). In Jefferson’s scheme the individual wills as well as what Rousseau called the General Will would be subjected to the sanctity of natural and civil rights. On the vigour of each little republic, thought Jefferson, would depend the health of the great society. All the little republics and the great republic acting and acted upon each other would maintain a “beautiful equilibrium”. Whenever a decision was required on any important matter concerning the entire country, Jefferson felt all the “wards” should be called into meeting on the same day, so that simultaneously the collective sense of all the people could be available. As Dewey pointed out, all this was “an essential part of Jefferson’s political philosophy,” though it was not adopted. Democracy in U. S. A. might have been sounder and more direct had it been adopted.


From all accounts we find that self-subsistuent and fully employed village communities were the vital organic units of the distinctive Indian civilization. The Indian State was an association of caste and village communities in a complete and self-sufficing life. The State as a union of autonomous towns and villages a great and unique political contribution of India. Early British administrators noted that it was such union of self-governing communities, each a little republic in itself, which preserved the people of India and enabled them to enjoy a great deal of freedom and happiness, in spite of all the vicissitudes they passed through. It is no wonder that Gandhi wanted this system to be revived. In his scheme each village would become “a complete republic, independent of its neighbours for its vital wants, and yet interdependent for many others in which dependence is necessary.” In such a system, Gandhi felt, there would be “perfect democracy based upon individual freedom,” “the individual becoming the architect of his government.” Gandhi did not work out a detailed scheme as to how the relations among the villages and the Centre should be organised. But M. N. Roy, thinking that democracy requires the direct participation of the entire adult population, has conceived of “a Pyramidal structure of the State raised on a foundation of organized local democracies,” and Jayaprakash Narayan of a communitarian polity founded on “self-governing, self-sufficient, agro-industrial, urbo-rural, local communities.” The Parliamentary and Panchayat Raj systems, as worked out till now, have not been able to establish an authentic grass-roots democracy in India; Gandhian ideas at least provide the norms to improve them.


A reorganisation of the political order requires a reorganisation of the economic order. Here too Gandhi’s ideas have heuristic relevance. “Our main object”, said Nehru, “is to increase production and thereby find progressively fuller employment for our people.” Let us see what has been accomplished. At the end of the III Plan ninety to one hundred lakhs of people have been left unemployed. The IV Plan Draft envisaged creation of 190 lakhs jobs, while during this period two hundred and fifty lakhs of people are expected to join the labour force. Thus, in 1971 over one hundred and sixty lakhs will remain jobless. So, by then there will be more unemployment than previously. As for our production, with a per capita rate of 90 dollars, our gross national product is not higher than that of countries like Congo, Guinea and Sudan. Our annual increase in growth rate (0.9 per cent) is much below that of other underdeveloped countries. From this it is clear that the type of planning and economic policy followed till now not succeeded.


Considering our population and resources, in the foreseeable future there is no hope of India being lifted to the level of the highly developed countries. Why is this so? It is not possible nowadays to uproot and push the peasants out of villages through  enclosure, and force them to work in industries to extract surplus labour from them. Ruthless collectivisation of agriculture and utilisation of slave labour cannot be resorted in a democracy. Our Government, structured as it is, cannot increase the already high level of taxation on urban incomes, cannot bring into light all the black money and hoarded wealth, and cannot also mop up by means of taxes part of the agricultural incomes which have quadrupled in some parts of the country in recent years. The ordinary people cannot become more abstinent than they are already, to save and invest more. Moreover, the capital investment and development we might be able to achieve in all these ways may make little impact on poverty. Capital from abroad on the requisite scale may be available, if we choose to become the dependency of a great power. What then is the alternative?


A Gandhian may answer as follows. We must utilize to the full the one great asset we have–our gigantic population. An intensive and better use of their manual labour and an expenditure of capital proportionate to our resources is the way out. Our situation does not permit us to aim at any kind of affluence. We must realistically aim at a universal and strictly limited raising of the material standard of living, which will permit our people to have at least basic amenities and simple happiness. According to Gandhi, more than that is neither good nor necessary. As Vinoba Bhave pointed out, “freedom from, the lure of money and performance of body labour” is “the acme of Gandhi’s philosophy.” Each village should become self-sufficient through agriculture, use of hand-tools and rural industries. If everyone works with his hands and hand-tools, and if the land and materials are made available to the workers, there would be no unemployment. This recalls Jefferson’s utopia in which “agriculture, handwork and learning” would flourish and guide the lives of men.


Would India dare to reject industrialisation and technology, forego the hope of becoming affluent and a great power commensurate with its continental size, and endeavour to create an agrarian utopia? There is also the danger that deindustrialisation might only increase poverty, without ushering in an utopia. But, even if it follows the path of large-scale industrialisation, will it succeed in becoming a developed country and abolishing primary poverty? This is a dilemma.


The Gandhian economy not only eschews large-scale industries but requires decentralisation of village industries. Vinoba Bhave has made a fruitful distinction between non-Centralisation and de-Centralisation. Prior to the machine age, industries were carried on in the villages in independent units scattered all over the country without any plan or co-ordination. Now village industries have to be organised on the basis of “a comprehensive all-pervading idea.” This, says Bhave, is decentralisation, or intelligent non-centralisation. As many think, Gandhism is not totally opposed to machines. It is opposed, says Bhave, only to machines which create unemployment, idleness and intellectual dullness, and not to those which fit into man’s hands like a subsidiary limb. One may compare this idea of decentralisation to that of Aldous Huxley. In Huxley’s scheme, individuals, families and small co-operative groups own lands and small power-driven instruments of production, necessary for subsistence and for supplying local markets. While too much of huge machinery leads to regimentation and loss of spontaneity, absence of mechanical efficiency leads to chronic poverty and anarchy. Huxley hits upon small power-driven machinery as the golden mean. Similarly, the Indian socialist leader Lohia envisaged decentralisation based on the small-unit machine.


Anyway, this much seems to be clear: Unless consumption is Gandhian, our production-structure cannot be Gandhian. There is in India now such a mass hunger for food and consumer goods that only large-scale production of them can satisfy it. So, unless it is decided to content ourselves with the fulfilment of bare and simple necessities of life and minimum possible consumption, Gandhian production-techniques need not be introduced.


We now come to another problem. The increase in country’s productivity is not the only real problem. Application of modern science may do the trick. The greater problem is that of social justice. An increase of national wealth will only make the rich richer and the poor poorer, leaving the demand for social justice untouched. Here again Gandhi provides a possible solution. Whatever one has, says Gandhi, one holds as a trust for the benefit of all. Not only wealth, but one’s physical strength, skills and intelligence must be for the service of all. His doctrine of trusteeship is the use of all one has for the good of all. At the international level, whatever one nation has must be shared with the others. This is a reinterpretation of the concept of loka-sangraha. The Gandhian economic order is based on individual non-possession (aparigraha). “Land in a village,” says Vinoba, “must belong to it as a whole, and factories in the country to the whole nation. None should be owner of property.” The Gandhians want a revolution in which a privileged minority consents at least to an equitable, if not equal, redistribution of all wealth in any form. Will our upper classes, and our parliament and legislatures, as they are now constituted and composed, dare to do this soon enough to make the other kind of revolution unnecessary?




“I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. I believe they are all God-given, and I believe these are necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed. And I believe that, if only we could all of us read the scriptures of different faiths, we should find that these were at the bottom all one and were all helpful to one another...After long study and experience I have come to the conclusion that (1) all religions are true (2) all religions have some error in them.


“I do not believe in the exclusive divinity of the Vedas. I believe in the Bible, in Koran and the Zend Avesta to be as much divinely inspired as the Vedas. My belief in the Hindu scriptures does not require me to accept every word and every verse as divinely inspired...I decline to be bound by any interpretation, however learned it may be, if it is repugnant too reason or moral sense.”