Barrister To Mass Leader

Gandhi and Patel: Emancipating Self and Others

Himanshu Roy

Gandhi’s liberation struggle with his self, and for the others, began in South Africa in 1893 where he was invited as a barrister to fight a legal case. The racist policies and acts of the state had triggered his emancipatory zeal that had gradually expended to social reconstruction, and also the firming up of his methods of emancipatory act. Patel’s struggle, on the other hand, began in 1916 in Ahmedabad where he was a top-ranking barrister and Gandhi had visited the Bar for the anti-colonial Nationalist mobilisation. His visit and the subsequent takeover of the political leadership of the nationalist movement was the raison d’etre in Patel’s transition.

Gandhi’s political discourse and public mobilisation against the colonial state, or for social reconstruction since the beginning of the 20th Century, both in Africa and in India different from the typical liberal and Marxian discourse of alternative development. It was derived from India’s past and was uniquely premised on the restoration of ramrajya–an imagined, historical, ideal society of small traditional peasants located in autonomous villages, situated amidst nature and guided by sanatani ethics and scriptures. The concept of swaraj and ramrajya, promoted by Gandhi, was based on the idea of governance by an ideal state and regulated by elementary technology and subsistence economy, whose base (an ideal, self-sufficient village) was destroyed by colonial capitalism. Gandhi’s arguments were an appreciation of and belief in the traditional peasant world, which he believed was superior to the contemporary urban, industrialised and capitalist civilisation, to which humanity must return for its blissful existence. It was a concept of an in- alienated world rooted in the simplicity of plough, small villages and cottages, and in ‘good conduct’.

It was, essentially, a ‘mode of conduct which points out to m(e)n the path of (their) duty’, the path of control over desires and the path of ‘mastery over (their) minds and passions’. It meant the knowledge of self and living within bounds. It implied an elevation of a personal moral being that sets a limit to indulgences and sees happiness as largely a mental condition. He envisioned swaraj as a life of simplicity, opposed to the pursuit of wealth and power, where the individual could have control over things that were necessary for sustenance of life; the issue involved was the principle of renunciation. According to Gandhi, high thinking was inconsistent with complicated material life. All the graces of life were possible only when one learnt the art of living nobly. Essentially, it means an ethical world of sovereign individuals who followed their agricultural occupation and lived independently. Swaraj, for Gandhi, existed in oceanic circles of village republics ensconced in organic proximity to nature. It was a civilisation that abhorred coercive power and functioned through moral persuasion. It was a true home rule manifesting the people’s inner world.

Gandhi’s objective was to inculate inner strength in people, and encourage them to be active in godly pursuits and desist from worldly pleasures. He dreamt of a state where people would learn from each other’s language and religion voluntarily. They would be conscious of the spirit of nationality and regions. It would be a society possessing assimilative spirit and living in peace. Thus it was to be a swaraj in which people were to be guided by the condition of nature, customary right and duties, and belief in god. It was to be a traditional peasant society using elementary technology, based on subsistence economy and a minimalist state. It was to be ‘an India full of valour’ inspired by one thought and similar mode of life. In brief, swaraj was an ideal state of social existence, ethical and simple in nature, situated amidst ideal villages that existed only in (Gandhi’s) imagination and were different from the contemporary India was not, however, ripe for it. It was to be built with patience and self-discipline.

It was the ‘capacity to regulate national life through national representatives’. The national life, in course of time, was however to become so perfect that it would be self-regulated and not need any representation, leading to a state of enlightened anarchy where everyone would be his own ruler and would rule himself in such a manner that he would never become a hindrance to his neighbour. In this ideal state, therefore, there would be no political power because there would be no state. Men and women would live in freedom, prepared to face the whole world. They villagers would not be dull, they would be all aware. They would not live like animals in fifth and darkness. There would be no plague, no cholera and no small pox. Nobody would be allowed to be idle or wallow in luxury. Everyone would do manual labour and follow the path of duty. They would be large-scale reorganization of things that would differentiate the ideal society from the contemporary one. In this structure, there would be ever-widening, never ascending circles. Life would not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. It would be an oceanic circle whose center would be the individual always ready to perish for the circle of villages till at last the entire circle becomes one life composed of individuals, never aggressive in their arrogance but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they would be integral units. Every village would be a republic or panchayat, self-sustaining and managing its affairs to the extent of being able to defend itself against the whole world. In it, the last would be equal to the first or none would be first and last. However, till the time such a sate became a reality, the villages could be ruled by the classical concept of Thoreau, which says ‘that government is the best which governs the least’, and political power could be used for the sake of reforms to enable people to better their condition in every sphere of life. Acquisition and application of political power in the absence of the ability to govern would render that power futile, as legislation in advance of public opinion is ineffective.

Gandhi’s emancipatory struggle during the interim period, when the political freedom was achieved and RamRajya was yet to come, was to be guided by the democratic swaraj. It was not be ‘an English rule without Englishmen’. It was to be, on the contrary, a different polity premised on local moral economy where ‘people would plough their lands mainly by manual labour’. It was to be a civilisation abhorring coercive power and functioning through moral persuasion. The religion would transcend Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc; and would create an ordered moral government of the universe. Religion and state, however, were to be kept separate. Religion was to be a personal concern of the citizen, with the state having no role to play in it. There was to be no religious teaching in educational institutions aided or recognised by the state.

All educational activities including university education was to be on the pattern of basic education that was to be premised on the requirement of the locality and university of learning to be conducted through the mother tongue. English, despite being a world language, was to be only the second optional language and that too only at the university level, and not in schools. In the curricula for basic education, instructions were to provided in agriculture, horticulture, sericulture, animal husbandry, sanitation and hygiene, electrical engineering, roads and transport, home economics, pottery, rural economics, rural sociology, rural reconstruction, rural trade and bullion and banking. In addition to these, cooperative farming or dairying was to be promoted in the national interest. The intension was not to approach other or be dependent on them for our requirements. The objective was to be self-reliant. This approach reflects in every aspect of his constructive work.

In case of health care, similarly, it meant a return to elementary instruction in medicine with emphasis on cleanliness of dwellings, village paths, general surroundings field and also of live stock. Information about the importance of balanced diet, use of herbs, animal husbandry, model latrine, organic manure, utilization of hides and bones of dead cattle, and maintenance of maternity homes would form part of the lessons to be imparted. The objective was to follow the basics rule of hygiene and nutrition, and to understand that all disease were caused by insanitation, lack of knowledge of proper diet, lack of proper nourishment or due to eating unhealthy food. It emanated from the belief that diseases spring from a willful ignorant branch of the laws of nature, therefore, a timely return to those laws meant restoration of health.

In this setting there would be no room for the mechanisation process that displaced human labour; however, machines that facilitated man in his work were to be welcomed. People were to be taught to help themselves to rely on their own labour and skill which were commensurate with high thinking. Village crafts were to provide encouragement and compromise in soil fertility for the sake of quick returns and such other activities were to be discouraged. These ideas emanated from the concern for the dignity and status of the village as a unit against big cities and the dignity and status of an individual against the machine. It was also intended to actualise ‘justice between the town and the village’ as the villages had faced the brunt unjust development. Only a few key industries which were necessary and could employ large number of people were to be owned by the state. However, industries were not to be forcibly nationalized and the sate was not to be involved in running private or business establishments as this was not to be the function of the state. The state’s role would be limited to providing necessary infrastructural/technical support required by the people for progress.

The state was to care for the secular welfare of its people and power was to be decentralized to the grass-root level to be recomposed from the bottom to the top as ultimately it was the individual who was to be the unit of development. Effectively, it meant the reconstruction of polity where real power was to be place in the general body, from the gram Sabha to the parliament, at the different tiers of legislature. Every panchayat would have five men or women form the village of persons committed to the development of the village. Two such contiguous panchayats were to form a working party under elected from among them. From a group of one hundred such panchayats, fifty first grade leaders were to be elected; in a similar pattern, second grade leaders. All second grade leaders were to serve jointly for the whole of India and severally for their respective areas. The second grade leaders were to elect whenever they deemed necessary, from among themselves, a chief who was to , during pleasure, regulate and command all the groups. The contemporary parliament and the existing structure of policy was just to facilitate the transition towards the reconstruction of polity. It was to gradually abdicate its contemporary centralized powers to the gram Sabha and remain confined to only the functions of defence, currency, international relations and communications. Functioning of the polity was to be transparent and representatives, at each tier, were to be accountable for their duties.

The government officials were to be the true servants of the people, honest and incorruptible men capable in their work. The taxation system was to be framed keeping the poor out of the purview of taxes and the money generated was to be used for the public good. The prices of the food grains were to reach the peasants directly without any middlemen. The laws were to be non-discriminatory but the economically impoverished were to be supported without any distinction of caste and religion.

Voluntary discipline was to be the first requisite of corporate freedom leading to the marginalisation of the coercive state apparatus. Nationalism was to be the embodiment of this freedom. It was to be part of international humanism without any rancour towards anyone and at the same time mean protecting the nation’s interest and never submitting to others. It was not to swallow small nations neither was it to allow others to swallow it. Moreover, if foreigners decided to live as Indians, they would have no cause to worry. This emerged from the belief that diversity in unity is the law of the world.

In summary, the entire focus was on self-reliance of the individual, village, taluka, district, province and nation in that order. Its soul was decentralisation of power and economy leading to a gradual reduction of the role of the state in society and an increased role of the individual and of the local community in their praxis.

Patel’s transition from barrister to mass political leader, reflects his substantive agreement with Gandhi in their emancipatory acts with the self and for the others. His application of Gandhi’s democratic swaraj with the liminality of historical settings bears testimony of their agreement. However, in public engagement Patel was partially different from Gandhi.

The emancipatory process began with his political engagement with Gujarat Sabha in 1916, and with the Ahmadabad Municipality in 1917. It was followed by the peasant movement in Kheda. Gandhi’s Champaran movement and Ahmadabad textile labour movement had, in the meantime, the learning lesson for Patel which propelled him into the full fledges anti-colonial and nationalist reconstruction movement. The next 34 years, since 1916 to 1950 his engagements for the emancipation of Indians got prominence. His first foray begins with the sanitary department of Ahmadabad Municipality, followed by the school education which were radical nationalistic and emancipatory.

Back to Home Page

Vol. 54, No. 14-17, Oct 3 - 30, 2021