Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has attained an
iconic status in the world and in history is undisputable.
About a hundred volumes of his collected works have
been published by the Government of India, more than
three thousand five hundred books have been written on
Gandhi, and his symbols and words continue to inspire
and encourage. As we celebrate a hundred years of his
acknowledged magnum opus Hind Swaraj, it is time to
reflect on the importance of both the text and the
context of this renowned work. Hind Swaraj is a seminal
and a foundational work, and it is widely seen as the bible
of non-violent revolutions as well as providing the blue
print of all kinds of revolutions. Though Gandhi wrote
extensively, Hind Swaraj was his earliest text, in which he
questioned the accepted myths and the truths of his
times. The text is not only a tract on political
methodology, philosophy or political movements; it is a
statement of faith. Therefore, its relevance goes much
beyond the time frame in which it was written.
Gandhi wrote this short tract in 1909 originally in
Gujarati on a return voyage from London to South Africa.
9 Reflections on Hind Swaraj
He completed the work in short period of ten days, and
when his right hand was tired he wrote with his left hand.
It appears that the ideas in the book were written in a
state of frenzy, and that these ideas formulated faster
than his words. The text consists of twenty short
chapters, cast in the form of a dialogue between Gandhi
who is called the ‘editor’ and his interlocutor known as the “reader.” The style is similar to the Socrates dialogue in Plato’s Republic and the Upanishads. Writing 275
pages, Gandhi struck down his original words only ten
times. Such was the vision and passion with which he
wrote this text.
Despite the fact that the work is shot through with
complex philosophical ideals, arguments, and values,
doctrines of action, and notions of self rule or swaraj,
Hind Swaraj is an easy book to read, because it contains
neither theories, nor jargons. In fact, Gandhi thought of
Hind Swaraj as a book that could be “put into the hands
of a child.
Hind Swaraj was serialized in two installments in
December 1909 in the Gujarati Edition of Indian Opinion,
the weekly published by Gandhi in South Africa. In
January 1910, it was published as a booklet in Gujarati. In
March 1910, the British Government proscribed it along
with other publications on the plea that these writings
contained seditious literature. Gandhi then translated the
booklet into English. In fact this is the only text which he Text and Context of Hind Swaraj 10
himself translated. In this paper I wish to reflect both on
the issue of the context as well as the text of HS.
What is a Classic and How do we Read it?
Hind Swaraj can rightly be regarded as a classic; a
unique testimony of a man who tried to translate his
vision for human freedom into mass action. But then the
question arises, what is a classic and what is its value?
There are roughly two sorts of answers to this question.
Hegel held that classics embody the spirit of their age. On
the other hand, Quentin Skinner argues that a classic is a
work that goes against the spirit of its age. Howsoever we
define a classic, we know a classic when we see one, for
the richness of its ideas, the lucidity of its prose, and the continuing relevance of its ideas. We read classics for
pure intellectual satisfaction, and because we are seekers
of knowledge. But more importantly, we read classics
because we know that all good political thinking has to
have knowledge of the past. We read classics to
understand where we come from, how we have reached
where we are at the present, and what were the roads
taken and the roads not taken. In sum, classics not only
tell us how we should live, but also illumine our path with
their wisdom, and thereby provide solutions for our
current predicament. For...