What would the current Indian state mean to Gandhi?

While we are bolstering our claims of becoming a ‘Vishwa Guru’, on this Gandhi Jayanti, we owe it to ourselves as a society to think about Gandhi’s vision for our independent country and to see how far and well we have fared, especially as a ‘modern state’ that India is. Gandhi throughout his teachings and writings made it clear that he was opposed to the idea of a modern state. To him, the modern state was a western concept that could only serve as a means to maintain public order and was rather incapable of providing any moral leadership to the society at large. He viewed spirituality as being very central to the Indian civilization, and the idea of the state is a product of materialistic civilization. Today when our public trust in the democratic institutions of the country has veined and these bodies (from the judiciary to parliament) have been hijacked by divisive forces, it is imperative for us to seriously take the philosophy that was marginalized at the time of independence and implement the vision that could have actually become an inspiration to the erstwhile colonized societies.

The concept of Swaraj has received a very prominent place in Gandhi’s spiritual, political, social, and economic ideas and has been expressed in his writings and speeches. This idea of self-governance is in fact a piece of great evidence about what Gandhi thought about the mere existence of the state in a democratic society, which he believed could not go hand in hand. Gandhi opted for ‘Ordered Anarchy’ under which every citizen enjoyed maximum freedom with minimum necessary orders. Swaraj is more than a basic concept of non-violence. Since non-violence is only a means to ‘Swaraj’ whereas ‘Swaraj’ is an individual’s state of being. He was in fact well aware of the movement taking place in India before his involvement and could tell that the movement was more focused on forming an administrative control in the country. To which, he had written in Hind Swaraj, “In effect, it means this: that we want English rule without the Englishman. you want the tiger’s nature, but not the tiger; that is to say, you would make India English and when it becomes English it will be called not Hindustan but Englistan. This is not the Swaraj that I want”. This is to say that even though English people have left India, one cannot be sure if the oppression and a strong ruling force have ended.

He dreamed of a “casteless and classless society in which there are no vertical divisions but only horizontal” where there is no classification of individuals as high and low and where women would enjoy equal rights as men, and where dignity would be central to every Individual. The current Indian state has turned India into everything but what Gandhi envisioned India to be. The everyday instruments to curb the voices of resistance, the ongoing undemocratic processes, the increasing number of political prisoners, and the hundred other things that are happening in the country right now are things that would perhaps make Gandhi sad about the state of affairs.

Amidst all the things, the crumbling Indian judiciary that has lately been coming up with ever bizarre and insensitive judgements would disappoint Gandhi, for Gandhi never supported law-making and governing institutions. He didn’t believe that India needed institutions to see through everyday affairs and conflicts. Stratified Indian Society has autonomous and self-governing castes, sects, and ethnic groups as its constituent units which require a variegated system of governance. But the entire debate around Uniform Civil Code, Triple Talaq, what is to be considered rape and what is to be not, to the question if marital rape is rape, are all, in fact, a clear mirror to the failing society that India has become to Gandhi in the last decade or so.

 Therefore, Gandhi, then and now, would urge all of us to put our heads into building an idea of collective belongingness and political progressiveness before it is too late for us.

Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan is a student at the Centre for Chinese and South-east Asian Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He also works with Hasratein- a Delhi based queer collective. The current area of his academic interest lies in the study of the Chinese language and society.