Definition of Swaraj

Swaraj warrants a stateless society; according to Gandhi, the overall impact of the state on the people is harmful. He called the state a “soulless machine” which, ultimately, does the greatest harm to mankind. The purpose of the state is that it is an instrument of serving the people. But Gandhi feared that in the name of moulding the state into a suitable instrument of serving people, the state would abrogate the rights of the citizens and arrogate to itself the role of grand protector and demand abject acquiescence from them. This would create a paradoxical situation where the citizens would be alienated from the state and at the same time enslaved to it, which, according to Gandhi, was demoralizing and dangerous. If Gandhi’s close acquaintance with the working of the state apparatus in South Africa and in India strengthened his suspicion of a centralized, monolithic state, his intimate association with the Congress and its leaders confirmed his fears about the corrupting influence of political power and his skepticism about the efficacy of the party systems of power politics (due to which he resigned from the Congress on more than one occasion only to be persuaded back each time) and his study of the British parliamentary systems convinced him that representative democracy was incapable of meting out justice to people.

Gandhi thought it necessary to evolve a mechanism to achieve the twin objectives of empowering the people and ’empowering’ the state. It was for this that he developed the two pronged strategy of resistance (to the state) and reconstruction (through voluntary and participatory social action).

Although the word “Swaraj” means self-rule, Gandhi gave it the content of an integral revolution that encompasses all spheres of life: “At the individual level Swaraj is vitally connected with the capacity for dispassionate self-assessment, ceaseless self-purification and growing self-reliance.”Politically, swaraj is self-government and not good government (for Gandhi, good government is no substitute for self-government) and it means a continuous effort to be independent of government control, whether it is foreign government or whether it is national. In other words, it is sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority. Economically, Swaraj means full economic freedom for the toiling millions. And in its fullest sense, Swaraj is much more than freedom from all restraints, it is self-rule, self-restraint, and could be equated with moksha or salvation.

Adopting Swaraj means implementing a system whereby the state machinery is virtually nil, and the real power directly resides in the hands of people. Gandhi said: “Power resides in the people, they can use it at any time.” This philosophy rests inside an individual who has to learn to be master of his own self and spreads upwards to the level of his community which must be dependent only on itself. Gandhi said: “In such a state (where swaraj is achieved) everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbour.” He summarized the core principle like this: “It is Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves.”

Gandhi explained his vision in 1946:

Independence begins at the bottom… A society must be built in which every village has to be self sustained and capable of managing its own affairs… It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without… This does not exclude dependence on and willing help from neighbours or from the world. It will be a free and voluntary play of mutual forces… In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever widening, never ascending circles. Growth will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual. Therefore the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it.

Gandhi was undaunted by the task of implementing such a utopian vision in India. He believed that by transforming enough individuals and communities, society at large would change. He said: “It may be taunted with the retort that this is all Utopian and, therefore not worth a single thought… Let India live for the true picture, though never realizable in its completeness. We must have a proper picture of what we want before we can have something approaching it.”   – Source @Wikipedia