Anthony .J.Parel, ed. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press, 1997.208 pp.INR 256, ISBN 978-81-7596-018-3.
Reviewed by A.P.Jayanthi (Centre for Studies in Science Policies)
Edited by Anthony Parel, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings is a book revolving around the core of Gandhian vision towards India-Swaraj. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home rule was a book written by Gandhi in 1909. In this book he expresses his views on Swaraj and presents his political theory, political philosophy and the methods through which Indian home rule can be achieved. The edited version of the book is organised in three parts. First part includes Parel’s introduction that explains the political and historical context of the work. He discusses in detail the intellectual sources of Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, his conception of Swaraj and the how he developed the concept. Second part includes Gandhi’s Indian Home Rule with annotations by Parel. Here Parel’s explanatory notes channel Gandhian thoughts to particular streams. Final part of the book includes supplementary writing that tries to draw the link between his thoughts presented in the book and his role in Indian independence movement. In addition, one learns how his work was perceived by his contemporaries.
Hind Swaraj is an important piece of work to understand Gandhian ideology in its true form. In fewer than 200 pages Gandhi interrogates and dismantles the forces operating behind enslavement of India in such a manner that almost every problems seem to fit into place. Gandhi diagnoses the shortcomings of both the British colonial rule and the attitude of Indian masses that have brought them into such a disadvantageous position. On several points Gandhi’s arguments seems disputable. Although Parel asks his readers to understand the arguments of Hind Swaraj by keeping in mind its historical and political context, yet some of his positions appear to be problematic. Gandhi selectively interprets, for his own advantage, the various authors he quotes and the religious rationale he provides.
Furthermore, Gandhi assumes and visualizes a very glorious picture of Indian civilization devoid of any violence and tendencies of excessive acquisitiveness. However, it appears very improbable that the person who knows so much about the history of western nation has no information about the warring emperors of India that represents both dominion and desire to expand their territory. He seems to have purposively excluded these facts to bring out that modern civilization is the carrier of both material pursuit and violence. One could sense his reconciling tone in much of his analysis of modern civilization. If one tries to examine Ghandi’s thoughts in Hind Swaraj, they can be crudely divided into two categories. Much of his political theories like liberty, rights, equity and secularism are derived from western civilization and a large part of his philosophical insight comes from the religions such as Hindu, Jainism and Islam. One can therefore argue that his attempts are to realize a western notion of social order and wellbeing by giving it a religious backing.
However, one of the major weaknesses of his work is that he has no where in the book provided such an elaborate plan for the urban population despite of his acknowledging the fact that a considerable section of Indian population has been urbanised. For them his only suggestion is to revert back to the ancient Indian civilization, which seems quite absurd. Especially when his book is attempted to sensitize the urban Indians too therefore, this part should have used more elaboration.
Finally, he tends to apply a particular mental picture of Indian villages and of a particular part of India to the entire population of India. Therefore, he to a certain extent fails to grasp the conditions and requirements of its diverse population. For instance Parel’s annotations bring out that he held Asamese people as uncivilized tribe though later on apologised for his stance. In sum, he has used swaraj as an organising concept to discuss and address the problem of modern civilisation, the nature of Indian nationalism, British colonialism and indifference of Indian urban population towards the problems of India. In doing so he has brought together a grand assessment of India under British rule and tries to search a way out of it. He has then attempted to provide solution by putting forward a combination of political thoughts of west and Indian philosophy to achieve independence, from British rule, modern industrial civilization, violence and reliance machinery and large scale technology.
Parel’s contribution has made easier to comprehend Gandhi’s deep thought behind its seemingly simple views. He has let Gandhi‘s opinions and thought come out in its true meaning. His analysis of Gandhi’s conceptualization of independence is very insightful. He has clarified some of the misconceptions of critics regarding Gandhi’s views on modernism. He has provided a link between Gandhi’s ideologies and his role in the Indian independence movement. He has captured the differences in opinion between Gandhi and his cotemporaries.To count the shortcomings in his approach one can say that he has though dwelled on the political and philosophical aspect of Gandhi’s thought but has tended to pose his project as a political one in the conclusion of each of the themes. Finally he has merely mentioned the relevance of his thoughts in the present day environmentalism. He could have dealt with the theme in some details as his sayings and ideologies form the basis of many of the ecological movements in India and abroad.