Hind Swaraj: Indian or Western?As an Indian-born, British educated man, it is apparent throughout Mohandas Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj that he is torn between Indian (what can be called traditional) and Western (modern) ideas. In Hind Swaraj Gandhi presents an argument for Indian self-rule (the English meaning of Hind Swaraj) which shows characteristics of both Western and Indian thought. Gandhi takes a Western attitude in his political arguments, such as his support for Indian nationalism and how to govern India. Many of his ideas can be considered modern simply because they are new to India, such as Indian nationalism. Hind Swaraj definitely displays both Western and Indian thought, due to the fact that Gandhi was trying to reach a very mixed audience of Moderate and Extremist Indians, the British, and the rest of the world (Intro xiv-xv). Many of the arguments and examples that Gandhi uses are anecdotal. Although this style can be seen in Western writing (such as Machiavelli’s The Prince), it is more prevalent Indian thought and writing (such as the Upanishads and Vedas) which use metaphor and story-telling as the main form of teaching. Gandhi is most definitely Indian, also, in his bashing of civilization and machinery. The modern thought was that civilization and machinery will further the community and spread knowledge around the world. Gandhi takes a traditional stance, saying “Civilization is irreligion” (p. 37) and that “railways, too, have spread the bubonic plague.” (p.47) Gandhi’s arguments are steeped in Indian tradition, however are presented as a Western text.Religion may be the most important aspect of life for Gandhi. Though there is no distinct chapter on it, he constantly discusses religion in Hind Swaraj. “Religions are different roads converging to the same point” (p. 53) says Gandhi. Gandhi’s religious values are obviously in keeping with traditional Indian Hindu ideals, and his religious thought doesn’t exactly mirror (or even come close to) the majority of Western society, most of whom are Christian. Western society promotes a structured, organized religion, while a belief in God is good enough for Gandhi. His basic belief is that all religions inherently strive for the same goal, all religions point to the same true God. This idea of religion doesn’t gel with the West, but how he applies it to society does. In Hind Swaraj one can see evidence of a sort of civil religion for India that Gandhi is promoting, not unlike the civil religion displayed in America in which many Americans find unity in the collective belief in God and divine guidance (this American civil religion can bee seen in history: in manifest destiny and in the statement ‘One nation, under God…’). This idea can be considered Western due to its correlation with modern American thought (freedom of religion), and because it is a new thought for India. Gandhi finds his roots for Indian civil religion in the traditional Hindu view of many paths to salvation; even so, he cannot help but apply it to Indian nationalism in his own modern way.
Gandhi thinks that this Indian civil religion will further nationalism, but what is nationalism to Gandhi? The idea of nationalism itself is a modern/Western idea in historical terms, with the German nation-state formed by Bismarck and the nationalism found in Europe springing from competition and colonialism (which would lead to world war soon afterward). “We were one nation before they [the English] came to India. One thought inspired us…they saw that India was one undivided land so made by nature...Arguing this, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with any idea of nationality in a matter unknown in other parts of the world.” (p. 48-49)Gandhi’s argument here is a Western idea: that India was one nation before the British arrived. Many traditional Indians and History itself might disagree with this sentiment. Prior to British arrival, the Mughal Empire was falling apart; it had lost much of its control over India, and local princes would fight each other for land and power. Gandhi argues that Indians had a sense of nationalism not in the Western sense of the word, not in that they were living under the same ruler in the same land, but in that India was an “undivided land in nature” (p. 49) (and, as the quote suggests, that Indians were hardly aware of each other). One can see how Gandhi is applying the Western idea of nationalism to include traditional India, and how he is desperately reaching for an argument. Most would argue that Indian nationalism rose out of contempt for British rule over the subcontinent, while Gandhi would argue that this nationalism had always been there. Although the foundations for many of Gandhi’s arguments are primarily Indian-influenced, he often imposes his own Western thought on them. Gandhi’s distrust for civilization, his idea of unity of religions, and his love for his homeland are all traditional thoughts. But his use of “poison…to kill poison” (p. 111) (that is, his use of Western means to criticize civilization), his Indian civil religion, and his ideas on nationalism are all modern. Gandhi has characteristics of both Indian and Western thought, and indeed, deciding which he displays more of is a very tough decision to make. However, I believe Gandhi’s Western education got the better of him and while he loves traditional values, he cannot help but be a modern thinker.