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FAQ 7: Gandhi's Concept of Gram Swaraj

Q

I am interested in brief concept note about Gandhi's concept of gram swaraj. Did Nehru agree with it ? Why was this concept not incorporated in the constitution of india ?

 

 

A

Gram swaraj, or village self-rule, was a pivotal concept in Gandhi's thinking.

 


As you may know, the village (and villager) was at the centre of Gandhi's thought insofar as India's social and political organisation was concerned, at least, the type of social and political organisation that he wanted to see for India.

As with all of Gandhi's ideas, Gram swaraj should be understood and viewed within the context of the twin beacons of Truth and nonviolence. However, put simply, the fundamental concept of Gram swaraj is that every village should be its own republic, "independent of its neighbours for its own vital wants and yet interdependent for many others in which dependence is necessary," according to Gandhi, writing in 1942. Each village should be basically self-reliant, making provision for all
necessities of life - food, clothing, clean water, sanitation, housing, education and so on, including government and self-defence, and all socially useful amenities required by a community. That latter might include a theatre and public hall, for example. For India as a whole, full independence would mean that every village would be a republic with full powers. Then, as now, these were revolutionary ideas.

They were not ideas that inspired, or even interested, Nehru and most other Congress leaders. Whereas for Gandhi true independence for India meant a comprehensive transformation of Indian society and polity, for Nehru, it meant no more than the political independence of India from Britain. Nehru was acknowledged as Gandhi's political successor, but he was an orthodox democratic socialist. Of course, Nehru wanted to make India a modern, industrialised and democratic socialist nation-state. He believed centralised, large-scale, heavy industry were essential if India was to develop, increase its wealth and become a modern state. He
did not see the virtues of "small is beautiful". He had no thought of devolving significant governmental powers to individual villages and clusters of villages. It is perhaps not that Nehru did not agree with Gandhi's concept of Gram swaraj, but that he never seriously considered it. Nehru sympathised and agreed with some elements of Gandhi's program, such as abolition of untouchability, but Gram swaraj was never near his agenda.

It was because of this philosophical gulf between Gandhi and virtually all of India's top political leadership at the time of independence that Gram swaraj was not incorporated into India's constitution. India's political, social and industrial organisation was to be generally "top down" rather than "bottom up". For Gandhi political and industrial life should be focused on villages organised as countless oceanic circles, as he called them, not as a pyramid with the millions of villagers at the bottom supporting an elite at the apex. However, Nehru and the others of
the elite - though all great patriots - were quite comfortable with their positions at the top.

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