Gandhi as Political thinker and a Social reformer

  • IASbaba
  • October 5, 2021
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Oct 2, 2021: Gandhi Jayanti Special: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hrR7qZFzyU


  • GS-1: Indian Freedom Struggle
  • GS-4: Human Values – lessons from the lives and teachings of great leaders.

Gandhi as Political thinker and a Social reformer

Context: PM bowed to Mahatma Gandhi on his Jayanti

Mahatma Gandhi entry into to the Indian national movement was a decisive turn towards a broad-based popular struggle. Gandhi’s philosophy was well accepted by both the masses and the nationalist leaders and his political programme was well received and saw wide-spread participation across India.

Born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, Gujarat

Gandhi a political thinker and a social reformer

There is more to Gandhi which makes him a political thinker and a relevant social reformer. Gandhi was a dialogical thinker who was open to other horizons of thinking. He firmly believed that the spirit of genuine reciprocity and solidarity is not just a moral requirement, but also a geopolitical necessity.

  • Gandhi rejected the idea that there is one privileged path to god. He also believed that all religious traditions are an unstable mixture of truth and error.
  • He encouraged inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue, so that individuals could see their faith and culture in a comparative and critical reflection of the other.
  • As such, Gandhi considered interculturalism as a call for simultaneous awareness of commonalities, acceptance of differences, and recognition of shared values.
  • Interestingly, Gandhi was a political thinker and a social practitioner who was constantly experimenting with modes of comparative and cross-border cultural constellations. In Gandhi’s political thinking, the experience of freedom derives not only from constitutional rights but mainly from the diverse modes of participation of the individual in a common humanity. Today, many around the world consider Gandhian ideas as impractical, not to say utopian.
  • Gandhian ethics of social and political reconstruction are more relevant than ever, since they represent an act of self-transformation of humanity rather than an illusory dream of a political leader. Gandhi wanted to change the values that govern the social, political and economic activities in human society.
  • Gandhi believed that decentralised politics and an egalitarian economy function better at the level of micro-communities, where citizens can operate in relations of reciprocity and mutuality. For him, it was clear that neither society nor the individual can live without a moral vision of the world. Gandhi had his moral and political dreams of changing humanity.

Gandhi was a man of experimentation, a man who insisted on the quest for truth. Therefore, it should not come to us as a surprise that the literal meaning of satyagraha is “asserting for truth”.

Reasons for Acceptance of Gandhi’s philosophy and political programme:

  • Demonstrated results in Africa:
    • Gandhiji, by the use of satyagraha and ahimsa as tools was able to secure major demands relating to poll tax, registration certificates etc., from the British government.
    • Tolstoy farm illustrated the peace time utility of ashramas in helping the masses through constructive work and prepare them for popular struggle. 
  • Early successes in India: Through Champaran satyagraha, Ahmedabad mill strike and Kheda satyagraha – he demonstrated the utility of satyagraha and non-violent struggle. 
  • Practical philosophy and political programmes: tools like Satyagraha and ahimsa could have been used by every section of the society especially the masses. The methods like petitions, constitutional struggle hitherto used were not possible to be followed by masses.
  • Belief in masses: 
    • Gandhiji used to say, India live in the villages and it is only through masses the freedom can be achieved. This was not the case with earlier nationalist leaders including moderates and extremists who involved masses on a limited scale.
    • He held all India public meetings focused mainly on the participation of masses.
  • Identification with masses: 
    • Gandhian followed the philosophy of ‘practice what you preach’. For instance, he popularized charkha by using it personally to weave his clothes. He shunned his elite clothes and wore a dhoti to identify himself with the masses.
    • As Ramachandra Guha noted – he dressed like them, walked among them and a sense of belongingness was developed among the masses. Hence, they followed him. 
  • Secular leadership: every strategy and programmes of Gandhiji was secular and he incorporated members of all the religions without any skepticism or discrimination. He took up the issues of all the factions. For instance, he supported Ali brothers in Khilafat movement, supported Akali movement, Temple entry movement etc.,
  • Social issues included in political programmes: 
    • The political programmes of Gandhiji included Dalit upliftment, women emancipation and hence found widespread participation of these sections.
    • Further, the philosophy of Sarvodaya, Antyodaya etc., tried to address the prevailing issues including inequality, rural poverty, food insecurity etc., and hence was widely supported. 
  • Peace time constructive work: 
    • Ashramas provided a way help those who participated in struggle and build momentum garnering public support.
    • Programmes like promotion of Khadi helped Indian producers and hence found support.
    • Establishing local schools provided alternatives to students who left British schools for participating in freedom struggle.
  • Supporting local issues like demand of linguistic provinces, Vaikom satyagraha, Malabar Muslim protest etc., 
  • Effective use of Newspaper and journals: Gandhiji popularized his philosophy through Harijan and the use of local dialects helped in spreading of his message to large number of people especially in rural areas.
  • Home rule movement: under Tilak and Annie Besant prepared a base for Gandhiji demonstrating self-rule which found its resonance in Gandhian philosophy of Swaraj.

Did you Know?

  • Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs): Inspired by Gandhian philosophy; Co-operative societies, women participation and empowerment, socio-economic equality etc,.
  • Decentralization: Keeping Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of ‘Swarajya’ in mind to strengthen grass root administration.
  • Do or Die Speech by Gandhiji: In 1942, Mahatma Gandhi gave the clarion call of ‘Do or Die’ from Gowalia Tank Maidan to end the British rule and launched the Quit India Movement.
  • Who gave the title of ‘Mahatma’ to the ‘Father of the Nation’: Gurudev – Rabindranath Tagore
  • The first Nationwide Movement: Rowlatt Satyagraha
  • Quit India is also called as India August Movement (August Kranti)
  • Majoor Mahajan Sangh: Gandhi formed the Majoor Mahajan Sangh, an association for workers’ rights. During those days, “Mahajan” was used as a title of respect for elites. Gandhi inverted the social structure by attaching the name “Mahajan” to “Majoor,” or laborers. With that linguistic choice, Gandhi enhanced the pride of workers.
  • Dyerism: In 1919, the Rowlatt Act enacted by the British government took away the civil rights of Indians. Those who protested peacefully in Jallianwala Bagh faced merciless police firing on the orders of General R Dyer. That cold-blooded assault was described by Mahatma Gandhi as Dyerism. He employed the concept to denote practices of exclusion, including the ostracisation of the Dalits from all spheres of social life in 1919.

Can you answer the following questions?

  1. How did Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments and experiences during his political career in South Africa shape the nationalist movement in India? Analyse
  2. Throw light on the significance of the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi in the present times.

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