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Social Scientist

A Note on Gandhi, Nation and Modernity Author(s): Nizar Ahmad Source: Social Scientist, Vol. 34, No. 5/6 (May - Jun., 2006), pp. 50-69 Published by: Social Scientist Stable URL: Accessed: 22/09/2010 05:47
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on Gandhi,


and Modernity

be. As

be) in accordance with

may experience but

about nation presuppose a unity: nation is (imagined to itself and its (imagined) essence, whatever that
notion, makes unity that not only precedes possible. a definite Such also experience

a transcendental

analytical from historical,


any thesis on nation an unlikely

The existing literature on 'Nation' or sociological

approaches some







reference, in some

Most of these have explanatory perspectives. and take some empirical fact or the other as their points of
i.e., ideas of nation as conceived contexts, sense mostly by agents sharing of nation along come who cenain are not are situated ideology explicitly socio-historical attempts descriptive of making they

specific such or such This

etc. Where explanatory Most of

interpretations, is understandable to mathematical

wittingly because or logical

edge or not,

interpretations. closer to notions When literary are is

criticism. not

transcendental formulations.



presupposed nation (i.e.,


as a transcendental for the possibility of condition the idea) an easy way of settling the problem of or ideological it is by representing it as ametaphysical understanding
in positivistic or Marxian schemes. Another approach,

being critical, would be to pursue the intimations of the idea and interrogate it in its own terms. The question 'what is nation?' is ill-formed, as it presupposes an theoretical without essence unless
naming). follows,

(This is well acknowledged by any student of philosophy of course she subscribes to a modified causal theory of
To 'How avoid is essen^ialism nation she may conceived?' reformulate As for the the question nations, as 'real'

national are now

a posteriori',1
A large These

a careful move
number accounts show that

is to look at the different

accounts of nations and nations are different

practices. available.

of descriptive


in so many

different ways.


and dissimilarities
The theoretician is

in Wittgensteinian


not, therefore, privileged by a rightful access to a priori definition

daily many their plebiscite' more). players -Renan,2 When in their we 'imagined describe community'-Andersen3 those language-games contexts, we by might etc placing





A Note

on Gandhi,


and Modernity

shown what it is to practice nation in a variety of ways. This is again a kind Z of social scientific enterprise. Conceptions of nations are also language-games. However, even when they prefigure in nationalist discourses they are loosely in nationalism is to the practicing of nation, because nation' connected too has much each nation-conceiver That is, recognized prospectively. and deserve to latitude. Such conceptions, therefore, borders on mythology
be treated as such. For serious philosophical discussions, however, these

? j> 3" ^


are insufficient material.

reflections on a specific

conception I

of nation.

follow will

be some

If you believe that because Italians rule Italy the Italian nation is happy, you are groping in darkness. Mazzini has shown conclusively that Italy to the free. Victor Emmanuel did not become gave one meaning
expression; Mazzini gave another. According to Emmanuel, Cavour and

the king of Italy and his henchmen. even Garibaldi, Italy meant itmeant the whole of the Italian people, that is, toMazzini, According
its agriculturalists.4

serve two purposes for us. First, they state in of M.K.Gandhi his assumptions about nation. That is, any mention of nation in the entire body of his writings should not be taken in any other sense. They also evince his decision as to how he would like to use the term. For instance, India he means the nation, and that is the whole people of when he mentions These words clear words India. Second, this notion is not alien to his universe of discourse. That is, he is sufficiently modern to be able to use it artlessly and 'correctly'. This would discourse nationalist in a worldwide mean that he was participating or of nations to the course a of actions making leading particular legitimizing
perpetuating them. Nation seems to be the most significant concept that not

but also being projected by them. Third only pre-figured and most important, the distinction he draws between the nation that is the a ruler or rulers is exactly the a people and the kingdom that is country under in individual's new vision that became influential place in a polity. defining to 'nation' as conceived Neither rashtra nor desa is equivalent inmeaning in these discourses is derived from raj and by early nationalists of the European world. Rashtra from di$> a region^ is derived desa a ruled. that is Similarly, country implies on hand derives from other the is a Nation, i.e., spatial occupation suggested.
Latin nation, meaning birth or tribe. A Sanskrit equivalent of nation is jana

(related to birth), which means people. Indian languages did not lack this during and after freedom concept, but the elites in the nationalist movement
struggle chose to use the term rashtra to refer to nation. The unity of rashtra

and top down power-flow, (polity or state) is accomplished by physical force reference is a little means. this etymological Though through administrative



0 01 c

it places the distinction between nation and state in clear or the is nation that and the unity of the state ( rashtra perspective: unity jana as we have noticed is political sources. source have different the of The latter ) digression,
power and the study of this forms rashtramimamsa. But, from where does the

y| so 10 o ^= __ >

unity, that is nation, derive? How is it derived? In the modern sense of the is not sufficient for a term, a unity derived from an external identification a nation. Hume's empiricist leanings will identify a nation people to become by pointing to the common traits a 'collection of individuals share.' However, for descriptive adequacy this condition is necessary. M. K. Gandhi wrote, "The English have taught us that we were not one nation before and that it one nation. This is without will require centuries before we become foundation. We
inspired us. Our


one nation before

of life was the same.

they came
It was

to India. One
we were one



all these they were able to establish one kingdom."5 Even when statements are historically false, significant is the identification (which is external) of a group in terms of their thoughts and mode of life. For our that purpose another identification, in the passage quoted, of the present 'we'with the past 'we' is not relevant, though the condition for referring to the present 'we' or 'our* is. The identification sufficient for a people to be called nation is internal identification. A people identify internally as a nation when they think and feel that they are one. Thus, in the modern sense of the term an its derives from This also ensures internal identification. (nation) unity what may be called ontological adequacy. Ontological adequacy demands that what is descriptively adequate should be experienced existentially by the subjects concerned. If a people claims to be a nation, then each individual, or this nation should experience it as constitutive of their group constituting Internal is similar to, but not identical with what Renan identification being. calls the 'present-day consent', i.e., "the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage, that one has received in an undivided form."6 Again, we find inM.K. Gandhi doubtful historical statements, which nevertheless are significant for its emphasis on the internal identification of nation. Gandhi talks of 'those farseeing ancestors of ours', who "saw that India was one undivided land so made by nature. They, therefore, argued that itmust be one nation. Arguing thus, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with an idea of nationality in a manner
unknown in other parts of the world."7 Gandhi sees this as a continuous


the will

to become

a nation.

"Nations are not formed

'identity', which is posited

in a day; the
as given,

internal identification
people who

is a process

in space and time, involving

In Renan, this

the will of the

as 'daily

is to become


is expressed



a recurrent expression

of will to become


A Note

on Gandhi,


and Modernity

If the unity called nation derives from the will of the people and through assumes this in his use of'nation' M.K.Gandhi its recurrent expression, and if then he did not mean any thing original in his use of the concept. This is use of'nation', which significant, because it is this aspect, the unpremeditated It shows how deeply he has been carved out as a links him with modernity.
modern statement First, Formal nation. once we subject. makes we aspect The know are However, sense. now focusing the the on the formal can aspect we on of say the that concept something hand, deem spells nation. is a out, there are a few points to be made clear before this

answers content what of

question, concept, is, the

when i.e., nation,

the other we

a nation



it to have.


has dealt in detail the second, which will be discussed in the second this of paper; but he just assumed the first. part in the formal sense, is a recent event in the Second, nation, understood one and half century old. It was not possible for history of ideas, probably Gandhi to trace this notion in the tradition he has accepted as his, for he should first have this notion to be able to search for itwherever itmay be. Third, nation is a moral phenomenon, which proceeds from the formal

aspect of the concept. This morality has close links with enlightenment attitudes of individuality and freedom. An individual ismoral when she acts on herself. When she does so, she according to a law, which she has decreed to be be is To free freedom. her also demonstrates governed by a law or laws, or in the Kantian moral one has legislated for oneself. Being which sense is also to be free. This theoretically presupposes unity of enlightenment alone. By need not be uni-directional the individual. This movement one oneself to it and a law and thereby, freeing acting according legislating can become an individual. Modernity did not get individuals suddenly from that is very much nowhere. It produced individuals by means of amechanism to obey laws a refuse if similar to Kantian moralism. Analogically, people as a nation. are themselves already affirming imposed on them by aliens, they not demonstrate When they are able to legislate laws for themselves, they only their freedom, but also become one entity. The purpose here is not to draw a is from analogical reasoning. The point is, first, M. K. Gandhi conclusion an individual, morally free in the modern sense. Second, to conceive nation in the sense above and to implicate nation in a struggle for self-rule, i.e., affirming its freedom, one needs to be schooled in the discourse on in the sense explained above. Gandhi says, freedom, or self-determination to "The Swaraj that Iwish picture is such that after we have once realized it, we shall endeavor to the end of our life time to persuade others to do likewise. But such Swaraj has to be experienced, by each one for himself."10 In the case nor the tradition he of Gandhi, neither his own immediate environment, himself



o cm c t 4^

talked about will provide him with any such understanding. The argument is, it implies if a people are bent to become a nation and thereby self-affirming, individuals (at least a few, who are to constitute the nation) who are morally free (they could be immoral also) and who realize the value of freedom (though they need not respect the freedom of others).
tradition, understood as a set of practices, knowledge

It is highly unlikely
and value system,



entail an idea of freedom

o in its self-determination.11


to which,

the entire nation

is implicated

^To conclude Z

implies morality
a universe of

the third point, nation as a unity, in the formal sense itself, in and freedom. In the absence of a culture, or participation
in which unity, morality and freedom are already


implicated, it is impossible to derive a concept of nation as it is mutually adopted by M. K. Gandhi and other nationalists in his time. In Europe as well as in India, this notion did not derive from the tradition. It arose from a new set of occurrences, which interrogated what it is not and constitute the latter as tradition. To be able to engage in discourse in these new ways is to be
modern. True Gandhi to his is modern, concept of strictly nation M. in this sense. says "...if we become free, K. Gandhi

India is free. And

when we learn to

in this thought, you have a definition

rule ourselves."12 'SW in swaraj

of Swaraj. It is Swaraj
refers to the nation.

country or

raj in Gandhian
state. The idea

of swaraj

does not necessarily mean

is not that of nation-state.

rule of the
It is not

something that obtains when British is replaced by us, Indians. Self-rule for Gandhi is a moral concept. That is, Gandhi makes his position clear in his comment on Mazzini's work in Italy. He says, "Mazzini has shown in his
writing on the duty of man that every man must learn to rule himself."13 If no

power other than the nation

not necessarily swaraj, ensure i.e., experience should

itself conducts
Each rule one

the activities of the state, it need

constituting Gandhi the was nation so much should pre



occupied with the nation that he even conceded that if English authorities remain in India while Indianised the question of political freedom does not

gave content to the concept of nation, it is to ask he in seeking to evolve his how with proper negotiated modernity model of individual, which has radically informed his conception of nation. The modern concept of individual picks her out as a substance independent of the institution or community. and development Ideas of emancipation
presuppose a substance to which such movements are attributable. It is not

Before we discuss how Gandhi

actual modern
?a of

individuals conception


bodily of the individual.


and relational

form one

In it the individual

that figure in the is defined in terms

set among the co



A Note

on Gandhi,


and Modernity

assumes reason being another. Reason further action, to of the efforts of it is the when power possess unifying importance imagined to The the interiority. the individual, thereby giving directionality emphasis on this rational aspect of the individual is integral to the meaning of the latter, because, without it the notion of unity and development of the individual lose ordinates of
much force.

Z ? >> =T g*

for the is politically advantageous image of the individual in which it from the individuals The out, they are practices modernity. picked as is were lost. the individual individuals characterized embedded, Redeeming In individuals. this real tradition-bound sense, the of living, liberating by way therefore should to redeem is to constitute or at least to convert. Modernity, a is the addressee possible unity. speak the language of reform where a society of universal reason facilitates to the individual Attaching and the emergence of rationally founded institutions. An communication This increasing (Weber) rationalization of institutions is in fact a mark of modernity.

as Challenges to the modern Individual came from with in the modernity insisted that which of the as The collectivism, from the tradition. well specter the individual has no substance other than what it acquires from its social to its grave. From Vicco and Comte through being, chased the modernity to upset the projects of the Marx this and interrogation continued Hegel modern individual. Such trends cannot aptly be called anti-modernism. They etc. ideas like progress, development were deeply persuaded by the modern was in modest movement of within the strain other The modernity its in It liberal is the individual. of the autonomy recommending to individual freedom and the exercise of the individual will, yet commitment Thinkers like T. disapproved the unrestricted development of the individual. of to the unrestrained H. Green avoided a view committed expression individual will and one, which accords hardly any role to the individual in the social process. In India, Gandhi and M. N. Roy both held what can be called a in the life breathed Both these thinker/activists individualism. moderate I would In the the world constituted by single out following, modernity. Gandhi for a comparison of two modernist conceptions of the individual, It is only today shall we acknowledge the modest and the full-blooded. Gandhian defence of the individual freedom as an echo of the maturation i.e., the of

thesis Gandhi himself the modern subject. That is, in the usual constructionist as an individual subject who is both the product and the is presented the attempt in this paper is producer of the discourse of modernity. However,
not to read Gandhi in this manner. Postponing the narration of the narrative

let us consider while

lies in that thesis. The modesty in the modest the modesty the power of the and individual of the the freedom espousing




o rs c


to shape the social destiny Gandhi did not seek these in terms, on the contrary sought their legitimacy in the realization of social well being. For Gandhi, if freedom iswrested from the individual, he individual's wills
an automation and society is ruined."14

vo tn o

in Gandhian view This pragmatism y? individual is fashioned with the ingredients of of the individual. Gandhian freedom and the power to exercise the will for building the society. Obviously, both 'individual' and 'society' in the last sentence point to what ought to be that society is rightly ^ the case. The corollary of this thesis is the proposition conceived of as an organism, which comes into being only by the voluntary surrendering of the individuals to the service of society.15 The remaining individualism will come to focus once we juxtapose it aspect of the modest with the full-blooded individualism. The individual in exercising her will inwhat of her life activities. The most precise theoretical expression of this model appears in the rational choice action theory. One can represent the individual a more or less action as involving a feasible set of ordered preferences, complete information about the possible outcome of actions and a It is full-blooded ability to compare the weight of each outcome. a it accords the individual first, perfect power of reasoning, second this reasoning in economic terms, and third and most important, other tolerable because, it defines it leaves to the latter assigns autonomy to it considers be the prominent areas

cancels out an immanent essentialism

Zl >

aspects of the individual's experience as irrelevant if they do not contribute to the rationality of the action concerned. This view while forming a part of the assumptions of a theory purporting to explain human action is also normatively significant in the sense that an action needs correction if it deviates from the course prescribed. Consider for instance the second reason It is obvious that the reasoning mentioned cited above calling it full-blooded. terms there is couched in of utility. Given the goal, the individual adopts the to accomplish it. The best means is the rational one. The best means individual's existence

failure to recognise the best means do not imply the non of the latter. Theory can help the individual to arrive at the correct
That is why we have economics as the most busv and respected

discipline among humanities today. the emphasis here falls on the rationality of the means. The Notice, are imagined to be creatures with the power of reasoning, individuals human which is primarily exercised with regard to the means of achieving given goals. This kind of rationality, as we know, had caught the attention of Weber who called it zweck rationalitat i.e., instrumental rationality, contrasting it with In theWeberian wertrationalitat sense, the wertertional i.e., value-rationality. is a case of acting by conforming it to the values one holds. A little reflection 5? will show that such a situation obtains only when the distinction between

A Note

on Gandhi,


and Modernity


and goals blurs considerably. This could be contrasted with the clear separation ofends and means in the Rational Choice Action theory. Returning to the Gandhian version of the modest individualism we find a
emphasis an falling on the of action, value ends rationality and means. ahimsa, of action. The tapasya stock etc., There, we also in a interp?n?tration philosophy of concepts all betray

greater witness Gandhian


pre-occupation with making itself into means. A reconsideration scholarship and this paper fosters no such ambition. tradition.

the means

an end in itself by converting the end of this problem might add to Gandhi

individualism appears in his approach to A third aspect of Gandhian Ifwe follow Weber, for whom 'traditional' action is one among the pure types of action, to act traditionally is simply to duely react to accustomed traditionalism requires of an agent to conform her actions to the existing norms of the community without lending herself to extra-traditional Such extra-traditional considerations. judgments are fiercely resisted by stimuli:
tradition. The resistance ends up either in suppression or in initiating reform.

judgments alien to the letter but not to the spirit of the tradition in his use of traditional Indian percepts.16 "Thus, as for religion, in order to satisfy the requirements of the definition (i.e., of Swadeshi), Imust restrict myself to my ancestral religion. This is the use of my immediate religious surrounding. If Ifind it defective, I should serve it by purging it of its defects?11 (Italics mine.) This statement made by Gandhi is instructive for reasons more than one: It is a well-known fact that Gandhi introduced first, it allows second,

extra-traditional it objectifies


to enter into the traditional judgments tradition through which it smuggles in rational
outlook, i.e., one can correct tradition

its utilitarian

if it does not work well, which is instanced by the sentence in italics in the nor quote above. This attitude towards tradition is neither conformist of the first instantiation aspect revolutionary but clearly reformist.18 Given his of modest individualism, this reformist strain inGandhi sounds very modern. are in this sense and holding to the modernist worldview But being modern we have modern subjects. When quite different things. In the former sense, that implies conditions of existence are pervasively and enduringly modern, their conditions such who day-to-day activities. through reproduce subjects a which state of is affairs, In other words, modernity presupposes subjects
who someone pro-modern modernist are modern. is modern or or one Under or not. anti-modern is not. such Perhaps, or circumstances, the neutral. right For, it question in this is vain to ask sense, to ask whether one is a is whether one

is either

is characterized by the forward march of thought that modernity of individualization, A strong presence rationalization. along side the Weber



vO o o rsl <D c p


of a new
These modern

set of


a rational


the era of
Max Weber


Maybe, from

this trend as the continuing

this value could rationality. be seen as a gradual words, In other

separation reason

of the means-end
of came instrumental to play a

rationality role

& Z sO


in securing

the methodical
is a case

in point.

of social action. Modern

"Modern bureaucracy

succeeds in

encroach m "? > the


irrational."19 Weber


these developments
effected an emancipation



the individual, albeit in a different sense, altogether. Complementary to the institutional rationalization we also find a rationalization at the subjective level. The functional character of the individual's institutional existence of being substantively (value) rational. The modern individual, in this sense, is a being without much substance. At the same time, he ismade into a world of shifting preferences. What empowers individual is the increasing sophistication of what is called him, as amodern instrumental rationality with which he has to live in the commodified world,
either as a producer or as a consumer. This paper, therefore, slightly twists the




the burden


analysis by holding



to be a fulfillment of

If this observation is correct, because it is descriptive, then endorsing this turn of events is a modernist view. If so, then with certitude one can say that Gandhi is an anti-modern. Rationalization at institutional and subjective level in the sense above is a state of affairs, which Gandhian accomplished individual would only disapproves to the society but it also laments the marginalisation of value in rationality in social life. Gandhi's non-modernist position is pronounced his concept of truth. Without doubt, it is Vedic or Upanishadic, therefore, integrated archaic. For, truth for him
Being or Brahma. By being

find stifling. Because amodest individualism of Gandhi not a situation in which individuals are only functionally

is god itself. In the archaic sense,

true to what, is, we are nearer to

it is absolute
truth. But the

recognizes incapability of those in who this twist a liberal realizing identify democratic blending which is modern any way, one could suggest another archaic name: the Buddha. Since living cannot be postponed, one is to exist in the absolute truth. To the midst characteristic


twist comes when


the human

of relative truths. This avoidance of making of what is now known as Gandhism.

and ahimsa, or even tapasya as

a totalizing move is very It explains why Gandhi

of social action,



The along

are pursued by him, sometimes,

for Gandhi ahimsa, is a participant self-suffering with is also

as if they are the goals he has inmind.

in the a experiment corollary of with truth. Therefore, "Suffering satyagraha:


A Note

on Gandhi,


and Modernity


in one's









is the


respect for the post-modern differences is comparable with this attitude but not the same. Gandhi's idea of Swaraj also resembles, but is again not identical with a certain trend in post in the is disenchantment, There of communities. politics modernity: It is in of the with modernity. projects community politics, postmodern of and not in the actual practice community respect of disenchantment substitute for violence to others."20 The
politics, that Gandhian communitarianism resembles post-modernity.

?? ^> 3" &

Gandhi would not have been shocked by the proliferation of communities; but would insist on satyagraha and ahimsa and even tapasya as defining the
inter-space universalizing oneself. Gandhi's of communities. or totalizing definition As noticed before It arises expresses satyagraha from this does not point to a to be He says: tendency. of swadeshi a determination resolution.

After much
restricts us

thinking illustrates my meaning. best perhaps

to the use and services

I have arrived at a definition Swadeshi

immediate of our

that, is the spirit in us, which

surroundings to the

of Swadeshi


of the more

the requirements

remote. Thus, as for religion, in order to satisfy of the definition, Imust restrict myself to my ancestral between Gandhian

The last two themes throw points of comparison

postmodern Postmodernism acknowledgement two positions attitude implies, to interpersonal but does not and necessarily two than levels.


inter-community require, The contrast

contexts. respectful the a

of differences is much more

at these pronounced

between strikes



balance between
social action.


and individualistic
is relativised


to the problems
contexts, a consensus



to actual

is attainable
violent the other, such


the mediation
suffering arises injury from

of an existential
on a one's deeply own sedimented

grip on truth, non

person rather ethical than concern. on


an outlook

it in but consciously celebrates heterogeneity, Postmodernism disregards continues to flirt with emancipation paradigm ethical terms. Postmodernism but without assuming any responsibility proceeding from it. II to 'nation' it appeared more
ramarajya is more symbolic


M. K. Gandhi
essentialist. For

gave substance
instance, his

than literal,

in informing his prospective nation. while swaraj seemed more fundamental He neutralized Ram by his spirituality whereby Ram is not substantially different from Rahim. That is, the symbols he had drawn from tradition were
not meant tapasya etc., to reinstate were more it. At the same time to the the concepts such of as ahimsa, the nation satya, in his substantial constitution



o rs

conception. community.

as "two

is because


Gyanendra moment



for him is not primarily a useful distinction

of nationalism -

a cultural which he

in the history

a 'democratic'/



(the people-nation
( the volk-nation as a

as political


and a



vo Ln o ^ _


equated nation with people, regardless of their religious differences. "India cannot cease to be one nation because people belonging to different However, on close reading, one finds in Gandhi a blend religions live in it."23

and culture-nation. He often equated nation with the of both people-nation inheritance of ancient civilization: the visions of, the'values cherished by, the
rishis other and learned as men shown whom Gandhi nation refers to as 'our ancestors'. people. However, There at is times, earlier, means ordinary

occasionally yet another dimension, if not definition, expressed in his implicit or explicit references to nation. He speaks of the subcontinent; the undivided land that is India. When he takes nation to be this spatial stretch, the people are perceived as the inhabitants in it. That is, it is not incorrect to say that Gandhi conceived
as the

of the nation

living space is sometimes

living space

also as the living space of the people. This referred to as holy land. The tendency to see the
is not always without its problems.


Thus, Gandhi's prospective nation is a blend of images in which the quality of culture (ideas of good life), land (physical space), and people (human beings) are to be specified. It is significant that Gandhi is concerned mostly about the qualities of these aspects of real nation. Therefore, not all
that have gone into the culture as it has come down to a people as their

heritage or tradition are vital to that tradition. Most often, he has given these ideas the status of principles; for instance, it proceeds from these principles that people have to regain their true selves, and tradition has to be purified of its defects. His critique of western or modern civilization also follows from this principle. 'Civilization' of the modern west produces people who consider "bodily welfare the object of life".24 This civilization, therefore, really
meant, and actually has come to become the name for, the great improvement

or development in the physical qualities of life. That is, civilization has become synonymous with the material development of the life of people. It is when a people really think this as progress and conclude that civilization has to Gandhi, a arrived, this fact defines for them their culture. According as note this lacks quality. It "takes culture such neither of morality nor of is like a mouse gnawing religion." At another place, he says, "Civilization it is soothing us. When its full effect is realized, we shall see that while religious superstition is harmless compared to that of modern civilization."25 Itmust be the tremendous effort required for correcting the evils of the latter as compared to that of the former, which prompted him to make this


A Note

on Gandhi,


and Modernity

remark. As against the greediness of modern material civilization, Gandhi posed the Indian, in which the tendency is "to elevate the moral being."26 If culture is the way people conduct their life activities, then its primal quality is Instead of the greedy pursuit of material good, which he thought morality. characterized the modern like the quintessential civilization, a civilization man Indian would "point out the path of duty", by pursuing us attaining
"master over our mind and our passions. So doing we know ourselves."27 This

be the reason why Gandhi tended to invest so much in tradition. Tradition, or rather the purified tradition, seems to be, for him, the cure for it is very far from the case that Gandhi has modern civilization. Though nation with in the instances inwhich it enters into his culture alone, equated must
conception of nation as an integral part, it was not seen as identical with any

specific religion or ethnic or any other distinct cultural practice. Gandhi was convinced that religions do not make nations.28 It is true that Gandhi had used symbols of a particular- Hindu- culture as part of the activities of nationalist movement. It also might be the case that, as Akeel Bilgrami says, he "encouraged using Hindu means Gandhi wrong. the communal symbolism Hindu to mobilize elements in the national movement by mass national feeling."29 If Bilgrami elements he is encouraged Hindu communal use of Hindu most symbols probably has elements.

intentionally Gandhi's However, Hindu communal encouraged of his actions.

is the unintended This at most use of symbols specific to a distinct Further, his consequence culture is pragmatic, not essentialist. His principles of satyagraha, ahimsa and tapasya, along with his idea that leading a religious life is to realize in one's life neutralized

the core of that religion, and not following religious tenets for its own sake, his use of symbols. At the core, Iswar is not different from Allah. ideas of swaraj and swadeshi cannot be easily decoupled. As Gandhi's
earlier, the 'swa-' in swaraj or swadeshi is the nation. That is, 'we'


those who
own desa. Both

live in desa, that is India. Swadeshi

these principles have occasioned

is one who





contradictions should


surroundings, have endorsed the vision of those whom he called "our ancestors", that India was one undivided land so made by nature. In addition, they, according to to India one nation. Even if this is historically false, a endeavored make him, desa to be so identified must be determined by the people who occupy it. For, otherwise, a stretch of land cannot be linked, or recognized to be so. But who are these people? If British rulers did not occupy what is now called India, will that still yield the India in Gandhi's vision? It will, if there are some other
people who recognized it to be so. There were, in fact, many outbursts of

his Swadeshi thinking. Though by definition restrict him to the use and services of his immediate his desa, usually, stretched beyond this limit. Gandhi seems to

in his



so o cm
(L> C 3

and cultural expansions (cultural imperialism if looked at from the this subcontinent had witnessed subjected to this expansion.), population or to from time time: Brahminic Buddhist ideologies, Mauryan orMughalian political
political power etc. Gandhi can consider such expansions as Indian because of

?5 ^
so 1-0

their Indian source, while

which this the way. expansions People who are

However, own their

the Indian-ness
jana masters and desa

of the regions
cannot who be coupled restrict

in to
in their

are made.


? ^ _

to their immediate surroundings (swadeshi), ought not to spread or themselves, ideologically politically, beyond their living space. That is, the Dravidian for culture, instance, ought not to have been Sanskritised, activities
Brahminised, desa does not Persianised merely and mean then that words, westernised. we resist That others, cannot we but hope restrict also to have that to our we do own not the



In other


the nation,

principles. the

space with
of other

the cultural
region regions


some of cultural unrestricted

to it, if he sticks
traits in common of movement

to his
with cultural

If a specific



goods from these other regions, then it is not natural according to both swaraj and swadeshi principles. However, cultural unity among different jana cannot come by without some such cultural flow.30Unless he is strongly persuaded by or the dominant cultural tradition of the northern part of the sub-continent,
misrecognized the arbitrary nature of this tradition as something natural, or

India, Gandhi cannot equally persuaded by sustain the vision that is India. He will only end up in a multiple-nationality thesis and its recognition, if he is true to his swaraj and swadeshi principles. the Orientalist construct of
His adherence to the theory of varnashrama went diametrically opposite

to his principle of swaraj and to his view of the voluntary surrender of individual's freedom. As a theory of social organization, itmay have either an explanatory value or a practical use. Gandhi seems to have thought of it in both senses. However, beyond this ambiguity, for Gandhi, it enters in to the definition of Hindu. In a concrete manner he is a Hindu who believes in God, immortality of
the soul, transmigration, the law of Karma and moksha, and who tries to

protection to the Acting law

truth and ahimsa

in its widest of varnashrama.31 to the law of sense

in daily

life, and therefore practice

and tries to act






is to "to





of us, "our own bread by following

callings organization fall in of to four types in terms or of society

the ancestral
This i.e., is, as an

in a sense,

Such ancestral
to view of the

varnas. varnas,




and practices rooted in tradition. In principle, there is nothing an one is persuaded that calls for unless approach outright rejection,

in the by the

A Note

on Gandhi,


and Modernity


idea of civil society. Gandhi does not jettison the idea of equality. In v?rttfl-system, people are unequal only in functional terms. Gandhi thought
that, in principle, shudras and Brahmins are equal in status. This insertion of a

rider of the principle is a poor way of arguing when in practice varna system this system, the Under only divides people culturally and economically. resources for each to will accumulate tend cultural group with in unequally
the varna system. Inequality among the varnas, therefore, is a natural


of this, however

of varnashrama

they are functionally.

as a cultural

For our

it is Gandhi's


as a theory of social organization,

i.e., as an actor placed in one of the


is significant. Considered
an individual is totally


by the system. That

determination. by ancestral Varna calling,

is, his social space has not enough

forecloses inscribed one's in varna freedom roles. because In swaraj one one


for self

is traditionally, voluntarily

assume the role. Gandhi

wants to maintain also his

cannot club varnashrama dharma with morality

swaraj thesis. His treatment Gandhi, Hindus due to who of the like fall problem Ambedkar, outside a vflr?a-determinism. avarna enjoy Hindus, any i.e.,

if he

untouchability treated

betrays as do not

untouchables and







to solve the problem

He says,

of untouchability is abolition

by absorbing

this avarnas to



of the fifth varna. The untouchables The in the should, therefore, merge fourth division.32 (Italics mine.) of abolition artificial the of the four divisions, reorganization is a separate branch of reform. Inter of subdivisions and inequalities a biscuit cooked by dining means dining off the same plate. If I eat I have advocated Solomon, Ismail and company,
Gandhi recommends


I do not inter-dine.33 Instead of

here for the untouchables, a

self-determination, vflrtttf-determination.

times as cow

trouble did not end there. It appeared

eating, at other, as vegetarianism. He

in various guises,
believed that



eating is despicable. However, his Muslim brethren did not. What will he do? in order to save a cow?" he "Am I, then, to fight with or kill aMahomeden

as well as the In doing so, Iwould become an enemy of theMahomedan I know of protecting the cow is that I cow. Therefore, the only method brother and urge him for the sake of should approach my Mahomedan the country to join me in protecting her, if he would not listen to me I should let the cow go for the simple reason that the matter is beyond my to ability. If Iwere overfull of pity for the cow, I should sacrifice my life save her but not take my brothers'. This, I hold, is the law of our religion.34



cm C z> z so

Here Gandhi has stretched his reasoning to its absurd limit. It is not his o solution, which is interesting; it will any way follow from his principles of is amusing is the problem itself. If I ahimsa, satyagraha, and tapasya. What is divine, and my neighbor eats them, it does not believe that, all vegetation follow that she believes the opposite. In her belief system, one eats what one believes
not have

to be divine. One who

the same privilege.

follows swaraj should not think that others do

^ Zl >

apparently blessed with innocence Gandhi asserts, "The common of India is not English but Hindi"35 and declares, "A universal language India should be Hindi."36 Many activists from the northern part for language of the subcontinent during the nationalist struggle thought that all Indian Again,
languages are Sanskrit based, as they thought some northern languages are,

fact However, Bengali, Gujarati that all Dravidian became sanskritised after the Brahmin only languages settlement that took place in the southern continent. When Gandhi wanted Hindi as the national language as his north Indian followers really made it subsequently, he only reflected the linguistic hegemony of the north that was prevailing in the national scene already. When dissent voice was heard from the south as a reaction to the move made by the northern lobby for making Hindi the official language, Seth Govind Das arrogantly made the following remark inwhich Gandhi figured as an authority. Iwant to tell my brethren from Madras that if after 25 years of efforts on the part of mahatma Gandhi they have not been able to understand the blame lies at their door. It is beyond our patience to Hindustani, bear that because some of our brethren from Madras do not understand Hindustani, English should reign supreme in a Constituent which is said to be a sovereign body and which has assembled
constitution for a free India.37

like Hindi,

and Marathi.

it is a well-known

Assembly to frame a it

T. T. Krishnamachari

is said to have made

a rejoinder to it by dubbing

should be the universal language for India? Is it because of his usual pragmatic concern? Alternatively, is it because an of his insistence that Indian language should substitute the foreign? If it is the first, then that pragmatic concern cannot be anchored in either his ideas the Indian heritage, people or that of the country; nor it be derived from his principles of swaraj or swadeshi. If it is the second, then the choice of a regional language, Hindi, spoken by the people in some parts of the northern region of the sub-continent, only complicates the issue. People of the southern part of the subcontinent have as their mother tongue a distinct about set of
aa nationality

as language imperialism. Why did Gandhi resolve that Hindi


in and through which

Indian-ness that the nationalist

they have


the same
It would

A Note

on Gandhi,


and Modernity

be embarrassing
'national' Because, language since

for them
that is not one's life-world

to link their newly

internal to them is primarily


was through one's

to them. own

S ^>

as the nationality constituted

the presence of a

the insertion of any other tongue will only burden one with
super-nation. Like his idea of the cow eating and also that of


extending the whole


the human of south

ethnic and

geography of the northern part of the subcontinent India, the question of national language too betrayed
cultural pulls, which time and again came

to his

in to conflict

with his principles and general value orientation regarding nation. This is a It seems that, case of form being incapable of containing the content.
whenever he reasoned about the issues that concern the Self/Other, he was

guided by an inadequate knowledge of the Other and the complexity of the relation Self/Other. The relative truths he held on to were ill informed
because he never tried to verify any of them. He never also worked out his

principles of swaraj and swadeshi to its logical limits, in order to appreciate either its strength or weakness. Had he done so that might have provided him a framework for gathering relevant information regarding the domain called
nation: the people, the land and the culture. Because, once our conceptual

frame work
processed pragmatic as



these elements
complexes, questions but

from its domain

pose as to before the actual us

in real time, they,

not just ethical of or these working


complexes which
set out to answer


us to remain more




relation involving cultural implies a complicated problem identity, (i.e., one's social identification with what in real time come down to of invented tradition (one's interpretation oneself as cultural practices) the principles tradition in which selective elements of it are highlighted) (which guide one's reasoning in choosing the right courses of actions) and Gandhi's lastly jana (the people,
derive). The relation

from where
is complicated,

the ultimate
though not

legitimacy of one's actions

complex, because it arose

the adoption naturally fit in with


principles or perspectives, which do not certain practices that partly constituted one's cultural identity. This cultural identity forms an unreflective part of one's self. The has relation is further complicated by the imagined jana whose homogeneity of certain

uncertain due to the preexisting differences in the constitution of the real time jana, which in practical terms came into conflict with the unreflexive cultural identity. Consideraba (people), which is for Gandhi the now become
most fundamental reference point for social action. He saw an


jana under colonialism: the subjected nation. The jana is an ideal (because it does not attend to the differences across time and space) and perceived to exist in real time (because it refers to the actual subjected people




cm (L> C

humanistic heritage,

or does not

rule). The
enlightened exist

interpretation time,

tradition, which
out as of specific the where

is invented
totality cultural of




in real


^ so ^ o

side of the Self, there is the jana (ideal and real), the Now, invented tradition and the specific set of cultural practices. When he applied the principles which are any way ideas, it led to a split self situation. Why? The Other

on Gandhi's

real time jana contains pre-existing through the operationalisation

cannot time jana. practices and religious including particularisms accommodate, real

differences. of
terms, the


Self created


its cultural

identity. The



in real


> Cultural linguistic

vegetarianism, etc necessarily

opposition mark out



eating, they are


not as the Other. The splitting of the Self into self and the other will persist so
long can as be the specific set of only when cultural practices remain as a constituent a negotiating of term it. This in the resolved it ceases to become

movement mixture

the practical self Gandhi's equations yielded is a of Self and self, in other words, a Self in which the other is also towards nation:
That is, the so-called cow eaters, non-vegetarians etc. are also de

is indeterminacy in the application of his famous principles o? swaraj and swadeshi. The difficulty arises because the Swa, self, referred to in these principles is both Self and self.When the self is differentiated
operative, i.e., in terms of a certain specific samskara (culture), or desa (land),

in the Self. The outcome

the Self. Therefore, the principle either turns indeterminate or over-determines. Gandhi's problem is the indeterminacy of his principles. He it neutralizes
shuns over-determinist inclinations. The principles are of utmost importance

to Gandhi,
the questions,


itwill specify for him the content of his nation,

constitute it', 'what are its characteristics?'


etc. When

principles apply, the self and Self neutralize each other and the principles do not apply! Gandhi's troubles with various cultural practices mentioned above
are a case of indeterminacy for his of his nation, Fortunately there principles. were other conditions, which made it

work despite this indeterminacy. The British India was already a candidate for nation. The boundaries of the desa (a vital aspect of nation) is delineated not only by the sub-continental geographical features (surrounded by Himalayas and Arabian sea), but also secured a political unity thanks to the British Empire. The people (jana, another vital aspect of nation) were British subjects
from of an administrative specified self, point its content, always referred of view. these Therefore, aspects when recurrently subjects; their self-rule Gandhi's made desa and the conception principles likewise, Thus, nation Swa-,

work. referred

to the British and


to the



of the people



only the British Raj and British subjects (i.e., Indian) will save his principles

A Note

on Gandhi,


and Modernity


in the fate of indeterminacy. This moment of overcoming hetero-scape in the sense that the the pursuit of nation was of great historical consequence freedom struggle (in the second sense of the swaraj and swadeshi) under the leadership of Gandhi actually and effectively built the nation in some seme of the nation in Gandhi's scheme of things. That is, the people (jana or nation)


> 3 Q.

were steadily and gradually raised to the consciousness of swadeshi and swaraj, as against their being British subjects and being under British rule; people,
meaning a great number of them across the hetero-scapic vastness of the

subcontinent. However,

truly makes him janapita, the father of the nation. this topic does not come within the scope of this paper. This



is professor

of philosophy

at M.G.





Notes 1. Hobsbawm, Nation 2. Renan, "Some Reflections Since is a Nation?' 1780, on Nationalism", University K. Bhabha p.387, Press, ed. Nation quoted 1992), and in his p.9 Narration, own

Nationalism 'What

(Cambride in Homi

(Routledge, New York, 1991)

3. Anderson, Nationalism, 4. 5. 6. M. M. K. Gandhi, K. Gandhi, What New p-43 B. Imagined (Verso, Hind Hind Communities: London Swaraj, Swaraj, 1983) (Navajivan,1938) p-49 in Homi p-19 K. Bhabha ed. Nation and Narration, Reflections on the Origin and Spread of


is a Nation?, York, 1991),

(Routledge, 7. Hind Swaraj,


Ibid p-24
Ronan, What is a Nation? Hind p-19 p-59 and nation, in

10. M. 11. For

K. Gandhi,


on self-determination see Kedouri's discussion comparison UK, Elie Kedouri, 1994), p.56-86 Nationalism, (Blackwell, Hind Swaraj, p-58

12. 13. 14.

Ibid, p-60 Chander, Jag Parvesh Lahore, Works, 1945) "Individual freedom ed. Teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, (Indian Printing





a man



himself 67



sO O O rs
<L> c Z5 ' I ed 16.

completely automation Commending and Tapasya, Gandhi reminiscent 17. Speeches mine. Thus, he

to the and



of society. If it is wrested is ruined." Chander, op.cit. treatment Boburant of writes, traditional "...into

from p.31


he becomes


on Gandhi's Joan of V.


considerations humanists

unfamiliar tradition 4th

like Satya, Ahimsa percepts these traditional percepts to Indian tradition and of edition, the West." Madras, p.337. Italics

the rationalists,

and Writings

of Mahatma


o z m > 18.

sometimes evils." but


1896, Nov.30, shastras,

custom of infant marriages and its speaks of the "wretched Collected Works Vol.1: 1884 Gandhi, (CWMG) of Mahatma of the times, "I shall confess my p.23. At other literary ignorance to understand I do profess I venture the secret of Hinduism. And all the strength we have done and I can command, is a serious blot that to perpetuate an in Hinduism,

to say in all humility but with in the manner untouchability unwarranted Hinduism. a Satanic rigidly abuse I therefore of

the Smritis

do not hesitate

activity." Young orthodox Hindu,

a negation of love, which is the basis of to call "untouchability" as practiced today " India 27-10-1921.On occasion A he says, yet another no I believe that the Hindu Shastras for have place

now. to enter I certainly of the type practiced do not want into a untouchability I am only placing the shastras. about before of the discussion you the substance as I have understood is a violation them. This form of untouchability Shastras of Mahatma 1923. The Collected Works Vol. Certain dharma." 26, Gandhi, of principles scriptures like do not ahimsa imply he such held to be unconditional categorically commitment imperative to them. even He when "It is says, also. Muslims

to explain of non-violence the condition and necessary clearly to use the sword on some of the Gita tell me that it is a religious students duty some occasions. to battle. For me, however, Lord Krishna himself urged Arjuna is the highest I do not mind if you think of it as a practical dharma. non-violence a sanatani Vol. "I call myself CWMG, Hindu, I, 1923, p.49. Again, necessity." because by and the writings left as authentic to accept as shastras. I reject that passes the that contradicts every everything thing to accept I am not required fundamental of morality. principles ipse dixit or the 14-10-1920 of pundits." interpretations Young India, the holy reformers. This belief the Upanishads, does not require me Stehr, Counsellors Experts, and Power of Knowledge, Satyagraha Speeches and Advisers (De Grutyer, New in Nico York 1928, Gandhi, Stehr 1992), p. 175 p.337 Nationalism, 17 April 1998 et al p. 121 (eds). The I believe in the Vedas, the Puranas


Nico Culture

20. 21. 22.

M. M.

K. Gandhi, K. Gandhi,

in South Africa, and Writings



Gyanendra Pandey, Second M. Muralidhan Hind Hind Ibid, Swaraj, Swaraj, p.33 p.44 p.32

and Difference: A Question About Equality at Kottayam, Memorial Lecture delivered

23. 24. 25. 68

A Note

on Gandhi,


and Modernity

26. 27. 28.

Ibid, p.57

Ibid, p.55 there of Hind are as many of spirit p.45 religions nationality as there do are not individuals; interfere but with those who one are "In reality conscious religion." 29. 30. EPW, This



Swaraj, 1994,

> ZT 3 Q_

9 July is not

p. 1751 that


cultural flows result in cultural necessarily unity. manners of life styles, dressing, etc tool making, used goods to spread to the other from one part of the world neither thereby implying cultural domination. unity nor cultural/ political ideas India, 14-10-1920 in the first division, i.e., the brahmin? merge to disturb the traditional order of varnas ?Or are of assuming innately incapable a decision functionalist by guided Is is



31. 32.


the untouchables shouldn't Why did not want it because Gandhi thought the role of first varna? approach it because he that Or

the untouchables

to the division p.398. p.46

is it just a pragmatic of varnas?

33. 34. 35. 36. 37.

CWMG, Hind


Ibid, p.88 Ibid, This 78-84. p.p.81 interesting Kama, reference has been dug out by, M. and National Identity N. Kama, from IIPA, 1968 b


Religion "Language, and National ed. Nation

in S.L.Sharma, Identity", in South Asia, (Orient Longman,