Gandhi’s Views on Swadeshi
A Meaning of Swadeshi
Spirit Of Swadeshi
Source: Mani Bhavan Gandhi
Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote. Thus, as for religion, in order to satisfy the requirements of the definition, I must restrict myself to my ancestral religion. That is, the use of my immediate religious surrounding. If I find it defective, I should serve it by purging it of its defects.
In the domain of politics, I should make use of the indigenous institutions and serve them by curing them of their proved defects. In that of economics I should use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbors and serve those industries by making them efficient and complete where they might be found wanting. It is suggested that such Swadeshi, if reduced to practice, will lead to the millennium.. . .
…Hinduism has become a conservative religion and, therefore, a mighty force because of the Swadeshi spirit underlying it. It is the most tolerant because it is non-proselytizing and it is as capable of expansion today as it has been found to be in the past. It has succeeded not in driving out, as I think it has been erroneously held, but in absorbing Buddhism. By reason of the Swadeshi spirit, a Hindu refuses to change his religion, not necessarily because he considers it to be the best, but because he knows that he can complement it by introducing reforms. And what I have said about Hinduism is, I suppose, true of the other great faiths of the world, only it is held that it is specially so in the case of Hinduism.
We have labored under a terrible handicap owing to an almost fatal departure from the Swadeshi spirit. We, the educated classes, have received our education through a foreign tongue. We have, therefore, not reacted upon the masses. We want to represent the masses, but we fail. They recognize us not much more than they recognize the English officers. Their hearts are an open book to neither. Their aspirations are not ours. Hence there is a break. And you witness not, in reality, failure to organize but want of correspondence between the representatives and the represented.
If during the last fifty years we had been educated through the vernaculars, our elders and our servant and our neighbors would have partaken of our knowledge; the discoveries of Bose or a Ray would have been household treasures as are the RAMAYAN and the MAHABHARAT. As it is, so far as the masses are concerned, those great discoveries might as well have been made by foreigners. Had instruction in all the branches of learning been given through the vernaculars, I make bold to say that they would have enriched wonderfully…..
Much of the deep poverty of the masses is due to the ruinous departure from Swadeshi in the economic and industrial life. If not an article of commerce had been brought from outside India, she would be today a land flowing with milk and honey. But that was not to be. We were greedy and so was England. The connection between England and India was based clearly upon an error….
If we follow the Swadeshi doctrine, it would be your duty and mine to find out neighbors who can supply our wants and to teach them to supply them where they do not know how to proceed, assuming that there are neighbors who are in want of healthy occupation. Then every village of India will almost be a self-supporting and self-contained unit, exchanging only such necessary commodities with other villages as are not locally producible.
This may all sound nonsensical. Well, India is a country of nonsense. It is nonsensical to parch one’s throat with thirst when a kindly Mohammedan is ready to offer pure water to drink. And yet thousands of Hindus would rather die of thirst than drink water from a Mohammedan household. These nonsensical men can also, once they are convinced that their religion demands that they should wear garments manufactured in India only clothing or eat any other food…
It has often been urged that India cannot adopt Swadeshi, in the economic life at any rate. Those who advance this objection do not look upon Swadeshi, as a rule of life. With them it is a mere patriotic effort-not to be made if it involved any self-denial. Swadeshi , as defined here, is a religious discipline to be undergone in utter disregard of the physical discomfort it may cause to individuals. Under its spell the deprivation of a pin or a needle, because these are not
manufactured in India, need cause no terror. A Swadeshist will learn to do without hundreds of things which today he considers necessary….
I would urge that Swadeshi is the only doctrine consistent with the law of humility and love. It is arrogance to think of launching out to serve the whole of India when I am hardly able to serve even my own family. It were better to concentrate my effort upon the family and consider that through them I was serving the whole nation and, if you will, the whole of humanity. This is humility and it is love.
The motive will determine the quality of the act. I may serve my family regardless of the sufferings I may cause to theirs. As, for instance, I may accept an employment which enables me to extort money from people. I enrich myself thereby and then satisfy many unlawful demands of the family. Here I am neither serving the family nor the State.
Or I may recognize that God has given me hands and feet only to work with for my sustenance and for that of those who may be dependent upon me. I would then at once simplify my life and that of those whom I can directly reach. In this instance, I would have served the family without causing injury to anyone else. Supposing that everyone followed this mode of life, we should have at once an ideal state. All will no reach that state at the same time. But those of us who, realizing its truth, enforce it in practice, will clearly anticipate and accelerate the coming of that happy day. (SW, pp. 336-44)
Service of Neighbors
My definition of Swadeshi is well known. I must not serve my distant neighbor at the expense of the nearest. It is never vindictive or punitive. It is in no sense narrow, for I buy from every part of the world what is needed for my growth. I refuse to buy from anybody anything, however nice or beautiful, if it interferes with my growth or injures those whom Nature has made my first care.
I buy useful healthy literature from every part of the world. I buy surgical instruments from England, pins and pencils from Austria and watches from Switzerland. But I will not buy and inch of the finest cotton fabric from England or Japan or any other part of the world because it has injured and increasingly injures the millions of the inhabitants of India.
I hold it to be sinful for me to refuse to buy the cloth spun and woven by the needy millions of India’s paupers and to buy foreign cloth although it may be superior in quality to the Indian hand-spun. My Swadeshi, therefore, chiefly centers round the hand-spun Khaddar and extends to everything that can be and is produced in India. (YI. 12-3-1925, p. 88)
[The votary of Swadeshi will,] as a first duty, dedicate himself to the service of his immediate neighbors. This involves exclusion or even sacrifice of the interests of the rest, but the exclusion or the sacrifice would be only in appearance. Pure service of our neighbors can never, from its very nature, result in disservice to those who are far away, but rather the contrary.
‘As with the individual, so with the universe’ is an unfailing principle which we would do well to lay to heart. On the other hand, a man who allows himself to be lured by ‘the distant scene’, and runs to the4 ends of the earth for service, is not only foiled in his ambition, but also fails in his duty towards his neighbors. . . . (FYM, pp. 62-63)
I believe in the truth implicitly that a man can serve his neighbors and humanity at the same time, the condition being that the service of the neighbors is in no way selfish or exclusive, i.e., does not in any way involve the exploitation of any other human being. The neighbors will then understand the spirit in which such service is given. They will also know that they will be expected to give their services to their neighbors. Thus considered, it will spread like the proverbial snow-ball gathering strength n geometrical progression, encircling the whole earth. It follows that Swadeshi is that spirit which dictates man to serve his next-door neighbor to the exclusion of any other. The condition that I have already mentioned is that the neighbor, thus served, has, in his turn, to serve his own neighbor. In this sense, Swadeshi is never exclusive. It recognizes the scientific limitation of human capacity for service. (H, 23-7-1947, p. 79)
Under this plan of life, in seeming to serve India to the exclusion of every other country, I do not harm any other country. My patriotism is both exclusive and inclusive. It is exclusive in the sense that, in all humility, I confine my attention to the land of my birth, but is inclusive in the sense that my service is not of a competitive or antagonistic nature. SIC UTERE TUO UT ALIENUM NON LAEDAS is not merely a legal maxim, but it is a grand doctrine of life. It is the key to proper practice of ahimsa or love. (SW, p. 344)
I have never considered the exclusion of everything foreign under every conceivable circumstance as a part of Swadeshi. The broad definition of Swadeshi is the use of all home-made things to the exclusion of foreign things, in so far as such use is necessary for the protection of home industry, more especially those industries without which India will become pauperized. In my opinion, therefore, Swadeshi which excludes the use of everything foreign, no matter how beneficial it may be, and irrespective of the fact that it impoverishes nobody, is a narrow interpretation of Swadeshi. (YI, 17-6-1926, p. 218)
Even Swadeshi, like any other good thing, can be ridden to death if it is made a fetish. That is a danger that must be guarded against. To reject foreign manufactures, merely because they are foreign and to go on wasting national time and money in the promotion in one’s country of manufactures for which it is not suited would be criminal folly and a negation of the Swadeshi spirit.
A true votary of Swadeshi will never harbor ill-will towards the foreigner; he will not be actuated by antagonism towards anybody on earth. Swadeshism is not a cult of hatred. It is a doctrine of selfless service that has its roots in the purest AHIMSA, i.e., love. (FYM, p. 66)
[Source: From the Book "Mind of Mahatma Gandhi" chap. 87]
Principals of Swadeshi
Source: Inter Continental Caravan
Gandhi’s vision of a free India was not a nation-state but a confederation of self-governing, self-reliant, self-employed people living in village communities, deriving their right livelihood from the products of their homesteads. Maximum economic and political power – including the power to decide what could be imported into or exported from the village – would remain in the hands of the village assemblies.
In India, people have lived for thousands of years in a relative harmony with their surroundings: living in their homesteads, weaving homespun clothes, eating homegrown food, using homemade goods; caring for their animals, forests, and lands; celebrating the fertility of the soil with feasts; performing the stories of great epics, and building temples. Every region of India has developed its own distinctive culture, to which travelling storytellers, wandering ‘saddhus’, and constantly flowing streams of pilgrims have traditionally made their contribution.
According to the principle of Swadeshi, whatever is made or produced in the village must be used first and foremost by the members of the village. Trading among villages and between villages and towns should be minimal, like icing on the cake. Goods and services that cannot be generated within the community can be bought from elsewhere.
Swadeshi avoids economic dependence on external market forces that could make the village community vulnerable. It also avoids unnecessary, unhealthy, wasteful, and therefore environmentally destructive transportation. The village must build a strong economic base to satisfy most of its needs, and all members of the village community should give priority to local goods and services.
Every village community of free India should have its own carpenters, shoemakers, potters, builders, mechanics, farmers, engineers, weavers, teachers, bankers, merchants, traders, musicians, artists, and priests. In other words, each village should be a microcosm of India – a web of loosely inter-connected communities. Gandhi considered these villages so important that he thought they should be given the status of “village republics”.
The village community should embody the spirit of the home – an extension of the family rather than a collection of competing individuals. Gandhi’s dream was not of personal self-sufficiency, not even family self-sufficiency, but the self-sufficiency of the village community.
The British believed in centralized, industrialized, and mechanized modes of production. Gandhi turned this principle on its head and envisioned a decentralized, homegrown, hand-crafted mode of production. In his words, “Not mass production, but production by the masses.”
By adopting the principle of production by the masses, village communities would be able to restore dignity to the work done by human hands. There is an intrinsic value in anything we do with our hands, and in handing over work to machines we lose not only the material benefits but also the spiritual benefits, for work by hand brings with it a meditative mind and self-fulfillment. Gandhi wrote, “Its a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people have ceased to use their hands as hands. Nature has bestowed upon us this great gift which is our hands. If the craze for machinery methods continues, it is highly likely that a time will come when we shall be so incapacitated and weak that we shall begin to curse ourselves for having forgotten the use of the living machines given to us by God. Millions cannot keep fit by games and athletics and why should they exchange the useful productive hardy occupations for the useless, unproductive and expensive sports and games.” Mass production is only concerned with the product, whereas production by the masses is concerned with the product, the producers, and the process.
The driving force behind mass production is a cult of the individual. What motive can there be for the expansion of the economy on a global scale, other than the desire for personal and corporate profit?
In contrast, a locally based economy enhances community spirit, community relationships, and community well-being. Such an economy encourages mutual aid. Members of the village take care of themselves, their families, their neighbors, their animals, lands, forestry, and all the natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
Mass production leads people to leave their villages, their land, their crafts, and their homesteads and go to work in the factories. Instead of dignified human beings and members of a self-respecting village community, people become cogs in the machine, standing at the conveyor belt, living in shanty towns, and depending of the mercy of the bosses. Then fewer and fewer people are needed to work, because the industrialists want greater productivity. The masters of the money economy want more and more efficient machines working faster and faster, and the result would be that men and women would be thrown on the scrap heap of unemployment. Such a society generates rootless and jobless millions living as dependents of the state or begging in the streets. In Swadeshi, the machine would be subordinated to the worker; it would not be allowed to become the master, dictating the pace of human activity. Similarly, market forces would serve the community rather than forcing people to fit the market.
Gandhi knew that with the globalization of the economy, every nation would wish to export more and import less to keep the balance of payments in its favor. There would be perpetual economic crisis, perpetual unemployment, and perpetually discontented, disgruntled human beings.
In communities practicing Swadeshi, economics would have a place but would not dominate society. Beyond a certain limit, economic growth becomes detrimental to human well-being. The modern worldview is that the more material goods
You have, the better your life will be. But Gandhi said, “A certain degree of physical comfort is necessary but above a certain level it becomes a hindrance instead of a help; therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them, seems to be a delusion and a trap. The satisfaction of one’s physical needs must come at a certain point to a dead stop before it degenerates into physical decadence. Europeans will have to remodel their outlook if they are not to perish under the weight of the comforts to which they are becoming slaves.”
In order to protect their economic interests, countries go to war – military war as well as economic war. Gandhi said, “People have to live in villages communities and simple homes rather than desire to live in palaces.” Millions of people will never be able to live at peace with each other if they are constantly fighting for a higher living standard.
We cannot have real peace in the world if we look at each other’s countries as sources for raw materials or as markets for finished industrial goods. The seeds of war are sown with economic greed. If we analyze the causes of war throughout history, we find that the pursuit of economic expansion consistently leads to military adventures. “There is enough for everybody’s need, but not enough for anybody’s greed,” said Gandhi. Swadeshi is thus a prerequisite for peace.
The economists and industrialists of our time fail to see when enough is enough. Even when countries reach a very high material standard of living, they are still caught up with the idea of economic growth. Those who do not know when enough is enough will never have enough, but those who know when enough is enough already have enough.
Swadeshi is the way to comprehensive peace: peace with oneself, peace between peoples, and peace with nature. The global economy drives people toward high performance, high achievement, and high ambition for materialistic success. This results in stress, loss of meaning, loss of inner peace, loss of space for personal and family relationships, and loss of spiritual life. Gandhi realized that in the past, life in India was not only prosperous but also conducive to philosophical and spiritual development. Swadeshi for Gandhi was the spiritual imperative.
Gandhi’s Swadeshi – The Economics of Permanence, by: Satish Kumar
Swadeshi Spells Success
Political and economic doctrines move in opposite directions. Thus, democracy keeps on expanding man’s rights, his choice and sovereignty. But globalization restricts human rights, choice and sovereignty. Are we to take these contradictory goals as the new global order? Swadeshi, in contrast, is free from contradictions. It expands both choice and sovereignty, and it promotes democracy, writes M S N Menon
SWADESHI and globalization cannot go together; they are antithetical to each other. However, this contradiction is not apparent to most people, and certainly not to the BJP leaders.
America was once a strident exponent of choice, of pluralism. Indeed, the Cold War was fought over the issue of choice —the right of men to choose the political and economic system they preferred. In other words, the right to pluralism. Choice won.
Today, America promotes globalization. Just the opposite of what it has been preaching before. Globalization restricts choice — of the consumer, of the citizen, of the nation. Finally, it takes away sovereignty of the people. Decisions come to be taken by fewer and fewer men in a globalized global society.
Political and economic doctrines move in opposite directions. Thus, democracy keeps on expanding man’s rights, his choice and sovereignty, but globalization restricts human rights, choice and sovereignty. Are we to take these contradictory goals as the new global order?
Swadeshi, in contrast, is free from contradictions. It expands both choice and sovereignty, and it promotes democracy.
How can we reconcile our two pursuits — Swadeshi, which can be an ideal policy at home, and globalization which is an imperative abroad? The question has not even been raised in this country!
The modern concept of Swadeshi goes back to the times of the East India Company. It was India’s reaction to the dumping of British goods. But the concept is older. It was a large philosophic and social vision. Indeed, the Swadeshi movement in India had a spiritual and political character. It became a movement for the liberation of the spiritual energy of the nation.
To Gopalakrishna Gokhale, who shaped the outlook of the young Gandhi, Swadeshi meant an all-embracing love of India. And Madan Mohan Malaviya wanted the political and economic policies to be in conformity with the outlook of Hinduism.
It was Mahatma Gandhi who gave Swadeshi a proper definition. He raised it to its present spiritual and secular heights. It became part of his ideal world. To him, Swadeshi had two dimensions: dharma and artha, which together constituted a way of life.
In his advice to the All India Swadeshi League, Gandhiji quoted the Bhagavadgita in support of his views: “It is best to die performing one’s own duty or swadharma. Paradharma or other’s duty is fraught with dangers.” Gandhiji explains: “What the Gita says with regard to swadharma equally applies to Swadeshi, for Swadeshi is swadharma applied to one’s own immediate environment.” Gandhiji has been much misunderstood for these views.
Thus, to Gandhiji, swadharma (in scientific parlance it means the genetic code) formed the basis of man’s culture and civilization, and Swadeshi, the organizing principle of man’s economic life.
To illustrate, in a country which grows cotton (that is its swadharma of environment) there must be weavers, not blacksmiths. And a country which produces wheat should have wheat eaters, not rice eaters. The logic is inexorable.
But almost a millennium of foreign rule has snapped the natural roots of swadharma. The Indian no more acts according to his swadharma. This explains why Gandhiji called for a return to the roots — to India’s culture, heritage, ethics, customs and institutions. In short, to its genius and traditions. It was a call to nationalism and patriotism, for a man grows best in his native soil.
A nation eats what it grows on its soil, which shapes the body and soul of its people. Its cuisine is best when it is based on what it grows. And it cures itself of ills by the herbs grown on its land. In short, its life is based on swadeshi. That is a basic fact. But from very ancient times men had imported what they did not grow or what their climate and soils failed to grow. This is also natural. But living by imports is unnatural. It puts men under the vagaries of global circumstances. Men run risks when they multiply their desires.
All this was lost on the critics of Swadeshi, especially on communists, who thought, according to Ashok Mitra, CPM leader, that Swadeshi was an attempt by Gandhiji to befriend Tatas and Birlas. This shows the utter poverty of their thoughts!
Dr V.Kurien, the man who made India the foremost milk producer in the world, says: “Swadeshi to me means trusting our own genius to handle our own problems in a manner unique to ourselves.” When we trusted foreign experts, they misguided us.
The life of every civilization is based on some organizing principle. In western civilization this principle is “freedom of enterprise”. Profit is the chief motivating factor. In India, the organizing principle was Swadeshi. And excellence was the motivating factor, for in India all work was worship. Painting and sculpture, art and architecture, music and dance — all these were dedicated to please the gods. And for his own satisfaction, man could offer to the gods nothing but the best.
Of course, times have changed. Man’s activity is no more a worship. But I see no reason why India should give up its goal of excellence — excellence of character and in all that we do and produce.
It is unfortunate that while the market provides immense profits to the entrepreneur, excellence is not well rewarded by modern societies.
Why do we object to globalization of our domestic life? Because it seeks to turn us into blacksmiths and rice eaters, when we should remain weavers and wheat eaters. As simple as that. We do not object to the globalization of trade, certainly not to globalization of knowledge. But we object to the subversion of the natural order of things.
But I have a more profound objection. And it has to do with efforts to promote one way of life — that of America — as the universal way. The American way of life is no doubt good for the Americans. It is based on their experience. But why should I exchange my historical experience for the historical experience of America?
In the march of man to his unknown destiny, he must be guided by his own experience. That is the only reliable light.
I have one more objection to the Americanization of the world. That is because, I know, the path India has chosen is superior. But how? Because India’s civilization is based on freedom and free enquiry. Thus, it is less likely to err. And we don’t swerve to extremes as the West has often done.
Gandhiji was not against foreign goods. His main objective was to give protection to Indian industry and handicrafts, and to the way of life of the people.
Gandhiji was opposed to Indians copying the lifestyle of the West, because the western lifestyle based on a different dharma.
He did not like the modern commercial civilization because what inspired it was an ever-expanding desire for material satisfaction. He believed that it was not conducive to the moral growth of man. Today, consumerism has almost killed a noble way of life, a life of simplicity and all that which went with it.
Ananda Coomaraswami, a great authority on Indian civilization, says; “Civilization consists not in multiplying our desires and the means of gratifying them, but in the refinement of their quality.” He wanted to live without the things that were not worth having.
And does gratifying the multifarious desires lead us to God? It does not. Nor does it enhance our understanding of the mysteries of the universe.
As in so many other matters, independent India did not even care to examine the relevance of the Gandhian approach. Our concern was marked by public homage and private rejection. India went all out for paradharma. Nehru went for the socialist model of society, based on European experience and history. He rejected Gandhi. And others went for American capitalism, based on the American experience. The result was a systemic crisis of modern civilization. Gandhi almost anticipated these in his book Hind Swaraj — a spiritual classic. He had warned against the oncoming amoral modernity. But even the collapse of socialism and the crises of capitalism did not make India reflect on the western model. It again opted for globalization — again a paradharma. The ruling class in India never understood the implications of globalization.
Globalization strikes at the very root of Swadeshi, for it permits almost free entry to MNCs. If MNCs change the ownership pattern in their favor, then the country will lose its control over the economy and therefore its economic sovereignty.
Unfortunately, we have vulgarized the whole question to a choice between potato chips and microchips. The question we should pose is : What are the MNCs giving us in return for the profits they take? Are they going to give us too little and take away too much always? If so, they have no business to be in India. This is enlightened Swadeshi, enlightened nationalism.
The basic justification behind globalization was the western belief that the “victory” of capitalism over socialism had given the West the mandate to restructure the world along capitalist lines. But there was no such mandate. There was no victory.
The question before India is this: Should it give up the values which have guided its life over the millennia for the values of other civilizations? If the answer is no, then Swadeshi has a role to play in India. This is not to deny free trade and free movement of capital, but everything should come within the ambit of Swadeshi.
To conclude: Swadeshi and nationalism were the foundations of India’s freedom struggle. They should have remained the foundations of free India. The goal must be excellence in all that we do.