Home Rule For The Soul

Professor Sunil Khilnani, author of The Idea of India, sets out on a journey through the ideas of Gandhi's first major work, Hind Swaraj, which argues for freedom but against violence.


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But does modern India still find a space for such ideas? In the first of his essays, Gandhi Get Your Gun, Khilnani argues that the power of Gandhi's Hind Swaraj still speaks both to India's future and our own.

Autumn 1909.

In the middle of the ocean, on a ship bound for South Africa, Mohandas Gandhi is gripped by 'A violent possession' as he furiously writes his first major work, Hind Swaraj.

An astonishing critique of modern civilization and a defense of non-violent resistance, it was banned by the British who viewed it as a seditious manifesto.

Gandhi had greater ambitions than mere nationalist uprising.

'The essence of what I have said is that man should rest content with what are his real needs...

if he does not have control he cannot save himself.' Written after his encounters with those who advocated revolutionary violence and terrorism in the cause of India's freedom, Hind Swaraj argues for force without violence or hatred as it strives to define what self rule, freedom, actually is.

Sunil Khilnani reveals the driving force behind Gandhi's first major work, Hind Swaraj.

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Gandhi is often thought of as a nationalist thinker but Khilnani urges us to think again.

Most anti-colonial leaders sought the overthrow of white rule and the retention of the modern economy and state.

Gandhi's view was precisely the opposite.

'India is being ground down not under the English heel, but under that of modern civilization', Gandhi wrote, arguing that by enslaving themselves to modern civilization, India had enslaved themselves to the British.

True freedom, Swaraj, would only come, he believed, when India and individuals found a way to free themselves for the seduction of modern life.

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Written in a frenzy in the autumn of 1909 when Gandhi was returning to South Africa, Hind Swaraj is a ferocious critique of modern civilization, revolution and violence.

For Gandhi the self was the well spring of all political possibility.

'Politics encircles us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries'.

His attempts to wrestle with the snake of politics, to reject the process of ends and means redefined the scope of political action.

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'My writings should be cremated with my body", Gandhi said in 1937, " What I have done will endure, not what I have said or written'.

It's an intriguing statement, especially coming from someone whose collected writings amount to a hundred volumes: and it underlines Gandhi's belief that his greatest political text is in fact his life.