Village Swaraj


Never before in history did the ideal of human unity attract so much attention of world statesmen and scientists, literary men and laymen alike as it does today. In the words of Shri Aurobindo, "Today the ideal of human unity is more or less vaguely making its way to the front of our consciousness. The intellectual and material circumstances of the age have prepared and almost imposed upon it, especial­ly the scientific discoveries which have made our earth so small that its vastest kingdoms seem now no more than the provinces of a single country."1 Arnold Toynbee observes rightly, "The West's prowess in technology has, as we put it poetically, 'annihilated distance' and has at the same time armed human hands, for the first time in history with weapons capable of annihilating the humane race. . . . The reason why we need unity so urgently now is both sensational and commonplace. It has been put curtly in the epigram 'one world or none'. It is obvious to every politically conscious man and woman in the world today that in the Atomic Age if we do not now abolish war, war is going to abolish us."2 Pitirim Sorokin has in his inimitable language put the present problem that faces the world thus: "Bleeding from war wounds and frigh­tened by the atomic Frankensteins of destruction, humanity is desperately looking for a way out of the deathtrap. It craves life instead of inglorious death. It wants peace in place of war. It is hungry for love in lieu of hate. It aspires for order to replace disorder. It dreams of a better humanity, of greater wisdom, of a finer cultural mantle for its body than the bloody rags of its robot civilization. Having foolishly manoeuvred itself into a deathtrap and facing the in­exorable problem, 'To be or not to be', it is forced to pursue, more desperately than ever before, its eter­nal quest for survival and immortality."3
If humanity that is now challenged by death-dealing weapons fails to act in time on right lines the alternative is total destruction. The saving of man­kind lies in the establishment of World Government. The necessity of abolishing war makes it inevitable. The establishment of a genuine World Government necessarily involves the abolition of the national sovereignty of the existing States.
How the World Government will be established is an important question as the shedding of national sovereignty will not be easy to achieve. There will be but very few politicians who would say like Gandhiji: "I see nothing grand or impossible about our expressing our readiness for universal inter­dependence rather than independence... The logi­cal sequel of self-sacrifice is that the individual sacrifices himself for the community, the community for the district, the district for the province, the pro­vince for the nation, and the nation for the world." Arnold Toynbee observes, "In the Atomic Age, the spirit that we need in our statesmen is surely Ashoka's spirit (i.e. non-violence). We can no longer do without unity. But we can also no longer afford to pursue this indispensable objective by methods of coercion. Con­version not coercion, is in our day, the only means that we can employ for unity of mankind. In the Atomic Age, the use of force would result not in union, but in self-destruction. In this age, fear, as well as conscience, commands a policy that Ashoka in his time, was inspired to follow by conscience alone." It is thus clear that the way of violence is closed to humanity for all time. Mahatma Gandhi observed in his Foreword to Shri Bharatan Kumarappa's Villagism: "The past two wars of our genera­tion have proved the utter bankruptcy of such economic orders. Incidentally, the wars seem to me to have proved the bankruptcy of war." May we say that it is now the Age of Non-violence that has set in! The world will have no alternative but to tap this inexhaustible treasure of non-violence which hitherto was looked upon as if in contempt by all- wise politicians of the world. Gandhiji believed that India had a definite mission to fulfill. He says: "An India awakened and free has a message of peace and good-will to a groaning world." Another time he said, "I feel in the innermost recesses of my heart... that the world is sick unto death of blood-spilling. The world is seeking a way out, and I flatter myself with the belief that perhaps it will be the privilege of the ancient land of India to show the way out to the hunger­ing world." According to Arnold Toynbee "India's special contribution will have been her large-heartedness and broad-mindedness... and this, I believe, is going to be recognized by future generations, in retrospect as having been India's characteristic gift to a united human race."
Establishment of world peace through World Government will remain an empty dream so long as the ultimate sanction for resolving disputes remains military force. Use of force must be completely ruled out if we want permanent peace. It is only the World Government backed by a moral sanction that can en­sure lasting peace. A world federation based on equa­lity and fraternity of all component units, big or small, would go a long way in the direction of securing world peace. A World Government by itself cannot guarantee peace. For roots of war lie in the conflict-breeding socio-economic systems of the nations. Unless they are transformed from the root, the hope of world peace would be a chimera. A world organization, therefore, should ensure the working of real democracy and eli­mination of exploitation in every shape or form. It is only the small units which help the working of real democracy and provide a field for the full growth of individuals. The larger the units, the lesser the scope for individual initiative and freedom. Larger organiza­tions tend to curb the individuals and smaller groups as they would work for uniformity and regimenta­tion. They ultimately result in increasing stagnancy and decay. Therefore, it is imperative that for achiev­ing lasting world peace, the present political and economic systems be re-orientated so as to build small decentralized units. Else, the very object of world peace will be frustrated and the World Government will be imperiled bringing in its train vast insurmount­able problems. The inevitable choice, therefore, is decentralized political and economic units.
The experience of mankind testifies to the fact that collective life is more genial, varied and fruit­ful when it is concentrated in small units and simpler organizations. It is only small units which have had the most intense life. Collective life diffusing itself in vast areas would be wanting in concessiveness and productiveness.
Ancient Greek City States and Village Republics of India provided specimens of all-round development of rich and puissant life.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wrote:

“This system of village self-government was the foundation of the Aryan polity. It was this that gave it strength. So jealous were the village assemblies of their liberties that it was laid down that no soldier was to enter a village except with a royal permit. The Nitisara says that when the subjects complain of an officer the king ' should take the side not of his officers but of his subjects'; and if many people complain the officer was to be dismissed, 'for', says the Nitisara, ' who does not get intoxicated by drinking of the vanity of office?' Wise words which seem to apply especially to the crowds of officials who misbehave and misgovern us in this country today !
“As late as 1830 a British Governor in India, Sir Charles Metcalfe, described the village communities as follows:
‘The village communities are little republics having nearly everything they want within themselves and almost independent of foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts. This union of the village communities, each one forming a separate little State in itself ... is in a high degree conducive to their happiness, and to the enjoyment of a great portion of freedom and independence.'
"This description is very complimentary to the old village system. We have a picture of an almost idyllic state of affairs. Undoubtedly, the great deal of local freedom and independence that the villages had was a good thing, and there were other good features also. . . . The work of rebuilding and rebirth (of Village Republics) still remains to be done by us."4

The picture of Village Swaraj as conceived by Gandhiji is not the resurrection of the old village Panchayats but the fresh formation of independent village units of Swaraj in the context of the present day world. Village Swaraj is the practical embodiment of non-violence in the spheres of politics, econo­mics and sociology.
According to Gandhiji, ideal society is a Stateless democracy, the state of enlightened anarchy where social life has become so perfect that it is self-regulated. "In the ideal state, there is no political power because there is no State." Gandhiji believed that perfect realization of an ideal is impossible. However "the ideal is like Euclid's line that is one without breadth but no one has so far been able to draw it and never will. All the same it is only by keeping the ideal line in mind that we have made progress in geo­metry." In the political field he gave us Village Swaraj nearing the conception of his ideal of Stateless Democracy. He considers that Government best which governs the least. According to the communist philo­sophy, the final phase is the "withering away of the State". But in the totalitarian State of Russia there is concentration of all power in the State. It is difficult to believe that at any time the State there will wither away. Mahatma Gandhi being a practical idealist, realized the practical usefulness of the ideal of State­less Democracy, and presented Village Swaraj which is not the "withering away of the State" but "scat­tering of the State". Thus, Village Swaraj is the ideal given expression to on a realizable plane unlike the distant goal of the "withering away of the State".
Modern democracies are election-centred, party-dominated, power-aimed, centralized compli­cated mechanisms. Concentration of authority marks almost all present political systems which have become unwieldy and top-heavy, be they capitalist, socialist or communist systems. The indivi­duals count no more though as voters they are styled as masters. They present themselves at periodical elections for casting votes and then sleep away until the next one. This is the only political action the indivi­dual performs once in a stipulated period. That he is driven to do under the directions of a centralized party system, and guidance of the newspapers which are mainly tools of the centralized economic powers. The individual has little or no voice in the shaping of the policy of the government. In a welfare State or totalitarian regime he is reduced to the position of a well-fed, dumb, driven animal in human form.
Gandhiji wanted true democracy to function in India. He, therefore, observed: "True democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the centre. It has to be worked from below by the people of every village." In Village Swaraj, the village being the decentralized small political unit endowed with fullest powers, every individual will have a direct voice in the government. The individual is the architect of his own government. The government of the village will be conducted by a Panchayat of five persons annually elected by adult villagers possess­ing minimum prescribed qualifications. 'It will have all the authority and jurisdiction. The Panchayat will be the legislature, judiciary and executive rolled into one as there will be no system of punishment in it.
In such a system of government there will be citizens who are self-controlled, not authority-controlled; endowed with initiative and highly developed sense of civic responsibility in place of those who look to government for all things.
Real Democracy, i. e. Swaraj works for the full freedom and growth of the individual who is the ultimate motive power of a real political system.
Village Swaraj as conceived by Gandhiji is thus a genuine and virile democracy which offers a potent cure for many of the political ills that mark the present political systems. Such a pattern of decen­tralized genuine democracy will have a message for the whole of humanity.
To Gandhiji political power was not an end in itself, but one of the means for enabling people to better their condition in every sphere of life. He, therefore, observed in his famous "Last Will and Testament" that though India has attained political independence, she “has still to attain social, moral and economic independence, in terms of seven hund­red thousand villages as distinguished from the cities and towns." It embodied a picture and a programme of Village Swaraj that is Panchayat Raj which in other terms is a non-violent self-sufficient, economic unit with fullest political power. The Village Swaraj as conceived by Gandhiji is man-centred unlike the Western economy which is wealth-centred. The former is the life economy the latter is the death economy.
Laying down the duties of the village worker who naturally occupies the pivotal position in the planning of Village Swaraj of Gandhiji's conception, he says that the village worker will organize the villages so as to make them self-contained and self-supporting through agriculture and handicrafts, will educate the village folk in sanitation and hygiene and will take all measures to prevent ill-health and disease among them and will organize the education of the village folk from birth to death along the lines of Nai Talim.
The politicians of the world who aspire for world peace would think of attempting to plan from top to bottom whereas Gandhiji proposed to work from bottom upwards. He, therefore, says, “Independence must begin at the bottom. Thus every village will be a Republic or Panchayat having full powers. It follows therefore, that every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its affairs even to the extent of defending itself against the whole world. It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without. Thus ultima­tely it is the individual who is the unit." To Gandhiji self-government means continuous effort to be independent of government control whether it is foreign government or whether it is national. Swaraj government will be a sorry affair if people look up to it for the regulation of every detail of life." In Village Swaraj the ultimate power will rest with the individual. He must first attain "Swaraj" if he wants to see in reality the full picture of" Village Swaraj ". As is the individual so is the universe. Village Swaraj will thus be the mirror of the spirit of Swaraj which individuals constituting it will manifest in their daily life. Therefore, the Village worker will have to focus his attention first on the true education. That education should be a harmonious development of three H's—Head, Heart and Hand. Nai Talim is the fruit of Gandhiji's tapasya. Gandhiji was an incarna­tion of the harmonious whole of the three H's. The spirit of non-violence permeates the entire scheme of Nai Talim which aims to make all-round development of the child in body, mind and spirit through handicraft. With the capital equipment of the true education on Nai Talim lines, the citizen will be a great asset in the construction of Village Swaraj.
Village Swaraj is man-centred non-exploiting decentralized, simple village economy providing for full employment to each one of its citizens on the basis of voluntary co-operation and working for achieving self-sufficiency in its basic requirements of food, clothing and other necessities of life.
Modern economic systems rooted as they are in self-indulgence, multiplicity of wants and divorce of ethics from economics are large-scale mechanized, centralized, complicated organizations. They are disfigured by unemployment, under-employment, pauperism, exploitation, a mad race for capturing markets and conquering lands for raw-materials. Competitions, conflicts and class wars corrode the social fabric. They involve enslavement of the individual, treating man only as a hand feeding the machine, reducing him to a mere adjunct of the machine. He loses his fine sensitiveness owing to soul-killing repetitive jobs and consequently rushes to demoralizing cinema theatres, wine shops and prostitution homes for recreation as an escape from the tyranny of the tiring task of the factory. Society is divided into the privileged and the under-privileged, the rich and the poor. Never before was there such economic inequa­lity as is seen today where the multimillionaire is living aimlessly in the lap of luxury and the hardworking toiler has hardly enough to keep his skin and bones together. Highly technically advanced countries like the U. K. and the U. S. A. have yet to solve the problem of unemployment which presents itself to India in a magnified form raised to the nth degree in the context of her vast millions scattered in the seven lakhs of villages mainly living on agriculture from times immemorial.
Village Swaraj is the fruit of lifelong search by Gandhiji who having identified his heart with the starving millions of India has suggested this talisman as an infallible remedy for the ills of India, nay, of the whole world, in whose history the peasantry has always been everywhere exploited and has been on starvation level. In a. letter to Pandit Nehru dated 5-10-'45, Gandhiji wrote:
"I am convinced that if India is to attain true freedom and through India the world also, then sooner or later the fact must be recognized that the people will have to live in villages, not in towns, in huts, not in palaces. Crores of people will never be able to live in peace with each other in towns and palaces. They will then have no recourse but to resort to both violence and untruth.
“I hold that without truth and non-violence there can be nothing but destruction for humanity. We can realize truth and non-violence only in the simplicity of village life and this simplicity can best be found in the Charkha and all that the Charkha connotes. I must not fear if the world today is going the wrong way. It may be, that India too will go that way and like the proverbial moth burn itself eventually in the flame round which it dances more and more fiercely. But it is my bounden duty up to my last breath to try to protect India and through India the entire world from such a doom.
“The essence of what I have said is that man should rest content with what are his real needs and become self-sufficient. If he does not have this control, he cannot save himself. After all, the world is made up of individuals just as it is the drops that constitute the ocean.... This is a wellknown truth.
Gandhiji thus, stood for simplicity in life and voluntary poverty. That does not mean that man should not have creature comforts. He said that everyone should have a balanced diet, necessary clothing and shelter. He believed that every living being has a right to food. He observed: "According to me the economic constitution of India and for the matter of that of the world, should be such that no one under it should suffer from want of food and clothing. In other words, every­body should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make the two ends meet. And this ideal can be universally realized only if the means of production of the elementary necessaries of life remain in the control of the masses. These should be freely available to all as God's air and water are or ought to be. They should not be made a vehicle of traffic for the exploitation of others. Their monopolization by any country, nation or group of persons would be unjust. The neglect of this simple principle is the cause of the destitution that we witness today not only in this unhappy land but in other parts of the world too."
To build such a non-violent economy providing for full employment of all citizens he ruled out industria­lism, centralized industries and unnecessary machinery. He considered cities as agencies exploiting villages. He even called them boils on the body social of the country. He suggested that the hope of the future world order lies in the villages, i.e., small peaceful co-operatives where there is no compulsion, no force but where all activities are carried on in voluntary co­operation. There being the reign of love in the entire edifice of Village Swaraj, there is none high none low. All are equal. There will be neither castes nor classes; no untouchability, no Hindu-Muslim quarrels. All individuals will be restored to their natural height and status.
Village Swaraj working in full swing will provide a model for the world to copy. It will then be a gift of India to the world. Self-governing village units of the world will then be a living brotherhood of highly cultured, intelligent, and vigorous men and women. To live in this society will itself be an education and a fulfillment. Life therein will be one of self-expression of all of one's faculties and exchange of feelings of mutual reverence and love manifested through acts of mutual service. Culture, art, poetry, painting and science will find their perfect fulfillment. It will be the Kingdom of God on earth.
Village Swaraj has such high potentiality in it. It is for us all to make it dynamic and real. To fulfill the Dream of the Father of the Nation becomes the duty of his heirs who have inherited from him a rich and immortal legacy. It is, therefore, right and proper that the present State Governments have enacted legislations to create Gram Panchayats investing them with larger powers. We hope the Gram Panchayats will keep before their mind's eye the picture of Village Swaraj conceived by Gandhiji and work on the lines laid down by him.
Village Swaraj should be implemented in the spirit in which Gandhiji has conceived it. If the spirit of selfless service and love transcending limits of caste, creed or class is lacking in those who would shoulder the responsibilities of working the Gram Panchayats, Village Swaraj will not yield sweet fruits that Gandhiji expected it to bear.
Let us remember the words of Pandit Nehru in respect of Village systems: "The more a person or a group keeps to himself or itself, the more danger there is of him or it becoming self-centred and selfish and narrow-minded."* Our villages are at present suffering from social discords, casteism and narrowness. The way of making a success of Gram Panchayats is not strewn with roses. The real missionary spirit is expected of village leaders. May the ancient land rise to the occasion and fulfill the mission of India and thereby share the real glory of having worked for the world.
An attempt has been made here to collect together relevant passages from Mahatma Gandhi's writings having a bearing on the subject of Village Swaraj and present his thoughts as far as possible in an uninterrupted manner. To maintain uniformity, indirect narration has been changed to direct speech at a few places. Except for slight editing and omissions, the original text has been faithfully preserved.
I am indebted to Shri Shriman Narayan for writing a Foreword to the compilation.

H. M. Vyas

  1. The Ideal of Human Unity.
  2. One World and India. All quotations of Toynbee are from this book.
  3. Reconstruction of Humanity.
  4. Glimpses of World History.
  5. Later on the