It is difficult to confine Gandhi’s political ideas within certain articulated principles and this is chiefly due to the fact that he was not, in formal sense, a political theorist. So far as his theory of state is concerned it can be assertively said that he was against concentration of power, violence, traditional theory of sovereignty etc.
His inordinate love for freedom and weakness for excessive individualism have prompted many to bracket him with great anarchist thinkers of the Western world. Before going into the details of the subject we intend to throw light on the definition of anarchism.
Wood Cock (Anarchism) a noted interpreter of anarchism, defines it in the following words:
“Historically anarchism is a doctrine which poses a criticism of existing society, a view of desirable future society and a means of passing from one to another”. It wants to emphasise that society can be and should be organised without a coercive state. According to anarchism the primitive societies were organised without state and this means that in the tribal social system there was no trace of state or its supreme coercive power.
In sum, anarchist political philosophy is based on egalitarianism. In the modern state system there is a clear distinction between ruler and the ruled. The former imposes its will and decision upon the latter without giving any cognizance of the fact that the latter might have an opinion different from that of the former.
Elements of Anarchism in Gandhi’s Thought:
Gandhi is viewed by many as an anarchist thinker. This observation is not without any reason. But this estimate is not final. On the contrary, many critics of Gandhi’s political ideas believe that though there are some elements of anarchism in his ideas of state he is not fully an anarchist. We shall make a balanced analysis and in order to do that we first deal with why he is called an anarchist!
And then we shall throw light on the opposite view:
1. Gandhi did not at all take western system of state along with sovereignty on the ground that both state and sovereignty are closely linked with violence and coercion. He was also under the impression that Western state system is so structured that violence cannot be divorced from it and if forcibly done the whole structure will crumble. Again, violence/coercion is against individual’s liberty and exercise of right.
Because of these reasons he did not accept the state system of the Western world. This view of Gandhi about state has been interpreted by many as an expression of anarchism.
2. Gandhi was extremely apprehensive about the power of the state, because more power of the state means less freedom of the individuals. He once said: “I look upon an increase in the power of the state with great fear because although apparently doing good by minimising exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality which lies at the root of all progress. State represents violence in a concentrated and organised form”.
It can be said that there were two alternatives before Gandhi—the Western form of power exercised through state and liberty of the individuals. He gave his verdict in favour of the second because it was, in all respect, more important than the power of the state.
3. To Gandhi state was a soulless machine. This is Gandhi’s evaluation about state. If so a soulless machine cannot have the power to dominate an individual which has soul. A soulless machine cannot recognise the importance and individuality of persons.
Such a state which is also called political organisation should not be entrusted with the task of protecting the freedom and enhancing the welfare of individuals. It is better to leave these two “affairs” to the individuals. Acceptance of Gandhi’s reason will lead to the emasculation of state authority.
4. His Ram Raj has been treated by many as a clear manifestation of anarchy. Ram Raj is pure anarchy. Gandhi depicted Ram Raj as the abode of freedom, justice, realisation of rights, equality and non-violence. It is viewed that such an environment can be found only in a society which is out of the control of state authority.
Ram Raj and perfect social order, in the opinion of Gandhi, are equivalent terms and both indicate coercion-free and exploitation-free society. Gandhi admitted that the state minimises exploitation, but still there is exploitation (though in minimum form). Only the establishment of Ram Raj can augur exploitation free and violence free society. Gandhi’s assertion may be questioned, but he thought in these terms.
5. Once Gandhi said, “The ideal non-violent state will be an ordered anarchy” (emphasis added). Gandhi was quite aware that the relationship between violence and state is so deep that one cannot be separated from the other. That is why he imagined of a society where there could be no trace of violence and that society would be an anarchy. To Gandhi the ideal and well ordered society based on non-violence and anarchy would be one and same.
6. Dr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, a noted interpreter of Gandhi’s political and social philosophy, called him philosophical anarchist. “His advocacy of decentralized political power has led a number of commentators to suggest that the core of his political thought is philosophical anarchism”.
We have already mentioned that his political thought is an integral part of his entire philosophy and naturally his conception about state is not an exception. His inordinate love for people’s freedom and strong advocacy for- the establishment of justice led him to argue for a stateless society whose main characteristic would be popular or people’s sovereignty. He also thought of a stateless democracy. All these combinedly establish that he supported anarchical system of politics.
7. He advised people to oppose a law which violates morality, ethics and other universal values. Like the people and rulers of the Middle Ages Gandhi also believed in the existence of the law of God. If any man-made law violates the law of God men shall have the right to defy such a law.
But people’s opposition to everything must be non-violent and peaceful. In this way Gandhi reduced the importance of state to a minimum level. His call-to individuals to violate law opposing morality, ethics and law of God—is a manifestation of his anarchism because morality ethics etc. are not definable terms and naturally many will be prone to violate order or law on a flimsy ground of ethics and morality.
The Opposite View:
Though Gandhi has been depicted as an anarchist, it is not the final judgment. There are large number of scholars and Gandhians who still believe that he cannot be branded as anarchist in the traditional sense or even in strictest sense he was not an anarchist.
Some arguments, in support of this view, can be placed here:
1. The anarchist, we know, wanted to destroy the state because in all ways the state stood on the way of mental, intellectual and other types of development of the individuals. But Gandhi, on the other hand, though realised the negative role of the state did not seek its complete destruction.
He admitted, in various places, the importance of state. What he did not like was the coercive measures of the state for getting allegiance from the citizens. He wanted the restructuring of the state and not its destruction. Here lies the fundamental difference between Gandhi and anarchists.
2. Gandhi strongly condemned the use of violence or coercive measures. His disapproval of state structures practically is based on this argument. So he imagined of a state which could refrain itself from using coercive measures. Its implication is that he wanted state with minimum power so that it cannot get any opportunity to use unlimited coercive measures.
His plan of state can be stated in the following words: He conceived of a state with a minimum amount of power required for the maintenance of law and order and to resist external aggression. For the fulfilment of this objective unlimited power is unnecessary. Limited power will encourage freedom.
This scheme of Gandhi’s state is definitely not anarchical state. It is a state where popular sovereignty will be the supreme feature. We do not call Rousseau an anarchist who wanted to deliver full authority to the hands of the people. Rousseau planned of an open general assembly where people will participate for the purpose of making law and taking decisions.
3. The approach to the state of Western anarchists is primarily political because they viewed state as a political organisation and the anarchist theory is part of political science. But to Gandhi state earned a different dimension. He thought that the state should never be an end but a means to an end and this end is moral, ethical and idealistic development of the individuals.
The anarchist view of state does not find full relevance in Gandhian thought system. We can compare his state with the ideal states of Plato, Aristotle and Rousseau. Though Rousseau did not directly think about an ideal state but his body politic was a moral person which is termed as ideal state.
4. The so-called anarchism of Gandhi can be traced to his days in South Africa. There he had gathered very bitter experience about the functioning of modern state and sovereign power. The South African government (representing the modern sovereign state) released a reign of terror in almost all spheres of social and political life. He has cited some examples in his Autobiography.
During those days in South Africa Gandhi practically formed the anti-state and anti-sovereignty views. He was also profoundly impressed by Godwin (1756-1836) and Tolstoy (1828-1910). Both denounced the activities of state. When Gandhi came back to India in 1915 he was confirmed that there was practically no difference between South African government and the British Government of India.
He concluded that the oppressive activities of modern state are almost identical everywhere. He, therefore, denounced the oppression of state. But if a state could justify that it had not resorted to any violence or coercion then that must be allowed to discharge its functions. The anarchists did not travel along this line. Their first objective was to destroy the prevailing state structure.
We conclude that though Gandhi was not an anarchist in the strictest sense of the term it cannot be denied that there are enough seeds of anarchism in his concept of state. He thought of people’s participation and decentralisation of political power and many other schemes. But there is still a very important point.
Who will be the final arbiter of disputes that will arise among the people? Gandhi’s scheme of state fails to provide any satisfactory answer. At least for this purpose there is the immense necessity of state. Only the anarchists say that there is no utility of state but we do not accept this view. There shall be state and we do not want stateless anarchy.
Gandhi’s theory of state suffers from certain shortcomings.
Some of them are:
1. There is a clear contradiction in his theory of state. In his opinion the state is the embodiment of violence, injustice and coercion. It destroys individuals, freedom and morality. So he wanted a state structure which would be free from violence. But here our humble submission is in reality a state cannot exist without coercive measurers.
It must settle disputes, must take steps to curb unsocial and violent activities by the anti-social elements. Coercive measures are also used for many other purposes which aim at ensuring general welfare. It is, again, the primary duty of any state to maintain law and order and for that function the application of coercion may be necessary. So, force or coercion cannot be absolutely separated from the domain of state structure.
2. Gandhian concept of state is Utopian. In place of state he wanted to set up an egalitarian society. It is easy to imagine of an egalitarian society based on the principles of liberty, equality and justice in their maximum manifestation. But in reality we cannot think that such a society is feasible. We can say Gandhi, like Marx, was the victim of utopianism.
Marx also thought of a classless society after the demolition of capitalism. Marx thought of a stateless society and Gandhi of an emasculated state. Both are Utopian in character.
3. There are inconsistencies in his concept of state. Once he denounced the British parliament and compared it with a sterile woman. Elsewhere he admitted the utility of legislatures. If so we should say that this creates a lot of confusion. It is true that in recent years the importance of legislatures has declined everywhere.
But in no sense it is useless or it can be compared with a sterile woman. Legislature is still the most vital method of communication between the ruler and the ruled. Through legislature people convey their grievances to the government.
4. Gandhian theory of state is incomplete. We may not agree with the theories of state propounded by Plato, Hegel, and Marx etc. But we must agree that they have developed theories. The students of Western political thought still read the ideal state of Plato because it is rich in ideas which kindle our thoughts and imagination. The concept of justice or scheme of education stated in the theory of Plato’s ideal state still hold good. On the other hand, Gandhi’s theory of state disheartens us.
5. Gandhian theory of state does belong to any particular category. It is not an anarchy though there are several elements in his theory. It is not an idealist theory of state nor a liberal theory of state. Even it is not a class by itself. Certain stray comments made by Gandhi have been collected by the interpreters of Gandhian thought and these have been used for the purpose of building up a theory of state. In political science, it is not an accepted way.
6. The concept of state propounded by Gandhi may suffer from a member of inconsistencies but it must be admitted that it is an integral part of his whole philosophy. The chief elements of his philosophy are: peace, non-violence, decentralisation of political power, freedom, rights, equality, justice, morality, and democracy.
In the context of these ideas he developed a concept of a political organisation which we call state. He makes these elements as part of the theory of state and because of this his theory of state has been a different one from the Western concept.