Skip to main content

Swaraj And Swadeshi

The first nationalistic sentiment among the members of the Indian National Congress was to representation in the government bodies. Dadabhai Naoroji successfully contested in an election and become the first Indian member in the British House of Commons.

Aware of the economic devastation that British rule had brought on the country, India's broad masses were responding eagerly to the nationalist message. But the nationalist movement was also becoming exceedingly divided between two poles representing radically different currents and tendencies. Whereas one side attempted to restrict the national movement to a struggle for political reforms, the other side sees the aspirations of the general public and called for the complete liberation from colonial rule.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak eloquently and succinctly summarized the sentiments of the new and increasingly militant national movement. He spoke of British rule as having ruined trade, caused the collapse of industry, and destroyed the people's courage and abilities. Under the colonial regimen, Tilak asserted that the country was offered neither education, nor rights, nor respect for public opinion. Without prosperity and contentment, the Indian people suffered constantly from poverty, famine and drain. He believed that without political power Indian industry could not develop, the nation's youth couldn't be educated, and the country could win neither social reforms nor material welfare for its people.

Swaraj can mean generally self-governance but the word usually refers to Gandhi's concept for Indian independence from foreign domination. Swaraj lays stress on governance not by a hierarchical government, but self governance through individuals and community building.

Tilak was the first Indian nationalist to embrace Swaraj as the destiny of the nation. Tilak deeply opposed the British education system that ignored and defamed India's culture, history and values. He resented the denial of freedom of expression for nationalists, and the lack of any voice or role for ordinary Indians in the affairs of their nation. So he considered Swaraj as the natural and only solution. His popular slogan "Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it" became the source of inspiration for Indians.

For Tilak the idea of swaraj is not only an end to foreign rule but also an end to exploitative social traditions indigenous to the country. He knew that it is possible only by drawing our people belonging to all sections of society in to the national movement. His vision and his desire to achieve Swaraj through the mobilization of common people constituted a turning point in the independence movement. The Home Rule Movement that he started with other prominent members forced the British to concede that introduction of responsible Government was their final objective. His activism and his passionate advocacy, especially through the media, inspired an entire generation. Tilak wrote in the journal Kesari: “When Hindus and Muslims jointly ask for Swarajya from a common platform, the British bureaucracy has to realize that its days are numbered.”

Gandhi had a more philosophical view of Swaraj. According to him, adopting Swaraj means implementing a system whereby state machinery is virtually nil, and the real power directly resides in the hands of people. Gandhi wrote "Independence begins at the bottom... A society must be built in which every village has to be self sustained and capable of managing its own affairs... It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without... This does not exclude dependence on and willing help from neighbors or from the world. It will be a free and voluntary play of mutual forces... In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will ever widening, never ascending circles. Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual. Therefore the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it."

The Swadeshi movement was a successful economic strategy to remove the British Empire from power and improve economic conditions in India through following principles of swadeshi (self-sufficiency). Strategies of the swadeshi movement involved boycotting British products and the revival of domestic-made products and production techniques. Swadeshi, as a strategy, was a key focus of Gandhi who described it as the soul of Swaraj

Gandhi described Swadeshi as "a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to workers and to humans and other creatures." Gandhi recognized that alienation and exploitation often occur when production and consumption are divorced from their social and cultural context, and that local enterprise is a way to avoid these problems. "Swadeshi is that spirit in us which requires us to serve our immediate neighbors before others, and to use things produced in our neighborhood in preference to those more remote. So doing, we serve humanity to the best of our capacity. We cannot serve humanity by neglecting our neighbors".