HIND SWARAJ : a critical edition

After the land mark scholarly work on Hind Swaraj by Prof Anthony Parel, Prof Suresh Sharma and Prof Tridip Suhrud’s Critical Edition with annotations and an alternative Hindi Translation is a significant and very valuable edition to the unfolding of Hind Swaraj, the root text of Mahatma Gandhi, the text which comprehensively holds the image of Mahatma Gandhi’s mind and his design for a moral order of life as no other literature except The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi does.

Hind Swaraj, being a seed text it is full of sutra or concepts. Secondly, it is not a work or a product of intellect; it is a work of an enlightened, insightful mind. It is not a work of buddhi; it is a work of prajna. Having transcended the worldly rationality and dwelling in pure reason that is bound only to Truth, such a text would always look different to the people viewing it from different vantage points, and yet every view will give a glimpse of the truth and nothing else. It could be interpreted in a hundred ways and yet every way would be only complementary to the other, like the interpretations of the sacred texts. Hind Swaraj, which this reviewer has often described in his discourses on it as the Text of the religion of all religions, Swaraj Dharma, too needs a hundred interpretations. But even prior to its authoritative interpretation/s, what is most required is identification, recognition and establishment of an authoritative text or –the authoritative edition, as in the case of Hind Swaraj(English).

This Critical Edition is thus significantly unique in its intent. It is necessary to quote the Editors, for the worth of their contribution must be understood well by every serious student of Hind Swaraj by grasping what the purpose the Editors set for their work on Hind Swaraj. I therefore quote he editors “The intent of our presentation of Hind Swaraj is to address two linguistic-epistemic questions: one, as to whence resides the textual locus of Hind Swaraj; and two, constitutive elements of that textual locus.” For that the Editors place the 1910 edition as the original referent for the English text. “Hence the three exes in relation to which the English text is presented: margin notes, footnotes and the Hindi translation of the Gujarati original. Margin notes provide alternative translation/reading in English of certain expressions, phrases and passages in the Gujarati original that were omitted in Gandhi’s English rendering. Footnotes provide notations for certain critical philosophical categories and concepts, linguistic expression and usages that seem to carry singular-unique semantic nuances, and certain historical political facts. Expressions and passages that were added by Gandhi in English rendering are also marked in the footnotes. In addition footnotes also mark the several little changes in the text of the 1921 reprint and revisions made in the authorized standard Second Edition of 1939. The intent in placing the Hindi translation of the Gujrati original alongside the text comprising annotations and the English rendering is to mute a little place of English as exclusive and sovereign mediation between languages.” Though the Editors don’t claim that theirs is the best translation, it is their sense that “ it is an improvement on the extant translation.” The point the Editors wish to underscore simply is that as a form it exemplifies a “mimetic echo longing for perfect likeness, as close and near perfect as words in two linguistic universes could be.”

The Editors have addressed in their very studied and thoughtful 14 page Editors’ Introduction the linguistic-epistemic questions: one, as to whence resides the textual locus of Hind Swaraj ; and two, constitutive elements of that textual locus.”

Editors have provided some thought full and thought provoking reflections on the making of Hind Swaraj; on the choice of the language; the shift from Hind Swarajya to Hind Swaraj; These are very pertinent issue for developing a better and properly informed understanding of Hid Swaraj.

One may not take up all of them here, but the one about Gandhi’s choice of Gujarati as language of his writing Hind Swaraj has been debated by the editors as something that doesn’t satisfy their reason. “ How is one to read Gandhi’s choice of Gujarati as the language for thinking through and spelling out a meaningful appraisal of modern civilization as it happens to be, and as it seeks to become?” Some of the reasons that militate against this choice are, according to the editors; one, Gujarati language and literature were neither involved nor familiar with any kind of the rejection of modern civilization. Such a discourse was absent in any Indian language and in scholarly-philosophical discourses at the time. Editors are right in saying that “ In fact the modern capacity to transform and reorder the where-with-all of life as universally accepted as promising and good” Secondly, according to the Editors “ It had very little directly to say on South Africa or Indian rights-aspirations in South Africa.” Certainly then to write Hind Swaraj, some thing he knew was very special, in a language whose literature at that time was far removed from the mindset of Gandhi, was inviting a challenge from within his own people, perhaps? As the Editors say “for some one setting out to write his definitive work the decision to write in Gujarati was truly daring and risky.” Perhaps Gandhi should have chosen English, the language in which there was already a discourse on modern civilization. Gandhi chose Gujarati, a language far removed from the discourse on civilization, according to the Editors “ to affirm two cardinals upon which the fact and possibility of human equality is ineradicably predicated: One, Inherence in language …of a capacity to make sense and take measures of things utterly unfamiliar and unknown; and second, Gujarati as a medium to folk discourse as pristine resource of the Indic universe and civilization.”

Very important points though, we can think of other reasons as well. Three factors help us. Firstly, if at all Gandhiji had a choice; or, was it a matter of choice? I believe he did not have to face the very question of choice; in other words, a process of choosing. He himself has made it clear when he says he was “possessed”, he had no conscious, calculated control on the surge within. He was in his essential Self. When in a state of being “possessed”, one naturally speaks one’s own language. Only then what comes out occupies a place no less than a divine scripture. Comparison is redundant though, it is helpful to understanding of to what order of literature Hind Swaraj belongs. Hind Swaraj is an apaurushey, impersonal, text, a scripture. One of the reasons Gandhi says “it doesn’t belong to me” is also this. Were not the conditions in which it was borne, rather than written, were similar to the conditions in which for example the Geeta was told to Arjuna? I wish to use this example not in order to claim its origin to any particular religion, but the example has a lot for us to understand what exactly Hind Swaraj was borne for and what it was purported to do to us.

What was India’s condition then? Editors have rightly pointed out that India was awe struck by the power of the European civilization. Gandhiji says this in slightly different words though. Arjun’s example and what Krishna’s teachings did to him is a good example, whether acceptable or unacceptable for any academic discourse is a question out of place for the reason of its value as an example here to explain India’s state of mind and state of action (in fact inaction) at the outset of twentieth century, and what Gandhi did to it. India had fallen in the attraction of the adversary; it had lost its Self-memory, it was in a state of de-memorizing of its real Self and its Law of being, swadharma; it was being goaded into per-dharma, an anti-Self image; Its mind was perplexed and in a state of confusion, immobilized for any reasoned view much less for action, even to “say NO” to the British. Such a state of a people is common to any who is in a state of surrender while being civilizationally conquered. These three cardinal weaknesses with which India was gripped were Gandhi’s concern and not an intellectual debate on civilization. It was this state of intellectual and moral stupor why there was no literature in Gujarati or any Indian language, and why there was no debate on the question of civilization. Hind Swaraj was borne in the battle field of two civilizations, like the Geeta, the highest Hindu text, was borne. Gandhi did to India through Hind Swaraj what Krishna did to Arjuna in the battlefield of Mahabharata. How, for such a purpose of release of the inner spiritual and intellectual force of India people could he have ever spoken to them in any other language than his own? Intellectuals speak other’s language; enlightenment speaks in one’s own language. The state of enlightened, insightful gush of thoughts and its expression are not two activities; one of thinking and another of giving it a language, finding appropriate words or it.


To say therefore that “ It had very little directly to say on South Africa or Indian rights-aspirations in South Africa ” also bags a doubt. In South Africa Gandhi was testing his method of nonviolent struggle. Satyagraha was borne in 1906 and Hind Swaraj in 1909, while he was very much in the process shaping of his struggle.

Though the other and immediate motivational reasons for writing of Hind Swaraj have been enumerated and explained by other scholars too (Prof S R Mahrotra in Indian Home Rule : Hind Swaraj, a centenary Edition with an Introduction by S R Mehrotra, Pub. by Rajendra Prasad Academy, New Delhi, 2010) ) , but considering that the background for Hind Swarah was already shaping in Gandhi’s mind, the direct confrontation with the British rule in SA, when his own faith in the goodness of the Empire was dissolved, objectively necessitated a vision-statement on the essential purpose of the struggle, the bigger “fight” with the adversary within as a part of the struggle against the adversary without.

Nonviolence uninformed by a vision of freedom in terms of Swaraj could very well have even served the Empire for the purpose of a temporary and a specific self-correction and relief to the struggling Indians. His nonviolence would not have been shaped into Satyagraha had its use remained confined to a temporary relief from an Empire, which no more was what it used to be in the estimation of Gandhi. In the transformed vision on the relationship with the Empire, there had to be an accompanying transformation in the means of the struggle. In nonviolence the primary means, the instrument, is the individual. His/her transformation into an appropriate instrument for the purpose of freeing themselves from the Empire necessitated what freeing meant, what freedom meant and how the Empire was intrinsically incapable of that freedom, swaraj, the path of which only ensured restoration of self worth and dignity. Gandhi had realized that the struggle for political-rights was only a step on that path; and not realising the destiny, the goal. Hind Swaraj seems to have to do a lot with the struggle in SA as Gandhi’s own state of mind suggests, which was already set on a civilizational trajectory. How other wise one can explain the recitation of Hind Swaraj in public meetings? I was told the story by one of the then young boys of Gandhi ashram family who were made to learn Hind Swaraj by heart and would recite the whole text or parts of it in meetings while preparing Indians for the struggle in South Africa. This was Gandhi’s answer to the ban on Hind Swaraj. Above everything else, Gandhi’s concluding line in Hind Swaraj says very clearly that from that moment it was his Path, the Path of none else but of the leader, the composer and the conductor of the struggle in South Africa. Writing and doing were not separated for him.

The second reason lies in interconnectedness of the domains of Gandhi’s struggles. Gandhi was engaged in the struggle at three levels simultaneously: First and foremost his was a struggle with himself, a struggle within; or, the bigger Jihad. “ National service is for me my training ground for the liberation of my soul from the bondage of the flash” he stated. His second struggle was with his people, for their internal reform and cleansing. Final, on the strength gained from the personal and the national, he fought the external battle. If this has any sense, then the primary purpose for writing Hind Swaraj was charting out the course of his own journey and then of the journey of his people. The concluding line of Hind Swaraj is a testimony, where he says “… We have used the term Swaraj without understanding its real significance. I have endeavoured to explain it as I understand it, and my conscience testifies that my life hence forth is dedicated to its attainment.”

Thirdly, and, perhaps most importantly, HS would have not been located in Indian mind as their text, similar to the status and place of any of the sacred texts, had it been written in a foreign language with the primary purpose of addressing a foreign audience. All great Teachers of humanity have their message delivered as an act natural to them. Only as an act natural to them can their teachings carry the power of authenticity even beyond the world of their own natural language. Had Gandhiji written Hind Swaraj originally in English for the reasons editors pose, it would have been an un-original work, and not been owned up by Indians as the reflection of their own mind; further, for that reason alone, not looked at it by the others at all. Others don’t own up which has not been owned up by the Teacher’s own people for the reasons of un-authenticity.

The next important point editors make is on the “shift subtle and unceasing in its implication” in the use of word Swarajya in the title of the first Gujarati edition and Swaraj in the subsequent ones. The earlier, Hind Swarajya, translated as Indian Home Rule, as in the title of the first English edition, purporting to mean “Self Government on the pattern of Canada and Australia”. “ In the word swarajya…swa signifying self and rajya signifying rule, the territorial referent stands forth as definitive. In contrast to that, the semantic salience of the word swaraj is oriented to a certain generic disposition-aspiration in life and living: to rule, control, reign or govern…” This certainly is an important point of inquiry, due to Gandhi’s discipline about the use of language. The editors have brought out something for further inquiry which goes beyond the grammar and the dictionary meanings, significance of which being both compulsive and undeniable though, for the reason that the Indian civilizational quest for Swaraj, meaning, in the words of Prof Anthony Parel, sate of an individual and the state of the State, is, as Gandhi reminds the Congress and in particular Pt Jawaharlal Nehru in 1927 in the first ever alarmed response to the independence of India resolution, that Swaraj is a perennial quest of Indian people for which they have made sacrifices for thousands of years and not independence. The Indian search for a moral order, Dharma rajya, which is moral because every individual is moral, the Euclid’s Point in terms of the definition of a society and the State, is denoted in one word , that is both Swarajya and swaraj. If the meaning of Swarajya was limited only to territorial self rule, the term swarajya as one of the systems of governance, and not just State, would not have found its place in the ceremonial Hindu ritual puja, in which, while concluding, the priest recites mantra pushpa with the names of eight systems of governance or of “ rajya vyavastha”. … adhi rajyam, bhauj rajyam, parmeshtha rajyam……and finally swarajyam. A rajya, which does not serve the people on their path of mukti, deliverance or liberation of the soul from the bondage of the flesh, is not a good raj. The word Swarajya has lived through the ages as denoting the quest and a continuous struggle for a moral order, which is certainly more than territorially defined and differently too. However, as editors too suggest that the term swaraj also has been loosely and wrongly used in our political talks, meaning territorial Indian self rule. The latest Oxford Dictionary, which has incorporated in English language swaraj among a few other words from Indian languages, gives its meaning to mean independence of India!

These explanations notwithstanding, a closer look the editors have given to the “ quite , definitive shift in the textual locus of Hid Swaraj from the original Gujarati to Gandhi’s English rendering in English” is revealing, for it was the revised text published in the Aryan Path in 1938, which was issued as the standard text (1939 edition) The sad and curious part of the story editors point out, and those who have seen the Aryan Path debate know, that not a single Indian was invited to the debate. The editors observe “Apparently this absence, complete and seemingly deliberate, of Indian participation elicited no comment or curiosity. There is to this absence an unmistakable touch of the tragic. Gandhi elected to write Hind Swaraj in Gujarati to affirm in and through a language on the extreme margin, the availability of the ‘possible infinite’ to any and every human language and form of living. The shift of textual locus marks a certain muting and negation of that daring affirmation.

The story of Gandhi of Hind Swaraj is both enigmatic and tragic. Scholars and students of Gandhi know it well that he was a leader unparallel but accepted by the political class as a ‘fighter’ against the political conquest by the Empire rather than civilizational conquest by the Empire. A brief historical account with a critical look at the rejection and appreciation of Hind Swaraj during and after Gandhi therefore provides a most necessary and valuable insight into nation’s poignant relationship with its Father, its saviour. Editors’ observation is both touching and tragic. They note that in the midst of rejection – out right rejection both by Gandhi’s political Guru Gokhle and political heir Nehru – the certainties in Gandhi were so deep and unshakable as to appear absolute that he had to suffer an “absolute loneliness”. Editors have explored the path of the re-emergence of Hind Swaraj in post Gandhi time in intellectual debate and scholarly study; remarkable and path breaking being Prof Anthony Parel’s. In the order of Prof Anthony Parel’s work, the present one is the second serious and sincere scholarly, academic handling of Hind Swaraj, an important sign of the acceptance among the intellectual class. Though it has been there for some decades in Indian academia, it had to be on Prof Suresh Sharma and Prof Tridip Suhrud to to commit themselves to a serious undertaking.

In spite of the rejection of Hind Swaraj by political class including his guru and heir, and Gandhi’s loneliness, Editors perhaps don’t mean to suggest that Hind Swaraj was an Indian un-reality so far as the aspirations of the “dumb” masses are concerned and, that it did not represent the reality of Indian mind. There is sufficient literature to establish that the “educated” classes of India and the masses of India thought differently under the rule of the British and their education. When some one asked Mahatma Gandhi what did he do to the India to wake it up as never before, he simply said that he did nothing except that he spoke up what the dumb masses of India wanted to but could not. Do we need any other telling evidence for the fact that Hind Swaraj spoke up the inner thoughts and aspirations of Indian masses? Let us have one more incidence quoted somewhat differently by the Editors. On what possible ground could Gandhi have invited Jawarlal Nehru to “ unfurl the banner of revolt” against him, when, alarmed by the Independence of India Resolution passed at the Madrass Congress in 1927, he saw replacement of Swaraj as the Indian ideal by independence. Why would at that point Gandhi want the people of India to know of the fundamental differences Nehru and the Congress had with him, if not for the reason that swaraj as explained in Hind Swaraj was not the ideal shared by the overwhelming masses of India? This is an incidence of an unparallel importance, a turning point, which the editors could have treated as critically as they have generally done, rather than the charitable way in which they have brought the Madrass Congress event with reference to swaraj and Hind Swaraj. And, in the very Foreword Gandhi has said that these views on civilization are held by many Indians not touched by it.

Though a small Introduction in view of the issues of crucial importance the Editors have raised and settled the most important one is their advocacy for 1909 as the authentic one.

Comparing the text of all the three languages, namely Gujarati, English and Hindi; and, in particular, the original Gujarat with the first English translation, with annotations and footnotes is a most important contribution, though a task most tricky due to the epistemic nuances of the word. A word has no one fixed meaning. It assumes meaning through its usage, through its referent. Thus, if the Editors faced a challenge for example with regard to the Gujarati word, sudharo, meaning reform, correction etc. translated as civilization in English, it is also a window to the other, language-specific, meanings of that word. Side notes in the English text, which mark out alternative translation of the original Gujarati offer not only alternative translation, which could not be the sole purpose; these side notes put these differently translated words ands differently structured sentences in their original context. Gandhi has allowed and taken his own what is generally called “translator’s liberty”. But, it is in fact not that. English translation was urgently accomplished and published in order for the adversary to know his thoughts and plan, his manifesto. Therefore, we see such changes in the text which are influenced not only by the linguistic-epistemic considerations, limitation and facility; but also by the audience to which the massage has to be conveyed. Take for example on page 13 side note number M8. The English text has “ If we had many like you, we would never make any advance.”; while the alternative translation the original Gujarati says “ If more Indians were to be like you, while moving forward we would in fact be sliding backwards” Note hat the word “ Indian” is removed while writing in English. The audience is not Indians alone. An analytical review of each and every alternative translation would lead to some fresh revelations. Providing alternative translation in side notes opens up some windows. It is an awesome task the Editors have accomplished both in its accuracy and detail.

Similarly meaningful are the footnotes. Footnotes provide notations for certain critical philosophical categories and concepts, linguistic expression and usages that seem to carry singular-unique semantic nuances, and certain historical political facts. Expressions and passages that were added by Gandhi in English rendering are also marked in the footnotes. Footnotes make the reading of Hind Swaraj more informative, interpretative and therefore meaningful. They also inform about subtle changes of words and phrases in different editions. But most important aspect of the Footnotes is explanations of historical and political fact as well as explanations of categories and terms. The story of Salt tax for example page 170, the one, is a must for the understanding of the depths to which it must have shook the Mahatma; and, as a result which inspired the Mahatma for an action that conclusively shook the Empire. Historical-political facts are necessary to know in relation to the content of Hind Swaraj, for that is what churned the Mahatma. Similarly, see for example on page 77-78 a footnote number30, which shows the tradition of non-violent no cooperation in India. The understanding of philosophical, cultural categories is even more crucial to the understanding of how, in Dr Kapila Vatsyayan’s words, Gandhi was “experiencing within himself a trajectory of civilization.”

Now coming to the third part of the work, i.e. another Hindi Translation. The one in the market is a translation done by Kaka Kalelkar, an ashram inmate of the Mahatma, a Sanskrit scholar, writer of repute both in his mother tongue Marathi and Gandhi’s mother tongue Gajarati. I have been using Hindi text in my Hind Swaraj study and discourse camps for several years. We have used in detail all the three language texts while getting the first ever Urdu translation done published by Swaraj Peeth in 2006. Therefore when I look at the new translation in Hindi, it is a subjective comment too, because I use Hindi text, along with Gujarati and English continuously and must have caused the sale of Hindi and English in a couple of thousand copies over the years.

Let us take a few examples from the new translation presented here. In the very first Chapter, talking about the role of news papers Gandhi has clearly stated, both in Gujarati and English, the another role “is to arouse among people certain desirable sentiments (itals mine) . The Editors have replaced desirable sentiments by “expected sentiments”. This is a seriously wrong translation which effectively leads to false interpretation. If the role of news papers is to arouse among people expected sentiments, then it automatically begs a questions “expected by whom; by the owners of the papers or by the rulers or by the protestors ?” Can any of these be called what Gandhi states as desirable sentiments? Take another example from the very opening paragraph of the same first chapter. The English sentence reads “ Indians seem eager after acquiring rights” this sentence in hindi translation follows the intent of the English one and not the original Gujarati, in which there is the use of an equivalent of courage (haam). In the earlier Hindi Translation the Hindi equivalent of courage or’ haam’ is used, which is himmat. In this case the Editors have considered English translation as authoritative for the purpose of Hindi translation.

A random look at all the places such as on page 23, 25 , 37 revealed simple and straight word, as used both in Gujarati and the Hindi translation of Kalelkar have been replaced by, what is popularly called the samskritized or the pure Hindi, though there is nothing called an impure Hindi. Saaf by spashta; Kubat by Kshamata; sahaaraa by pushti ; seekh by shiksha; kabil by chatur; padhenge sochenge by adhyayan-manan… Learned Editors can not fault, but there is certainly a problem with such translation which is removed from the language and style of Gandhi. On reading The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi in English, Hindi and Gujarati one gets the taste of Gandhi’s original language wherever his original in any of these three languages is translated in any of the other two. In the present Hindi Translation by the Editors one fails to get that smell and taste of Gandhi’s language, perfect in its meaning and equally perfect in its communicability. There has never been such a fine combination of these two purposes of language. I therefore fail to understand what the Editors meant by “exemplifying” in this translation from Gujarati to Hindi a “mimetic echo longing for perfect likeness, as close and near perfect as words in two linguistic universes could be.”,