Books that influenced Mahatma Gandhi


gandhi was an obsessive letter writer, writing thousands of epistles. When asked what ideology he followed, he replied, “I haven’t read Smith, Mill or Karl Marx. If in doubt, a small voice told me that if in doubt, do not turn left or right but always follow the narrow and straight path. This is a startling statement as Smith was the father of classical capitalism, who wrote in his magnum opus “The Wealth of Nations” (1776) that “the forces of the market, as by an invisible hand, will promote the welfare of all “. JS Mill added the pleasure principle to wealth creation. Marx, on the other hand, saw “seeds of destruction contained in capitalism” because it exploited labor. In his Communist Manifesto (1847), he made a clear appeal to the workers to revolt and inaugurate a classless society. Although Gandhi witnessed the Russian Revolution (1917), he was more drawn to the work of British philosopher John Ruskin and his book “Unto This Last” and Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and his book “The Kingdom of God is in you”. . These two books went against the trend of the time and were banned.

Ruskin was deeply critical of the market economy and of Adam Smith’s dictum of wealth creation in “Wealth of Nations” and John Stuart Mill’s pleasure principle. He was deeply concerned about the fate of the working class after the Industrial Revolution and strongly advocated for a fair sharing of wealth where men are treated and paid fairly. He strongly believed that an economy should be based on consideration of humanity and that the economy should have its roots in ethics. This philosophy sowed the seeds of Tolstoy’s farm founded by Gandhi near Johannesburg in South Africa in 1910, where the inhabitants lived in self-sufficiency, devoting their bodies to hard work, their minds to the ideals of truth and non-violence. , and children exposed to the beauty of vocational education.

Non-violence and passive resistance are the lessons Gandhi learned from Tolstoy’s book. “Kingdom of God” was a philosophical treatise where Tolstoy wrote that everyone who made war was an affront to the teaching of Christ. He was anguished that the Russian Orthodox Church supported the state war policy. In 1908, Tolstoy wrote to Gandhi: “Only by using love as a weapon through passive resistance can the native Indian people overthrow the British colonial empire. Gandhi wrote, “Before the independent thought, deep morality, and truthfulness of this book, all books seemed to pale into insignificance.”

When Gandhi wrote Tolstoy asking if he could name the company after the great novelist, he replied, “I know of your work leading the Satyagraha movement in South Africa and your quest for equality. Nothing will please me more than to associate my name with the community enterprise and the high idealism that you propose to build”. The two main ideas of these two books, namely a dignified life for all and non-violence as an unwavering article of faith, remained the two pillars of Gandhian philosophy throughout its movement in South Africa and of India’s subsequent struggle for independence.

Gandhi returned to India and was at the zenith of his political career in the 1920s when he read Katherine Mayo’s book “Mother India” in 1927. This book was a scathing attack on Indian religion, backward customs, the pernicious practice of early child marriage, and the lack of medical care for pregnant women. While many of the practices Mayo described undoubtedly existed in India, she did not give credit to the efforts of Indian reformers to end these evils and completely absolved British authority of any responsibility. The British were delighted with the book and a free copy was presented to every Member of Parliament. Gandhi described a book as “a sewer inspector’s report with a single goal to open the country’s sewers”. He charged Mayo with a selective representation of the facts. At the same time, he insisted that we must not overlook the darker side of the picture where it exists such as child marriage and the abuse of women.

When the socialist regime of the USSR disintegrated in 1990 and the Berlin Wall was dismantled in 1989, Francis Fukuyama wrote in his book ‘End of History’ that this was the end point of the ideological conflict and the acceptance of liberal democracy with the free market economy as the ideal fusion of politics with the economic system. However, this enormous faith in market fundamentalism was seriously shaken when the US financial crisis occurred in 2007-2009 with a cascading impact on many countries that had close financial ties to the US. The world has become aware of the fault lines of unregulated markets, the toxic effects of greed and conflicts of interest. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote that the market economy has benefited only a few unscrupulous people, contrary to the Smithsonian’s prognosis that it will bring welfare to all. Gandhi’s unequivocal adherence to Ruskin’s ideals and his firm belief that there is “enough for everyone’s needs and not for everyone’s greed” found an echo in the development of small industry craftsmanship and in highlighting the importance of sustainable development. His commitment to social justice, his concern for the villages where the majority of Indians live, and his rejection of greed and the senseless pursuit of wealth made Gandhi’s ideals extremely relevant to the present day.

One of the most definitive early written biographies of Gandhi is that of Romaine Rolland, a French novelist. Rolland heard about Gandhi in 1920 from the Bengali mystic Dilip Roy and Tagore. His book, published in 1924, covered the period ending with Gandhi’s arrest in 1922. He wrote: “His body is immured as in a tomb, but the invisible soul of Gandhi still animates the vast body of India . A man of faith, he was very upset by the wind of violence that swept the world and believed only in the old world in ruins; ‘there was no hope or great light except Gandhi.’ Einstein wrote, “Generations to come will hardly believe that such a flesh-and-blood person walked this earth.” Indeed, it is not merely a badge of our national currency but India’s contribution to an alternative ideology, reiterates the importance of sustainable development and abdicates violence as a weapon of power.

(Prof Misra is administrator of the Sarvodaya Foundation. [email protected], Ph: 91-7381109899)

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