Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule is a small tract of less than a hundred pages written by Gandhi in 1908. Gandhi had been living in South Africa for some years had been to India on a visit, and on a voyage back to Africa from London; he had penned down this work in less than ten days. It first appeared in installments in the pages of Indian Opinion, a newspaper founded and edited by Gandhi, and in 1909 it was published as a book thought it was proscribed at once by Government of Bombay. It's a very important book, which we all need to read repeatedly. Hind Swaraj is like a primer for the non – violent revolutitionary and contains a very radical critique of Western or, rather, modern civilization. It is something that we need to read, whether we agree with it or not. This twenty chapter comprised book is written as a dialogue between the "Reader" and the "Editor", the former being an interlocutor or an Extremist and the later being Gandhi.
I have looked at some of the available attitudes to the phenomenon of colonialism in the 19th century, which is the cauldron of modern India. What we find is a variety of approaches and attitudes to Western Abomination. One can start with Rammohun Roy's “Letter to Lord Amherst”, in 1823. Rammohun says Indian civilization is lacking in certain respects and is badly in need of these inputs from modern knowledge systems from the West. One aspect of Rammohun Roy's letter that is very clear is that he does not have much use of traditional or Sanskrit learning. In his views there is no use of learning vyakrana, grammar, or nyaya, logic. We might say that his attitude and approach is very unfortunate. This is one side of the argument. But one should look at what it is that he is asking for. He is not asking for English education, if we read his letter carefully. He is not asking to read Milton and Shakespeare there. The latter is what was foisted upon us by Macaulay and others. What Rammohun wants is anatomy, chemistry, and physical sciences. He wants modern empirical and scientific knowledge. Rammohun shows a curiosity and thirst for knowledge as a basic human right. He wants the doors of the Indian mind to be opened up. Now that was rather desirable at that point of time. How will we understand and discriminate if we don't know? In Rammohun, we already see the ability of the Indian mind to engage with and evaluate modernity. Rammohun definitely wanted something from the West but what we received is quite different.
Gandhi saw things differently. His Hind Swaraj contains the anti – thesis of Rammohun's about which critics use the phrase insufficiency thesis. Gandhi advances what might be termed as the complete self–sufficiency thesis. He says Indian civilization is superior to modern civilization. To Gandhi, then, a great civilization is one, which points the way to virtue, which guides and enables one to become a better human being. Such a civilization emphasizes virtue as its desired objective, not the accumulation of material goods. This, for Gandhi, is the mark of a superior civilization. Modern civilization, by contrast, is based on pleasure and consumption according to Gandhi, which will bring destruction ultimately.
The chief aim of writing Hind Swaraj as stated by Gandhi is his Gujarati Preface of 22 November 1909 is to serve the country and to find out the truth and follow it. Vivek Pinto saw Hind Swaraj a valiant attempt to view the virtues of truth and non–violence in the fabric of freedom struggle. Hind Swaraj may seem mainly to be a critique of the western civilization or the modernity. But primarily Gandhi's aim for writing it was to plainly renounce violence in South Africa, (as well as when he met several extremists in London) where he lived during 1893-1914 and in India as a means to attain swaraj. Gandhi was anxious of the brewing violence of the expatriates and he felt it necessary to the ideology of political terrorism adopted by the expatriates. Gandhi strongly felt that violence was no remedy for India's ill and that her civilization needed the use of something different and a higher weapon of self protection. It was true written to show that they were following a suicidal policy. What Gandhi wrote in Young India on 7th May 1925 shows his motive for writing Hind Swaraj,
“Let my friend remember that Indian Home Rule as a booklet itself states, was written in answer to the revolutionary's arguments and methods. It was an attempt to offer the revolutionary something infinitely superior to sacrifice and bravery that was to be found in the revolutionary.”
Further in the revised new edition of Hind Swaraj, published in 1939, Gandhi substantially amplified the basis for it. In his view it was an answer to "The Indian school of violence and its prototypes in South Africa".
Gandhi's concern about the extremist school of nationalist thought and violence was so intense that he devoted four of the twenty chapters of Hind Swaraj:
Chapter two – The partition of Bengal,
Chapter eight – Discontent and Unrest,
Chapter sixteen – Brute force,
Chapter seventeen – Satyagraha – soul force, to explain the havoc it created in the struggle for Indian Independence and at the same time to advocate Ahimsa and Satyagraha.
Hind Swaraj is in fact a device used by Gandhi to get the radical Nationalist and anarchists to have a dialogue with him on various critical issues pertaining to India and his own moral and philosophical philosophy, whereby at times he tried to mediate between various points of view.
Gandhi felt that the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905 made rift not only in the English ship but also in ours. It leads to the division of Indian nationalist into two parties: the Moderates or the show party and the Extremist or the bold party. The rising enmity and distrust between the two parties was feared by Gandhi as being hindrance to the nation's independence.
While the moderates think of the swaraj as the Self–Government within the empire achieved by constitutional means of gradual reform granted by the imperial parliament, Extremists stood for swaraj as complete sovereignty achieved through constitutional means if possible and through other means if necessary. Gandhi may look as if he sided on the side of moderates the way he sang praises of Dadabhai Naoroji, Professor Gokhale etc., yet swaraj of the type he envisaged could not be attained without the reform of the soul and this separated him from the moderates. On the other hand, his belief that right ends could not be attained by wrong means makes him break off from the Extremists. Moreover the Expatriates Indian–very important segment of newly emerging middle class how were the patrons for the Extremists revolutionaries back home, were the new converts to the modern civilization and it is their newly founded secular path that really bothered Gandhi. To him they appeared to be misguided Indian fully committed to modern civilization who wished to fashion India on the model of Great Britain, Italy or Japan. Gandhi reasoned in Hind Swaraj that India can never fight British Raj with arms like Italy did with the Austrian Yoke. Arming India on a large scale meant adapting modern civilization, which Gandhi felt is the root of all ills. Use of violence or the brute force as a means to achieve an end as holy as swaraj was not acceptable to Gandhi. An end result attained with violence as its instrument would have to be perpetually maintained by more and more of violence. B. Bhattacharya in his reading of satyagraha asserts, “The end, however good, do not justify the use of evil means in the process of realization. For such means despite the apparent success they may bring are self–defeating and ultimately self–destructive which according to Gandhi leads to spiritual and moral death.”
Gandhi felt heavily on Savarkar and more directly on his disciple Dhingra by severely condemning Dhingra's assassination of Lord William Curzon as cowardly. He considered Dhingra a patriot but a blind one. Though the murder succeeded in generating fear among Englishmen and in Lord Morley's granting some reforms, Gandhi believed the privileges they entertained would last so long as the fear lasted.
If colonial rule in India was to be brought to an end, what Indians needed was the right means to bring it about. Gandhi found the constitutional approach of the moderates as politically ineffective and the violent approach of the extremists too repugnant. To bring home his belief of right means for right end he gave examples of how a rose cannot be grown out of the seed of a noxious plant, and how a robber could not be treated according to the might of the robber. Thus that left Satyagraha – or the soul force as the only alternative, a noble middle path that should harvest an equal noble end of Swaraj which for Gandhi meant both the self–government and self–rule. It was important to him that the result should be achieved by peaceful means because means were as significant as the end itself. He did not believe that noble end could be achieved by ignoble means. To him the means merged in the end, and the end sanctified rather than justified the means.