Khadi Capitalism: Gandhian Neoliberalism and the Making of Modern India
The postcolonial invocation of Mohandas Gandhi brings to mind a singular image: Gandhi dressed in a simple dhoti and shawl made from khadi, or home-spun and home woven cloth, sitting in front of his spinning wheel. This recollection of Gandhi positions him as both the embodiment of Indian national consciousness as well as a figure outside or above modernity, insulated from the hegemonic influence of Western reason and secularism. Modernity, encapsulated by the socio- political, economic, and cultural institutions and frameworks birthed by post-Enlightenment rationality, is seen as incompatible with the fundamental tenets of Gandhian political philosophy. Yet, in researching the massive corpus of Gandhi’s collected writings and speeches, I found that his entanglements of modernity, cap- italism, and nationalism were less straightforward than conventional Indian historiography might suggest. Gandhi’s political philosophy offers an entry point to address fundamental questions about nation thinking, modernity, and postcolonial futurity: can the postcolonial subject articulate political possibilities that move beyond the nation state without sacrificing the material considerations of global capitalism? Put differently, is it possible to imagine and enact a world order that transcends the hegemonic structuring forces of Western modernity? These questions are particularly resonant as we come to terms with the price of modern progress, which, in the stark words of Horkheimer and Adorno, has left us a world “radiant with triumphant calamity” (1). Critiques of modern living are boundless, ranging from Frankfurt school critiques of its reification of reason to Subaltern Studies’ lamentations of Western epistemological hegemony (2) to arguments from the Black radical tradition that colonialism and modernity are inextricably linked (3). However, as scholars look beyond the modern Western intellectual tradition and locate alternative ways of being to create more liberatory political realities, it is crucial that we think critically about how radical these alternatives truly are. Some alternatives, like those found in Gandhi’s political philosophy, cannot help but be, to invoke the work of David Scott, conscripts of modernity. While historians and political theorists of contemporary India alike argue that Gandhi summarily rejected modern frameworks of nationalism, industrialism, and rationality itself, I contend that Gandhian political philosophy, rather than existing above the conceits of Western modernity, is intimately tied to Western civil society and its social, political, and economic manifestations. More specifically, it closely resembles neoliberal forms of social relations and economy. The fundamental methodologies and frameworks undergirding Gandhian political philosophy ultimately reinscribe the hegemonic global capitalist order even while they seem, on inspection, to articulate a radically different futurity. This paper’s critical intervention, then, challenges the underlying assumptions of conventional Indian historiography by exposing its inability to reckon with Gandhi as a fundamentally modern political figure entrenched in the machinations of globalized neoliberalism. I suggest that a more critical reading of Gandhi-- one that accurately locates his political philosophy as a modern intellectual contribution-- is necessary in order to make sense of India’s postcolonial future. After an outline of conventional Indian historiography and its fixation with Gandhi within the nationalist paradigm, I turn to elements of Gandhi’s political philosophy and political economy to expose its similarities to modern neoliberal ideology and economics.
Nationalist Historiography: A Dominant Discourse The conventional story of the Indian nationalist movement emphasizes the role of prolonged popular struggle; the diverse political and ideological visions of its leadership; and a uniquely revolutionary atmosphere of freedom and debate (4). The first stage of the independence movement was defined by the cultivation of an elite consciousness and the emergence of moderate nationalist activity; statesmen and politicians like Dadabhai Naoroji and Gopal Krishna Gokhale sought to achieve piecemeal reform through constitutional methods while keeping faith in the British justice system (5). As these gradual efforts failed to bring about substantive change, a more extremist brand of nationalism emerged. Through the swadeshi movement, militant nationalists like Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak fomented wide-spread political agitation by boycotting British institutions and goods (6). In this highly charged political context, Gandhi launched several satyagraha, or non-violent resistance, campaigns, including the non-cooperation movement and the Quit India movement, successfully mobilizing the masses (7). The culmination of this protracted struggle for freedom was, of course, Indian independence and the ensuing violence of Partition. This dominant narrative of the Indian freedom struggle foregrounds nationalism as a guiding principle, first to unify the social, economic, and political demands of a vastly heterogeneous population, and later to create a sovereign and secular nation state that embodies the will of the people. In depicting nationalism as the primary structuring force in the making of modern India, the mainstream approach to Indian history is representative of other, more extreme, approaches to historiography, including Hindu nationalist, Marxist, and even subaltern perspectives. All Indian history, in other words, is told as nationalist history. Hindu nationalist retellings of the independence movement represent Indian nationalism as a brand of ethnic nationalism in which nationality is an inherent genetic characteristic (8). By villainizing Muslim subjects, it replaces the secular liberal state of conventional historiography with a Hindu state: the Indian nation is the Hindu nation (9). Marxist historiography, in contrast, traces the rise and fall of India as a socialist state through retelling history from below, analyzing the role of peasant revolts and general strikes in inciting nationalist fervor. It conceptualizes the positive aspects of the nationalist movement (i.e. the bourgeois-democratic values of secularism, women’s rights, freedom of the press etc.) as the initial points for a people’s front (10). While subaltern historiographical approaches drew inspiration from Marxist methods, their characterization of the nationalist movement splits Indian politics into elite and subaltern spheres, each of which articulated a unique form of nationalism (11). Each of these historiographical approaches, in summary, insist on reifying the defining characteristic of national- ism according to the field’s preeminent scholars: congruence between the political and national unit (12). Within this discourse, the figure of Gandhi emerges as the very embodiment of nationalist consciousness. During the freedom struggle, he acquired the informal, but highly popularized, title of Father of the Nation, an appellation which continues to inform Gandhi’s central role in Indian postcolonial imagination. Countless films, television programs, plays, and documentaries continue to memorialize his life and work both within and outside of India. From Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film Gandhi to Doordarshan’s 52 episode-long teleserial Mahatma, the figure of Gandhi continues to pervade India’s nationalist project (13). Gandhi plays a crucial role in the symbolic consolidation of state power: his birthday and death day are both celebrated as national holidays; his image appears on paper currency of nearly all denominations issued by the Reserve Bank of India; and the International Gandhi Peace Prize is awarded annually by the Government of India as a tribute to Gandhian ideals. From the independence movement to our own political moment, Gandhi and the nationalist project have fused into an inseparable unit. Contemporary theorists of Indian nationalism argue that the conflation of Gandhi and the nation can be attributed to Gandhi’s refusal to adopt the values and assumptions of Western modernity. Partha Chatterjee suggests that by rejecting the modernizing ethos of Western rationality, Gandhi remained unencumbered by the Enlightenment thematic: “[n]ot only did Gandhi not share the historicism of the nationalist writers, he did not share their confidence in rationality and the scientific mode of knowledge” (14). Dipesh Chakrabarty and Rochona Majumdar argue that Gandhi’s reliance on the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, allowed for the articulation of a novel religio-ethical orientation in the realm of politics, which he saw as intrinsically linked to Western modernity (15). This seemingly wholesale rejection of Western modernity, according to many historians of modern and postcolonial India, is clearly visible in Gandhi’s public image (16). As he embraced his role as a satyagrahi, he traded the Western robes of the barrister for a simple dhoti and shawl made from khadi. Gandhi’s khadi attire was transformed into a material artifact of the nation defined in terms of the contemporary politics and economics of self rule (17). Gandhi’s physical appearance, in other words, paralleled his ideological distance from Western modernity. Gandhi’s rejection of modern social, political, and economic frameworks is often contrasted to other leading statesmen and intellectuals of Indian freedom. He is most frequently counterposed with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Conventional Indian historiography narrates the differences between Gandhi and Nehru as such: where Nehru was a proponent of statist secular socialism driven by industrial growth, Gandhi was profoundly ambivalent about state intervention in agriculture and industry; where Nehru located India’s future in the creation of the modern city, Gandhi presented the self-sufficient and autonomous village as an alternative to modern civilization; where Nehru saw economic development as central to Indian independence, Gandhi sought self-purification and the cultivation of individual ethical consciousness (18). Scholars of modern India also juxtapose Gandhi’s religious orientation and appeals to Hinduism with the anti-caste, radical democratic humanism of B.R. Ambedkar, renowned Dalit leader and the architect of India’s constitution (19). Where Gandhi revered village life as a revival of the old social order, Ambedkar saw the village as a model of oppressive Hindu social organization which segregated upper caste communities from lower caste communities; where Gandhi turned to religion as a source of ethics, Ambedkar glorified the secular humanist ideals of the French Revolution; where Gandhi urged spiritual and religious education in Hindustani, Ambedkar demanded that English be used in schools to counter the Brahmin tradition of denying education and literacy to lower caste communities (20). In comparison to Nehru, Ambedkar, and others, Gandhian political philosophy is depicted in mainstream Indian historiography as irrefutably anti-modern. However, as I argue below, this characterization of Gandhi does not accurately reflect his political philosophy.
Defining the Gandhian Problem Space Rather than articulating a radical alternative to Western modernity, Gandhian political philosophy was entrenched in the systems, structures, and frameworks of modernity, and more specifically, those of neoliberal capitalism. Before addressing the specifics of Gandhi’s political philosophy, it is first necessary to locate Gandhi more comprehensively within his problem space to better establish the stakes of my argument. In his work Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment, David Scott introduces the idea of the problem space, which he defines as “an ensemble of questions and answers around which a horizon of identifiable stakes (conceptual as well as ideological-political stakes) hangs” (21). Theoretical work cannot be read, in other words, without identifying the questions to which that work responds. Even while actors within a particular problem space may disagree on the answers in a particular scenario, they are all responding to the same set of unspoken questions while maintaining a shared sense of the stakes. Intellectuals, statesmen and activists may disagree on how to decolonize, for example, while implicitly agreeing that something must be done to address the condition of colonized people. In the previous section, I gestured to one aspect of Gandhi’s problem space by outlining the background against which he formed his ideas in the space and time of the Indian freedom movement; in that spatio-temporal location, Gandhi’s problem space was constructed by Hindu scripture and the formation of religion as ethics. However, the Gandhian problem space was not circumscribed by the borders of the Indian nation; rather, it existed concomitantly with other approaches to decolonization during the mid-twentieth century. On the whole, these other projects struggled, mostly unsuccessfully, to articulate a postcolonial future out- side the terms of nationalism and modernity. In the Anglophone Black Atlantic, statesmen and intellectuals like Kwame Nkrumah and Eric Williams proposed federalism and non-domination on the global stage as solutions to the problem of empire (22). In the Francophone Black Atlantic, Aime Cesaire and Leopold Sedar Senghor sought to transform imperial France into a democratic federation with former colonies as autonomous members of a transcontinental polity (23). Within this internationalist problem space of decolonization characterized by “an attitude of anticolonial longing, a longing for anti-colonial revolution,” actors from all over the decolonizing world sought to engage in a radical project of worldmaking. However, many reinscribed colonial legacies by adopting the institutions, bureaucracies, and borders of colonial domination. Within the context of this problem space, then, Gandhi’s apparent rejection of modernity took on additional stakes as one of the few truly radical alternatives to nation thinking and capitalist state formation, not just in the Indian context but in the decolonizing world as a whole. However, this perception of Gandhi’s ideological distance from modernity is fundamentally misguided. In the three sections that follow, I analyze some of the fundamental tenets of Gandhi’s political philosophy and political economy to draw conceptual linkages to neoliberal capitalism. I first consider Gandhi’s attention to the individual as a unit of analysis in the struggle for independence, and argue that his conceptualization of swaraj as self-purification elided a structural understanding of colonialism as an oppressive force. Next, I critique Gandhi’s political ideal of Ramarajya and analyze his rejection of Western civilization. Finally, I turn to his visions of political economy, and in particular, his fixation with khadi to argue that Gandhi’s economic programme was, in fact, far closer to neoliberalism than most scholars would admit. Before addressing Gandhi’s political philosophy in full, it is helpful to first situate my argument within the field of Gandhi studies and critiques of Gandhi. Beginning in the early twentieth century, trade unionists like Shripad Amrit Dange took issue with the conservative strains within Gandhi’s economic thought, comparing it to the ideology of Soviet leaders like Vladimir Lenin (24). Contemporary scholars of India have taken up these critiques, pointing to his defense of the propertied classes, his ambivalence toward trade unions, and his philosophy of trusteeship as evidence of his imbrication in modern systems of capitalism and nationalism (25). However, few scholars have taken a theoretical approach to Gandhian political philosophy as a whole; those that do characterize his anticolonialism as fundamentally opposed to the modern state (26). My intervention complicates both of these approaches by engaging in a theoretical and deeply normative consideration of Gandhian thought.
Swaraj as Self Purification and the Cultivation of Neoliberal Social Relations In his seminal treatise on political philosophy, Hind Swaraj, Gandhi puts forth a unique definition of swaraj, or self rule, that offers several dimensions through which to understand the stakes and motivations of the freedom struggle. First, Gandhian swaraj must be understood through the praxis of the individual, who is “the one supreme consideration” (27): it is “in the palm of our hands... Swaraj has to be experienced by each one for himself” (28). The practitioner of swaraj is the individual, not society or community (29). Gandhi’s focus on internal moral transformation leaves ambiguous the role of coalitional organizing and community building. In addition, Gandhi’s notion of swaraj is not generated in reaction to the brutality of colonial rule, but rather it emerges from an inner commitment to self improvement: “What we want to do should be done, not because we object to the English or because we want to retaliate, but because it is our duty to do so” (30). The political power derived from swaraj, in other words, must not be regarded as an end in itself. Indeed, a third characteristic of Gandhian swaraj is that it is not predicated on self determination or economic independence: “Now you will have seen that it is not necessary for us to have as our goal the expulsion of the English. If the English become Indianised, we can accommodate them” (31). Rather, swaraj depends on moral development and ethical formation. As such, it is intimately tied to the cultivation of spiritual and religious sensibilities (32) rather than the material considerations of development and industry: “Impoverished India can become free, but it will be hard for an India made rich through immorality to regain its freedom” (33). Gandhian swaraj is not constructed exclusively by material forces, nor does it demand exclusively material solutions. Gandhi’s focus on the individual obfuscates the role of colonialism as a structure of domination. He locates the origins of colonial exploitation in the moral failings of the Indian populace: “The English have not taken India; we have given it to them. They are not in India because of their strength, but because we keep them” (34). Gandhi’s discussion of the emergence of colonial rule is, unsurprisingly, limited in scope; the subject of his analysis is the upper class, upper caste colonized elite: “Who assisted the Company’s officers? Who was tempted at the sight of their silver? Who bought their goods? History testifies that we did all this. In order to become rich all at once, we welcomed the Company’s officers with open arms” (35). His myopic focus on the individual blinds him to the many revolutionary movements led by farmers, mill-workers, and tribal communities to overthrow British rule that were organized on the basis of economic exploitation (36). Gandhi also absolves colonial officers from their role in fomenting religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims through a divide-and-rule policy: “The Hindus and the Mahomedans were at daggers drawn. This, too, gave the Company its opportunity, and thus we created the circumstances that gave the Company its control over India” (37). This revisionist retelling of Hindu-Muslim relations ignores the crucial role of colonial policies in exacerbating religious tensions. The Census of British India of 1871-1872 constructed modern Hindu and Muslim identities as incompatible while the 1909 Morley-Minto reforms created separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims (38), thus fracturing political power (39). Gandhi’s conceptualization of swaraj does not adequately address the systems that continued to uphold the violence of colonial rule through law, bureaucracy, and state violence. By privileging the individual over the systemic, Gandhi’s formulation of swaraj closely resembles the cultivation of neoliberal social relations. While neoliberalism as an economic principle only gained traction in the 1970s after the dissolution of post-war Keynesianism, it also embodies ideological principles which marshal values of human dignity, individualism, and freedom to theorize the free market as a force of domination (40). Ethics and morality under the ideology of neoliberalism, in other words, become highly individualized, as in the case of Gandhian swaraj. This moral dimension has been central to neoliberalism since the beginning of the twentieth century (41), and became particularly salient in the aftermath of the Second World War, when human rights discourse began to interface with neoliberalism to produce a modern version of the colonial civilizing mission by facilitating the emergence of a globalized market civilization in which individual rights and competitive market relations would spread across and within national borders co-constitutively (42). Neoliberalism as a method of understanding and critiquing social relations offers a theoretical framework through which to analyze Gandhian swaraj. To be clear, I am not conflating all forms of religiously inflected self making with neoliberal social relations. I am arguing specifically that Gandhian swaraj, in failing to attend sufficiently to the structural forces of colonial domination, mirrors the highly destructive individualism that constitutes a central feature of neoliberalism. In fact, the very religio-ethical orientation that Gandhi gravitated toward was used as a tool for collective liberation in the context of the Indian freedom movement itself. For example, Muslim revolutionaries like Ashfaqullah Khan and Abul Kalam Azad invoked Islam and Islamic liberation theology to mobilize In- dian Muslim subjects in the independence struggle by centering the mosque as a site of resistance and reciting the Quran and fasting for Ramadan while jailed as political prisoners (43). In contrast to Gandhian swaraj, their religious sensibilities confronted the colonial state by producing solidarity among many diverse Muslim communities.
A Critique of Ramarajya: Caste, Capitalism and Gandhi’s Ideal Civilization To reiterate, Gandhi is understood by most scholars as rejecting modernity because of his scathing critiques of modern civilization. Modern civilization, rather than the violent state sanctioned brutality of colonialism, was responsible for India’s downfall according to Gandhi: “It is not the British people who are ruling India, but it is modern civilization, through its railways, telegraphs, telepoles, and almost any invention which has been claimed to be a triumph of civilization” (44). The West fell prey to the forces of materialism, hyperrationality, and uncompromising secularism, which are all the inescapable after-effects of modernity. Gandhi expresses his disdain for this civilization in no uncertain terms: “This civilisation takes note of neither morality nor of religion: this civilization is irreligion” (45). Even more lamentably, the West mapped these values onto the East through the process of colonialism. As such, he writes, “India’s salvation consists in unlearning what she has learnt during the past fifty years. The railways, telegraphs, hospitals, law- yers, doctors, and such like have all to go, and the so-called upper classes have to learn to live conscientiously and religiously and deliberately the simple peasant life, knowing it to be a life giving true happiness” (46). These critiques of modern civilization are taken as evidence of Gandhi successfully rising above the conceits of modernity (47). However, it is not enough to consider Gandhi’s critique of modern civilization; rather, we must also analyze his alternative to modern civilization to assess whether or not it breaks free of the very systems Gandhi is opposed to. The fundamental values of Gandhi’s civilizational ideal are distinct from those of what he refers to as modern or material civilization, but their enactment reinforces neoliberal values. He defines true civilization as “that mode of conduct which points out to man the path of duty” (48). True civilization is morally inflected, and therefore spiritually inflected. According to Gandhi, India once adhered to the tenets of true civilization and must work to recover them: “The tendency of Indian civilisation is to elevate the moral being, that of the Western civilisation is to propagate immorality. The latter is godless, the former is based on a belief in God. So understanding and so believing, it behoves every lover of India to cling to the old Indian civilisation even as a child clings to its mother’s breast” (49). True civilization was achieved in the past and can be achieved again if, Gandhi argues, India returns to its original methods of governance, agriculture, industry, and labor while modifying some of its less progressive elements like untouchability: “In order to restore India to its pristine condition, we have to return to it. In our own civilisation, there will naturally be progress, retrogression, reforms and reactions, but one effort is required, and that is to drive out Western civilisation” (50). The fundamental values of Gandhi’s civilization ideal defined a type of morality that was dependent on acting according to one’s duty. The fixation on duty as a morally and religiously constituted ideal is, as I hope to prove, entirely compatible with capitalism and casteism in their modern formulations. Before considering the theoretical implications of Gandhi’s civilizational ethos, it is first necessary to understand how he envisioned their political manifestations through Ramarajya, “the non-violent state of Gandhi’s vision” (51), his most concrete articulation of an alternative to nation thinking. Admittedly, Gandhi was less concerned with the details of postcolonial institutions, instead preferring a “one step enough” approach (52). However, he wrote extensively on his conceptualization of the ideal state, which he derived from the ancient ideal of Ramarajya, the divine kingdom of Lord Ram. Ramarajya in Gandhi’s formulation consisted of a federation of self governing and semi-autonomous panchayats, or village councils. The authority of the federation would be limited to the coordination, guidance, and supervision of matters of common interest (53). As in the case of swaraj, Ramarajya asserted the supremacy of individual freedom; this individual freedom was to be manifested in each panchayat and the state itself (54). Yet, these individual freedoms were tempered by Gandhi’s insistence on maintaining the caste system. In order to overcome the “life-corroding competition” of materialism and capitalism, each individual must follow “his own occupation or trade” (55). The law of varna “established certain spheres of action for certain people with certain tendencies,” thus at once naturalizing and institutionalizing caste (56). The shadow of caste, a concrete manifestation of Gandhi’s civilizational ethos of duty and morality, hung over his Ramarajya. Caste as a structuring force in Gandhi’s Ramarajya was not simply an unsavory vestige of pre-modern India; it was central to creating a reformed political and economic system in the postcolonial context. While Ramarajya was highly idealized, in the decades following Gandhi’s death, the Indian government has tried to implement many of its elements through campaigns, most notably the 2014 Clean India Mission (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan). The Clean India Mission is a country wide campaign aimed to “achieve universal sanitation coverage” by eradicating manual scavenging, improving the management of solid and liquid waste, and sustaining open-defecation free behavior (57). It is undoubtedly inspired by Ramarajya: it was initiated on the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birthday; volunteers are known as swachhagrahis, clearly in reference to satyagrahis; and its messaging invokes Gandhian ideals of morality and duty (58). Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself proclaimed, “I must admit that if I had not understood Gandhi’s philosophy so deeply, the programme would not have been a part of my government’s priorities” (59). Yet, the Clean India Mission relied on coercive state action in its interactions with Dalit and Adivasi communities because prevailing ideas of purity and pollution drawn from the caste system perpetuate open defecation in rural India. To spread its message to lower caste and tribal communities, the Clean India Mission relied on the spirit of neoliberal capitalism, aggressive branding, and the monetary aid of multi-million dollar conglomerates like Hindustan Unilever (60). Neoliberal capitalism was the vessel through which casteism could inflict harm (61). The very ideals of morality and duty, when enshrined in the caste system, allowed Ramarajya to exist in accordance with the principles of neoliberal capitalism and state violence. When put into practice, Gandhi’s Ramarajya was not a rejection of modernity and materialism, but rather a manifestation of the most oppressive elements of Western modernity. His ideal form of political governance was invoked to complete a fundamentally modernist project.
Khadi Capitalism: A Critique of Gandhi’s Political Economy Just as Gandhi’s political philosophy was highly compatible with neoliberal capitalism, so was his political economy. Like his conceptualization of Ramarajya and political philosophy, Gandhi understood political economy as inseparable from ethical and religious pursuits. Through this religio-ethical lens, individual and societal economic interests were to be collapsed to avoid conflict between the two. Economic progress in the material sense was antagonistic to “real progress” in the ethical sense (62). As part of his political economy, Gandhi urged plain living, which entailed the curtailing of material desires to lead a more sustainable lifestyle: “More and more things are produced to supply our primary needs, less and less will be the violence” (63). He urged small-scale and locally-oriented production that would not require large-scale industrialization or the use of machinery. Gandhi also emphasized the dignity of all forms of labor and suggested that every person, no matter their class status, should engage in manual labor, which he called, after Leo Tolstoy, “bread labor,” to understand the plight of agricultural laborers (64). Plain living, small-scale production, and bread labor, in summation, formed the basis of Gandhi’s political economy. The khadi programme was essential in enacting Gandhi’s political economy. Khadi was meant to be the national industry to benefit the masses by providing supplementary work to unemployed rural hands. The economics of khadi included a plan to produce, distribute, exchange, and consume hand-spun yarn and cloth. Its effects were meant to diminish unemployment, augment economic productivity, and increase the purchasing power and of the poor. As it was geared towards India’s rural population, khadi could rely on only the most simple and accessible technologies: the loom and the spinning wheel. It also had to rely on a local re- source base for production and consumption (65). As such, khadi played a crucial role in defining the structures of exchange in Gandhi’s political economy: each village had to be self supporting and self contained to adhere to the khadi programme. According to this highly fragmented doctrine, villages should only exchange necessary commodities with other villages where they are not locally producible (66). Although khadi was meant to deliver material economic benefits to India’s rural population, as with other elements of Gandhi’s political economy, it also took on a profoundly moral dimension. It was integral to establishing what Gandhi referred to as a “non-violent economic order” (67). While mill-made cloth was cheaper than khadi, it relied on “dishonesty,” “violence and untruth,” which is why it had to be opposed (68). In the scope of Gandhi’s political economy, khadi was necessary to address the economic and moral needs of the Indian masses. In promoting the khadi programme, Gandhi articulated an unequivocal opposition to industrialism and, by extension, state socialism. Labor-saving machinery, according to Gandhi, was highly detrimental to the lives of rural Indians; it was antagonistic to both man’s labor and true civilization: “Machinery has begun to desolate Europe. Ruination is now knocking at the English gates. Machinery is the chief symbol of modern civilisation; it represents a great sin” (69). While states- men like Nehru urged state-sponsored large-scale industrialization to bring India’s economy onto the globalized stage (70), Gandhi insisted that “India does not need to be industrialised in the modern sense of the term” (71). His apathy towards state socialism was grounded in this uncompromising opposition to industrialism: if industrialism was a necessary step in implementing socialist policies, he would reject those policies. However, while khadi was avowedly anti-industrialist, it was not unambiguously anti-modern. Just as Gandhi’s political philosophy resembles neoliberal ethical formation by erasing the structural role of colonialism, khadi does the same by erasing the structural role of capitalism. Gandhi’s political economy addressed the problem of inequality primarily on the individual level by pleading for necessary changes in lifestyle to limit one’s needs and conceptualizing the economy in moral terms. The cultivation of individual economic health apart from the travails of industrialism and heavy machinery was the guiding principle in Gandhi’s political economy: ethics and morality became co-opted by the logic of neoliberal individualism. The more structural features of khadi-- its production, distribution, exchange and consumption schemes-- also reinforce aspects of neoliberal economy and ideology. The confluence of a lack of state regulation and the supremacy of individual will in the context of atomized, self-sufficient villages is not far from the neoliberal ideal that reifies individual rights and competitive market relations (72). Just as neoliberal ideology obscures class conflict by dissuading class consciousness through the vocabulary of individualism, the moral and ideological ramifications of khadi portray class warfare as an instrument of social violence and disharmony (73). Gandhian political economy sought to resolve economic inequality by pre- serving human dignity rather than ensuring material gains (74). Gandhi’s political economy, in sum, was not so distant from modern neoliberalism.
Conclusion: Confronting the Postmodern Turn in Postcolonial Studies Thus, Gandhi’s political philosophy and political economy were not divorced from Western modernity. Contrary to the writings of most historians and political theorists of contemporary India, I suggest that Gandhi’s political thought closely resembles neoliberal ideology, social relations, and economy even while it may seem, on inspection, unequivocally anti-modern. The methodological individual- ism that undergirds his conceptualization of swaraj, the centrality of caste and labor division in his political ideal of Ramarajya and his khadi programme all point to significant conceptual linkages to neoliberal capitalism. Through a critical reading of his work, I contend that Gandhi was not above modernity: he was entrenched in the systems, structures, and ideologies of modernity. Understanding Gandhi’s political philosophy as a modern intellectual contribution is crucial in confronting the recent postmodernist and poststructuralist turn in postcolonial studies, which seeks to replace class analysis or history from below with textual analysis and cultural theory (75). This new orientation, through its methodological individualism, depoliticization of the social from the material realm, and wholesale refusal of programmatic politics, is both conservative and authoritarian (76). By prioritizing ideology over existing structures of domination, in other words, it fails to engage with the material realities of colonialism and capitalism. This brand of scholarship, as I prove, uses Gandhi as its shining example. In my paper, I have attempted to dislodge this conventional perception of Gandhi as the embodiment of pure Indian nationalism untouched by Western modernity by pointing to the material implications of his political thought. In doing so, I hope to challenge the postmodern impulse within postcolonial studies. More importantly, I strongly believe that a critical reading of Gandhi is necessary in our contemporary political moment. More than 250 million farm workers in India went on strike in November 2020 to demand better working conditions, including the withdrawal of new anti-farm bills that would deregulate agricultural markets by giving corporations the staggering power to set crop prices far below current minimum rates. Farmers are confronting neoliberal excess in its most globalized form, facing off against Prime Minister Modi as well as dozens of multinational corporations. While invocations of Gandhian political philosophy by far-right figures like Modi are often characterized as erroneous distortions of his thought within liberal nationalist scholarship, in reality they are the logical conclusions of his arguments (77). Within the corpus of Gandhi’s work lie the seeds of neoliberal exploitation. As farmers come to terms with an ever-growing and exploitative globalized economy, a careful examination of Gandhi’s political thought may inform what a just postcolonial future should, and shouldn’t, embody.
1 Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 1.
2 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 4. 3 Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. Joan Pinkham (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 9.
4 Bipin Chandra, India’s Struggle for Independence, 1857-1947, (New Delhi, India; Viking, 1998), 14. 5 Sumit Sarkar, Modern India: 1885-1947, (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989), 92.
6 Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal, Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy, (Routledge, 2017), 92. 7 Bose and Jalal, Modern South Asia, 110. 8 Liah Greenfeld, Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 11. 9 Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? (Bombay, India: Veer Savarkar Prakashan, 1969), 2. 10 Irfan Habib, Essays in Indian History: Towards a Marxist Perception, (New Delhi, India: Tulika, 1995), 10. 11 Gyan Prakash, “Subaltern Studies as Postcolonial Criticism,” The American Historical Review 99, no. 5 (1994): 1478. 12 Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 1.
13 Shanti Kumar, Gandhi Meets Primetime: Globalization and Nationalism in Indian Television, (Baltimore: University of Illinois Press, 2005), 17. 14 Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse, (Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 96. 15 Dipesh Chakrabarty and Rochona Majumdar, “Gandhi’s Gita and Politics As Such,” Modern Intellectual History 7, no. 2 (2010): 338. 16 For a good scholarly overview, see Sanjeev Kumar, Gandhi and the Contemporary World, (Taylor and Francis, 2019). 17 Lisa Trivedi, Clothing Gandhi’s Nation: Homespun and Modern India, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), xx.
18 Surinder S. Jodhka, “Nation and Village: Images of Rural India in Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar,” Economic and Political Weekly 37, no. 32 (2002): 3347. 19 Arundhati Roy, The Doctor and The Saint: Caste, Race, and the Annihilation of Caste: The Debate Between B.R. Ambedkar and M.K. Gandhi (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017), 2. 20 Aishwary Kumar, Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017), 338. 21 David Scott, Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 4.
22 Adom Getachew, Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), 107. 23 Gary Wilder, Freedom Time: Negritude, Decolonization, and the Future of the World (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015), 10.
24 Shripad Amrit Dange, Gandhi vs Lenin (Bombay, India: Liberty Literature Company, 1921), 15.
25 Vivek Chibber, Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital (London: Verso, 2013), 282.
26 Karuna Mantena, “On Gandhi’s Critique of the State: Sources, Contexts, Conjunctures,” Modern Intellectual History 9, no. 3 (2012): 535. 27 Mohandas Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 25 (New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1989), 252. 28 Mohandas Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, ed. Anthony J. Parel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 71. 29 Koneru Ramakrishan Rao, Gandhi’s Dharma, (New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press, 2017), 105. 30 Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 116.
31 Ibid, 71.
32 I conflate these terms carefully: according to Gandhi, religion and morality could not be disentangled. Throughout Hind Swaraj, he emphasizes that they are entirely co-constitutive. 33 Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 106. 34 Ibid, 38-39. 35 Ibid. 36 Subho Basu, Does Class Matter? Colonial Capital and Workers Resistance in Bengal, 1890-1937, (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004), 238-62. 37 Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 40. 38 Rajmohan Gandhi, Eight Lives: A Study of the Hindu-Muslim Encounter, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 6. 39 Of course, in reality this narrative is not so simple.There was a clear sense of difference and tension between Hindu and Muslim communities long before British rule. However, I argue that Gandhi’s telling of this history erases the role that British colonialism played in intensifying these tensions for political gain.
40 David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 12. 41 Jessica Whyte, The Morals of the Market: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism, (La Vergne: Verso, 2019), 4. 42 Whyte, The Morals of the Market, 8. 43 Pran Nath Chopra, Role of Indian Muslims in the Struggle for Freedom, (New Delhi, India: Light & Life Publishers, 1979), 6.
44 Gandhi, “Letter to H.S.L. Pollack” in Hind Swaraj, 128.
45 Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 36.
46 Gandhi, “Letter to H.S.L. Pollack” in Hind Swaraj, 129.
47 Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World, 98.
48 Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 65.
50 Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 104.
51 Rao, Gandhi’s Dharma, 210.
52 G.N. Dhawan, The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, (Bombay, India: Popular Book Depot, 1946), 126.
53 Ibid, 282.
54 Raghavan Iyer, The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi, (New York: Oxford University Press), 86.
55 Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 66.
56 Ramarajya also poses interesting and important questions about gender and patriarchy in village life, but unfortunately this line of inquiry is outside the scope of this paper.
57 “Swachh Bharat Mission,” Government of India, https://swachhbharatmission.gov.in/sbmcms/index.htm. 58 Swachh Bharat Mission,” Government of India, https://swachhbharatmission.gov.in/sbmcms/index.htm. 59 “PM Modi: Gandhi inspired me to launch Swachh Bharat,” Economic Times, Published October 2, 2018, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/pm-modi-gandhi-inspired-me-to-launch-s wachh-bharat/articleshow/66045561.cms?from=mdr. 60 “Hindustan Unilever Limited: Spreading the message of Swachh Aadat across India,” The Hindu, Published April 30, 2018, https://www.thehindu.com/brandhub/hindustan-unilever-limited-spreading-the-message-of-swachh-aadat- across-india/article23729983.ece. 61 Anand Teltumbde, Republic of Caste: Thinking Equality in the Time of Neoliberal Hindutva, (New Delhi, India: Navayana, 2018), 24. 62 Gandhi, “Economic and Moral Development” in Hind Swaraj, 154.
63 Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 22, 143.
64 Ibid, vol. 12, 51.
65 Trivedi, Clothing Gandhi’s Nation, 81.
66 Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 51, 92.
69 Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 106.
70 Chibber, Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital, 249.
71 Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 51, 93.
72 Whyte, The Morals of the Market, 12.
73 Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, 16.
74 Madan Gandhi, Marx and Gandhi: Study in Ideological Polarities, (Chandigarh, India: Vikas Bharti, 1969), 32.
75 Sumit Sarkar, “The Decline of the Subaltern in Subaltern Studies,” in Sarkar, Writing Social History (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997), 83. 76 Arif Dirlik, “The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism,” Critical Inquiry 20:2 (1994): 334. 328-56. 77 Mihir Bose, From Midnight to Glorious Morning? India Since Independence, (London: Haus Publishing, 2017), 122.
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