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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Dreaming About Swaraj

Dreaming, a seemingly easy and free-flowing pursuit, often turns out to be a challenging task for some functional adults like me. This is due to the simple reason that it requires the playfulness and innocence of a child, something that the “modern” society saps us out of.

The mechanical structure of such a society is too barren a land to provide a favorable backdrop for an adventure such as dreaming. Nonetheless, the quest for swaraj can’t be sustained without thinking seriously, yet fantastically, about it. It demands a sensuality, a liveliness ready to open up and explore all the possibilities of swaraj.

The attainment of swaraj is the stuff that myths are made of, and we shouldn’t forget that myths are capable of blossoming a civilization. Weaving myths about swaraj might very well be the beginning of erecting a free society.         

19th February marked the 392nd birth anniversary of Shivāji Mahārāj, the founder of the great Marāthā empire who gave us the nascent idea of Hindavi Svarâjya. It was refreshing to see the occasion being marked with much fanfare across the nation. The birth anniversary of Shivāji called for a celebration of his revival of the tradition of swaraj, and also offered us an opportunity to reflect on our whereabouts en route swaraj

Swaraj, literally translated, may be simply put as self-rule. Self-rule expresses itself at least at two levels, external and internal. External self-rule implies freedom from and non-imposition of external forces over the self, while the internal aspect means rule over one’s self, i.e., control over the self or self-restraint.

Self-restraint should be distinguished from one’s freedom of choice and decisions for the self, which is a part of the former aspect. Hindavi Svarâjya is an exemplification of the former aspect while Gandhi’s swaraj is that of the latter.

Although the idea of swaraj may sound bland to some, it comes in a mind-blowing variety of shades of meanings and implications. It’s also captivating to see how the simple idea of swaraj raises some of the most fundamental and fascinating questions of life.

One wonders… Is swaraj only freedom and self-rule? What does it mean to be free? What constitutes the self that swaraj talks about? Is the realization of swaraj even possible or is it doomed to be a beautiful but failed experiment?

Several scholars portray swaraj, especially of the Gandhian strain, as a radical idea. But if one gives it a close examination, one could conclude that it comes across as radical only vis-à-vis modernity (synonymous with Western civilization). This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that the very basis of modern, Western civilization is greed and advocacy of a tremendous appetite for consumption. In contrast, swaraj is placed diametrically opposed to such an attitude as it vouches for self-restraint.

One of the plausible reasons for the perception of swaraj as a radical thought could be due to the fact that most of the contemporary scholars are themselves creatures of modernity, possessing colonized minds and souls. Decolonization and decoloniality are slow processes that require intense internal reflection and purification, for which modernity allows a very narrow scope.

An essential pre-condition for swaraj is to totally discard modernity. It commands us to speak a language of confidence, and asks us to be bold and fearless enough to be able to shed off this colonial baggage of modernity without worrying about the consequences. Do we have such faith in our civilizational values that we may be ready to leave ourselves in a state of anarchy following the withering away of the modern state and modernity?

Only a civilization oozing with such self-confidence and faith in its age-old cultural milieu can take up this challenge and hope to succeed. It is telling that our scholars aren’t even able to pose searching questions to themselves as products of modernity and properly assess the nature of swaraj in their scholarly pursuits, leave alone the conviction of possessing it.

Despite the entire freedom struggle being anchored on the edifice of swaraj, the top leaders who talked about the idea never comprehended it. The fact that it took seven decades for the people to realize the true impact of colonization is itself a testimony to the condition of our slavish selves. 

Swaraj, by its very nature, indicates that it can’t be imposed on an individual or a society. It has to evolve organically from within the individual or society in question. It then follows that the evolution has to be rooted in the ethical values of the society.

As a corollary, swaraj can’t co-exist with modernity, which is a foreign imposition. So, it finally boils down to this: the pathway to swaraj has to be paved through the adoption of Indic or Bhārtiya civilizational ethos, which is based on Hindu Dharma and Hindutva.

Advocates of the modern societal structure argue that given the flexible nature of Hindu Dharma, Bhārat shouldn’t face any problem in embracing modernity. Let’s turn this argument on its head.

Given that Hindu Dharma, and by extension Hindutva, assimilates everything positive that comes its way, let us be rooted in it and see for ourselves what it accepts of modernity organically, rather than the latter being a barbarous imposition.

Hindu Dharma has proven throughout history to be a juggernaut, able to subsume within itself innumerable sub-cultures and traditions. Hindutva as the basic premise of our society would be logically sound, especially from the lens of swaraj. Perhaps it is time for revivalism to discard its negative connotations for the sake of upholding the sanātan paramparā of Bharatiyā sabhyatā

Swaraj mimāmsā is a pilgrimage that demands devotion for life. We must be very clear about the fact that no amounts of academic discussions, books, articles, etc. can bring about swaraj unless this is followed by action on the ground.

Swaraj ultimately belongs to the performative sphere, and that is where it should play out. We have had a glorious, robust tradition of fighting for swaraj since time immemorial. The civilizational ideas of Hindavi svarâjya and swaraj have been the driving forces for the establishment of Rāmrâjya.

We must once again reinvent these traditional values for the contemporary Bharatiya society, particularly its millennials, who are totally cut-off with their culture, for the realization of true freedom, i.e., swaraj.     

-by Yashowardhan Tiwari


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Yashowardhan Tiwari
Yashowardhan Tiwari is a B.A. LLB. (Hons.) graduate from Jindal Global Law School (JGLS) and has previously worked as a Graduate Research Immersion Program Scholar at JGLS. He is primarily interested in the studies of constitutional law, history and the sociology of science.

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