05 What is Swaraj?
Reader : I am now willing to go to the subject of Swaraj. It is a much used word and I am afraid I have no idea how you are interpreting this word. How is it different from what has been articulated by Gandhi?
Editor : Gandhi elaborately articulates swaraj in Hind Swaraj clearly stating that freedom from the British doesn’t constitute Swaraj for him. The essence of that still remains true. And unfortunately we have walked into that trap.
Reader: Are you saying that we are not free?
Editor : We shall come to the question of freedom eventually. But first, let us look at how we were with the British. And how we are now.
Under the British things were clearly worse than they are now. Wealth was being extracted and Indians had no rights. Post independence we have our own constitution and we choose our own leaders.
This may make us feel that we have Swaraj our own rule. But this is an illusion.
We have more things continuing rather than being disrupted post independence. While the freedom struggle brought forth some of the best and the brightest self sacrificing individuals, leaders of today are hardly that.
Moreover, the act of winning elections is now in the nature of a large marketing campaign, undertaken using the most sophisticated tools and PR machinery available to humanity. Thousands of crores are spent in convincing people to vote for a particular party or candidate.
Where does this money come from? Who is putting in the money and for what purpose?
The money comes from sources like corporations rather than the people. In fact people in India hardly donate or fund politics. Now, with the recent change in laws, money is going to start pouring in from outside the country in even more amounts than before.
Why is this money coming in? What do the donors seek?
Are the donors some well intentioned people who want the betterment of the country? Or is this money seeking a return on its investment? I am inclined to believe the latter, for in today’s economy and world, money’s duty is to make more money.
As our elections become a public business, the money seeks a return. Earlier, there was more local corruption that would let leaders and funders get return on their investment. Today, it has become much more sophisticated and harder to detect.
Today, the returns are in form of selling assets that belong to all of us collectively. This could be mines and gas basins, telecom spectrum and the ownership of various public enterprises.
The individual citizen cannot monitor this loot beyond a point and has to helplessly wait for the media to come in and reveal these.
Unfortunately, the media itself is also owned by these very corporations. And their ownership of media is only increasing. By being providers of internet, they can very easily push content that they would like to.
Reader : This sounds like a very depressing scenario and far from Swaraj. But would you not agree that it is still making progress towards greater freedom for the individual? Look at us today we are freer than before and making rapid progress towards more individual liberty.
Editor : You are again sadly mistaken.
We are children of the post modern era. An era where we click selfies and claim our own version of the truth as the only real truth. The selfie in fact is the greatest evidence of how we have turned the gaze solely to ourselves. It has all become about us.
This is not individual liberty, rather it is narcissism that is fed by the current system.
There may be democracy in the country but it is an elaborate show that convinces each of us that we have power. But there can be no political democracy without social and economic democracy. Let us look at each of these.
Socially we are still not out of our caste and religion biases. We don’t cast our vote but vote our caste. This brazen display of caste and religion is so vulgar and yet normalized that we don’t even bother rethinking these politics.
Naturally then, the society gets fragmented into smaller and smaller blocks, each trying to seek their own interest. The current flurry of reservations bears testimony to this.
Economically conditions are even worse. The concentration of wealth has made sure that the influence on politics that we spoke about continues. The current systems only concentrate wealth more and more so one can expect the rich to get richer and wield increasing influence on the political scenario.
How free are we then? Where is the selfrule that we had dreamt of? We are under the hypnosis of modern civilization, far from any freedom of any sort.
Reader : If you have such clear ideas about what is not Swaraj, surely you would also have your opinion on what is Swaraj?
Editor : I do not fully understand what is Swaraj. I am in the process of discovering it. But I have some hints and clues.
First, I know that the Swaraj that we seek outside has to first manifest in our own minds. Our minds are not free and till that freedom is not achieved it cannot really be said that we have Swaraj.
Our minds are designed to be producers in this factoryculture. They are schooled to value only some types of knowledge, to have this bipolar relationship with authority (complete obedience or absolute defiance) and they are addicted to food and technology.
Till our minds don’t glimpse the possibility of freedom we have no chance of getting Swaraj.
Second, that there is a contradictory idea of freedom that many of us hold. We feel that freedom is the freedom to do anything we want. In reality, we are never really free. We are bound by natural law.
Natural law dictates that if we overeat, we shall have a stomach ache. We may bypass it with some medication or other, but sooner or later, violating the natural law will cost us.
Freedom instead is attained through responsibility and discipline.
We hear of saints in India who could control the temperature on each of their palms and make it different. They could control their heartbeat. They could survive in freezing temperatures (and they have demonstrated it under lab conditions)
When does one get such regulation over body? Is it by sudden accident? Or is it by disciplining the body and taking full responsibility of it?
We are so far from owning up taking responsibility of ourselves, our surroundings and our nations.
Finally, for Swaraj to happen, we need power to be radically decentralized. If power is not decentralized, we will have central control. And central control will mean that local people cannot decide, they have no freedom.
In today’s world as well, the more freedom and power we give to local communities (and in that to individuals) the more we can trust that happiness will flow and the individual shall be free.
For us to rule ourselves, we will have to groom ourselves. We cannot be irresponsible and ‘demand’ freedom because what we will get then will only be an illusion of freedom.
If each of us is however able to work on our characters and deepen our understanding, able to engage with the forces that control us and disrupt them, then we have some chance of establishing Swaraj.