Gandhi, the father of modern India, is best known in the West for his original method of struggle for the independence of his country, the doctrine of nonviolence. However, beyond the policy goals such as getting the independence of India and maintain the country’s unity through dialogue between Hindus and Muslims, the Gandhian vision is much broader and deeper. Its different facets can be linked with modern ideas of sustainable development as they have emerged since the 70s and the report of the Club of Rome.

The foundations of Gandhi’s thought

Gandhian philosophy is inspired by a life experience based on daily practice of moral principles but also ideas from Indian civilization – Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism – as well as Western civilization – Thoreau, Ruskin and Tolstoy.

It is based on five principles:

Satyagraha includes other concepts.

  • Swaraj / self-rule

The search for self-governance, democracy

  • Swadeshi / self-sufficiency

Seeking economic independence / national and local self-sufficiency

  • Sarvodaya / Unto this last

Prosperity for all, the pursuit of economic and social equity

  • Satyagraha / The Truth Force

“Truth Force”, integrity

  • Ahimsa / Nonviolence

Safety for living beings, concern for others

From Gandhian Thought to Sustainability

Recall that three traditional pillars of sustainable development namely: Economic, Social and Environmental can be joined by the pillars of the Governance, Culture and finally and the North-South dimension.

The five points of the doctrine of Nonviolence can be linked to the 6 pillars of sustainable development. They affect indeed various fields of human life in society:

– The social field with the focus on Dalit “untouchables” (without questioning the caste system, unlike Dr. Ambedkar, Dalit defender and dalit himself), but also the women, by including them into the political and economic action in favor of independence.

The concept of Sarvodaya refers to the concern for the poor and to the matter of parity in gender relations.

– The economic field, not just with a research for the economic independence of the country, but also the economic empowerment of local communities in search for food self-sufficiency, energy, etc.

The concept of Swadeshi can be related to the issue of food sovereignty as well as to the circular economy.

– The environmental field through research for material sobriety and resource conservation.

The concept of Ahimsa can be related to the research for maximum safety and thus towards the living than the preservation of the environment and natural resources.

The concept of Ahimsa can be related to the research of the safest for the alive and thus towards the preservation of the environment and natural resources.

– The governance or political field through the promotion of a local self-government, research participation of all minorities (religious, social and sexual) in decision-making and governance.
The concept of Swaraj refers to the integration of stakeholders and social responsibility for the company in one hand, but also participatory democracy in the other hand.

– The cultural/ethics field through the promotion of individual responsibility toward everyone, a true moral action internalized and lived daily in every act of life.

The concept of Satyagraha can be compared to the philosophy of Care in its wider dimension, which is to say, in the matter of caring for each other not only for his/her physical needs, but also for his/her psychological and emotional health.

– The field of North-South relationship through the claim of an independent political and a justice in international economic relationships.

Here are the five previous notions.

A radical humanism

Materialism and individualism are rejected by Gandhi. It emphasizes the responsibility for each Life, Creation, according to him, because of the phenomena of divine origin, the interdependence between all human beings and beyond among all living beings. Therefore there is a reciprocal relationship between humans and the living world and between this last one and the world in general. Human beings are responsible for one another because of the interdependence between them all. This responsibility applies between contemporaries but also for the human beings to come.

Gandhian vision is a radical critique of the Western development model, based on the idea of progress, the latter being identified with the infinite growth of material goods and the extension, also infinite, of the individual liberty, the consideration would be the creation, in His infinite tower of “needs”, forming so many new routines.

In that way it is totally a different vision than the economical dominant vision of Nehru (future Prime Minister of India) and the majority of the Congress party leaders, followers of an industrialist socialism and technical progress.

A non dogmatic spirituality for the present

Today the thought of Gandhi acquired universal. It resonates with contemporary concerns around the major issues of democracy, economic and social justice, international solidarity, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, preservation of the environment.

It has a spiritual foundation of ecumenical origin in which the believers of all faiths, even atheists and agnostic people, can relate. Apart from this spiritual aspect which everyone is free to join or not, it can legitimately inspire everyone involved in the construction of an economically viable world, socially equitable and ecologically sustainable.

Some biographical elements

1869 – Birth of Mohandas Gandhi Karamchad in a Jain family in Gujarat, NW province of what was then the British Empire in India.

1885 – Death of his Father.

1888 – M. K. Gandhi left to study Law in Britain.

1893 – Departure to South Africa and then British colony and home to a large Indian community.

1904 – The reading of “Unto this last” John Ruskin, upsets his conception of the economy. It creates a community called “Tolstoy Farm” in honor of the Russian writer, promoter of non-violence, and with whom he corresponds.

1906 – Gandhi organized the first campaign of civil disobedience in the Indian community towards the colonial power.

1913 – He organized a march of Indian women and a miners’ strike.

1915 – Gandhi returns to India.

1918 – He organized the first civil resistance campaign in his homeland, with farmers of Champaran (Bihar) against large landowners.

1921 – He became the leader of the Congress Party leading organization advocating for the independence of India.

1922 – After a new campaign of civil disobedience, he was imprisoned two years by the British power.

1925 – He founded the weavers association to promote the economic independence.

1930 – He organizes the “salt march”, both boycott the British monopoly on the sale of salt, and means to remove the possibility of India’s economic sovereignty.

1933 – Gandhi fasting in favor of integration in the Congress party of Dalits (also referred to as “untouchables” by Westerners), which he called “Harijans” (“Children of God”). He opposes the leader of the latter, B. R. Ambedkar claiming a policy of “positive discrimination” towards this oppressed minority.

1942 – He launched the “Quit India” campaign to demand immediate independence and was imprisoned until the end of the 2nd World War.

1947 – Independence of India and Pakistan. Gandhi could prevent the partition of the British Indian Empire between Hindu-majority state (the Indian Union) and a majority Muslim state (Pakistan).

1948 – Assassination by a Hindu ultra-nationalist militant.