Two Indias: Gandhiji and Modern India


Johan Galtung

Talk Given in New Delhi, Dec 30 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Chairperson, Ms. Convener,

Gandhi was killed not far from where we are right now by a Pune brahmin, Godse, and I was that 17 years old boy in Norway who cried when hearing the news.  Something unheard of had happened.  But I did not know why I cried, and wanted to know more.  Who was Gandhi?  So I became a Gandhi scholar, inspired, as assistant and co-author, by the late Arne Næss’ seminal work, extracting from Gandhi’s works and words the political ethics of his action, as a norm-system.[i]

To me the image of the India I love is the image of Gandhi.  I know perfectly well that there are other Indias.  And Ashis Nandy sensitized me to why the court proceedings against Godse were kept secret: because his arguments were, briefly put, that Gandhi stood in the way of a modern India, with industrialization, booming cities, growth, trade, a strong army, the whole package.  Very different from Gandhi’s sarvodaya villages, self-sufficient, linked by “oceanic circles”, focused on spiritual rather than material growth.  In turn very similar to the buddhist image of the sangha, confirming Gandhi’s idea that he may actually have been a buddhist; without any vertical ranking of castes.  These last points, the link to buddhism and the rejection of caste, may have been on top of Godse’s motivation.

That modern India was also Nehru’s India, with a socialist, LSE touch of Harold Laski to it.  Nehru and Gandhi may have found some meeting points in theory and words, if not in reality, and certainly not in a Soviet reality very remote from Gandhi’s world.  Gandhi was instrumentalized by Congress to get rid of Britons preaching against caste, and India became independent, with a disastrous partition mainly caused by Lord Mountbatten, free to enter modernity, and to keep caste. The Congress Party got the cake, and could eat it too.

So I see two Indias, Gandhiji and modernity, well knowing there are more.  Which one is the Self and which one the Counter Image is not for me to judge.  Two Indian civilizations, with much clash and little dialogue, with dwarfs eliminating India’s greatest son.  Some time ago we could find books on, and even by, Gandhi at the airports; today we find books on business administration.  A non-dialogue of two civilizations within one country, here carried by a non-Indian.

Millions were touched by the genius of the Gandhi modern India expelled, like traditional India once did to another genius, the Buddha.  The image of India abroad is still largely shaped by Gandhi, a vaisya prime minister’s son, a lawyer trained in England, struggling like many with the drives of sex and food, finding his brahmacharya.  Very Indian themes, these, as much or more Indian than the present americanized growth machine mainly for upper castes, with growing inequality and the suffering of the 1/3 of the world’s starving who live in India, with massive suicides (14,000 caused by “micro-credit” in Andra this year), incarceration of Binayak Sen, with bad relations to all neighbors but linked to a falling global empire, Anglo-America, and a regional declining empire, Israel.

The Indo-European class structure allocates to the brahmins the cultural violence, to the kshatriyas the direct violence, and to the vaisyas the structural violence; unleashing them on common people; the direct violence by acts of commission; the structural violence churning out suffering upheld by acts of omission.  Justified by cultural violence.   A tradition of direct violence + being high or low in a structural violence pyramid + deriving legitimacy from a divine mandate or whatever, predicts well the four most belligerent countries over the last one thousand years: USA, Israel, the Ottoman Empire (then devoured by the others) and the UK.  Watch your friends, India; there could be much guilt by cooperation and association.

Of course, Gandhiji will survive perverted Indian modernity.  He stood for Gandhi’s Four: satyagraha-swaraj-swadeshi-sarvodaya. They carry a complete approach to sustainable peace and development.

Satyagraha: holding on to the Satya=Truth-Love-God trinity, his unity-of-human beings.  As fact, truth; as togetherness-compassion, love, and as embodying the divine.  Ahimsa, nonviolence, reflects this badly so Gandhi a little more than 100 years ago coined that new term.  He drew on vasudaiva kuttumbakam, the world is my family, very Indian, but not practiced by the believers in 700,000 soldiers in Kashmir, police brutality, and in killing Naxalites with drones.

Swaraj: the Self of identity and Power-over-Self join in Self-Rule.  Gandhi praised openness, yet not being blown off one’s feet. Be rooted, but deepen the rootedness.  Develop your self, but be a spirit in command of ego, a concept beyond any independence ceremony with flags lowered and raised.  Gandhi did not attend; he fought Lord Mountbatten-twisted partition with its devastating consequences.

Swadeshi: self-made, to be in command of meeting own needs for food, shelter, clothing.  No to English textiles was Yes to khadi. Gandhi, against Nehru, collected money not to harm Bombay merchants.

Sarvodaya: the uplift of the poor, inspired by Gandhi’s dictum, there is enough for everybody’s need, but not for everybody’s greed.

Gandhiji for need, modernity for greed; Gandhi for local self-reliance, modernity for unlimited trade; Gandhi for building on own identity, modernity for americanization as neo-nirvana; Gandhi for nonviolent conflict resolution, modernity for police, military, war.

India’s modernity may head for a crash landing, so quite a blessing to have Gandhiji on the reserve shelf.  There is much space for both-and.  But right now both Delhi and the Naxalites would be better off with Gandhi Four than with state and non-state terrorism. BRIC is growth; only, drop I, add T Turkey for good neighborship: BRCT.


[i].  For my own version of that system please see the Appendix, taken from my The Way is the Goal, Ahmdavad: Navajivan, 1995 (reprinted on the back of the cover-pages of A Theory of Conflict TRANSCEND University Press, 2010.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 10 Jan 2011.

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3 Responses to “Two Indias: Gandhiji and Modern India”

  1. Johan Galtung at his best. A great tribute to the Mahatma.
    One nagging question. If India has not been able to embrace Gandhi’s heritage, how can other countries succeed in this effort? Perhaps a careful translation of His teaching into the special needs of local contexts and the modern understanding of the nature of human beings will show the way.

    Piero P. Giorgi, PhD
    Association Neotopia (

  2. I feel respect for Gandhi heartily.

  3. NKY475 says:

    I’d like to know exactly what criteria Dr. Galtung used to deem the four countries he mentioned as being the “four most belligerent countries over the last one thousand years.” Amount of money spent on war? Number of casualties caused? Size of weapons? I’m not necessarily disagreeing with him, but I believe he should have been more clear as to how he arrived at this conclusion.