Constructive Programme

Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place

by M. K. Gandhi

Editor’s Preface: We are presenting here the full text of Gandhi’s Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place, published on March 11, 1941 (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House). Although for decades he had been airing these views, this last version consolidated his ideas into something of a manifesto that, he hoped, would shape the campaigns and purpose of his later years. Gandhi conceived of satyagraha as having two branches, the Constructive Programme and nonviolent Civil Disobedience, and after decades of civil resistance campaigns had increasingly turned his attention to social action, local community development, self-improvement schemes, education and the like, which he attempts to codify here. Although this pamphlet was written and published near the end of his life, Gandhi had already articulated these views, as early as his South African campaigns, and before his return to India in 1918. The Constructive Programme also had a profound influence on the post-Gandhian, Indian nonviolent movement, now referred to, somewhat misleadingly, as the Sarvodaya Movement, although it was many movements interpreting Gandhi in diverse ways. See also the textual note at the end of the article, for further bibliographical information. JG


Cover of first printing; courtesy

The constructive programme may otherwise and more fittingly be called construction of Poorna Swaraj or Complete Independence by truthful and nonviolent means. (1) Efforts for the construction of Independence so called through violent and, therefore, necessarily untruthful means we know only too painfully. Look at the daily destruction of property, life, and truth in the present war.

Complete Independence through truth and nonviolence means the independence of every unit, be it the humblest of the nation, without distinction of race, colour or creed. This independence is never exclusive. It is, therefore, wholly compatible with interdependence within or without. Practice will always fall short of theory even as the drawn line falls short of the theoretical line of Euclid. Therefore, complete Independence will be complete only to the extent of our approach in practice to truth and nonviolence.

Let the reader mentally plan out the whole of the constructive programme, and he will agree with me that, if it could be successfully worked out, the end of it would be the Independence we want. Has not the Colonial Secretary Leo Amery said that any agreement between the major parties will be respected? We need not question his sincerity, for, if such unity is honestly, i.e., nonviolently, attained, it will in itself contain the power to compel acceptance of the agreed demand.

On the other hand there is no such thing as an imaginary or even perfect definition of Independence through violence. For it presupposes only ascendancy of that party of the nation which makes the most effective use of violence. In it perfect equality, economic or otherwise, is inconceivable.

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Nonviolence after Gandhi: The Death of Martin Luther King Jr.

by Bayard Rustin

Rustin poster courtesy American Friends Service Committee;

Editor’s Preface: Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was one of the leading proponents of nonviolence in the U. S. civil rights era. He wrote this article just weeks after the assassination of Dr. King on 4 April 1968. For acknowledgments and further information about Rustin please consult the editor’s note at the end. JG

The murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has thrust a lance into the soul of America. The pain is most shattering to the Negro people. We have lost a valiant son, a symbol of hope and an eloquent spirit that inspired masses of people. Such a man does not appear often in the history of social struggle. When his presence signifies that greatness can inhabit a black skin, those who must deny this possibility stop at nothing to remove it. Dr. King now joins a long list of victims of desperate hate in the service of insupportable lies, myths, and stereotypes.

For me, the death of Dr. King brings deep personal grief. I had known and worked with him since the early days of the Montgomery bus protest in 1955, through the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Prayer Pilgrimage in 1957, the youth marches for integrated schools in 1958 and 1959 and the massive March on Washington in 1963.

Though his senior by 20 years, I came to admire the depth of his faith in nonviolence, in the ultimate vindication of the democratic process and in the redeeming efficacy of social commitment and action. And underlying this faith was a quiet courage grounded in the belief that the triumph of justice, however long delayed, was inevitable. Like so many others, I watched his spirit take hold in the country, arousing long-slumbering consciences and giving shape to a new social movement. With that movement came new hopes, aspirations, and expectations. The stakes grew higher. At such a time, so great a loss can barely be sustained by the Negro people. But the tragedy and shame of April fourth darkens the entire nation as it teeters on the brink of crisis. And let no one mistake the signs: our country is in deadly serious trouble. This needs to be said because one of the ironies of life in an advanced industrialized society is that many people can go about their daily business without being directly affected by the ominous rumblings at the bottom of the system.

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Gandhi’s Constructive Programme: The Other Side of Civil Resistance

by Andrew Rigby

Dustjacket art courtesy

Gandhi was a special figure in the history of movements for social transformation, and as such has been the subject of countless studies — most recently by activist-scholars and students of civil resistance seeking to identify the key lessons that can be applied to more contemporary nonviolent movements for peace and justice. As such they have tended to focus on the large-scale satyagraha campaigns initiated by Gandhi in the Indian freedom struggle, such as the Salt March of 1930 that inaugurated a mass civil disobedience campaign and the 1942 ‘Quit India’ campaign. Less attention has been paid to exploring the significance and contemporary relevance of the other major dimension of Gandhi’s approach to transformation – constructive action to lay the foundations of new ways of living (what has been called by more recent generations of activists as pre-figurative politics).

Gandhi believed there should be two integral dimensions of any campaign to transform systems of oppression and injustice. There was the front-stage satyagraha, or active nonviolent resistance, but there was also the constructive work to create alternatives to the systems and practices that were in need of change. Indeed, for Gandhi the constructive work was far more important than the active ‘political satyagraha’ in the struggle for emancipation and independence (Swaraj). As he advised his co-workers in 1944, through the constructive programme ‘you can make the villages feel self-reliant, self-sufficient and free so that they can stand up for their own rights. If you make a real success of the constructive programme, you will win Swaraj for India without civil disobedience.’ (1)

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The Meaning of Nonviolence and the Establishment of a Peace Brigade

by Fred J. Blum

Logo Shanti Sena World Peace Network; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: The Peace Brigade was organized in 1981 by Narayan Desai and others in London, as an extension of the Shanti Sena, or nonviolent peace force, which Vinoba Bhave had founded in India in the 1950s. Bhave had, of course, taken his name and concept from Gandhi and more specifically from Gandhi’s Constructive Programme. This previously unpublished article makes clear that activists in the U.S. nonviolence and peace movements were already thinking of forming their own chapters as early as 1961, the date on the manuscript. The Brigade still continues in many countries under various names such as the World Peace Brigade, Peace Brigades International, Muslim Peacemaker Teams, etc.. The article is another in our series from the IISG archive in Amsterdam. For further information and references please consult the notes at the end of the article. JG

What is nonviolence? When I thought about how I wanted to start this discussion I felt a need to give some initial broad definition. The first that came to my mind was “to refuse to use violence and to substitute for it other means.” As soon as I had written it down, I felt that the term “to use violence” was very limiting, and expressed a mode of thinking so prevalent today that none of us could easily escape from it, namely a thinking in instrumental terms: of using techniques, of making “things” an instrument for our purpose, for controlling our environment, etc.

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Sarvodaya and the Struggle for Nonviolent Revolution in India

by Geoffrey Ostergaard

Logo Sri Lanka sarvodaya; courtesy

In March 1974, following a student demonstration in Patna against the Bihar Government and Assembly that resulted in widespread arson and looting and several deaths, Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) the leader of the Socialist Party and former Gandhi supporter, accepted an invitation from the student leaders to give guidance and direction to their movement. As he was to declare in a speech to these students, ‘After 27 years of freedom, people of this country are wracked by hunger, rising prices, corruption… oppressed by every kind of injustice… it is a Total Revolution and we want nothing less!’

His immediate purpose was to ensure that the developing agitation would be peaceful and nonviolent but, in accepting the invitation, he set in motion a train of events which included not merely splitting the Sarvodaya movement of which he was the most prominent leader after Vinoba Bhave but also, and more importantly, polarising all the major political parties and forces in India. Fifteen months later, this polarisation led to a head-on confrontation between the Opposition parties and the Central Congress Government (supported by the Communist Party of India), the outcome of which was the declaration of a state of emergency on 26th June 1975.

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Gandhi, Vinoba, and the Bhoodan Movement

by Jayaprakash Narayan

Narayan, c. 1947; Life magazine portrait by Margaret Bourke White; courtesy

The Bhoodan movement aims not only at establishing world peace but also at creating the foundations of a peaceful life. Although everyone is interested in the problems of peace, very few stop to question what the sources of human conflict may be, and why it is that in human society there is strife of every kind including war.

Mahatma Gandhi was an exception in that he tried to go to the root of this problem, and he built up a philosophy of life based on what he called truth and nonviolence. In building up his philosophy he took help from wherever he could. It is well known how deeply indebted Gandhi was to Jesus, and how he always considered the Sermon on the Mount to be his greatest single inspiration. The philosophy of turning the other cheek was the foundation of his whole satyagraha movement, first developed in South Africa in 1906, and then in India. Among modern thinkers, he acknowledged Tolstoy, Ruskin and Thoreau to be his teachers. Whatever he tried to do, he did with an open mind; nothing was foreign to him just because it happened in a foreign country. He was what might be called a universal personality.

Gandhi applied his philosophy of satyagraha to the Indian freedom movement.  I also was one of his humble soldiers and like so many Indians of those days I had to spend several years in prison. During those years, the freedom fighters had to go through all kinds of suffering, of which I think imprisonment was perhaps the least noxious. But travellers to India today are surprised to find that there is no ill will or bitterness anywhere for Britain or for the British people but, rather, a very warm welcome.

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The Gramdan Movement

by Devi Prasad

Cover of Gramdan brochure; courtesy WRI/London

Editor’s Preface: This article is the introduction to a special brochure published by WRI in 1969, Gramdan: The Land Revolution of India. We are posting under this date several essays from this publication. Although definitions of Gramdan and Bhoodan are given in some of the texts it might be handy to note here that Gramdan referred to a landowner’s donation of title of parcels of his land to the poor, while Bhoodan was communal or shared ownership by a village of donated land. Please also consult the Glossary at the end of each article. Further notes about authors, etc, are also found at the ends of articles. JG

The Gramdan Movement is not very well known outside India. There are people who have visited Gramdan areas, met some Sarvodaya workers and even worked in the Movement for sometime. Some of them have been impressed by the philosophy behind it and even consider it realistic but have been disappointed by the actual achievements of the Movement. Some think it to be purely Utopian. There are others who are moved by the humanitarian aspect, but who fail to grasp the political and social revolutionary elements. Very few people have yet been able to see Gramdan—the land revolution, as I would like to call it—in its totality, within the context of what is happening, and what is not happening, all over the world at the present time.

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Vinoba Bhave’s Gramdan Movement

by Siddharaj Dhadda

Vinoba Bhave on a Gramdan march; courtesy

Way back in 1951, the Telangana region, of what is now the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, was seething with agrarian discontent. Vinoba [Bhave] started a walking tour of the area. Every day he went from one village to another, meeting people, talking to them and trying to understand their problems. On 18th April, three days after he had started from Hyderabad, Vinoba arrived in the village of Pochampally. As usual he went from house to house hearing the grievances of the people. Narrating their tales of woe, the poor, landless labourers asked him to give them some land so that they could eke out their existence. At the afternoon gathering, Vinoba pleaded for the landless and asked if some landowner would come forward with some land to be given to the poor. Moved by their plight, and the appeal of Vinoba, Ramachandra Reddy, a local landowner, immediately announced a gift of 100 acres of land.

As Vinoba said later, that night he was sleepless. He went over the day’s events again and again. He saw the message underlying it. Mal-distribution of land was, and continues to be, one of the major problems in almost all Asian countries. China had to use force to solve this problem. In Japan, General Douglas MacArthur intervened through legislation. Perhaps India could show a third way, the way of love, compassion, and nonviolence!

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The Challenge of Gramdan

by Manmohan Choudhuri

Logo of Vinoba Bhave’s Sarva Seva Sangh; courtesy

The quantitative achievements of the Gramdan Movement have been impressive in the last three years. At the moment we have nearly eighty thousand Gramdans, eleven districts (with populations ranging from four hundred thousand to four million) in which at least eighty-five per cent of the villages have opted for Gramdan, and six states in which the supporters of the movement have taken a pledge to achieve Gramdan in all their districts and thus have what has commonly come to be known as Gift of the State (Rajyadan), and this during 1959, the centenary year of Gandhi’s birth. [See Glossary at the end of the article for definitions of Gramdan, Sarvodaya, et al.]

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Gramdan and Shanti Sena

by Narayan Desai

Cover illustration courtesy

If the ultimate objective of Gramdan is to replace the present centralised state with decentralised village republics, the objective of the Shanti Sena is to replace the police and the army with a nonviolent volunteer force. Therefore, Gramdan and Shanti Sena are very closely interrelated. [See the Glossary at the end of the article.] Shanti Sena began as an offshoot of the Gramdan movement. Vinoba Bhave, who was walking in Kerala State in 1957, was concerned about the violent disturbances, which had spread after the reorganisation of states in India. Some riots took place very close to the Gramdan villages. “If they spread among the Gramdan villages,” Vinoba pondered, “the whole purpose of Gramdan will be lost. We must build a nonviolent army to defend the Gramdan villages from violence.”

Before he died Gandhi had outlined his concept of Shanti Sena. When Vinoba started on his march to Hyderabad in 1951, where he hit upon the idea of Bhoodan (land gift), he described himself as a volunteer of the Shanti Sena. A few years later when he was in Kerala he organised the first batch of Shanti Sena volunteers. During the eleven years since the launching of the Sena, it has grown into one of the major voluntary peace movements in India. On the other side Bhoodan has grown into Gramdan, Block-dan and District-dan. Both Gramdan and Shanti Sena are part of the larger movement called Sarvodaya. For the first five years most of the volunteers who joined the Shanti Sena were Bhoodan workers and it is only since 1962—after the clash with China—that more and more people outside the Bhoodan movement have joined it.

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Mahatma Gandhi’s Constructive Program: Building a New India

by Allwyn Tellis 

Editor’s Preface: This article is Chapter One of Allwyn Tellis’s unpublished PhD thesis on Gandhi’s constructive program. The notes at the end of the article give details about the text, biographical information, a link to the complete thesis, and acknowledgments. JG

Gandhi poster courtesy, A Future without War;

In a three-part series of articles beginning in September 2006, The New York Times documented the severe water supply crisis that India has been facing for several decades, and that threatens only to get worse as the population increases, the available resources shrink, and the powers that be remain hopelessly ill-equipped and often callously indifferent. The opening article calls attention to the Indian government’s  “astonishing inability to deliver the most basic services to its citizens at a time when India asserts itself as a global power.” (1) This doomsday scenario can be extrapolated onto other basic services such as food supply, air quality, sanitation, health, education, and shelter. As India emerges as a promising “tiger” in the twenty-first century global economy, the majority of her population still leads a subhuman existence forever poised on the brink of epidemics, famines, and genocidal conflicts.

It seems that Mahatma Gandhi’s dire warning that a modernizing India could hope, at best, to be a “second or fifth edition of Europe and America” is becoming increasingly apparent. While India boasts the trappings of a twenty-first century economy and proclaims itself the largest democracy in the world, never before have so many millions of Indians been marginalized and alienated from the official frameworks of the state, political economy, and civil society. The indictments and reprimands that Gandhi hurled at the British Empire can be aimed with greater vehemence at the postcolonial Republic of India. Yet, every year, Gandhi Day is celebrated with a national holiday consisting of prayer meetings, ritual spinning bees, public sanitation drives, and the garlanding of statues of the Mahatma (great soul) or Bapu (father).

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi