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Sarvodaya Thought Of Mahatma Gandhi

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ROLL NO. 1119

It was Mahatma Gandhi who first used the word Sarvodaya in modern times. Sarvodaya
means the rise or welfare of all. Gandhiji borrowed this concept from John Ruskins Unto
This Last. The proper rendering of Unto This Last would be Antyodaya (uplift of the last)
rather than Sarvodaya.
Vinobha Bhave rightly says: Of course the last ones uplift is included in the uplift of all,
but in emphasizing the last, the object is that work should begin from that end. For
Gandhiji, Sarvodaya is the true panacea for all types of social or political problems
experienced by Indian society. After the death of Gandhiji, Acharya Vinoba Bhave and
Jayaprakash Narayan have highlighted the essentials of Sarvodaya in their own light.
Vinoba Bhave developed Gandhijis concept of Sarvodaya keeping in view changing socio-
economic circumstances. The movement of Bhoodan and Gramdan and his unique method
of spreading his message of compassion through padayatra have attracted worldwide
attention. J. P. Narayan holds the view that Sarvodaya stands for the sublime goals of
freedom, equality, brotherhood and peace. Realization of a rich, total and integrated life is
the basic objective of Sarvodaya philosophy.
According to Kumarappa, Sarvodaya represents the ideal social order according to Gandhiji.
Its basis is all-embracing love. J. P. Chandra opines that by bringing about a countrywide
decentralisation of both political and economic powers, Sarvodaya provides opportunity for
the all-round development of the individual and the society.
Sarvodaya seeks the happiness of each and all. Hence it is superior to the utilitarian concept
of greatest happiness of the greatest number. Dada Dharmadhikari highlighted the
distinction between Sarvodaya and western Isms which speaks of three stages in the
evolution of humanist thought; first came Darwin with his advocation of the principle of the
survival of the fittest; next came Huxley with the doctrine live and let live and today,
Sarvodaya going one step further asserts Live in order to help others live.
The main tenets of the Sarvodaya philosophy as propounded by Gandhiji and
subsequently explained by the pioneers of this movement are as follows:
1. Sarvodaya reiterates belief in God and, further, it identifies that belief with faith in the
goodness of man and with services, of humanity.
2. It attaches importance to the principle of trusteeship as implying the abolition of private
ownership and the application of the principle of non-possession to public institutions.
3. Sarvodaya envisages a new humanistic socialist society. Man will be the centre of such a
society. Unless man cultivates values like love, sincerity, truth, an abiding sympathy etc., the
emergence of a new society would only remain a pious dream. In this process of change the
State has little role to play. The State, at best, can effect change at the level of the external
behaviour of man. It fails to influence the inner springs of life. This mental transformation is
only possible through appeal and persuasion.
4. Sarvodaya visualises a simple, non-violent and decentralised society. In capitalism and
state socialism the individual becomes alone and isolated. Sarvodaya is opposed to both. In
the scheme of Sarvodaya the people are endowed with real power. Democracy becomes
meaningful and assumes significance only when its structure is reared on the foundation of
village Panchayats.
The Sarvodaya movement inculcates this democratic awareness among the people especially
among the ruralites. Again in the scheme of Sarvodaya decentralisation of industry takes
place through the organisation of small-scale, cottage and village industries. The reason is
not far to seek.
In a country like India where there is acute shortage of capital and abundance of labour, any
attempt at industrialization through high technology is doomed to failure. Moreover, the
decentralization of production would prevent bureaucratisation of the economic system.
5. Sarvodaya idea contains the content of egalitarianism. It rests on the principle of true
equality and liberty. It stands opposed to exploitation of any kind.
6. The concept of Sarvodaya views work as an offering to the Lord. Further, the principle of
equality of all religions finds better elucidation in some of the thinkers of Sarvodaya
7. In Sarvodaya programme the standard of life is fundamental and not the standard of
living. A rise in the standard of living might even lower the standard of life by reducing
mans physical, moral, intellectual and spiritual standards and powers.
8. The Sarvodaya philosophy stands opposed to parliamentary democracy and party system.
It is because the party system divides the society into various groups. J. P. Narayan wanted
to replace the existing parliamentary system through political and economic decentralisation
of powers and functions. Sarvodaya stands for establishment of an integrated cooperative
9. Sarvodaya programme gives prime place to planning. According to the scheme of
Sarvodaya planning must proceed with two objects: removal of natural or man-made
impediments in the road to the development of man and provision of means, training and
guidance for it.
Sarvodaya movement entails economic, political, philosophical and ethical implications.
They are as follows:
Economic implications:
Gandhijis concept of Sarvodaya aims at welfare of all. It is founded on the philosophy of
limited wants. According to him, Civilization in the real sense of the term consists not in
the multiplication but in the deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants. This alone
promotes real happiness and contentment and increases capacity for service. Our economy
should be based on simple living, high thinking.
He fought for an economy free from exploitation and corruption, limitation of human wants,
equality and basic needs for all. In the words of Prof. V. P. Varma, If the Bhoodan and
Gramdan are techniques of agrarian revolution based on moral force, Sampattidan is a
significant path in the transformation of capitalism into the Sarvodaya society.
The essential features of the economic philosophy of Sarvodaya as emphasised by Vinobaji
constitute elimination of poverty, forging bonds of mutual help and fellow-feeling between
big landholders and landless ruralites, revival or furtherance of Indian culture based on
yagna, Dana and tapas, giving an opportunity to all political parties to work unitedly in
rooting out bitterness and self-aggrandisement and helping world peace.
Philosophical and ethical implications:
Sarvodaya aims at the spiritualisation of politics. It seeks to replace party strifes, jealousies
and competition by the sacred law of cooperative mutuality and dominant altruism.
According to the concept of Sarvodaya, man is essentially good. Human character can
improve either by Tapasya (self effort) or by appeals made to him by others through such
non-violent techniques as Satyagraha, non-cooperation and fasting.
Political implications: Sarvodaya attaches importance to lokniti. The concept of lokniti
signifies self-restraint, self-abnegation, selfless service to the people, discipline, faith in God
and performance of duties with benign motive. Sarvodaya condemns the majority rule,
elections, political parties and centralisation of power. Gandhiji wanted a Stateless
democracy in which even weakest have the same opportunity as the strongest. The ideal
democracy will be a federation of Satyagrahi village communities based on non-violence.
The concept of Sarvodaya has been the target of criticism from different corners.
1. Sarvodaya philosophy has been branded as Utopia. It is because Sarvodaya assumes the
human being to be an epitome of virtues only. But in reality jealousy, selfishness,
acquisitiveness etc. are ingrained in human nature. Hence establishing a Sarvodaya society
based on mutual love, cooperation, selfless service etc. is, indeed, an impossible task.
2. Sarvodaya movement views the state as an instrument of coercion. But this is only half-
truth. The state especially a democratic state can also serve as an instrument to promote
material well-being of the people.
3. Gandhian concept of simple living and high thinking has been contested on the ground
that sometimes people with simplest of food and practice of austerities nurture all types of
sinister desires and activities. In some quarters, in fact, wealth is believed to be an
indispensable prerequisite of culture and higher values.
4. Critics hold the view that large-scale production and industrialization can raise the
standard of living of the people and release human energy for more creative pursuits.
Cottage industries may generate employment. At the same time it may be a failure due to
high cost of production and low quality of products.
5. Proposals regarding the trusteeship system and complete decentralisation of all economic
and political set up are nothing more than academic exercises.
6. J. C. Johari rightly observes that the Marxists would scoff at the whole school of
Sarvodaya as one belonging to the world of Owenites and Saint Simonians; the collectivists
would not endorse the suggestion of a very limited government in view of mans life of
minimum wants and liberals would have every reason to doubt the feasibility of an ideal
society as conceived by the advocates of the sarvodaya philosophy.
In fine, Sarvodaya society ensures a society free from exploitation and offers the opportunity
to each and everyone to prosper and work for the well being of all. It creates a condition not
only for participatory democracy but also for establishing a new form of socialism. It
envisages a new pattern of life based on decentralisation of economic and political power
ensuring the moral freedom of man. As Erich Fromm says, The aim of humanistic
socialism can be attained only by the introduction of a maximum of decentralisation
compatible with a minimum of centralisation necessary for the functioning of an industrial
society. The function of a centralised state must be reduced to a minimum, while the
voluntary activity of freely cooperating citizens constitutes the central mechanism of social