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Sarvodaya is a Sanskrit term meaning 'universal uplift' or 'progress of all'. The term was used by Mahatma Gandhi as the title of his 1908 translation of John Ruskin's tract on political economy, Unto This Last, and Gandhi came to use the term for the ideal of his own political philosophy.[1] Later Gandhians, like the Indian nonviolence activist Vinoba Bhave, embraced the term as a name for the social movement in post-independence India which strove to ensure that self-determination and equality reached all strata of Indian society. Samantabhadra, an illustrious Digambara monk, as early as the 2nd century A.D., called the tīrtha of Mahāvīra (24th Tirthankara) by the name sarvodaya.[2]

Origins and Gandhi's political ideal[edit]

Gandhi received a copy of Ruskin's Unto This Last from a British friend, Mr. Henry Polak, while working as a lawyer in South Africa in 1904. In his Autobiography, Gandhi remembers the twenty-four-hour train ride to Durban (from when he first read the book), being so in the grip of Ruskin's ideas that he could not sleep at all: "I determined to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book."[3] As Gandhi construed it, Ruskin's outlook on political-economic life extended from three central tenets:

Four years later, in 1908, Gandhi rendered a paraphrased translation of Ruskin's book into his native tongue of Gujarati. He entitled the book Sarvodaya, a compound (sandhi) he invented from two Sanskrit roots: sarva (all) and udaya (uplift) -- "the uplift of all" (or as Gandhi glossed it in his autobiography, "the welfare of all").

Although inspired by Ruskin, the term would for Gandhi come to stand for a political ideal of his own stamp. (Indeed, Gandhi was keen to distance himself from Ruskin's more conservative ideas.)[4] The ideal which Gandhi strove to put into practice in his ashrams was, he hoped, one that he could persuade the whole of India to embrace, becoming a light to the other nations of the world. The Gandhian social ideal encompassed the dignity of labor, an equitable distribution of wealth, communal self-sufficiency and individual freedom.[5]

Principles of Sarvodaya[edit]

The Principles are as follows:

  • Social Principle: There is no hierarchical system by birth intrinsically or on the basis of works they carry out. Everyone is deliberated as an equal complement to the society.
  • Economic Principle: Non-exploitative arrangement of economic principles. Co-operative-ism as the essential principle.
  • Political Principle: The government will just support the public but its direct function would be very much restricted. Governance, authority, and power would be decentralized such that the society would be looked after by Panchayat itself.
  • Religious Principle: The preeminent principles of all the religions would be esteemed and it would pave way for religious peaceful coexistence.[6]

Sarvodaya movement[edit]

Gandhi's ideas have lasted well beyond the achievement of one of his chief projects, Indian independence (swaraj). His followers in India (notably, Vinoba Bhave) continued working to promote the kind of society that he envisioned, and their efforts have come to be known as the Sarvodaya Movement. Anima Bose has referred to the movement's philosophy as "a fuller and richer concept of people's democracy than any we have yet known." Sarvodaya workers associated with Vinoba, Jaya Prakash Narayan, Dada Dharmadhikari, Ravishankar Maharaj, Dhirendra Mazumdaar, Shankarrao Deo, K. G. Mashruwala undertook various projects aimed at encouraging popular self-organisation during the 1950s and 1960s, including Bhoodan and Gramdan movements. Many groups descended from these networks continue to function locally in India today.

Beginning on the one year anniversary of the immersion of Gandhi's ashes, an annual Sarvodaya mela or festival has been held at Srirangapatna[7] and at Tirunavaya. At the latter site, it was instituted by K. Kelappan (Kelappaji).[8][9]

Sarvodaya Renaissance Movement[edit]

Sarvodhaya Renaissance is a non-electoral sociopolitical movement founded to reinvigorate and imbue the philosophy of Sarvodaya against current political atmosphere to bring a total change in political circles of not only India but also the globe at large. Sarvodaya Renaissance movement to resuscitate Sarvodaya was re-initiated at Kavilipalayam village of Erode district, Tamilnadu, India. The resolutions on Gram Swaraj and Decentralization of power was passed in the Kavilipalayam congregation convened by Professor Dr.D.Prabu on 10th December 2017[10][11][12]. The current moral degradation among politicians and political parties have led to the loss of credibility on the political system among the public. Pseudo Federalism has become commanding under the aegis of centralization of powers which has gone against the principle of decentralization and Gram Swaraj. The acrimony of today's system in India is accredited to the deception of the native Sarvodaya system of political governance and impulsively replicating the colonial or western political system immediately after independence of the country. Swaraj lays stress on governance, not by a hierarchical government, but by self-governance through individuals and community building. The focus is on political decentralization.[13] Since this is against the political and social systems followed by Britain, Gandhi's concept of Swaraj advocated India's discarding British political, economic, bureaucratic, legal, military, and educational institutions.[14] S. Satyamurti, Chittaranjan Das, and Motilal Nehru were among a contrasting group of Swarajists who laid the foundation for the British pattern of parliamentary democracy in India.[15]

V Kalyanam, the personal secretary of M.K.Gandhi, affirmed at Kavilipalayam congregation on 10th December 2017 that the present situation in the country was in total contrast to what Gandhi desired for. He also added that Gandhi lived only for a short period after Indian independence, but he used to receive at least 15 letters a day complaining about the bad governance of the then Government. He also grieved that unfortunately, things have not changed much even now and added that the British governed our nation better than it is being ruled now. [16] Further, Nowadays, only corrupted politicians are ruling the governments and the local bodies across the country remain apathetic in providing basic amenities to the people. He persuaded the villagers to fulfill their needs by passing resolutions at gram sabha meetings.[11]

Principles of Sarvodaya political thought:[17]

  1. There is no centralized authority, and there is the political and economic atmosphere in the villages.
  2. Implies welfare of all by upliftment of every citizen in the society.
  3. Aims at replacing politics of power with politics of cooperation.
  4. Aims of a stateless society.
  5. Non-partisan or party less democracy and society will be free from the evil of the tyranny.

Principles of Sarvodaya economics. cooperative-ism as core principles of economics.

Doctrines of Sarvodaya Renaissance Movement[edit]

Gram Swaraj[edit]

The first doctrine of Sarvodaya Renaissance is Gram Swaraj. This refers to accreditation of the entire power to the village jurisdictions i.e, the public can procure access to their every single requisite from the local Gram Swaraj. The village should have powers of bestowing land Patta Chitta forms, birth and death certificates, community certificates, migration certificates etc., which are all now underneath the administrative supremacies of the taluk or mandal. The ponds, lakes, and rivers should come under the prerogative of that actual village rather beneath the administration of Public Works Department. Thus commemorating a situation that all the public requisites are negotiated at village level while there are no grounds for tiresome shuttling of the general public for their every single necessity.


The second doctrine is the Decentralization of powers. Centralization is one of worst enemies of real democracy even when it takes the barb of the welfare state. Centralization means participation in the work of government by only a small number of people and this results first in irresponsible criticism of those in authority and later on in apathy and indifference towards politics itself. The whole system fails to create proper political consciousness. Hence political decentralization is needed to make citizens realize duties and responsibilities, involve them in the decision-making process as well as the implementation of the decisions. Internationally the consequence of centralization is still more unfortunate. The fate of the world has come to hang in the balance upon the decisions of the few, who are burdened with too much responsibility. This is very dangerous and it must change in the interest of democracy and humanity. This decentralization is the need of the hour.[18]

State No.of Divisions/Regions Divisions/Regions[19]
Punjab 5 Patiala, Rupnagar, Jalandhar, Faridkot and Ferozepur.
Assam 4 Assam Proper, Goalpara, Kamrup and South Assam.
Gujarat 5 Kutch, Saurashtra, North Gujarat, Central Gujarat and South Gujarat.
Maharashtra 5 Konkan, Paschim Maharashtra, Khandesh and Northern Maharashtra, Marathwada and Vidarbha.
Jarkhand 5 South Chhotanagpur, North Chhotanagpur, Kolhan, Palamu and Santhal Parganas.
Karnataka 4 Bangalore, Belgaum, Gulbarga and Mysore.
Uttarakhand 2 Garhwal and Kumaon.
West Bengal 5 Jalpaiguri, Malda, Burdwan, Presidency and Medinipur.

For example, Punjab has 5 regional divisions: Patiala, Rupnagar, Jalandhar, Faridkot, and Ferozepur. The conception of regions/divisions within a state which acts as a conduit between the state and the village for administrative, legislative and law and order purpose. A Regional/Divisional Capital should have the highest discretion among the state for higher level issues. The high courts should be ratified in each Regional/Divisional Capital and the Supreme Court or the highest court of justice should be domiciliated within the State Capital. The powers currently with districts should be devolved to taluk or mandals while those which are currently with taluk or mandals should be vested with villages itself (Gram Swaraj). Thus the public need not be shuttled for every law and order problem and other administrative issues so that he/she could solve it within their regional limits. This additionally crafts an environment for the public which is geographically approachable. Therefore, in nutshell, the powers of jurisdiction should not descend from Central to Village level whereas it should ascend from Village level to Central level of administration. Positively, contemporary demands for the division of states in India has its own resolution through this concept. Advocacy for the formation of new states or union territory due to lack of development will be addressed by decentralization of power to the regional/divisional councils, upholding the cultural value of the home states.

Co-operative Enterprises[edit]

The fourth doctrine of Sarvodaya Renaissance is the establishment of Co-operative enterprises than private or government factories, industries or banks. That is self-help groups which can provide a sustained supply of their resource and generate income among themselves and which would also improve job opportunities. Cooperative rural banks which have become obsolete due to cash crux and mismanagement should be revived. Even the banks should be co-operative in form so as to sponsor for the co-operative markets and mills. There are few co-operative systems in the world which are successfully existing which serve as an example like the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd. (Amul)[20] should be replicated in divergent domains too. Sarvodaya also stresses on Naturopathy which is the base for Community Health and Natural way of agriculture is the way forward in this societal architecture. Since the inordinate use of pesticides leads to several diseases in mankind.

Partyless Democracy[edit]

The third doctrine is the establishment of party-less democracy which would bring a drastic change in Indian political scenario. Though regarded as the sort of "must" for democracy, one of its greatest internal difficulties and one which has brought it to ill repute is the institution of political parties. The aim of Sarvodaya is to shape and develop the body politic on a pattern in which the existence of parties would be ruled out.[18] A party has its very name implies, stands only for a part of society. It is a sort of conspiracy against the rest of the people. Allegiance to a party is inconsistent with loyalty to society, with the good of all which is the fundamental aim of Sarvodaya. The existence of political parties works against democracy, for, as M N Roy pointed out, with the rise of the party system, the idea of popular sovereignty became a constitutional fiction.[21] The charge sheet against political parties is a long one. One of the very serious charges is that the system is immoral in that it gives birth to demagogy, undermines political ethics and puts a premium on unscrupulousness and an aptitude for manipulation and intrigue. The rigidity of the party system makes individuals act against their conscience. The advantage is taken of the passing moods and patience of the people. Local grievances are exploited and political advocated with a view to gaining or retaining power even if they are against the public good.[22] Further, they are anti-democratic. Their internal structure is essentially autocratic or oligarchic. No doubt political parties do serve some purposes and that is why this system finds advocates. But the disadvantage is far outweighed their advantages and this is all the truer in India.[18] This was actually aimed by Mahatma Gandhi. Swaraj lays stress on governance, not by a hierarchical government, but by self-governance through individuals and community building. The focus is on political decentralization.[23] Since this is against the political and social systems followed by Britain, Gandhi's concept of Swaraj advocated India's discarding British political, economic, bureaucratic, legal, military, and educational institutions.[24] S. Satyamurti, Chittaranjan Das, and Motilal Nehru were among a contrasting group of Swarajists who laid the foundation for current British type of parliamentary democracy in India which led to dynasty politics, corruption, and degradation of probity in public life. Gandhi's model of Swaraj was almost entirely discarded by the Indian government. He had wanted a system of a classless, stateless direct democracy.[25]

The New Polity[edit]

The Sarvodaya thinkers propose to reconstruct the polity in accordance with their basic ideas. In that polity, Decentralization would replace the present centralization; instead of the welfare state. The people themselves would create their own welfare system; decisions would be arrived at not by majority vote but by consensus of opinion; political parties would not exist and the system of present direct elections would be substituted either by indirect elections or by a modified form of direct elections. This polity would rely less on the police and army, and as time passes its coercive aspects would become less and less important. The initiative would lie with the common people and the fate of the country would not be in hands of a few individual. However, Sarvodaya thinkers do not describe their polity in detail. Although Jayaprakash Narayan discusses the underlying principles and indicates the general pattern of political organization.[26] The structure proposed by Sarvodaya thinkers is pyramidal in form, with its base the general village body composed of every adult villager. The villagers elect an executive called panchayat to run the village administration by consensus of opinion[27]. Its resolutions have to be passed unanimously. The general body has all the state powers, including regulation of village exports and imports. The village arranges for its own education, medical service and judiciary[28]. Several primary village communities would join in an integrated regional community to tackle common problems and to promote common aims. Village panchayats would be integrated into regional panchayats, village cooperatives into regional cooperatives, and primary schools into regional higher school and so on. The regional body would not be a superior body to control and interfere in the internal administration of the primary communities which, while enjoying delegated power, would be fully sovereign in their own regions. Regional’s communities would federate themselves into district communities, district communities into provincial communities and provincial communities into national communities. The last would attend to such matters as defense, foreign relations, currency, regulation of imports and exports, and interprovincial coordination and legislation[29].

Thus the political structure would rise storey by storey from the foundation. The members of the regional and district bodies would be elected indirectly, while those of provincial and national panchayats would be elected indirectly or through a modified system of direct election. The representatives would be elected as good independence and not on any part basis. Jayaprakash Narayan would vest the elective authority at the primary level in the panchayat with the power to delegate it to individual members or too small committees. At the regional level, the panchayat samiti would be the elective body and it would function through committees. The same would apply at the district level. However, at the provincial and national levels, the respective legislatures would appoint committees as executive bodies, responsible to them. These committees would be small workable bodies with powers to co-opt experts. Each committee would have a chairman and a secretary, and to coordinate the work of different committees, there would be a coordinating committee with one representative from each committee. Its decisions would be binding on all committees. As such there would be no ministers, chief ministers or prime ministers.[30] The presidents of these different bodies would have no administrative functions. However, if the democratic apparatus breaks down, they would have extraordinary emergency powers at their levels. The president of the national assembly would also be the supreme commander of the armed forces and responsible to the Sabha (assembly) for national defense. She would be assisted by a defense committee, of which s/he would be the chair.[31] The legislative powers would belong to the panchayat or the Sabha at its particular level. It would have the power to lay down rules or laws for the management of its affairs provided they do not conflict with the interest of other committees at the same level or with the rules and laws laid down by communities or Sabhas at the higher levels. In the work of administration, the committees would be assisted by paid servants, appointed at each level by the corresponding authorities created for the purpose by the representative bodies concerned and on terms laid down by the latter. It would be the sovereign right of these communities to appoint and dismiss them[32]. Jayaprakash Narayan, however, has not indicated what departments of administration are to be interested in these various communities. He only says that police, justice, taxation, social service, and planning, should all be decentralized to the maximum extent possible. In the beginning, the top will have to show courage in handing over maximum powers to the communities but as the people become trained and acquire self-confidence, the process decentralization should become normalized and begin to operate from below. It is not envisaged that the whole structure will come into existence all at once. The foundation will have to be laid and then the structure built from below stage by stage[33]. The above scheme of Jayaprakash Narayan aroused a great deal of interest and evoked all sorts of opinions ranging from general approval to strong disapproval.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Sarvodaya Movement: Gandhian Approach to Peace and Non Violence, by S. Narayanasamy. New Delhi, Mittal Publications, 2003. ISBN 81-7099-877-8.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bondurant, Joan. Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict. (Princeton, 1958) p 156.
  2. ^ Upadhye, Dr. A. N. (2000). Mahavira His Times and His philosophy of life. Bharatiya Jnanpith. p. 54. 
  3. ^ a b Autobiography, part IV, chapter xviii.
  4. ^ See Bondurant (1958), pp. 156-159.
  5. ^ Bondurant (1958), chapter 5.
  6. ^ Ma.Pa.Guruswamy, Sarvodayam ,Pg 7-8
  7. ^ Sharath S. Srivatsa, "A confluence by the Cauvery", The Hindu, 12 February 2006.
  8. ^ T. Madhava Menon, A handbook of Kerala, Volume 2, Thiruvananthapuram: International School of Dravidian Linguistics, 2002, ISBN 9788185692272, p. 617.
  9. ^ Tourist Guide to Kerala, Chennai: Sura, 2008, ISBN 9788174781642, p. 40.
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b "Sarvodya village reformation movement launched in Erode - Times of India". 
  12. ^ "Express Publications Dinamani-Coimbatore epaper dated Mon, 11 Dec 17". 
  13. ^ Parel, Anthony. Hind Swaraj and other writings of M. K. Gandhi. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, 1997.
  14. ^ What is Swaraj?. Retrieved on March 3, 2007.
  15. ^ "Swaraj". 16 November 2017 – via Wikipedia. 
  16. ^ "'Most letters Gandhiji received after Independence were about bad governance' - The Covai Post". 
  17. ^ "Gandhian philosophy of Sarvodaya and its principles - Articles - On and By Gandhi".
  18. ^ a b c
  19. ^ "Administrative divisions of India". 23 November 2017 – via Wikipedia. 
  20. ^ "Amul". 16 December 2017 – via Wikipedia. 
  21. ^ Roy. M.N., Politics, Power and Parties.Renaissance Publisher, Calcutta, 1960,P.67
  22. ^ Narayan, Jayaprakash. A Plea for Reconstruction of Indian Policy, Sarva Sewa Sang, Varanasi, 1959.p.70
  23. ^ Parel, Anthony. Hind Swaraj and other writings of M. K. Gandhi. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, 1997.
  24. ^ What is Swaraj? Retrieved on March 3, 2007
  25. ^ Swaraj [Internet]. 2017 [cited 8 December 2017]. Available from:
  26. ^ Narayan. op., cit., p. 98.
  27. ^ Ibid. p. 91.
  28. ^ Vinoba, op., cit., p. 41.
  29. ^ Narayan, op., cit., pp. 56-58.
  30. ^ Ibid, pp. 98-100.
  31. ^ Ibid, p.100
  32. ^ Ibid, p. 101
  33. ^ Ibid, p. 103.

External links[edit]