Gandhi Research Foundation

Gandhiji and Sarvodaya

Sarvodaya is Gandhiji’s most important social­political movement. Like Satyagraha, it too is a combination of two terms, Sarva ­ meaning one and all, and Uday ­ meaning welfare or uplift. The conjunction thus implies Universal uplift or welfare of all as the meaning of Sarvodaya.

Gandhiji’s first encounter with this noble notion was in the form of the book titled Unto This Last by John Ruskin, which he read in South Africa in 1904. The impact of this reading was so powerful that it proved to be a life­changing experience for Gandhiji, “I determined to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book”.

Ruskin’s ideology was based on three fundamental tenets;

  • That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.

  • That a lawyer‚s work has the same value as the barber‚s in as much as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work.

  • That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.

The tenets awakened Gandhiji’s embryonic sense of social obligation. He reminisces about these tenets in his autobiography, “The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realized. The third had never occurred to me. Unto This Last made it clear as daylight for me that the second and third were contained in the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to practice”.

Although Sarvodaya was a social ideology in its fundamental form, India’s immediate post­independence requirement demanded that it be transformed into an urgent political doctrine. Emancipation of disparity between social classes was its objective, and it could be best implemented by political will and state machinery. It would affect in letter and spirit the singular objective of Sarvodaya; inclusive growth and progress. For Gandhiji and for India, this meant grass­root level uplift which began from the villages and from the most deprived classes, and then rose up to cover the upper­lying social stratas.

For Gandhiji, however, this was a physical manifestation of Sarvodaya. The deeper ethos had an innate spiritual connect for him. His search of God had led him to the shanty of the most subjugated, and in the selfless service of this lowest of the lowly man, Gandhiji glimpsed God. The shanty became his shrine, and the heart of the deprived became his sanctum sanatorium. Gandhiji’s exalted aim of ultimately being one with the sublime appeared to be getting fulfilled by servicing the poorest of the poor. A vindication to this notion is provided by Gandhiji himself, when he wrote in Socialism of My Conception in 1936:

Man’s ultimate aim is the realization of God, and all his activities, social, political, religious, have to be guided by the ultimate aim of the vision of God. The immediate service of all human beings becomes a necessary part of the endeavour, simply because the only way to find God is to see Him in His creation and be one with it. This can only be done by service of all. And this cannot be done except through one’s country.

Gandhiji’s sudden transmigration in 1948 did not leave much scope for him to see the seed of Sarvodaya flourish in free India. However, his associates, those who were equally zealously wedded to Sarvodaya thought, carried forward the activity under the watchful eyes of omnipresent Gandhiji. Foremost among these torchbearers of Sarvodaya were Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Jaiprakash Narayan and Dada Dharmadhikari. Under their able guidance and ceaseless striving, Sarvodaya ceased to be a mere initiative and became a momentous movement.

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