Theory of the State

  • Bhikhu Parekh


Like many other Indian leaders Gandhi had considerable difficulty in coming to terms with the modern state. At one level he understood it better than them. He was trained as a lawyer, had observed it in its developed form in Britain and distorted forms in South Africa and India, and as a leader of the independence movement he had close day-to-day contact with it. He was one of the few to notice that the modern age was unique in assigning the state a most dominant position in society. Having led several anti-racist campaigns in South Africa, he understood the nature of political power and ideology better than most of his contemporaries and well knew how the state was interlocked with dominant interests and upheld the prevailing social order. Gandhi, however, had his severe handicaps. As a votary of non-violence he was obsessed with the coercive aspect of the state and could not appreciate its moral dimension until fairly late in life. He was opposed to large-scale industrialisation and did not much understand the economic role of the state either. As a moralist he was deeply preoccupied with personal integrity and individual responsibility and had great difficulty in coming to terms with the need for collective discipline and the moral compromises required by membership of the state.


Moral Responsibility Communal Violence Modern State Indian Civilisation Moral Authority 
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  1. 2.
    See Interview with N. K. Bose in Modern Review, October 1935.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    H, 11 March 1930. See also Sriman Narayan Agarwal, Gandhian Constitution for Free India (Allahabad, 1946), and Gandhi’s Foreword to it. Agarwal does not always get Gandhi right.Google Scholar
  3. Gandhi wrote his Foreword on 30 November 1945. In H, 28 July 1946 he expressed views different from those attributed to him by Agarwal.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    H, 1 September 1940 and 12 May 1940. For a useful collection of Gandhi’s views on democracy, see R. K. Prabhu (ed.) Democracy: Real and Deceptive, (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1961).Google Scholar
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    For Gandhi’s critique of capitalism see Iyer, vol. III, Part V and the relevant entries in R. K. Prabhu and U. R. Rao, The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1967).Google Scholar
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    G. D. Birla, Bapu: A Unique Association (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1977), pp. 362, 364, 369 and 370.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Bhikhu Parekh 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bhikhu Parekh
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HullUK

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