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Mahatma Gandhi on Corruption

By Satya Narayana Sahu | PUBLISHED: 07, Apr 2011, 19:32 pm IST | UPDATED: 19, Apr 2011, 15:56 pm IST

Mahatma Gandhi on Corruption

Our freedom movement, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi,apart from liberating our country from British rule proclaimed victory for moral conduct and values in public life. No other revolution or movement in history had as much strong moral purpose and dimension as India’s struggle for independence. Gandhiji famously wrote that “I have derived my politics from ethics…It is because I swear by ethics that I find myself in politics”.

It is heartening that when ethical deficit in governance and public life is being acknowledged by top leadership of our country, people are campaigning for corruption free society by invoking the name of Mahatma Gandhi.  The awakening among citizens of our country to  battle against graft is truly inspiring.  Even beyond the frontiers of our country people are agitated on the rising levels of corruption.

Recently in the USA people of Indian origin replicated Dandi March of Mahatma Gandhi on 12 March, the day on which Mahatma Gandhi commenced his historic March to Dandi in 1930 to break salt law, to fight against unchecked corruption in our country. When Gandhiji’s name is being invoked across the world for raising the bar of conduct in politics and public life it is important to reflect his ideas on corruption.

As early as 1921 while leading the first non-cooperation movement he wrote a perceptive article wherein  he argued that one of the core objectives of that movement was to purify India.With extraordinary sensitivity he said that he conceived non-cooperation movement to fight against  deceit, corruption, terrorism in political life and the incubus of white superiority.

Ninety years after he launched that movement to make India free from corruption, we find that the cancer of corruption has spread far and wide sullying our image and corroding the very vitals of our national life.  It is rather heartening that Shri Anna Hazare’s fast based on Gandhian technique of self-suffering has sensitized public opinion against the evil of corruption and people have willingly come forward to support his cause. 

As early as 1928, Mahatma Gandhi had written that corrupt practices would eventually be brought to the public knowledge and any attempt to cover them would meet with failure.  Writing in Young India on 6 December 1928, he prophetically stated,  “Corruption will be out one day, however much one may try to conceal it: and the public can, as it is its right and duty in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court, or appoint an arbitrator or inspector to scrutinize their conduct, as it likes”. 

Those words of Gandhiji were used by late President of India Shri K.R.Narayanan in his first address to the nation on the eve of Independence Day in 1997 to educate people to fight against corruption.

The aforementioned  predictive words of the father of our nation  have come true and people in the length and breadth of our country are now in the forefront of a nation wide crusade to unearth corruption and wipe it out. 

In the same year Mahatma Gandhi exhorted people to take proactive measures to expose bribery and sleaze and nip them in the bud.  “Instead of sueing one’s calumniator in a law court for false allegations of corruption,” he wrote, “the best and the only right course would be for the public to prevent actual corruption from taking place by maintaining a sleepless vigilance, and for the servant to keep the public on the qui vive”

Mahatma Gandhi’s prescription that peoples watchfulness would be an antidote to corruption assumes critical significance for our time.  The movement launched by Shri Hazare constitutes an important step to remain vigilant for the cause of a public life pulsating with values and ethics. 

Before the launch of Quit India Movement, Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Bose had serious differences on the level and extent to which corruption permeated the freedom movement.  While Gandhi focused his attention on measures to remove corruption from among the freedom fighters, Netaji Subhash Bose described the issue of corruption as not a substantive one and, therefore, wanted Gandhiji to intensify the freedom struggle. 

It was typical of Mahatma Gandhi to simultaneously fight against corruption and British rule and therefore his legacy continues to inspire all those who are engaged in the arduous task of upholding moral standards and principles in public life. 

It would be highly educative to note that a few days before his assassination he referred to the issue of corruption in a prayer meeting in Delhi.  He said, “Corruption will go when the large number of persons given to the unworthy practice realize that the nation does not exist for them, but that they do for the nation.  It requires a high code of morals, extreme vigilance on the part of those who are free from the corrupt practice and also have influence overcorrupt servants.  Indifference in such matters is criminal.” What he said more than six decades back sounds so contemporary and meaningful for our generation.

When corruption gets multiplied our involvement to fight against it must be more vigorous.  Our apathetic attitude to deal with corruption in the words of Mahatma Gandhi would be dubbed as criminal.

Mounting levels of corruption and the collapse of norms for running the affairs of nation are matters of serious concern. Mahatma Gandhi had said that the day corruption would be removed that day India would get independence from foreign rule. The spectre of corruption is hunting ordinary people and paralyzing administration. It  calls for a movement in the pattern of our freedom struggle to detoxify our public life. The central figure of that movement was Mahatma Gandhi. Let us therefore recall his vision and rededicate to his ideals to generate moral momentum which is absolutely necessary to cleanse our mind and society.

In this direction it is indispensable to enlist the support of women referring to whom Mahatma Gandhi had said in 1925 that India’s salvation could be made possible  and its public life could be  purified if   women in large numbers would come  forward  and participate  in all spheres of national life. In other words gender equality and women’s empowerment is a step for establishing a corruption free society. 

More modern studies validate the point that the level of corruption in those societies is higher where women do not enjoy equal rights and are subjected to cruelty and ill treatment. Thus invoking Mahatma Gandhi’s name to fight against corruption means cultivating values and ethical norms, taking steps to remain vigilant against corrupt practices, ensuring gender equality, removing income equality, etc,.


# The author was OSD and Press Secretary to the late President of India Shri K.R.Narayanan and served as Director in the Prime Minister's Office. He is currently Joint Secretary in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat. The views expressed by the author are his personal views.