Culture · Governance · Public Policy · Strategy

Gandhi And His Constructive Programme

Debashree Mukherjee gives a factual account of the various aspects of the ‘Constructive Program’ or the philosophy of Gandhi along those lines.
She also elucidates the beliefs of Gandhi as to the question of transformation of society.


Constructive Programme is a part of Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha. Gandhi realised that social evils not only plagued Indian society but also impeded India’s march towards unity and Swaraj. For that, he did not depend on the state and its political agencies, but rather mobilised the social energies of the people. His constructive programme was an aspect of his philosophy of nationalism and national unity. He conceived it as a means of strengthening the social aspect of our collective existence at the grass root level.

The transformation of society according to Gandhi raises two important problems – firstly, the manner in which one set of institutions and relations is to be gradually repressed by another, and secondly, the way in which contradictions and conflicts that would arise in the process are to be resolved.
His answer to the first problem is the constructive programme, that is, a programme for the construction of new institutions and values in the given Indian context. The answer to the second question is Satyagraha which includes simple persuasion in the beginning and various types of non-violent resistance in the end. Therefore, both the elements are closely interrelated means of social control in the political and social thought of Gandhi.

The Constructive Programme may be regarded as the positive aspect of his doctrine of Satyagraha or Non-cooperation. In the Nagpur Session of the Congress in December 1920, when the Congress Party under the leadership of Gandhi adopted the programme of Non-cooperation, it also adopted a constructive programme which included items such as hand spinning, weaving, establishment of national schools, promotion of Hindu-Muslim unity, abolition of untouchability etc. The Congressmen were required to follow this programme along with the Non-cooperation movement. After the withdrawal of the Non-cooperation movement as a result of the Chauri Chaura incident, Gandhi retired from active politics for about eight years and devoted himself to an organization and implementation of the programme of constructive work, mainly based on Khadi, and asked the Congressmen to devote themselves whole-heartedly to the programme. As a result, throughout the eight years, a number of institutions were set up namely – All India Spinning Association, Harijan Sevak Sangha, Hindustani Talemi Sangh, All India Village Industries Association etc.

In December 1941, Gandhi published a booklet under the title – ‘Constructive Programme: Its meaning and place’ – in which he explained, in concrete terms, the activities which he wanted to include under constructive programme. However, in 1945, Gandhi again revised his booklet and added one more item to it, namely, the improvement of cattle, on the advice of one of his close associates.


The main aspects of Constructive Programme, as outlined by Gandhi, are :

Firstly, it harps on the establishment of communal unity through abolition of all discriminations between communities, specially the Hindus and the Muslims, regarding food, drinks etc. at the railway stations, schools and colleges and the cultivation of an unbreakable hard unity through personal experience.

Secondly, it emphasised on the abolition of untouchability by influencing the orthodox Hindus through more appeal. The question of untouchability should not be viewed as a political question but as one of the life and death of Hinduism. Every caste should befriend them and break their isolation.

Thirdly, it avowed the opening of recreation booths where the tired labourers would rest their limbs and get healthy and cheap refreshments.

Fourthly, it stressed upon the establishment of Khadi production centres across the villages of India. Khadi was interpreted by Gandhi as not only as an economic rejuvenation but also as political phenomena. Khadi was the symbol of unity of India and remained the most potent instrument of mass uplift and mass education.

Fifthly, it stood for the improvement of village sanitation which was practically non-existent in India, and the organization of adult education throughout the country. Gandhi felt that, without such adult education, there can be no Swaraj.

The other important aspect was the emancipation of women. Gandhi felt that though Satyagraha has automatically brought Indian women out of their darkness, as nothing else would have in such an incredibly short span of time, women had not yet become equal partners of men in the fight for Swaraj and at home. Education on health and hygiene which though related with basic education and village sanitation is a separate category of constructive work and relates to personal care for one’s body and mind was looked at. Development of provincial languages in India such as the development of Hindi mixed with Urdu that is Hindustani as the national language of India was suggested and abolition of English was suggested. Uplift of Adibashis and aboriginal tribes, service and rehabilitation of the lepers, organization of peasantry for improvement of their condition and the achievement of their rights through non-violent means were suggested. Organization of student service on a non-political basis was proposed.

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