Ruskin's book thus paraphrased has a lesson for Indians no less than for the Englishmen to whom it was primarily addressed. New ideas are in the air in India. Our young men who have received Western education are full of spirit. This spirit should be directed into the right channels, as otherwise it can only do us harm. 'Let us have Swaraj' is one slogan; let us industrialize the country' is another.
But we hardly understand what Swaraj is. Natal for instance enjoys Swaraj but her Swaraj stinks in our nostrils, for she crushes the negroes, and oppresses the Indians. If by some chance the negroes and the Indians left Natal, its white men would fight among themselves and bring about their own destruction.
If not like Natal's will we have Swaraj as in the Transvaal one of whose leaders, General Smuts, breaks his promises, says one thing and does another? He has dispensed with the services of English policemen and employed Afrikanders instead. I do not think that this is going to help any of the two nationalities in the long run. Selfish men will loot their own people, when there are no more 'outsiders' left to be looted.
Thus Swaraj is not enough to make a nation happy. What would be the result of Swaraj being conferred on a band of robbers? They would be happy only if they were placed under the control of a good man who was not a robber himself. The United States, England and France for instance are powerful States, but there is no reason to think that they are really happy.
Swaraj really means self-control. Only he is capable of self-control who observes the rules of morality, does not cheat or give up truth, and does his duty to his parents, wife and children, servants and neighbours. Such a man is in enjoyment of Swaraj, no matter where he lives. A State enjoys Swaraj if it can boast of a large number of such good citizens.
It is not right that one people should rule another. British rule in India is an evil, but let us not run away with the idea that all will be well when the British quit India.
The existence of British rule in the country is due to our disunity, immorality and ignorance. If these national defects were overcome, not only would the British leave India without a shot being fired but we would be enjoying real Swaraj.
Some foolish Indians rejoice in bomb-throwing, but if all the Britishers in the country were thus killed, the killers would become the rulers of India who would only have a change of masters. The bomb now thrown at Englishmen will be aimed at Indians after the English are there no longer. It was a Frenchman who murdered the President of the French Republic. It was an American who murdered President Cleveland. Let us not blindly imitate Western people.
If Swaraj cannot be attained by the sin of killing Englishmen, it cannot be attained either by the erection of huge factories. Gold and silver may be accumulated but they will not lead to the establishment of Swaraj. Ruskin has proved this to the hilt. Western civilization is a mere baby, a hundred or only fifty years old. And yet it has reduced Europe to a sorry plight. Let us pray that India is saved from the fate that has overtaken Europe, where the nations are poised for an attack on one another, and are silent only because of the stockpiling of armaments. Some day there will be an explosion, and then Europe will be a veritable hell on earth. Non-white races are looked upon as legitimate prey by every European State. What else can we expect where covetousness is the ruling passion in the breasts of men? Europeans pounce upon new territories like crows upon a piece of meat. I am inclined to think that this is due to their mass-production factories.
India must indeed have Swaraj but she must have it by righteous methods. Our Swaraj must be real Swaraj, which cannot be attained by either violence or industrialization. India was once a golden land, because Indians then had hearts of gold. The land is still the same but it is a desert because we are corrupt. It can become a land of gold again only if the base metal of our present national character is transmuted into gold. The philosopher's stone which can effect this transformation1 is a little word of two syllables – Satya (Truth). If every Indian sticks to truth, Swaraj will come to us of its own accord.