Most of us know of Gandhiji as the man who led our struggle for freedom from British rule. But did you also know that while fighting for political independence, he was also wanting to prepare the people for a new and just social order so that Independence, when it came, would be "complete". In other words, his was a struggle for Poorna (or complete) Swaraj for all irrespective of their caste, class or religion. This meant building up or constructing the nation from its smallest unit (consisting of self reliant individuals living in independent self reliant communities) upwards, through nonviolent and truthful means.
To make political independence more meaningful, there were certain weaknesses in the Indian social structure which needed to be strengthened. Conflicts between different religious groups (mainly Hindus and Muslims), untouchability, fear arising out of ignorance, economic disparities, decaying condition of our villages, the plight of adivasis, kisans and the labourers, and the position of women were areas of major concern. In a small booklet, entitled Constructive Programme: its meaning and place, which he wrote on the train from Sevagram to Bardoli, he appealed to all Congressmen and others engaged in the freedom struggle to address these issues. The original thirteen items were: (1) Communal Unity (2) Removal of Untouchability (3) Prohibition (4) Khadi (5) Village Industries (6) Village Sanitation (7) Nai Talim or Basic Education (8) Adult Education (9) Women (10) Knowledge of Health and Hygiene (11) Provincial languages (12) National Language (13) Economic Inequality. To this, he added five more items:(1) Kisans (2) Labour (3) Adivasis (4) Lepers (5) Students.
The 18 point constructive programme thus became his framework for the new India he wished to see after Swaraj. Forty seven years after independence, do you think that they still have any meaning for us?