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Virtually With Us: Looking for Gandhi on the Internet

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Virtually With Us: Looking for Gandhi on the Internet

Want to write a PhD about Gandhi? You can nearly do so without leaving your house.

Virtually With Us: Looking for Gandhi on the Internet

Gandhi with Jawaharlal Nehru, 1946.

Credit: Dave Davis, Acme Newspictures Inc. / Library of Congress

“Break all of my statues that are in this country, remove each of my pictures from the walls, remove my name from the name of each building, crossing or street, but keep me in your heart,” demands Mahatma Gandhi’s ghost, having appeared behind the hero of Lage Raho Munna Bhai, a 2006 Hindi movie.

The film was a curious attempt to promote Gandhian philosophy through the medium of a gangster comedy. This particular scene reminds us how immortalized Gandhi has become in Indian society. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s name appears on many of India’s main streets, his statues dot the country (one faces the Parliament), and his face is to be found on nearly every banknote. While the Mahatma largely deserved being memorialized, his ghost would have indeed been aghast at the scope and the form of this endeavor. Would Gandhi, a person with little attraction to material things and with great concern about the influences of modern life, be happy that his face adorns Indian rupee banknotes of all values?

Just as in the movie scene, Gandhi would perhaps prefer that people keep him in their hearts. I assume he also would like them to retain or even spread his thoughts. And this, in fact, has been done as well. Keeping up with the times, all of his collected works — 100 volumes — were made available legally and free on the internet three years ago.

Indeed, much has been done to retain Gandhi’s written legacy. Nowadays, if you want to write a Ph.D. thesis about Gandhi you can nearly do so without leaving your house. Around 50,000 pages of his works wait for you on the web. That way, like the ghost from the movie, Mahatma is virtually still with us.

Over the years, various public and Gandhian institutions have done a lot to publish, promote, and retain the Mahatma’s works. This propagation has been facilitated by republication in cheaper formats and in translations. The Bapu Collection room at the National Archives in India – “Bapu” was an affectionate way to call Gandhi – holds hundreds of volumes of his works. Most importantly, the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, often called CWMG for short, have been in print for decades. The works include not only Mahatma’s words “as he wrote” but also “as he spoke.” The collection includes his books, articles, and letters but also the text of some interviews. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi comprise 100 volumes, a mammoth work that spanned 38 years. The last three volumes are the indices and prefaces to the entire series. The index of people and subjects runs nearly 600 pages thick.

So let me share a few links for Gandhian nerds. Mahatma’s entire collected works are on the internet – you can download them from either the Gandhi Ashram Sevagram website or the website. The PDFs available on these two websites are, however, based on the second, error-ridden edition. The first edition of CWMG was published from 1960 to 1994, and in 1998 the government decided to release a second edition. The second edition, however, was so poorly edited that publishing was stopped in 2005 after a wave of criticism, and public institutions returned to promoting the first, better, edition. The two links above will lead you to a series which are not so well edited and are made available without indices, though they are searchable. Each of those PDF files, however, has a table of contents. You can also download the contents list for the entire series – the list of all the titles of the texts in each volume with their dates and page numbers – here, from the website.

In 2015 – 10 years after the second edition was halted – the Indian government made the entire first edition available on the internet: scanned, searchable, and convertible to PDF. It is available on the website. It comes with indices (volumes 98 and 99) and, as mentioned above, it is the better edited version. Yet, it is not as easily navigable as the above-mentioned second edition, as each volume on the website is available as a series of page scans (you have to click to “flip” the pages). In each case, however, you can choose to convert each volume into a PDF file and download it. It will admittedly take more time than downloading the files of the second edition, but if you need to search for very specific data (such as names, which can be misspelled in the second edition), and not just texts generally, it is worth it.

This digitalization has been achieved by a team of people from Gujarat Vidyapith, a university founded by Gandhi in the city of Ahmedabad (now in the state of Gujarat) in 1920. Both the editions and all the texts I mention here are the English-language versions. It is being said that the same level of digitization will be one day achieved with the Hindi and Gujarati editions. Hindi is nowadays the most commonly spoken language in India while Gujarati was Gandhi’s mother tongue; many of his texts had been originally written in Gujarati and then translated into English and Hindi. The same team promises “improving the search capabilities” of the PDFs of the first edition (on the Gandhi Heritage Portal).

All of this, however, refers to the collected works. Hidden inside those piles of volumes with hundreds of letters and articles are some of Gandhi’s best-known texts. Yet, you can easily find Gandhi’s selected works on the internet as well (and these have been published as a separate series too). Among the most famous, on can easily find such titles as Hind Swaraj, Satyagraha in South Africa, Discourses on the Gita, the Mahatma’s autobiography, and many more.

Moreover, some of the most important portals about Gandhi — such as and — contain not only texts by Gandhi but a lot of other material, including texts on Gandhi. As for the first website, the texts about the Mahatma are to be found here, as for the second here.

Thus, as mentioned above, you can nearly write a Ph.D. thesis about Gandhi without leaving your house. Still, just because you can do this doesn’t mean you should. Go out and see what other books and primary sources you can find, talk and listen to people.

When India was about to get its independence, Gandhi wrote that one of the main differences between him and Jawaharlal Nehru (a freedom fighter like Gandhi and, also like the Mahatma, one of the main leaders of the Indian National Congress, who went on to become India’s first prime minister) was that Nehru wanted Englishness to stay, and the English to go, while it was the reverse in the case of Gandhi (he wanted the English to stay “as friends,” as he said). Gandhi was a traditional man, a firm Hindu believer, a votary of religious and social reforms but with certain conservative views as well. Nehru was a modernized socialist and atheist. Gandhi was also against industrialization. He rejected many elements of modernization, favored India’s rural life and village autonomy, was suspicious of teaching social sciences in public universities. The Mahatma was, however, murdered by a Hindu nationalist in 1948, less than a year after India gained independence while Nehru lasted as the country’s prime minister for 17 years. Many of the processes that took place in Nehru’s India – such as industrialization – were completely against Gandhi’s wishes. Then again, it was perhaps inevitable that a part of Mahatma’s idealistic program, such as his insistence on passive resistance, was unrealistic and impossible to fulfill while building a modern state.

It was however, the same government of Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s ideological rival but also old friend, that invested in commemorating Gandhi. Nehru’s government strove to retain the Mahatma’s legacy by, among others, commissioning the edition of Gandhi’s collected works. It is perhaps a bitter irony that Gandhi remains the most memorized persona of 20th century India, and an author whose texts are widely and easily available while many of his ideas have been sidelined and ignored.

Contrary to the demand of the ghost in the Lage Raho Munna Bhai movie, the policymakers put Gandhi’s face and name on statues, pictures, buildings, and streets across the country, and maybe some of them even kept him in in their hearts, but not in their minds. In many cases the decisions of the subsequent governments to disregard Gandhi’s program were understandable and pragmatic but the same governments also did their best to promote the Mahatma as the father of the Indian nation and one of modern India’s most important thinkers.