Gandhi’s Talisman and Public Policy

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Posted by: Aishwarya Bhatia
Category: Governance
Gandhi’s Talisman and Public Policy

Do you remember reading school textbooks that began with the Preamble and Gandhi’s Talisman?  

Most of us grew up reading about Gandhi and his philosophy of nonviolence. His presence is so pervasive in the cultural understanding of our nation that his philosophy continues to be relevant worldwide. His ideas of Swaraj and a secular nation inspire decision-makers to date.  

It has been 75 years since India achieved independence—75 years of self-governance, with society being the only stakeholder in policymaking. We have had 75 years to inform our policies to suit the largest democracy in the world. But does Gandhian philosophy of truth and nonviolence remain viable in today’s decision-making practices, especially since the advent of technology in social sectors? 

Let’s look at Gandhi’s talisman:  

“I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, try the following expedient: 

Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man whom you may have seen and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he be able to gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj or self-rule for the hungry and also spiritually starved millions of our countrymen? 

Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.” 

This talisman explores the core public policy question—what is good?  

The idea is simple: the welfare of marginalized communities must always be at the forefront of any individual decision. In the policymaking context, the individuals in question are decision-makers with the power to affect and bring change to millions of lives. The goal remains the same for independent India: in a nation where swaraj is the norm, all people should be free too.  

But the power to bring this freedom to everyone rests in concentrated hands. How, then, do we bring swaraj to everyone through policymaking?  

This is where data-informed decisions come into play.  

With the advent of technology in social sectors, marginalized communities have begun coming to the forefront, making their issues visible and accessible for policymakers to work upon. More connected populations and better technological tools allow the government to engage citizens in developing and shaping policies, resulting in more representative and people-driven approaches.  

Public policy and the change it initiates becomes a stepping-stone to embedding systemic change within the government and society for the empowerment of marginalized communities. Change can be brought and sustained only when people become the stakeholders.  

Such was the case for the Dandi March 1930 too. Salt, the most universal food ingredient in the world, a common factor among the poorest and the richest, brought together the most diverse nation to protest salt taxation. It ignited people’s passion for the nation’s freedom and initiated their participation, becoming a people-led movement that gave impetus to our penultimate freedom from the British Raj.  

Today, data can help inspire people’s participation, especially in building inclusive policy structures. Inclusive policymaking enhances transparency, accountability, and public participation and builds civic capacity. It also enables the government to work with the citizens, civil society organizations, businesses, and other stakeholders to deliver concrete improvement in policy outcomes and the quality of public services.  

While our Constitution may be ‘of the people, for the people, and by the people,’ we still need to work on making the rights it guarantees a reality for everyone. To answer the question we explored earlier, ‘what is good’ is an evidence-based policy decision that brings systematic reform and swaraj to the marginalized.  




Aishwarya Bhatia, Sambodhi

Author: Aishwarya Bhatia

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