Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

C. Rajagopalachari | Of communism, culture and freedom

When regulations are not governed by moral values and indoctrination is deemed acceptable, then freedom is lost, says Rajagopalachari

In his inaugural address to the annual conference of the Indian Committee for Cultural Freedom in 1953, C. Rajagopalachari, freedom fighter, politician and then chief minister of Madras, spoke on the concept of freedom in culture and presented a scathing critique of communism and regulation by the state.


Culture is not just art or literature or dancing or music or painting as it prevails among a people. It is the pattern of behaviour generally accepted by a people. Culture is very far from freedom. No man of culture feels free. He imposes on himself all sorts of restraints. So then, the culture of a people is the pattern of restraints that people have as a whole, after trial and error through generations, settled down to accept, in the interest of social order and happiness.

There is joy and pride in the acceptance of such restraints and no resentment or pain. In that sense there is freedom in culture as an essential part. It is this which distinguishes culture from State-regulation. ‘State-regulation’ began as a protest against the anarchy created by indiscriminate individual freedom and the greed and competition that resulted from it. The practice of State-regulation has resulted in the discovery of several evils in the remedy worse than the disease.

In the cycle of human progress the slogan of ‘freedom’ has therefore been raised as a counter to excessive State-regulation. The one comes from Moscow and the other from America. But neither the slogan of ‘freedom’ nor the slogan of ‘State-regulation’ can solve the difficulties of humanity. The right slogan is ‘self-control’ and that is the message of Indian philosophy and the culture that can be claimed by India as its own.

Every culture is based on and bound up with a definite idea. The culture of Greece was bound up with the sense of beauty. The culture of Rome was developed round the sense of order and law. The culture of India is built round the central idea of self-control.

The way of life, the pattern of behaviour accepted as correct and esteemed by the people of India as worthy, by the common folk as well as by the enlightened, is the way of self-control as laid down in the Upanishads and the Bhagwat Gita and emphasized in recent times, with the whole force of a political revolution behind it, by Mahatma Gandhi.

Therefore before we discuss culture on the Indian background, it is necessary to dwell on the essentials of it even if it may seem we are using the occasion for a religious discourse. The first two verses of Isa Vasya Upanishad put it down in simple and brief language:

God pervades everything in this world.

Isaavaasyamidam sarvam yatkincha jagatam jagat

Dedicate everything to Him while doing the things you do and enjoying the things you possess. Do not entertain covetous desires.

Tena tyaktena bhunjiitha maa gridha: kasyaswidhanam

Life involves necessarily activity and work. Work involves necessarily some evil or other, particularly attachment to the fruits of activity. If one must work, as one must live, there is no other way to escape the contamination of evil, except by dedication of all activities to the all-pervading Supreme Spirit.

Kurvanneveha Karmani

Jijiivishetchatam Samaah.

Evam thvayi naanyathetosti

Nakarma lipyate nare.

Whatever you do, do it as an act of dedication to God, be it small or be it big, whether it is a trivial business or is it thing of great and general importance. This is how Brother Lawrence is said to have lived. Even when cooking or scrubbing the food or cleaning the vessel; he did his work in company with his God. He worked and he laughed with God by his side.

There is a soul in the body that functions in the material world. He who denies the soul and identifies it with the body and thus kills his own soul will find the world all dark and without any light to guide his steps.

Asuryaa naama te’ lokaa andhena


Taanste’ pre’tyaabhi gachchanti

ye’ ke’ chaatmahano’ janaah.

Why? Because their minds are led by desires and will wander into evil and grief. The soul can conquer the wandering mind and senses. It can control the senses and prevent their attachment to sensuous pleasures which leads men to ruin. All that one thinks to be other than oneself moving or unmoving, near or far should be seen and realised to be part of oneself. The sense of separation from those around you should be overcome.

Yastu sarvaani Bhuutanyaatmanye’ vaa nupac, yati

Sarvabhuute’ shu chaatmaanam tato’ na vijugupsate’

What I have explained is a rendering of the first six verses of the Isa Vasya Upanishad and it is also the teaching of the Gita. The Upanishad proceeds to explain that by the result of the life and discipline taught therein, one will attain equanimity and reach knowledge and the power of enjoying all that comes to one to the best advantage. You will thereby, says the Upanishad, properly enjoy the things of enjoyment for years and years, that is, in the right way and not leading to pain and grief.

Yaathaatathyatah arthaan vyadadhaat

saasvatiibhya: samaabhya:

All Indian culture is bound up with this doctrine of self-control based on a recognition of the existence and the functioning of a soul within and pervading the material casement.

Civilization in modern times has developed into and identified itself with man’s control over his environment, man’s control over nature. In the pursuit of this objective civilization, he has forgotten the prime requisite for happiness, viz., control over oneself. We have learnt very greatly how to control nature, but we have not learnt how to control ourselves.

Control over nature and man’s environment has extended beyond all expectations and has in recent years spread out to a dangerous field, viz, to the obtaining of psychological power over the minds of men and women. Humanity is reduced to the condition of material nature and the rulers of the world have developed a technique to control the minds of men and women even as they have succeeded in controlling material nature. This attempt to control the minds of men and women as if they were raw materials like coal and iron took place in Hitlerism and Communism.

If civilization means happiness this must not be permitted. If men and women are reduced to something like coal and iron, where are moral values, the weights and measures by which we judge progress and civilization? Moral values cannot be allowed to become the play-thing of psychological technique.

The culture of a people is essentially the prevailing pattern of joyous restraint accepted by the people. If this is so, what then does freedom of culture for which your organisation stands mean? Does your conception of freedom contradict self-restraint? I think not. I consider the slogan of your organisation means only this—that restraint should be developed from within in accordance with truth to replace the restraints that are imposed by the State.

Truth is another name for moral values. Truth should not be sacrificed at the altar of other objectives. It is to this I think you give the name of cultural freedom. Freedom does not mean license, absence of self-restraint. No one can be free of the restraints by moral values: nothing can claim liberation from the shackles of truth, the chains imposed by moral values.

Now Hitler claimed when he was in power, and the communists claim that truth is not an inviolable temple. Their activities past and present are based on the conviction that truth is just what we agree to be truth and nothing more permanent than that. This cannot be accepted. When you stand for freedom of culture, I presume you claim that no direction should be given to culture in disregard of the respect that is due to truth, that is, in disregard of moral values.

Now there are some who argue that truth continually grows: that it is not static: that it is ever a matter for further research and therefore there is no sense in talking about the absolute essentiality of regard for truth or for moral values.

I agree that the truth is not entirely disclosed to man, but there is such a thing as an unalterable desire to seek the truth and unqualified respect for what we for the time being believe to be the truth. The opposite approach is that we do not know the ultimate truth and therefore what the ruling party has decided to be good for the people is the truth.

What I most dislike in Communism is the deterioration it works in moral values and the respect for truth. When regulations lose the life-giving governance of moral values and when indoctrination is deemed lawful and proper, in order that some objective may be reached, then there is loss of freedom, which your organisation and all of us deplore. And this is what happens when communism is allowed to rule. This is what we have in mind when we say that freedom is lost in communist-ruled countries.

God is dethroned in those countries as the first necessary step to dethrone truth and in order that nothing may stand in the way of whatever the ruling party decides, on such data as are accepted by them as good for the people. In fact “the people" is a phrase that has with communists replaced moral values. Of all the slogans that I dislike, I dislike most this misleading slogan of “the people." It is sought to replace every moral value, everything sacred. Even justice in judicial matters is, according to the communists, justice, only when an indoctrinated crowd shouts it.

The party that has got hold of power makes the people what they are, if not in one generation, in two or three. And this was sought to be done secretly before, but it is openly done now. In fact it is acclaimed to be lawful education. The difference between culture as we understand it and culture as it developed in communist countries consists in this—that we respect truth and have regard for moral values, which are deemed inviolable.

It may be that everything is relative and we have to be content with truth as we know or believe it to be. But it is something to love what we regard as truth. It is disgusting altogether to shape life not caring for moral values. You know that a child grows. It will be in course of time quite different from what it is now. But you love it with all your heart. You do not stint in your love or in your attention because the child will grow into a big man later on.

Truth grows, but we must love it at all stages and not regard it as illusion. I consider that this is the meaning of the slogan of freedom by which this organisation swears.

But for my own part I would love it that instead of making ‘freedom’ the banner of our struggle against communism, we set up self-control, that is, the restraint of our activities based on moral values as our battle-standard. Not freedom which may deteriorate into license and anarchy, not State-regulation which may deteriorate into tyranny, but ‘self-control’ is the right slogan.

As against the culture of unrestrained liberty which is the slogan on one side and the culture of all-round state regulation which is the slogan on the other side, India stands for self-control, which is neither freedom nor regulation from outside. This is what Gandhi stood for, what the Bhagwat Gita preached and what was solemnly voiced forth in the ancient Upanishads. This alone will save the world from anarchy as well as from the slavery of totalitarianism.

To cultivate self-control, faith in Divine rule is an indispensable pre-requisite condition of mind; without it, we may talk of self-control but it is not possible. It is only when based on faith in Divine rule that self-control will be a joy and a fulfilment and progressively increase, instead of being pain and travail and remaining so all the time.

The culture of India is based on and bound up with self-control. It is the characteristic fundamental of Indian thought. It is this alone that can establish true freedom not to be confused with the free play of individual ambitions. It is self-restraint, control from within that makes art artistic, beauty beautiful and order orderly and enjoyable.

This piece has been selected for publication by, an initiative of the Centre for Civil Society. It is an online library of all Indian liberal writings, lectures and other materials in English and Indian languages, with an aim to preserve an often unknown but very rich Indian liberal tradition.

Source: October 1953 issue of Freedom First

Comments are welcome at