Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts, Pune hosted ‘Rethinking Swaraj’ in collaboration with Sir Parashurambhau College, Pune on the 17th and 18th of January 2020. It was a two-day conference, with speakers and chairs belonging to diverse professional backgrounds, organised by the students of SSLA and S.P. College.
The opening ceremony was officiated by Dr. Anita Patankar, Director of SSLA, who felicitated the dignitaries. Gita Dharampal, Dean at Gandhi Research Foundation delivered the keynote speech on 'Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj: A Historical Text with Contemporary Relevance?' after the inaugural session. The opening session was chaired by Former Justice Hemant Gokhale who discussed Gandhi’s views on untouchability, modernity, and his lifelong endeavour to reiterate the Indian identity. He also discussed the limitations of his book Hind Swaraj (1909) and how it never mentions the discriminatory practices of India; however, he also stressed upon the evolution of Gandhi’s personal views and the visible change in his conduct.
The next session was dedicated to Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The panel had two speakers and a chair. Arvind Gokhale, former Editor of Kesari, presented his paper on ‘The Concept of Home Rule’. He explained Tilak’s role as the person who introduced the concept of ‘Home Rule’ and his propagation of the concept of Swaraj in chronological order. Ashok Chousalkar, Retd. Prof. at Shivaji University, addressed the concept of Swaraj in the minds of Tilak and Gandhi through a paper titled ‘Swaraj means Democratic State'. Quoting him, “Swaraj is a democratic, self-government”. He also expound on Gandhian philosophy about the representation of the people with the popularisation of the word ‘Swaraj’ during the Swadeshi movement. Narendra Chapalgaokar, former Justice of the Bombay High Court, chaired the second session. He deliberated on Tilak as the public exponent of democratic dissent. Ishika Saxena (Batch 2020), Atmadeep Sengupta (Batch 2020) and Prof Gayatri Chatterjee, SSLA presented questions to the panel.
The third session of the day was on the most acclaimed propagator of Swaraj, Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, himself. The first speaker, Chaitra Redkar, Associate Professor at IISER, talked about 'Swaraj as a Critique of Representation', where she conferred upon Gandhi as a system builder with his alternative economic model of a state. She also mentioned Gandhi’s dislike of the institutionalisation of representation in a democracy, which can be reversed with participation. Rajarshi Dasgupta, Assistant Professor and Alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, drew parallels between Gandhian and Kantian philosophy. He ended his speech on the metaphysics of the body, especially autonomy and self-governance. Nachiket (Symbiosis School of Economics), Rutwik Upadhyaya (Batch 2021), Prof Sheila Menon (SSLA), and three other students in the audience posed questions to the panel. After the speakers left the audience with a lot to think about, Dr. Jayant Lele, the chair for the panel on Mahatma Gandhi, graced the dais with his thoughts on the subject. Dr. Lele said, "I see Gandhi, like Buddha, arriving in the history of mankind when something due must be said." He further elaborated on the contrast between Gandhi and Kant.
The fourth session of the conference and the last session for the day was Student Presentations. Prior to the conference, there was a call for abstracts and six of the submitted abstracts were chosen to be presented at the conference. The first paper presented was co-authored by Aaditya Krishnamurthy, Anwisha Thakur, and Upasana Rangarajan, titled 'India of today through the eyes of Tilak'. The last student presentation for the day was given by Deepro Roy on 'Notes towards writing a poem on Gandhi: Indian Political Art and the Impossible Aesthetics of Swaraj.'
The second day of the conference began with Prof. Rajeshwari Deshpande of Savitribai Phule University commencing the panel on Acharya Javdekar and Acharya Bhave with her presentation on 'Satyagraha as Krantishastra: Reading Gandhi with Javdekar'. Prof. Prashant Bagad joined the panel with his presentation on 'Intellectual Swaraj and Vinobha', talking about the aesthetic tradition of literature. Mr. Milind Bokil, Chair of the panel on Acharya Javdekar and Acharya Bhave, shared his views on the conference and its theme. He explained how it is imperative to read Javdekar to understand Gandhi’s views on Swaraj.
The last session of the conference was a continuation of the student presentations, which began with Akansha Mansukhani, an alumnus of SSLA, presenting a paper on 'B.R Ambedkar and Pandita Ramabai: Rethinking Swaraj through the Margins'. They continued with Sharvari Deshpande, Aarya Bankar, and Tejas Shinde from S.P. college presenting on 'Desensitization of Swaraj'.The last student presentation for the conference was delivered by Shantanu Chhawchharia whose paper analysed 'Non-violence through decentralization: An Exploration of Gandhi's constitutionalism and the Aundh Experiment'. Valuable insights to these presentations were added by Prof. Gayatri Chatterjee and Prof. Sanjod Apte
After a fruitful conference, Prof. Alok Oak delivered the vote of thanks to everyone who made the conference possible, concluding the two days of insightful discussion.