Ethics in Public Administration – Gandhian Perspective

According to Gandhiji, there is no water tight compartment between personal, private and social ethics. For him, Dharma is everything and he used the concept of dharma in three senses – as duty, religion and ethics.

Dharma, in the Indian tradition, commands morality in the sense of righteous conduct. Mahatma Gandhi has raised dharma to a higher pedestal, signifying a quality through which we know “our duty in human life and our religion with other selves”.

The whole discourse of ethics and ethical conducts of Gandhi evolve around purushartha that was enunciated by Lord Krishna and recorded in Bhagwad Gita. Gandhiji ethical principles are ethics of non-violence, humanity, truth, responsibility for self and principled rejection of the distracting ills of modernity. Let’s look at Gandhian perspective on ethics in public administration;

  • Non-violence in political context – For Gandhi, Non-violence in political context refers to through submission to a virtuous life led by the pursuit of truth. He reminds that non-violence was not about fomenting revolution directly but was about obeying rule of law through virtue-led practical action that is expressed as a principled disagreement with its implementation or certain content.

As a doctrine of peaceful resistance, the practice of Non-violence meant politely accepting responsibility for transgressing the law while also stating cogently one’s reason for disagreement. In addition, non-violence means avoiding all thoughts or actions that do violence, even mental, against any other living thing.

For him maintaining Non-violence position requires constant supervision of one’s thoughts and actions which requires virtues such as pursuit of truth, humility, responsibility and satyagraha.

  •  Economic governance – For Gandhi, Engagement with the economy was engagement with a “right” economy or one in which moral progress kept pace with material progress and in which technology did not replace human beings but instead made their labour and sufferings less. Gandhiji captured this notion in the concept of Swadeshi.

 According to Gandhi, one could own private property but one could not steal. One could pursue wealth (artha) as part of the four aims of life (Purushartha) but could not do so with selfish intentions.

As pertains to nation, selfish behaviour, particularly corruption and economizing without regard to the material and moral needs of people, was immoral in eyes of Gandhi.

  • Ethics in public service – For Gandhi, devotion to non-violence, thorough-going public service to the nation and world, humility, engagement, and taking responsibility for one’s actions must be attributes of public servants.
  • Ministership – Gandhi stressed that this is not a political prize but “avenues to service” and had to be held lightly and tightly. Gandhi expected the Congress rule not through the police backed by the military but through its moral authority based upon the greatest goodwill of the people ‘won through’ the service of the people
  • Seven Social Sins – Quoted by Mahatma Gandhi is highly relevant to bring ethicality in public governance and improving the ethical status of public administration. These are as follows;
    • Politics without principles
    • Wealth without work
    • Pleasure without conscience
    • Knowledge without character
    • Commerce without morality
    • Science without humanity
    • Worship without sacrifice.