Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229


Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India



Trusteeship and Mahatma Gandhi 



Trusteeship is not solely by verbal persuasion. I will concentrate on my means. I have been called the greatest revolutionary of my time. That is perhaps not correct, but I do believe that I am a revolutionary, a non-violent revolutionary. My weapon is ‘non-co-operation’. No one can thrive without the collaboration, willing or forced, of the people. 1 We have given up the trusteeship of the Ashram. We have given it up not out of rancour but out of a feeling of oneness with it, because we saw that while keeping it under our control we could not observe our dharma. The Government may take it over, but are not doing so. I do not want it to be ruined. Giving up control of the Ashram does not mean that we would never be staying there. I do hope we could stay there. Even if the Government sells it away, I hope that the inmates of the Ashram would settle nowhere but on that land may it become a place of pilgrimage for Harijans. May it be for them a temple. May it also be a place which would remind the caste Hindus of their own dharma. The caste Hindus should know that they have reason for atonement and that this will also mean service to them. 2

Those who own money now are asked to behave like trustees holding their riches on behalf of the poor. You may say that trusteeship is a legal fiction. But if people meditate over it constantly and try to act up to it, then life on earth would be governed far more by love than it is at present. Absolute trusteeship is an abstraction like Euclid’s definition of a point, and is equally unattainable. But if we strive for it, we shall be able to go further in realizing a state of equality on earth than by any other method.  It is better than private ownership. But that too is objectionable on the ground of violence. It is my firm conviction that if the State suppressed capitalism by violence, it will be caught in the coils of violence itself, and will fail to develop non-violence at any time. The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence. Hence I prefer the doctrine of trusteeship.  What I would personally prefer would be not a centralization of power in the hands of the State, but. an extension of the sense of trusteeship; as in my opinion the violence of private ownership is less injurious than the violence of the State. However, if it is unavoidable, I would support a minimum of State-ownership.  While admitting that man actually lives by habit, I hold that it is better for him to live by the exercise of will. I also believe that men are capable of developing their will to an extent that will reduce exploitation to a minimum. I look upon an increase of the power of the State with the greatest fear, because although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of all progress. We know of so many cases where men have adopted trusteeship, but none where the State has really lived for the poor.  Leaving me aside, you must remember that the influence of all great teachers of mankind has outlived their lives. In the teachings of each prophet like Mohammed, Buddha or Jesus, there was a permanent portion and there was another which was suited to the needs and requirements of the times. It is only because we try to keep up the permanent with the impermanent aspects of their teachings that there is so much distortion in religious practice today. But that apart, you can see that the influence of these men has sustained us after they have passed away. Moreover, what I disapprove of is an organization based on force which a State is. Voluntary organization there must be. 3

Trusteeship of the Association has been made a position of heavy responsibility by the trustees being made finally responsible for the protection of the ideal, in the remote but not altogether impossible event of its being lowered in the process of democratization of the Association. And yet democratization is as necessary for the growth of the movement as the permanence of the ideal, which must not be put in the melting pot. But the working out of the ideal is so put. For, it is made to rest solely in the hands of a Board which seven years hence becomes subject to election by voters whose sole qualification is subscribing to the creed of the Association. It is true that the application for membership is subject to rejection by the Board. That is a precaution merely to prevent an unbeliever becoming a member only to shatter the ideal to pieces. The franchise is more extensive than even adult franchise. Every villager who is conscious of the dignity of village life and its infinite capacity for promoting the happiness of mankind can belong to the Association. Let those, therefore, who believe in the policy and the ideal of the Association become members and work for the economic, moral and physical welfare of the villagers of India, irrespective of differences in political faith, religion, caste or race. The Association recognizes no caste, religious, political or racial differences. 4

I do not want to destroy the zamindar, but neither do I feel that the zamindar is inevitable. I will illustrate how I work out my trusteeship theory here. In this village Jamnalalji has a 75 per cent share. Of course I have come here not by design but by accident. When I approached Jamnalalji for help he built me the required hut and outhouses and said, “Whatever profit there is from Segaon you may take for the welfare of the village.” If I can persuade other zamindars to do likewise village improvement becomes easy. Of course the next question is that of the land system and that of Government exploitation. I regard the difficulties surrounding that aspect of the question as for the moment necessary evils. If the present programme is carried through, I shall perhaps know how to deal with the Government exploitation. 5 Whenever economic troubles arise and whenever questions have been put to you on the economic relations of capital and labour, you have put forth the theory of trusteeship which has always puzzled me. You want the rich to hold all their property in trust for the poor and expend it for their benefit. If I ask you whether this is possible, you will tell me that my question arises from a belief in the essential selfishness of human nature and that your theory is based on the essential goodness of human nature. However, in the political sphere, you do not hold such views without at the same time losing your faith in the fundamental goodness of human nature. The British claim the same trusteeship for their domination of India. But you have lost faith in the British Empire long ago, and today there is no greater enemy to it than you. Is it consistent to have one law for the political world and another for the economic world? Or, do you mean to say that you have not lost faith in capitalism and capitalists just as you have lost faith in British Imperialism and the British? For your trusteeship theory sounds very much like the Divine Right theory of kings which has been exploded long ago. When one man, who was allowed to hold political power in trust for all the others and who derived it from them, misused it, people revolted against it and democracy was born. Similarly now, when a few, who ought to hold the economic power in trust for the others from whom they derive it, use it for their own self- aggrandizement and to the detriment of the rest, the inevitable result is the deprivation of the few of the means of economic power by the many, i.e., the birth of socialism. 6

The trusteeship theory is not unilateral and does not in the least imply superiority of the trustee. It is, as I have shown, a perfectly mutual affair, and each believes that his own interest is best safeguarded by safeguarding the interest of the other. ‘May you propitiate the gods and may the gods propitiate you, and may you reach the highest good by this mutual propitiation,’ says the Bhagavad Gita. There is no separate species called gods in the universe, but all who have the power of production and will work for the community using that power are gods—labourers no less than the capitalists. 7 You should know that there is today in the Congress a considerable and growing section that wants to do away with all vested interests altogether, because they have no faith in the possibility of their conversion. My capacity to protect you will, therefore, entirely depend on your willingness to adopt and live up to the ideal of trusteeship that I have placed before you. I would not be able to help you unless you co-operate with me. 8

It is the same thing whether you are unable to understand it or your reason does not accept it. How can I explain such an important principle in a few minutes? Still I shall try to explain it in brief. Just imagine that I have a crore of rupees in my possession. I can either squander the amount in dissipation or take up the attitude that the money does not belong to me, that I do not own it, that it is a bequest, that it has been put in my possession by God and that only so much of it is mine as is enough for my requirements. My requirements also should be like those of the millions. My requirements cannot be greater because I happen to be the son of a rich man. I cannot spend the money on my pleasures. The man who takes for himself only enough to satisfy the needs customary in his society and spends the rest for social service becomes a trustee. 9

Indeed at the root of this doctrine of equal distribution must lie that of the trusteeship of the wealthy for the superfluous wealth possessed by them. For according to the doctrine they may not possess a rupee more than their neighbours. How is this to be brought about? Non-violently? Or should the wealthy be dispossessed of their possessions? To do this we would naturally have to resort to violence. This violent action cannot benefit society. Society will be the poorer, for it will lose the gifts of a man who knows how to accumulate wealth. Therefore the non-violent way is evidently superior. The rich man will be left in possession of his wealth, of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for the society. In this argument honesty on the part of the trustee is assumed. 10

I adhere to my doctrine of trusteeship in spite of the ridicule that has been poured upon it. It is true that it is difficult to reach. So is non-violence. But we made up our minds in 1920 to negotiate that steep ascent. We have found it worth the effort. It involves a daily growing appreciation of the working of non-violence. It is expected that Congressmen will make a diligent search and reason out for themselves the why and the wherefore of 2 non-violence. They should ask themselves how the existing inequalities can be abolished violently or non-violently. I think we know the violent way. It has not succeeded anywhere. 11 According to Hinduism the eldest son like the other sons does inherit the father’s wealth but along with it he also becomes the trustee of the family’s traditions and his father’s ethics and principles. Hence I would say to you that if you are already engaged in business, continue to do so; earn wealth if you want, but like Jamnalalji all your earnings should be fair earnings. Again, bear in mind that for the good of the people you too have to be a trustee of your wealth. You shall spend what you earn not for your own self but to serve the people. Only then will your trusteeship have meaning. 12

I shall expect from you too sacrifice according to your own strength. Never forget, whatever Jamnalalji had earned he had surrendered to Lord Krishna. If you have any share from it know that you have it subject to the conditions of trusteeship. It is not for your personal comforts and luxuries but only so that you too like Jamnalalji should act as its trustees. 13 The question is apt and has been put to me before. What Jamnalalji could have meant was in the Gita sense that every action is tainted. It is my conviction that it is possible to acquire riches without consciously doing wrong. For example, I may light on a gold mine in my one acre of land. But I accept the proposition that it is better not to desire wealth than to acquire it and become its trustee. I gave up my own long ago, which should be proof enough of what I would like others to do. But what am I to advise those who are already wealthy or who would not shed the desire for wealth? I can only say to them that they should use their wealth for service. It is true that generally the rich spend more on themselves than they need. But this can be avoided. Jamnalalji spent far less on himself than men of his own economic status and even than many middle-class men. I have come across innumerable rich persons who are stingy with themselves. For some it is part of their nature to spend next to nothing on themselves, and they do not think that they acquire merit in so doing. The same applies to the sons of the wealthy. Personally I do not believe in inherited riches. The well-to-do should educate and bring up their children so that they may learn how to be independent. The tragedy is that they do not do so. Their children do get some education, they even recite verses in praise of poverty, but they have no compunction about helping themselves to parental wealth. That being so, I exercise my common sense and advise what is practicable. 14 

If the trusteeship idea catches, philanthropy, as we know it, will disappear. Of those you have named only Jamnalalji came near, but only near it. A trustee has no heir but the public. In a State built on the basis of non-violence, the commission of trustees will be regulated. Princes and zamindars will be on a par with the other men of wealth. 15 During the last detention at Poona in 1942, I had the opportunity to discuss at length with Gandhiji various aspects of his ideal of trusteeship... In the course of our talk one day he remarked: “The only democratic way of achieving it today is by cultivating opinion in its favour.” I put it to him that perhaps the reason why he had presented trusteeship basis to the owning class was that while non-violence would command many sacrifices from the people, it was not reasonable to expect anyone to present his own head in a charger. “So instead of asking the owning class to do the impossible, you presented them with a reasonable and practicable alternative.”

GANDHIJI: I refuse to admit that non-violence knows any limit to the sacrifice that it can demand or command. The doctrine of trusteeship stands on its own merits.

PYARELAL: Surely, you do not mean that the change would depend upon the sufferance of the owning class and we shall have to wait till their conversion is complete? If social transformation is effected by a slow, gradual process, it will kill the revolutionary fervour which an abrupt break with the past creates. That is why our Marxist friends say that a true social revolution can come only through a proletarian dictatorship. . .

G. Perhaps you have the example of Russia in mind. Wholesale expropriation of the owning class and distribution of its assets among the people there did create a tremendous amount of revolutionary fervour. But I claim that ours will be an even bigger revolution. We must not underrate the business talent and know-how which the owning class has acquired through generations of experience and specialization. Free use of it would accrue to the people under my plan. So long as we have no power, conversion is our weapon by necessity, but after we get power, conversion will be our weapon of choice. Conversion must precede legislation. Legislation in the absence of conversion remains a dead letter. As an illustration, we have today the power to enforce rules of sanitation but we can do nothing with it because the public is not ready.

P. You say conversion must precede reform. Whose conversion? If you mean the conversion of the people, they are ready even today. If, on the other hand, you mean that of the owning class, we may as well wait till the Greek Calends.

G. I mean the conversion of both. You see, if the owning class does not accept the trusteeship basis voluntarily, its conversion must come under the pressure of public opinion. For that public opinion is not yet sufficiently organized. 16

For my part I desire not abolition, but conversion of their autocracy into trusteeship, not in name but in reality. The arbitrary powers they enjoy should go. The liberty of the people should not depend upon the will of an individual however noble and ancient may be his descent. Nor can any person, whether Prince or a Princely zamindar or merchant, be the sole owner and disposer of possessions hereditary or self-acquired. Every individual must have the fullest liberty to use his talents consistently with equal use by his neighbours but no one is entitled to the arbitrary use of the gains from the talents. He is part of the nation or say the social structure surrounding him. Therefore, he can only use his talents not for self only but for the social structure of which he is but a part and on whose sufferance he lives. The present inequalities are surely due to people’s ignorance. With a growing knowledge of their natural strength, the inequalities must disappear. If the revolution is brought about by violence the position will be reversed, but not altered for the better. With non-violence, i.e., conversion, the new era which people hope for must be born. My approach and appeal are in terms of non-violence pure and undefiled. The French have a noble motto in Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. It is a heritage not for the French only but for all mankind. 17

But you should remember that I visualize a system of trusteeship regulated by the State. In other words I do not want to antagonize the zamindars (and for that matter any class) without cause. 18  On the question of trusteeship, which was absent from the constitution of the Sangh, Mahatma Gandhi is said to have pointed out that since the theory of trusteeship was stressed by him and had a permanent association with his name, it was legitimate to make it a matter of dispute. He said that he did not want to accentuate class-struggle. The owners should become trustees. They might insist that they should become trustees and yet they might choose to remain owners. We shall then have to oppose and fight them. Satyagraha will then be our weapon. Even if we want a classless society we should not engage in a civil war. Non-violence should be depended upon to bring a classless society. 19 A proprietor who holds his property as a trust will not pass it on to his children in inheritance unless the letter in their turn become trustees and make good their claim as such. If they are not prepared for it, he should create a trust of his property. It is demoralizing for an able-bodied young man to live like a parasite on unearned income. A father should inculcate in his children the appreciation of the dignity of labour and teach them to earn their bread by their honest industry. As regards the monied people all I can say from my close personal association with a large number of them, is that if a general atmosphere in favour of trusteeship, devoid of ill-will and class hatred, is created in the country they will fall in line with it. 20 

Gandhiji’s reply was that economic equality of his conception did not mean that everyone would literally have the same amount. It simply meant that everybody should have enough for his or her needs. For instance, he required two shawls in winter whereas his grand-nephew Kanu Gandhi who stayed with him and was like his own son did not require any warm clothing whatsoever. Gandhiji required goat’s milk, oranges and other fruit. Kanu could do with ordinary food. He envied Kanu but there was no point in it. Kanu was a young man whereas he was an old man of 76. The monthly expense of his food was far more than that of Kanu but that did not mean that there was economic inequality between them. The elephant needs a thousand times more food than the ant, but that is not an indication of inequality. So the real meaning of economic equality was: “To each according to his need.” That was the definition of Marx. If a single man demanded as much as a man with wife and four children that would be a violation of economic equality. Gandhiji continued: Let no one try to justify the glaring difference between the classes and the masses, the prince and the pauper, by saying that the former need more. That will be idle sophistry and a travesty of my argument. The contrast between the rich and the poor today is a painful sight. The poor villagers are exploited by the foreign Government and also by their own countrymen—the city-dwellers. They produce the food and go hungry. They produce milk and their children have to go without it. It is disgraceful. Everyone must have a balanced diet, a decent house to live in, facilities for the education of one’s children and adequate medical relief.  Supposing India becomes a free country tomorrow, all the capitalists will have an opportunity of becoming statutory trustees. But such a statute will not be imposed from above. It will have to come from below. When the people understand the implications of trusteeship and the atmosphere is ripe for it, the people themselves, beginning with gram panchayat’s, will begin to introduce such statutes. Such a thing coming from below is easy to swallow. Coming from above, it is liable to prove a dead weight. 21  

God who was all-powerful had no need to store. He created from day to day. Hence men also should in theory live day to day and not stock things. If this truth was imbibed by the people generally, it would become legalized and trusteeship would become a legalized institution. He wished it became a gift from India to the world. Then there would be no exploitation and no reserves as in Australia and other countries for white men and their posterity. In these distinctions lay the seeds of a war more virulent than the last two. As to the successor, the trustee in office would have the right to nominate his successor subject to legal sanction. 22 

That question involved some confusion of thought. Legal ownership in the transformed condition vested in the trustee, not in the State. It was to avoid confiscation that the doctrine of trusteeship came into play retaining for the society the ability of the original owner in his own right. Nor did he, the speaker, hold that the state must always be based on violence. It might be so in theory but the practice of the theory demanded a State which would for the most part be based on nonviolence. 23 It may not be right to divide the newly purchased land into plots and sell them. This will be a commercial practice. Nor should buildings be put up with a view to earning rent. It does not matter if we are required to pay land revenue. Proper arrangements must be made first. So long as this work is not carried on the principle of trusteeship, it should be kept pending. Earning money is certainly not the underlying idea. In the meantime the society can take up cooperative farming. 24 

When I talk of trusteeship people call me mad. But there is something in that madness. If you think a little deeply you will understand it. Today I can say with conviction that if there is anyone among all these people who is a socialist it is I. And this gives me the right to say what I am saying. The public life and the private life of a public servant are interrelated. Socialism cannot be established without moral purity. Socialism has been in vogue ever since the time of Lord Krishna. He played with the cowherds. He lived with them, ate with them; he went along with Sudama to cut firewood in the forest for the wife of his preceptor. There are many such instances. He even became the charioteer of Arjuna to show that there was no one high or low for him. He comported with the cowherd maidens freely for there was no impurity in his eyes. Thus what you call socialism, the thing which you think you should learn from Russia or America or England, has been there in our country for a very long time. 25 A trustee is one who discharges the obligations of his trust faithfully and in the best interests of his wards. 26




  1. Young India, 26-11-1931
  2. Harijanbandhu, 8-10-1933
  3. The Hindustan Times, 17-10-1935
  4. Harijan, 22-2-1935 
  5. Harijan, 5-12-1936
  6. Harijan, 20-2-1937
  7. Harijan, 25-6-1938.
  8. Harijan, 25-3-1939 
  9. Gandhi Seva Sanghke Panchama Varshik Adhiveshan (Brindaban,Bihar) ka Vivaran, pp. 50
  10. Harijan, 25-8-1940
  11. Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place
  12. Harijan Sevak, 22-2-1942
  13. Harijan Sevak, 22-2-1942 
  14. Harijan, 1-3-1942
  15. Harijan, 12-4-1942 
  16. Mahatma Gandhi—the Last Phase, Vol. II, pp. 630
  17. Harijan, 2-8-1942 
  18. The Hindu, 23-1-1945
  19. The Hindu, 7-9-1945
  20. Amrita Bazar Patrika, 13-1-1946
  21. The Hindu, 26-1-1946
  22. Harijan, 23-2-1947
  23. Harijan, 16-2-1947 
  24. Biharni Komi Agman, pp. 265 
  25. Gandhijiki Delhi Diary—III, pp. 188
  26. Harijan, 22-2-1948



Views: 80

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of GandhiTopia to add comments!

Join GandhiTopia

Comment by vijay srivastava on June 24, 2013 at 8:46

Dear sir , what is your opinion i  the context of  trusteeship and inequalities in income and consumption. in your paper you discussed abut non-violent social transformation through equal distribution and also about change in economic production system. It is  finescholarly work .



GandhiTopia is a free service by GandhiServe Foundation. You can support GandhiTopia by a donation or by buying our GandhiTopia products.

Thank you!

GandhiTopia Store



© 2019   Created by GandhiServe Foundation.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service