Gandhian thoughts and their relevance for contemporary development

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.
— Mahatma Gandhi

ahatma Gandhi is one of  the great sons of  India who changed the way  world can  be understood and the way change can happen for greater good. While his role in freedom struggle is widely acknowledged, his thinking on socio economic issues and models of developed was much discussed except for khadi. He not only questioned

the established mindsets and also proposed alternatives thoughts on every walk of life.

Unfortunately, the country and the world only came to know about the confrontationist Gandhi and not the creative Gandhi. Many of this ideas, questions and answers are still relevant for the issues the society faced with today. Currently, we are presented with peculiar conflicts of opinion, methods and actions in the agriculture and development sphere, the real nature of which it is not always easy to grasp.

On the one hand, we have had both in theory and practice considerable influence of western economic thought-driven by high productivity, high external inputs, high energy, external mar- kets and on the other hand we are also seeing growing ‘desi’ lobbies talking about bringing back traditional  systems  back. That’s  exact- ly where Gandhi becomes  relevant. Gandhi has not rejected the contribution of modernity. Rather he made effort to interpret in in an ef- fort to integrate these positive elements with a liberating re-interpretation of tradition. With his critique from within the tradition, Gandhi be- comes the great synthesiser of contraries within and across traditions (Heredia, 1999).

While the concept of ‘satyagraha’ made him fa- mous, there were hardly ever any discussion on the concepts of ‘swaraj’ presented in his book Hind Swaraj or the ideas of cooperative devel- opment. Gandhi’s economic ideals, much like everything else in his life, were governed by ethi- cal and moral considerations. His stress on rural economy and emphasis on a simple life, coupled with his concern for universal well-being formed the foundation of his unique views on econom- ics and development.

Gandhi’s economic ideas were part of his gener- al crusade against poverty, exploitation against socio-economic injustice, and deteriorating mor- al standards. His economic ideas are part of his general philosophy of life; they are reflected in his writings and speeches, mixed up with other related topics; they have to be discerned more in his actions, which must be viewed in their entirety not merely in an isolated way. Gandhi integrated them into principles of Satya (truth), Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Swarajya (Self-rule/ discipline), and Sarvodaya (equality). It is in the application of these criteria that the Gandhian Economic Thought has been built up says Kumarappa one of his staunch follower.

         “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.
— Mahatma Gandhi                         

Sustainable production: Much before the idea of  Common Future was outlined in the Brundt-    land Commission Report in 1987 it was Mahatma Gandhi who underlined the critical necessity      of sustainability by interrogating modern civilization based on multiplication of wants and desires. In 1928, Gandhi wrote about the unsustainability, on the global scale, of Western patterns of produc- tion and consumption. “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialization after the manner of the West,” he said. “The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom (England) is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploita- tion, it would strip the world bare like locusts.” He always emphasized the conservation of natural resources land, water and air. But in a mad rush we got into monocultures of crops large rice-wheat system in Punjab and Haryana had led to serious environmental crisis depleting the groundwaters, polluting the land, water and air with agrochemicals. This coupled with use of heavy machinery for harvesting forced farmers to resort to stubble burning and today air pollution with particulate matter has reached dangerous levels.

In 1906 Gandhiji wrote “A man can do without food for several days and live a day altogether with- out waters but it is impossible to carry on without air even for a minute. If a thing that is so very vital to life is not pure, the result cannot but be deleterious.” He stressed on the necessity of looking at the issue of clean air from integrated perspectives- the perspective of public health, freedom and independence of India, governance, economy, spirituality and education.

The high use (rather abuse) of chemical fertilisers has led to land degradation, salination and mak- ing large tracts of soils unfit for cultivation. Similarly, the largescale monocultures of cotton led to severe crisis in Telangana and Vidarbha areas resulting in large scale farmers suicides. But still as a nation we have not realised these dangers and still the arguments continue around increasing the yields without considering the long-term sustainability. In many occasions, Gandhi ji stated that access to nutritious food is emphasised as one of the key requirements to address the crisis of public health. Unfortunately, this is completely forgotten and today food (food production, processing and consumption processes) has become one of the major reasons for the ill health.

It’s time we make a shift towards sustainable production with more emphasis on conservation of natural resources rather than in mad pursuit of yields which anyway has not led to economic sus- tainability of farmer livelihoods. The shift in fact can farmers to reduce risk in agriculture and helps them to save on costs of production. So, the main driver of agriculture should shift to sustainable production with emphasis on sustaining natural resources, reducing risk in agriculture and increas- ing net incomes of farmers and providing safe and nutritious food to consumers rather than in mad pursuit of yields, abusing natural resources.

Access to natural resources: When livelihoods of poor are dependent largely on the natural resourc- es-land, water, forests etc., creating equitable access to them is important. Gandhiji on several occa- sions talked about land being a social property and has to be used for the benefit of the whole society. Just as sunlight, water, air, etc., belong to the community, so also land must belong to the community. It will be let out according to one’s capacity to use it for social benefit. The ownership in land must belong to the community. The commodification and privatisation of natural resources-land, water, biodiversity had made life of farmers and forest dwellers difficult.

Gandhi suggested the people in possession of wealth should act as trustees and create access to those who in need. Through Vinoba’s movement, Gandhi’s unfinished core works got a fillip. Vinoba announced that after ‘Swaraj’ it was now time for ‘Sarvodaya’. While speaking before the Planning Commission, he said in no equivocal words, “Your Five Year Plan is fit to be put in the garbage. You are talking about national planning, but you do not have any provision that will provide food for all and employment for all.

Your only aim appears to be increasing production. But along with that there should be equality and compassion. Your ‘percolation theory’ will not help society’s poor and you will have to formulate special programmes for them.” Vinoba could see that the people sitting in Delhi were thinking in the opposite direction and therefore, he said, “Leave Delhi and let us hit rural India.” The bhoodan and gramdhan movements are about wealth redistribution by those who possess them. Unfortunately,

The Future of India lies in its Villages
-Mahatma Gandhi

these have not got priority by the government policies and gradually were side-lined. Today, the lands have become victims of speculative investments which increased the costs and inaccessible to people who actually need it. Tenant farmers are increasing and cost of land is the major share of cost of production. As most of the support systems are build around land ownership many of these farmers do not have access to credit, insurance, subsidies, direct income support, disaster compensations etc. In a situation where, land reforms have failed, land regulations have failed, we may need a new way of thinking about creating easy access to land and designing all support systems to that.

Similarly, in a situation where water is getting contaminated with agriculture and industrial effluents, access to potable water has become a serious problem. Water is commodified and getting privatised. Lack of focus on water harvesting has also led to a situation of water scarcity. The recent report of NITI Aayog has painted a very grim picture and said more than 30 cities may run of water. What is not much talked about is many villages have already ran out of water and forcing people and animals to migrate. A clear policy on water harvesting, management and giving access to drinking water for all should be top priority of the governments. Privitisation of natural resources and making them speculative investment opportunities should be stopped at any cost.

Self Sufficient Village Economy: While more than 54% of people in India depend on agriculture, 83% of them are small and marginal cultivating less than 1 ha of land. The small areas of land which are in difficult situation do not provide incomes sufficient for sustainable living. Therefore, they need flexible income generating opportunities which can fit into their scheme of things. This is where, the Gandhian thinking of gram swaraj comes in.

Gandhi stressed on the growth of rural industries such as khadi, handlooms, sericulture, handicrafts which provide local value addition etc. Rural industries are based on family labour and require less amount of capital and have lesser energy requirements and low ecological foot prints. Raw materials are available in local and surrounding areas and the goods, thus, produced is sold in local markets. Therefore, there is no problem of production and market. Development of cottage industries in vil- lages will reduce the burden on agriculture and also stop migration to urban areas. Cottage industry can also work as a good support system for villagers. Thus, all villagers can get employment in their respective villages, which will check the migration to urban areas. Moreover, they can also satisfy the need of the urban people and can also export the surplus goods.Decentralisation of development is the key message instead of focusing on large scale industry with high external investment, which runs with high energy and automated machines generating profits only for the investors, displaces people and pollutes natural resources.

We don’t see any effort by any government in this direction. There number of examples already shown across the country and this model can alleviate poverty and empower people rather than in- vesting on unproductive freebies by the governments.

Cooperative spirit in development: Individual liberty and inter-dependence are both essential for life in society. Inter-dependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Hu- mans are social beings. Without inter-relation with society one cannot realize their oneness with the universe or suppress egotism. Unfortunately, modern economy is built on principle of competition. Moving ahead, without caring for externalities or caring for others.

Building institutions of producers, creating support systems to make them functional, providing op- portunities for the producers to take informed choices about their livelihoods and pursue them is important.There are excellent example on this available across the country. Again, in this area, the governments are trying to see them as numbers, targets to build farmer producer organisations than investing in building the capacities and support systems.

While these are the key things we can see as relevant for today, many others are also important. Particularly, rightfully fighting for their rights. In the year country is celebrating 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi we need to reinvent the Gandhian ideology for solving current day problems. As Gandhi often said ‘be the change what you want to see’.