Gandhi’s Economic Ideas in Today’s Context

by Ikshula

The world today faces challenges of different forms ranging from ecological disaster to terrorist violence and from deaths from malnutrition to problems emanating from plenty. The world, whether it is the affluent North or the developing South, seems to be running in a mad race. Two separate races, almost oblivious of each other, are going on simultaneously on the world map – one race is of affluent people who are clamouring for more and the other is for mere survival where people are striving hard to make both ends meet.  And this is where Gandhiji’s ideas hold great value for today’s world – his emphasis on ‘aparigrah’ (non-possessiveness’) and his idea of ‘Swaraj’ under which each individual, he thought, would be enabled to control his or her life independent of state power and where villages/gram sabhas would be self-dependent and self-sufficient.

“Our Earth has enough for everyone’s need but not for anyone’s greed” – This is what Mahatama Gandhi said almost a century ago and there is no doubt that this holds good today.

Gandhiji’s famous Talisman that you recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man and consider whether your act is going to be of any use to him, should be our Mantra.  And this talisman should be our philosophy of life if we have to achieve the larger objective of ‘Swaraj’ and inclusive growth.

Human happiness was the main criterion for Gandhiji and he thought that progress should be measured in terms of human happiness. He did not believe in the modern view of an affluent society in which material development is the sole criterion of progress. He supported the concept of ‘SARVODAYA’, the greatest good of all. His vision of Swaraj was  a society in which every man would have dignified life, and equal opportunities to grow. He envisaged a society in which economic progress and social justice would go hand in hand.

As our late Prime Minister and a Gandhian, Morarji Desai wrote in an Essay “Gandhiji And the Destiny of Man” that Gandhiji demonstrated to the world the strength of man’s invincible soul when it was pitted against physical force or military might; of moral values as against material ones; and of service and sacrifice as against selfishness and acquisitiveness. He taught us the beauty of truth and the sublimity of the human spirit.

Gandhiji was not opposed to material prosperity nor did he reject the use of machines in all circumstances. He felt that machinery should save time and labour for all. He did not want man to become a slave of machines and lose his identity altogether; he wanted machines to be for man, not man for machines.

In Gandhi’s own words: “Economic equality is the master-key to non-violent independence… A non-violent system of government is clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persists. The contrast between the palaces of New Delhi and the miserable hovels of the poor, laboring class cannot last one day in a free India in which the poor will enjoy the same power as the richest in the land.”

As a Gandhian scholar Sunil points out in one of his recently published articles that the high consumption levels being presently practiced and espoused, cannot be available to the whole humanity. Even where available and achievable, the cult of consumerism has not made the life and society happier and healthier. It has brought its own distortions and social crises. And worse, it has brought the ecology and environment of the earth to the brink of disaster.

If we go by Gandhian view, the villages will have to made self-dependent economic units. No doubt that a significant part of the village population has to be diverted to industries. But those industries will be small unit, labour-intensive and mainly village based. Villages and small towns have to be again made centre of development. For inclusive growth, we will have to promote the industries which provide employment in rural areas and bring prosperity and basic facilities to villages.

The National Employment Rural Guarantee Scheme is a concrete step in this direction. The Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act, 2006, has been rightly hailed as landmark legislation. However, there is a need to do much more to achieve the larger objectives like inclusive growth and to eliminate hunger and malnutrition from the country. Since Gandhi, one of the greatest leaders of mankind, was born here, we should ensure that the ‘the face of the poorest and the weakest  remains at the centre of our planning and development. (PIB Features)

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