Mahatma’s ideals forgotten?

India After Gandhi

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Seven decades later after Mahatma Gandhi was killed, 30 January1948, the nation remembered the father of the nation yesterday. Many would look back and wonder whether his teachings are relevant in today’s India. A close look at history and the present would make some frown. While there were leaders from the Gandhian school of thinking, sadly his political and economic philosophy was not carried out by the political leaders in authority.
Vinoba Bhave tried to coordinate his activities through Sarvodaya Sangh and Sarva Seva Sangh and gave a new orientation to satyagraha. Hence, the work of gramdan-bhoodan, acharyakula khadi, sarvodaya patra etc. were all form of constructive satyagraha, which Vinoba carried out very much in Gandhi’s spirit. Needless to say that lakhs of people appreciated his call as he collected 60 lakh acres of land through his action. In fact, the eminent political philosopher, Louis Fischer found gramdan “the most creative idea coming from the East in recent times”.
Though Vinoba’s ideas of gram swarjya meant direct government of the local community that is, participatory democracy at the grassroots with utmost decentralisation, this idea was unfortunately not carried out and implemented in the country. Though later Jayaprakash Narayan carried out his movement inspired by Gandhi and Vinoba, there was no coordinated action to take Gandhian ideology to the masses.
The intellectual community and the young generation remained untouched. The apathy of those in authority is manifest from the fact that presently out of the innumerable universities and institutions of higher learning, hardly six or seven have courses on Gandhian Studies and that too at the post-graduate level.
After independence, the Congress leaders interpreted Gandhi according to their understanding. The ‘essential Gandhi’ was lost; instead rituals got the upper hand. Moreover, the Gandhians thought that there is no need for satyagraha, which was totally wrong.
The pro-establishment Gandhians under Nehru could not be persuaded to adopt the Gandhian line of decentralised economy, trusteeship, empowerment of the people and so, excepting paying lip service. Scholars believe that that those in power did the greatest harm towards regeneration and consolidation of Gandhism in action as they virtually avoided his essential teachings.
After Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi Narasimha Rao and those that followed were worse with regard to Gandhi’s teachings and following his strategy. All these leaders neglected the rural sector and rural reconstruction remained a far cry. The Indian planning strategy was geared towards the urban sector and helping the rich and middle income sections of society.
Gandhian institutions such as All India Khadi & Village Industries, Harijan Sevak Sangh, Nai Talim etc. could not maintain their dynamism and their Gandhian character. The khadi institutions almost neglected the ideology and stressed exclusively on profit of business. Besides, they relied on government subsidies and the revolutionary character and self-reliant voluntarism was also crippled.
Apart from this, there are negative forces against Gandhian ideology in India. The communists and the Naxals preferred the path of violence in their crusade against exploitation of the poor and the oppressed, while the neo liberals, the agents of business groups and imperialists, ridiculed his doctrine of non-violence, fellow feeling and a communitarian approach to life and living. The growth of consumerism led to widening disparity of incomes with one section becoming rich while the poor – dalits, tribals, small and marginal farmers – languished. Recently the 2017 Global Hunger Index came out with startling findings ranking India 100 among 119 countries, marking a 55 per cent fall over the past three years and justifying that economic growth does not automatically guarantee food security.
As a matter of fact, Gandhi’s concept of culture was in conflict with modern materialistic-consumeristic way of life. The present violence that is in-built in the system today has led to exploitation but it needs to be reiterated that the power of non-violence is superior morally, psychologically and sociologically.
It is imperative at this juncture that there should be a strategic shift in development planning. Economic decentralisation has to be implemented in the planning process so that people are involved at the grass-root level in the development process. Moreover, allocation of more resources for the rural sector would help in ensuring them the basic necessities of life, specially adequate education and health facilities and upgrading the incomes of the poor people and ameliorating the concerns of poor farmers.
Gandhi has to be interpreted in the proper way to combat ecological challenges, the spectre of violence and terrorism, religious disunity, the growing consumerism and the like. Another important aspect is that India being a country with huge population, the strategy of planning has to be a little different from that being followed in the western world. If adequate stress is given to cottage industries and the labour intensive sector, a burning problem of unemployment and underemployment could be effectively tackled and, in turn would ensure that social chaos would be controlled. Charkha (spinning wheel) and khadi are symbols that Gandhi stressed during his life to ensure work for the people and involve in development.
Toynbee was inclined towards the Gandhian way as the hope of humanity while Gunnar Myrdal in his keynote address at the ‘One Asia Assembly’ in Delhi (on February 5, 1973): “The main reason for low development in India is that Indian planners have deviated from the fundamentals of Mahatma Gandhi’s rationalistic plans”. Similarly, E. F. Schumacher emphasised on the Gandhian way and not in the narrow economic sense but also in the larger sphere of life.
Even in India, the Gandhian approach strategy was highlighted by eminent jurist VR Krishna Iyer, aptly as he pointed out: “If our country cares for Gandhiji, if India lives in villages, if a billion Indians matter more than 23 billionaires (presently the number stands at around 70), a conceptual reversal of vision and values is necessary. I am not against industrialisation as such but wealth multiplication in a few hands throwing voiceless as worthless commodities”. It needs to be emphasised that the proletariat must survive and flourish and cannot surrender to the syndrome of “proprietariat monopoly”.
If we cannot limit our wants and our craving for wealth and power, there would be further rape of the earth, resulting in depletion of earth’s resources and causing climate change that has already taken serious dimensions apart from eroding social balance. The Gandhian approach needs to seriously examined and one cannot doubt that it has great relevance if we are to follow an inclusive and sustainable approach to life and living that are aired by our political leaders but unfortunately not followed in practice.
One is reminded of T. S. Eliot who aptly pointed out: “Where is the life we have lost in living, where is the life we have lost in information?”—INFA