By Shivaji Sarkar
Modern India, its democracy, the economy and Mahatma Gandhi are inseparable. No discussion even for Gandhi baiters is possible without a discourse on his thoughts in this 150th year of Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s birth.
Gandhi is remembered as a freedom fighter, ethical leader, social activist and economic thinker. Khadi — the pure — is a cultural and ethical branding for him and is more than just economics. He was a practitioner of each of this and not a mere theoretician. He experimented with his thoughts and modified as per his experience.
Gandhi was not a trained economist but his economic sense and views remain the base of India’s thought process as it is enshrined in the spiritual and socio-economic principles. He had no love for western economic system that was based on eliminating the workers, maximising profits and control by the majority, though he was not averse to the use of machines. He extolled the invention of the sewing machine.
His basic concern was benefit of the masses — at least that remains the enshrined principles of the government since Independence. As is well-known, his economics was based on Satya (truth), Ahimsa (non-violence, wherein he considered even depriving the worker of his dues as violence) and Aparigraha – non-possession or the idea that no one possesses anything.
This was a concept of trusteeship and against monopolisation of the economy by the few, which is afflicting the global socio-economy today. India is not an exception. He was against the West’s concept of “multiplication of wants”, what we call consumerism today. In his opinion this resulted in the proliferation of the few (corporate or multi-nationals in modern terms) and exploitation of the masses.
And this is virtually against his view of Gram Swaraj, which he saw as an economic unit for the freedom of the masses, through self-sufficient villages. Today, corporate proliferation is eliminating local culinary practices, potato chips and snacks, in the countryside. Gandhi had dreamt of not an egalitarian society but a practical one where everyone would have a livelihood.
“Gandhian economics”, a term coined by JC Kumarappa, in 1951, is for an inclusive society. It is neither for a strong government nor a central command authority, as he strongly believed that such systems were exploitative and anti-people.
Gandhi’s idea of true self-rule in a country means that every person rules himself and that there is no State which enforces laws upon the people (without their wishes through a majority rule). He never wanted a government to usurp the power of the people. Mahatma, as Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore called him, wanted a rule with people’s consent. Alas, it did not happen all these years. Many decisions, such as opening up the market to multi-nationals were taken and people were merely informed.
According to Gandhi, an independent India was not mere transfer of power. He warned in Hind Swaraj, banned by the British government, in 1909: “You would make India English. And when it becomes English, it will be called not Hindustan but Englishtan. This is not the Swaraj I want”.
So he was never enamoured by Fabian socialism that looked enchanting to Jawaharlal Nehru.
Gandhi found capitalism and socialism equally controlling and subjugating the people, an idea unacceptable to him. So he wanted and encouraged small industries, which unfortunately today are gasping despite government programmes like Mudra, Start-up India and Skill India.
Democracy was a moral system that distributed power and assisted the development of every social class, especially the lowest. It meant settling disputes in a non-violent manner and required freedom of thought and expression. For Gandhi, democracy was a way of life. That is where his economic process also began.
Disagreements apart, he supported Netaji Subash Bose’s five-year planning process to uplift economic conditions. He was anguished over severe disparity and poverty in the society. Even Deen Dayal Upadhyay borrowed this concept in antyodaya. No wonder it has become an integral ideology. But it could not stop the jobless growth and increasing disparity. Gandhi’s self-rule, the control of the economy by our own people, is today suffering erosion.
Remember, multinational profiteering has taken the world to severe meltdown with Lehman Brother’s bursting in 2008. Today, India is suffering as bank NPAs rise to gigantic proportions and perhaps one of the worst crises that ILFS, which lent billions without a guarantee, has exposed almost all public sector financial institutions. The ethical fibre has been torn into pieces.
Gandhi’s ethics was for maintaining social harmony. Contrary to many Indian socialists and communists, Gandhi was averse to all notions of class warfare and concepts of class-based revolution, which he saw as causes of social violence and disharmony. But he knew if the society was left to be ruled by corporate without ethics, conflicts could not be prevented.
Was he averse to industrialists? No. His closest supporters and admirers included industrialists such as Ghanshyamdas Birla, Ambalal Sarabhai, Jamnalal Bajaj, and JRD Tata, who adopted several of Gandhi’s progressive ideas in managing labour relations.
But the workers today are the worst sufferers, as their voices, the trade unions, including say even the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), are being choked by the companies. Even government’s efforts go unheeded. He was not for any social control as Marx wanted or corporate as the IMF and World Bank want or the G20’s concept of maximum loyalty to State today. Control was an anathema possibly because corruption begins with it.
As a true democrat, he was for maximum leverage to the people since he believed that would be the biggest control over the evil. If corruption, in which India rank now 81, is global phenomenon, it is because over the last many decades the people have been subjugated to various corporate and other authorities across the globe.
The MNCs have penetrated the governments, eroding economic functioning everywhere. More bankisation, digital money, introduction of mammoth middle men, removing cash, control over people’s money by large bodies, including government, has eroded the ultimate power of the people. This is against Gandhi’s views. The world is becoming more unlivable for the ethical.
The society today is deeply concerned over the erosion of morals. Gandhi’s vision was to make this as the underpinning. The introduction of an emphasis upon morality in corporate life compels one’s admiration for Gandhi.
It is time for re-evaluating Gandhi and his economic and ethical ideals. Even the United Nations adheres by it. Celebrations are fine, but if this country wants to lead the world, Gandhism has to be brought into practice for societal prosperity and well-being of its people.—INFA