The Relevance Of Gandhian Political Economy
By Sukumaran C. V.
29 September, 2015
To safeguard democracy the people must have a keen sense of independence, self respect and oneness, and should insist upon choosing as their representatives only such persons as are good and true….Truth has drawn me into the field of politics.—M. K. Gandhi.
Another Gandhi Jayanti arrives and it will be ‘celebrated’ with usual platitudes. But it is high time we went beyond the meaningless rhetoric, and grasped the real spirit of Gandhian politics in order to save not only India but the world too as both are being destroyed by the development mania and the uncontrolled greed of the elites. It was the Mahatma who made the Indian freedom movement really a mass movement and Ghandhian politics which was firmly grounded on non-violence and high moral standards was the main factor that helped the nation to be independent. But independent India has given no space for Gandhism in its making. Under the leadership of Nehru we went after big dams and the so called industrial development. And as a result of this ‘development’, the farmers who produce the food grains on which we feed have been killing themselves long since; the Environment that sustains us is being devastated; the wildlife is being eliminated; the poor are being deprived of their livelihood; the Adivasis are being robbed of not only their livelihood means, but also the very lands on which they have been living.
All this happens because the system we call democracy is closely connected to industrial civilization and as the U.S. environmentalist Derrick Jensen says in his Endgame, “Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.” And the Mahatma said it, more than 100 years ago, in Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, the ‘little book which’ in the words of Lord Lothian ‘deserved to be read and re-read in order to understand Gandhiji properly,’ because ‘all that Gandhiji was teaching lay in the germ in that little book.’
The Mahatma wrote in Hind Swaraj: “This civilization is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed.”
Today we witness the symptoms of this self-destruction everywhere around us. Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria have been turned into graveyards by both the intolerant elements and the so called super power that ‘promotes’ democracy all over the world. The world is filled with refugees! In India, natural calamities wreak havoc as a result of our unsustainable development the beneficiaries of which are only a few corporate giants.
In the chapter titled ‘What is true civilisation’, Gandhi says: “Our ancestors set a limit to our indulgences. They saw that happiness was largely a mental condition. A man is not necessarily happy because he is rich, or unhappy because he is poor. …They further reasoned that large cities were a snare and a useless encumbrance and people would not be happy in them, that there would be gangs of thieves and robbers, prostitution and vice flourishing in them and that poor men would be robbed by rich men. They were, therefore, satisfied with small villages. This nation had courts, lawyers and doctors, but they were all within bounds. Everybody knew that these professions were not particularly superior; moreover, these vakils and vaids did not rob people; they were considered people’s dependents, not their masters. The common people lived independently and followed their agricultural occupation. They enjoyed true Home rule. And where this cursed modern civilization is not reached, India remains as it was before.”
Independent India’s main problem is that we have lawyers, doctors, engineers and the bureaucrats and politicians who are not within bounds and democracy makes them masters of the people instead of their dependents. The scams like the Vyapam are the result of our not setting a limit to our indulgences. And ‘this cursed modern civilization’ reached every nook and corner of the nation and afflicted it in the name of Development.
In the ideals the Mahatma expressed in Hind Swaraj, we can see a village economy which is sustainable and not at all a devastative one as the Free Market economy of the industrial civilization. Of course, Gandhi speaks against the railways, the lawyers, the doctors etc, and we, the proponents of this wretched system of parasites, have considered his views as foolish and impracticable; and under the leadership of Nehru, we started to worship him as an icon of non-violence, and have conveniently forgotten the essence of Ghandhism or Ghandhian politics and destroyed the sustainable village economy in the name of progress and development. As a result India that once lived in the villages today kills itself in the villages, neglected by our democracy and devastated by the unholy corporate-bureaucrat-politician nexus.
The greatest factor that made Gandhiji a mass leader or the leader of the peasantry of India was his negation of modernity and everything associated with it—the railways, the lawyers, the doctors, the machinery. Therefore, unlike any other Indian leader, he could talk a language that the illiterate mass could understand. He approached them not to ‘reform’ them, not to tell them that their ways of living and their means of production are inferior to that of the West. He approached them as one among themselves and wanted to tell his people that the western ‘civilisation is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed.’
The political economy of Gaandhi’s anti-western and anti-industrial stand originated from the genuine concern of a leader to the welfare of millions and millions of the poor in his country. And this is the factor that enabled Gandhiji to bring the vast majority of the people into the whirlpool of the freedom struggle.
But after independence, there was nobody to give attention to the Gandhian ideal of sustainable village economy that will prohibit the concentration of wealth and power in the cities and in the hands of the bureaucrats and politicians. Jawaharlal Nehru for whom factories and dams symbolized ‘modern temples’ venerated Gandhi the idol and discarded Gandhian political economy and the essence of Gandhism. The form of Gandhi without his inherent antipathy against the industrial civilization was appropriated by the Indian bourgeoisie with the help of Nehru. Nobody realized the revolutionary spirit of Gandhian political economy and its potential to help the farmers and the poor free from the clutches of industrial civilization and the corporate world.
India will be developed only when and if the villages are rejuvenated; only when the village economy can thrive escaping the stifling grip of the Free Market world that is controlled by the corporate giants who are helped by those who govern the country whether they are secular or anti-secular. And most importantly, in this age of Climate Change and Global Warming we have to listen to the Mahatma and to shun the industrial civilization that ruins the world, to save the world.
Arundhati Roy, the greatest critic of Gandhiji, quotes his sentences (‘God forbid that India ever took to industrialization after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 millions took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts’) and says in The Doctor and the Saint: Ambedkar, Ghandhi and the battle against caste: “As the earth warms up, as glaciers melt and forests disappear, Ghandhi’s words have turned out to be prophetic.”
In The Story of my Experiments with Truth, the Mahatma writes: “Bhitiharva was a small village …I happened to visit a smaller village in its vicinity and found some of the women dressed very dirtily. So I told my wife to ask them why they did not wash their clothes. She spoke to them. One of the women took her into her hut and said: ‘Look now, there is no box or cupboard here containing other clothes. The sari I am wearing is the only one I have. How am I to wash it? Tell Mahatmaji to get me another sari, and I shall then promise to bathe and put on clean clothes every day.’ This cottage was not an exception, but a type to be found in many Indian villages. In countless villages in India people live without any furniture, and without a change of clothes, merely with a rag to cover their shame.” (Part V, Chapter XVIII, ‘Penetrating the Villages’)
Today we talk about high-tech cities and bullet trains. We have tried to make India shining. We are going to make India a super-power by 2020. But still we can see millions of people in our country in the condition described by the Father of the Nation nearly a century ago! Nobody is interested to ameliorate their condition, to provide them with the basic necessities or amenities of life. We create nuclear bombs and provide Wi-Fi facility in rains to facilitate the needs of the elites at the cost of the poor and the needy, devastating the Environment which provides them at least their livelihood.
Former PM Manmohan Singh, in his opening remarks at the interaction with newspaper editors on June 29, 2011 said that ‘if you look at the list of top 100 firms today, you will find a sea change in that list. New entrepreneurs have come into the list. These are some of the gains of liberalization which we must cherish, nurse and develop….we must do all that we can to revive the animal spirits of our businesses.’
To ‘revive the animal spirits of our businesses’, the governments crush the human spirit and dignity of the vast majority of the poor and the farmers. Millions of farmers killed themselves while Mr. Singh and his team were ‘looking at the list of top 100 firms to find a sea change’! Instead of trying to make a sea change in the lives of the poor in our country, the UPA-I and II were busy in looking after the affairs of the corporate business by cherishing, nursing and developing the corporate interests.
And the new Prime Minister and his team haven’t hitherto showed any inclination to shun the corporate servile policies the Indian State has been following ever since such policies have been introduced by Mr. Singh in 1991.
In this economic and political scenario, the Mahatma and his sustainable views on politics and economy are highly relevant to India because it was he who said that ‘a semi-starved nation can have neither religion, nor art nor organization’. Gandhi is the only politician who said that ‘whatever can be useful to starving millions is beautiful to my mind…I want art and literature that can speak to millions.’
And let me conclude by quoting a few sentences from Khwaja Ahmad Abbas’ autobiography I am not an Island: An Experiment in Autobiography, to show why Gandhi is really a Mahatma. When in October 1948, Pakistani raiders attacked Kashmir, Abbas met Nehru and gained his permission to go to Kashmir. Nehru directed him to Rafi Ahmad Kidwai and while they were discussing, ‘a frail handsome woman of about forty entered the room and Rafi Saheb got up from his seat to give respect to her. “Bhabi,” Rafi Saheb said after she had sat down, “what is it that you want?” She replied that she needed at least four sacks of ata for the refugees….I asked my old friend Ansar about the mysterious lady, and he said, “There is no mystery, she is Anees Apa, sister-in-law of Rafi Saheb. Her husband was killed in the communal riots and the widow went to Gandhiji to seek some solace. He told her to serve the refugees.”’
“Muslim refugees who are in the Red Fort?”
“No. Hindu refugees. The Mahatma said serving Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan would give her real solace, even as he asked a Hindu lady whose husband had been killed by fanatical Muslims to serve the Muslim refugees!”
“That was the Mahatma all over,” says Abbas. “He had his own method to heal the wounds of the spirit and the soul!”
India today direly needs a leader, who had his own method to heal the wounds of the spirit and the soul; the wounds made by the corporate plunder, sectarian politics and religious intolerance.
Sukumaran C. V. is a former JNU student and his articles on gender, communal, environemenatl and other socio-political issues are published in The Hindu, Mainstream etc.'
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