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Abhivyakti #1 Gandhian Economics for Modern World


We conducted a writing competition on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti 2020 and asked our participants to pen down their thoughts and opinions. Here are the entries that won our hearts.


Written By: Nishtha Agarwal, PhD, IIFT Delhi

“There is enough on this planet for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed”

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was also given the title of “The Mahatma'' by Sir Ravindranath Tagore in 1915, and is also known as “The Father of Indian Nation", is a well known historical figure. He holds a distinctive place in global history for his ideals and philosophy. After all, Sabarmati’s saint drove off the “most powerful empire that ever existed in the known world history” from Indian subcontinent without a sword or a shield”, as a famous song goes. His philosophy attracts many people- Indians and foreigners alike- with an ultimate objective of seeking the insight of his ideas, owing to which most social sciences universities in India have a course in “Gandhian studies'' at various levels. It is a proud moment for us to note that many foreign universities do have certain courses linked to Gandhism in their curricula. Many political figures like Martin Luther King Jr. (USA), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Lech Walesa (Poland), Nelson Mandela (S. Africa) and more recently Aung San Suu Kyi (Myanmar) have hailed The Mahatma as their guide in their respective fight against injustice and oppression. Gandhian philosophy is very different and unique, from say that of Machiavelli’s pragmatism or that of Nietzsche’s nihilism, which professes morals as the very foundation. But a part of Gandhian philosophy, which is often not given enough credit is the economic philosophy, which has emphasis on morality in equal proportion. Founded with his deep belief in his cherished concepts of “Swadeshi” and “Sarvodaya'', his economic model has regained public attention after the question of sustainable development became a buzzword after the Brundtland Report, 1987. Let us delve further to see how the Gandhian economic model continues to remain relevant in the modern days.

The Mahatma was a proponent of a sustenance-based economic model. It was his firm opinion that India lived in villages which need to be self-sufficient and believed dependence should be there only for certain scarce resources. He saw the ills of unregulated capitalism and industrialism during his stay in London and South Africa over the general masses and environment alike. The insatiable hunger of resources, thus created, became progenitor to the monster of colonialism and imperialism. He felt that these ideologies, initially consumed the ill-fated victims of the subjugated nations (the colonised) all around the world and

ultimately the great “colonisers” themselves in the form of their Great Wars. He was hence very specific about “hating the crime, not the criminal” which in this case was rampant industrialisation and mass-production.

At the core of his economic concepts was the idea of “Swadeshi” which demands that one should not take more than required to discharge the legitimate obligations towards the family. Gandhi advocated that one who follows the spirit of swadeshi should use only things that are produced by our immediate neighbours and serve those industries by making them efficient, and strengthen them in areas where they are found deficient.This very much resonates to the economic analogue to the definition of government by Abraham Lincoln: of the people, by the people and for the people. The Mahatma firmly believed that local resources are sufficient to meet the daily needs of the people. In the times of Adam Smith’s theory of free markets fueled by the profit seeking entrepreneurship, the idea of production for sustenance was definitely novel. The Mahatma never considered surplus as a vice, but generation of surplus at the cost of appropriating resources from the population indeed was. Here we also see another of his key ideals, “Sarvodaya” or “progress for all” which has been taken from his understanding of the book “Unto This Last'' by John Ruskin. In modern parlance, we term this as inclusive growth. The famous “Gandhiji’s Talisman”, that still remains the most simple guide for policy makers in making the most jurisprudence policy decisions, essentially is his policy of “Sarvodaya”. In a nation of farmers, his ideals of self-sufficient autonomous villages that radiate their prosperity outwards to the nation was a revolutionary philosophy. The present emphasis on “Atma Nirbharta” is once again an attempt to reinvigorate the Mahatma within us all.

It is not true to think that The Mahatma didn't like industrial activity. Industrial activity is necessary not only to increase living standards of the people, but to increase agricultural productivity as well. What use is raw cotton to people, if it can not be made into cloth to be worn? What The Mahatma detested was the emergence of a class system - the bourgeois and the proletariat, as foreseen by Karl Marx. The “appropriation of labour” by the capitalists is yet another starting point to ruthless industrialisation and ultimately imperialism. While he wished most of the industries to be run on relatively smaller scales

providing localised employment, ensuring better utilisation of local resources while strengthening grassroot democracy, he had been enlightened enough to see the inevitability of the rise of large scale industry. For this, he proposed the “Trusteeship model of industrialisation”, where the owners of the capital are the trustees to the public. Perhaps, he was envisaging the rise of a pure socialist state, with grassroot democracy to support and nurture it.

It may come as a surprise that these concepts were highlighted and elucidated by E.F. Schumacher in his revolutionary book “Small is Beautiful”. Recently, Dr. Raghuram G. Rajan has also hinted at de-centralisation of economic and political functions in his book “The Third Pillar”. One of the main benefits of the approach of The Mahatma is the assurance of inclusive growth. One of the main challenges faced by India after the economic reforms of 1991 is the rising inequality, as with any of its fellow industrialising developing nations. In simpler words, a major section of population is left out of the benefits of the economic growth and their alienation from the general economic prosperity of the nation.

An indicator for the above is the deteriorating Human Development Indices (HDI), which continually remains in a zone of concern for Indian policy makers. The accomplishment of Sustainable Development Goals (UNDP) will remain ambitious targets, unless “The Mahatma philosophy” is rethought and re-appropriated in a more constructive sense. A socially inclusive model, as proposed by The Mahatma, could be a better attempt at ensuring social and communal harmony in the tumultuous times of economic and social crises.

In addition to it, decentralisation of the economic activity to maximum possible extent will help us in other ways too. Consider a national economy based on a multitude of locally thriving de-centralised mini-economies leading to lesser regional disparities. Creation of localised employment implies limited outward migrations from rural areas which will be helpful in raising life standards of rural areas meanwhile avoiding ghettoisation in the cities. This retention of the rural population in rural areas will solve many social issues faced after this outward migration- both in cities as well as in villages. Maybe, it will not be an exaggeration in saying Gandhian economic model as the logical corollary of the PURA

(Provision of Urban Amenities to Rural Areas) as advocated by our former President Late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Consequently, the funds spent by the governments on urban development and rural crisis management may find better utilisation in improving the social indices of the general public. Consider this fact, provided that developing countries like India have always complained about the paucity of funds as the ultimate reason for improper execution of the well-planned schemes.

Lastly, the “Mahatma model of growth” will surely be helpful in preserving the environment for our future. It is not strange that the UN has referred to the present generation as custodian and trustees for the future generations, in a strangely familiar reference to the concept held dearly by The Mahatma. The motive of sustainable growth is to provide for the present needs, keeping due regard for the genuine needs of the future, ours and our coming generations alike, and the ability of our future generations to see and

experience the world as we did and would do.


About the Author Nishtha Agarwal is a full time research scholar at Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi. She is doing her Ph.D in the field of operations and supply chain management after completing her MBA in operations management from Ambedkar University Delhi. An avid learner, her interest in writing stems from her continued exposure to writing of research articles and blog posts for several organisations.

You can reach out to Nishtha on Instagram: @nishtha_0503 LinkedIn:

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