My following article was published in National Herald a daily founded by Jawaharlal Nehru (now defunct). I am submitting it on the occasion of the 3rd International Dialogue On Economics Of Non-Violence being held in Jaipur on 13th and 14th November, 2008. However I would like to add a post-script to it in the context of the global financial meltdown which is reminiscent of theGreat Depression of 1930s. The world leaders of Group-20 are meeting in Washington to find a solution to the unbridled, U.S-style capitalism. This global crisis confirms the need to hearken back to the Gandhian economics and his stark reminder to the G-20 world leaders that :
“ “the economic constitution of India and for that matter of the world, should be such that no one under it should suffer from want of food and clothing. In other words everybody should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make the two ends meet. And this ideal can be universally realized only if the elementary necessaries of life remain in the control of the masses. Their monopolization by any country, nation or group of persons would be unjust. The neglect of this simple principle in the cause of the destitution that we witness not only in this unhappy land but in other parts of the world too.”
This G-20 meeting is also a second Bretton Woods Conference which led to the International Monetary Fund. It would be also pertinent to remind ourselves what the godfather of the IMF had no illusions about the evntual capitalist doom. the Keynesian observation in his Essays in Persuasion in The End of Laissez-Faire:
"Let us clear from the ground the metaphysical or general principles upon which, from time to time, laissez-faire has been founded. It is not true that individuals possess a prescriptive "natural liberty" in their economic activities. There is no compact conferring perpetual rights on those who Have or on those who Acquire. The world is not so governed from above that private and social interest always coincide. It is not so managed here below that in practice they coincide. It is not a correct deduction from the Principles of Economics that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest. Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightened; more often individuals acting separately to promote their own ends are ignorant or too weak to attain even these. Experience does not show that individuals, when they make up a social unit, are always less clear-sighted than when they act separately."
This is the politics and economics of social justice. And hence it was natural for the Father of the Indian Nation, Mahatma Gandhi to give a dire warning: "Economic equality is the master key to non-violent revolution. A non-violent system of government is clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and hungry millions persists.The contrast between the palaces of New Delhi and the miserable hovels of the poor, labouring class cannot last one day in a free India in which the poor will enjoy the same power as the richest in the land. A violent and bloody revolution is certainty one day unless there is a voluntary abdication of riches and the power that riches give and sharing them for the common good."
But, alas, even after more than half century of freedom the gulf is ever widening and with all the glitter of globalisation hunger, starvation and suicide deaths are increasing amidst agricultural surplus, and sometimes fifty million tonnes of grain in godowns rots but cannot be sold at subsidised prices for fear of pushing the market prices down. That is the harsh economic reality! I would like to give a link to my article “Whither Globalisation?” published on 22nd February, 2007: http://www.countercurrents.org/gl-patil220207.htm
Published in National Herald (New Delhi) dated. 08.05.1977)
GANDHI’S PHILOSOPHY OF INDUSTRIAL AND ECONOMIC PROSPERITY
By Bal Patil
“Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions. Then you will find your doubts and … self melting away.”
The Mahatma had an uncanny way of making things simple to the meanest intelligence. And the test mentioned above was Gandhiji’s philosopher’s stone for turning into the gold of service the base metal of doubt in our work a day world. The test, at the same time, provides a very important clue towards an understanding of the Gandhi’s economic and industrial philosophy.
This down-to-earth test should also guard us, I believe, against coming to hasty conclusions about the practicability or other wise of the Gandhi’s economics. India today is poised on the threshold of a full-fledged industrial era in conformity with the international ethos which categorically commands; industrialise or perish. And yet the misery of the common masses does not show any signs of abating. Why should such be the case? Is it due to any inherent defects in an industrial civilization? Or is man being overpowered by the technological genie which he himself brought into being and which he can no longer control?
These are far-reaching questions. They go to the very root of the problem of progress. They even raise the metaphysical questions of the nature and destiny of man. And that is why they become relevant in any consideration of human economic and social welfare. And Gandhiji concerned himself with such questions quite early in the course of his momentous experiments with truth.
“According to me”, Mahatma Gandhi said “the economic constitution of India and for that matter of the world, should be such that no one under it should suffer from want of food and clothing. In other words everybody should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make the two ends meet. And this ideal can be universally realized only if the elementary necessaries of life remain in the control of the masses. Their monopolization by any country, nation or group of persons would be unjust. The neglect of this simple principle in the cause of the destitution that we witness not only in this unhappy land but in other parts of the world too.”
It will be my constant endeavour to keep this principle in mind in this brief discussion of the Gandhian economic philosophy. The earliest glimpse of Gandhiji’s thinking on material civilization is to be found in his pamphlet Hind Swaraj ( Indian Home Rule) published in 1909. It was originally written in ’Gujarati during Gandhiji’s return voyage from London to South Africa in “answer to the Indian school of violence and its prototype in South Africa.”