By Prabhash Joshi
Hind Swaraj, written by Mahatma Gandhi in 1909, still can show in the way out of the morass India's sinking into.
Mahatma Gandhi was 40-years old when he wrote Hind Swaraj. He had gone to England to hold talks with the British government on problems faced by the Indian community in South Africa. He wrote the book on the ship during his return journey in just 10 days―between 13 and 22 November, 1909. Gandhi had said that he was so passionate about writing the book that the 'Sermon on the Mount' in the Bible, too, was an out come of a similar compulsion. No wonder, Hind Swaraj when published in America was titled 'Sermon on the Sea'.
This book is said to be the cornerstone of Gandhi's thoughts. It is said that whatever he wrote later in life was an extension of his thoughts in Hind Swaraj. The genesis of 100 volumes―Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, too, is believed to be in this book. The book was originally written in Gujarati and later translated into English by Gandhi himself.
In the book, he has at no point mentioned nation for rashtra, nor race for people, as Savarkar has done. The differentiation gets lost in Hindi and English translations, Gandhi has instead used the word praja. In Gujarati the word praja means prajapati or Brahma and not just people. In fact, Gandhi's interpretation of nationality is synonymous with praja.
When he was writing the book, Gandhi too was confirmed with a kind of globalisation as we are today. The globalization during his time was dominated by European nations who were establishing colonies in different parts of the world and exploiting the resources of those colonies to fuel industrial revolution in their own countries. The globalization then was at the behest of the State. Today, market forces shape it. Globalization then expanded through establishment of colonies. Today it expands through establishment of markets. Today it is no longer necessary to come to another country to exert control over its resources. For the kind of globalization or neo-imperialism we face today only one thing is necessary―to be able to send investment and by-products of that investment into the local market without any check or curbs. This means that whatever we have produced or built on our own should be sacrificed at the altar of foreign economic forces. The aim of today's globalization is to convert us into a consumerist society, not a productive society. I term this 'neo-liberal Washington consensus.'
The investment that we today seek so fervently, nearly 80 percent of that is put into the stock markets. Thus making money out of the money is the real business not using that money to produce something. The aim is to sell their products in our markets. They tell our farmers: Leave farming because we have farm products which is much cheaper than yours, so buy from us. They tell our entrepreneurs. Shut your units because we have much cheaper and better products so buy from us. They will tell us that our country needs good governance. For that, they say your political representatives are not good enough and you need the help of specialists. And these specialists are those who have been trained in the World Bank to build this new world. Therefore, if for this you have to compromise on democratic principles, do so because 'good governance' is better than democracy.
Gandhi had told the British to leave our country saying that even our mismanagement is much more desirable than their rule. They are telling us that our 'good governance' is better than your 'Swaraj' as it is run by specialists and not politicians. One of my secretary friends in the South Block told me that World Bank chooses the most efficient Indian bureaucrats and pays them for a year to work with it. It gives huge allowances to them and their families and teaches them their concept of 'good governance'. A main part of the process is to devalue politicians. As a result, political representatives lose respect. It thus, becomes easy to replace this loss of respect with the 'non-liberal Washington consensus.' It is the design of this neo-liberal consensus to cut the links between educated people of the country from Swaraj and to attach them with the shallow and non-Indian new world built on the principles of market. The aim―to take away the educated class from its roots.
In 1947, we kept Hind Swaraj aside and followed the example of Soviet Union in running our economy and social and political systems . In 1989, when the Soviet Union broke, we did not try to search for our own path. We agreed to walk on the path that the World Bank had already paved. So between 1947 and 1989, when we had the freedom to follow Hind Swaraj, we followed Soviet Union and today we are following America. How did we leave the path of Hind Swaraj that was espoused by Mahatma Gandhi behind whom the whole nation fought for Independence? It is a historical fact that the number of people who came along with Gandhi to fight for our freedom, is not matched by any freedom struggle of any nation. It is indeed shameful that today we have forgotten the path he showed in 1909 and are moving on the way that he had then called the way of the devil. In his opinion, western civilization was the biggest bane for India.
Mahatma Gandhi said: "There is no doubt that this (Indian) is the best civilization. But it must be taken into account that all civilizations have been tested. Only that civilization could survive which had the resilience. Since there were some shortcomings among Indians, their civilization got into problems. But the whole of India didn't get into problems. Only those suffered who came under the influence of Western Culture. When we become slaves we start thinking that the whole world is a slave. But this is not true. If we become free, then India would become free. The definition of freedom is inherent in this thought. Once we learn to rule on our self, Swaraj will be attained."
Swaraj for Gandhi did not just mean our own government elected by our own people. For him Swaraj meant freedom of body and soul for each Indian. We cannot be truly free till we shrug off the dependence we have on consumer goods. In this context I remember the famous ad line; yeh dil mange more. Market is the ruler only till more and more goods are purchased by the people, over and over. In this case you will become a good consumer, instead of becoming a good citizen. This tendency to continue being a consumer, according to Gandhi, is the first sign of slavery. The world shaped by the market will always make rich, richer and poor, poorer. For Gandhi such an India will not have Swaraj and will not be worth living. Therefore today, 56 years after gaining Independence, we need a new Hind Swaraj.