It is, indeed, a matter for gratification that the Navajivan Trust is publishing selections from Mahatma Gandhi's writings on "Village Swaraj" in a book form. The publication contains Gandhiji's views on different aspects of rural life including agriculture, village industry, animal husbandry, transport, basic education, health and hygiene. At a time when we are endeavouring to establish Panchayati Raj in India on the basis of wide decentralization of political and economic power, this book is bound to be of great value to a large number of official as well as non-official workers. The Community Development movement should not be regarded as some kind of a programme which has been largely imported from the Western democracies; it must necessarily be based on Indian conditions and traditions. It is, therefore, of paramount importance that all workers who are being trained for participating in this movement should possess ample knowledge about Gandhiji's ideas in regard to various aspects of rural reconstruction. If we overlook and bypass Gandhiji's experience and ideals about the pattern of Indian planning, we shall be doing so at great peril to the evolution of our democracy on sound foundations.
It is wrong to think that Gandhiji entertained outmoded ideas regarding modern Industrialization. As a matter of fact, he was not against mechanization as such; he strongly objected to "the craze for machinery". He welcomed every improvement in small machines which could provide employment to millions of artisans in the villages. In place of mass production by big factories he advocated production by the masses in their own homes and cottages. Gandhiji was most anxious to provide full employment to every able-bodied citizen of India, and he maintained that this objective could be achieved only by organizing village and cottage industries in the countryside in an efficient manner. Any economic planning which did not utilize fully the idle manpower in the rural areas could not be termed as sound or rational. "To a people, famishing and idle," said Gandhiji, "the only acceptable form in which God can dare appear is work and promise of food as wages." (Selections from Gandhi, by N. K. Bose, p. 49) This ideal of full employment is now recognized by Western economists as basic to planned economic development, particularly of underdeveloped countries with large and growing populations. Prof. Galbraith is of the view that "full employment is more desirable than increased production combined with unemployment". (The Affluent Society, p. 155)
Mahatrtia Gandhi strongly pleaded for decentralization of economic and political power through the organization of Village Panchayats. He was of the definite view that Panchayat system in India, if worked on scientific lines, could not only build up the social and economic strength of the countryside but also strengthen the forces of national defence against the risk of foreign invasion. Acharya Vinoba Bhave has also been laying great stress on the urgent need for organizing the Indian villages on a co-operative community basis through Gramadana. This ideal of decentralized democracy or Panchayati Raj should not be regarded as a sentimental proposition based on medieval notions. A study of modern economic and political thought in the West would indicate that decentralized institutions are now regarded as crucial to the establishment of democracy on stable foundations. "If man's faith in social action is to be revivified," states Prof. Joad, "the State must be cut up and its functions distributed." (Modern Political Theory, pp. 120-21) In his Fabian Socialism, Prof. Cole maintains that for diffusing widely among ordinary men and women a capacity for collective activity "we must set out to build our society upon little democracies". From this standpoint, the experiment of Panchayati Raj which has been launched in India's countryside with zeal and vigour is a right step towards the goal of "Village Swaraj" envisaged by Gandhiji.
Above all, we should be clear in our minds that Gandhiji did not stand for a social and economic order based on material values alone. He always upheld the ideal of plain living and high thinking and worked for a higher standard of life and not merely for a higher standard of living. "Civilization, in the real sense of the term", remarks Gandhiji, "consists not in the multiplication but in the deliberate and voluntary restriction of wants." Unfortunately, this ethical and moral aspect of economic life has often been neglected to the detriment of real human welfare. Modern economists are now emphasizing the urgent need for 'investment in man' in addition to 'investment in goods' for achieving broad- based and speedy economic growth. Prof. Schumpeter rightly observes that for the success of economic and political democracy, "individuals with adequate ability and moral character must exist in sufficient numbers". (Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy) The same idea has been forcefully expressed by Mr. Crosland in the following words: "We do not want to enter the age of abundance only to find that we have lost the values which might teach us how to enjoy it." (Future of Socialism, p. 529) It is, therefore, this human and moral aspect of our planning which must be constantly borne in mind by all workers, officials as well as non- officials, who are engaged in this great adventure of building up a New India of Gandhiji's dreams.