ARTICLES : Gandhian view on Economics

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Gandhian Perspective on Convergence of Values: Spiritual, Political and Economic

By M. P. Lele

Mahatma Gandhi has been described as a very unique personality who combined saintliness with politics. His advocacy of spiritualization of politics was not intended to mix politics with religion. It was rather, a passionate appeal for moralizing the culture and practice of politics. Although Gandhi’s popular image was that of a statesman, who successfully used nonviolence as a tool in the struggle for his political objective i.e., independence for India, elementally Gandhi was a humanist, who ventured through out his life to seek Truth as God.
Philosophically speaking, Gandhi believed in affirmation of the essential unity of all existence, the indivisibility of truth and interrelation of truth and nonviolence. While the former was the end, the latter was the means to achieve that, in whatever field i.e., social, economic or political, he worked in the course of his life’s mission.
Gandhi’s concept of religion transcends the rigid framework of a sectarian approach. About religion he said that it binds one indissolutely to the truth within and purifies actions. It is the personal element in human nature, which leaves the soul restless until it has found itself.
Gandhi was a revolutionary in every field that he treaded. To the protagonists of pure religion, he advised, “Carry God to the poor in a bowl of rice rather than a bundle of high dogmas and logic.”
Religion provides the ethical framework for all social and political actions of Gandhi. Wither it was satyagraha (use of moral force) for pressing political demands or his multi-faceted constructive programmes like Hindu-Muslim unity, upliftment of the oppressed classes or his emphasis on Swadeshi and Khadis, there was an underlying spiritual urge. Many of his critics and even some of his closest colleagues felt that Gandhi’s views were utopian and antithetical to modernity. But as the dust settles down on his historical agenda of political work, it is evident that as a practical person he always tried to strike a balance between the political realities on the ground and his moral ideological pursuits.
About his vision of India as an independent nation, Gandhi said: “My notion of Poorna Swaraj is not isolated independence but a healthy and disciplined inter-dependence between nations. My nationalism is not exclusive, nor designed to harm any other nation. It is rather to promote international cooperation.” About party politics as a social instrument, Gandhi was very skeptical. He wrote, “Today politics pushes the individual into immoral and anti-social conduct. Mutual distrust and enmity result into conflicts and wars, which unleash the bases of human passions even under the moral guise such as—patriotism, bravery, self-sacrifice and altruism. For satyagraha, Gandhi put four essential requirements:

  1. Faith and regard for Truth
  2. Strict adherence to nonviolence
  3. Purity of means, as the ends and means are inter-convertible terms
  4. Fearlessness (Abhaya) where pain is voluntarily borne by a satyagrahi.

Although Gandhi’s basic ideas on economics were rooted in the oriental spiritual traditions of ‘Aparigraha’ (spirit of non-possession) and ‘Sanyama’ (restraint in consumption), his ideas on economics got crystallized as he went on analyzing the cause of the plight and poverty of poor nations like India, who had suffered due to the exploitative policies of capitalist and colonial powers. Gandhi’s views on economics reflect the common man’s perception about his well-being.
Modern Economics has taken its shape after the industrial revolution in the later part of the 18th century. The resultant craze for material progress put forth the Growth Oriented development model. Today, economic growth has become the standard measure of power, strength and virtue at all levels i.e., individual, national and international. The IMF and World Bank and their multi-faceted arms working in forums like WTO etc. are trying to impress upon nations that they should accelerate their growth rate in order to integrate themselves into the process of globalization, despite the fact that it has brought about ecological imbalances, environmental problems and increasing disparity of economic well-being among nations.
Today in retrospect, Gandhi appears to be prophetic in outrightly rejecting the growth model of economic development. In Hind Swaraj, his first exposition on the contemporary issues in the early 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi severely criticized the western model of development and its resultant civilization. He labeled it as “Satanic”, calling it a product of dark age, “Kaliyuga” of Indian mythology. Gandhi said that this civilization is enslaving men by offering temptation of money and the luxuries as its fruit. Alternatively, Gandhi propounded the model of “Sarvodaya”—the good for all. He said that economics has to be infused with spiritual values. It should create social prosperity in terms of cordial relationship, among different layers of society rather than accumulation of sheer material wealth in certain pockets only.
Today, it is a growing realization that even the so-called affluent societies created by the growth based economic model are experiencing isolation, emptiness and are loosing their own perspectives. At the personal level, it is causing acute stress, depression and insecurity. Gandhi said that an economy based purely on material considerations and totally devoid of any value base would not bring happiness to mankind. Only that economic system which is regulated by ideals rooted in permanent order of things would achieve the vision of a sustainable world.
Crucial features of Gandhi’s economic model could be summarized as follows:
All wealth is produced jointly and should therefore bye equally divided among those who have produced it.
Everyone should get enough to satisfy his needs as also reasonable comforts of life.
There should be limitation on human wants within certain reasonable limits. Gandhi said, “Nature produces enough for our day-to-day needs, and if everybody took just enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world.”
For the use of accumulated wealth, Gandhi came up with the doctrine of trusteeship. Similarly, his Swadeshi movement was aimed at the rejuvenation of Indian Industry and Village Crafts which gave employment to rural folk in times when they had no farm work in hand.
Gandhi said that Science and Technology should be so regulated that they work for public good and not as tools to exploit hapless masses.
In Gandhi’s words, “True economics never militates against the highest ethical standards, just as all true ethics to be worth its name, must also be good economics”.
Mahatma Gandhi thus offers us an integrated approach and solution to the calls and cries of the present times. He believed that human life follows an integral unity in all its aspects and hence it could not be addressed in parts or dealt with in compartments like social, religious, political, economic and so on. In the Gandhian perspective of things, all life sustaining values converge into an integrated pattern. Gandhi firmly believed that for a sustainable world, the development model must have its roots in spiritual values. However, they must express themselves through the normal activities of life in all fields i.e., economic, social and political.

Source: Anasakti Darshan Vol. 2, No. 2, July-December 2006