Self Sufficient Villages in Today's Global Village
The relevance of Gandhian economics in today's world seems to be paradoxical. Gandhi believed that India lives in villages and that development of the villages will mean development of India as a whole. If we are to increase the scope on a bigger scale and look at the world as a unified country and countries as villages, the relevance is clear. Today, we live in a global village and, as they say, it has indeed become a small place to live in. With recession affecting the world like never before, it is time to go back to the drawing board. Gandhi saw the problems associated with industrialisation and modernisation. He believed that unless villages are developed and made self sufficient, it will lead to mass migration, overcrowded cities and the vicious circle of poverty and under-development cannot be extinguished. Gandhi's economic ideas were closely linked to the upliftment of weaker and underprivileged sections of the society and overall development of the village economy as a whole. Along with the freedom struggle, vigorous efforts were made by Gandhi for the development of villages by making them financially independent through establishment of small and cottage industries. He believed that political independence without economic independence was hollow. He was sure that the progress of the country lies in the development of majority of its rural villages. Gandhi said that the only way of bringing hope of good living to the rural people was by making the village the central place in the economic programme.
Background of the Study
Gandhi's walks through the villages of rural India endeared him with a profound love of the land and respect for the people who toiled in it. He came to believe that it was impractical for India's cities to accommodate the burgeoning population in a dignified way. He romanticised village life as self-sufficient, simple, free, non violent, and truthful. To Gandhi, the qualities of village and rural life far surpassed that of the city, but he recognised that the playing field had to be levelled with both landscapes providing opportunities for personal growth and lifelong learning. Dhiru Thadani (2011) said that Gandhi idealised diverse self-governing communities in both the rural and urban landscapes. A robust community life is essential in the rural village as it is in any urban neighbourhood, the building block of a successful city.
From the time of his return to India in 1915, Gandhi combined political activity with social reform. When Mahatma Gandhi was not involved in his actual political campaigns, he would turn to thoughts of village reconstruction. This he did to expel the fear of unemployment and starvation in Indian villages.
The basic tenet of Gandhian economics, as it is known widely now, is regional self-sufficiency, or Gram Swaraj. He realised that to achieve this dream of self-sufficient village republics, revival of rural industries was absolutely essential. But this could not be achieved by following the western model of industrialisation based, as it was on exploitation. The technology that enabled this exploitation, therefore, needs to be eschewed. In 1934, he created All-India Village Industries Association (AIVIA) to work towards development of a model of non-exploitative rural industrialisation. It is not that he was opposed to all heavy industries. He was not against science and technology but wanted them to be used judiciously so that the inequity in the society was reduced.
The most common criticism of Gandhian model of development is that it is Utopian, infeasible, and would take the country back into medieval times. With ever increasing population, it would not be possible to meet even the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, if the heavy industries are neglected and replaced by tiny cottage and village industries. Of course, these are only apprehension and based on the fear that we may be left behind in the race of 'development' a la west. Detailed mathematical simulation studies carried out at IIT Delhi by Ajit Kumar (1991) have shown that it is possible to design village republics using the currently available decentralised rural technologies which are not only self-sufficient in so far as their basic needs are concerned, but are able to generate appreciable surplus produce for the cities.
The present study is based on secondary data. Information has been collected from various books, journals and reports.
Today the world is divided into two halves, the developed and the underdeveloped, the privileged and the underprivileged, the rich and the poor. In the global village of today two distant worlds exist. However, the global village is still linked in a very complicated manner wherein if USA sneezes, China catches a cold. It means that no country is isolated from another and every country's fate is dependent on the world at large. The world today is struggling to come out of recession which is essentially driven by mismatch of demand and supply. As borders come down the threat from lower priced products entering the developed countries and eating into high product cost and thus eroding the demand base for local industries is very real. This is where Gandhi's thoughts on economic development of India in the 1950's, have become relevant. If the world as a whole is taken as a country, the developed nations of the world as megacities and the developing and the underdeveloped nations as villages, then, it will be easy to put Gandhi's thoughts on economics into perspective.
Gandhi espoused an economic theory of simple living and self- sufficiency. He envisioned a more agrarian India upon independence that would focus on meeting the material needs of its citizen prior to generating wealth and industrialiation. Gandhi realised that the fabric of the Indian economy rests on the rural base. In fact, Indian planners have again and again turned to take a second look at the rural sector from the Gandhian point of view. Gandhi was not against industrialisation but his venue was half a million villages which he wanted to see. developed as authentic village republics. Fundamentally, Gandhi opposed machinery because he thought it displaced labour and it concentrated production and distribution in the hands of a few. He pleaded for technology that would supplement and complement man-power and animal power available in India. That was the way to safeguard unemployment and starvation.
Gandhi focused on rural development for the last thirty years of his life. He felt intuitively that the future of India is in decentralised rural development. He believed in local production and consumption. This was his concept of a dream village.
Gandhi's concept of decentralised economy and industrialisation would perhaps have led to a prosperous village population with an exploitation-free equitable distribution of natural resources, means and instruments of production as well as the produce. The fact that India is now concentrating on the production of bio-gas and solar energy is itself a vindication of Gandhi's ideas. In the political field, we are experimenting with Panchayati Raj and Lok Ayuktas.
Gandhi emphasised employment. The full employment of human resources is the primary need of a country. By full employment, Gandhi meant the employment of each and every individual. Full employment cannot be attained through the development of large scale industries. Most of the unemployed people live in rural areas. The cause of rural underemployment is the seasonal nature of agriculture. The problem of unemployment can be tackled only by developing village and cottage industries. These industries are capital-saving and labour-using. They take employment opportunities to the doors of the unemployed and ideally fit in with the rural conditions.
Thoughts of Gandhi Reinforced into the Current Economic Scenario:
Gandhi believed that villages need to be developed so that there is less pressure of people moving into cities in, search of jobs and thus putting enormous pressure on the cities infrastructure. He believed not only that it led to overpopulated cities but that it also destroyed the balance and the social fabric of, both, the villages and the cities. He believed that development of villages through creation of infrastructure will create demand for jobs in villages and thereby movements reverse of population from cities back to villages. If this is taken on a global scale, it is relevant. Countries like India and Brazil in their quest for development are actually experiencing reverse migration of their own people from the developed countries and also people from developed countries into these countries in search of jobs and opportunities.
Localisation and Indigenisation
Gandhi believed that every region has its own specialisation and its own resources. While he believed that every village needs to be self sufficient, dependence on neighbouring villages was a must as it enabled sharing of certain scarce resources so as to avail of economies of scale. He believed that technology which is local based will create enough job opportunities to support the entire village. Linked to the current global village countries and more so underdeveloped countries need to look inwards and see where their expertise and resource strength exist. For example a country like Switzerland with not much resource to boost has emerged as a tourist destination and a strong financial institution. Even countries like UAE have found a niche so as to sustain and augment the interests of their citizens.
Education and Healthcare for the Underprivileged
Gandhi was always concerned about the plight of the poor and the needy. He believed that special reservations and resources need to be allocated to take care of these people. In today's parlance it means that special aids from government, World Bank loans and huge NGO funds need to be diverted into the poorer countries of the world so as to give them the impetus of faster growth. This will not only enable creation of jobs at the local level but also creation of demand which can then be fulfilled from supplies coming from the developed world. Gandhi believed that all citizens are entitled to proper education and this, he believed, was the ultimate solution for removal of poverty, superstition and blind faith. He believed that no man or woman is superior or inferior and that no job is small or big. If expenditures are diverted towards education and health care in poor African and Asian countries, it will not only create huge opportunities for the local population but also infinite growth in demand for product and services originating from the developed countries. With communication becoming virtually free across the World Wide Web, education revolution is going to change the face of the world, more than any. other revolution of the past.
Technology with a Purpose:
Gandhi believed that technology ate into jobs and that production should be simplified so as to employ as many people as possible. Times have changed wherein service industry occupies a bigger and prominent role than manufacturing. Technology today is required so as to optimise and maximise production. It is proven that the right type of technology creates more jobs than it is supposed to reduce. With the advent of transport it is possible to have clusters of production facilities producing goods at significantly lower costs and subsequently dispatching to the far corners of the world is a reality.
Non Violence and Peace
Gandhi believed that Non Violence is the key and absolute Peace is the ultimate aim. In today's context it means that lesser dependence on oil and coal and wood and more dependence on nuclear power. Not only will that help in removing strain on the already dwindling natural resources but also enable creation of cheap and clean power. Amount spent on defence budgets across the world if diverted to other usage, will create enough resources to comfortably feed and clothe the world population.
Cottage Industry and Local Culture
Gandhi believed that for self-sufficient villages to be a reality it was important that the local handicraft and expertise be given prominence so as to create a demand base for the local talent as also continuity of the traditional based production methods and systems. He believed that every village was unique and if local culture was respected and encouraged it will lead to national growth and integration. Applying this on a global scale is the prescription of our times.
Application and Relevance
Gandhian thoughts are today more than seven decades old. Times have changed and the world today is really a global village where rights to live an equal opportunity are slowly becoming a basic necessity. Communications and transportation have made the world a very small place, with the remotest village not far to reach. Wars are slowly becoming extinct although terrorism - unheard of earlier-is raising its ugly head. Gandhian thoughts and philosophies particularly on the economic front are awe inspiring and prophetic. Therein lies his relevance and importance and probably the panacea for all economic evils plaguing the world.
Gram Swaraj (Village Republic)
Gandhi laid emphasis on the fact that India lived in villages and that only through their salvation India could regain her glory and prosperity. His concept of Gram Swaraj or Gram Raj (Village Republic) can be interpreted from his idea of Soul-force. He used to say that India's soul lives in villages. To Gandhi, villages were the basic units of social organisation. The villages should therefore be self-sufficient in the matters of their vital requirements. He felt that in the villages, the means of production of elementary necessities of life must be as easily available to all as air and water and were not to be a vehicle of traffic for exploitation of others. Gandhi was against the idea of massive and indiscriminate industrialisation of the Western variety because that would be harmful to society, as all persons could not be provided with work. He favoured the idea of decentralisation of production and nationalisation of big industries and factories. He argued for the concept of State ownership of major means of production and wealth. He favoured the idea of autonomous and self-contained villages in which there would be intimate human relationships and self-rule through village Panchayats having executive, legislative and judicial powers.
Thus, we may sum up that the structure of Gandhian economy would be labour intensive and not capital intensive. There would be decentralised system of planning production and decision-making. The planning model based on Gandhian ideology would be built on the economic principles like non violent ownership, non violent production or appropriate technology, non-possession, non violent work or bread-labour, co-operation, equality, self-reliant village, economy and simplicity and limited wants. This model of Gandhian economy would be founded on a non violent, non-exploitative and egalitarian social order guided by the fundamental principle of Sarvodaya (welfare of all). It has been said that Gandhi's philosophy of Swadeshi has ultimately led to the concept of self-reliance as a major objective of Indian planning. Real planning, Gandhi wrote consist of best utilisation of the entire manpower of India. Gandhi always stressed on the human factor in economic development. According to Gandhi the supreme consideration is man. In order to provide full employment opportunities to the people, he emphasised spread and expansion of Khadi and village industries network in the country. Gandhi believed in the body-labour or bread-labour theory and emphasised that each man should do bodily or physical labour to satisfy his most essential needs. He pioneered the cause of spinning as the only ready means of driving away penury.
Gandhi believed that growth and self sufficiency at the grassroot level is required. The world, in the next twenty years, will slowly look the place and economics Gandhi believed in. Probably hundred years after Gandhi's death, his views on economics and the way forward will be a come reality. Mahatma Gandhi gave India its freedom - freedom from bondage, slavery, imperialism. Britain ruled India for a long time until Gandhi emerged on the scene to bring the country under its own rule. In today's world Gandhi is more relevant than ever before and his thoughts and insights will once again help in the world in getting freedom from poverty, tyranny and terrorism.
There is nothing to prevent us from profiting by the light that may come from the West. Only we must take care that we are not overpowered by the glamour of the West. We must not mistake the glamour for true light.