Swadeshi, Self-Reliance and Globalization
Globalisation has impacted nation-states unevenly across time and space, in the process, enhancing opportunities on the one hand and inequalities and hegemonies on the other. Accordingly, nation-states have responded differently to the changed scenario. This paper attempts to exlore elements of interplay between the aspiration and imperative of self-reliance and the forces of globalisation, relloking the issue in the light of Gandhian legacy of Swadeshi. Self-reliance has been an undisputed goal in India, since independence. However, in the post-reform scenario, both the Congress and the BJP experiments need to be reviewed.
Globalisation is characterised by expanding trade, investment and finance at a global level, on one hand, and on the other, by shrinking space, time and disppearing borders, linking people's lives instensely and immediately more than ever before. It is also seen as opening numerous opportunities for millions around the world, through increasing trade, new technologies, foreign investments, expanding media and connectivity. It is also being argued that contemporary globalisation is not only expansive and encompassing but is being operated by new actors, new rules, new tools and newer markets. The implications, beyond doubt, are far-reaching.
In present times, globalisation has informed the work of a wide range of groups, interests, from scholars and economic development workers to human rights activists. In a much cited passage, Anthony Giddens talks of it as, “the intensification of world-wide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa.” While there is a broad consensus on global exchanges are central, we have quite divergent assessments of the character and consequence of globalisation. For some, the primary feature of globalisation is “deterritorialization”, marking what Scholte describes as “ a reconfiguration of geography”, so that social space is no longer mapped in terms of the territorial place, distance or borders. Ohers emphasise the cultural dimension of globalisation. While, it may be said that local cultures do not just react, but rather interact with global forces in dialectical and reflexive ways, it is equally true that globalisation has prompted cultural homogenisation and the dominance of a commodity-driven, West-centric global culture along with a hegemonic world order.
The WTO with authority over national governments, the MNCs with more economic power than many states, the global networks of NGOs and other groups transcending national boundaries are the decisive 'new actors'. Multilateral agreements on trade, services and intellectual property backed by strong enforcement mechanisms, that are binding for national governments, reduce the scope of national policy. The point missed in the zeal to portray globalisation as a 'new', 'different' and 'integrative' phenomenon, is the underlying core of inegalitarianism, injustice and exploitative practices inherent in the capitalistic-imperialistic-hegemonizing trait of the neo-liberal ideology of globalisation.
In the present scenario, one is reminded of Darwin's doctrine of natural selection, which Herbert Spencer applied to the study of process of social development, justifying 'survival of the fittest' in every conceivable sense. This argument has been used in defense of laissez-faire, free market economy, individualism and anti-statism alongwith resultant inequalities, discrimination, injustice in various forms and degrees. J.Breman has argued that neo-liberalism, in vogue at present, heralds in some ways a return to a social Darwinism of the more extreme kind a la Spencer. Globalisation, as brought out by numerous studies, has in its present phase, as in its earlier incarnation in nineteenth century, resulted in widespread inequalities, deprivation, even exclusion of less-developed countries and people from the world of economic opportunities. Its far-reaching implications on the sovereignty and self-reliance of nation-states are significant.
The world moves forward with advancement of science and technology, expansion of opportunities in the new global order of borderless economy, culture and even politics But the basic question raised by Gandhi in his times, are earlier by Marx, remains pertinent as ever- the question of who are the actual beneficiaries of the stupendous infrastructure of growth, development and rhetoric of advancement? Answers to this question, by the proponents and defenders of globalisation remain unsettling. The above 'basic question' should form the criterion of assessing the impact of impressive advancement of the common people and the nations that are still at periphery of the globalising world.
Across the world, as reported by Human Development Report 2001, unacceptable levels of deprivations in people's lives are visible. Of the 4.6 billion people in the developing countries, more than 850 million are illiterate, nearly a billion lack access to clean water sources and 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation. Nearly 325 million boys and girls are out of school. And 11 million children under age 5 die each year from preventable causes- equivalent to more than 30, 000 a day. Around 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day, and 2.8 billion on less than $2 a day. These unacceptable levels of deprivation in the developing world are in contrast to the exorbiant assets in the developing world. That makes the inequality glaring.
The figures in the Human Development Report 1999, clearly underlined the point: the income gap between the richest fifth of the world's population and the poorest fifth stood at around 3:1 in 1820, 11:1 in 1913, 30:1 in 1970, 60:1 in 1990 and 86:1 by the end of twentieth centurry. By 1997 the top 20% of the global population living in the high-income countries earned 86% of the world GDP and the bottom 20 % just 1 %. It was also stated that the assets of the 3 richest people are more than the combined GNP of all the least developed countires. The assets of the 200 richest people are more than the combined income of 41 % of the world's people. And an yearly contribution of 1 % of the wealth and of the 200 richest people could provide universal access to primary education for all ($ 7-8 billion).
Free multi-lateral trade based on non-discrimination has been a mantra that has been used to force developing countires to fall in line with the trade regimes built to meet the needs of developed countries. Even then, discriminatory practices abound in the global trade itself. Developed countries have violated this principle as and when their interests are adversely affected. First, US took a waiver from GATT-47 to keep agriculture out of multilateral negotiations. EU's agricultural policy is also a classic case of protection. Second, when developing countries emerged as competitors in some products, developed countries readily abandoned the principle of free non-discriminitaory trade. The textiles trade regime wasw deregulated from GATT as early as 1962, and only under Uruguay Round was it brought under the multilateral trade regime. Third, as a World Bank study suggests, even today a large number of products of interest to developing countries are subject to high tariffs, in some case as high as 800%. The large use of anti-dumping measures recently tends to support this understanding. It is clear that US enjoys unrestricted power vis-a-vis the WTO as against the plight of many developing countires. WTO panel accepted the US explanation for Super 301, but when India pleaded for a similar approach over TRIPS, the panel politely held on its own.
Often, openness of economy is hailed as enhancing economic growth, and economic growth as reducing poverty. But these may not always be true. It is also said that trade and investment brings exposure to new ideas and techniques used in foreign countries. FDI, particularly, is lauded as a vehicle for technology transfer. But, quite often, what is brought in as new technology but only new brand names. This involves the question of patenting and the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) areement. It has been rightly said, that “it is a big rip-off for developing countires.” In the name of protecting intellectual property rights, literally billions of dollars in monopoly profit are being transferred from poor to rich countires, all this in the name of helping inventions and innovations in rich countries. And some of the consequences involve life and death questions. The recent debate on drugs for AIDS made by pharmaceutical multinational shows that it is impossible for poor people and governments to access the drugs for alleviating massive suffering while allowing these giant companies to go on massive profits. These pharmaceutical giants are larger economically than all the countries, except 20. It is also relevant to recall the US patent on turmeric to heal wounds, which in India, has been a common knowledge and practice for thousands of years. An ancient Sanskrit text was presented as a proof and the patent was cancelled. This highlighted a questionable imposition of one culture's system on another culture's traditions.
As a result of such problems, there has been increasing recognition of the need to protect the knowledge of indigeneous people. The convention on Biological Diversity of 1992 recognises not only the need to protect property rights but also the imperative for companies to gain prior informed consent before conducting research. But this is not legally binding until countires translated it into national law. Sadly, indigeneous communities have often received little protection under national law.
Thus, globalisation has developed and impacted nations unevenly across time and space, in the process enhancing opportunities on the one hand and inequalities, hiearchies and hegemonies on the other. Accordingly, various nation-states have responded differently to the changed scenario.
India's response to globalisation took a clear shape with the initiation of economic reforms of 1991. The strategy of development planning was outlines in India in terms of self-reliance right from independence. It is strange yet significant that even the introduction of economic reforms in 1991 sis not seriously challenge India's adherence to the planned development mode (in terms of self-reliance). Therefore, it is not out of place to relook at the question of self-relaince vis-a-vis globalisation.
Legacies of the past decisively influence the current discourse on self-reliance. The most important in this context is the Gandhian legacy and his idea of Swadeshi, followed by Nehruvian notion of self-reliance, further followed by the one that emerged during thr paradigm shift in NEP in 1991. Later developments have also affected the course of events.
Self-reliance was deemed necessary was Nehru, as by Gandhi earlier, in order to start the process of self-growth, although Nehru parted ways with Gandhi in the initial stages, saying that a country gets moving only when it has started the process of self-growth. The difficulty in an under-developed country is that it has not got that process of self-growth which automatically carries it forward. It is true that while emphasising upon the need of industrialisation Nehru repeatedly said, in clear dissonance with Gandhi, that heavy industry was essential for preserving freedom and independence in a larger perspective, it would be clear that the ultimate objective for him, as for Gandhi, was India's self-growth, self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Difference of opinion between the two on the mode and and methods of achieving the goal are understood as a matter of 'honest difference' rather than in terms of antagonism.
As brought out by a perceptive biographer of Nehru, the idea of self-reliance faced enormous challenges even in the early years of post-independence. But, this idea, Nehru insisted, was too important to be compromised, whatever be the challenges.
Although the first explicit reference to the term 'self-reliance' was found only in the Fifth Five Year Plan, it had been accepted as an objective of the development right from the Second and Third Five Year Plans. In subsequent years, it remained a long term goal as “planning” for Nehru “was a continuous movement towards desired goals..” It was felt that in the absence of an industrialised base, no country could be independent politically and economically, as an industrially backward country was susceptible to disturbing world equilibirium and encouraging aggressiveness of the developed ones. Those who now suggest that India could have opted for an export oriented strategy in 1960s fail to realize that it would have led to compromises on the foreign policy independence particularly with regard to Vietnam so as to gain access to the Western markets. Successive governments carries forwards the planning process initiated by Nehru. In the Fifth Five Year Plan, economic self-reliance was explained in terms of elimination of special forms of external assistance particularly the import of food and fertilisers. Numerous studies on the subject show that India gradually emerged as a self-reliant economy in agricultural production, electronics, sophisticated technology, although dependence in foreign aid was also marked.
The question of self-reliance acquired an urgency of sorts again in the latter half if 1980s when questions of economic efficiency within domestic economy and India's marginalisation at the international level began to be raised. Rajiv Gandhi, in 1985, urged for the development of a strong, independent national economy dealing extensively with the world, but dealing with it on equal terms. Emphasis was laid on development equity and social justice through the achievement of self-reliance, efficiency in food-grains by reducing dependence on external finance through export promotion and import substitution. It was aptly explained by L.K.Jha: “self-reliance for a country like India cannot have the literal meaning of the country not being influence one way or another by external economic forces. It should rather be measured in terms if India's contribution to the shaping of the international economic forces. THe current policies in favour of liberalisation are attributed to the political leadership of this period. In the face of balance of payments crises, among other things, the period witnessed a paradigm shift with the adoption of the market-model of development. However, other things apart, self-reliance did form a guiding principle in the policy perspectives of subsequent five year plans (8th, 9th and 10th), and continues in the current plan as well.
The attainment of self-reliance has, thus, continues to be accepted as a cherished goal and an ingredient for development of the country with a view of ensuring balance of payments sustainability, avoidance of external debt, generating investable resources domestically, and attain self-sufficiency in food and technology as well.
In the following years, attainment of self-reliance was projected in terms of adherence of Swadeshi by the BJP leadership. BJP rejected both the development models adopted by the Congress- Nehru's quasi socialistic model of mixed economy, and liberalisation, the model introduced by Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh duo in 1991- on the ground that these were not in tune with India's cultural traditions. In BJP's 1992 election manifesto, Swadeshi was explained as: “that, the local resources and talents have the full scope for development in national interest and the benefits therefor should primarily flow to the people. Integration into global economy should not mean obliteration of national identity and predominant sway of powerful economic forces from the outside.” Accordingly, the first budget presented by Yashwant Sinha, was claimed to be a Swadeshi budget.
Swadeshi pronouncements of BJP seem to be more of rhetoric. This is clear from the fact that despite criticising economic reforms introduced in 1991 by the ruling Congress on the plea that the reforms agenda was antithetical to the idea and the ideal of Swadeshi, the BJP dominated government advanced on the same path during its tenure, although it continued to seek legitimacy in the Gandhian legacy.
As we situate Gandhian Swadeshi as a possible alternative strategy and also as a world-view in the context of the current scenario of globlisation, the concept is subjected to a variety of connotations and interpretations.
It is important to bear in mind that Swadeshi is a dynamic concept in theroretical terms, premised on Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence and is as architectonic as Swaraj, encompassing relational dynamics of forces of production, consumption and ecological aspects. Swadeshi, then, is not to be viewed as exculsivism, parochialism or chuvinism but as a vision of reciprocal humanity and a strategy of restructuring prevalent hegemonic structures of politico-economic power within nations and at the global level. It is pertinent to recall that Gandhi stood for self-sufficiency of the country and even of villages, except for such foreign goods as are necessary for the growth of people. In terms of Swadeshi, Gandhi initially spoke of total self-sufficiency of the country. Later, his views on the matter underwent change. For instance, in 1926, he clarified his position thus: “I have never considered the exclusion of everything foreign under every conceivable circumstance as a part of Swadeshi. The broad definition of Swadeshi is the use of all home-made things to the exclusion of foreign things, in so far as such use is necessary for the protection of home-industry, more expecially those industrieswithout which India will become pauperised... Swadeshi which excludes the use of everything foreign, no matter how beneficient it may be and irrespective of fact that it imporverishes nobody, is a narrow interpretation of Swadeshi.”
He further clarified that rejection of “foreign manufactures merely because thery are foreign, and to go on wasting national time and money in the promotion in one's country of manufactures, for which it is not suited would be criminal folly, and a negation of the Swadeshi spirit.”
For Gandhi, international trade and exchange of commodities meant an exchange of equal advantages that did not involve injustice. There was no antagonism between self-sufficient and foreign trade. For Gandgim a product was Swadeshi so long as it served the interest of the millions and was under effective Indian control, irrespective of the fact that it was produced by foreign capital and talent.
Gandhi himself distinguished his idea from that of economic boycott of foreign goods that may perhaps be treated as a manifestation of economic nationalism. Though Gandhi did spearhead the call for boycotting British goods during the Civil disobedience movement (1931-33), Swadeshi and boycott of British goods were not the same for him. Swadeshi was synomymous neither with economic nationalism nor with autarky. Autarky is a conditionof economic self-sufficiency, i.e. Where a country produes everything within its borders. In contrast to autarky, Swadeshi poses a dynamic relationship between the consumer and the producer involving a downward shift in cost curves on upward movement of demand curves for the goods produced in the neighbourhood. In an autarky, cost curves may have an upwards revision but demand curves remain independent of production. Simeltaneous revision in demand curve (shifting upward) and in the cost curve (moving downward) will contribute towards resurgence of village industries.
Although Swadeshi in the Gandhian sense of the term is not in consonance with the trends in the past six decades in India, Gandhi's concept of Swadeshi is not in dissonance with the objective of self-reliance. In fact, Gandhian advocacy of Swadeshi has strengthened the argument of self-reliance. It has been felt that dynamic interaction between the producers and consumers would initiate a process of self-reliance. As the production process begins, the problems of supply and demand of goods are settled within the neighbourhood or the community. Logically speaking, self-reliance cannot have a meaning different from the one where requirements are met from within the “immediate neighbourhood”. Thus, Swadeshi as defined and subsequently refined by Gandhi, is clearly in conformity with self-reliance.
In a larger conext, Gandhi conceived of Swadeshi as instrumental in “the realisation of the greater mission of the brotherhood of man.” He could not visualise the rise of one nation on the ruins of other nations. “Not isolated independence but voluntray interdependence has to be the goal of World States.”, he assered. For him, interdependence was as much the ideal as self-sufficiency for individuals and for nations. That signified for him, the true service of the Vedic ideal of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam (the whole world is one family). Swadeshi in this sense signified national autonomy and freedom positively open-ended, consisting in progressive availability to others in loving service and sacrifice. And this could prove to be the real foundation of globalism. Given the global reality of competitive power structures, Gandhi would insist on the valkues of love (Ahimsa, in true sense), community and sacrifice to be structured into human interactions at each level- from the family to the worldl, so that violence and exploitation could be realisitically combated.
Gandhian Swadeshi, in no sense, is narrow nationalism or chauvinism, but “consistent with the broadest good of humanity at large” and the underlying thread of integrality amongst the diverse nation-states in the world, not as isolated/antagonistic political units but as interacting partners in an equal relationship. In the internationalist/globalist World Order of Gandhi's conception, there is no place for impositions of either political decision or commerce upon an unwilling people. It is pertinent to remember that Gandhi's objection is not to “foreigness” of a nation, or its ideas or products, but to its exploitative, hegemonic, and homogenizing trait. he would vehemently urge to resis and combat, through articulated non-violent protest and adherence to Swadeshi.
That Gandhi's vision is cosmopolitan is clear in his statement that no one can lead an integrally religious/moral life without identifying himself with the whole of mankind. This is not possible in contemporary times without participating in political and economic action. In his view, it is a righteous duty of every citizen and of every nation to resort to non-cooperation, whenever honourable existence or self-respect is hurt. Foreign help and ideologies, he emphasised, must be accepted only to the extent to which they could be assimilated to the national scene. Gandhi's insistence, it would seem, is on discriminating choice. Insistence on choice does not imply intervention in every act of decision- making but an opportune defiance of structures of control. Gandhi's definition of non-cooperation as refusal to co-operate with the exploiters on their own terms is, in fact, addressed to the deeper dimensions of Swaraj. Though not a determinist, Gandhi is convinced of the evolution of human civilization towards Ahimsa, as progressive realization of the values of dignity, equality, community and justice.
It is evident in the vow of Swadeshi that the inmated of the Satyagrah Ashram at Sabarmati had to take: “There is no place for self-interest in Swadeshi, which enjoins the sacrifice of oneself for the family, of the family for the village, of the village for the country and of the country for the humanity.” As instance of a progressive assimilation of smaller loyalties into the larger ones, in the Aristotelian spirit, Gandhian Swadeshi is an exhortation for disinterested/selfless service of mankind, without merging one's identity. Khadi was a summation of the Gandhi's economic philosophy of “decentralisation of the production and distribution of the necessaries of life.” Similarly, the message of spinning wheel was that of simplicity and service of mankind. In these, in his own times, Gandhi saw the secrret of economic and moral regenration of India, and conceived them as “symbol not of commercial war but of commercial peace” and “of non-violent economic self-sufficiency”. This vision of Swadeshi is as relevant today as it was in Gandhi's own times.
It was in a reformative vein that Gandhi defined Swadeshi as the spirit of preferring to use and serve the closer surroundings as compared to the distanced ones, and urtged to “make use of the indigeneous institutions and serve them, by curing them of their proven defects” in the political domain; and to “use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbour and serve these industries by making them efficient and complete where they might be found wanting” in the domain of economics. Swadeshi, therefore, is an argument simeltaneously in favour of a self-reliant national economy and a decntralised political structure. It is not exclusivist, and does not rule out international colaborations and cooperation, at both regional and global levels, but with two preconditions: for things which can be produced locally, outside productive forces should not be allowed, and secondly, collaboration/cooperation between interacting units should proceed on terms of equality. If these two conditions are met scrupulously, Swadeshi and globalism can go together. Swadeshi as both self-reliance and interdependence on equal footing, provides a sound theoretical basis for a Gandhian agenda to combat the discriminatory practices in the global arena of today.
Gandhi's life-long crusade against the industrialist-capitalist economic order, perceived by him to bethe root cause of all the contemporary ills is supplemented by his vision of Trusteeship. In his own words, it is “ a means of transforming the present capitalist order of society into an egalitarian one. It gives no quarter to capitalism but gives the present owning class a chance of reforming itself..does not recognise any right of private ownership of property.. does not exclude legislative regulation of the ownershio and uses of wealth.. an individual will not be free to hold or use wealth for selfish satisfaction.. the difference between.. minimum and maximum incomes should be reasonable, equitable and variable from time to time, so much so that the tendency would be towards the obliteration of difference.. the character of production of production would be determined by social necessity and not by personal whim or greed.” Although he had clearly accepted the need for state-ownership of key industries in preference to private ownership, nervertheless, he remained apprehensive of the potential tyranny of the state: “if the state suppresses capitalism by violence, it will be caught in the coild of violence itself and will fail to develop non-violence at any time.” In fact, the state can destroy only possessions and not possessiveness. The ideal of trusteeship is, thus, conceivable in terms of a post-capitalist and post-socialist vision of economy and society. Through trusteeship, Gandhi sought to overcome the evils of both private and public ownership and was optimistic that this would ensure an equitable order not only in India but on the global level as well.
Not only thi, Gandhi's stress on people's power is also unmistakable. He was convinbced that when “people understand the implications of trusteeship and the atmosphere is ripe for it, they themsleves, beginning from Gram Panchayats will begin to introduce such statutes. Such a thing coming from below is easier to swallow..The egalitarian order visualised through trusteeship is not one of dead equality where every person is rendered incapable of using his inability to the utmost possible extent.” It is an order inspired by the Ishopnishad ideal of tena tyaktena bhunjeetha, signifying dedication of all that one created and possesses to the service of all for universal benefit.
Through such a radical redefinition of both the means and the ends of production, as Raghavan Iyer has commented, “Gandhi sought to lay the basis for redistribution of wealth that would be consistent with a sacrificial moral order (rta) oft he cosmos.” This could also serve as the basis of a fundamental reform not only in India but also at the global level. Given Gandhi's unflinching faith in human perfectibility and bonding, his conception does not stop with the geopolitical boundaries of the nation-state. A persuasive argument in favour of an equitable, egalitarian and just international order, predicated on the values of dignity, autonomy and community, is clearly perceptible in his discourse.
In this light, it might be deduced that development of local and global institutions vie well with the necessity of self-reliance, compulsions of globalisation, notwithstanding. It is also felt that there is need to strengthen the positive role of the State and the capabilities of governing institutions. This is vindicated by the fact that State still has a role to play in the current phase of globalisation and that it cannot abdicate its responsibility to the market forces. As for Gandhi, he would urge for a further reorientation of state-power itself in the larger interest of the individual and the nation.
It is true, as highlighted by scholars like Peter Singer that neither inward-looking policies nor outwards orientation is correct at all times for all countries. However, the relevance of self-reliance serving as a means to promote and protect India's economic growth cannot be denied either. In the post-reforms scenario in India, BJP version of Swadeshi has not proved an ideal argument. Similarly, self-reliance has suffered a setback under the Manmohan Singh model of development as well. The biggest challenge confronting Indian state today is to trickle down the growth in GDP to its vast and deprived populace. Unless this is done, even consistent growth in economy cannot match the ideal of self-reliance and Gandhian Swadeshi. Flexibilities in self-reliance strategy cannot overlook the crises in agriculture; problem-ridden unorganised sector; rising poverty and unemployment levels widening regional disparities and poor human deveopmental indices, to say the least. Unless people are empowered and their choice of action is not circumscibed, self-reliance and Swadeshi would remain a distant dream in a globalizing world. That, in our view, is the unmistakable deducible core of Gandhian framework.
Finally, it is important to underline and reiterate that Gandhi's vision clearly entails a non-violent, non-hegemonic world order. And, at the same time, it is an argument in favour of self-reliance of national economies and self-governance of national polities, not in terms isolation and chauvinism, but in reciprocity with the outside world, with the global community.
Adapted from an original article titled Swadeshi, Self-Reliance and Globalization: Conjunctions and Disjunctions by Asha Kaushik, Gandhi Marg, Vol.32, No.2 (July-Sep 2010)
* Asha Kaushik is a Professor of Political Science, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences & Director, Centre for Women's studies, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org