Gandhian Perspective of Development

- By Dr. Usha Thakker*

The UN Millennium Declaration of September 2000 indicates eight millennium development goals: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development. When we think of Gandhi in this context, we realize that his ideas are of crucial importance. His life remained 'experiments with Truth' and his concerns embraced the whole of human race and not just India, South Africa and England. His principles, evolved during his life span 1869 to 1948, cover not just the last part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, but rather transcend any time-frame.

The world has changed dramatically since he lived and worked. There have been enormous changes in political, economic and social scenes. However, trials, tribulations, and challenges faced by Mahatma in his eventful life remain important. The moral issues he raised are still relevant; and the questions he posed for social, economic, and political justice still remain of crucial importance.

The prevalent methods of measuring development in terms of economic progress, industrialization, consumption of energy and urbanization have proved to be inadequate to address the issue of the miseries of the millions. Gandhi was aware of the pitfalls of such a theory and the results of the unequal distribution of wealth between different classes in a society. Today science and technology have taken unprecedented strides, and yet millions live in utter poverty; basic human rights are denied to them, powerful nations dominate over the powerless ones and innocent people become victims of terrorism. It is in this dismal situation that Gandhian perspective becomes useful.

The quintessence of Gandhian philosophy is that the human values and not the market should govern life. Service of the teeming millions, the poor - Daridranarayan - is of the utmost importance. Gandhi presents the' humane face of development. Ghosh brings out the following basic objectives of the Gandhian scheme of holistic development-(l) human development (including moral development) for capability expansion, (2) development in a balanced way through manual and intellectual labour (development of body, mind and soul), (3) development with social justice, rights and freedom. This is in accordance with the principle of social and human development. (4) attainment of self-sufficiency and self-reliance through rural development, (5) reduction in poverty through the generation of additional income and employment. (Ghosh, 2007: 213)

Gandhi aims at what we may call sustainable development, balanced development of body, mind and soul. Gandhi had realized that human development is not just material or economic; it has to be moral, it should be able to instill the values of equality, liberty and dignity in the people; it must provide the persons with courage to protest against injustice. His emphasis on decentralization, community based economics, self-sufficiency, handicrafts, rural development, and use of low capital intensive appropriate technology indicate his vision for a self-sufficient economy.

According to Gandhi nature provides just enough, and not more, for our daily needs. He opposes exploitation, ruthless drive for economic abundance and personal aggrandizement, massive technological progress, severe competitions, unbridled consumerism and concentration of wealth and power. In his opinion, greed is detrimental to social good and political emancipation without economic equality is hollow. For him economics stands for social justice. (Harijan, October 9, 1937) He emphasizes decentralized self- dependent units bound together by the bonds of mutual cooperation and interdependence.

For him the development of the individual and the development of the society are intertwined. His ultimate goal was sarvodaya (the development of all in all facets of life). The concept of Sarvodaya presupposes the principle of justice. Sarvodaya generates movements for changes, outward as well as inward and strives for egalitarian social order based on truth, nonviolence and purity of means. Gandhi never compromised at the cost of individual freedom, equality and social justice; his principle of nonviolence was not a mere philosophical principle but it was the rule of life. He had visualized an India where "all interests not in conflict with the interests of the dumb millions will be scrupulously respected, whether indigenous or foreign." (Young India, September 10,1931).

Gandhi's basic aim was to have an all-round development of the society that included human development along with socio-economic- political development. Gandhian programme is holistic and multidimensional. The objective of his constructive work is the creation of non-violent society. Gandhi envisages a healthy society based on harmony and dialogue, where the ideas of equality and justice are translated in the lives of teeming millions. Commenting on man's social nature, Gandhi writes/' If it is his privilege to be independent it is equally his duty to be independent...It will be possible to reconstruct our villages so that villages collectively, not villagers individually, will become self-contained." (Young India, April 25, 1929).

Gandhi believes in the unity of life and egalitarian values in all spheres of life. According to him life cannot be divided in sphere like social, political, economic, moral and religious. If one part of the society suffers, all parts suffer. We get an important insight from J. B. Kripalani and Dada Dharmadhikari. (Thakkar and Mehta, 2011). J. B. Kriplani points out that it is not unusual to have saints among us - saints who meditate for salvation and who are concerned with the uplift of the soul. It is their contribution to the evolution to the human history in an indirect way. But Gandhi was concerned in a direct way. Social involvement is very important to him. Gandhi visualized a society of diverse people based on mutual understanding, mutual cooperation and mutual respect. He wanted freedom and equality for all. Gandhi transcends barriers of religion, rituals, caste, class and colour. Dada Dharmadhikari points out that Gandhi had 'no business other than life, an integrated life'. He never ran away from any situation, he faced it. His concept of life was all comprehensive; for him nothing was separate and everything was harmonized. He added social dimension to morality that was unique. He practiced what he preached and did everything possible to identify himself with the common man, ordinary man, suffering man. When India became independent, he was not in the capital to celebrate, but was with the riot-stricken people.

Gandhi maintains that wealth is to be used judiciously, governed by the principle of 'each according to his need'; and emergence of inequality has to be curbed at all levels. According to him, all amassing or hoarding of wealth, above and beyond one's legitimate requirement is theft. (Harijan, August 11, 1946). His concept of social use of wealth against the prevailing ethos of consumerism demands our serious attention. Values of 'truth' 'non-violence' and 'non-accumulation of wealth' are to be cherished for the very survival of the society, where the weakest has the same rights as the strongest.

Trusteeship for Gandhi is a dynamic concept that can bring change in the established institutions. It is a means of transforming the present capitalist order of society into an egalitarian one. An individual is not free to hold or use his wealth for selfish satisfaction. (Harijan, October 25, 1952) .The common property is to be used for the good of one and all, all including the rich have to work for the society acc to his/her capacity and they will receive as per needs. Property owners are caretakers of the property for the common good. Trusteeship aims at some realizable outcomes like capital-labour cooperation, formation of social capital, reduction in concentration of economic power in a few hands, and voluntary cutting down the wants.

Gandhi did not approve the use of machines that replaces men or makes them subservient to machines. He advocates judicious use of machines; and simple, indigenous technology of non-exploitative nature in tune with nonviolence. He emphasizes the importance of whatever can be produced locally, (From Yeravada Mandir, 1980:.44), and thinks about a decentralized economy. He propagated the use of the spinning wheel and Khadi for self reliance as well as moral and economic regeneration.

Gandhi visualized exploitation free society, based on cooperation and ethics. His vision included productive employment for India's millions, schemes for rebuilding villages and creating communities of care and concern, promotion of khadi and local handicrafts, production of need-based basic goods, empowering people by imparting basic education and required skills to enable them to create decentralized structures of power, and ensuring equality of opportunity for all. He believed that human wants have to be limited, and no one should suffer from deprivation and want of basic necessities. And for that the required means of production should be socially controlled. His emphasis is on collectivity and not on individual needs and greed. Wealth has to be created collectively and enjoyed collectively.

For Gandhi rebuilding villages, in accordance with the principles of self-sufficiency and decentralization, was very important. To quote him, "I would say that if the village perishes, India will perish too." (Harijan„ August 29, 1936). The nearest approach to civilization based on nonviolence was the erstwhile village republic of India. (Harijan, January 13, 1940). According to him, cities have so far exploited the villages, and that has resulted in the gap between villages and cities in education, culture, facilities, employment. Now a new partnership between cities and villages is needed.

Gandhi insists on regulation of wants and use of the goods and material not imported, but made in one's own country. His concept of Swadeshi, a dynamic concept of self-reliance, is closely connected with Swaraj, political freedom. Another of his important concept is that of 'bread labour', that propagates that some amount of physical labour has to be done by every person every day. Physical labour is a great equalizing force, and the need for socially useful manual labour is obvious. Influenced by John Ruskin, Gandhi maintained that all works are of equal dignity. He also said that in the conflict situation between the capital and the labour, cooperation and amicable settlements are the way out and not violence.

The rift between the rich and the poor is increasing in our times and the exploitation involved in the process of the amassing wealth is blatant. Gandhi was sure that too much emphasis on materialism leads to violence and unhappiness. He criticized the exploitative and materialistic Western civilization and believed that India cannot be a replica of that. Many western thinkers also have noticed trends of exploitation and dehumanization trends of industrialization. Gandhi's critique of the exploitative and dehumanizing modern western civilization is relevant today, as it makes us aware of the fact that economic progress devoid of moral elements will not ultimately help the people but will make internal divisions and dissensions more intense. Parekh suggests that Gandhi's critique was directed to modern, materialistic society rather than the Western culture in general. He argues that the modern society is built and maintained by massive violence, and relationships are characterized by struggle, mastery, subjugation, domination, victory and defeat. (Parekh,' 1995: 20-26).

Gandhi connects violence with unbridled greed and vehement desire for luxuries. He had strongly advised the people to give up selfishness and to take the minimum for the satisfaction of wants. He firmly believed that unless there is a complete transformation in our economy and our style of life, peace will elude us, however hard we may strive for it. His relentless struggle against inequality and poverty, exploitation and suppression has many lessons for contemporary times. It is important to realize that he is opposed to the concentration of power and the system that makes the individual subservient to the material.

Gandhi draws our attention to the need to protect the environment and to guard against the abuse of natural resources. Our mindless destruction of natural wealth is alarming. Mighty projects, big dams, giant industries and other massive ventures raise questions about the quality of life affected by them. The quest for the mirage of material development often leads to the destruction of forests, ecological imbalances, scarcity of water, soil erosion, silting of rivers and desertification pose grave dangers to environment. Gandhi encourages us to rethink about our inadequate and risky development model putting too much stress on economic prosperity. He does not believe in survival of the fittest, but survival and good survival of all, not greatest good of all, but greatest good of all. His talisman is of great value: "Whenever you are in doubt, try the following expedient. Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man whom you have seen and ask yourself whether the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him/'

Today we need a more human-centric, moral-centric worldview and way of living, and Gandhi shows us that. Making opportunities available for all members in the society for their full development and having full civic engagement of the citizens are Gandhian principles that are of vital importance today. Commitment to the idea and practice of democracy blooms not in the houses of deliberation and debate. It starts at the level of one's own life. Self sufficiency at personal level and eagerness to perish for the higher cause are the basis of the idea of oceanic circles.

Few can grasp the complex ground realities and dare to find a way in the labyrinth of ideologies and power games. Few have the clear understanding of the processes of governance and development coupled with empathy and sensitivity. And few have the openness for innovative thinking, strategies and ways of doing. Gandhi is one individual who dared to think and act differently to make the difference to the conflict-ridden society and power-hungry states. At this juncture we need to understand why Gandhi is so important for us. An important way is to understand the issues and challenges of our times in the context of Gandhi's ideas and life.

During his visit to India in 1959, Martin Luther King was asked a question at a press conference "Where is Gandhi today? We see him nowhere." His reply was "Gandhi is inevitable. If humanity wants to progress, Gandhi is a must. We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk." This insight is of crucial importance to all of us in our times.

Type of Investment:

Most of the times “development” in the developing countries take place by investing a large bulk in projects such as building dams, setting up of large international companies and commercial complexes. There is little or no investment in primary health care, safe drinking water and basic education. This type of investment has jeopardized the very lives to certain categories of people and seriously harmed many people in many different ways. The World Bank has recognized the risks involved. With regard to large scale irrigation projects the world bank itself has recognized that :

“Social disruption is inevitable in large scale irrigation projects... Local people often find that they have less access to water, land and vegetation resources as a result of the projects. Conflicting demands on water resources and inequalities on distribution can easily occur both in the project are an downstream. Altering the distribution of wealth.”

In India the Narmada dam project funded by world bank has brought up immediate issues with the type of investment which affected the lives of over a million people from 245 villages. These issues bring the rehabilitation of displaced people, their right to livelihood the rate of compensation given to them, proper administration of the rehabilitation program and treatment given by the police authorizes to the tribals who opposing the project. There are large scale violation of human rights on these immediate issues.

Basis for Investment Decision:

Economic decision making process is being taken away from governments and put in the hands of financial “experts”. People and governments in developing states are not effectively involved in decisions affecting their lives. This has impact both on state sovereignty and human rights. People are not able to exercise their right to development because they are not afforded the opportunity to participate in decisions concerning their development.

Decision about investment by these globalized organizations are based almost exclusively on financial concern including generating profits for banks in the developed states and for other transnational corporations. As such, these concerns are external to the state in which the investment is made, and subsequently fail to focus on social welfare within the state.

Economic decisions most of the times have severely affected the vulnerable sections in society. With the imposing o structural adjustment programme by the IMF, which drastically cuts down the social sectors like health, education etc thousands of people lose their jobs as government is the largest employer in most of the developing countries. Those who are the most affected when governments are forced to change their priorities are usually the poor, women and agricultural workers : Many developing countries used to provide free education until the adherence to an IMF structural adjustment programme for e.g. Education of girls in rural China since then has become problematic. Schools have introduced fees, and the opportunity cost of sending a girl, who can now be earning income, to school has increased. The result is that many girls have been compelled to drop out of school, despite the legal requirement of nine years of education. In rural China 80 percent were girls, mostly from rural and remote mountainous areas and from minority groups, and there are still more than twice as many illiterate women as men.

This happens as parents tend to make gender based financial choices. This occurs despite the clear evidence that educating a girl in a developing country is an intelligent investment. Cut in investment in people through education, health care and other social services will have negative repercussions for years.

Type of Economic Growth:

This relates to the impact of damaging forms of economic growth. It is that growth “which does not translate into jobs that which is not matched by the spread of democracy that which snuff out separate cultural identities, that which despoils the environment and growth where most of the benefits are seized by the rich.

Damaging economic growth is where crops are planted for export to gain foreign exchange revenue while the people are deprived of their staple diet. This happens in all developing and poor countries.

This can undermine food security. For example, in the Philippines by a Government decision an increasing amount is land is diverted to producing live stock and horticultural products for exports. Those who are displaced were growing traditional crops such as corn and rice. They are expected now to go into the expanding export production center. This does not necessarily happen with a consequent decline in poverty levels and marginalization of many households. In India agro business companies are acquiring land holdings from small and marginal farmers with bigger firms going for production of items such as coffee, tea, sugar, flowers or shrimp for the export market. The agricultural sector instead of planning to increase domestic production to ensure food security, has shifted to increasing trade in non - food agricultural commodities. This may seriously affect domestic consumption needs.

This kind of damaging economic growth is contrary to the right of self determination which provides that “in no case may people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.”


  1. M.K. Gandhi - From Yerrvda Mandir: Ashram Observances, translated by Valji G. Desai, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, reprint, 1980.
  2. B.N. Ghosh, Gandhian Political Economy: Principles, Practice and Policy, Ashgate Publishing Ltd., Aldershot, Hampshire, UK, 2007.
  3. Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi's Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination, Ajanta Publications, Delhi, 1st Indian edition, 1995.
  4. Usha Thakkar and Jayshree Mehta, ed.s- Understanding Gandhi: Gandhians in Conversation with Fred J Blum, Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2011.

Courtesy: This article has been reproduced from the Research Journal (2011) of Gandhian Studies Centre (GSC) of Smt. Chandibai Himathmal Mansukhani College.

* Dr. Usha Thakkar is President of Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, MS, India. Email: