Satyagraha and Sarvodaya as keys to good governance and corporate management

- By Pascal Alan Nazareth

The world has gone through a lot of tumultuous phases in the last few years & decades. Few of the examples are corporate misadventures like Enron & Satyam scam, collapse of corporate giants like Lehman Brothers, World Com, the Iraq War, disgrace of few global political leaders, etc. All of these instances highlight the imperative need for truthful and trustworthy leaders and also for transparency, justice, non-violent conflict resolution, etc. And a careful analysis of the root cause of these problems also reveals that it was the deviation from the path of Truth that has single-handedly been responsible for these catastrophes.

The first 20th century leader to successfully oppose violence and social injustices like racism, casteism, colonialism, etc. with the help of non-violent tools was Mahatma Gandhi. Satyagraha & Sarvodaya are two such concepts which are solidly based on the concepts of Truth. For Gandhiji, Satyagraha was a weapon which can be and should be wielded by a person of impeccable integrity and one who believes in the maxim ' Truth is God'. Similarly, on the practical application, he placed the concept of Sarvodaya at the heart of all his social and economic programmes. Sarvodaya is a concept which Gandhiji had developed after he was greatly influenced by John Ruskin's ' Unto This Last'. For him, Truth is God. Period. Gandhiji firmly believed that there is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything. For him, that power was God. Though this concept may seem too abstract but the fact remains that millions of Indians followed Gandhiji’s lead and were willing to sacrifice based on their complete acceptance of this definition of God & Truth.

Satyagraha as a tool was formulated after the historic 11th Sept, 1906 meeting at Empire Theatre. In Gandhiji's view, Satyagraha has no scope for secrecy. Neither does it have any scope for Selfishness. It aims to convert the opponent and not crush the opponent. It places a great emphasis on being open and transparent even when dealing with your opponents. For Him, Satyagraga was not a program for seizure of power. Thus, clearly Gandhiji's approach to practical concepts of governance rested heavily on the pillars of morality & truth. Gandhiji’s approach to governance along with other aspects like economics, politics and civilization was rooted in morality. He has enunciated his such principles in his 1909 booklet 'Hind Swaraj'.

His further elaboration on this aspect is described in his 1941 booklet 'Constructive Program: Its meaning & place'. It described a society where there is complete equality, communal harmony, self employment, democratic participation, etc. Also, his concept of Swaraj was enlarged to 'Poorna Swaraj' which implied not only political/administrative freedom but also freedom from social & behavioral evils like untouchability, bonded labor, anger, violence, etc. His fundamental principles of governance were

  1. Every village must be a republic in itself with full powers
  2. In a democracy, the weakest must have the same opportunities as the strongest
  3. There must perfect harmony between people belonging to different religions
  4. Women must be treated at par with men in all aspects

The practical application of Gandhiji's principles of governance was during his 1917 Champaran satyagraha. It established that, even in handling local issues, he had the bigger objective in mind i.e. liberation from all forms of oppression. His compassion for the poor, logical and transparent approach, keenness to achieve a win-win victory formed a core part of the campaign.

Gandhiji's ideas of a village based democracy of 'concentric circles' and minimal state control were ignored by India's constitution makers and political leaders. Enormous investments in agriculture, education, healthcare, housing, etc. have not been able to completely reduce India's poverty levels. However, last decade's liberalisation has led to a considerable growth in India's economy. But, the benefits of liberalisation have accrued to only a few. There are so many farmer's suicides, increase in Naxal terrorism, social distress, etc. that the effects of the so called economic growth is debatable. The profits being earned by corporates has been increasing exponentially but can that be said of the well-being of the common public? The current leaders keep on talking of 'reforms with a human face'. But the truth of the intent is indeed debatable. The recent financial meltdown has been described to be the result of dishonesty on the part of financial institutions. With a keen eye on future profits, the corporate leaders turned a blind eye to the inherent risks. Many believe that the effects of the meltdown would not have been so severe had the corporate sector acted in the true spirit of good governance. The corporate sector's greed had increased to such an extent that not only humans but animals and the environment are bearing the brunt. Many animals are on the verge of extinction, just to satisfy human wants. Environment has suffered the greatest of damages because of human greed.

The World Social Forum (WSF) has stood up against the social injustices being committed by corporates. The Forum has been consistently seeking means for creating a global non-capitalist, non-communist, social, political and economic order. The current global warming threats coupled with a food crisis scenario clearly indicate the necessity of following Gandhiji’s principles in these matters. He consistently exhorted people to utilize natural resources only as per need and not as per greed. Man’s greed to exploit environment ruthlessly has created an alarming situation where the entire future generation is at stake.

India's political leadership is in dire need of applying Gandhiji's principles of Truth in to their day to day dealings. Be it the criminalisation of politics or politics-corporate nexus, both need an urgent dose of Gandhian principles for India as a country to regain its lost glory.

Gandhiji's innovative Trusteeship concept sought to give an ethical dimension to economics and at the same time transform the inhuman capitalist order into humane one by sheer moral force. Today's corporate sector should formulate, adopt and enforce a comprehensive set of ethical norms and thus ensure a healthy working environment for its employees. It is essential that India's politicians, corporates, common people should all pledge their complete faith in the maxim 'Satyameva Jayate' so that the spirit of Satyagraha & Sarvodaya is nurtured for ages to come.

Source: 'Gandhi Marg' Volume 31, Number 3, October-December 2009