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Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi in India 2019: Economic Idealism woven in Realism

Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab 04 Nov 2019


It is baffling to say the least that even after 71 years of his death, the ideology of the Mahatma continues to resonate and inspire legions of people including leaders like former US President Obama, Aung San Suu Kyi and Martin Luther King Jr. Leaders, both political and non-political have been influenced and mesmerized by the Gandhian principles which they believe can bring forth material change in the lives of ordinary people and bring peace to the strife ridden world. This strong belief in his philosophy is both a testimony and a driver behind the dissemination of his thought, thereby, outlining his relevance vis-à-vis issues plaguing the modern world.

Since Independence, India has been marred by corruption, dynastic politics, religious division and Gandhian association with a specific political outfit had relegated his philosophy and legacy to obscurity. The foremost quality of Gandhian ideology was courage and refusal to succumb to the status quo of unearned authority which incidentally (and to an extent deliberately) was soiled by the dominance of political dynasts vis-à-vis political control over Indian Parliamentary system. Thus, it can be asserted that rise of one legacy led to demise of another and it is only after the demise of dynastic legacies that the Gandhian legacy has been able to see the light of the day (being shelved by the incumbent rulers).

In the aforesaid context, it is submitted that it is apposite for the younger Indian generation to understand that Gandhi has had the most lasting imprint on the world in recent memory thus, it is an obligation on our parts as Indians to inculcate within ourselves a ritualistic exercise to understand the core of the Gandhian Doctrine which aimed at giving India an identity of its own in all spheres of life. The Gandhian Principles of Truth, Non-Violence, Social Harmony, Swadeshi and Swaraj have to become the core of our societal system to enjoy what in Gandhian terms can be called ‘real freedom.’



It is submitted that it would be incorrect to relegate the importance of Gandhian philosophy merely to the economic sphere but it is submitted that whenever Gandhi is invoked by the scholars to understand the economic system, his credentials as an economic philosopher are often dismissed as too idealistic and of being irrelevant in an era of mass production dominated by the automation of manufacturing units. It is thus, necessary to delve into the Gandhian thought and liberate his philosophy from the dogmatic vision which has hitherto impacted its propagation. The aforesaid will be understood from broadly three notions of Gandhian Philosophy vis-a-vis job creation, swadeshi and self reliance.

In this neoliberal era of economic policy, the basic means to secure liberty and dignity is economic emancipation which can only be achieved through income augmentation. The basic premise of Gandhian economy was to concentrate on job creation by means of production by the masses instead of simplicit mass production and the focus of Union Government in recent years on creation of jobs and reviving labour intensive sectors such as textiles, construction, handicrafts and small enterprises speaks volumes of Gandhian foresight.

Further, it is submitted that Gandhi was a consistent seeker for better and higher skills in practically every facet of life and activity including artistic, scientific, technological and inventive expertise. This can be understood at two levels: micro and macro.

At a micro level, a well thought out decision by the Gujarat Vidyapith following Gandhian vision of ‘education through industry’ offers 22 short-term skill development courses aimed at benefit students from villages and tribal areas has to be appreciated. At the macro level,  the Indian economy has been affected badly due to a large skill gap leading to the Indian Youth becoming unemployable thus, harming individuals at micro level and Indian Economy at the macro level. It is submitted that 65-75% of Indian Youth are unemployable as a natural consequence India might have to forgo $1.97 trillion worth of GDP growth which it could have reaped over the next decade by investing in intelligent technologies unless adequate steps are taken tackle the skill gap issue.

Prime Minister Modi’s Skill India Mission and the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMVKY) are the much needed measures to improve both the scale and quality of skilling which in turn would drive economic gains and social mobility for individuals as well as trigger a productivity dividend for enterprises. Thus, it is submitted that the ‘Nai Talim’ has still not been lost its lustre despite passage of several decades since its inception.

The second premise relates to self reliance and swadeshi wherein the former can be explained in the connotation of real democracy which is not circumscribed by western notion of merely the right of the people to choose a Government but rather a change in the mindset of the people to not sabotage their self worth at the whims and caprices of the Governing class but to become self-reliant. The people driven movements to reform and eradicate the evils nourished by our social and political systems are best reflected in Gandhian notion of ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’ India in recent years has been adopting both people centric and people propelled campaigns such as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Digital India where ordinary people have started leading the campaigns which is reminiscent of Gandhian vision to be the ‘cause of inspiration’ and not just be engulfed by the glitz and glamor of  swankiness.  With this mantra, the clarion call given by Prime Minister Modi was not only answered by the people but amazed the whole world as toilet facilities to more than 60 crore people have been proved within a lapse of 60 months with Rural India being declared as Open Defecation Free. Thus, the behavioural change which was long due was brought forth by the PM with his charismatic approach to inspire which is deeply imbedded in Gandhian philosophy.

The latter notion of ‘Swadeshi’ has to be understood in a very liberal sense as it is without an iota of doubt true that liberal imports and FDI have jeopardised the growth of domestic industry and trade and increased foreign ownership thus, Government has to aim towards ‘economic patriotism’ and ‘techno-nationalism’ through mandatory norms. The Modi Government took the first step towards the Gandhian notion of swadeshi via the ‘Make-in-India’ initiative in 2014, the seeds of which were sown by Mahatma Gandhi to make India economically independent and self-sustaining. Its impact has to understood both nationally and internationally.

At a domestic level, self reliance is essential to solve the issues relating to poverty, women empowerment, health and education in India whereas at the international level, it is to be understood in the context of India’s road to becoming a world superpower. In light of Gandhian notion of Swadeshi, two recent developments need to appraised so, as to understand the economic necessity of Autarky.

The first is the recent attack on Saudi Arabia’s Oil Facilities which highlighted the Indian vulnerability vis-à-vis its energy security as India imports 80 per cent of the oil it consumes, thus, meaning that there are multiple ways in which the country can be impacted by such disruptions as it increases India’s import bill, weakening the rupee against the dollar and impacting the Indian government’s fiscal balance including causing depression of demand thereby lowering revenue generation for Indian Government. The second relates to India ’s dubious distinction as the world’s biggest arms importers which was rightly pointed out by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently as being non-compliant with India’s plans to becoming a superpower.



The Mahatma gave an ideology in terms of satyagraha, sarvodaya, swaraj and swadeshi that was suited to meet the needs of the Indian society but it is not upto him to justify the relevance of his philosophy but it is upto us to understand the ideas itself and their limitations. His fear that unfiltered westernisation can, in the long run, jeopardise the shared Indian identity and destiny is not only relevant because he engaged critically with issues such as industrialism, technology, capitalism, liberalism, democracy, and violence but because we are scared of acknowledging our own ignorance of India and Indianess.

Prime Minister Modi stated that Gandhi underlined seven distortions: wealth without work, pleasure without conscious, knowledge without character, business without ethics, science without humanity, religion without sacrifice and politics without principle which act as a guide to protect humanity in wide ranging matters relating including climate change, terrorism, corruption or selfish social life.

Gandhianism starts with the famous line -‘Simple living and high thinking’ and if the new generation understands Gandhi in the true sense, then his dream of sarvodaya (upliftment for all) and antyodaya (upliftment of the last human) can also be realised as he never left us but we left him.




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