Gandhian ideology of non-violence, democracy and development appear all the more relevant today in a world of falling moral values, ‘religion’ turning into weapon of political hatred, faltering grass-root democracies, capitalistic exploitation, increasing addiction to social media and global environmental degradation.
Humanity Under Threat
The world today is in a serious crisis despite so much technological advances and material progress. There is a pervasive climate of isolationism, restlessness and insecurity. The ever growing cult of market worship has diluted State’s role as promoter of level playing field and protector of those stuck at the bottom of the power hierarchy. Too much emphasis on market efficiency has created a climate of amoral politics. Consequently, politics has turned into as a self-perpetuating means to control power rather than as a creative instrument of social justice and equity.
After the collapse of Soviet Union and its socialistic ideology the capitalistic democracy emerged as the best form of governance. But it has created another issue: “Can capitalism nurture a sustainable world order?” Another problem with the current capitalism is that it has lost connections with moral considerations. As more and more wealth concentrates in fewer and fewer hands and as humanity helplessly watches the ever increasing threat of climate change, there is a growing need for alternate models of development, democracy and economy.
Therefore, at this hour of crisis what India needs, and what in fact the world needs, is a creative synthesis of Gandhi’s humanistic vision with universally accepted global worldview. There is an urgent need for dialogue among civilizations and the human-oriented approach of Gandhi. In a world of deepening crisis in the poor societies and social malaise in the affluent societies it seems likely that Gandhian ideas might show the right direction. Around the world, Gandhi is seen as an icon of struggle for peace, harmony and social justice and his humanist philosophy has always found ready acceptance in every society.
Since Mahatma Gandhi was clearly the tallest humanitarian face of the 20th century, the Gandhian model of governance and development is seeing renewed interest in the global community. The Gandhian methods of Swadeshi (self-reliance), non-violent Satyagraha, women’s empowerment and gram swaraj (grass root democracy) to ensure both social democracy and political democracy appear the right tools to prevent the chaos and disruption the world is heading towards.
Gandhian Approach to Democracy and Development
The Gandhian model of democracy evolved from several thousand years’ democratic ethos of India. For Gandhiji true democracy meant local self-governance – or ‘Swaraj’ (local self-rule). In the Gandhian worldview village is the smallest unit for self governance by the village panchayat (village parliament). Thus, he used the term ‘Gram Swaraj’. He envisaged each village as a tiny self-sufficient republic governed by a Panchayat with full control on local resources. The panchayat authority on local resources is vital for success of the gram swaraj model of democracy. In Gandhi’s view, only such autonomous and self-reliant communities offer people the best opportunities for participation. Thus, a society can be built as a federation of such tiny village republics, leading to a decentralized system with maximum decision making power to the grass root people. It would also counter the centralizing and alienating forces of the modem state.
Such grass root empowerment nurtures robust democracy and naturally leads to a bottom up system of governance. In this scenario, the growth would not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. It would also automatically develop the right type of capitalism with responsibility towards people and society. Such a governance system can make the world a union of peace loving local governments. The need of the hour is to globalize such an ideology, rather than the markets.
Mahatma Gandhi considered people as the ‘real wealth’ of a nation, not its production and consumption of goods. He was not opposed to technology as long as it works to empower people in their local surrounding. In contrast, today economy and technology get priority over people – who are seen as mere “human resource” for the purpose of economic and technological growth. Like Adam Smith, he also considered labor as the primary source of economic gain. His opposition to Western capitalism was largely due to its exploitation of labor force to make the rich richer.
Rational Development – Pursue Needs, Not Greed
Mahatma Gandhi considered the Western economic development model – which rests on what is called “multiplication of wants” – both unsustainable and devastating to the human spirit. His economic ideology stressed on human well being – both material and non-material – while steering clear of the unbridled greed and temptation. He rejected the underlying assumption behind the classical Western model of development – where people are only supposed to seek maximum material gratification. In his view, voluntary rationalization of personal desires – rather than trying to satisfy endless craving – is also an indication of ‘real development’ of people and a sign of personal growth. Thus, development of mental restrain to overcome greed is ‘true development’ worth aiming for. Therefore, Gandhi’s economic ideology puts a special emphasis on ‘rational living’ after cutting down undesired and wasteful human wants through self-restrain. In essence, supreme consideration should be given to man’s mental development rather than the obsession for money or commodities or power and control.
Morality Must Prevail
What distinguishes Gandhi’s ideas and ideology for reconstruction of society and politics and upliftment of people is the strong emphasis on morality and ethics. Moral consideration is always central to everything done in a Gandhian way. This makes the task of Western commentators somewhat challenging, as they are instinctly more comfortable dwelling in the material realm – regardless of ways and means. Quite naturally, whenever they comment on Gandhi’s moral considerations, they count on the works of Western philosophers where moral considerations get least attention. Thus, they normally end up creating an illusion that Gandhi was using non-violence as just a ‘political tool’ to beat the opponents while sounding righteous. Nothing can be more erroneous than that. Instead, they should look at the real source of Gandhi’s knowledge and inspiration – the ancient Hindu scriptures.
While Gandhi was a well read person and had studied the works of Western philosophers also, but ultimately his ideas and ideologies were shaped by the ancient spiritual and holistic philosophies of life of his native land. His stress on truthfulness and non-violence clearly came from the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira and the real understanding of ‘Dharma’ from ancient scriptures – Vedas, Upnishads and Bhagwat Gita. In fact, Gandhi’s thinking reflected his profound understanding of the spiritual culture that defines Hindus. After Vivekananda, for the first time the world saw the power of “inner strength” of an ordinary looking man. Gandhi showed how to harness the power of truthfulness and non-violence in solving social and political problems. He repeatedly demonstrated how to take on the world’s mightiest Empire only through internal personal conviction without raising even a fist! Clearly the gun-wielding British never really understood how a fragile ‘brown’ man stood firm where the mightiest would tremble!!
However, the universal nature of Gandhian ideology transcends all national and language barriers and touches people at their heart.
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