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Gandhi, India, and economic growth

Jan 30, 2011

Who says Gandhi is no longer relevant?


Today, we mark the 63rd death anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of this nation. The man about whom Albert Einstein famously said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.”


As one generation has given way to another, Gandhi and his philosophies have but become a blimp on our collective sub-conscious. In a time when we are in a mad race for nuclear power, when we have all but forgotten our jawan and kissan in an obsession for high growth rates; when our leaders have more scams than schemes in their closet; nonviolence, inclusive and self-reliant development, truth and honesty sound too impractical, and overly altruistic.

And that perhaps is the biggest tragedy of India today.

For Gandhi, more than anything, was a real visionary. The retort that Gandhi is no longer relevant is perhaps made by those with little insight into his work or understanding of the Indian society. But Gandhi recognised India, its ethos, its people, its needs far better than any of our current leaders ever can.

In fact, it won’t be an exaggeration to suggest that the current crisis in the country, precipitated by a complete lack of governance, rampant corruption and the ever rising rich and poor divide¬ would not have occurred — had we been willing to learn from Gandhi.

Even a century ago, he was able to predict the damning consequences, were India to blindly follow the Western model of “development”. Once Gandhi was asked how he felt about India progressing the way Great Britain had. His answer offers an inkling of his remarkable foresight. He said, “God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 millions took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.”

And that is exactly what we are witnessing in the world and in India today. An insatiable greed for materialistic possessions, fuelled by American style consumerism, is taking us down the disaster road of no return. An obsession for economic growth, irrespective of the costs involved, is tearing the country apart from within. Our greed for big factories, nuclear power plants is displacing millions of people, killing their livelihoods and destroying our environment.

Yes, we have all luxury brands in India today but did you also know that 40% of India still dreams to meet its need for the basic roti, kapda aur makaan? We have all the shiny cars to drive and we do, past the millions of child beggars on our street who can’t imagine an iota of the opportunity you and I received growing up. We crib when the price of onions goes from Rs 40 to Rs 70, but never spare a thought for Indian farmers who are killing themselves and their families by droves because agriculture is longer a viable occupation in India. We are embarrassed by urban slums, yet we think not about the thousands of people who are displaced from their villages annually, so that the government can give away their land to another factory or nuclear plant. All in the name of development and economic growth!

We need to urgently reconsider what being a “developed” country really means, what growth is and what is real power. True development is equal development. Development that benefits one people at the cost of another is exploitation. Nothing more, nothing less. And to quote Gandhi yet again, “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

It is time that we as a nation, or rather as the “haves” of this nation stop for a moment and think. “Where will this race for the bigger, better, shinier finally take us?” And if we are really looking for answers, it is perhaps a good time to go back to Gandhi. 

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