‘Back to Basics’
Barun Das Gupta
Various aspects of Gan
dhi's philosophy and ideo
logy have been discussed and written about. But one aspect which has not received adequate attention of the scholars is Gandhian economics. Kishorelal Mashruwala's Gandhi and Marx dwells mainly upon the philosophy of the two. Richard B Gregg's Economics of Khaddar and Shriman Narayan Agrawal's Gandhian Plan and Gandhian Plan Reaffirmed have by and large lost much of their relevance to contemporary times, written as they were in the nineteen thirties and forties.
Joseph Chelladurai Cornelius Kumarappa, who got his degrees in economics and business administration from the Syracuse and Columbia Universities, became attracted to Gandhi's ideas of economics and rural development from his own experience in rural reconstruction work. Gradually, he became an exponent of Gandhian economics. The HBook under review brings, for the first time, 135 articles by Kumarappa in one volume, arranged under five broad heads: Towards an Economy of Freedom; The Politics of Swaraj; Village Industries, Society and Culture; Industrial, Science and Agrarian Policies; and On Religion, Education and World Peace. They show the depth of his knowledge and the canvas of his interest in a wide variety of subjects.
The Five Year Plans that were started during Jawaharlal Nehru's lifetime aimed at developing basic and heavy industries, raising the material standard of life of the people through an adequate supply of consumer goods and building a centralized economy. Gandhi stood for cottage and village industries, a decentralized economy, villages self-sufficient in three basic needs—food, clothing and shelter and devolution of political power to the gram panchayets. Under Nehru's scheme of things, the economy would be a 'mixed' economy but the public sector would dominate the 'commanding heights' of the national economy.
According to Nehru, private sector will have a role, but secondary to the public sector. The national economy will be controlled by the State, not allowed to be dominated by private owners of the means of production guided solely by the profit motive. It was certainly not socialism, but at least there was a conscious effort at improving the standard of living of the common people, providing a minimum social security to the common man.
All that changed in 1991 when the Government adopted the policy of Liberalization, Privatization and Globali-zation. Unabashed capitalist development, that is, development in the interests of capitalists, indigenous as well as foreign, became the economic philosophy of the Government. The Preamble to the Constitution that declared India to be a 'Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic' was only a pious declaration, to remain confined to the pages of the Constitution. All pretensions to socialism were given the go-by.
What did Gandhian economics visualize or aim at? What was the centre-point of Gandhian planning? To quote Kumarappa :
"Are we only aiming at a well-managed daily standard of life? Proper food, drink, shelter, exercise and a good yield of milk ? Is man to be placed on an equal footing with a well-cared for animal? Has man no personality that can be affected by economic activity?
"Besides, any detailed planning within a definite time limit will require coercion that will ultimately end in violence. ...Any material-centred planning will require violence to implement it. Which is more desirable—a complex standard of life with many created wants, supplied by a regimented labour force whipped up to a fever heat of activity, or a comparatively well-regulated simple life, possessing all the necessities for the cultural development of man, produced under an economy of freedom? Russia and Germany experimented with the former type, and with what dire consequences ! Shall India too go the way of Europe and of Japan?
"It cannot be over-emphasized that any plan for our country must be based on the fact of unlimited labour being available. This will naturally minimize the use of centralized methods of production, and such plans as we devise should centre round forms of production where labour plays the major part. Centralized forms of production will be labelled 'POISON' and used sparingly, in minute well-regulated doses, for key industries, public utilities and national monopolies. In an economy of this nature, production will follow demand and consumption and will not be forced. Distribution will be part and parcel of the process of production and consumption, and will not call for further coercion to ensure distributive justice.
"When our plan is labour-centred, money will recede to its proper place as a means of exchange and will not dominate or colour the whole economic organization, and we need not worry about 'created money' and like problems."
So, Gandhian economics, according to Kumarappa, placed labour at the centre of production and building up an economy of freedom as the goal of planning. The planning that we have today denies the role of labour being central to production. Indeed, labour is treated as a necesssary evil which, if possible, should be dispensed with altogether and supplanted by the machine. This is the status of labour in India which is said to the largest democracy in the world.
Would Kumarappa agree that India is a truly democratic country? Perhaps not if one goes by his understanding of democracy. "The wealth of a nation consists not in what a few possess, but in the extent to which the majority can satisfy their daily wants, especially needs.
....Democracy cannot exist where there is starvation, nakedness and poverty along side of glut and glamorous living, which condition indicates exploitation of the weak by the strong."
Kumarappa was also perfectly aware that in the post-War era, British imperialism was being replaced by American imperialism. His analysis of the 'financial imperialism' of the United States and its modus operpandi, written in 1953, remains fully valid after six decades.
"Britain came to India with a feudal background ....which took the form of political imperialism. ...A little later came the Americans. They appeared on the scene with a tradition of slavery. Hence their mode of control of 'underdeveloped' countries took on a different colour to the British one. They are following a financial imperialism, which is practically irresponsible for the welfare of those who come under its grip....
"The USA is proceeding on various plans to entrap the nations by guile, by compulsion, by coercion and financial entanglements. These methods are not calculated to liberate its victims but to carry on its nefarious purposes like the spider. The webs are woven so well and close that the victim hardly realizes what is happening, and all its struggles only make the end come sooner....
"At the present time America represents the menace to the world. It is leading in active violence all over the east of Asia, and if we wish to halt this danger, we should knock at the very roots of war. This will mean giving up the use of products of centralized industries, and in particular the use of all American-made articles."
The 'spider' that the United States is, invited Indians to walk into its parlour. And Indian rulers obediently walked in, proclaiming from the housetops that a 'deepening strategic partnership' with the US was their goal. In a world which has become unipolar after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and in which the United States is the sole superpower with none to challenge its authority, the best thing would be to accept its hegemony and overlordship and the best way to defend India's sovereignty would be by mortgaging it to the United States!
The reader of this tome will find enough food for thought. Life has borne out the truth of Gandhi's famous dictum that Mother Nature can meet all man's needs but not his greed. The insatiable greed of capitalism has resulted in the rape of the Earth. Carbon accumulation in the atmosphere and the consequent global-warming now threatens the very existence of human civilization. Gandhi was all through aware of the danger of environmental pollution.
For all his quaint ideas of decentralized production, self-sufficient village republics and the 'trusteeship theory', old man Gandhi knew India—that is, rural India where real India lives —far better than the whole lot of politicians and bureaucrats that rule the roost in North and South Blocks and Yojana Bhavan. His economics was rooted in the soil. Gandhi would have been shocked and appalled by Yojana Bhavan's definition of poverty that those able to spend more than Rs 30 per day in urban areas and Rs 26 in rural areas are not poor!
Back to Basics
A J C Kumarappa Reader
edited by Pranjali Bandhu, introduction by T G Jacob
Publisher: Odyssey, Harrington House, Peyton Road, Udhagamandalam, Tamil Nadu, Pin-643001, Pages 412, Price Rs 750
Vol. 45, No. 14 - 17, Oct 14 - Nov 10 2012
Your Comment if any