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SUSTAINABILITY – GANDHIJI’S MANTRA FOR DEVELOPMENT

 A.   Annamalai

“I will give you a talisman. Whenever  you are in doubt, or when the self  becomes too much with you, apply the  following test. Recall the face of the  poorest and the weakest man whom  you may have seen, and ask yourself,  if the step you contemplate is going to  be of any use to him. Will he gain anything  by it? Will it restore him to a control  over his own life and destiny? In  other words, will it lead to swaraj for  the hungry and spiritually starving millions?  Then you will find your doubts  and your self melt away.”

Mahatma Gandhi has given us this  touch-stone as an aid to our decision  making process. We are fortunate  enough to finish our education either  with the help of the government or by  the contribution of the community or  society. Now we are searching for a  reasonable employment with good  remuneration in the government sector.  What will be our return gift to the  development of our own society and  the nation at large? 

We are running from pillar to post to  earn more money by all means. We  strongly believe that money will do  everything and will bring happiness in  our life. In the process of earning the  money, normally what happens, the first  casualty is our Happiness. We must  understand that the happiness is a state  of mind and more and more money  cannot increase the feeling. It rather  produces more and more anxiety.

 According to Gandhi, man’s happiness  really lies in contentment. He who  is discontented, however much he possesses,  becomes a slave to his desires.  Herein lies the ethics of resource use,  need but not greed; comfort but not luxury  because our natural resources are  very limited. With the limited resources,  unlimited growth is not at all possible. If  you go on disturbing the natural balance  of the Earth, then Earth will react to us. 

Our planet is a living organism that  acts and responds to everything we do  on her. We cannot treat the earth as a  nonliving thing. We have to be very  serious when we deal with the nonrenewable  natural resources.  Therefore our development mantra  should be sustainability. 

Today’s growth is not considered as  an organic growth. For example, if you  take India, few cities and few metros  are developed. This growth pattern  increases the gap between the rich  and poor. The Club of Rome report  and World Watch Institute’s report are  suggesting that we have to concentrate  on organic growth – inclusive  growth - and focus on sustainability.  Gandhi is not against machinery or  modernizing the  technology. But  the machinery  or technology  should be  appropriate to  our social and  economic environment.  It  should not control  the humanity.  It should not  replace our  huge labour  force. It should  be environmental  friendly.  Ultimately it  should bring the changes in the living  standard of the common people. Rural  economy and agro-based industries  should be developed and strengthened.  This is what Gandhi wanted. 

His economic philosophy is vibrant,  ever widening. It is not techno-centred,  but people-centred. Development of  handful of cities can not solve our economic  problems. In fact it will create and  increase our problems. Therefore,  Gandhi concentrated on economic  development of the villages. Instead of  Mass Production, he suggested production  by the Masses. Instead of centralized  industries, he suggested decentralized  small industries. Mass production is  only concerned with the product, whereas  production by the masses is concerned  with the product as well as the  producers, and the process involved in  it. He had a dream of an Ideal village.  Mass production leads people to leave  their villages, their land, their crafts, and  go to work in the factories. Instead of  dignified human beings and members of  a self-respecting village community,  people become cogs in the machine,  standing at the conveyor belt, living in  crowded towns, and depending on the  mercy of the bosses. Due to technological  advancements fewer and fewer people  are needed to work, because the  industrialists want greater productivity.  The masters of the money economy  want more and more efficient machines  working faster and faster, and the result  is that men and women are thrown out  and become technologically unemployed.  Such a  society generates  rootless and  jobless millions,  living as dependants  of the state  or beggers in the  streets of the  metros. 

Gandhi said  "The true India is  to be found not  in its few cities,  but in its seven  hundred thousand  villages. If  the villages perish,  India will  perish too." Each village should be a  microcosm of India - a web of loosely  inter-connected communities. Gandhi  considered these villages so important  that he thought they should be given  the status of ‘village republics’. The  environmental concern of today was  not there at the time of Gandhi, but his  perception and attitude on growth,  development, technology, self-reliance,  Gram Swaraj etc. disclose his developmental  model. His developmental  model takes care of the Planet Earth as  a whole. His concern for living in tune  with the nature will solve most of our  today’s problems. 

Once Kamalnayan Bajaj, son of  Gandhi’s close associate Jamnalal  Bajaj, and his sister went to seek  Gandhi’s blessings when he visited  Wardha in 1920. Gandhi smiled and  asked them whether they liked their  dress or his dress (He then used to wear  a dhoti, a shirt and a white cap). They  remained quiet. But Gandhi repeated  the question. Kamalnayan Bajaj replied  with a childish pride that he liked his own  dress better. He took his cap in one  hand and placed a white khadi cap in  other and told him how the white cap  was simple and beautiful. The point that  appealed to him most was that it could  be washed and could be kept clean. He  asked Kamalnayan whether his cap  could be washed. He said “No”. Then  Gandhi put the question again: “Now will  you tell me which is better – the one  which can become dirty, or the one  which is washable?”. He agreed that  white washable cap is better than his  cap. Then Gandhi said to him that the  cap he used was such as only the rich  could wear. He pointed a finger towards  Jamnalalji, and told him that only he  could afford a cap like that for his children;  that there were many children in  the country who could not get such a  cap; and that what other children could  not get, we ourselves should not wear.  Children’s clothes, he added, should be  simple, beautiful, cheap and yet washable.  He pointed to his dress and said  that, though their dress appeared to be  bright and colourful, it was, in fact, not  beautiful. He said that the colour hid the  dirt and brightness was only a show. 

Simple living does not mean living in  poverty. Gandhi advocated simplicity  because whatever resources and facilities  are available with us should be  equally distributed to all the concerned.  When we do so we have to take care of  the voiceless and the downtrodden  first. Priority should be given to the  people who really need such facility.  That is why Gandhi suggested the  above touch-stone (Talisman) to the  policy makers.

 

E F Schumacher, celebrated author  of the book ‘Small is Beautiful’ who was  influenced by the ideas of Mahatma  Gandhi, while delivering the Gandhi  Memorial Lecture at the Gandhian  Institute of Studies, Varanasi (India) in  1973, described Gandhi as the greatest  ‘People’s Economist.’ Schumacher  identified Gandhi as the people’s economist  whose economic thinking was  compatible with spirituality as opposed  to materialism. Gandhi is the emerging  reality and creative alternative. 

(Author is Director, National Gandhi  Museum, New Delhi  Email:  nationalgandhimuseum@gmail.com