Gandhian economics is criticised for being impractical. Kumarappa had endorsed it when there were very few takers
Human rights advocacy seems to be picking up steam these days. Right from education to economy, the advocacy of human rights is pushing for implementation of some logical and relevant requirements in these fields. Although it seems quite paradoxical that at one end of the spectrum we have a society deeply indulged in consumerism while on
the other hand human rights is finding new grounds at national and international level.
This reminds us of one of the greatest proponents of human rights – Gandhi. His worldview had an inherent element of human dignity and the means to achieve it was through non-violence and antodaya (upliftment of the last man). It would be quite interesting to observe the impact of Gandhi’s socioeconomic ideals in the current context of indiscriminate growth. His socioeconomic ideals can’t be seen through a prism which is bereft of the principle of non-violence. He followed an inclusive philosophy where human dignity is accorded the highest status and values of celibacy, co-existence and self-reliance form an important part. Due to these quixotic ideals, Gandhi’s critiques term his theory of nation building as impractical and devoid of realism.
J C Kumarappa, an economist and a close associate of Gandhi had written a book – ‘The Economy of Permanence’. The book espouses the ideals of non-violence and economists rate it quite highly. In the very first chapter of the book, Kumarappa busts the myth that economic development is permanent. From the times of industrial revolution to much recent liberalisation, the needs and requirements of development keep changing. Aligning with the changed definition, government and the society also keep shifting their priorities. There hasn’t been much emphasis given on the end goal of this change. Vast section of economic fraternity endorses the rhetoric of ‘survival of the fittest’, which doesn’t have much room for compassion and dignity. It highlights the scarier side of prosperity and development, the side where one needs to trample the other in order to progress ahead in life.
The likes of Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze today talk about the concept of welfare economics. At a fundamental level, their economic outlook borrows from that of Kumarappa’s. Albeit Kumarappa’s thoughts take us much closer to Gandhi, it also hinders our direct attachment to his ideals. Sudhir Chandra, a Gandhian thinker and ideologue, terms this ‘direct attachment’ as an ‘impossible possibility’. One can’t approach Gandhi, the apostle of truth and compassion, with a convoluted conscience. Kumarappa’s book is one the most effective way to understand the transcendental ideals of Gandhi and also the dynamics of development and self-reliance.
Kumarappa clarifies in his book that economic empowerment of our nation is not possible without decentralized approach towards self-reliance. There is a very evident juxtaposition of co-existence and self-reliance in the rural and cultural paradigm of India. Unfortunately, this juxtaposition is either obscured from or beyond understanding of our policymakers, who are a product of urban education system. For centuries, the dynamic rural disposition has evolved itself to suit the changing needs of the time. Hostility towards unnecessary greed and frugality are an important aspect of rural lifestyle. Sadly, rural lifestyle is highly misunderstood and is seen as contrary to modern view of development. Hence, the villages, where self-reliance ruled the roost have been forced to be dependent on non-rural agencies.
According to Kumarappa there should be an effort to maintain a balance between life, culture and diligence as it helps control the crisis of self reliance. Kumarappa also argues about the permanence or durability of the economy. His idea of economics is based on the principle of providing scope for all-round development and economic independence to each individual of. Kumarappa was one of those rare economists who advocated for maintaining the rural economy in its true and natural form and considered environment conservation more beneficial than industrial and commercial development.
Today it is conspicuous in various historical references that most of Gandhi’s colleague did not agree completely with him on his economic philosophy. Therefore there was no harmony between independent India’s economic policies and that of Gandhi’s.
The idea of Gram Swaraj that Gandhi had advocated has its power vested in agriculture and rural industrial development. He envisioned Indian agriculture to prosper and become self reliant. He went straight to the villages and farmers of India after returning from South Africa. Champaran Satyagrah is the perfect example of Gandhi’s dream of independent India where the farmers were not mere slaves working for handful of grains. Instead, they were the non violent fighters diligently working towards realizing the dream of free India.
Kumarappa had returned to Gandhi after studying Economics abroad. Kumarappa wrote his research paper on ‘Public finance and India’s poverty’ in which he highlighted the damage to Indian economy due to British policies.
Gandhi’s vision of development was the one which saw development as cooperation rather than a competition and in which life values and development were not separate but one. This is the reason why Kumarappa not only opposed the policy when farmers were lured to be paid more for producing sugarcane for urban consumption and import. He clearly felt that India’s decentralized economic structure will be entirely dependent on import and farmers and poor labourers will be subject to exploitation. It goes without saying that his apprehension during that time has become a frightening reality of today’s India.
Although materialism and compassion are two absolutely different things in today’s arena and have different demands, there are negligible chances for them to co-exist. But Gandhi’s vision and approach is all about keeping these two together and ensure their realisation, right from swadeshi (indigenous) to swaraj (independence) and swavlamban (self-reliance). Kumarappa highlighted the permanence of these values and kept Gandhian flame burning.
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