Quest for real 'Swaraj'
Initiatives like ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’ can only succeed at the implementation stage if the implementers internalise the real meaning of ‘Swaraj’ as Mahatma Gandhi understood it
Formally, the yearlong celebrations of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi are over. During this period, considerable numbers of deliberations organised at various levels have succeeded in arousing the curiosity of a large section of young persons to know more about Gandhi and understand his contemporary relevance. On umpteen occasions, I was amazed to see their interest in the Pieter Maritzburg episode that transformed Gandhi from a 'person to a personality! At later stages, Gandhi accepted it as the most creative moment of his life. The manner in which he describes the Pieter Maritzburg incident in his 'My Experiments with Truth' deserves umpteen repetitions: "I began to think of my duty. Should I fight for my rights or go back to India, or should I go to Pretoria without minding the insults, and return to India after finishing the case. It would be cowardice to run back to India without fulfilling my obligation. The hardship to which I was subjected was superficial — only a symptom of deep disease of colour prejudice. I should try, if possible to root out the disease and suffer the hardships in the process. Redress for wrongs I should seek only to the extent that would be necessary to the extent for the removal of the colour prejudice."
As Gandhi grew in experience and intellect, he realised there were prejudices other than apartheid which must be eliminated in a civilised society. He knew the importance of education as the only ray of hope for the oppressed and oppressor alike, the former to know their rights, and the later to learn their duties to fellow human beings. The 'Swaraj' of his dreams was the poor man's 'Swaraj'. Everyone ought to get ordinary amenities of life that anyone else enjoys. He doesn't stop her but goes on to state that 'Swaraj' would be 'Poorna Swaraj' only when everyone gets these basic needs. Now think of lakhs of migrants walking barefoot from Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and other cities back to their original home villages located thousands of miles away. They helped these cities grow; they created through their sweat and toil millionaires and billionaires there. But they were left to fend for themselves by the 'elite' of these cities! Ordinary people came out, offered help, but they had their limitations. Those who were overjoyed at the world becoming a global village must realise that the borrowed ideology of progress and development followed in India since its independence has failed those who need it most. Technology has made all us neighbours, but we have forgotten the 'Dharma' of being neighbourly! Gandhi had warned that evil does not lie in the use of the bullock carts but 'in our selfishness and want of consideration for our neighbours.' Even the current generation would find it easy to understand the spirit behind his concern when they are reminded that Gandhi considered the use of that 'machinery lawful which subserves the interest of all'. How prophetic was Gandhi when he considered industrialisation as a curse for mankind! In 1931, he had written that industrialisation depends on the capacity to exploit and availability of foreign markets would be a disaster; and as 'these two factors were getting less and less for England
every day', the 'number of unemployed is mounting up daily'!
Utilising the youth power in the progress and development of the nation is the biggest challenge before the policymakers and implementers. Several irreversible changes have already taken over the process of progress and development. What India needs is to seriously and sincerely take up the initiatives like startups, producing and utilising products at the local level, give respect and dignity to the local workers, artisans, farmers, and all those who support the farmer. Let the nation accept that there is a need to seriously assess the measure of damage inflicted solely because of ignoring Gandhian ideas of 'Gram Swaraj'. When we talk of Aatma Nirbhar Bharat, we are essentially talking of Gram 'Swaraj'. There is no harm in accepting that we are. in a way, accepting the basic insight and philosophy of Gandhi in reformulating the core parameters of planning in India. On March 23, 1947, Gandhi wrote a very revealing para in the 'Harijan': "America was the most industrialised country in the world and yet it had not vanished poverty and degradation. That was it neglected the universal man-power and concentrated man-power in the hands of the few who amassed fortunes at the expense of the many. The result was that its industrialisation had become a menace to its own poor and to the rest of the world." Is America in any better position today on these counts? If not, why should India not listen to what Gandhi had said in continuation of the above: "If India was to escape such disaster it had to imitate what was best in America and other western countries and leave aside its attractive looking but destructive economic policies". To Gandhi, 'real planning consisted in the best utilisation of the whole manpower of India and the distribution of the raw products of India in her numerous villages', and thus to strive to engage everyone in the production and its utilisation that would be affordable. Initiatives like 'one district one product' and Aatma Nirbhar Bharat would succeed at the implementation stage only if implementers internalise the real meaning of 'Swaraj', which is 'self-rule and self-constraint'. That is the way ahead for India.
The writer works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are personal