Upliftment from the roots
In today’s extraordinary times, the vision of MK Gandhi and former President Kalam for developed and independent villages can serve as a guideline for addressing the migrant crisis
Reverse migration of millions of workers to their ancestral villages has created a stupendous challenge before the policymakers and implementers. Apparently, urgent steps are being initiated and mega schemes are already being launched to generate employment opportunities in and around their own place. Such steps are necessary to offer immediate support. The challenge, however, is much bigger than the mere engagement of the returnees in some job schemes launched in haste to let them earn their livelihood. The resolve to create 'Aatma Nirbhar Bharat' links directly to the search of solutions for such contingencies, and simultaneously, to take a long term view of the ideology of progress and development. It's time to remember and recall Mahatma Gandhi and his dream of Gram Swaraj. The present dilemma has also inspired the younger generation to seriously peruse the Hind Swaraj of 1909. An Indian village is indeed a desolate place today, agriculture fails to provide even for regular survival needs, and young persons are disenchanted and moving to glamour and glitz of city life, only to find their dreams mostly crushed in an alien environment. The city dwellers and the wealth-creators have not assimilated them as their own. They were left high and dry by their employers to fend for them in Coronavirus crisis. MK Gandhi wrote in 1936, 'I have found that the town dweller has generally exploited the villager, in fact, he has lived on the poor villager's subsistence.' The riches that the blood and toil of workers from other states created for certain individuals in cities like Mumbai, Ahmadabad and Surat were certainly more than sufficient to subsidise the stay of migrant workers, as a humane gesture, if not as a social responsibility! It did not happen. Gandhiji had exhorted self-less workers to remember that cities are capable of taking care of themselves, we need to turn to villages. Go there, experience the way they live and educate them, in their own idiom as to why sanitation, dietary transformation and education are essential. He was convinced that to uplift the villager from utter poverty, hunger, and ill-health, the educated and dedicated must take responsibility. We all know that it did not happen that way. Cities expand, bursting at seams and villages are further decimated.
Sensitive minds did not give up. To give an effective conceptual basis to national development through village development, a proper comprehension of tradition, culture and indigenous knowledge and skills was necessary. India also needed brilliant minds fully conscious of new knowledge, expectations and aspirations of the young of India, whether staying in a village or a city! We were fortunate to have a person like APJ Abdul Kalam. He had travelled a long journey; from a newspaper hawker to becoming the top scientist, the missile man and finally a sojourn in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. For me, his highest achievement was endearing himself to the youth of India. He had personally lived through the poverty of India, experienced the strength of its spirituality, waded through modern knowledge triumphantly, making substantial additions through his own ingenuity. Here was a person fully qualified and equipped to envision an ideology of progress for India, rooted in culture, committed to progress! He did it and put it before the nation as PURA. Kalam was concerned about migration as well, as it was not a conducive situation for rural development. In the current context, his words would indicate how deep and pragmatic was his vision; 'The fact that there is net migration from villages to cities shows the disparities in living standards between the two. Ideally, both rural and urban areas should be equally attractive with no net migration either way. Near zero migration is a mark of development. How can we achieve that happy balance? Rural development is the only solution. This means providing rural areas with amenities that are currently available only in cities. This would generate employment on the same scale, and the same level, as in the cities in rural areas too.' He expects that the challenger to provide these benefits in rural areas would entail certain 'financial, social, cultural and ecological' costs that the cities have to bear. Generating employment opportunities in rural areas with necessary precautions may not create problems of environmental pollution and ecological imbalance. In cities like Delhi, it may be a different story.
In PURA, two major components were identified as poor connectivity and high-quality transport. State-of-art telecommunication connectivity and a well-planned ring road could connect the farmer to schools, hospitals and particularly the market, which could indeed be a boon for him to get the right value of his product without intermediaries. Higher productivity would require young educated manpower and better post-harvest management. This vision was clearly articulated in a task force report prepared for the Planning Commission, in April 2000, titled 'India as Knowledge Superpower; Strategy for Transformation'. The Task Force was headed by Shri KC Pant, and APJ Abdul Kalam was the Chairman of the Steering Committee, his imprint was visible in every word of the report. The report identified three key drivers for moving ahead in making India a knowledge superpower. The first was a societal transformation for a just and equitable society, which would be mainly centred around education, health care, agriculture and governance. The second was wealth generation to be powered by generation, dissemination and creative use of knowledge 'not in isolated pockets, but across the nation.' The third would be the protection of knowledge, the indigenous knowledge that was generated by comminutes in the laboratory of life and also which was created and generated over several millennia by the seekers of truth who devoted their lives in explorations of the secrets of nature, with the sole objective of 'for the welfare of one and all'!
If the NITI Aayog seriously goes through this Report, Mahatma Gandhi's writings under 'India of my Dreams', and the Hind Swaraj of MK Gandhi, they would certainly evolve ideology of progress and development that would be revitalising rural India.
The writer works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are personal