Arjun Kumar, Nishi Verma
Center for Human Dignity and Development, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi and Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan, Jhansi organized a special lecture under the ambit of #InclusiveDevelopment on the topic गांधी का ग्राम स्वराज्य का दृष्टिकोण भारतीय गांवों में कोविड -19 संकट से निपटने के निहितार्थ on 24th June 2021, with Dr R K Paliwal IRS, Retd. Principal Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh as our speaker of the day.
As discussants, we had Shri Dipankar Shri Gyan, J.A.S, Director, Gandhi Smriti, and Darshan Samiti, New Delhi; Dr Gandhi P C Kaza, Chairman, Truth Labs, Hyderabad; Mudita Vidrohi, Researcher, Documentation Consultant and Translator, Ahmedabad; Dr Sanjay Singh, Secretary, Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan, Uttar Pradesh; Waterman of Bundelkhand; State Coordinator, Uttar Pradesh, Association for Democratic Reforms; Dr Suresh Garg, Founder, Gandhi Sumiran Manch, Vidisha; Formerly with the Department of Health, Madhya Pradesh; Corona-Free Villages Mission; Doctor and Veteran Gandhian; Vipin Gupta, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, National Express; all of who gave valuable insights on the topic of interest and made the lecture enriching with perspicacity.
He began the talk by elucidating how had we dealt with the pandemic in tandem with the gram swarajya model of governance laid down by Gandhi, we would not have exacerbated the situation as is today. Gandhi almost predicted the current pattern in the modern society in Hind Swaraj (1908) in which he put forward main goals, and discredited modernity’s civilizational status as “a disease”.
Given the economic disruption in the world financial markets, now is the right time to rethink the Gandhian Principles of swachhta for protection from a pandemic, and swadeshi for self-reliance and self-sufficiency. We should renounce the bad aspects of globalization because too much integration with the rest of the world has pushed us away from introspection, and that is what COVID-19 emerged from.
The Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University, has reported significant losses both in jobs and incomes. Because of the brainless rise of globalization, human lives are unimaginable without dependency on other nations, this further alienates us from the Gandhian dream of self-reliance.
Mahatma believed that India’s soul lives in its villages, which are the building blocks of any and every social organization. Thus, the villages should be self-sufficient in every domain of their vital requirements. Today, the whole world is struggling to procure basic goods and necessary medical equipment, and hardly a few countries have the stock. Luckily, India has an adequate number of pharmaceutical companies and has made strides in manufacturing and supplies, but it is still dependent on China for raw materials. This is not ideal.
Recently, Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Abhay S Oka pledged economists to revisit the thoughts of Gandhi on strengthening village industries, at a webinar on ‘Relevance of Gandhi in 2020’, organized jointly by the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority, the High Court Legal Services Committee and Water Institute, Bangalore University.
Even going forward, disruptions are expected in the industrial and agricultural clusters nurtured by the migrants, despite the best efforts by the Centre at the micro-level. It is thus vital to decentralize power and let people have autonomy and represent themselves in bodies catering to decision-making. Micro-enterprises and village-based industries need to come out of their bubble and support the local economy for it to be reflected in the GDP of the country.
Modern civilization has multiplied material wants manifold, there is rampant growing violence, lack of community building as people are getting alienated more and more with each passing day, cutting-edge competition, and denial of the human capacity to intervene in the social process. The idea of a self-governed village economy, however, maximizes the potential of local resources and possibilities, built on the productivity of people and resources, with the premise of sustainable growth, prosperity, and satisfaction. A recent study anchored by Sambodhi has reported that 50 percent of rural India is already eating less.
“In its totality, democracy, therefore, implies that any democratic structure entrusted with the task of development and administration is expected to be not only democratically constituted according to the principle of the election but should also reflect people’s free will and function according to the element of democracy both in their constitution and in their day-to-day functioning.”
Gandhi insisted that “untouchability is a blot on humanity and therefore upon Hinduism. It cannot stand the test of reason. It is in conflict with the fundamental precepts of Hinduism”, and thus his ideas were more or less in line with those of Dr Ambedkar, only a little less radical. Despite the differences in their approach, they had the same end goal, and both worked for the outcomes all their lives with full devotion. Gandhi believed in the power of awareness and realization, but Ambedkar knew none of the equality could be achieved without equity and legal battles. The latter was a lawyer by profession, thus deduced the power of litigation and courts for social evils.
Like Rousseau, Gandhi was highly inspired by the French Revolution and wanted to juxtapose ideas of it in our own struggle against British Rule. He did not rejoice in too many advancements on the technological end but advocated that these were what corrupted the human mind, lessened citizen’s productivity, and levels of mobility, all of which are prerequisites to active citizenship.
A 1999-batch Indian Forest Service officer Siddharth Tripathi, who for the past four and a half years has served as Commissioner, MGNREGA, in Jharkhand has transformed the face of two villages in his area of service. These initiatives were undertaken with little public spending except for the odd implementation of MGNREGA for development works or livelihood generation schemes for poultry farming or fisheries.
Within four odd years, average incomes in the village have risen nearly five times, and residents have found opportunities in a variety of works including dairy, poultry, and goat farming. This is the true gift of “SHRAMDAAN” envisioned by Gandhi during his lifetime, he himself came forward as a volunteer and practiced what he preached.
Out of India’s 6.5 lakh villages, there are hardly anywhere gram sabhas are held honestly and regularly. To alleviate this and generate discourse, “LOK SHIKSHAN” is required. This could prove beneficial in chasing away the ills of communal disharmony and create a true sense of unity and brotherhood amongst the masses. Villages are really the microcosm of India and that is where change stems from.
Acknowledgment: Priyanshi Arora is a research intern at IMPRI.