December 7, 2022

Gandhian Economics in Today’s Context

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Author – Smitha Khadri V.

70 years since adopting the constitution of India with a force of diversified, eager 1.311 billion Indians (second only to china by a margin of 0.07 billion numbers!) want to cross the threshold of economic thirst to join the economically developed side of the globe. It is easily said then happening with the 0.27 billion Indians not having the economic and so the nutritive stamina to even reach the finishing line. This is going to be a pipedream with the prediction of the population to cross 1.6 billion by 2050, which could mean more disparity, inequality economically and further away from the dreams weaved by Gandhi for his India.

“India’s way is not Europe’s: India is not Calcutta and Bombay. India lives in seven hundred thousand villages.”

M.K. Gandhi

The successive governments have been doing their entire bit, opening the markets to foreign investments in critical areas of Defence, Railways, Insurance to Unified National tax to ‘Make in India’ initiative with the economic growth slipping to 23.9% in the first quarter of 2020-21 and inflation breaching  6%. With these daily inflation and counter inflation headlines tango, melting of the Arctic ice shelves, Covid-19 having already engulfed half the year, on this October 2nd, a thought crossed the mind if Gandhi did hold any solution to the current conundrum.

Gandhi was not an economist, but for him everything was measured in truth and non-violence. An economist whose convictions matched his economical theories was J.C. Kumarappa, known as Gandhi’s Economist. As Gandhi once replied to a compliment for having groomed Kumarappa to his convictions, that Kumarappa came readymade. Educated in London and Columbia University on Public Finance, Kumarappa started his career with a strong conviction that man is not merely a wealth producing agent but essentially a member of the society with political, social and spiritual responsibility. This resulted in Kumarappa losing interest in money making and wrote articles catching the attention of Gandhi. Together they forged the way to Gandhian Economics of Truth and Non-violence, Moral Economics.

Gandhi, a man known for perfection and ground reality, requested Kumarappa to take up the house to house economical survey of 50 villages in Gujarat assisted by Gujarat Vidyapeeth students. The data collected was first of its kind highlighting the ground economic status of Indian villages. Gandhi published the data in 5 Indian languages. This was followed by 600 village survey in Central and North-West Province. These data were very useful in the negotiations in the round-table conferences and help Gandhi strengthen his concept of making every village independent democratic unit. In 1934, under the stewardship of Gandhi and Kumarappa as secretary, the All India Village Industries Association was founded paving way for welfare economics. The partnership of Gandhi and Kumarappa gave two gifts to build a just and happy nation – Fair trade and Sustainability, the very mantra the United Nations Development Programmes are based on.  Prof. Lindely, an American Gandhian Economist used a tagline for every transaction we carry out for everyone of us, “Sweeten your Life” by buying fair trade goods, where a good part of the money is going directly to the poorest people in the process of producing the goods. Transferring the purchase power is the essence of economics. This transferring power should also include moral and humane transaction with an element of ‘Free will’ as advocated by Gandhi. That is, bringing in moral exchange between buyers

and sellers, in simple words ‘bargaining’. A simple example of the act of bargain is, exchange of words between the buyer and the seller, ending in their parting with a satisfaction of having bought the right goods at the right price for a buyer and selling the goods at the right price for the seller. With a little exchange, you are bringing the moral option in the transaction. A fast diminishing culture with the enchanting ‘shop from home’ online culture is invading our lives. Added to this is the unethical promotion adopted by businesses to woo the customers. What better example than the ad line used for promoting the baby milk formula by a MNC, “better than Mother’s milk”.

During the Second World War, J.C. Kumarappa was jailed as were most of the Indian Freedom movement leaders. This period brought out a beautiful book, “The Economy of Permanence” which was way beyond the days need. Kumarappa was the first economist to talk on Sustainability, the future economics 60 years ago. By taking up material reckoning as way of valuation, Kumarappa was a pioneer as an Ecological Economist. He valued a tree in terms of fruits bored, shade, amount of oxygen supplied so on and so forth.  

The Economics of Permanence theory raised a question on the concept of ‘free-will’. Free will is a choice which is bestowed on us Humans only. Along with Gandhi’s love, Kumarappa added fear, fear of nature. How nature would punish if we did not tread the path of co-ordination and co-operation with it while exercising our gift of freewill. Another unethical method exercised by the businesses is flooding the market with consumables, in turn creating an insatiable customer. The current climate change and global warming is the result of this unchecked, unethical freewill exercising. This is where an educated, aware consumer comes into picture as a counteract. A beautiful word, ‘Satisficing’ was coined by American Economist, Herbert Simon 50 years ago with the combination of two words, ‘Satisfy’ and ‘Suffice’. This is the single mantra for sustainability. This brings us to the present ‘Make for India – AtmaNirbhar Bharat’. Gandhi and also Kumarappa were not against technology or machines, but instead believed in managing work in coordination with nature. As Gandhi believed, “that economics is untrue which ignores or disregards moral values”.

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