Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was an ever evolving personality; what he said in 1920s was different from what he was propogating in 1940s. He favoured chaturvarna system in ‘Hinda Swaraj’ but when British regime announced Communal Award in 1932, thereby terming Depressed Classes a minority community, Gandhiji, who was working for the total eradication of untouchability, opposed it saying it would ensure that “untouchables remain untouchables in perpetuity”.
Although it is one aspect of that multifaceted personality, who seems to be more relvant today, when after more than sixty years of independence we confront the problems of caste and creed and petty politics affecting the very foundation of our Indianness.
Besides, when we as a nation of more than a billion population saved ourselves from the brunt of economic meltdown, his thoughts on economy seem to be more relvant. If we look at the existing scenario in which the world witnessed economic downturn, India`s resilience was due to perhaps good monsoons in recent years, though this year is an exception, and bumper agricultural output that to a great extent lead to rural consumption, which actually proved to be a bulwark.
Therefore, once again we tend to look at our traditional system wherein Gandhiji had seen the immense possibility of having panaceia to all ills. Although his school of economic thought was based on socio-economic principles, which had affinity to the principles of socialism, it sought to promote socio-economic harmony.
Greatly influenced by the American writer Henry David Thoreau, he made an effort to develop ways to fight India`s extreme poverty, backwardness and socio-economic challenges along with promoting spiritual development with a rejection of materialism. And its offshoots were Swadeshi and non-cooperation which were based on the principles of economic self-sufficiency.
When he targeted European-made clothing and other products, he had a deep reckoning that it would create alternative source of mass employment, as European industrial goods had left many millions of India`s workers, craftsmen and women without a means of living. He, therefore, championed the cause of homespun khadi and Indian-made goods, as a means of promoting national self-sufficiency.
When Gandhiji and his followers founded numerous ashrams in India, it was compared with the commune, where its inhabitants would seek to produce their own food, clothing and means of living. Besides, he also sought to promote the values of equality, which is now restricted to periphery of our society despite adopting western concepts of liberation in contradiction to traditional systems.
It is a result of this that we still see the prevalence of social rigidity and perhaps the pain of that reality has found an expression in the recent statement of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, who said, "Caste system is the greatest tragedy to befall human race, especially in a country like India, which has a rich cultural heritage."
Although we have a woman President, a woman Speaker and Sonia Gandhi, who symbolise the power centre, the nation is yet to develop in terms of providing equality even to women.
Gandhiji’s focus on the well-being of the poorest and weakest member of society was in the root of his economic thoughts. It aimed at providing full employment for the poor, for all potential members of the work force, so that these workers can provide for their own necessities by their own efforts, in dignity, without depending on charity. He was not opposed to technology, but advocated a proper mix of technology-intensive and labor-intensive production. Therefore, his focus on rural economics has once again become a thought which can generate not only massive employment opportunity, but also provide economic self-sufficiency.
Perhaps welfare of all was foremost in his thoughts when he brought in the controversial economic formulation of ‘trusteeship’--developed as an alternative to the doctrine of socialism or communism. It centred on denying material pursuits and coveting of wealth, and its practitioners were expected to act as "trustees" of other individuals and the community in their management of economic resources and property. It was criticised in several quarters, but in the present scenario when command economies are in retreat and globalised capitalism is the prevalent mode, the need for a moral and ethical basis for business practices has never been more keenly felt.
Besides his economic thoughts, his contribution to national unity is being felt the most when the nation is confronting ideologies challenging its very unity and integrity. His thoughts on nationalism were based on the native spiritual and cultural traditions. He never called himself a “Hindu nationalist” rather he believed in and propagated the concepts of Dharma and "Rama Rajya” as part of his social and political philosophy.
For him “Rama Rajya” meant peace and justice for all, and he emphasized that it meant respect for all religions. He said, “My Hinduism teaches me to respect all religions. In this lies the secret of Ramarajya.”
Perhaps, as a nation we have failed to safeguard the value of independence that we got with the sacrifice of several of our great leaders. On the occasion of Independence Day, let us realize that it is not the responsibility of only political parties but of every individual to maintain our unity and integrity. We also need to reckon and take guidance from the timeless legacy of Gandhiji, who with the passage of time changed himself and never lost faith in the traditional value systems of Indianness.