Dr Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*
October 2, 2022, is a special day for all of us as we are celebrating both Gandhi Jayanti and Shastri Jayanti. Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri share a birthday and a place in India’s societal consciousness as great leaders and thinkers. October 2, 2022 marks the 153rd birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the 118th birth anniversary of Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Mahatma Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in a home wedged in the narrow lanes of Porbandar of Gujarat, while Lal Bahadur Shastri was Born in 1904 in Mughalsarai, Uttar Pradesh. Mahatma Gandhi, a man of exceptional qualities, truth, and nonviolence played important role in our freedom struggle while Shastri played a significant role in India’s war for independence (i.e., in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War).
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who believed in non-violence is respected as the father of the nation. Lal Bahadur Shastri was known for his honesty and principle. He relinquished the post of Railway minister after a railway accident where he had no role. But now, nobody is prepared to relinquish power despite failing miserably or found guilty of corruption or criminal activities.
The birthday anniversary of both Gandhiji and Shastriji is celebrated by politicians, leaders and rulers on a grandeur scale who go on to speak about their contributions, sacrifice and ideals. But the greatest tribute to a person can be if their ideology, or philosophy is emulated and practised in deeds. But ruling dispensation at the Centre is just doing reverse what both Gandhi and Shastri advocated and practised. Their philosophies and ideals are annihilated every day. Publicity blitzkrieg is the order of the day. Retaining power or snatching power is the ultimate objective of politicians today.
Talking about our role and the government’s role Gandhiji had told, “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?
Today, people have been made more self-centred, greedy, insensitive and arrogant by the ruling class. Though, the Prime Minister talks of “Sabka Sath, Sabka Biswas”, in reality, the measure taken or policies adopted by the government are meant to cater to the interest of the rich and corporates. Cronyism is so rampant that corporate behemoths are interfering in government transactions and browbeating the government to formulate rules and regulations to suit them and to the detriment of the masses. The glaring example is the reduction of corporate taxes to the benefit of corporate honchos while the imposition of GST on food items to the detriment of the masses.
Our system is rigged to enable the rich to generate huge profits even humungous black money and hide that ill-gotten wealth in safe places especially tax havens to evade taxes and hide identity. Corruption is so rampant today, that it is difficult to get any work done without paying bribes. Rich people evade taxes and loot people’s savings by not repaying loans taken from banks. Our tax system is so regressive that the poor pay more than the rich as a proportionate of their income.
For example, the wealth of the richest 98 same as the bottom 55.2 crores. According to Credit Suisse’s 12th wealth report, in India, the richest 1 per cent of the country has 33 per cent of the country’s total wealth, while the 10 per cent has 64.6 per cent of the country’s total wealth. On the other hand, only 5.9 per cent of the total national wealth remains in the hands of half the people of the country. Creating wealth at an unprecedented speed of Rs 1,612 crore per day, billionaire Gautam Adani has more than doubled his wealth in the last year to beat Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos as the world’s second-richest man, according to IIFL Wealth Hurun India Rich List 2022.
Shastriji had told us that we can win respect in the world only if we are strong internally and can banish poverty and unemployment from our country. But India has the ignominy of being home to the highest number of hungry, homeless and poor people in the world. Around 27.9 per cent of Indians are multidimensionally poor as per the Multidimensional Poverty Index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI). Even according to Niti Aayog, 25.1 per cent of Indians are multidimensionally poor.
What is reprehensible is that India ranks 101 out of 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index, down from 55th rank in 2014. This means India is behind 100 countries in eliminating hunger and its level of hunger is serious. According to the report “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022”, around 70.5 per cent or 97.33 crore Indians were unable to access healthy food, and 22.4 crores or 16.3 per cent of Indians are undernourished.
According to data by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the joblessness rate in the country has touched 7.71 per cent as of August 14, driven majorly by urban unemployment which has crossed 9 per cent, standing at 9.12 per cent as of August 14. Actually, the unemployment rate will be much high if more youth will search for jobs. Those who don’t search for jobs are not considered unemployed. India had reached an unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent in 2017-18 which was a record 45 years high. What is disquieting is that around 75 per cent of employment in India is vulnerable.
Lal Bahadur Shastri said, “The unique thing about our country is that we have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, and people of all other religions. We have temples and mosques, gurdwaras and churches. But we do not bring all this into politics. This is the difference between India and Pakistan. But what we witness today is that nation is divided in the name of religion and the state is no more neutral to religious issues and our secular fabric is torn asunder. Hatred is created against minor communities.
Lal Bahadur Shastri had said that non-alignment will continue to be the fundamental basis of our approach to world problems and our relations with other countries”. But India is leaning heavily towards the US and acting as its junior strategic partner to nullify the rising power of China.
The relevance of Gandhi in the capitalism debate is more discernible and relevant today. Gandhiji had told, “The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed,” Gandhi’s above teaching has much to say about capitalism that strives for greed, deceit, and fraud. Gandhiji’s sayings are also a forewarning to those governments who are obsessed with GDP growth that comes at the cost of the environment and natural resources.
Gandhi’s environmentalism fitted in with his overall vision for India and the world which sought to extract from nature what is absolutely necessary for human sustenance. His ideas on the environment are intimately linked with his ideas relating to polity, economy, health, and development. Gandhi’s environmentalism is largely built on the ecological practices of peasants and tribal communities. But today, in the name of creating wealth, and enhancing GDP, natural resources are overexploited, and exhausted and environmental concern is ignored.
These pose a serious threat to the survival of humanity. The glaring example is the way Covid-19 pandemic wrought havoc. Natural resources are not infinite and will be exhausted one day. So how will posterity survive? If posterity will not survive then for whom, we are accumulating wealth?
Gandhi’s teachings have much to say about the present generation affected by rampant consumerism and hedonism. Our ‘must-have, must-buy’ economy is eating into the planet’s resources like never before, something Gandhi predicted three-quarters of a century ago. Gandhi used to say “whatever you generate is never fully yours because it’s going to be there long after you. In essence, you are only its caretaker.
Clinging to material wealth is, therefore, a redundant pursuit”. So too, by the same logic, is an economic system that exists exclusively to create such wealth. Gandhi always by laying great emphasis on morality and ethics in individual and social life-both, and calling on people to make Ahimsa (non violence) the centre of their day-to-day activities, spoke of duties time and again. Undoubtedly, he accorded preference to duties over rights. Sometimes politicians misutilise this concept. While they do not do their duties, they advise people to do duty so that people will not raise voices against failures and anti-people, pro-rich policies of the government.
Gandhiji had countered widespread capitalist notions about individuals- especially the poor and vulnerable -sacrificing for industrialisation. “In a place like India, people affected by large-scale industrial projects like mining are told that they must pay the price for the nation to progress. Gandhi fundamentally rejected this as immoral.
At the heart of the problem are structural imbalances that feed injustice. This raises serious questions for the current social responsibility movement. Efforts by big corporate houses to improve farmer livelihoods by cutting out exploitative middlemen. Such adjustments, they’re ultimately a palliative, not a cure. At the end of the day, if you limit the number of buyers, then you’ve effectively reduced the bargaining power of the primary producer in the long run.
Gandhiji would have posed other delicate questions for today’s responsible business movement. Business behemoths plunder our resources, and maximize profits by unfair means but do some charity to hide their dishonesty and rapacity. Gandhiji said, “The charitable giving is nice, but not enough. How you make your money in the first place is more important than how much you give away”. Gandhiji argued that all efforts to improve the human condition are bound to fail unless they put ‘dharma’, or a moral framework and a sense of higher purpose, above the pursuit of ‘arth’ (wealth) and ‘kama’ (pleasure)”.
The higher purpose of which he spoke could be described as “god-realisation” or, in less spiritual parlance, “self-realisation”. That idea forms Gandhi’s ethics, namely the pursuit of love, compassion, self-knowledge, duty, self-control, and so forth, as the root of such realisation. It also has implications for wealth creation: what, after all, is wealth for?
The Swadeshi movement was a self-sufficiency movement that was part of the Indian independence movement and contributed to the development of Indian nationalism. Gandhiji had also warned of the dangers of other countries taking to western industrialism. He stressed self-reliance and Swadeshi movement and building small-scale and cottage industries. But since economic liberalisation was embraced by India in 1991, India has lost its economic sovereignty. The present ruler has expedited the process and allowed unfettered foreign investment to the detriment of indigenous companies.
Both Gandhiji and Shatriji believed in a true democracy. True democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the centre. It has to be worked from below by the people of every village. Along with freedom and justice, the third most important thing, which requires special mention in context of Gandhi’s views on democracy, relates to fundamental rights of citizens.
Even in democracy, many times ,we observe great lack in protecting and honouring the rights of citizens. More care for rights of self and less for others is noticed. Consequently, state of violation of human rights emerges time and again. For, undoubtedly, democracy suffers. To quote Gandhi himself, “Democracy is an impossible thing until the power is shared by all. Even a pariah, a labourer, who makes it possible for you to earn your living, will have his share in self-government -Swarajya or democracy.
Gandhij had said, “Evolution of democracy is not possible if we are not prepared to hear the other side. We shut the doors of reason when we refuse to listen to our opponents or, having listened, make fun of them. If intolerance becomes a habit, we run the risk of mission the truth”. But now dissent is curbed, and hatred is created against dissenters. Instead of exposing the failures of ruling classes, media is subverted to act as an instrument of government’s advertisement and target oppositions. The voice of the voiceless or average people is getting decimated while the voice of the rich getting shriller day by day.
Today our democracy has been taken over by oligarchy. Money and muscle power play a dominant role in the electoral process with people having criminal backgrounds having more chance of winning the election. In a democratic country like India, the importance and inevitability of social justice cannot be obliterated. Hundreds of thousands of people are still deprived of getting social justice. Consequently, they suffer in political, economic and intellectual spheres and get dehumanised.
Mahatma Gandhi laid great emphasis on the decentralization of power so that participation of each and everyone in political and economic fields could be ascertained. Moreover, on the strength of this participation common men could also enjoy a quality standard of living, and along with intellectual growth, they could find a way to achieve equality in society. But now the power is vested with the rich, corporates and criminals who are controlling administration, cornering the benefits of growth. Similarly, the Centre undermines our federal structure and states are not given enough resources, and freedom to serve people.
Gandhiji said that possession of power makes persons blind and deaf; they cannot see things which are under their very nose and cannot hear things which invade their ears. There is thus no knowing what a power-intoxicated government may not do. So, … patriotic men, and progressive people must fight and ought to be prepared to face any eventualities.
The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.