GANDHI’S WAY Decentralization According to Gandhi, modern civilization was responsible for impoverishing the Indian villages, which occupied a pivotal position in the Indian situation. Gandhi has always been a critic of the centralization of economic and political power. Large scale production inevitably led to concentration of economic and political power. Labor and material, production and distribution became the monopoly of the few rich. Such a concentration of economic power resulted in corresponding centralization of political power.
Aldous Huxley, in his Science, Liberty and Peace, drew attention to this universal tendency of modern technology: “The centralizing of industrial capacity in big, mass-producing factories has resulted in the centralization of a large part of the population in cities and the reduction of ever-increasing numbers of individuals to complete dependence upon a few private capitalists and their managers, or upon the public capitalist, the state, represented by politicians and working through civil servants.
So far as liberty is concerned, there is little to choose between the two types of bosses. “14 One of the recurring themes in the writings and pronouncements of Gandhi is this centralizing tendency of technology: “I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of few but in the hands of all. Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. “15 Again he said, “What is industrialism but a control of the majority by the small minority? “16 The solution to the problem of centralization consists in decentralization of political and economic power.
Small-scale, manageable techniques, capable of being handled by individual producers, the co-operatives in the villages or the region should be given priority and promoted on a mass scale for the benefit of the masses. Gandhi, though judged wrongly by many, was not advocating a return to medieval techniques. He vehemently opposed the indiscriminate multiplication of large-scale industries which obstructed village development. He wanted technological research to be village-oriented, perfecting the cottage and village industries. When every village should be able to own its own technology, economic power will be diffused and the illage will emerge in the Gandhian scheme as the nucleus of social life. Decentralization of economic power will result in the decentralization of political power. Modern technology will no more be in a position to exploit the village. A proper balance between agriculture and industry will be established and, in due course, the village will exert a transformative influence. Production will be regulated by the needs of the village. Pyarelal has very lucidly described this relationship: Agriculture in this set-up will go hand in hand with industry.
Such products of the village, as they enter into the daily consumption of the villagers or as they are needed for their cottage crafts, will be processed in the village itself; the surplus alone being sent out to the cities in exchange for services and goods on a fair and equitable basis. Cities will serve as emporia for village products instead of the villages being used as a dumping ground for the manufactured goods of the cities. Machines will not be abolished. On the contrary, the people will have many more of them. But these machines will be simple machines which the people can themselves operate and own individually or collectively. 7 This relationship between agriculture and industry, village and city, will stop exploitation and bring self-sufficiency. For him it was imperative that sufficiency should start from below, i. e. , from the village and then upward to the regional level. In Gandhi’s own words: My idea of village Swaraj is that it is a complete republic, independent of its neighbors for its own vital wants, and yet interdependent for many others which dependence is a necessity. Thus, every village’s first concern will be to grow its own food and cotton for its cloth. It should have a reserve for its cattle.
Then, if there is more land available, it will grow useful money crops, thus excluding ganja, tobacco, opium and the like. 18 His village is self-sufficient in vital wants, but interdependent in many other spheres. Interdependence, while maintaining the independence of the village, is the keynote of Gandhi’s approach to village life. Society: Not a Pyramid, but an Oceanic Circle Gandhi described the organization of the society in the form of an ‘oceanic circle’. In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever-widening but never-ascending circles.
Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages, till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, never aggressive but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are integral units. Therefore, the outmost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle, but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it. 19
He believed that all power resided in the people and that it should also originate from the people. The dynamo of power in a country like India should be the village. The village was to be a knot in a system of oceanic circles in which the remotest circle derived its strength from the center, i. e. , the individual. This would mean that sovereignty was not to remain concentrated at any one level. It was to be diffused among units rising horizontally till they reached the national level. In terms of political science, the residuary power remained with the village and the center was there to co-ordinate the work.
Gandhi believed in Thoreau’s saying, “that government is the best which governs the least. “20 Charkha (Spinning-Wheel): Hope of Rural Masses The message of the spinning-wheel is to “replace the spirit of exploitation by the spirit of service. The dominant note in the West is the note of exploitation. I have no desire that our country should copy that spirit or that note. “21 Gandhi again maintains: “I do feel that it [Charkha] has a message for the U. S. A. and the whole world. But it cannot be until India has demonstrated to the world that it has made the spinning-wheel its own, which it has not done today.
The fault is not of the wheel. I have not the slightest doubt that the saving of India and of the world lies in the wheel. If India becomes the slave of the machine, then, I say, heaven save the world. “22 Hence, the message of the spinning-wheel is “much wider than its circumference. Its message is one of simplicity, service of mankind, living so as not to hurt others, creating an indissoluble bond between the rich and the poor, capital and labor, the prince and the peasant. That larger message is naturally for all. 23 Gandhi felt convinced that “the revival of hand-spinning and hand-weaving would make the largest contribution to the economic and the moral regeneration of India. The millions must have a simple industry to supplement agriculture. Spinning was the cottage industry years ago, and if the millions are to be saved from starvation, they must be enabled to introduce spinning in their homes, and every village must repossess its own weaver. “24 He wanted to make the spinning-wheel the center of all handicrafts. The spinning-wheel was a symbol of hope to the masses.
The masses lost their freedom, such as it was, with the loss of the charkha. The charkhasupplemented the agriculture of the villagers and gave it dignity. It was the friend and solace of the widow. It kept the villagers from idleness. For the charkhaincluded all the anterior and posterior industries B ginning, carding, wrapping, sizing, dyeing and weaving. These in their turn kept the village carpenter and blacksmith busy. The charkha enabled the seven hundred thousand villages to become self-contained. With the exit of the charkha went the other village industries, such as the oil press.
Nothing took the place of these industries. Therefore, the villages were drained of their varied occupations and their creative talent which brought them meager income to supplement their limited source of income. Hence, it was suggested that the revival of charkha would result in making the villages economically self-sufficient. Gandhi had no doubt in his mind that the wheel could serve as the instrument of earning one’s livelihood and, at the same time, enable the worker to render useful service to his neighbors. In order to ply the wheel intelligently, he should know all the processes that precede and succeed spinning.
This conviction dawned upon Gandhi even before he came to India, that the revival of hand-spinning alone could restore India to its pristine glory. He compared the spinning-wheel to the sun around which the solar system of the village economy revolved. It provided the golden bridge between the rich and the poor. Swadeshi: Antidote to Modernization Gandhi said that Swadeshi would mean that one should not serve one’s distant neighbor at the expense of the nearest. It is never vindictive or punitive. It is in no sense narrow, because it buys from every part of the world what is needed for our growth.
We must refuse to buy from anyone anything, however nice or beautiful, if it interferes with our growth. Gandhi bought useful and thought provoking literature from every part of the world. One could buy surgical instruments from England, pins and pencils from Austria and watches from Switzerland. But one should not buy an inch of the finest cotton fabric from England or Japan or any other part of the world, because it could be easily made in India and to buy it from elsewhere would hurt the sentiments of those who work for their livelihood.
Hence, Gandhi held it to be sinful for anyone to refuse to buy the cloth spun and woven by the needy millions of India’s paupers and to buy foreign cloth, although it may be superior in quality to the Indian hand-spun. “My Swadeshi, therefore, chiefly centers round the hand Khaddar and extends to everything that can be and is produced in India. “25 Soul-Force: The Secret of Success Gandhi wanted to popularize the use of soul-force, which is but another name for the force of love, in place of brute-force. “Having flung aside the sword, there is nothing except the cup of love which I can offer to those who oppose me.
It is by offering that cup that I expect to draw them close to me. I cannot think of permanent enmity between man and man, and believing as I do in the theory of rebirth, I live in the hope that, if not in this birth, in some other birth, I shall be able to hug all humanity in friendly embrace. “26 Chapter 17, the most important chapter in the whole book of Hind Swaraj starts with the question whether there is any historical evidence of “any nation having risen through soul-force. “27 According to Gandhi, Tulsidas is a better guide here than are the Indian princes.
Tulsidas and such other Acharyas taught that daya(compassion) is the true ultimate basis of Dharma (duty) and, therefore, also of the Dharma that should govern the Praja (the ordinary people). However widespread the use of brute-force may have been in history, it is no reason to doubt the validity of the counter thesis. If the story of the universe had commenced with wars, not a man would have been found alive today. . . . Therefore, the greatest and the most unimpeachable evidence of the success of this force is to be found in the fact that, in spite of the wars of the world, it still lives on. . . Hundreds of nations live in peace. . . . History is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or the soul. 28 Gandhi believed that Indian civilization had the potential to give to the world a way to achieve freedom without bloodshed and violence. To achieve this we have to develop the right relationship between daya (compassion) and national interest. The error of modern nationalism had been to take for granted that national interest divorced from daya is the ultimate principle of national conduct.
He sees the distinct possibility of the national elite B the doctors, the lawyers, and the modern professional class taken as a whole B acting in their own interest, and exploiting, deceiving and oppressing the people at large in the name of the nation. They would be able to act in the interest of the Praja only if their nationalism is founded on the principle of daya. For this one has to undergo a process of inner liberation (chhutkara). Gandhi shows how one can achieve this inner liberation. He now identifies the nation with the elite who are eager to have Home Rule.
He insists that the elite have to undergo genuine moral transformation. For this they have to be imbued with a deep sense of real nationalism which is different from what the modern nationalism depicts. He wants them to be imbued with real love and to experience the soul-force within themselves. Only those who have undergone such interior transformation can speak to the English without fear or hatred. Only such transformed Indian nationals can really understand the threat posed by modern civilization and the promise held by Indian civilization. Swaraj: An Eternal Quest and Perennial Challenge
One has to understand the true meaning of Swaraj. In the first place, Swaraj is a mental condition of: (i) inner liberation from the temptations of greed and power offered by modern civilization, (ii) freedom from hatred towards the national ‘enemy,’ the British, and (iii) active love for the Indian Praja, a love that can conquer the temptations of greed and power. Secondly, Swaraj is an external condition of: (i) political independence from alien domination, and (ii) life-long dedication to the task of improving the material conditions of poverty and caste oppression of the Indian Praja.
In concrete terms, Swaraj requires one to take a stand on brute-force and soul-force. “If there be only one such Indian,” Gandhi affirms, “the English will have to listen to him. “29 Attaining national liberation is not so much a matter of getting rid of the British as getting rid of the fascination for modern civilization which teaches the Indian elite to exploit and oppress the Indian Praja and establish their superiority.
We have to liberate ourselves from the evils of modern civilization and fill our hearts with daya,satya (truth) and ahimsa (non-violence). Only then would we become morally fit to deal both with the British and with the Indian people. Unless and until we are healed of the chronic sickness of imitating the West, ignoring our own age old tradition and cultural heritage, we will not be able to face any one else.