‘People often talk of the Gandhian model of development, but if such a model is genuinely Gandhian then it is not about development’

Friday 25 January 2013

Mahatma Gandhi never used the words environment protection. However what he said and did makes him an environmentalist. His writings are replete with remarks on the excesses of industrial society. Political psychologist and social theorist Ashis Nandy has written extensively on Gandhi. In a freewheeling chat with Kaushik Das Gupta he spoke on Gandhi's vision of social change, his critique of industrialisation and the way movements draw inspiration from Gandhi. Edited excerpts:

Ashis NandyWe often talk of two visions of development, the Gandhian vision and the Nehruvian vision. What is the fundamental difference between the two?

The Nehruvian concept is the dominant concept of development. Gandhi never used the word development. The word was first used by the US president Harry S Truman in 1949. Yes, people often talk of the Gandhian model of development. But if such a model is genuinely Gandhian then it is not about development. And if it’s about development, then bringing in Gandhi is an exercise in legitimising something alien to Gandhi's vision.

Social change is possible without development. Society did not stop changing before the idea of development was coined. President Truman was not such a great thinker that the concept he enunciated is indispensable to human societies.

Many activists who are against big developmental projects talk of following the Gandhian way. Your comments

Yes. They draw inspiration from Gandhi to resist aspects of development that does not tally with the Gandhian vision. In one way they are humanising Gandhi. All social change is not development. The fundamental aspects of development—for example unending industrialisation, unending urbanisation, unending consumption—are not justifiable according to the Gandhian way.

Gandhians have tried to take head on some major assumptions of development. When Medha Patkar protests against dams she is following the Gandhian way. Those who challenge key aspects of development are doing us a service. They are resisting the framework in which we are caught.

Many of the solutions to the current environmental problems are actually within the purview of industrialised society. But there are others who talk of a path other than that of industrialisation. Is Gandhi’s vision in sync with such alternatives?

Gandhian vision is now seen as an inspiration, as a source, for many enterprises that offer alternative to industrialisation. These movements began in the 1980s.

None of the greatest Gandhians of today belong to India. In fact, the greatest Gandhians of our times have not read Gandhi that carefully. They perhaps read his works after people started calling them Gandhians. Lech Walesa, the Polish shipyard trade unionist who later headed Poland's non-Communist government, read Gandhi after people started calling him Gandhian. So did Benito Aquino. Gandhism has become a part of the process that offers alternatives to industrialisation. There are as many varieties of Gandhians as Marxists or liberals. I think that’s a very healthy development. Gandhi is a contemporary hero who is accessible—he was not a religious leader, yet religion has a big part in his politics, he was an ascetic but open to practical ways.

A lot of the de-growth movement, which believes progress is possible without economic growth, takes inspiration from Gandhi. Your comments?

I won’t use the word ‘progress' because that is a contaminated word. The colonisers used the word progress. But yes, positive social change is possible without economic growth. And Gandhi has been an inspiration for such movements. However, we should also remember that most of the de-growth movement has taken place in societies which are over-consuming, exploiting nature and over-arming themselves—all these are hardly markers of good life.

I don’t think the hedonism associated with globalised capitalism is conducive to human happiness. Many communities have lived in poverty—but not destitution—and they haven’t been unhappy about it.

There are alternative visions but there is little by way of putting them into practice—except the endeavours of a few grassroots organisations. Your comments?

They have not been put into practice because our regimes are technocratic. Our solutions are technocratic. Technocrats go by the development textbooks. They do not keep elbow room for alternatives.

Yes, many with alternative vision keep away from the party-based political system. But they are part of the political process. The movement against dams is part of our political process. I feel that Arvind Kejriwal would have done well to have not become part of the party system. We need a group outside party politics to rate parties, rate individual candidates on yardsticks of honesty. We need an impartial agency to do that. For example, Uttar Pradesh has a system where bureaucrats vote on who the most corrupt bureaucrat is.

An extract from an interview with Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi The angel of history: Reading Hind Swaraj today

Gandhi and the environment

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Ashis Nandy

Ashis Nandy

Gandhi on capitalism

Gandhi on capitalism

A rare interview extracted from 'An Interview with Gandhi' by French Journalist Charles Petrasch, which he took at London in 1931 (Courtesy: Think India Quarterly).

Gandhi as a human ecologist

Gandhi as a human ecologist

Gandhi-Luthuli Chair Professor, School of Politics, Howard College, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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  • Kaushik, perhaps, you should

    Kaushik, perhaps, you should have asked him what exactly is development for him. It would have put the interview in better context.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • What a logical alternative is

    What a logical alternative is Positive Social Change to current political and economic notions of Development! Great answers to good questions, and this material belongs to a class far above the capabilities of the clamouring pack of unshutapable, opinionated media chatterboxes and other NSTS (Non-Stop Talking Syndrome) patients.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Excellent interview. Has the

    Excellent interview.

    Has the Nehruvian concept of Development brought in the so called DEVELOPMENT in Villages? Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of GRAM SWARAJ aims at self-reliance and self-development in villages. Rural Industries(Agro Industries) utilising local resources and resourcefulness. A consequence of modernism failed miserably in building development in villages where most of the population lives.

    Revival of the Village
    I would say that if the village perishes India will perish too. India will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is possible only when it is no more exploited. Industrialization on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as the problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the village industry is maintained, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation of others.
    - M. K. Gandhi

    Mahatma Gandhi's concept of NOT MASS PRODUCTION BUT PRODUCTION BY THE MASSES is still valid in many sectors including consumer goods.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks Benaam Sameekshak.

    Thanks Benaam Sameekshak. It's a pertinent point. I did not ask Ashish Nandy what he means by development.

    But he did make a distinction between development and positive social change Development, he said, is a recent phenomenon, a product of the industrial revolution.

    And the concept, 'development' is even more recent. Barely 60 years old.

    In contrast, societies have aspired for positive social change since ancient times.

    Nandy spoke briefly of what he meant by positive social change, and you are right I should I have queried him more on that. Briefly then, Nandy thinks democracy and happiness for the maximum number of people are key to positive social change. He does not believe that economic growth is necessary for positive social change.

    He believes people can be happy even when they are poor, and makes a distinction between poverty and destitution.

    But yes, his views on positive social change needs elaboration.

    Posted by: Kaushik Das Gupta | 2 years ago | Reply
  • In today's political affairs

    In today's political affairs no elected politician can vote as per his understandings about positive social change vis a vis development unless he dares to sacrifice her/his seat in legislature by going against her/his party whip for voting in favour of law/policy/treaty/stand/debate for the party's understanding of BENIFITs of developement.

    Many people do not feel that Arvind Kejriwal would have done well to have not become part of the party system. Indeed, we need a group outside party politics to rate parties, rate individual candidates on yardsticks of honesty but we also need parties to power who can bring Gram Swaraj, effective Lokpal,transperancy and accountability to ensure positive social change also becomes an agenda beyond developement.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Gandhiji's vision is

    Gandhiji's vision is achievable, but no one has the courage to follow that vision, take that path. Nehru was dazzled, and could not appreciate the enormity of the grass-root needs of our grass-root millions.

    Right from Independence we have been compelling ourselves to continue on the wrong path, and we are seeing the much longer-term implications of the far shorter-term gains.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • "God forbid that India should

    "God forbid that India should ever take to industrialisation after the manner of the west," he said. "The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom [UK] is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 million took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts."

    Imagine now 1.3 billion people trying to lead an American lifestyle. And another 1.6 billion in China.

    The Gandhian way for me is the only way forward. Live a simple life within your means. Consume as much as you need.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Very good interview - but I

    Very good interview - but I am unable to comprehend the difference between poverty and destitute - could someone please explain? Thanks in advance!!!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply
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