America, the symbol of everything that humanity could achieve and has achieved, the symbol of western capitalism, for its method of inequality never failed to bid for disapproval from the man who we know as Mahatma.
I quote his words, “I have heard many of our countrymen say that we will gain American wealth, but avoid its methods. I venture to suggest that such an attempt, if it were made, is foredoomed to failure. We cannot be ‘wise, temperate and furious’ in a moment.”
It is apparent from the aforesaid lines that not just the means, but the end is also detested. According to Gandhi a capitalist society came at the cost of exploitation of the workers. It was marred with manifold evils like materialism, consumerism, frustration, bitterness and an unavoidable class struggle. The rich will try to get richer at the expense of the poor and the poor will caught in a vicious cycle of poverty.
Post-independence, much of the economic planning was expanded on these lines, and a new form of socialist pattern, Gandhian socialism, was developed. Unique to India, this method took into account the capital-scarce and labour-surplus state of the economy. The focus was to provide employment to millions, while the possibility that it may not be an efficient output process was ignored. Hence complete protection was provided to the small-scale traditional industries, on the grounds that they provide employment and encourage entry of new entrepreneurs into the industry. A large number of products were also reserved for the small-scale industries, apart from the advantages that were already given to them.
While the intentions were obviously to protect the small producers and the labour in these industries, it became synonymous to discouraging large-scale industries and their development. All the capital was invested and maintained for the small cottage industries, which in due course of time proved non-viable in the light of reformist economic scenario all over the world.
I believe that the Gandhian principle of self-reliance was also misconstrued in constructing the industrial policy for the newly independent India. The derived interpretation was that whatever could be produced at home should not be imported, irrespective of the cost and quality. All this was done with a view to reduce dependence on foreign capital and technology. But in the bargain, India was left with an industrial framework that was outdated and veiled from the outside world, unfit to compete at an international level. There was no incentive or competition for the small-scale industries, which would pave way for their growth.
The concept of sheltering the backward and the small was magnified to encompass an inherent dislike for the growth of the big and competitive. The advancement of the powerful industries was constrained, because it was supposed to help the poor. Here the Gandhian notion of using the wealth judiciously, for the greater good of humanity was misunderstood and was taken to mean a uniform material status for everybody.
It is not understood that Gandhi despised capitalism for the struggle it entailed for the economically weaker section of the society and not for the economic disparity it created in the society. His idea of the perfect world was not of the one where there are no inequalities, but of a society where the rich used their wealth for the betterment of the deprived. Gandhi’s ideal society was Ramrajya; an organization of society where harmony of interest prevailed, human capability flourished, and where work was the only God.