Economics and ethics according to Gandhi

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Mahatma Gandhi said, “The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice and Politics without principles”. And this in a nutshell encapsulates what Gandhi had to give to the world. It has been said that Gandhi was an extraordinary man, but for me he was just a very simple being for whom morality was the highest truth and it is perhaps this quality of him that immortalized him into a mahatma.

Economics according to Gandhi was, put very simply, rejection of materialism. For him all men were were equal and therefore deserved equal benefits that society had to offer. He was an economist of the masses, of the common man, someone for whom caste and class were superfluos. He was rooted in the prevailing social reality that surrounded him and throughout his life sought to integrate the socio-economically deprived into the mainstream of society. His economic philosophy was not some disjoint set of ideas but those in conjunction with basic human rights like right to justice and right against exploitation.

Gandhian economic thought aimed at the upliftment and enrichment of human life rather than a higher standard of living with scant respect for human and social values. The core of Gandhian economic thought is the protection of the dignity of human person and not mere material prosperity. He wanted to liberate the modern economic philosophy from the quagmire of materialism and bring it to a higher spiritual plane. Human actions were motivated by social objectives of the protection of human rights.

The gandhian model of economics can be found in practice in numerous instances of historical significance. For Gandhi one of the foremost pillars on which the national movement was being fought was economic self sufficiency. Thus, Gandhi stressed on the fact that the real India lives in the villages. He emphasized on the significance of khadi or homespun cloth which symbolized self reliance and which in a very short time became the symbol of the national movement.

The swadeshi and noncooperation movement initiated by Gandhi was based on the premise of economic self reliance. According to him the British had robbed India of its innate capability to provide for herself and had transformed her into a mere importing country. Industrial revolution in England had further left millions of Indian workers jobless and ruined the traditional fabric of the country. European products were not only a symbol of British colonialism but also the source of mass unemployment and poverty.

Numerous satyagraha movements were launched by Gandhi in an attempt to end the economic dependence that India had sunk into. He inspired the farmers of Champaran in Bihar, and the mill workers of Kheda in Gujarat to stage a no violent protest to end the oppressive taxation.
A major part of this rebellion was a commitment from the farmers to end caste discrimination and oppressive social practices against women while launching a co-operative effort to promote education, health care and self-sufficiency.

For Gandhi rewards were to be earned as a result of efforts made and not otherwise. All his life he preached about the need for hard work and commitment and was dead set against wealth without work. This philosophy of his is perhaps best reflected in today’s scenario where avarice and greed rule our hearts and we want rewards regardless of whether we have earned them or not. Today there are professions built around making wealth without working, making much money without paying taxes, benefiting from free government programs without carrying a fair share of the financial burdens, and enjoying all the perks of citizenship of country and membership of corporation without assuming any of the risk or responsibility.
Gandhi also stressed on the immense need for infusing morality into the economic systems. Fairness in economic dealings was to be of sole importance. Sadly though the present generation fails to grasp that and today it has indeed become the saga of the survival of the fittest.

Gandhi has become a phenomenal figure because of his ethical dimensions. A life which was not lived on moral principles was futile. He accentuated on the need for infusing our politics with conscience. Leaders are made to serve the people; he said and therefore must become accountable which can happen only if they have a strong conscience. Politics without principles was a recipe for disaster and the ills nepotism and corruption, that plague the political scene today like is the perfect example for that. Immoral politicians do eventually impact the polity and society and the result is a societal setup with much distorted value systems.
Whatever Gandhi imparted has a timeless dimension to it. His ideas hold relevance even today for he was the people’s man who understood human and societal nature very well. On his birth anniversary, it is necessary that we bring Gandhi into our lives through his teachings. It is perhaps now more than ever before that we as human beings need to make that distinction between what is important and what is right. Gandhi taught us a lot of things but perhaps the most important thing that he gave us was the belief in ourselves and in the power of ‘us’.

Uttara Balakrishnan

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