Legacy of Gandhian Thought
Presented by S. N. Goel
Kamla Nagar Hospital, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

1. Introductory: Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest men of the twentieth century. His thoughts have influenced the lives of millions of people, whom he provided the voice and tools in their fight for freedom and social justice. Whenever he was on the march, people from all walks of life joined him, irrespective of their caste, creed, culture, religion and social and political affiliations. He always had his hand on the pulse of the people and he was constantly worried about the day-to-day concerns of the poorest of the poor.

With all the limelight and halo, Mahatma Gandhi lived like a common man. He did all those things, which a common man does, and consequently, he committed all those mistakes, which normally a common man commits. Significantly, he was never shy about commenting on his failings and defaults. And in the process, he was able to awaken the conscience of billions of people round the world and ultimately, this common man scaled those heights, where he was hailed as one of the most uncommon man of the century.

2. The People: Whatever the country, nationality, religion, caste, creed or culture, there are only two classes of people in this world. One is, what is commonly known as the privileged class and the other is the unprivileged class or the down trodden class. Floating in between them is the middle class. Nucleus of the privileged class is built around those people, who and whose forefathers have been men of initiative and drive. They picked up all types of opportunities for work and advancement in life, as and when they got them, and in the process, they undertook all the risks involved in completing difficult and painstaking tasks for the realization of their aspirations. Everybody belonging to the privileged class may not be equally energetic and innovative and may not have that dash and initiative, but most of them sail through with their mentors and continue to bask in the glow of their achievements. Bulk of the people belonging to the unprivileged class are those, who lack opportunities for work and advancement in life, for reasons embedded in the history and geography of their caste, creed, race, culture and religion. The greatest wonder is that they have survived and continue to survive inspite of all the odds. In the middle class, some people with initiative and drive pick up opportunities for work and advancement in life and gradually move up the ladder to the privileged class. Whereas, those who lack initiative and drive and miss the opportunities available to them, gradually slide down to the ranks of unprivileged class. The pattern is the same throughout the world. The difference is only in the scale. In the affluent countries social security nets are available to mitigate the hardship of the unprivileged class and to enable them to live a reasonably satisfied and peaceful life. In less affluent and poor countries, the unprivileged class does not have anything to protect them and the consequent result is malnutrition and hunger, ultimately leading to social unrest, stunted growth and deteriorating law and order problems.

3. The World: The present world is divided into so called developed countries, developing countries and undeveloped countries. Developed countries have been lands of opportunities. For centuries, they have served as strong magnets for the collection of best human material and physical resources of the world. People from the undeveloped and developing countries have been making a beeline to the developed countries for education, trade, business and settlement. The flow has always been unending and overflowing. USA the most developed of all the developed countries is a land of immigrants. It is a living example of what the human material and human endeavour can achieve, from almost a scratch. Over the years, USA has been able to build up a strong infra-structure and all the affluence and sophistication, which has provided satisfaction, prosperity and comfortable living to its people and an unlimited scope for initiative, drive and innovation for the pursuit of their cherished dreams. And with the surplus that has been generated, they have been able to provide a helping hand for the economic development and prosperity of almost all countries of the world. Consequently, a number of countries in Asia and Pacific Rim have gradually risen from the slums and have developed large opportunities for productive work, leading to a reverse flow of wealth, industries and talent from developed countries of the west to the developing countries in the east.

4. The spirit of Khadi: The life and times of Mahatma Gandhi were very different. Whatever he has done, written or spoken are in the context of those times. However, the spirit, concepts and thoughts behind all that he did are a beacon of light at all times, for all those who want to understand him. Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of Khadi was to provide opportunities for work to the unprivileged masses without disturbing their place of residence and their normal daily routine. During the thirties India was a stratified society and hand spun and hand woven cloth, which was considered as coarse cloth, was normally worn by economically poorer sections of the society, particularly in predominantly rural areas. All fine varieties of cloth used to be imported from the textile mills of England for meeting the needs of city elites and other affluent sections of the society. Mahatma Gandhi could see that cloth is an essential item of mass consumption and that the production of hand spun and hand woven cloth in every village and every houselold could meet this essential need of the people and at the same time it could generate tremendous opportunities for fruitful work for economically depressed populace. Subsequently, this hand spun and hand woven coarse cloth, popularly known as Khadi, gradually got all the respectability, when the affluent, high and mighty in the land started using it and adopted it as a part of their formal dress and started vying with each other, in exhibiting their Khadi outfit in all public appearances. Thus, Khadi helped in breaking the visible barrier between man and man and between affluence and poverty and provided unlimited opportunities for fruitful work for millions of people, who had almost nothing productive or fruitful to see in the economic vacuum of the colonial era. We may not have been able to appreciate it, but we can see that Khadi, the magic wand of Mahatma Gandhi can well be treated as the fore-runner for opening up large scale productive opportunities of work for those masses, which had almost nothing to fall back on.

The unlimited opportunities of work at their own door and their chosen hour, provided hope and a feeling of confidence to the common people. Food, nutrition, health and education followed for pushing the sights up. In the present context, Khadi should not be restricted to mean, the spinning of yarn by a Charkha and weaving of coarse cloth on a loom. Even when Mahatma Gandhi was living, he had moved on from a single spindle Charka to six to eight spindle Amber Charka from considerations of better productivity. As such, the spirit of Khadi represents the development of all types of opportunities for productive work for the masses in conformity with their skills, daily routine and life style. Mahatma Gandhi was able to provide relief to millions of people during the thirties with the help of this rudimentary tool. However, even after seventy to eighty years, development of substantial opportunities for productive work on a mass scale continues to remain the pressing need of all countries of the world. To-day, we have all the know-how, we have all the resources, we have all the management and training skills and capability and therefore, there is no reason that if we can pool our talent and resources, we should not be able to put opportunities for productive work within easy grasp of the hands of billions of people scattered all over of the world. People do not want aid or doles. People need opportunities for fruitful work for a modest living, for boosting up their self-esteem and for looking up to the future with a sense of hope and pride.

5. Role of Gandhi Ashrams: The dreams of a common man are usually very modest and close to realities. All that he wishes is, availability of sufficient opportunities for work and the freedom to enjoy the fruits of his labour in a relaxed manner, in an environment of safety, security and goodwill. Opportunities for scrambling two square meals a day, gradually kindle in him the urge for improving facilities for better shelter, better education and better health. These are common urges. Everybody has them and with proper environment and opportunity, everybody has the capacity to cross the hump.

Mahatma Gandhi developed a number of Gandhi Ashrams in early thirties. In the initial stages, these were primarily cotton spinning centers for the production of yarn for Khadi. The primitive Charkha was the basic tool. The wages of manual laborer in those days were of the order of ten paisa per day and even for this, sufficient work opportunities were not available. Under that context, Gandhi Ashrams made an offer to anybody and everybody to come to the Ashram, learn the use of Charkha and utilize whatever spare time was available for spinning yarn from the Charkha. Cotton was made available by the ashram and the spun yarn was taken by the ashram. The labour for spinning yarn was paid to the man in cash by the Ashram. Thus anybody who did not have opportunities for fruitful employment, went to the Ashram, put in his spare time there and earned something. That something may have been of the order of two paisa or four paisa or more or less, depending on the time, skill and dedication of the person concerned. Charkha did not provide a living wage, but it did provide something, where there was nothing to be seen. It did supplement the income of the family and the family was slightly better off than what it was. Gradually, the man acquired a Charkha, placed it at his home and all members of the family were spinning, whenever they were free and whenever Charkha was available. Charkha did not make them affluent, but it did help them in scrambling two meals a day. And gradually they started thinking about better things and better life. In course of time, Gandhi Ashrams developed facilities for almost all types of cottage industries.

In the present context we see that all countries of the world have successful entrepreneurs, business houses, factories, franchises and collaborative production arrangements in some form or the other. They provide employment to hundreds of thousands of people with almost all types of skills. The basic concept is the development of sufficient opportunities for productive work to millions of needy people in conformity with local skills and resources. It is immaterial, whether you call them ashrams or workshops or factories or production centres. All that is needed is that anybody and everybody who is willing to work should have opportunities for sufficient work to do. All people of the world, as individuals, may not have the talents, initiative, drive and resources to become entrepreneurs, but every successful entrepreneur has the potential to provide opportunities for work to hundreds and thousands of people.

6. Message of Gram Swarajya: With all the scientific advancement, millions of people, all over the world, are suffering from hunger, malnutrition, disease, unhealthy living conditions and poverty. All nations and almost all international bodies have continuously thought about it and have been pouring billions of dollars and other resources in aid every year for the alleviation of the sufferings of these unfortunate people, but the problems are colossal and appear to be unending. To-day China has assumed the role of manufacturing centre of the world. The industries from all over the world have moved to China and the movement continues unabated. The simple secret is opportunities for productive work available there. Similarly, India is fast becoming as the service centre of the world. All major corporations of the world have a presence in India and multifarious service tasks of the world are handled there. Again the secret is ready availability of world-class pool of highly trained, English speaking professional manpower in the country and unlimited opportunities for work for them. It may ironical, but almost all developed countries of the world, which have helped China and India at some stage or the other in realizing their present potential, are facing continuously shrinking opportunities for employment and loss of high end jobs. And, of course the problem appears to be getting out of hand everywhere.

In the present context, we may look to another concept projected by Mahatma Gandhi - the concept of gram swarajya. Initially, the concept was that every village should be self sufficient in meeting bulk of the day-to-day needs of goods and services of the people living in the village. At that time, under the colonial rule, the economy of India was in a very primitive and dormant state and the intention was to encourage dispersion of opportunities for productive and fruitful work in every village in the remotest areas of the country. Under the present context of globalization, the concept of gram swarajya carries with it the potential universality for the dispersion of opportunities of fruitful work in all countries and all regions of the world, in all economic conditions and in all types of diverse cultural levels of the society.

7. Sarvodaya: Look to any of the newspapers, TV channels or radio broadcasts, anywhere in the world and you will find them full of news about mini-wars, terror blasts and all types of conflicts on the one side and socio-economic insecurity, unemployment, mal-nutrition and hunger on the other side. With all the best of intentions and solemn affirmations by most of the countries, the pressing problems of the world seem to be spinning out of control and there does not appear to be any hope about the solution of any of the problems of the world is anywhere within reach, in the foreseeable future. It seems that, over all these years, we have been trying to build everything, except man. The concept of Sarvodaya involves an integrated development and enlightenment of every individual, so that, the society has caring and loving people, concerned for each other and willing to work jointly for the betterment of the society irrespective of their, caste, creed, culture, religion or socio-economic conditions. Ultimately, no rules, regulations or laws may be needed to govern them.

8. Conclusion: Everybody knows that the problems of the world are diverse, complex and have almost gone out of control. It has not been possible for any individual, organization, state or international body to provide reasonable solutions and relief to any of the problems, within the present environment, resources and constraints. All that people want is reasonable opportunities of work, safety and security and some sort of satisfaction that they also have some space under the sun. This is exactly the concept of Khadi, Gandhi Ashram, Gram Swarajya and Sarvodaya. The life and times of Mahatma Gandhi were very different. Whatever he has written or spoken are in the context of those times. However, the spirit, concepts and thoughts behind all that he did are a beacon of light at all times, for anybody and everybody. The civilized world has very few options. It can draw inspiration from the works of Mahatma Gandhi for the survival of the present generation and for the safety, security and prosperity of the generations to come.

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