Join this Group for Updates and Discussions on this Blog (and a few others)!

Google Groups Join

Friday, December 29, 2006

Blog Response: On Gandhi, Nehru and the debate on the Economy of India

At this point it is sufficient to make the point that of all the Congress leaders, only Jawaharlal had given enough thought to the economic foundation of the country. Gandhiji’s own ideas on this (articulated most pithily in his Hind Swaraj) were at best ignored by all except his least influential admirers). It is no coincidence that post- 1947, this fringe of Gandhians were left with practically no agenda after independence had been won.

...Despite the fact that Gandhiji shared his social conservatism with Patel and CR, it was Jawaharlal that he passed on the mantle to: “Jawaharlal will speak my language when I am gone.” This was nothing but Gandhiji’s acceptance of modernization, in his own- some will say,convoluted- manner.

Jawaharlal continued the discourse on economics that had been started by Dadabhai Naoroji and the other critics of colonial economics. He built on this borrowing contemporary themes- from Fabian socialism as well as Marxism and later Russian “socialism”, but unswervingly committed to building capitalism.

It was this state- capitalist structure whose dismantling began in 1991 and continues. It is at best amusing, if not outright hilarious,to see the proponents of neo- liberalism criticize “Nehruvian socialism”, when no such thing existed.


This morning alerts fetched this particular political analysis, would not have commented on this blog except for the fact that there seems to be a factual omission here. The views of Jawaharlal Nehru during his last days on the the economic path taken since Independence in his own words presented below:

"My mind was trying to grapple with the problem of what to do with more than 55,000 villages of India and the people who live there....If we were to think purely in terms of output, all the big and important factories in India are not really so important as agriculture....what Gandhiji did was fundamentally right. He was looking all the time at the villages of India, at the most backward people in India in every sense, and he devised something. It was not merely the spinning wheel; that was only a symbol. He laid stress on village industries, which again to the modern mind does not seem very much worthwhile.

People think that he was against machinery. I don't think he was against it. He did not want machinery except in the context o the well-being of the mass of our people. What he suggested - cottage industry - was as something which immediately benefitted the people, not only to employment but also in production." (Speech by Nehru to a seminar on 'Social Welfare in a Developing Economy', New Delhi, September 22nd, 1963)

That is Nehru talking Gandhi's language for sure, about quarter century later. "I do visualise electricity, ship building, iron works, machine making, and the like existing side by side with village handicrafts. But the order of dependence will be reversed" (Gandhi, Sevagram, January 23rd, 1940).

Even more articulate in Nehru when he is replying to a debate on Planning in the Lok Sabha on December 11th 1963 a few months before his death:
"I begin to think more and more of Mahatma Gandhi's approach. It is odd that I am mentioning his name in this connection. I am entirely an admirer of the modern machine, and I want the best machinery and the best technique, but, taking things as they are in India, however rapidly we advance towards the machine...the fact remains that large numbers of our people are not touched by it and will not be for a considerable time. Some other method has to be evolved that they become partners in production, even though the production apparatus of theirs may not be efficient as compared to modern technique, but we must use that, for otherwise, it would be wasted. That idea has to be kept in mind. We should think more of the very poor country men of ours and do something to improve their lot as quickly as we can. This problem is troubling me a great deal".

It is said that he made a similar speech at Gandhigram in Tamilnadu a few months later, hardly a month and half before his death. So, the old man perhaps knew what he was talking about when he said that Nehru will talk his language when he is gone and not as the writer makes it out to be - a back handed acceptance of modernity by Gandhiji.

About modernity and Gandhiji that is a different debate, more perhaps another day.

1 comment:

bhupinder said...

Thanks a lot for the quote from Sevagram. Gandhiji's view were evolving and I knew that at least in practise he disapproved his own thesis in Hind Swaraj- he travelled more by Indian railways for example despite his opposition to them.

However, I still think that it was JLN who needs to be credited with thinking on economic policies rather than MG. The latter's overarching concern remained winning political independence.

Read by Label