Saturday, March 21, 2009

Gandhi and His 'Charkaa' Capitalism

I'm sure most people would think this as the most blasphemous thing to associate capitalism with Gandhi and Gandhism - which much like Hinduism is perhaps among the most misinterpreted isms in the world. People have even gone to the extent of saying that Gandhi's anti industrialism is of no use in today's world. Gandhi is often criticized of taking India backwards - away from industries. Well, I think Gandhi is the ideal capitalist of the world - at least for India.

In very simple words capitalism is an economic system where the wealth and the means to generate wealth are privately owned and controlled rather than state owned and controlled. The very essence of capitalism is to allow the production of wealth or 'capital' using one's merit, skill and expertise. Capitalism empowers people to be competitive and exert themselves to the maximum in order to reap the maximum benefit. Capitalism also indirectly promotes self independence. It's no wonder that only in an ideal capitalistic scenario can the poorest of the poor aspire to be the richest person in the country irrespective of his creed, background or social status. Capitalism creates classes based on the capabilities and the output of a person. The social status of a person gets associated with the work he does. He can always change his class by doing a work which is associated with a higher status. Off course there are several vices of capitalism. But I'd rather prefer to associate these vices with the exploitation of the essence of capitalism and not with the principle of capitalism.

India has been always capitalistic since the early phases of her civilization. The class system invoked by the Aryans in 2nd millennium BC was purely based on the work distribution. Certain type of work was associated with a lower social status than others. But the idea of classes was purely based on division on labour, though the very essence degenerated in the later times. In ancient Indian mythologies there are multiple instances of people of lower classes moving to a higher class by accumulating wealth. Creation of wealth was never controlled by the king or the state. Anyone from any class had the right to create wealth. The division of labour, which often became hereditary, ensured that the skill required to create wealth is never lost or wasted but nurtured and enhanced with times. People were allowed to produce goods or services that they were best at. More production was always associated with more wealth. Perhaps that was the reason why throughout the long recorded history of four thousand years India has been always the most prosperous country in the world. Based on the researches made on the historical GDP data of various regions since 1st century AD, India has always contributed to more than 20% of the world GDP till the beginning of the British colonization. India and China were always the biggest and most prosperous nations in the world in the recorded economic history till 1800 AD. The prosperity can be easily attributed to the capitalistic nature of the economy. Jawaharlal Nehru has pointed in his 'Discovery of India' that the rulers of India always tried their best to maintain an environment congineal for cultivation and harvest, production of goods and trade and commerce. The economy was very much localized, with the village working as independent self sustaining economic units. There was a sort of unwritten rule that no ruler would disturb the trade and commerce and destroy crops. Until the invasion of the Muslim rulers from Iran in 14th century AD, India never saw plundering or mass slaughtering by the conqueror, though India has been conquered by foreign rulers since time immemorial. The flourishing trade and commerce was never tampered with even when the rulers changed at the top. In many cases the village economy almost remain unaffected even with the change of an entire dynasty at the center. Also the distribution of the work forces was very interesting. Less than half of the people were involved in agriculture and the remaining in production of various goods like pottery, artisanry, metal works, construction and others. That's exactly opposite to what we see now in India, where about 70% are involved in farming. 

For the first time India lost her capacity to produce at her best when the British captured major part of India. The self sustaining and flourishing rural economy, where the creation of wealth was always owned by the people themselves, was totally ruined. The British rulers started to dictate which crop to be cultivated, how much to be sold at and whom to sell. They gradually took the control of everything, thus destroying the capitalist economy of India. The result was the fast decline in India's GDP. In 1700 India's GDP under the Mughal rule was highest in the world -  contributing 24% of world GDP. In 1820 India's share of world GDP declined to 16% (compared to China's 33%) and in 1950 when the British rule ended it was only 4.2%. The cause of this decline was just due to the fact that the rural self sustaining economic fabric of India was destroyed totally by the British authorities. People didn't have the right to do what they could do best. Instead they were forced to do things that they never had done in the past. Unemployment increased many folds at a fast pace. Everything was controlled by the state. Also the non-agricultural works were made to perish. The only employment available to the people who had created high class products with metal and wood for the past four thousand years was agriculture. Thus the ratio of people involved in farming increased considerably to close to 80%. That's a very unviable model for a good economy.

When this was the scenario, Gandhi tried to just the very simple thing that had kept the Indian economy the most prosperous in the world for four thousand years.  He wanted to make the people of rural India self sufficient. Now-a-days almost every one speaks about empowering the rural India because they are the prospective consumers and they alone can drive the economy if they have the buying power. That's exactly what Gandhi wanted to do. He wanted the Indians to take care of their own means of creating wealth rather than expecting the state to do something for them. That's what is the essence of capitalism. Yes, it's true that the entire 'chakraa' and the Swadeshi movement was symbolic, but the principle on which he did that was purely driven by a capitalist idea of empowering people to own wealth and the means of creating wealth. Don't HLL or Procter & Gamble or Glaxo SmithKlime Beecham or ITC or Nokia also want to do the same now - to enable the rural India to have more money so that they can buy more? So isn't Gandhi's 'chakraa' the symbol of a capitalism?

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