23 May 2020

Atma Nirbharta - the Local way

There is an alternate voice in this country, and in other parts of the world, which questions the assumptions and systems of modern globalised society. This voice has been speaking for a long time in favour of the local, and of strengthening the local community.
Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about meeting the challenges post-Corona and used the term 'local' repeatedly, to the delight of the alternative world. Being slogan-minded, he also asked us to be 'vocal about local'. I would like, in this blog, to be vocal about local, and attempt to go beyond the slogan and to also examine what local means.
We have heard the phrase self-sufficiency and self-reliance or atma-nirbharta, for a long time. Gandhiji has used it. Jawaharlal Nehru used it a lot. So did Indira Gandhi. Morarji Desai used it. And now Narendra Modi is using it. The words are the same yet what they mean could be quite different. So it would be helpful to go beyond the phrase and understand what local and atma-nirbharta mean in their vision. Here are a few parameters:
1) 'Local' has many levels: One can visualise a self-organised sufficiency at the level of even a family or a village, or at the level of district, or the state. Or for some others, 'local' can actually represent the country as a whole, a type of nationalism.
⇒ For Gandhiji, the feeling of swavalamban in every village was the key to his vision of swadeshi. If the village or a group of villages (gram sabha) produced most of the goods of daily consumption locally, it would be largely self-sufficient. More complicated items of production could be done at small-scale factories at the district level. If every district was self-sufficient upto 80 or 90 per cent of its needs, then India as a nation would naturally become atma-nirbhar. That was his vision of the local.
⇒ For Jawaharlal Nehru the concept of 'local' did not mean small-scale production at the village level or even the district level. In fact, he was quite hateful of the village, considering it to be backward. In Nehru's vision, local meant national. India becoming self-sufficient meant that large government-sponsored institutions had to make the nation self-reliant, or atma-nirbhar.
⇒ For Narendra Modi too, local means national self-reliance, there is no concept of decentralised district level, village level swavalamban. The difference between him and Nehru is that Modi does not want government institutions doing production, he favours private corporations. In his vision, Indian companies should produce things and be big multi-national players in the global market - this will make India atma-nirbhar.
2) Means & Ends: Should we achieve 'local' through local means or achieve local by going global?
⇒ Mahatma Gandhi was convinced that means and ends were related and had to be in sync, that is, one cannot achieve good ends through wrong means (for eg., health cannot be attained through means of polluting lifestyle). So for him, local means 'small is beautiful'. Local production to him meant using local technologies, local tools, and continuing the practise of traditional local livelihoods which were intertwined with local customs and practices.
  For example, when he was offered the Wardha land by Jamnalal Bajaj and a hut was to be built there for him, Gandhiji put a condition that the hut be built with materials sourced from within 10 square kilometers*. Local artisans were to be used, the hut was to incorporate local technology and local design, and  much of the money went to the local economy.
⇒ Jawaharlal Nehru felt just the opposite. He was enamoured of the British. He went for modern machinery and followed the techniques of western nations. From atomic energy to heavy engineering and big dams, he took western tools and methods and ideas; even his philosophy was Russian style western socialist ideology - with this, he tried to make India atma-nirbhar.
. Morarji Desai being a follower of Gandhian principles, was caught in the middle. He wanted to favour local and agricultural enterprise but could not show the vision. So while personally spinning the charkha with dedication, he allowed foreign products and methods but put a condition that the company had to be at least 50 per cent Indian. Coca-cola and IBM left the country as a result, and his government was at least brave enough to take on the MNCs.
⇒ Narendra Modi seems to be a fan of latest technology - digital, internet, social media, apps, etc. Like Nehru, he also looks to the west for ideas, and takes their monetary and economic policy, as also their technologies and strategies. For leadership ideas in a globalised world, Modi seems to be imitating China, wanting to become atma-nirbhar by beating the west in its capitalist game. For both Nehru and Modi, local means India becoming 'big and powerful'.
3) Does going 'local' involve only economic production? Or does local vision include local governance, local education, and local art, craft, design and technology?
⇒ For Gandhiji, atma-nirbharta was a natural result of practising swadeshi. And swadeshi philosophy promotes a highly decentralised governance system with strong and independent local communities - an empowered gram swaraj with maximium self-governance; a total change of the British system of centralised governance.
  Swadeshi also means appropriate education to suit local needs; Gandhiji's concept of Buniyaadi Shiksha (or Nai Taleem) was to strengthen the local community, so that people were prosperous in the village, not forced to migrate to cities and be exploited as labourers.
⇒ Unfortunately, not a single Prime Minister since independence has shown a vision of strong local community. All of them have happily continued the colonial system of centralised governance with power controlled by those at the top. Our bureaucrats are also real culprits here, conspiring to not allow a devolution of power.
  On the issue of education system, Nehru and Indira gladly allowed the colonial system of education to continue - Nehru in fact is guilty of discarding Gandhiji's vision of buniyadi shiksha. Every Indian Prime Minister has blindy accepted the modern education system - not one of them has questioned the fact that it destroys the local.
  Modi maintains the same western system of education and has shown no inclination for a local shiksha sanskaar.
4) Does 'local' have any connection to ecology and environment and sustainability? Does being atma-nirbhar have any connection with nature and its balance?
. If we implement 'local' as a non-centralised, small-scale production system using local raw materials, if the system aims at self-reliance at the level of the village and district, if it means maximum local consumption and minimum transportion, if it means respecting local environmental customs, then 'local' will be sustainable and ensure a balanced ecology.
. If we implement 'local' as a system where Indian companies too have to become multinationals, if it means they have to adopt mass production techniques, if it means destroying forests and increasing pollution for industrial growth, if it means that Indian companies have to beat the west in its own game, then our environment and the earth's ecology will be destroyed faster than we can imagine.
5) Does 'local' have any connection to morality & ethics, to spirituality?
⇒ For Gandhiji, Swadeshi meant a continuity of spiritual exploration of the community, an acceptance with gratitude of local philosophy and cultural values, while also testing them rigorously to see if they were established in Truth, and to remove their faults and to perfect them.
  Efforts at personal transformation were to him an integral part of being prepared for community living.
⇒ Nehru and Indira represented the modern cosmopolitan (so common among socialists of that era), who looked at our saints and gurus through the prism of western intellectual concepts of religion. Somehow, they became blind to the significance of the spiritual history and pursuit of Indian civilisation.
⇒ Morarji Desai spun the charkha, revered the Gita, and was outspoken about the need for spiritual development of the self and of living in simplicity. His vision did not, however, translate into political or social action.
⇒ Narendra Modi comes from a party which uses the words Hindu, Sanskaar, Parampara, etc. but more in the western sense of nationalism and patriotism. 'Hindu' as an identity, but not as a civilisation and world-view. So there is no exploration of the Hindu or Indian way of economics, the Indian way of governance, the Indian way of education, or most importantly, the question of human spiritual development through our darshans. They seem keen to make India into a Hindu America.
* * *
There is one outcome which comes from status quo, i.e., from modern systems, from global size, from ambition & domination, from a society of competition.
There is another outcome which comes from a radical exploration of gram vyavastha, from wisdom & simplicity, from small-scale activity, from a society of togetherness.
What does 'local' mean to you? which outcome of 'local' leads to atma-nirbharta (self-reliance)?
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(* Gandhiji asked that all materials be sourced from within 20 kilometers of the site. Thank you, Ashutosh Jani, for pointing this out.

7 May 2020

Intoxicated Governments

There have been quite a few jokes on social media about the re-opening of wine shops after lockdown and the thirsty rush to grab a bottle. There are also some funny but thought-provoking comments and videos showing how liquor is going to restart the economy.
I recall an incident of 1996-97,  a conversation with Chandrababu Naidu one year after he became chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. He had enacted a prohibition law as part of his election promise but after just one year, he was withdrawing it. He said that his own bureaucrats were putting pressure on him that ‘without revenue from liquor sales, we cannot run schools and hospitals’.

18 May 2019

On Gandhi & Godse

Gandhiji has been attacked by extremists from so many directions - the RSS, the Communists, the Liberals, the Ambedkarites, the Feminists.
Divided and fighting like dogs amongst one another, in their hatred for Gandhiji however, they are as one. Extremism is a venom which is poisoning society, and one is deeply concerned today.
Both Kamal Hassan and Pragya Thakur can say or announce who they admire, and who they detest. For me, that is not the issue. But they do this from exclusive extremist positions. You don't have to hold a gun to be an extremist, it is a state of mind. To me, Kamal Hassan and Pragya Thakur are both extremists. As are the finger-pointing passionates from other areas. Hatred is not the prerogative of extremists of the so-called Right. The extremists of the Left, the Dalits, the Feminists, are also their companions.

18 February 2017

On Digital Money and Urban Shit

    First there was the swachchata concept which put pressure on the poor to build cement-walled toilets. Thousands of poor families living on city streets and slums, and in ramshackle village huts, actually smiled at the irony of this. No roof over the head, no land to call one’s own, and we have to build a toilet with walls,  plumbing and drainage!
    Following this has come the cashless concept which is putting pressure on the poor to perform electronic transfer of funds. And the poor are shaking their heads with despair because ‘cashless’ just about sums up their state of being. With daily-wage dependence and hand-to-mouth existence, they barely have money to meet their needs, let alone save and spend through digital transfers.

21 January 2017

On Obama, Education and Slavery

For a person who normally critiques globalization and the undue influence of the west over the rest, I should not be adding more attention to Barack Obama’s end of presidency than to what is already a sycophantic prostration being offered by global media.
But yet, I feel that one must not let this moment pass, without a due test of western democracy, which the USA represents; of the notion of equality, which Obama being a black president represents; and of modern liberal education, which is being touted as the means to that equality, but which to my mind is the blight of modernity.
Please allow me to explain.

5 December 2016

Anthems as Means and Ends

    Respected Supreme Court Judges,
    I use the word ‘respected’ in earnest. No one has ordered me to respect you, at the threat of arrest or punishment; yet I feel respect for you, even though I am seated and not standing or saluting. As judges, you are educated intellectuals who have accepted an important responsibility in society, and I value that. But sirs, please note this: you have earned my respect by simply being human beings, that is sufficient. Your being in important positions only strengthens my expectations from you, of responsible guidance and wise counsel. And when there is a shortage in the fulfillment of those expectations, there will naturally be letters addressed to you, and this is one such.