The Global Financial Meltdown and Gandhian PhilosophyBy confluence | August 21st, 2009 | Category: Business |
Under the auspices of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre, Colombo, Sri Lanka, Professor Veena Sikri delivered a lecture on the abovementioned subject on Monday, 22nd June 2009. Professor Sikri is Chairperson, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and a former Indian High Commissioner to Malaysia and Bangladesh. Formed in 2006, the Mahatma Gandhi Centre, Colombo, pursues a programme in ‘Nation Building and Good Governance’, in which community participation and empowerment are encouraged. The goal is Sarvodaya, a term coined by Gandhi, made up of Sarva (all, universal) and Udaya (awakening, upliftment). The focus of the Centre is on building self-reliance, public health, social welfare, literacy and awareness in the people of their civic rights.
Professor Sikri began by quoting Gandhi’s observation that the world has enough for all our needs but not enough for our greed. Greed, untrammelled by consideration for others or by thought of the consequence of our actions; greed that prompts the heedless pursuit of wealth (and the power and status money brings), are the cause of much of the present global crisis. While some pursue wealth without limit, millions are unable to meet the bare minimum needs of their families. In this situation, can the Mahatma’s teachings, almost a hundred years old, be of relevance and use?
The spiritual and ethical dimensions of the word “wealth” have been lost, and the term now has an exclusively material meaning. (In society, the comment that he or they are “doing very well” invariably means that he or they have money. Oscar Wilde commented that we know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.) However, Professor Sikri stressed that Mahatma Gandhi did not in any way glorify poverty. (Only those who have money are likely to say that money is not important.) On the contrary, Gandhi said poverty dehumanizes human beings, undermines their sense of dignity and self-respect, wastes their potential and deprives their lives of all sense of meaning and purpose.
With man at the centre of his view of the universe, Gandhi attached the highest value to full employment. For Gandhi, work and gainful employment for every individual was an important right, as well as a moral duty. Work provides every individual the all-important sense of self-respect and dignity, together with self-discipline, self restraint and a measure of social recognition. It is through work that each individual participates in and contributes to society. Full employment is the most appropriate means of poverty eradication.
The world has enough for all our needs but not enough for our greed
Full employment is the most appropriate means of poverty eradication.
Meeting basic needs such as food, clothing, housing, education and healthcare, must be centred on the village council or Gram Sabha, so that the recipients themselves play an active role in the maintenance and administration of such facilities. For day-to-day operations, the Gram Sabha elects a Gram Panchayat, which also discharges the functions of maintaining law and order, and the administration of justice in all matters arising within, and relating to, the village. This is the concept of Grama Rajya. Gandhi saw the individual as being at the centre of a set of concentric circles that move from him right up to the central or federal government.
Gandhi found that during the time of the Rig Veda (1200 BCE), gram sabhas and gram panchayats functioned as institutions of grass-roots governance in almost every village. The elected village panchayat (council of five persons) had substantial executive and judicial powers. Over time, this system was replaced by a much more feudalistic system of governance where feudal chiefs and revenue collectors (zamindars) emerged as the intermediaries between the rulers and the people. Under British colonial rule the autonomy of the panchayat eroded still further. Gandhi’s aim was to return to a non-exploitative society.
The Mahatma firmly believed in the perspective of economic growth, development and poverty eradication that focused not on the elite or the ‘haves’ but on the poorest individual among the ‘have-nots’, said Professor Sikri. He would have completely rejected the presently fashionable ‘trickle down’ theory of growth that supports the policy of providing tax-cuts or other benefits to businesses and rich individuals in the belief that this will indirectly benefit the poorest sections of society. This theory, based on supply side economics, believes that any increase in gross domestic product, no matter what its source, will help the poor. The glaring inequalities of wealth that this process brings would have been seen as unethical and morally repugnant by Gandhi. The purpose of maximising GNP (Gross National Product) must be the maximisation of Gross National Happiness.
The Earth Charter, adopted by consensus in 2000, grew out of the Brundtland Commission Report. The objective of the Earth Charter Initiative is to promote the transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework that includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. Many of these objectives are an integral part of the Gandhian way. Almost a hundred years later, the Mahatama’s perspective and values have not lost but, on the contrary, gained in relevance, importance and urgency.
Professor Sikri thanked the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for inviting her; commended their work, and wished the Centre success.
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