By Radha Bhatt
Gandhi called swadeshi as swadeshi dharma. It was an integral part of his eleven vows. He described it as the greatest vow of the age. Therefore, to look at this revolutionary human value merely as an instrument to overcome the present state of economic crisis is not only unfair but also to lose its real strength.
In fact, economy is not so an important aspect of human existence as it is being made out today. Material achievement is nothing more than a means in the context of wholesome life of man. It can never become an end or the purpose of human existence. Therefore, any economic system which takes the creation of wealth as an end in itself could never achieve a solid
foundation. We have to understand the intricacies of present worldwide economic crisis. We can easily see that the greatest
weakness of the present thinking is that we have made consumerism as the primary aim of our life. A country like ours
with its ancient culture had had an entirely different view of material wealth. For us the real wealth comprised of air, water,
nature, land, ether etc. It meant that all those resources which were needed for the sustenance of human life actually
constituted the real wealth. Unfortunately, today wealth is measured in terms of money which is printed on paper and used
in exchange. It is eating into the vitals of rich heritage and prosperity of the world. Thus, the world economic crisis is
unnecessarily being overemphasised. The real crisis consists of dying of the rivers, depletion of ground water, disappearance of
glaciers, flow of the waste material into the seas, hole in ozone layer, emission of excess CO2, methane and other acids in the
air which are destroying the very foundation of earth. Not only that, the top layer of the soil is also being destroyed. These are
real crises which are not being given due consideration in the discourse on economic crisis. In this context, it is relevant to
meditate on Gandhi's mahamantra of swadeshi which alone can lead the way to human salvation. Swadeshi, i.e.,
neighbourhood or localism has to be imbibed not only in the field of economy but also in science and other aspects of social
order. It is our misfortune that today we are looking down upon our own old life style or old local knowledge. Swadeshi, in fact,
has been destroyed in the process of pseudo scientific intervention in life and blind faith in science and technology
which had become instruments of profiteering. Consequently every aspect of human life viz. food, cloth, sport, education,
culture etc. has become the real victims of centralisation. Let us talk about the system of our food. The grains are taken from the village to the godowns of Food Corporation of India (FCI). Subsequently it is again sent back to the village retail shops
through trucks and trains. In the process, a lot of fuel is wasted which is so scarce and precious. Besides, a lot of resources are wasted in construction of mega roads. Moreover, a lot of land is also wasted in these schemes of things. All this unnecessary
expenditure is added to the price-structure of grains, fruits and vegetables thus they go beyond the reach of common man. This
kind of market system is creating lot of problems both for the consumer as well as producers. The problem of disposal of
solid waste, pollution, criminalisation, ever increasing tentacles of immoral living, destruction of neighbourly feelings and
above all the naked indulgence in corruption are some of its manifestation.
Swadeshi could be really a link between rural and urban centres. We could develop a system for food exchange comprising an area of ten villages. Thus a village market could become a real centre for sale and purchase of village goods. If this is done there will be neither misuse of fuel nor the ill effects of climate change. What is more, grains will not rot in government godowns; nor it will be eaten up by the rats. Not only that there will be no black marketing, no starvation, nor immorality or cruelty in the society. In such a situation a self reliant but interdependent society would emerge giving a deep sense of self respect to the people. This is so because as per swadeshi mantra one would buy and sell goods only in the neighborhood and would not import the goods we could produce in our locality or country. The only way to build up a self reliant and strong nation is to adopt swadeshi from local level to the national level. This will also lead to emergence of a new international order free from exploitation. Hence the real need is to adopt a national policy in favour of the interest of producers, farmers, workers, weavers and artisans. For their dignity and interests, all policies governing market, finance, education, health, environment etc. should be formulated. On this score we are even lagging behind the neighbouring countries. Steep inequalities coupled with violent expression of peoples' anger are virtually eating into the vitals for our country. It is very strange that a country like ours wherein nature has been so bountiful, but due to our mismanagement it is becoming a victim of mass poverty, unemployment and food scarcity. All these are the result of wrong priorities of our national planning.
I am firmly of the opinion that giving a kilo of rice for Rs.2 and daily wage of Rs.100 to the farmers and workers is nothing but an insult to their dignity. I further think that it would be much better to give them responsibility of managing local resources like water, forest, land as well as the right to fix the price of their produce. In the lexicon of Gandhi, this will be the true national policy. Even today agriculture is the mainstay of people giving employment to almost 55% of our population. Besides, there are millions of weavers who have become unemployed because of centralised industrial textile policy. It is unfortunate that these sections of our people are forced to work as riksha pullers, restaurant workers, coolie and small vegetable vendors and engaged in other menial works. What is more they are forced to spend their life on the urban roads having no roof over their heads. If right kind of policies in respect of forest, agriculture, textile etc. is formulated, the peasants, workers and weavers would on their own come out of the grip of poverty. Besides, the country could easily become self- reliant in respect of food, clothing and other things of day to day use. It is wellknown fact that a country can not retain its freedom if it goes with a begging bowl to other countries. All these things happen because industry becomes the first priority of the government and in the process, interest of rural population is ignored. It is very unfortunate that instead of looking for the potentialities of our own people, our planners have been modeling our development policies earlier on the western pattern now on the Chinese. In fact the entire global system is based on extreme exploitation of natural as well as human resources. The primary objective of such a policy is profiteering. Hence, instead of distributive justice they are pursuing a policy of loot. As a result wealth is getting concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and the entire government policies are geared to their interests. And this is being called growth which fails to look after the interests of approximately 67% percent of our population who eke out their living on the daily earning of 12 to 20 rupees. Only the policy of swadeshi could bring such large population into the main stream of our national life. It gives the highest priority to every citizen of our country without any discrimination in respect of their basic needs. Swadeshi seeks to build up a society based on non-violence, equality and justice. Further it seeks to restore peoples' power. Thus the wealth created out of labour and co-operation would belong to the entire society. Moreover, it will also obliterate the distinction between the mental and manual work. Thus productive labour will find pride of place in the society prompting every member to do his or her bit to our national life. Swadeshi gives a new social philosophy. Both Marxist and Gandhians stand for an egalitarian society. But the problem is that in Marxian scheme, violence had been given the place of pride. On the other hand Gandhi underscores the centrality of non-violence. With the collapse of Soviet Union, Capitalism has got a new lease of life. Capitalism is not only destroying the natural resources of the world but also posing a direct affront to human dignity. As a result violence is becoming the order of the day in every walk of human life. One is reminded of the prediction made by Gandhi that the modern western civilization will perish, is coming true. Hence it is time to take to the way of swadeshi which could work as an effective alternative leading to a new social order free from exploitation, inequality and domination. Such policy of swadeshi needs to be pursued from village to international level. Let us note that swadeshi also involves decentralisation of power and leadership. There is an urgent need for collective and decentralised leadership at every level of our national life. In old parlance it is called gansevaktva – servant of the collective. It is high time that Gandhians take to such new pattern of collective and decentralised leadeship. We must face this challenge. I would like to congratulate the organisers of this Seminar for providing me an opportunity to do fresh rethinking on swadeshi in the context of the problems faced by our people. I am sure that the deliberations of this seminar will yield some concrete results prompting us to take the message to the wider society. We should not stop at mere intellectual deliberations; it is the time to take the Mahamantra and mahavrat of swadeshi to the universal level. There is no need to imitate the American or the Chinese way. India has swadeshi mahavrat; which alone can point a way out of the present impasse not only for India but for the entire humanity.
Source: 'Countinuing Relevance of Swadeshi', 2012