By Swarnima Gupta
Edited by Nandini Bhatia, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Walking in the streets of Delhi early one morning, one of his workers said to him, “In the hour of decision you are not in the picture. You and your ideals have been given the go-by.”
“Yes,” Gandhi said bitterly in reply, “everybody is eager to garland my photos and statues. But nobody wants to follow my advice.”
Two centuries of struggle for Indian independence, with Gandhi and his ideals as the symbol of the struggle for the most recent decades, were finally culminating and India was on the verge of winning its freedom. But this hour of victory for Gandhi was the hour of one of his biggest failures: his followers and the future leaders of his greatest nation had acceded to the demand for partition.
In his last hours, the man, dejected and disappointed, had remarked on the irony: the world could revere him but was unwilling to follow him.
The India of today still worships him as the father of the nation, but how relevant are his ideas in today’s world? The world which is a witness to assaults in the name of religion and a spectator of corruption in the name of development.
Gandhi said, “whenever you are in doubt recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him?”
Simply put: while forming policies and initiating development, we need to remember that India is inhabited by 300 million poor people and the government’s immediate need is to drive these people out of the bottom of the pyramid. The needs of the poorest people should receive the topmost priority in development planning.
For Gandhi, India lived in its villages. Till today, about 70 percent of the population lives in India’s villages. And while there is a need to develop 100 smart cities, the greater need is to connect those villages to the mainstream, bringing to them the fruits of development: basic amenities like healthcare and sanitation.
It has been 65 years since the man endorsed the India of cleanliness, and the country still needs a “Swatch Bharat Abhiyan”. India of today suffers from problems that are as basic as those of
yesteryears. Despite being the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity, India still performs poorly on the social indicators of progress.
So, has our growth story been in vain? No, it hasn’t. But there is a long way to go, and the solution is perhaps as simple as the simplicity of the man who endorsed it decades ago: the solution is to educate and hence encompass the masses, or as Modi famously remarked: “make development a people’s movement”.
The problems of today are as basic as those of seven decades ago: India is a poor nation: its 1.2 billion people have a per capita income that is rising; but its millions of households struggle for their daily meals: they struggle in remote unknown villages as well as the heartlands of its cities as residents of the thousands of slums.
The debate is not about pitting socialism against capitalism. The debate is not about liberalization: Yes, it is imperative to accelerate economic growth, but with that, the goal of real progress: of developing the villages and empowering the poor needs major focus: the Gandhian idea needs to come to the forefront.
Gandhi spent the last years of his existence trying to build a truly secular nation living in harmony, but his India of today still goes up in flames: on protests against cinema or literature that “hurt” religious sentiments. Religion should preach what that man with faith preached-tolerance and non violence.
But perhaps it’s enough to worship the man’s idols, following his ideals wasn’t necessary.
The India today needs another Gandhi: who can harness our real potential by mobilizing the biggest resource: the 1.2 billion people, and reemphasize on his idea of all pervasive growth, reignite the spirit of harmony. India today needs another Gandhi, not as a mere photograph in government offices or as a statue in municipal parks, but as the beliefs and ideologies that brought down the biggest imperial force in history.
Swarnima Gupta is a final year student pursuing B.A.(Hons). Economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce. very early age, she developed a passion for penning her thoughts on paper. Being a member of the Editorial Board of The Economics Society, SRCC developed her passion to write about current economic and political issues. As a member of Enactus SRCC, an international non profit organization, she has worked on various social entrepreneurship models. She also enjoys playing chess and is a die hard Shahrukh Khan fan!