Swadeshi and the economic development of India

Stu Crawford

Mohandas Gandhi presented a very useful and well thought out model for economic development in India. Gandhi saw the importance of the rural economy and thought that poverty could be alleviated by revitalizing village economies of agriculture and craft production by employing simple technologies on a local scale. Gandhi felt that India's reliance on imports from other nations was the cause of much hardship in India and that economies should be locally sustainable. Far from seeing industrialism as a cure, Gandhi felt that industrialism was based on the exploitation of people and could only result in poverty for a high percentage of the population(1).

Gandhi's model of economic development was based on Swadeshi(2). Swadeshi is a religious discipline. It is a rule of life. Swadeshi restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings at the expense of the more remote. This makes Swadeshi culturally conservative and economically localist. When dealing with religion, Swadeshi would have us use our ancestral religion. When dealing with politics Swadeshi would have us use indigenous institutions. If these were found to be lacking in any respect they should be improved upon. In economics, Swadeshi would have us use only things that are produced by our immediate neighbors. We should work to make those industries more efficient and complete where they might be found lacking.

Swadeshi dictates that it is each person's duty to find neighbors who can supply our wants. Neighbors who want a healthy occupation and do not know how to proceed should be taught how to supply our needs. Swadeshi would have every village in India become an almost self-supporting and self-contained unit, trading only for commodities that are necessary and not locally producible. This means that one should always use home-made things instead of foreign things as long as such use is necessary for the protection of a home industry.

An understanding of economics shows us that buying things from distant people can be harmful. Gandhi's analysis of the problems in India showed him that the poverty of the masses was a result of a departure from locally sustainable economies. Swadeshi thus arises out of the philosophy of non-violence. Non-violence in this case means purchasing everything locally that one can. One must not serve a distant neighbor at the expense of the nearest neighbors, and should refuse to buy anything if it injures or interferes with the personal growth of those around them. It is our immediate duty is to dedicate ourselves to the service of our immediate neighbors. This is in no way selfish or exclusive because it does not involve the exploitation of any other human being. The principle of Swadeshi serves all of humanity by having us act in the manner that benefits our community.

The following quote from Gandhi emphasizes the non-violence aspect of Swadeshi(3).

I would urge that Swadeshi is the only doctrine consistent with the law of humility and love. It is arrogance to think of launching out to serve the whole of India when I am hardly able to serve even my own family. It were better to concentrate my effort upon the family and consider that through them I was serving the whole nation and, if you will, the whole of humanity. This is humility and it is love.

The motive will determine the quality of the act. I may serve my family regardless of the sufferings I may cause to others. As, for instance, I may accept an employment which enables me to extort money from people. I enrich myself thereby and then satisfy many unlawful demands of the family. Here I am neither serving the family nor the State.

Or I may recognize that God has given me hands and feet only to work with for my sustenance and for that of those who may be dependent upon me. I would then at once simplify my life and that of those whom I can directly reach. In this instance, I would have served the family without causing injury to anyone else. Supposing that every one followed this mode of life, we should have at once an ideal state. All will no reach that state at the same time. But those of us who, realizing its truth, enforce it in practice, will clearly anticipate and accelerate the coming of that happy day.

The Swadeshi model of economic development serves India at the exclusion of every other country, but does so in such a way as to not harm any other country in the process. Gandhi did not propose to stand in the way of development with Swadeshi. He simply saw that India should produce for itself those items that it could produce, and that India should not be reliant on foreign commodities. In this way Gandhi sought to alleviate poverty and exploitation in India without in turn exploiting another nation. Gandhi's interpretation of Swadeshi was not against trade, but rather saw trade as a solution to certain problems that was not to be used indiscriminately(4).

Gandhi saw that adopting a Swadeshi model of development would result in personal sacrifices of some. Gandhi spoke out against privilege and monopoly. He felt that all material benefits should be shared by everyone. Gandhi saw that this meant that no one person could enjoy an excessively high standard of living. Gandhi advocated a reduction in material possessions so that all people could subsist comfortably. Gandhi was right. Currently the world is being exploited by a very small percentage of the population in an unsustainable manner. Currently 25% of the human population uses 70% of the resources of the planet (Goldemberg, 1995). And this resource use results in the destruction of approximately half of the net primary productivity of the planet (Vitousek et al, 1986). Gandhi was right in considering that the standard of living of the rich had to be reduced both for environmental sustainability and for social equality.

Unfortunately, Gandhi's vision of economic development in India never came true. Jawaharlal Nehru had an alternative idea of development and this took precedent over Swadeshi. Instead of becoming locally sustainable India went through a period of rapid westernization and industrialization. This happened because the three main interest groups with political power backed Nehru (Baviskar, 1999). The capitalist merchants and industrialists, technical and administrative bureaucracy, and rich farmers all wanted rapid industrialization because they stood to personally benefit from it. Because these groups had power Swadeshi was disregarded and a model of rapid industrialization was adopted, to the detriment of the majority of the population of India.

Nehru felt that villages were backward with no culture or intellect, and so progress could not come from them. Nehru felt that India needed an infusion of modern science and adoptation of large scale industrialization. Prosperity was to come through rapid industrialization and urbanization. As a result of this strange ideology the Indian government put the majority of its resources into developing industry and neglected agriculture. India also eventually opened up its borders to 'free trade' with other nations. The result of Nehru's plan was increased consumption and wealth for a few people and poverty for many. There has been increased urban congestion and increased air, water, and noise pollution.

The model of development that India used has not worked. The GDP of India has increased but this is an extremely flawed measure of progress (Anialski et al, 2000). The trickledown effect has not worked. The majority of the people in India benefit very little from industrialization. And they all lose when the Swadeshi model of development is rejected. India, and the rest of the world, should look at Gandhi's philosophy of Swadeshi to guide our economic and political decisions.


References cited

Anialski, M., A. Taylor, M. Griffiths, B. Campbell, D. Pollock, S. Wilson, and J. Wilson. 2000. The Alberta Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) Accounts: A Blueprint for the way we really live. A publication of the Pembina Institute for Appropiate Development, Drayton Valley, AB.

Baviskar, A. 1999. In the Belly of the River: Tribal conflicts over development of the Narmada Valley. Oxford India Paperbacks, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

Goldemberg, J. 1995. Energy needs in developing countries and sustainability. Science, 269 : 1058 - 1059.

Institute of Advanced Studies, 2001. Website <www.mkgandhi.org> published by the Institute of Advanced Studies, 135, Krishna Kunj, Quetta Colony, Lakadganj, Nagpur - 440 008 (MS)- India. April 4th, 2001.

Vitousek, P. M., P. R. Ehrlich, A. H. Ehrlich, and P. A. Matson. 1986. Human appropiation of the products of photosynthesis. BioScience, 36 : 368 - 373.

1. A quote from Gandhi taken from an excerpt of Gandhi's writing published by the Institute of Advanced Studies on their website <www.mkgandhi.org>: "Industrialism is, I am afraid, going to be a curse for mankind. Industrialism depends entirely on your capacity to exploit, on foreign markets being open to you, and on the absence of competitors."

2. All information on Swadeshi is taken from excerpts of Gandhi's writings that are published by the Institute of Advanced Studies on their website <www.mkgandhi.org>.

3. Taken from an excerpt of Gandhi's writing published by the Institute of Advanced Studies on their website <www.mkgandhi.org>.

4. A quote from Gandhi taken from an excerpt of Gandhi's writing published by the Institute of Advanced Studies on their website <www.mkgandhi.org>: "To reject foreign manufactures, merely because they are foreign and to go on wasting national time and money in the promotion in one's country of manufactures for which it is not suited would be criminal folly and a negation of the Swadeshi spirit."