Development is the only mantra today for many Indians, it seems. Making Mr Narendra Modi the Prime Minister would mean putting India on the magical highway to economic development, they argue. What they fail to understand is that the kind of development that prevailing economic theories and systems can provide is a highly flawed one.
It is good to look back at some classical notions when confronted with crises. Mahatma Gandhi had some very illuminating views on development. All of his views may not be relevant in today’s situation and may not be practical either. Yet it is worth revisiting a few relevant ideas.
Gandhi said: “That you cannot serve God and Mammon is an economic truth of the highest value. Western nations today are groaning under the heel of the monster-god of materialism. Their moral growth has become stunted. They measure their progress in pounds and dollars. American wealth has become the standard. She is the envy of the other nations. I have heard many of our countrymen say that we will gain American wealth but avoid its methods. I venture to suggest that such an attempt if it were made is foredoomed to failure.”
Gandhi also said: “I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of the few, but in the hands of all. Today machinery merely helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it all is not the philanthropy to save labour, but greed. It is against this constitution of things that I am fighting with all my might.”
The views are highly relevant today, decades after they were expressed. Just a decade back, Dr Fritjof Capra wrote in his book, The Hidden Connections, “The United States projects its tremendous power around the world to maintain optimal conditions for the perpetuation and expansion of production. The central goal of its vast empire ... is not to expand its territory, nor to promote freedom and democracy, but to make sure that it has global access to natural resources and that markets around the world remain open to its products. Accordingly, political rhetoric in America moves swiftly from ‘freedom’ to ‘free trade’ and ‘free markets’. the free flow of capital and goods is equated with the lofty ideal of human freedom, and material acquisition is portrayed as a basic human right, increasingly even as an obligation.” (emphasis added)
The American model of development, which many in India today have bought lock, stock, and barrel, is rooted in plain greed and nothing else. The antidote is what Gandhi had suggested long ago: fulfil your need and control your greed. Otherwise we will only create a planet of aggressive people grabbing for more and more, endlessly. There will be no peace in such a world, no joy. What’s the point of living without peace and joy?