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Gandhi remains as relevant today as in his time

Thus the mantra of development should be spirituality with high technology. Both these things allow us to reduce our greed for resources and live in harmony with nature – something that Gandhi preached intuitively all his life.

Anil K. Rajvanshi Oct 01, 2022
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Mahatma Gandhi

October 2 is Mahatma Gandhi’s 153rd birth anniversary.  His ideas are as relevant today as they were when he propounded them in the early 1920s and 30s.

In fact, a whole book can be written about them.  He was a visionary and possessed a very powerful mind and hence thought deeply and wrote on basic human issues and problems facing India in those times. Those issues are as relevant today as were in his time.

I will touch on two areas, intolerance and sustainability. Intolerance is dividing our society and tearing into our social fabric and show how Gandhi’s teachings can help us.

Removing intolerance

Gandhiji was a compromiser par excellence. He would always consider the other party’s point of view and come up with solutions acceptable to all parties. Both in his legal and political work, he brought different parties together for the resolution of their problems.

The ability to compromise comes only when we are very tolerant of the other’s points of view and do not impose unilaterally the majority’s point of view. This ability comes to an individual when he is secure in the knowledge that the compromise solution leads toward the general good for all the people.

Gandhi who was fearless and hence a very secure human being always had the general good of all Indians in his mind whenever he offered solutions to knotty problems. Devoid of any ego and always looking for long-term solutions he appealed to warring parties to keep in sight the higher purpose of life and achieved great success.

Thus intolerance and catering to special interest groups, as is happening in our society today, is resulting in bans on various things and creating social tensions. This is an outcome of fear in the ruling politicians that if they do not do so they will not be elected, little realizing that if they keep on working for the general good of their constituency they will be elected easily and with much bigger margins.

Yoga can remove insecurities

Fear comes from insecurity which is an outcome of a brain that cannot resolve the issues after taking into account all eventualities. This inability to evaluate all outcomes transcends caste, creed, or economic situations. Thus most people - no matter whether they are rich or poor suffer from insecurities.  For poor, it is the insecurity of their future and for the rich on how to increase their wealth and power and keep it safe. It is the removal of these insecurities by a powerful brain that can rid us of fear. Yoga helps in developing such a brain through meditation and focusing on a single thought for a long time – called 'sanyam' by Patanjali.

Another way to get rid of fear is to be thankful for whatever we have and count our blessings.  If we do that continuously then it gives us a sense of contentment and happiness since our burdens and insecurities are reduced by the thought that somebody will be there to help us and everything will be fine.  This also has the ability to sublimate the greed impulse.

I also feel that the fear of missing out and the insecurity of what will happen in the future is what produces greed and in turn corruption and corrupt politicians. These corrupt politicians then become egotists and intolerant and hijack the agenda of India’s democracy for their selfish reasons.

Gandhi practiced both these things in his life – his regular and daily meditations and his deep belief in God and higher forces to whom he was grateful for everything that he achieved.  This helped him in becoming completely fearless.

Devoid of fear he was able to chart new paths in tolerance, taking everybody’s opinion and carrying all the people together for giving us independence and making this nation better.

Sustainable development

To my mind Gandhi’s greatest contribution to sustainable development was two-fold.  Firstly his experiments in simple living and high thinking.  He believed that with simple living the resources of the planet earth can sustain us comfortably and his famous saying that earth provides us enough for our needs but not for our greed is extremely apt today. Secondly his insistence on all-inclusive growth of the society and hence his focus on uplifting the bottom of the pyramid population.  Both these issues are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago when Gandhiji enumerated them.

Gandhi was an energy conservator par excellence.  He lived in his ashrams without electricity or any modern amenities. His insistence on the use of self/human labour for the majority of needs was legendary and was usually frowned upon by his closest colleagues who thought it was anti-progress and pushed back India to the stone ages. Nevertheless with the recent development of sophisticated man-machine interface technologies like free play radios, human-powered electricity-producing units for laptops, cell phones, etc, the use of self/human labour may be able to solve the twin problems of obesity and energy!

Gandhi believed in all-inclusive growth and felt that India can only become a great nation when its teeming and impoverished rural masses become better off.  He, therefore, focused on rural development for the last 30 years of his life and felt intuitively that future of India is in decentralized rural development. This vision which he stated in the 1920s is even more valid today after almost 100 years.

In order for this to happen, the creation of wealth and employment should take place in rural areas. I believe this is possible when agriculture provides both energy and food security for India in an economically viable manner. It is the land that provides the wealth of the country – a message that Gandhi always gave regarding rural development.

This strategy requires strengthening the farmers and farming sector. The present farming laws may not somehow do so.  I strongly feel that when the farmers are neglected the long-term sustainability of the country is threatened.  When farms produce both food and fuel then their utility becomes manifold.  

In India 65 per cent of its population depends on farming and with energy from agriculture as a major focus, India has the potential of becoming a high-tech farming community. This will help improve the rural environment and create better India, something that Gandhiji always stressed.

I also believe that this can be done by the use of high technology for rural applications. High technology allows the conversion of abundant locally available 'dilute' energy resources like biomass, solar, wind etc. into useful end-products and services. Together with modern methods of production and distribution they can also be very economically feasible.  In this process, we need to follow nature and so the mantra of technology development should be biomimicry.

Tolerant and happy society

Every citizen of this earth aspires to a decent lifestyle. I believe such a lifestyle is possible with much less energy than is consumed by an average US citizen. For example, in the US the per capita energy consumption is ~300 GJ/yr, whereas in India it is a low of 18 GJ/yr. If every citizen of India has the consumptive lifestyle of Americans, then all the resources of earth will only be sufficient for India alone.

I feel energy consumption of 50-70 GJ/person/yr or one-fifth that of the US can provide a decent and emotionally satisfying lifestyle.  This energy consumption will give the lifestyle that Europeans had in 1970s. This type of energy consumption will put much less pressure on the earth’s resources besides reducing substantially the environmental pollution.  However, it can only happen if each one of us follows the Gandhian maxim of ‘simple living and high thinking’.

I also believe that the whole purpose of our existence is to increase personal and societal infrastructure. Personal infrastructure includes our health, happiness, and general well-being.  By improving our personal ‘infrastructure’ through spirituality, we become better human beings and it helps in our emotional growth and evolution.  By giving back to society so that its ‘infrastructure’ increases we help in mankind’s evolution.  Both these activities when carried out simultaneously, can give us great joy and satisfaction – a message that Gandhiji gave through his actual work and experiments.

Thus the mantra of development should be spirituality with high technology. Both these things allow us to reduce our greed for resources and live in harmony with nature – something that Gandhi preached intuitively all his life.

So on this Gandhi Jayanti day let us remember and put into practice the teachings of Gandhi so that we become a tolerant and happy society. This will help in making a better India.

(The writer, an IIT and US-educated Indian engineer,  a 2022 Padma Shri award winner, is Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra. Views are personal. He can be reached at anilrajvanshi@gmail.com)

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