November 25, 2017

A statesman of world importance

In this article Edward Goldsmith shows how Indira Gandhi betrayed the Gandhiism of the Mahatma in pursuing India’s industrialisation and urbanisation, and in imprisoning J P Narayan, political leader of the Sarvodaya Movement.

Published in The Ecologist Vol. 5 No. 7, August–September 1975.


Jayaprakash Narayan has been jailed along with other leaders of the Gandhian Movement and those of the Opposition parties which have recently allied themselves with it. Mrs. Indira Gandhi has thus played into the hands of her opponents, just as did the Vice-regal Government each time that it arrested Mahatma Gandhi, for experience has shown that there is no better way to alienate public sympathy than by arresting selfless patriots, and no more effective way to mobilize it than by contriving to be arrested. Indeed we are living a historic moment, for what Mrs. Gandhi has actually achieved is to set in motion a new satyagraha (non-violent resistance) campaign – this time against herself and what she stands for.

There is a certain logic in these developments. First of all Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP as he is affectionately known in India, along with Vinoba Bhave (now 80 years old) is the heir to Mahatma Gandhi. The latter is now the spiritual leader of the Gandhian or Sarvodaya Movement, the former its political leader. Though JP founded the Socialist Party of India, he never sought political power for himself and when Nehru invited him to join his Government he refused.

The Gandhian social philosophy is very profound and very beautiful, and provides a complete blueprint for life in a decentralised rural society living in harmony with its environment. Unfortunately it was never applied, for when Nehru came to power he repudiated it, and pursued instead the policies of westernisation and industrialisation initiated by the British Raj. This he did with a degree of zeal which no Colonial Government would have dared display, and his daughter Indira Gandhi has still further accelerated their implementation.

It follows that the new satyagraha campaign is being fought by the same movement as the last and against the same misguided policies. Why are they so misguided? This should be evident from but two considerations. Ninety percent of India’s population of 600 million people lives in the villages – some 540 million of them – in which the only visible benefits of modern technology are the odd bicycle and Singer sewing-machine.

Only 20 percent live in the cities. As Gandhi pointed out it is considerably more expensive in terms of resources and hence of money to keep people in cities than in villages. Indeed India cannot begin to afford to provide its present relatively small urban population with more than an insignificant fraction of the amenities required for urban living: homes, schools, roads, sewage works and jobs.

Yet to industrialise India means urbanizing it. It means encouraging the majority of the Indian people, who, at the current rate of population growth, will number more than 1 billion by the end of the century, to move to the cities, of which at least three will by then have populations of over 30 million – veritable human anthills – where misery and degradation would reach undreamt-of heights.

Where would the resources come from for building and maintaining these massive cities? They can only come from the countryside, which must thereby be systematically pillaged on an even greater scale than is the case today, to obtain the land, building materials, lumber, food and water required for so gigantic an enterprise.

It is not generally appreciated that the great famines which occurred during the British Raj were not due so much to crop failures (there had been many of these before and provision for them was made by the stores maintained by the farmers themselves at the village level) as to the fact that crop failures caused prices to rise thereby making it inaccessible to the impoverished farmers. They starved, in fact, because the food had been diverted to the cities.

Today food is being sold abroad. At least 35 percent of India’s exports are made up from agricultural produce, 25 percent of which is food. For a country with a chronic food shortage to sell food abroad to finance the building of motorways and office blocks, not to mention the manufacture of atom bombs, must surely be the most irresponsible not to say callous policy which a government has yet drawn up.

Clearly a responsible and humane policy would tend in a very different direction. It would abandon the outdated ideals of our Western urban society, which is itself on the verge of collapse, and would opt for a rural solution to the great problems it faces.

This is the basis of the Gandhian social philosophy, and in this sense JP’s movement is a revolt of the countryside against the cities. Why is it classed as a “right-wing” movement by Indira Gandhi and her Soviet allies? It is indeed right-wing if this means that it does not aim at putting the proletariat in power, but the peasants who outnumber them ten to one. Indeed if JP’s policies were adopted there would be no urban proletariat – India would become instead the association of village republics which Gandhi dreamed of – the foundations of which Vinoba and JP have struggled for 30 years to lay down.

It is indeed right-wing if this means that it stands for the maintenance of Indian cultural traditions in the face of disruptive urban influences – which for too long now have been associated with ‘progress’. It is certainly not right-wing, however, if by this is meant advocating unfettered large-scale enterprise, still less a monolithic centralised militarist state, in which the dominant ethnic group ruthlessly persecutes its minorities and engages in wars of conquest with its neighbours.

This perfectly describes the fascist state. Sadly India, under Indira Gandhi is also coming to answer this description. Diametrically opposed to it is JP’s movement which stands for an association of village republics (Panchayat Raj), for non-violence towards men and- nature (ahimsa) for non-violent resistance (satyagraha) and for the welfare of all (sarvodaya) not just the greatest number.

In the current sense of the terms JP’s movement is neither ‘right-wing’ nor ‘left-wing’. Its principles transcend these crude classifications. If anything it can be related to the anarchist tradition of Kropotkin, Bakunin, Proudhon and Tolstoy, (Gandhi, an admirer of Tolstoy, described himself as a “philosophical anarchist”) as well as to the new ecology movement, represented in Britain by the Ecology Party (formerly the People Party [now the Green Party]), Ecologie et Survie in Alsace and the Values Party in New Zealand.

The need for a new ideology is apparent since we are living in an ideological vacuum. Western liberal democracy has nothing to offer, and is unlikely to survive the next decade in any major country. Nor has Russian communism which provides but an alternative pattern for living in an industrial society – and has little relevance to a world trying desperately to negotiate the transition to the post industrial age.

Maoism is more attractive. The Chinese have undoubtedly solved many of the practical problems of decentralised living, but their social philosophy is rudimentary. Man is still regarded by them, in economic terms, as an animal whose main functions are to produce and to consume. The goals of the Chinese state are basically those of our present Industrial world. It is the means of achieving those ends that are different – and admittedly more realistic.

Gandhiism is both more philosophical and more radical. It offers a new set of goals – not just a new way of achieving the old ones. The decentralised way of life is not desirable for economic reasons only, but because it is that which best satisfies man’s biological, social and spiritual needs – needs whose very existence have been forgotten in the general stampede for material benefits into which the world has been irresistibly drawn.

However the reaction against materialism has already begun, and it is likely to be overwhelming; its implications are inestimable, and the signs are that Gandhiism may well be its vehicle. Indira, though she does not know it, may indeed be struggling to suppress what is destined to become the social philosophy of the post-industrial age.

Fifty years ago her illustrious namesake fought valiantly to oppose the tide of westernisation and industrialisation which was then beginning to sweep the world. Although he was certainly the greatest man in India’s history, probably in world history, and was supported by the vast majority of the Indian people, he was unable to reverse the trend. The tide, however, has now turned. It is Indira Gandhi who is swimming against it, and with the vast mass of the Indian people against her she must inevitably be overcome by it.

In the meantime everything must be done to bring about the release of JP. He is both too admirable and too important to be allowed to languish in prison. He is the one man capable of mobilising a major nation in to adopting the policies which all nations will have to adopt if mankind is to have a future.

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