Shri Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, also known as the “mahatma,” was born on this day October 2nd in 1869. Popular opinion associates Gandhi with non-violence. I differ. I believe that poverty engenders more violence against innocent humans than any other single cause or condition. Perhaps he genuinely was against violence but what Gandhi achieved resulted in unimaginable violence.
It would be hard to estimate accurately how many people have suffered lives of unimaginable deprivation over the decades that India has languished in poverty since 1947. Current estimates of people below the poverty line vary but a conservative estimate could be as high as 400 million. Conservatively I estimate that a billion people have lived and died extremely impoverished lives since 1947 in India.
India’s poverty is entirely man-made. Nature has not been too unkind to India in terms of natural resources. India does not suffer devastating natural calamities. External aggression does not routinely lay waste all Indians build. None of those can account for India’s chronic poverty and backwardness.
India’s poverty is due to bad policies arising from flawed and dangerous ideas. Gandhi was one of the most fecund fountains of bad ideas. What is worse is that Gandhi forced Nehru on India. That one act alone is sufficient to damn Gandhi. But it will take a few more decades before people recognize the damage Nehru did to India. Nehru put India on the fast track to serfdom.
Gandhi made a fetish of poverty. It can be said of Gandhi what Christopher Hitchens had said of M. Teresa — that she was not a friend of the poor but rather a friend of poverty.
Gandhi did not understand the first thing about the nature of the world that he so powerfully intervened in. Human welfare follows from adopting good ideas — regardless of where the ideas originate. He rejected the best ideas merely because they were not home-grown in his tiny backyard.
The world is ideas. Every human artifact is in its essence a collection of embodied ideas. We humans are unique in the known universe as the creators and users of ideas. We create ideas, build upon previous ideas, we adopt ideas created by others, we do “mash-ups” of ideas, we delight in sharing ideas.
Rejecting good ideas is most definitely the best way to impoverish oneself. It leads not just to material poverty but to spiritual poverty, a diminishing of the human spirit.
India had been impoverished for centuries by foreign domination. Foreigners ruled India because India was weak. India’s vulnerability was because it had not adopted good ideas.
If Gandhi has been wise, he would have himself adopted good ideas and exhorted Indians to adopt good ideas — regardless of the origins of the ideas. His rejection of ideas merely because they originated in the West had tragic consequences.
Just as an example, consider the case Gandhi and machines. He rejected industrialization. Machines were bad, according to Gandhi. Actually, some machines were bad — those that Gandhi did not approve of were bad. Machines that Gandhi approved of were good. Gandhi appointed himself as the arbiter of that distinction.
Gandhi rejected machines that made cloth efficiently and approved of machines that humans had to use laboriously. Perhaps he thought that there was some special virtue in doing mindless drudge work. But if enough people are forced to do mindless drudge work for most of their lives, it leads to impoverishment.
If instead of 100 people slogging away on their tiny charkhas to make a few yards of cloth, machines (perhaps a “Western” product) were used to make large amounts of cloth using only a little human labor, wouldn’t that free many people to do other things such as growing food, writing poems, teaching, playing, contemplating the universe, etc?
Why is it OK to use charkhas (a primitive machine) but not a power loom? If the use of charkha is recommended because it employs more people than the use of a power loom would, then should one not recommend the use of bare fingers to employ even more people to make cloth?
People who reject machine made cloth on the grounds that Gandhi did not approve of machines and industrialization, should as a matter of consistency reject practically everything that we routinely use today. The entire edifice of modern life in even an underdeveloped backward economy such as India is intimately tied to goods and services that are made possible by industrialization.
Gandhi’s central idea was the rejection of good ideas merely because it was “foreign.” Gandhi’s idea has impoverished India as powerfully as any foreign invader ever had.
Categories: Mahatma Gandhi