Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Economic Thought Of Mahatma Gandhi

Manoj Kumar Singh

(U.G.C./J.R.F.) Research Scholar, Deptt. of Philosophy and Religion, B.H.U., Varanasi

            The economic thought of Mahatma Gandhi is based on ethics. He said that the Economics without ethics is rootless. Gandhian concept highlights that the poorest among the poor should be the centre of all economic thinking. Dharma (duty) and morality should be adopted as the pillars of economic growth and social progress. He asserted that in a model economy, each and every person must have a right to equal opportunity. In his words “The real implication of equal distribution is that each man shall have the share with all to meet  all his natural needs and no more.” Thus, he stressed upon removal of poverty and inequality. He never said that all are equal but all should be treated without discrimination. In Gandhiji’s words, “equality is of soul and not bodies, behave to realize equality in the midst of this apparent external inequality.”
            Clearly, the root of Gandhian economic thought is the ideal of Sarvodaya. ‘Sarvodaya’ depicts welfare as it accepts the dignity and value of labour. According to Gandhiji the value of a barber and a lawyer is same, so all should have the same right to earn their livelihood by the sweat of their brow.
            For economic equality Gandhiji suggested equal distribution. He stressed upon the concept of ‘simple living and high thinking’. He said “cut down your wants, all your economic problems will be solved”. Basic needs of all are same and should be satisfied. If the superfluous consumption at higher levels be curtailed, the quality of life for poor can be improved. Here, Gandhiji emphasized on the ideas of ‘non-possession’ and ‘non-attachment.”
            In this context, Gandhiji gave the ‘theory of trusteeship’. It aims at transforming a capitalistic society into a welfare society, and the foundation of this change will be love and self sacrifice. While the rich man would be left in possession of his wealth, he could use only part of it which he requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the rest to be used by the society at Large.1 In Gandhiji’s words, “If however, in spite of the at most effort, the rich do not become guardians of the poor in the true sense of the term and the latter are more and more crushed and die of hunger, what is to be done? In trying to find out the solution of this riddle I have considered non-violence, non- cooperation and civil disobedience as the right and infallible means. The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the co-operation of the poor in society. If this knowledge were to penetrate and spread amongst the poor, they would become strong and would learn how to free themselves by means of nonviolence from the crushing inequalities which have brought them to the verge of starvation.2
            Gandhiji’s philosophy of trusteeship was based on the faith that ‘Man is a divine spark’. So, any man can not be wholly wicked. And because God dwells in the hearts of all beings, a change of heart is possible. In Gandhiji’s words “I believe in absolute oneness of God, and therefore also of humanity… Though we have many bodies, we have but one soul. The rays of the sun are many through refraction, but they have the same source.”3 He also said that, “I refuse to suspect human nature, it will, is bound to, respond to any noble and friendly action”.4
Gandhiji fervently believed that India’s future lay on development of its villages. An environment of self-help and mutual aid must be created in the villages. They  should be self-reliant units and production centers. He spoke- “In this structure composed of innumerable villages. Life will not be a pyramid with the appex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages, outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle, but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it.”5 
            He was strongly against heavy industries and machines. According to him “our goal is not mass production but production by the masses.” He advocates the promotion of small scale and household industries that will solve problem of unemployment. “Khadi’ is what Gandhiji spoke about so powerfully.
            To conclude, it can be said that Gandhiji wasn’t a day dreamer. To some extent, we have adopted his concept of decentralized economy. Gandhian concept of ‘self reliant villages’, could be a practical solution to the problems like, unemployment among rural youth and migration from villages. A part from this the ideal of ‘simple living and high thinking’ have the potential to lead, our society towards equality, justice and harmony.


1.              Philosophical Import of Gandhism, M. Kirti Singh, p.172
2.              Harijan, on 25th August, 1940
3.              Young India, 25-9-1924
4.              Young India, 4-8-1920.
5.              Gandhi as a political thinker, B.S. Sharma, p.92.
6.              Hiren Mukherjee, Gandhi a study, New Delhi, 1979.
7.              D.M. Dutta, the Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, University of Calcutta, 1968.

8.              Sarvodaya, Navajiwan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1958.

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