Culture and Development: Baidyanath Saraswati

Developing without a Centre

Shisya Guru
Sir, in matters of development what is true and what is false? Kindly tell me: Is development a flagrant mistake? Is the rhetoric of development nothing but a tool of persuasion for those intent to deceive? You know better than any one else about such matters.


Then you look into the 1993 UNESCO Report, which I consider a very important document. It has made several pertinent observations on the problems of development. Briefly, it says: "Development is not a neutral concept capable of universal application. Its proclaimed intentions are only very partially translated into actual projects. Development is technically characterized by limited duration, global objectives, predominance of economic, fragmentation of the action, and reduction of the cultural aspects to education and the elimination of illiteracy. Development documents are based on a micro-economic or macro-social scale of observation which presupposes a search for regularity and uniformity rather than diversity in every field. It follows 19th Century classical methods of planning and data quantification, and stresses activities that can easily be audited. The distance between the decision-makers and the concerned population determines the nature and content of development programmes. The participation of the population in its own development never extends beyond purely local limits, the "vertical" or institutional channels of communication, either distorting some of the data from the field or watering it down enroute. The decision-makers consult their peers, and not the "field" before determining their broad programme of future action." This has summed up the answer to your questions briefly.


But again, can true development (whatever that may mean) come through the state department of "numerology"? If the decision makers sit on an ivory tower and distort facts of development, what empowers them to impose on the common man an insufferable interference with the freedom of culture? Must we seek to get better of the state-centric development which is by nature hurtful? Or should we tell the "emperor" that he has no "clothes?" The matter is far more complex than you envisage. Human cultures today are situated in a technocentric framework of global interdependence caused by a new kind of "state" system with multinational organizations. The United Nations is one such organization which is clearly at the fulcrum for global governance. The globalization of economy and communication has brought fundamental and critical changes, moving towards global governance. People have lost faith in the old forms of statecraft. The feelings are uneasy in the global village. The intentions and the visions of a new global humanitarian order are laudable. High indeed are the hopes.


I shudder at the thought of the globalization process. What will be the structure of the global village? Who will be the controller, the village headman? Can the inherent conflict between an exploitative Western and harmonious Eastern approach to nature and culture be resolved by the promise of a shared global ethic and the prospect of a developed techno-economic system? If humans are themselves controlled by technology, who will fulfil the promise? Moreover, is it, sensible to speak of a single world order based on state-controlled technology? Is it not more realistic to develop endogenously, slowly and independently without a centre isn’t small beautiful? Aren’t the self-organizing cultures the noblest and the best? Is it not amazing today that the "elephant" is asking food from the "ant"? Is there nothing in the traditional cultures to play a positive role in an alternate type of development? Is it possible in a techno-centric system of development to safeguard the distinctly designed cultural identity? Is industrialization necessary? Can a nation be called developed where the rich have superfluous store of things which they do not need while millions are starved to death? Have the so-called developing countries freedom to choose between moral order and technical order? Can cultures be created without the freedom of choice? Sentimentality brings no solution, my child.

Swaraj in Developing a Gandhian Way

Shisya Guru
Sir, do you think there is a practical solution to the problems posed for the "developing" countries? I can tell you, my child, that more than half a century ago a practical solution was offered by a great teacher who was amongst the best of men of the past, the one who preached only that by which he lived.
Do you mean Mahatma Gandhi? Yes I do.
Now, can you tell me, Sir, what sort of a solution he gave? Swaraj, Swadeshi, and Sarvodaya
What is Swaraj? Swaraj literally means self-rule, or home-rule. Gandhi defined Swaraj as the essence of man: "So far as we are removed from Swaraj we are removed from manhood. A proper manifestation of all our powers is not possible without Swaraj. Swaraj is not meant for cowards, but for those who would mount smilingly to the gallows and refuse even to allow their eyes to be bandaged. Swaraj is for the awakened, not for the sleepy and the ignorant. Swaraj is our birth right. No one can deprive us of it, unless we forfeit it ourselves."
Must we not attain Swaraj? We must.
How? As Gandhi said, "To get Swaraj is to get rid of our helplessness. The problem is no doubt stupendous even as it is for the fabled lion who having been brought up in the company of goats found it impossible to feel that he was a lion."
Isn’t this true of the ancient cultures with great traditions which are today condemned as "developing countries?" That is the case.
How does Swaraj mean development? For Gandhi, Swaraj meant a just society and an all-round development. He said, "Swaraj means ability to regard everyone as our brother and sister. Do not talk of winning Swaraj without making a fair return to the villager for the daily exploitation to which you subject him. There can be no Swaraj without communal unity. Swaraj is not absence of rule. Swaraj is complete independence of alien control and complete economic independence. It has two other ends. One of them is truth and the other is non-violence. Let us call this the square of Swaraj, which will be out of shape if any of its angles is untrue."
And what is Swadeshi? Gandhi’s gospel of Swadeshi is a three fold process of human development. As he says, "Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote. Thus, as for religion I must restrict myself to my ancestral religion. That is, the use of my immediate religious surrounding. If I find it defective, I should serve it by purging it of its defects. In the domain of politics I should make use of the indigenous institutions and serve them by curing them of their proved defects. In that of economics I should use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbours and serve those industries by making them efficient and complete where they might be found wanting. It is suggested that such Swadeshi, if reduced to practice, will lead to the millennium."
Isn’t the the spirit of Swadeshi against the spirit of globalization? I cannot say this. Because in their ultimate aims there is no conflict between the two. But this must be kept in mind that one cannot become national without being local, international without being national, universal without being local, and again global without being local. One cannot talk of global ethic without having a concern for the man suffering next door.
Is there any way by which Swadeshi can reside in the global living light? Gandhi presented a picture of village India. "In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever widening, never ascending, circles. Life will not be a pyramid with the apex 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 the villages, till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, never aggresive in their arrogance, but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are integrated units. Therefore, the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner cirle, but will give strength to all within and will derive its own strength from it."
Is this not all Utopian? Gandhi himself raised this question and answered it – "If the Euclids’s point, though incapable of being drawn by any human agency, has an imperishable value, my picture has its own for the mankind to live."
Did Gandhi resist Westernization? Gandhi admitted that "there is much that we can profitably assimilate from the West. Wisdom is no monopoly of one continent or one race." His resistance to Western civilization was, as he said, "a resistance to its indiscriminate and thoughtless imitation based on the assumption that Asiatic are fit only to copy everything that comes from the West." As a Swadeshi he refused to be lifted off his feet: "I do not want my house to be walled in all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all land to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s house as an interloper, a beggar or a slave."
What did he say about Sarvodaya? Sarvodaya means "rising of all" "awakening of all" or "waking up together." Gandhi used the term broadly for moral upliftment of all. Referring to the observance of morality, he said, "we notice that the mind is a restless bird, the more it gets the more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied. The more we indulge our passions the more unbridled they become. A man is not necessarily happy because he is rich, or unhappy because he is poor. The rich are often seen to be unhappy the poor to be happy. Not until we have reduced ourselves to nothingness can we conquer the evil in us. Impure means result in an impure end. Hence the prince and the peasant will not be equalized by cutting off the prince’s head, nor can the process of cutting off equalize the employer and the employed. One cannot reach truth by untruthfulness."
What was Gandhi’s view of political means and end in the Sarvodaya State? For Gandhi, "political means is not an end but one of the means of enabling people to better their condition in every department of life. Political power means capacity to regulate national life through national representatives. If national life becomes so perfect as to become self-regulated,no representation becomes necessary. There is then a state of enlightened anarchy. In such a state everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbour. In the ideal state, therefore, there is no political power because there is no state. But the ideal is never fully realized in life. Hence the classical statement of Thoreau that the government is best which governs the least."
I am convinced by Gandhi’s vision of development. Yet, if it is to be made a reality, I should like to know what concrete development action in key area has to be ensured? Also, how will the Gandhian type of development help resolve the development crisis? Well, Gandhi was a practical idealist. As he wrote about himself, "My life is one indivisible whole and all my activities run into one another, and they all have their rise in my insatiable love of mankind." For him development means moral development. When we speak about development, we think about economic development, technological development, social development, cultural development, but we never pay adequate attention to moral development. Gandhi’s concept of Swaraj attunes to moral development. He did not believe in words only, but what he valued far more-moral actions. As he said, "if Swaraj was not meant to civilize us, and to purify and stabilize our civilization, it would be worth nothing. The very essence of our civilization is that we give a paramount place to morality in all our affairs, public or private." The contemporary development crisis is essentially a moral crisis which cannot be overcome by measuring the increase in the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and the GNP (Gross National Product). It is by measuring the degree of tolerance and searching truth in peoples heart, that the development situation can be assessed. If our dream of development is to be realized, then we should be satisfied with nothing less than a global village republic founded on Truth and Tolerance. Do you agaree?
Yes Sir, I agree. And I am most grateful for all that you have taught me.

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