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Can Gandhian Ideals and Development Go Hand In Hand?

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इन नए बसते इलाकों में
जहाँ रोज बन रहे हैं नए-नए मकान
मैं अकसर रास्ता भूल जाता हूँ, धोखा दे जाते हैं पुराने निशान

Up until the last generation, if you had to meet a friend, you would go to their house, where you would not just be greeted by your friend but their family, who would receive you with warmth, hospitality and make sure that you feel at home. “Arrey isse apna hi ghar samjho” You would also be served some home-made savouries and you’d extend your namaste to your friends’ grandparents and other members of the extended family who all live together, under the same roof as part of the same joint family.

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The institution of family, as is no secret, has undergone a tremendous change with the incoming of the culture of consumerism. Now, most of us live in nuclear families but with the disintegration of the Indian joint family comes a cynicism that has started to tap into the anxieties of those in our generation, as the number of people we have come to care about directly has shrunk with the size of the family and we are mostly concerned in meeting the needs of our immediate family, We are not as generous as we used to be with our charities. As we move towards a society where everyone will be able to count the number of people they care about on the fingers of a single hand, our individualistic attitudes will take us more towards skepticism.

As popularly said, Need is the mother of all innovation. It is this need that drives innovation forward and history is a witness of how technological innovations can bring forth disruptive changes in the social order and cause upward mobility for certain groups inducing cultural changes. Hence, it is innovation and culture that drives forth a civilization. Economy affects culture and culture, in turn, affects economic growth.

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Max Weber’s theory of the Protestant work ethic is probably the first study in this direction that tries to examine the economic consequences of Calvinism. In the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber argues in favour of Protestant ethics, according to which it was technological development along with protestant ethics propagated by Calvinism, that talked of predestination, as opposed to Lutheranism that talked of frugal living which ushered in European Capitalism. According to Weber, the reason the Orient did not see a transition to capitalism as early as the 16thcentury was because of the absence of the Reformation. So, it was the reformation and as a result of it the counter-reformation which caused a separation of spirituality and scientific temper.

However, as a result of the economic crisis that India was met with in 1991 and the financial debt India was facing that had its origin in the mismanagement of the 1980s, the country underwent changes, as the economic policy of India was restructured under the then finance minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. Ever since the enactment of the New Economic Policy, we have let the culture of consumerism drive us. It governs what we wear, what we watch, and even what we eat.

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Economic liberalization had a huge cultural impact, it redefined the way women saw themselves as they aspired for higher standards of beauty. We Indians haven’t been able to rid ourselves of our colonial mindsets as we still aspire to meet standards that are accepted in the West. Women like, Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai around this time went on to win beauty pageants on international platforms, which further solidified these ideas that in the first place were built on a wavering foundation.

The impact of globalization was also seen in cinema. Films like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dil to Pagal Hai & Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, had songs that were shot in foreign locations, characters that dressed like westerners and had much in common with their western counterparts. Many have speculated to say that directors like Yash Chopra or Karan Johar would not have continued to influence the audience till the early zeroes, had the Indian economy not been restructured.

We have been remodeling ourselves and our culture all this time, as an impact of economics. Dunkin Donuts the food chain that sells Donuts, has been running at a loss in India, as donuts is mainly a breakfast item, whereas Indians naturally are more accustomed to paranthas and cannot think of a sweat-meat for breakfast. A donut is more of a savory item that is a delicacy in India and Indians haven’t adapted to them yet. Then why is Dunkin Donuts remodeling its marketing strategy and not closing down altogether?

In another case study, that studies the food chain McDonalds, it is disclosed that it was only in 2018 that the food chain saw profits from India, but why did McDonalds wait for twenty-two years for these profits? The answer lies in adaptability. McDonalds waited it out, until the population of India, got accustomed and adjusted their taste buds to the needs of the company. Now that the newest generation is ready to entertain the ideas of burgers as a part of their meal, the company is hoping to make huge sales.

The standard of living has gone up for a select few but globalization has in fact enlarged the gap between the rich and the poor. Had we been living in a world governed on Gandhian Economics, we would never think about sitting in an American food chain that serves Mexican food. Mahatma Gandhi had connected the cause of the charkha to the greater cause of the freedom struggle and he could do so because he knew that for a person to become Independent, economic self-sufficiency was of utmost importance. For him, Swaraj or self-rule would only come through self-reliance that could only be evoked through self-sufficiency. He was an advocate of frugal living but a lot of people misinterpret the Charkha, saying that Gandhi ji might have been against technological innovation. The charkha, in reality, stood for self-sufficiency and nativity. Nativity, not nationalism.

However, no economy can be completely self-sufficient or impervious to change. India is almost self-sufficient in food grains but globalization isn’t a new phenomenon and it wasn’t unknown to Indians before 1991. Even during the early medieval period, when everything seemed to be on a said decline, according to Marxist historiography, trade had been disrupted and money economy had begun disappearing, which caused regionalism to develop as states became more and more self-sufficient and inward-looking, it is important to realize that even then, all trade had not disappeared.

Silk, that is now common to us was once only made in secrecy in the Chinese Civilisation. Paper, that is now second nature, did not replace Papyrus in Europe before the 8th century and only did so with the incoming of the Arabs. Globalization began along with geographical discoveries. The Columbian exchange brought new world crops to Europe, the Portuguese introduced tomatoes, tobacco, and potatoes into India. Tea was brought from China by the British, Coffee from Abyssinia, chilies came from Mexico and pineapples, cashew nut came from Southern America. Apples came from Kazakhstan and Cherries were brought into Kashmir, during the reign of Akbar.

While some restrictions have to be imposed to protect indigenous goods because it is impossible that products of cottage industries could go up against that of multinationals, It has also been argued, that too many restrictions imposed on an economy, leads to the stifling of intelligentsia and ultimately innovation, as had occurred within the Soviet Union and is held as one of the causes for its collapse.

The TATA Nano project was met with resistance in Bengal from the then opposition leader, Ms. Mamata Banerjee, even when the project was necessary for the generation of jobs in Bengal as well as for the economic growth of the state, that has been on a steady decline, it was met with resentment. The project was then welcomed by the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, who turned Sanand in Gujarat into the automobile hub of the state, which raises some crucial questions like, how long can we live our lives through ideology? We are an emerging economy, the fifth largest in the world and third in terms of purchasing power parity.

Everything comes with an opportunity cost; the only question that lies is how much are we willing to pay?

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