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Why did Mahatma Gandhi believe that Industrialization is absolutely wasteful in India?

The Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in world history, a point which made Great Britain the world’s leading commercial nation. Industrialization is a revolution through which China, Europe, and Japan gained the status of economic supergiants. It was a period in history that marked some of the greatest developments known to humankind, and a part of them were recognized due to Industrialization. Some of them were the suffrage movement, communist and labor movements. Then why is it so, that the father of India, Mahatma Gandhi classified Industrialization as absolutely wasteful for a country like India?


 


What did Gandhiji learn from the past? 


Gandhiji believed that there is a false notion that industrialization is an easy means for any country's advancement. This idea was fuelled by his usual habit of learning from the past. He believed that “history is an unmistakable record of past events,” and it is a known fact that history repeats itself. Thus, those who do not learn from history and keep taking the same steps will end up in the same predicament.  


We established that Great Britain was the world’s leading commercial giant at the time, still, she came in for a terrible crisis in 1940-41. This was because she was dependent on foreign countries for food. On that little island, there may be an excuse for having this kind of organization as it is a small country, marked Gandhiji. Where will India go?


Therefore, he proudly proclaimed that the idea that large-scale industries will save India is wrong. He quoted history on the fact that Industrialization has never saved any country. The moment somebody becomes more violent, the former lords of the earth disappear. “Industrialization is only indispensable if the country's economy is based on violence and is not calculated to meet its daily requirements,” said Gandhi. This statement could be co-related with the example of the Soviet Union. One of the most powerful alliances of nations was left powerless and poor when the Union disintegrated. Power and money were up for grabs due to excessive privatization and the oligarchs in Russia ceased major industries and trade. In a quick swap, people with little influence became the lords of trade. Power and money became concentrated in a few hands. Such was the form of development (of a few) that was criticized and loathed by Mahatma Gandhi.


Gandhiji argued that real development i.e., economic development along with societal change was the only way to achieve an ideal economy. And the ideal economy which India should aim for is a “Welfare Economy”. An economy where no one is made better off by making someone else worse off. (Amartya Sen)


 


De-Industrialization of India: 


He stated that all the development known to the world begins from the roots. So, India should aim to develop the root and heart of India first, i.e., the agrarian and rural economy. 


He believed in agriculture to be an occupation rather than an industry, as it is not solely concerned to make money but to feed the people. And lately, the products of agro and village industries are subjected to the modern “labor-saving products.” They may be called labor-saving but ultimately need more labor for the person using them. For instance, a person using a tractor instead of the age-old bullock might need to buy fuel in addition to the tractor which makes them subject to more consumption. Thus, he believed that this type of modernization is actually fuel for capitalism. And Gandhi condemned capitalism and suggested the De-Industrialization of Industries in India to curb capitalism.


 


Industrialization: a slow poison?


By de-industrialization, he wanted to pave the way towards a welfare economy. Some of its key features included the use of indigenous resources i.e., Water-power, wind-mill power, man-power, animal power, etc. He considered it perilous to depend on imported motive power for our food production. Supposing a world war comes on, where shall we get these imported products then? The spike in prices, (especially of fuel and gas) due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is an appropriate example.


“Certain things may be used, but used like poison, under control and in the hands of specialists,” says Gandhi. Key industries and large-scale industries must be under the control of the Government. The danger looms when we phase out the contemporary scenario of our nation. If the benefit is not available to every class and section of the country, it would result in monopolies (as is always the case). Therefore, he advocated for a controlled economy when “laissez-faire” (of course with minimal government restrictions) was the modern approach.


In a nutshell, he referred to “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikaas," which may be now just a slogan that reality. The Mahatma believed that to live a fulfilling life, humans need to do much more than work. And excessive work and industrialization kills the soul out of human life. “Work is to our higher faculties what food is to the physical body,” he said. The occupation we follow should contribute towards the overall development of our being.


 


The Indian Alternative:


He suggested going about the Indian way of development, i.e., handlooms, small and medium enterprises, village economy, and khadi industries. This will bring the fading economy back on track as the roots will be cured and healthy.


However, it is important to note that his idea on industrialization was formed at a time when India was recently relieved from the paws of British Colonialisation. And hence, the fear of foreign interference through trade was evident in the eyes of national leaders. Our circumstances shape our beliefs and Gandhiji was one such victim when he supported a “No Imports at All” policy along with “No Industrialization”. He even went on to say that railways are a total waste of time, and India doesn’t need it.


The situation is now changed, roles have been reversed and the need for globalization is evident. We cannot live in a closed economic setup when the world is our oyster. Although, a critical examination of Gandhi’s view on Industrialization highlights that the policy was not totally non-favorable at the time. As India was recreating itself after emerging from an ancient civilization and modern colonization, the country needed to believe in itself yet again and that could have been made possible only through self-reliance.


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