The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 10, 2002
Lead Article

Swadeshi spells success
Political and economic doctrines move in opposite directions. Thus, democracy keeps on expanding man’s rights, his choice and sovereignty. But globalisation restricts human rights, choice and sovereignty. Are we to take these contradictory goals as the new global order? Swadeshi, in contrast, is free from contradictions. It expands both choice and sovereignty, and it promotes democracy,
 writes M S N Menon

SWADESHI and globalisation cannot go together, they are antithetical to each other. However, this contradiction is not apparent to most people, and certainly not to the BJP leaders.

America was once a strident exponent of choice, of pluralism. Indeed, the Cold War was fought over the issue of choice —the right of men to choose the political and economic system they preferred. In other words, the right to pluralism. Choice won.

Today, America promotes globalisation. Just the opposite of what it has been preaching before. Globalisation restricts choice — of the consumer, of the citizen, of the nation. Finally, it takes away sovereignty of the people. Decisions come to be taken by fewer and fewer men in a globalised global society.

Political and economic doctrines move in opposite directions. Thus, democracy keeps on expanding man’s rights, his choice and sovereignty, but globalisation restricts human rights, choice and sovereignty. Are we to take these contradictory goals as the new global order?

Swadeshi, in contrast, is free from contradictions. It expands both choice and sovereignty, and it promotes democracy.


How can we reconcile our two pursuits — swadeshi, which can be an ideal policy at home, and globalisation which is an imperative abroad? The question has not even been raised in this country!

The modern concept of swadeshi goes back to the times of the East India Company. It was India’s reaction to the dumping of British goods. But the concept is older. It was a large philosophic and social vision. Indeed, the swadeshi movement in India had a spiritual and political character. It became a movement for the liberation of the spiritual energy of the nation.

To Gopalakrishna Gokhale, who shaped the outlook of the young Gandhi, swadeshi meant an all-embracing love of India. And Madan Mohan Malaviya wanted the political and economic policies to be in conformity with the outlook of Hinduism.

It was Mahatma Gandhi who gave swadeshi a proper definition. He raised it to its present spiritual and secular heights. It became part of his ideal world. To him, swadeshi had two dimensions: dharma and artha, which together constituted a way of life.

In his advice to the All India Swadeshi League, Gandhiji quoted the Bhagavadgita in support of his views: "It is best to die performing one’s own duty or swadharma. Paradharma or other’s duty is fraught with dangers." Gandhiji explains: "What the Gita says with regard to swadharma equally applies to swadeshi, for swadeshi is swadharma applied to one’s own immediate environment." Gandhiji has been much misunderstood for these views.

Thus, to Gandhiji, swadharma (in scientific parlance it means the genetic code) formed the basis of man’s culture and civilisation, and swadeshi, the organising principle of man’s economic life.

To illustrate, in a country which grows cotton (that is its swadharma of environment) there must be weavers, not blacksmiths. And a country which produces wheat should have wheat eaters, not rice eaters. The logic is inexorable.

But almost a millennium of foreign rule has snapped the natural roots of swadharma. The Indian no more acts according to his swadharma. This explains why Gandhiji called for a return to the roots — to India’s culture, heritage, ethics, customs and institutions. In short, to its genius and traditions. It was a call to nationalism and patriotism, for a man grows best in his native soil.

A nation eats what it grows on its soil, which shapes the body and soul of its people. Its cuisine is best when it is based on what it grows. And it cures itself of ills by the herbs grown on its land. In short, its life is based on swadeshi. That is a basic fact. But from very ancient times men had imported what they did not grow or what their climate and soils failed to grow. This is also natural. But living by imports is unnatural. It puts men under the vagaries of global circumstances. Men run risks when they multiply their desires.

All this was lost on the critics of swadeshi, especially on communists, who thought, according to Ashok Mitra, CPM leader, that swadeshi was an attempt by Gandhiji to befriend Tatas and Birlas. This shows the utter poverty of their thoughts!

Dr V.Kurien, the man who made India the foremost milk producer in the world, says: "Swadeshi to me means trusting our own genius to handle our own problems in a manner unique to ourselves." When we trusted foreign experts, they misguided us.

The life of every civilisation is based on some organising principle. In western civilisation this principle is "freedom of enterprise". Profit is the chief motivating factor. In India, the organising principle was swadeshi. And excellence was the motivating factor, for in India all work was worship.Painting and sculpture, art and architecture, music and dance — all these were dedicated to please the gods. And for his own satisfaction, man could offer to the gods nothing but the best.

Of course, times have changed. Man’s activity is no more a worship. But I see no reason why India should give up its goal of excellence — excellence of character and in all that we do and produce.

It is unfortunate that while the market provides immense profits to the entrepreneur, excellence is not well rewarded by modern societies.

Why do we object to globalisation of our domestic life? Because it seeks to turn us into blacksmiths and rice eaters, when we should remain weavers and wheat eaters. As simple as that. We do not object to the globalisation of trade, certainly not to globalisation of knowledge. But we object to the subversion of the natural order of things.

But I have a more profound objection. And it has to do with efforts to promote one way of life — that of America — as the universal way. The American way of life is no doubt good for the Americans. It is based on their experience. But why should I exchange my historical experience for the historical experience of America.?

In the march of man to his unknown destiny, he must be guided by his own experience. That is the only reliable light.

I have one more objection to the Americanisation of the world. That is because, I know, the path India has chosen is superior. But how? Because India’s civilisation is based on freedom and free enquiry. Thus, it is less likely to err. And we don’t swerve to extremes as the West has often done.

Gandhiji was not against foreign goods. His main objective was to give protection to Indian industry and handicrafts, and to the way of life of the people.

Gandhiji was opposed to Indians copying the lifestyle of the West, because the western lifestyle based on a different dharma.

He did not like the modern commercial civilisation because what inspired it was an ever-expanding desire for material satisfaction. He believed that it was not conducive to the moral growth of man. Today, consumerism has almost killed a noble way of life, a life of simplicity and all that which went with it.

Ananda Coomaraswami, a great authority on Indian civilisation, says; "Civilisation consists not in multiplying our desires and the means of gratifying them, but in the refinement of their quality." He wanted to live without the things that were not worth having.

And does gratifying the multifarious desires lead us to God? It does not. Nor does it enhance our understanding of the mysteries of the universe.

As in so many other matters, independent India did not even care to examine the relevance of the Gandhian approach. Our concern was marked by public homage and private rejection. India went all out for paradharma. Nehru went for the socialist model of society, based on European experience and history. He rejected Gandhi. And others went for American capitalism, based on the American experience. The result was a systemic crisis of modern civilisation. Gandhi almost anticipated these in his book Hind Swaraj — a spiritual classic. He had warned against the oncoming amoral modernity. But even the collapse of socialism and the crises of capitalism did not make India reflect on the western model. It again opted for globalisation — again a paradharma. The ruling class in India never understood the implications of globalisation.

Globalisation strikes at the very root of swadeshi, for it permits almost free entry to MNCs. If MNCs change the ownership pattern in their favour, then the country will lose its control over the economy and therefore its economic sovereignty.

Unfortunately, we have vulgarised the whole question to a choice between potato chips and micro chips. The question we should pose is : What are the MNCs giving us in return for the profits they take? Are they going to give us too little and take away too much always? If so, they have no business to be in India. This is enlightened swadeshi, enlightened nationalism.

The basic justification behind globalisation was the western belief that the "victory" of capitalism over socialism had given the West the mandate to restructure the world along capitalist lines. But there was no such mandate. There was no victory.

The question before India is this: Should it give up the values which have guided its life over the millennia for the values of other civilisations? If the answer is no, then swadeshi has a role to play in India. This is not to deny free trade and free movement of capital, but everything should come within the ambit of swadeshi.

To conclude: swadeshi and nationalism were the foundations of India’s freedom struggle. They should have remained the foundations of free India. The goal must be excellence in all that we do.