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Globalization: A Gandhian Perspective

By ananthu at December 20, 2002 12:38 AM

In a very deep sense of the term, Gandhi was a truly global person. He has sometimes been referred to as a ‘leader of the Indian nationalist movement’, but his nationalism embraced the whole of humanity – which is why Vinoba later coined the term ‘jai jagat’ as a replacement for the term ‘jai hind’. In his seminal book Hind Swaraj Gandhi made it clear that his aim is not to drive the English people, but ‘English civilization’, out of India. His recommendation that Indians should replace ‘English civilization’( a way of thinking in which material wants become the summum bonum of life) by ‘Indian civilization’ ( a way of thinking that stresses the voluntary limitation of material growth so that spiritual growth may become illimitable) extended to all nations, including the English. He never regarded the English as our enemy:

“Our greatest enemy is not the foreigner, nor anyone else. Our enemies are we ourselves, that is, our own desires.”

Instead, he felt pity for them:

“They rather deserve our sympathy. They are a shrewd nation and I therefore believe that they will cast off the evil. They are enterprising and industrious, and their mode of thought is not inherently immoral. Neither are they bad at heart. Civilization is not an incurable disease, but it should never be forgotten that the English people are at present afflicted by it.”

His real quarrel with the English was on the question of what constitutes civilization:

“Civilization, in the real sense of the term [meaning to be ‘civilized’] consists not in multiplication, but in the deliberate and voluntary restriction, of wants. This alone promotes happiness and contentment, and increases the capacity for service.”

When asked during a visit to England ‘what do you think of Western civilization?’, he answered ‘I think it would be a good idea’. What a wealth of wisdom and humour was combined in this one-line reply of his!

He also made it clear in Hind Swaraj that if India were to adopt to the norms of Western civilization that would amount to ‘English rule without the Englishman. You want the tiger’s nature, but not the tiger… it will be called not Hindustan but Englistan. This is not the Swaraj that I want..’

And yet, after independence, that is precisely what we have done – adopted and even glorified the norms of Western civilization. For the first few decades, this was tempered with notions of ‘a socialistic pattern of society’ wherein the community’s wealth was given more importance than individual accumulations, but during the last decade these fig leaves have been abandoned and we are now unabashedly in favour of pursuing materialism in the most naked forms.

The present movement towards globalization has to be viewed in this context. It is not that people are being encouraged to become global – it is just that tariffs and other barriers to trade are being dismantled so that accumulation of wealth can take place without these impediments. This is evident from the fact that while free movement of goods is being made possible across all international borders, the same facility is NOT being made available for free movement of people. In other words, if an MNC wants to set up a manufacturing facility in any part of the world, it is regarded as desirable that no customs, immigration or tariff barriers should be placed in its way; whereas if a mechanic or carpenter in a poor country wants to shift to another country in search of better prospects, all kinds of passport, visa and immigration quota restrictions are placed on his path.

Therefore, what we now call ‘globalization’ amounts to ‘freedom to exploit the resources and peoples of any part of the globe’, whereas what Gandhi had in mind was ‘a one-ness with all human beings, in fact all creatures, in any part of the globe’. This attitude, he insisted, is the essence of Indian civilization, which is all-embracing in character. Gandhi’s globalization amounted to “think globally, act locally”, whereas modern globalization amounts to “act globally, think locally”.

Yes, in spite of the meaning of the term ‘globalization’, its advent is not really making us global in thought. This is because the basic motivation behind it is profit – which prevents us from thinking of the others first. Such a process breeds selfishness, and can therefore never make us truly global. When Coca Cola or Kentucky’s Chicken want the freedom to open branches in China or Russia, their primary motivation is not love for the Russian or Chinese people, but the profits they will derive from such a venture. As soon as this profit motivation is not there, all talk of globalization will vanish into thin air.

What is needed today is a REAL stride towards globalization – wherein people recognize that the borders and boundaries that we have drawn, and the compartments into which have enclosed ourselves, are stifling our real growth, and need to be discarded. ‘Nation’ is the most ill-defined word in the English dictionary. Just a few decades back, the denizens of Karachi and Lahore were supposed to be my brothers, my patriotism demanded that I defend them to the last drop of my blood. Today, they are seen as enemies, likely to be wiped out in the event of a nuclear war – how does one justify such misplaced and shifting loyalties? On what basis is the resident of Toronto or Vancouver so different from that of Washington or Los Angeles as to be classified as a different national entity? Is a Tamilian in Sri Lanka or Malaysia supposed to feel more affinity to his fellow-Tamils in India, or his fellow-citizens in the surroundings lands? In this age when internet and mobile phones are linking all parts of the world, it is high time we gave up these narrow and ill-defined affinities, and start to look at the world as ‘vasudaiva kutumbumkam’. There are powerful vested interests which wish to preserve these artificial divisions, but it is high time the ordinary man revolted against these compartmentalizations which are diverting his tax money into military spending instead of his welfare. The famous slogan coined by Marx, now outdated, can and should be revived in the following form:

Peoples of all nations, unite! You have nothing to lose but your governments!!


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