Webinar on Mahatma Gandhi: Vision of Gram Swaraj


We have to change the definition of Self-Rule: Ram Bahadur Rai
“Mahatma Gandhi did not talk anything new when he spoke about the concept of ‘gram swaraj’ while presenting a solution for the village of his dreams. What he presented before humanity was the ancient Indian tradition of making India self-reliance once again which the Vedas and the Upanishads had given us”, said Shri Ram Bahadur Rai, Chairman Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) while delivering the key-note address at a webinar on “Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of Gram Swaraj” organised by Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, New Delhi in association with Gandhi Gyan Mandir, Madhepura, Bihar on June 7, 2020.
Addressing about 55 participants from Bihar, Delhi, Jharkhand, Kanpur, Punjab which included senior journalists, social thinkers, students, research scholars, Shri Ram Bahadur Rai said that it is the inherent strength of the Indian villages and their model of self-reliance, Gram Panchayats, etc that India has withstood several currents and waves over centuries”.
“Gandhiji’s thoughts were inspired by the ancient Indian thoughts on development and human welfare, which were enshrined in the ancient scriptures of India and partly spelt out in the masterly treatise on economics and statecraft, called Kautilya Arthashastra of sixth century BC”, he said.
He also spoke about the ‘Last will and Testament’ of Mahatma Gandhi which he drafted on January 29, 1948 a day before his death and lamented that unfortunately since the beginning of Independence and after that such ideas were never followed as leaders both at the centre and the states took it as a role model for idolizing and never looked with depth into its practical implementations.
Speaking about Gandhiji’s idea of Swaraj, Shri Ram Bahadur Rai linked it to the functioning of Indian Democracy and said that democracy is inherent in the land, culture and traditions of India. He also specifically pointed about twelve principles laid down by Mahatma Gandhi which he believed are vital for human’s welfare. They are:
1. Make people happy and skilful
2. Body labour
3. Principles of equality
4. Behaviour and relation, etc
5. Trusteeship
6. Decentralization
7. Swadeshi/Local
8. Self-reliance
9. Mutual participation
10. Inter-faith
11. Panchayati system and
12. Nai Talim.
Shri Ram Bahadur Rai further said that while Gram Sabhas and Panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala and Karnataka are functioning very well, there is a need to initiate a nation-wide campaign to force our leaders at all levels to strengthen the village Gram Sabhas and the Panchayats. “The definition of ‘self rule’ has to be changed. Self-Rule means that Gram Panchayats and Gram Sabhas are empowered to take decisions without any interference”.
“Gram Swaraj, or village self-rule, was a pivotal concept in Gandhi’s thinking. It was the centerpiece of his vision of economic development in India. Gandhiji’s Gram Swaraj was not the reconstruction of the old village but the formation of fresh independent units of villages having self-sufficient economy”, he concluded.
Senior journalist and author of several books Shri Arvind Mohan spoke of decentralization and diversity in production to ensure sustainability and said that these were also the major ideas reflected in Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts on ‘gram swaraj’. He also raised the issue of the migrant labourers who had to undergo various hurdles during the pandemic Covid -19 and called for the leadership at the centre and the states to formulate policies for the development of the villages so that such people do not have to face future problems. He said that corona period can be a major challenge which if turned into a fruitful opportunity for the development of the villages through change in policies can fulfill the Gandhian vision of self-sufficiency, which the Mahatma thought as one of the fundamental conditions of village reconstruction.
The others who spoke on the occasion were Shri Dinanath Prabodh Founder Director of Gandhi Gyan Mandir who shared his experiences of the Bhoodan Movement and reflected how the model of education from learning life-skills has shifted to a more mechanical pattern. He also shared his memories of how the Buniyadi Vidyalaya established by Gandhiji where he was enrolled provided training in life skill and gave each student a portion of land for agricultural production.
Earlier laying the forum of discussion, Shri Dipanker Shri Gyan, Director GSDS threw light on Mahatma Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj which not just questioned the model of development, but also provided solutions. He further lamented the whole idea that the concept of Gram Swaraj as envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi has been restricted to ‘rural development’ by policy makers and therefore the delineation from villages.
Shri Dipanker Shri Gyan said: “The British believed in centralised, industrialised and mechanised modes of production, which Mahatma Gandhi turned this principle and envisioned a decentralised, homegrown, hand-crafted mode of production. Mahatma Gandhi laid stress not on mass production, but production by the masses. For Gandhiji true independence for India meant a comprehensive transformation of Indian society and polity. He wanted political power to be distributed among the villages in India”.
He further added that Gandhiji preferred the term ‘Swaraj’ to describe what he called true democracy. “This democracy is based upon freedom. According to Mahatma Gandhi, utilization of the local resources is quite fundamental to the development of the Panchayat Raj system. The Panchayats with the Gram Sabhas should be so organized as to identify the resources locally available for development in the agricultural and industrial sectors”.
He lamented that in this crucial time, it becomes all the more pertinent to realize if Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of ‘gram swaraj’ has been established; whether his ideals have been forgotten and if the ideas of sustainability and development of all has been compromised?
The others who spoke on the occasion included Shri Dev Narayan Paswan “Dev’, Ex Professor, Jagjivan College, Gaya Magadh Vishwa Vidyalaya and Shri Sunil Kumar Sinha, President, Chanakya School of Political Studies and Research, Patna. Shri Amlesh Raju, senior journalist of Jansatta moderated the discussion. The technical support was provided by Shri Ashutosh Singh, of Swasth Bharat Nyas. The vote of thanks was proposed by Shri Sunil Kumar Sinha.