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Gandhi wasn't in favour of putting too much burden on resources provided by nature

By Sandeep Pandey*
In Mahatma Gandhi’s lifetime climate change or threat to environment was not yet a perceived problem. Therefore it is no surprise that there is no explicit mention of it in Gandhi’s concerns. Yet his entire worldview was environment friendly. Protection of environment or non-destruction of nature was in-built in his philosophy.
He expected his most ardent followers, especially the ones who chose to live with him at his various ashrams, to be bound by certain vows. Vow of truth meant no deception to be practiced. Truth could lead to opposition of our loved ones. Vow of non-violence was applicable to all living beings as well as to one’s adversary. Cow protection for him was learning to respect an animal where man is taken beyond his species and identifies with all living beings.
Gandhi was sensitive enough not to partake even cow’s milk which he thought belonged to her calves. It was later in life upon a doctor’s insistence and his wife Kasturba’s advice after putting up resistance, he agreed with great difficulty, to take goat’s milk. Vow of celibacy was meant to control one’s passions, even in thought. He was of the view that a lifelong relationship of purity must be observed between a man and woman married together.
Similarly, he expected people to have control over their palate. For him possessing articles which were not needed was akin to theft. He believed that nature provides us enough to fulfill our daily needs and its role was to provide only that much. This not only precluded any hoarding but also possession of items not absolutely essential for us.
It other words Mahatma Gandhi believed in simple living and by extension not putting too much burden on the resources provided to us by nature. He was known to optimally use the resources available to him and to keep meticulous record of their usage.
As part of his Swadeshi philosophy he was against the use of manufactured items which were a product of labourers subjected to much misery. He ran a campaign to boycott foreign made goods produced by sophisticated machinery. He was a votary of simple clothes which could be produced by hand in India.
Gandhi was so opposed to machinery that he preferred an India dependent on British market rather than an India using British machinery. He said it would be better to buy materials manufactured in Manchester than to set up Manchester factories in India and that an Indian Rockefeller would be no better than a European capitalist. He further articulated that machinery is a great sin which enslaves nations and money is a poison as much as sexual vice.
Hence, Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of development was, by default, non-exploitative of nature as it would not include most machines which we use in our daily lives. Machines, like automobiles, and machine making industries are the worst pollutants of environment and sources of carbon emissions. But unfortunately the modern world has adopted a path of development which is in direct contrast to the one suggested by Gandhi.
The dilemma of modern development is best captured by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the trusted lieutenant of Manmohan Singh, the modern economist Prime Minister who put India on fast track development with his neo-liberal policies.
A Human Development Report released by United Nations Development Programme in 2007-08 recommended that developed countries aim for a 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050 and major emitters in developing world, like India and China, aim for 20% reduction. 
The trap in which people like Montek Singh Ahluwalia fall: Ignoring Gandhi’s advice to reject pollution-generating industrialised model of development
It warned that trend of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could lead to reversals in progress made in nutrition, health and poverty reduction. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, then deputy chairman of planning commission, described abovementioned recommendation as fundamentally flawed because it did not address the issue of equity.
He argued that United States, which emitted 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita per year would reach a level of 3 tonnes after 80% reduction but India, which emitted merely 1.2 tonnes would come down to about 0.8 tonne of carbon dioxide per capita per year after a 20% cut. He did not consider this fair enough.
The UNDP report said that if each poor person on the planet had the same energy rich life style as that in US and Canada, nine planets would be needed to safely cope with pollution.
The trap in which people like Montek Singh Ahluwalia fall is quite obvious. Ignoring Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to reject the concept of pollution generating industrialised model of development if we make the developed world as our ideal then we’ll also have to match their pollution levels. This is quite clearly non-sustainable. Government of India follows the same misconceived thinking of development even today.
Instead what was expected of India was to evolve an alternative model of development which may not have produced fantastic growth as was achieved by Manmohan Singh’s methods but would have aimed at providing employment to all our youth as well as would have been ecologically sustainable. Manmohan Singh used to repeatedly talk about jobless growth and even advocates that today.
But that is not in the interest of the country. Instead Bhutan has taken a courageous step by declaring that Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important that Gross Domestic Product. The idea of GNH is based on holistic and sustainable thinking which gives importance to non-economic indicators too.
After all well being is not just in economic terms. Bhutan has identified a total of 33 indicators in nine equally weighted domains like cultural and ecological diversity and resilience as well as community vitality in a paradigm of Buddhist understanding.
This is what Gandhi was trying to convey when he rejected the western idea of progress. He claimed that the Hindu view of life and progress was markedly different from the western perspective. He strived to explain his views painstakingly through writings like Hind Swaraj but alas even his close colleagues like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel didn’t share his vision.
However, as the world hurtles towards a climate change crisis Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas would increasingly seem to have more wisdom. Our future existence will depend on how much willing we are to adopt them.
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*Magsaysay award winning social and political activist, contact: ashaashram@yahoo.com

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