Timeless Inspirator: Reliving Gandhi
Edited by Raghunath Mashelkar
Sakal Publications 2010 HB pp369 ISBN 978 93 80571 48 5
This is a book on Gandhi that looks much more to the future than to the past. It takes the form of 45 short essays by ‘superachievers’ (almost all Indian). The idea came from the editor who is a distinguished scientist himself. While some of the authors are from outside the fields of science, engineering, IT, economics and business, that is where the emphasis lies. Raghunath Mashelkar says that engineers and industrialists always strive for ‘more from less’, but he had the idea of ‘Gandhian Engineering’ which would produce more (performance) from less (resource) for more (people) not just for more (profit). This would be a form of development that would fit with Gandhian philosophy.
I think the question that many of the authors are posing is, can a (basically) free market economic system with advanced technology solve the problem of inequality and poverty ? And the answer they give is – if done in the right way – it can.
Many of the authors correctly point out that Gandhi was not against technology as such but only if it did not benefit those at the bottom of the economic ladder. As some of the writers acknowledge explicitly there is a huge gulf between the increasingly affluent sections of the Indian population and the majority, living mainly in the villages, who remain desperately poor. India is by no means unique in that respect but it does have the largest number of the poorest of any country.
Kiran Karnik sees great potential for the Gandhian ideal of decentralisation in the new communication technology. Where there is electronic connectivity – and 100,000 Community Service Centres are planned in India – there is access to information from the web and so there is potential for outsourcing of some services and manufacture. Various costs are lower in small towns and rural areas so that gives them an advantage over city locations. Other uses of modern technology are suggested by Ashok Jhunjhunwala: in education, since the quality of village teaching is often poor, communication technology could provide tuition to village students to improve the level of education; health services in rural areas are deficient but untrained medical practitioners could be helped by voice or video link to qualified urban medical practitioners. In agriculture, ‘sophisticated callcentres’ are beginning to be developed and they could provide information to farmers on crops, weather, fertilisers, etc. Other provisions needed are smallscale agro-industry, microfinance, decentralised energy production eg solar power, biomass. Such development, the author suggests, could involve less consumption of goods than we in the West expect and the villages could resemble in essence those that Gandhi envisioned.
Other areas covered by the essays are innovative architecture, developing cheap medicines and low technology medical treatments, local governance (Panchayati Raj), community forests, multiculturalism, integrity in public life, gender politics, global warming.
One of the authors is a Friend of the Gandhi Foundation and neuropsychologist, Dr Narinder Kapur, who looks at Gandhian values in science and suggests that scientists should take a form of the Hippocratic Oath such as medical doctors have taken on graduation.
There is one major area that is largely absent from the book and that is nonviolence. I could only see one reference to India’s substantial armaments and that is by one of the few women who contribute an essay, Anu Aga, who says “[Gandhi’s] own India exploded a nuclear device in 1974 euphemistically calling it a peaceful nuclear explosion. The second explosion happened in 1998 and almost every Indian applauded. By joining the nuclear weapons race, we have turned our backs on the concept of Ahimsa and have further diverted our country’s scarce resources that could have been used for taking care of the poor.” But I wonder how many of the authors would agree with that statement. Nor are the negative effects that often accompany development tackled.
Nevertheless, there is much stimulating material in these essays and the idea that inspired it has been fulfilled to a considerable extent. The book is also an attractive hardback publication enhanced by line drawings of all the authors to accompany the short biographies.
The book can be ordered through a website http://www.timelessinspirator.com although
the price in £ is not given.
Or contact Prof Narinder Kapur at firstname.lastname@example.org
A kindle edition is also available at Amazon.co.uk