Now that everything has come to a standstill, and the whole world is worried about the new paradigm, can Bharat step up to pacify and reassure the world? The answer is yes.
Everything, except for the movement of the Earth has come to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic. There is no buzz of jet planes overhead, trains are not running, cars are not clogging the arterial roads and human beings have stopped walking—let alone jogging or running outdoors. The earth is breathing clean and healthy air. Pollution has almost disappeared and fresh air hidden behind the chimera of a persistent smog has been set free. The water of the rivers runs clean, animals are fearlessly claiming their rightful place under the sun, nature is manifesting itself in its full glory—so much so that the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas are now clearly visible from Jalandhar in Punjab.
Even if all this is for but a brief moment in time, it is a critical moment in human history and its memory will abide. For the first time in our lives we have been allowed a glimpse of what might happen if the machine of human enterprise and industry grinds to a halt. But in order to truly understand the repercussions of halting the pace of development, one must first comprehend the fallouts of development.
S.K. Chakraborty, in his article “Rising Technology and falling ethics”, writes, “The march of modern science & technology derived from it, coincided with an era when the human race was beginning to snap its ties of personal feeling level relationship with earth and nature. Enlightened objectivism meant discarding all metaphors and rituals and myths concretising the man-nature relationship as superstition. A calculative, prediction control attitude becomes the insignia of the progressive and liberated mentality. At this point the real breach occurred. One need not stop for a moment to consider the right or wrong of any action regarding something to which there is no relatedness. The growth of this superlative consciousness appears to be the most basic explanation for non-ethics in human affairs vis-a-vis nature. No doubt numerous aspects of external physical life benefitted from the sci-tech combination through control & subjugation of matter, air, water, time, distance and so on. Yet, the keynote has been the shift from harmony to highhandedness from awe and reverence to petulance & arrogance.
“If man nature alienation has been the chief cause of unethicality towards ecology and environment, this same alienative ethos began to evade all dimensions of human society. Nation-to-nation, organization-to organization, man-to-man and similar relatedness networks have increasingly become instrumental to the supreme goal of objective affluence powered by sci-tech engine. Thus, international management conferences today do not encourage any meeting of minds. Secret political and material agenda work beneath the surface—all aimed at running the sci-tech race faster and faster. This process leads to a gradual weakening of ethical sentiments which are seen to be soft and fuzzy. Not only has nature come to be treated as a resource, as a means, but man too unethically emerges as an inherent property of this clever techno centric outlook.
“From tool to machine to automation to chip—this progression seems to have made the human race increasingly less human.”
This has happened due to the thoughtless increase in the speed of development and consumerism.
Now as the pace has slowed, the river water is clean, the air has been purified, and the individual is spending more time with family and amongst loved ones. The warmth of close relationships and living a life of basic necessities, has made people see that life can be lived in a way that is not dominated by consumption. One of the messages circulating on social media reads, “When you cannot go outside, go inside.” It brings to mind the essence of the Bharatiya thought, “Not just outwards, travel inwards too.” That is not to say that there is no downside of the manner in which the world has come to a standstill. The economic wheel of the world has stopped, jobs have been lost, salaries are due, and debts are mounting. People have had to leave the cities where they sought livelihood and return to the villages. These circumstances present many conundrums and as always questions that confront a huge and diverse country like Bharat are plenty.
The author Billy Lim, in his book, Dare to Fail, provides an important insight. He says, “When you face a problem and take yourself away from it, it becomes a situation. When you are to analyse it, it becomes a challenge. And when you think of your resources to meet the challenge, it becomes an opportunity.”
The traditional education system in Bharat has always encouraged innovation and a questioning spirit. Teachers taught students how to learn, and through their own conduct and example, how to lead life. Right now, education is being provided as a commercial enterprise for the sole purpose of teaching students how to earn money and amp up consumerism. As a result, we have been preparing self-centered and materialistic generations.
Because the yardstick to measure development and the direction of it in Bharat has been urban-centric, all the basic facilities of roads, health, education, employment etc., have remained city-centric. As a result, there was a migration of Bharat’s talent and intelligence from villages to cities, from cities to metros and from metros to foreign lands. Therefore, the villages are emptying out and congestion in the cities is increasing. The life of the cities may be convenient, but it is run-of-the-mill, cut off from ground realities and ultimately hollow. And our development trajectory has left us with no option. The globalisation, which was imposed on developing and underdeveloped countries, is now yielding its adverse effects. The world is finally understanding that “globalisation”, as it is being practised, is a new incarnation of “colonisation”—cleverly disguised for the exploitation of developing and underdeveloped countries. Everyone is looking for a way out of this vicious cycle.
So, now that everything has come to a standstill, and the whole world is worried about the new paradigm, can Bharat step up to pacify and reassure the world?
The answer is yes. Bharat, and only Bharat can do this, because only Bharat possesses three qualities in the comity of nations. One, only Bharat has at least more than10,000 years’ experience of social and national life. Secondly, Bharat has a unique spirituality based on the holistic and integral view of life and the lived experience of this world view. The modern sci-tech innovations have brought the world close together that if the humanity, with its ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity, has to live together, complementing each other, and preserving and celebrating diversity, it must turn to Bharat because we inherently view unity in diversity and live celebrating all aspects of human life, with controlled consumption. This is what the world has experienced with and observed about Bharat for ages. Bharat had achieved the pinnacle of material prosperity and in fact had the highest share in the world trade from 1 to 1700 AD. History is witness that for thousands of years, the people of Bharat used to go to different countries all over the world for business, but they did not attempt to build their colonies on these foreign lands to exploit the people there, neither did they try to enslave or convert them. Rather, Bharatiyas imparted culture and a better, civilised way of living life by their own living examples, wherever they went. This could happen due to our spirituality-based view of life that taught us to look at the entire world as one family, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. Wherever we went, we created wealth and spread prosperity.
This shows that Bharat has a vision, expertise and experience to shape a new world order.
Now is the time for us to think about the ways in which we can make this happen.
After a thorough assessment of the fallouts of the corona pandemic, can Bharat, with its vast experience, entrenched in human history, take and fulfil the responsibility of ushering in a new world order?
Bharat has always looked beyond its own interests. It has subscribed to the idea of the welfare of the whole world encapsulated in the saying, “आत्मनो मोक्षार्थम् जगत् हिताय च (my own spiritual enlightenment together with the betterment of the world)”.
In his essay titled “Swadeshi Samaj, Guruvarya” Rabindranath Thakur has said, “First, we have to be what ‘we’ are.” This “we”, indicating our identity, is rooted in our spirituality based integral and holistic view of life. All the people, living on this vast land extending from the Himalayas to the Andamans, speaking various languages, known by different castes, worshipping different deities, share this view as their own identity.
People have described this identity variously, but essentially, it stands on four pillars. First, “एकम् सत् विप्राः बहुधा वदन्ति (Truth is one. It can be called by different names and can be reached by different paths. Though diverse, all the paths are equal)”. Second, the ability to see unity in diversity, instead of thinking of diversity as differences, embracing it as the basis of unity. Third, the belief that every soul is potentially divine and the goal of human life is to manifest the divinity within. And finally, the path of every individual to connect with the Supreme Divinity can be different, subject to one’s interest, capacity and nature. Though the paths to reach the Divinity are different, every human life should be directed towards reaching that Ultimate goal. This identity, resting on the aforementioned four pillars, should manifest itself in the lives of all Bharatwasis.
Even today, more than 60% of Bharat lives in villages. Back in the day, the conditions of these villages were less than ideal. There were no roads, no facilities for quality education, the absence of good health facilities, and no opportunities for employment for the young. Living in the village was associated with being backward. Therefore, for education and health facilities, and to earn a livelihood, those who were talented and ambitious, preferred to migrate from the villages to the cities.
But for some time now the situation has been changing. And this change is the need of the hour. Today the villages are connected by roads and electricity; internet and mobile phones have connected them with the outside world, and means of transport are available. If good health facilities and quality education were to be provided, people would prefer to stay in the villages. The possibility of a decentralised economy, and village and small-town centric industry has increased. Due to the coronavirus, people from the cities are fleeing to their villages, returning to their people and to the land where they belong. A considerable number of those who have returned are from the educated class. If the work opportunities for them are created or they are engaged in developmental work in the villages, 40% of the people who have returned to their villages can be retained where they come from.
The lack of innovation and creativity is apparent in the educated class today. This can be changed by taking initiatives to boost the innovation ecosystem in the country by providing platforms for innovators to scale up their products, and organising workshops, hackathons and various other online training programs. Many new small-scale, agro and rural industries can be started in the rural zones. Cluster-villages can be helpful in developing a series of mutually complementary industries in rural areas. Technology-enabled solutions can help these people to deliver goods directly to the customers or to retail stores without any interference of middlemen. This also has the potential to generate more employment for the youth. For instance, taxi operators like Uber and Ola have changed the definition of commuting by offering hassle-free and comfortable rides. In addition, they have generated employment opportunities—all thanks to technology.
The market for organic food is currently exhibiting strong growth—a major factor driving the demand for organic food being the rising levels of health awareness. Especially, Indian consumers have started paying attention to the nutrient content and quality of food that they intake. Hence, it presents an opportunity for young people to venture into organic food business and also explore the rural zones. An organised demand-supply chain can be created to create a mutually beneficial and balanced economy. A doorstep delivery system directly from farms to customers can create jobs and also make it consumer-friendly. With vast arable land, Bharat is the only country that can meet the demand of the world. There is increasing awareness and demand for desi milk and milk products from humped Bharatiya breeds of cows owing to their medicinal properties. A similar system can be developed to bridge the gap between demand and supply by facilitating the sale of desi milk to the urban customers from villages. This, again, can generate employment opportunities.
The panacea to battle the problem of unemployment can be the growth of small and medium scale industrial units (MSMEs). They are fairly labour-intensive and create employment opportunities at a relatively low capital outlay and at the same time, they tend to provide increased employment. When provided with electricity, low-interest loan, tax concessions and other required facilities, these small and medium sized industries serve as seedbeds for entrepreneurship.
As product design is an important element for success, we need to invest in improving the quality and design of our products to compete in the global market. Countries like Korea and Japan have been faring well in the international market for they paid attention to product designing decades ago. Workshops need to be organised and youth needs to be trained in order to be internationally competitive.
China has a significant influence on the economy of Bharat. The pandemic and the attempts to contain it have sharply cut the world’s appetite for Chinese goods and has built a global backlash against it. A call to boycott Chinese goods will be well received at this moment. But before that, we need to establish a solid manufacturing industry to meet the demands of our nation with competitive prices as sharp price difference is the reason why Chinese goods are in demand. It is, in a sense, an economic war. Manufacturing in Bharat will foster employment and create new jobs. There is a buzz in the media that many countries of the world are considering snapping trade ties with China. If this is to be believed, Bharat with a comparable population as China can be an alternative supplier for these countries if we can ensure good quality and fair pricing for the goods to be exported. Seizing this opportunity will help generate employment and increase our exports, strengthening the economy of Bharat. The government should facilitate export and give some incentives for manufacturing and export. The people of Bharat are capable of taking up this challenge.
Schemes should focus on meeting the local employment demand. For every nation production and promotion of indigenous (Swadeshi) products is necessary. The “one size fits all” approach of globalisation isn’t suitable for everybody as trade is subject to variations according to cultures, priorities, laws and regulations. Mutually accepted, complementary and cooperative economic agreements between countries is a far better model. Setting up of industrial zones to realise manufacturing goals in rural areas may help in reducing cost of production as the cost of living in villages is lower than that of cities. Moreover, villages guarantee a better quality of life. This can help reduce migration and keep families together.
All this should not depend solely on the government. Both the initiative of the society and the cooperation of the government can give lasting results. A total and integrated plan will have to be made. Gradually, the dependence of such schemes on the state should be reduced and society should be able to run these schemes by becoming self-reliant. This is the very idea of “Swadeshi Samaj” by Rabindranath Thakur. He opined that the society that is least dependent on the state power is “Swadeshi Samaj” and tradition of Bharat for centuries.
The new education policy is in the making in Bharat. The government has initiated the formulation process through the consultation process for an inclusive, participatory and holistic approach, which after due consideration, should be rolled out for implementation soon. Once it is done, a generation of self-sufficient and independent individuals, deeply rooted in the ethos of the country and culture, aiming to live their lives based on Bharatiya values will be ready to join the workforce and the goal of holistic development will be closer than it is today.
Pursuance of equal material prosperity and simultaneously training one’s mind to travel inwards to understand and realise the all-pervasive Divinity has been the hallmark of success and completeness of human life from the perspective of Bharat for aeons. This is exactly what is said in one of the famous definitions of Dharma(not religion): “यतोSभ्युदय निःश्रेयस सिद्धिः स धर्मः (One who accomplishes material prosperity and realisation of Self-divinity is the real Dharma, that every human being should pursue to live a complete life)”.
When the individuals in society are cognisant of this spiritual vision then they will voluntarily and dutifully contribute to the welfare of the society considering it to be their duty or Dharma. This accumulated capital of the society (the Dharma) will take care of every individual and enable him to partake the fruits of prosperity of the society.
Sister Nivedita, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, had said, “When the people in a society, instead of keeping the remuneration of their work to themselves, give it to the society, then on the basis of the capital of this accumulated remuneration, the society becomes rich and prosperous and every individual in the society, becomes rich and prosperous, ultimately bettering the picture of the society as a whole. But when the people in a society, confine the remuneration of their work to themselves without giving back to the society, only a handful of people in the society might become rich and prosperous, but the society at large remains poor.”
Here, in Bharat, considering the whole society as one’s own, realising our interdependence, and thus expanding the ambit of giving back to the society is deemed as “Dharma Karya”.
Traditionally, we, as a society never functioned depending solely on the state power (government) but majority of the social systems were sustained on the basis of this accumulated social capital, and thus Dharma keeping the entire society rich and prosperous.
Whatever noble people engage in, the rest (of the world) follows. Whatever they set as an example is followed by all, is the crux of the following verse from the Gita:
“यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठः तत्तदेवेतरो जनाः। स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते।।”
Given the tremendous potential discussed above, a multidimensional and comprehensive master plan should be drawn for the future of Bharat. This is the opportunity offered by the circumstances created by the pandemic and we will do well to seize it.
Dr Manmohan Vaidya is Sah Sarkaryawah (Joint General Secretary), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.