TECH TALK: Gandhigiri: Towards a New India

Edward Luce has authored a book on India In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India. When asked about his views on Gandhi, this is what he said in an interview with The Hindu:

He was a brilliant mobiliser of the masses, a translator and the best populariser of an elitist freedom movement into an idiom the masses could understand, the most effective tactician of the freedom struggle. He was a legendary and towering figure. I would not want to diminish Gandhi and I wouldn’t be qualified to do so.

There is a very strong and deeply rooted cultural romanticism about the village in India. It’s primarily upper caste urban people who are the keepers of the flame of this romanticism. I want India to develop and development means urbanisation. It is an inescapable fact. I don’t believe that urbanisation means liquidation of culture. France is 90 per cent urban. France is quintessentially French. India has a great urban civilisational heritage. It’s not as if India’s cradle of culture is purely the village. But partly because of the distortions of the colonial era and partly because and this is not an original point I’m making the villages are the least tainted and least interfered with by the colonial presence, the village became the repository in the freedom movement dialectic of Indian culture. That romanticism which I think is very conservative is still quite widespread. It is not stopping India urbanising but it’s making the urban experience far more callous and bloody than it could be. Urbanisation can be done well. It can be anticipated. Demographic trends can be projected and you can start putting infrastructure in place without having to be Japanese.

We face many challenges in India even as we are on the path of rapid growth. Even as the nation was celebrating Gandhi Jayanti and the resurgence in interest in Gandhis principles, the New York Times was running a series of stories on one of Indias biggest problems the availability of clean drinking water to the masses. Here is what it wrote: The [water] crisis, decades in the making, has grown as fast as India in recent years. A soaring population, the warp-speed sprawl of cities, and a vast and thirsty farm belt have all put new strains on a feeble, ill-kept public water and sanitation network. The combination has left water all too scarce in some places, contaminated in others and in cursed surfeit for millions who are flooded each year. Today the problems threaten Indias ability to fortify its sagging farms, sustain its economic growth and make its cities healthy and habitable. At stake is not only Indias economic ambition but its very image as the worlds largest democracy.

Water is just of one the many challenges India faces. Education, energy, urbanization, healthcare, poverty, AIDS, infrastructure, corruption there is a lot of catching up to do. Indias young need jobs and opportunities and we have increasingly little time to provide it. We are going to need disruptive solutions to many of Indias problems. Gandhi realised that a violence-driven approach would probably not have gotten India independent and even if it did, it would not be the same India. His disruptive innovation of using non-co-operation as a weapon against the British needs to find its echo in todays India to solve the problems that we face. Gandhigiri is just a start.

TECH TALK Gandhigiri+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.