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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 27, New Delhi, June 20, 2020

From Self-reliant Villages to a Self-reliant India | K Gireesan & Jos Chathukulam

Saturday 20 June 2020, by Jos Chathukulam


by K Gireesan * and Jos Chathukulam**


Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on 12 May 2020 at 8 p.m. sharing his views for the third time since the eruption of COVID-19 and imposition of lockdown in our country in which he highlighted the launch of ‘AthmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ (Self Reliant India Campaign). He revealed the vision of self-reliant India with its thrust on local economic development to boost the Indian economy, which is not much different from conventional development paradigm. He describes that the ‘magnificient building of Self-reliant India’ will stand on five pillars like Economy, Infrastructure, System, Demography and Demand. He highlighted that the economic package of INR 20 lakh crores will have its emphasis on 4Ls — Land, Labor, Liquidity and Laws. The economic package is expected to bring benefit to the poor, labourers, migrant labourers, etc. The authors analyse the speech of Prime Minister in view of the writings of Tilak, Gandhi, Kumarappa, Upadhaya and Schumacher. Absence of spirit of co-operative federalism in the speech was also highlighted. It is suggested to have a consideration for ‘Solidarity Economics’ that refers to the struggle aimed at ‘humanising the capitalist economy’, improve the social relations and supplement with community-based social safety and security nets.

Key Words: Self Reliant India, Resurgent India, Gram Swaraj, Ecological Economics, Integral Humanism, Small is beautiful, Solidarity Economics

Note: The views expressed are personal.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation on 12 May 2020 at 8 p.m. sharing his views for the third time since the eruption of COVID-19 and imposition of lock down in our country. The one core point emphasised by him was all about the revival of ‘Athma Nirbhar Bharat’ means ‘Self-reliant India’. He commenced his speech highlighting the damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in all parts of the globe. Further, he mentioned that this crisis is ‘unthinkable as well as unprecedented’ to the humankind. Then he recited the comment by many across the world since the last century that ‘the 21st century belongs to India’.

While making a brief mention about the two phases of world order, before and after Corona, from India’s perspective, he viewed that ‘this is not our dream but a responsibility for all of us’. After setting the background, he came straight to the issue by raising a question, ‘What should be its trajectory?’ Then he himself gave the answer as ‘Athma Nirbhar Bharat’ (Self-reliant India). He pointed out that ‘the state of the world teaches us that a ‘Self-reliant India’ is the only path. These words from the Prime Minister take us back to the memory lines by several decades when Bal Gangadhar Tilak, MK Gandhi, JC Kumarappa and Deen Dayal Upadhaya gave their views on self-reliant villages, revitalising India, global peace, etc.

Bal GangadharTilak (Popularly known as LokmanyaTilak)analysed the philosophical basis of the ‘rejuvenation of Bharat’ in his famous book ‘Gita Rahasya’ in which he gave a comparative exposition of various schools of thought across the world. (Tilak, 1924).However, such thoughts and words did not attract much attention at that time, as everyone believed that it was more important to drive out the British and such aspects could be taken up later. But much before achieving independence, Tilak and many of his contemporaries who advocated on similar lines, walked into the pages of history.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi dreamt, advocated and acted for self-reliant villages in India. He gave a fine operational definition to Swaraj, especially ‘Gram Swaraj’ in a realistic manner. His perception on village life and living, was vividly described in a lucid manner in one of his personal letters sent to Munnalal Shah in 1941. In this letter, he mentioned that ‘Village may be regarded as reformed only when the largest possible number of village industries is flourishing; Nobody is illiterate; Roads are clean; Fixed place for evacuation; Clean wells/ drinking water sources; Harmony among the different communities; Total absence of untouchability; Everyone gets cow’s milk, ghee, etc.; None is without any work; and, Free from quarrels and thefts.’(Gandhi, 1941)

Gandhiji’s idea of Gram Swaraj has been explained in his writings in Harijan in 1942. He mentioned that ‘My idea of Gram Swaraj is that every village shall be a complete republic. In addition, it shall have the conditions like the following aspects. Independent of its neighbours for its own vital wants; Inter-dependent for many others in which dependence is a necessity; Every village’s concern is to grow its own food crops and cotton for cloth; Reserve adequate areas for grazing of cattle; Recreation and playground for children, adolescents and youth; If more land is available, we can grow more useful cash crops except ganja, tobacco, opium, etc.; Village theatre; Schools; Public hall/ meeting place; Own waterworks/ source of drinking water to ensure clean water supply through controlled wells or tanks; Compulsory education for all; Vibrant co-operative societies; and, no practice of untouchability.’(Gandhi, 1937)

Joseph C Kumarappapopularly known as ‘Mahatma Gandhi’s economist’ presented an ‘alternative economic model’ embedded with the values such as solidarity, self-help, mutual aid and co-operative efforts. He advocated for a model of local economic development for India and was very much engaged in demonstrating the same in several villages in the length and breadth of the country. Being an advocate and ardent practitioner of ‘Ecological Economics’, he vigorously campaigned for the ‘emergence and sustainability of community-based, community-owned and community-managed enterprises in the villages.’ (Lindley, 2007)

Kumarappa made significant contributions through his speech, writings and actions. Some of his famous writings are: Public Finance and our Poverty (1933), Public Debt of India (1935), and Why Village Movement (1936). His best writings on the alternative economic model was reflected in two books published in 1945 -Economy of permanence; and, Practice and Precepts of Jesus. Incidentally, both these monumental works were written while he was in prison!

His most famous book ‘Economy of Permanence’ can be regarded as a treatise on ‘Economic model with an ecological outlook’. In this book, he narrated a ‘theoretical ladder of five moral levels of economic activity such as Parasitic Economy, Predatory Economy. Economy of Enterprise, Economy of Gregation and Economy of Service,’ (Kumarappa, 1945)

Kumarappa was acknowledged as the foremost interpreter of Gandhian economic ideas, which was endorsed by Gandhi himself on several occasions. He advocated for building a natural economy with its foundation laid in the spirit of co-operation and service. He linked economy with sustainability, harmony and peace. And he strongly believed and advocated that ‘only decentralised production will improve the situation of people on a permanent basis.’ (Chathukulam,,2018)

Kumarappa strongly believed that ‘Gandhi’s socio-economic-political programmes would be the most ideal one to achieve growth and development in India, considering the uniqueness and diversity of the country.’ (Gireesan, 2018, 345-346)It is noted that though Kumarappa made significant contributions to the field of alternative development, he did not receive due respect and consideration in the discourse on development and environment in India. The first author views that ‘had the vision, mission, and objectives of Swadeshi Movement as conceived and propagated by Gandhi, Kumarappa and others with similar thinking been taken seriously by the eminent members of the Constituent Assembly, the socio-economic-political atlas of India may have been very different now’. (Ibid, 351)

Significantly, as a direct descendant and practitioner of Gandhian Economics with its base in rural economics, green economics, eco-ethics and eco-dharma, Kumarappa could work extensively for ’development of an economics that answered the dicta of Satya and Ahimsa.’ (Govindu and Malghan, 2005)

Gandhiji-Kumarappamodel of development aligns perfectly with theidea of achieving Sarvodaya within which they subsume the non-human world as well. For the human world, the principle of Antyodaya is one method of achievingSarvodaya, because it is by serving the poorest of the poor that a more inclusive form of welfare of all can be realised, for the relatively more endowed can fend for themselves. It also recognises the principle of decentralization and the sovereignty of local communities. While they are not averse to industrialisation, they insist that it be of a small-scale and agro-based nature. (Nair, and John, 2018, 312)

Kumarappa opined that ‘small-scale operations are less likely to be harmful to the natural environment than large-scale ones, given the ability of nature to recuperate when they are employed. The question of reversibility is hard or impossible when the operations are large. Thus, small groups are more environment-friendly’ (Ibid., 313)

Kumarappa firmly believed that ‘the capital-intensive economy was highly wasteful of natural resources upon which large capital stocks were created during the period of colonialism, wiping out the indigenous people and their ways of life. India had to do justice to its large pool of human resources. This called for prudent use of natural resources, best accomplished by empowering local communities to safeguard and nurture them, and creation of productive employment on a massive scale’. (Gireesan,, 2018)

Kumarappa always advocated for realising an economy based on ‘natural order’. As a true visionary, he highlighted the significance of renewable sources of energy over non-renewable sources. In his speeches, writings and works, one could find ‘traces of green thought, green democracy and green economy, with varying levels of intensity, pace and scale, though he never used the words sustainable development.’ (Ibid.)

Drawing inspiration from Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya discussed his doctrine of ‘Integral Humanism’. He described the significance of Sarvodaya (Progress for all), Swadeshi (Self-reliance) and Swaraj (Self-rule) as the most important components of Integral Humanism. He considered that it was very important for India to develop an ‘indigenous economic model’ with human being at the centre stage.

Upadhyay commented on a topic ‘Nature to Culture’ that ‘by nature a person is truthful. Many other principles of ethics were also discovered. In India, these principles are termed as Dharma — the laws of life. All those principles which bring about harmony, peace and progress in the life of mankind are included in this term Dharma.On the sound basis of Dharma, we must proceed with the analysis of life as an integral whole.’ (Pandit, 2002,16)

According to Upadhyay, ‘Bharatiya Approach to Life’ points towards the ‘integrated human being in which the progress of human being is a resultant of simultaneous progress of the body, mind, intellect and soul. However, over a period of time, an impression was created that Bharatiya culture thinks of salvation of the soul only and it does not bother about the rest. This is wrong. Our attention to the soul appears unique.’ (Ibid.,18)

As students of democracy and decentralization, the authors have identified few years back itself that there are ‘some common threads’ in the perspectives of Kumarappa and Upadhyay, despite faith and allegiance to their divergent ideologies. The ideas of ‘Natural Order’ of Kumarappa and ‘Integral Humanism’ of Upadhyay are aimed at bringing harmony at the level of individuals, groups, institutions, state, society and nature.’ (Chathukulam, et. al., 2018, 270)

Schumacher in his famous book ‘Small is beautiful’, highlighted that ‘we must thoroughly understand the problem and begin to see the possibility of evolving a new life-style, with new methods of production and new patterns of consumption.’ (Schumacher, 1973)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of self-reliant India with its thrust on local economic development is a timely initiative to boost the Indian economy though it is not much different from the conventional development paradigm. And it has the potentials and possibilities to empower the ‘nation-state’ during the present pandemic crisis, where he visualises a ‘responsible place’ for India in the comity of nations across the world. And he was very conscious to comment that ‘the 21st century is the century for India. This is not our dream, rather a responsibility for all of us.’ (Modi, 2020).

The Prime Minister would have been influenced by the writings of Tilak, Gandhi, Kumarappa, Upadhayay and Schumacher while presenting his views on ‘Self-reliant India’. He describes that the ‘magnificent building of Self-reliant India’ will stand on five pillars such as Economy, Infrastructure, System, Demography and Demand. While announcing the economic package with a new resolution to boost the Athma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self Reliant India Campaign), he made the declaration of around INR 20 lakh crores which will be about 10 percent of India’s GDP. He also highlighted that the economic package will have its emphasis on 4Ls — Land, Labor, Liquidity and Laws and explained each of these components during his address to the nation. He also mentioned that the details of the economic package will be released by the Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman in the coming days. He emphasised that the economic package will bring benefit to the poor, labourers, migrant labourers, cattle rearers, fisherfolk, workers in the organised sector and/or unorganised sector, etc.

The Prime Minister gave emphasis on the rich culture and tradition of our country with its soul in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakamwhich considers the whole world as a big family. He emphasised that ‘India’s self-reliance is ingrained in the happiness, cooperation and peace of the world.’ (Ibid.) He minces no words while declaring that India’s progress has been integral to the progress of the world.

One of the highlights of his address was the emphasis on the word ‘Local’ which was apparently a significant departure from his past speeches. While giving details such as Local manufacturing, Local market and Local supply chain, he acknowledged that ‘this Local has fulfilled our demand, this Local has saved us. Local is not just the need, it is our responsibility also. Time has taught us that we must make the Local as the mantra of our life.’ (Ibid.) Most interestingly, he advocated that every Indian has to become ‘vocal for their local’ by not only buying local products but also by promoting them proudly.

Though the speech by the Prime Minister has been a great motivational one as in the past, it falls short of the dreams and aspirations about self-reliant India that was manifested by Tilak in his exposition on ‘Rejuvenation of Bharat’, Gandhiji in his views on ‘Gram Swaraj’, Kumarappa in his remarks on ‘Ecological Economics’ and Upadhyay’s comments on ‘Integral humanism’. The speech by the Prime Minister gave more importance to the economic development of India and the country’s edge over others in this crisis situation. This advantageous position of India is due to the demographic dividend, thrust on skills, culmination of diligence and fairly robust socio-economic-political system led by different spheres of Government. This was very much evident during this pandemic situation to keep our heads high despite of surging water around the globe. The booster agenda for economic development was in a way aligned well with the development paradigm practised, with sufficient space to further strengthen the ‘nation-state’ and emerge as a ‘Viswa Guru’ (Universal Leader) in this global crisis situation.

The Prime Minister ought to have touched upon the role of State Governments and Local Governments in the process of rebuilding the local economic development agenda in line with his faith and expressions about ‘Co-operative Federalism’. In addition, the significance of exchange of ideas and resources between ‘Union to State’, ‘State to State’, ‘State to Local’ and vice versa also might have been revealed. It needs no emphasis to mention that the extra-ordinary and unprecedented situations demand extra-ordinary and unprecedented decisions and actions as well.

Though the Prime Minister hinted about the debate on Human Centric globalisation versus Economy Centralised globalisation in his speech, the emerging significance of ‘Solidarity Economy’ was overlooked. It is about conceptualising transformative monetary qualities, processes, practices and foundations towards aiming and achieving egalitarian and participatory monetary conduct by all the stakeholders, with thrust on the policies, programmes and activities by the State. It seeks to improve the quality of life in a region, state, nation or world on the basis of solidarity, which may be through local — global business and not for profit endeavours. It is suggested to have a consideration for ‘Solidarity Economics’ that refers to the struggle aimed at ‘humanising the capitalist economy’, improve the social relations and supplement with community-based social safety and security nets.

No doubt that the speech by the Prime Minister of India has boosted the motivation and morale of all citizens within the country and the global citizens in this pandemic crisis by his views on Athma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self Reliant India Campaign). It is hoped that the efforts to practise ‘Ecological Economics’ and ‘Solidarity Economics’ will enable to lead the whole world to tide over this pandemic crisis to reaffirm India’s position as ‘Viswa Guru’ (Universal Leader) in the successive years and decades.

Note: The views expressed are personal.


Dr. Gireesan Krishnapisharoti, Associate Professor and Head, Centre for Policy and Action Research, Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Sriperumbudur — 602 105. E-mail ID: gireesan.decentralisation[at]

(Corresponding Author)

Dr. Jos Chathukulam, Professor, Sri Ramakrishna Hegde Chair on Decentralisation and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru. E-mail ID: joschathukulam[at]


Chathukulam, Jos., Kumar, Jeevan., and Gireesan, K. (2018). Exploring the Ideas of JC Kumarappa on Decentralization, Green Economy and Alternative Development in India, Gandhi Marg, 39(4), p.265.

Gandhi, M.K. (1937).Harijan, Vol. 64, 9 Jan 1937, pp. 217-218.

Gandhi, M.K. (1941), Letter to Munnalal Shah, Vol. 73, 4 April 1941, p.421.

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Govindu, Venu Madhav and Malghan, Deepak (2005). Building a creative freedom: J.C. Kumarappa and his economic philosophy, Economic and Political Weekly, 40 (52), 2005.

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Nair, N.V. and John, M.S.(2018). Revisiting the Discourse on Protection of Western Ghats from a Gandhi-Kumarappa Perspective, Gandhimarg, 39 (4), pp.311-330.

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