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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 41, October 4, 2014

Inevitability of Gandhian Village Reconstruction in Rural India

Monday 6 October 2014

by G. Gangadhara Rao


Many thinkers doubt the economic ideology of Gandhi, since they believe that it is not a suitable method either as a policy or as an approach. But gradually this way of thinking has been changing across the world. Kazuya Ishii says: “Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts seem to be attracting more and more attention nowadays, as the domination among nations and the destruction of the environment are globally questioned.” (Kazuya Ishii, p. 297, 2001) There has been much academic interest and argumentation over the Gandhian economic idealogy in the recent past. B.P. Mathur (2011) says: “The basis of Gandhiji’s economic philosophy was individual dignity and the welfare of the poorest of the poor.”

Some argue that Gandhian economics is quite appropriate for the present-day crisis in rural development in India. Gandhi is not against any development. In his words, “By economic progress, I take it, we mean material advance-ment without limit, and by real progress we mean moral progress.... I hold that economic progress in the sense I have put it is antagonistic to real progress.” (Gandhi 1957, Vol. 2: 3-9) He wants to remove exploitation in any form and in any area. Therefore, he says: “To make India like England and America is to find some other races and places of the earth for exploitation. So far it appears that the Western nations have divided all the known races outside Europe for exploitation and that there are no new worlds to discover.” (Ibid., p. 24)

The Gandhian economic model is analysed in the first section in the backdrop of current setbacks in rural development; and the necessity of the alternative method in the second section. Further, in the third section the rationale of the combined public expenditure met by the budgetary allocations of the Centre and all States during 1950-2011 is discussed. The effort is to estimate the imbalanced allocations of the main heads of rural development; and finally the future pathway is explored in the last section.

I. 1. Gandhi’s Economic Development Policy—A Rare Jewel endowed with No Exploitation

Gandhi advocated a fair deal for the rural people and sought their welfare without any exploita-tion from external forces—urban or foreign producers. When he was questioned, “Is the economic law that man must buy in the best and cheapest market wrong?”, Gandhi answered: “It is one of the most inhuman among the maxims laid down by modern economists.” (Ibid., p. 85) In the name of laissez-faire, man should not exploit other’s resources or work or his freedom. It is not to disturb other’s livelihood through its production methods or trade. In 1934 Gandhi clearly commented that “[In the economics of khadi] human selfishness, Adam Smith’s pure economic motive, constitutes the ‘disturbing factor’ that has got to be overcome.” (Ibid.: 260) David Ricardo also estimated the probable diminishing returns of land cultivation and consequently the increase in food prices. Therefore, he suggested avoidance of this situation through the use of machinery to increase the productivity and importing cheap raw agricultural products from other countries. It indicates that the production should be made cheaply and exported to other countries to acquire much profit, whereas Gandhi is against this economic policy. He is against exploiting other’s resources through trade. In his words, “The economics that permits one country to prey upon another is immoral... The true economy defends social justice; it promotes the good of all through an equality that includes the weakest; and it is indispensable for a good life.” (Gandhi 1968, Vol. 6: 321)

Our past and present economists and politicians are much accustomed to replicating the foreign methods, practices, and habits in all walks of Indian life without any discrimination. Because of this reason, today India suffers from innumerable problems that have cropped up in every sphere. We have no hesitation to invite machines and production methods and even investment from foreign states today to offer remedies to the problems of our economic development. But Gandhi openly and lucidly said: ”the condition of India is unique.. .. We need not, therefore, refer to the history of other countries.” (Gandhi, p. 63, 1922) Despite this, our first Prime Minister, Nehru, continued to be skeptical towards Gandhi’s way of nation-building (Nehru 1962), though he added village industries in the First Five-Year Plan.

Gandhi advocated a self-reliant village or a small republic in rural India because he felt that ”an ideal Indian village will be so constructed as to lend itself to perfect sanitation. It will have cottages with sufficient light and ventilation, built of a material obtainable within a radius of five miles of it. The cottages will have courtyards enabling the householders to plant vegetables for domestic use and to house their cattle. The village lanes and streets will be free of all avoidable dust. It will have wells according to its needs and accessible to all. It will have houses of worship for all, also a common meeting place, a village common for grazing its cattle, a cooperative dairy, primary and secondary schools in which industrial education will be the central factor, and it will have panchayats for settling disputes. It will produce its own grains, vegetables and fruit, and its own khadi. This is roughly my idea of a model village.” (Tendulkar 1951-54, Vol. 4: 144)

2. Gandhi’s Model of Economic Development

In brief, the Gandhian village development is people-centric; as Schumacher summed up Gandhi’s prescription for the salvation of India and indeed for the whole world as follows (Surur Hoda, 1997):

1. Start all economic reasoning from the genuine needs of the people and help the poor to help themselves out of poverty.

2. Revitalise and foster not only agriculture as such but also all possible productive, non-agricultural activities in the rural areas such as cottage industries for potters, weavers, shoemakers, carpenters, blacksmiths etc.

3. Resist further concentration of the growing population in large cities by reversing the trend of migration from rural to urban areas.

4. Develop systematic policies, based on the best available knowledge for the mobilisation of all productive resources, the greatest of which is the population itself.

The five main pillars of the Gandhian economic thinking were identified by Schumacher as: 1) Non-violent, 2) Simple, 3) Small, 4) Capital Saving, and 5) Rural-based. He forecast that history would consider Gandhi as not only a good, religious and political leader but also a great development economist. A rare jewel, having blessed India in the holistic development of the rural economy and a setting ancestrally and culturally suited to the huge masses of India, is Gandhian village reconstruction. “Even at the risk of being dismissed as ‘biased’ and ‘presumptuous’, we endeavour here to view development from Gandhi’s window, a window which, for us, not only offers a coherent, alternative development framework,.....” (L.C. Jain, p. 311, 1988) We are hardly ready to calibrate any native stuff, though it fits well and renders much. We have traversed a lot with this style of life for many decades.

Due to the repeated failures of imported economic thinking, it would be appropriate to come out from that groove to change the scenario for vast segments of the rural population. Of course, some native thinkers many a time advocate socialism and communism in India. But in the case of the Gandhian vision of development for the masses of rural India, they step back and are reticent. How long can policy formulators wait for the resentful judgment of the rural populace? Gandhi explored a policy that endows the society with the natural way of life and paves the way for a peaceful and harmonious life in the rural society. He has followed a non-exploitative method, which is inherent in his economic policy.

II. Setbacks and Need for Alternative in Village Transformation in India

a) Poverty Level

It is disheartening and deplorable to find the existing conditions in rural India, though a lot of time and effort has been spent in improving these in the post-independence period. The poverty alleviation programmes are numerous in the rural areas across the nation, yet the poverty levels continue to be quite high. As per the press release of the Planning Commission, the poverty estimates report 21.6 crores (25.70 per cent) in the rural areas for 2011-12. As per the different rounds of the National Sample Survey (NSS) in 1993-94, poverty in the rural areas was 37.3 per cent and it declined to 33.8 per cent by 2009-10. The reduction took place only by 4.5 per cent during the span of 16 years. We also observe that poverty declined from 37.3 per cent to 27.1 per cent during 1993-4-2000 and later it increased to 41.8 per cent by 2004-05. The per capita expenditure was Rs 1053.64 in 2009-10 and per capita cereals consumption was Rs 161.17 in the same period. The share of social groups in poverty reports for STs was 16.4 per cent, SCs 28.5 per cent, OBCs 40.1 and ‘Others’ 15.0 per cent respectively in 2009-10. The share of occupational groups in poverty in 2009-10 informs self-employed in non-agriculture 13.4 per cent, agricultural labour 40.8 per cent, other labour 16.8 per cent, self-employed in agriculture 24.0 per cent and others 5.1 per cent. The share of different age-groups in the total poverty shows a higher degree in the lower-age groups rather than in the higher ages. The Gini coefficient shows unequal distribution of monthly per capita consumption expenditure, as it was 0.302 in 1972-73 and thus in every quinquinnial nearly a similar inequality continued and in 2004-05 it was 0.297. The 30 per cent population at the bottom shared the total per capita consumption expenditure at 15 per cent in 1972-73 and continued a similar share (15.50 per cent) by 2004-05 and the top 30 per cent population’s share in the per capita consumer expenditure was 50.90 per cent in 1972-73 and continued at the same level till 2004-05. The Lorenz Ratio of Distribution of monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) for rural areas informs 0.291 for all-India in 2009-10. The households without food in 1999-2000 were 0.70 per cent and in 2004-05 0.40 per cent and only some months of the year were 2.6 per cent and 0.40 per cent in 1999-2000 and 2004-05 respectively.

Hence, there is a dire need to take the message and practice of Gandhian thought in both planning and implementation to render a real change in village life. (Ramakrishna Rao K. 2012) Mathur, B.P. (2011) rightly pointed to the need for a new economic model to safeguard the poor from the severe crisis of economy in India. Mathur showed an example in Mohammad Yunus’ work in Bangladesh. Yunus’ work led to removal of poverty through several enterprises organised by women and the ‘social business’ concept became successful.

b) Health Conditions

In rural India, we see the existence of infant mortality rate (IMR) at 51 per 1000 in 2010. It shows the level of health amenities for the rural people in India. The total fertility rate was 3.0 in 2005-06 as per NFHS-3, while the underweight children were 45.3 per cent in 1998-99 and it declined to 43.7 per cent by 2005-06. Women are totally neglected in the pre- and post-gynecology requirements. Since the 2011 Census shows 61 per cent population in the age-group 15-59, it indicates the future demand for public health care. But the per capita per day intake of calories (2147 Kcal) in 2009-10 divulges still a lower level. On the other hand, the government programmes’ impact could be found from the fact that the ‘still birth rate’ declined from 14 in 1980 to eight in 2009 and maternal mortality rate decreased from 327 in 1999-01 to 212 in 2007-09.

c) Education Status

The literacy rates are still dwindling and show a long haul ahead since the rates are 68.91 per cent, 78.57 per cent, and 58.75 per cent for persons, males and females respectively in the 2011 Census. The human development index was 0.467 in 2007-08 and the quality achieved in rural India is very low when compared to other developing countries. The poverty by literacy levels reports that for male, illiterates are 37.7 per cent and literates 62.3 per cent and for female, illiterates are 54.3 per cent and literates 45.7 per cent respectively. It reveals the existence of high levels of unemployment for literates in rural areas. Literacy rates changed from 12.10 per cent to 74.04 during 1951-to 2011 in rural areas. The female literacy rate increased from 4.87 per cent to 65.46 per cent during 1951-2011. In case of technical education either in agricultural sciences or in veterinary sciences, there is no considerable change in the case of the rural people.

d) Employed and Unemployed Levels

As per the 66th NSS round, the male and female employed on Current Daily Basis (CDS) were 50.1 per cent and 18.2 per cent in that order and the unemployed on the CDS basis were 6.4 per cent and 8.0 for males and females respectively. The poverty as shown among the employed people for males is 45.10 per cent for all age-groups and 75.3 per cent for the 15-year-plus group and for females for all ages 15.9 per cent and for the 15-year-plus group 25.5 per cent. The distribution of workers in the nature of employment took place, for males as self- employed 47.1 per cent, regular wage/salaried employed 4.9 per cent and casual labour 48.1 per cent, for females as self employed 46.3 per cent, regular wage/salaried 3.4 per cent and casual labour 50.3 per cent. It shows the casual nature of labour in the rural economy in most occupations. The unemployment levels based on CDS (2009-10) are for males 8.18 per cent and females 8.81 per cent in that order. Employment in agriculture was 66.30 per cent for males and for females 79.20 per cent in 2009-10. Among the youth, the unemployment rate for age-group 15-29 years was for the rural males as 90 per 1000 in 1993-94 and this increased to 150 by 2004-05 and for rural females the increase was from 76 to 127 in the same period.

Our economic models are hardly successful to remove the maladies on the rural front; rather these have paved the way for transfer of resources from rural to urban in the form of humans and raw material. It is high time to formulate a new model, which is based on the Gandhian ideology. Harindra K. Mishra (2009) analysed the negative impact of sophisticated machinery in production by quoting Arthur Lewis and Myrdal. He further quotes Gunnar Myrdal: “There was an essential element of rationality in Gandhiji’s social and economic gospel, and the programmes for promoting cottage industry as they have been evolved in the post-war era, have come more to represent purposeful and realistic planning for develop-ment.” The resources of the rural areas are in the clutches of pseudo-industrialists who have occupied land, infrastructure and mines and this leads to exploitation of rural people. (Rangarajan, S. and R. Rajkumar, 2009)

e) Demographic Pressure

It is fact that India lives in villages even today, since 68 per cent population and 69 per cent households are in rural India (2011 census) with density at 382. The projected population would be 134 crores by 2016-20. The growth rate was 1.64 per cent during 2001-11 (expo-nential rate). It is observed that the population pressure would be high for the coming decade as the crude birth rate (23.3) has higher ratio to crude death rate (7.6). Therefore, it would be better to entrust the job of containing population methods through the Panchayati Raj and these are very much advocated in village reconst-ruction by Gandhi.

f) Lagging Agriculture

In the wide world, India stands at a significant milestone in agriculture, as it is second for arable land, population dependence, rice and wheat production and for other crops, and thus has considerable share in the global agriculture. Despite this high-level picture for its role and share in the world, the pathetic conditions of cultivators generate a number of unanswerable questions. We find suicides of farmers, huge debt burden, low level of incomes, market problems and thus a galaxy of problems exist in agriculture in rural India. As per the census of 2011, cultivators are 37.74 per cent and agricultural labour 32.94 per cent and thus from the main workers 71 per cent of the workforce is under agriculture. Though this shows a major segment of the population depends on agriculture, its growth rate in the recent past (10 years) has been low—not more than 1.5 per cent (crop). It certainly affects the incomes of a vast segment of the population. A collective method of production-cooperative, grouping or any common method accepted by villagers could be adopted to increase production and incomes of farmers. The additional facilities required, which are in demand, may be arranged in the rural areas. As Gandhi reiterated, there should be a system which eradicates the chronic problems of agriculture.

g) Household Characteristics

The household size was 4.6 as per the 66th NSS round (2009-10) and the nature of house status was 48.2 per cent pucca houses and the remaining with semi-pucca (32.8 per cent) and Kutcha (17.2 per cent). In the household type, if examined, the self-employed in agriculture (31.9 per cent) led the composition of rural households against the non-agriculture households (15.5 per cent). The agricultural labour and other labour households were 25.6 per cent and 14.8 per cent in that order. On the other based, regular wage and salaried and casual labour households were not there. It indicates the nature of rural life much linked to agriculture and more dependent on it. There was lighting facility for households by kerosene 38.6 per cent, by electricity 60.2 per cent and with no lighting 1.2 per cent during 2007-08. Primary source of energy for cooking shows the dominance of firewood with 77.6 per cent followed by LPG with 9.1 per cent and with dung cake 7.4 per cent. Households reported inadequacy of food in 1999-2000 by 3.3 per cent and in 2004-05 by 2.4 per cent. The food insecurity is high for agricultural labour and other workers in the rural areas. Agricultural labour faces lack of food for some months at 5.1 per cent and inadequate food in all months at 0.7 per cent and ‘other labour’ reports for some months at 2.1 per cent and in all months at 0.9 per cent. The rural household picture could only be transformed through the window of Gandhian economic policy. Patil, R.B. (2008) analysed the success and stabilisation of rural life in Kuttambakkam village, located 40 kms away from Chennai, or the lines of Gandhian village reconstruction, and he recommended it as the best model for rural reconstruction.

h Work Participation Rates

The Labour Force Work Participation Rate (LFPR) reported 41.83 per cent as per the 2011 Census. The 66th round of the NSS (2009-10) informs that male workers still more than double of the female work force (53.6 per cent -unit base) were under CDS and for female it was 19.7 per cent only. For the age-group of 15-59, LFPR were for males 82.3 per cent and for females 29.7 per cent in 2009-10 on CDS basis. The migration (rural to urban) for persons was 17.7 per cent in 1991 and 18.9 per cent in 2001 as per census.

There is increasing awareness in the adapta-bility of the Gandhain rural development model as the real alternative paradigm today. (Kazuya Ishii 2001) He clearly articulated that there was nothing impracticable here and quoted the recent rural development examples—Grameen Bank from Bangladesh and the Sarvodaya (welfare for all) movement from Sri lanka. The post-independence planning models followed, leading to the increase of output—steel, cement, infras-tructural growth, and transport—and the marg-inalising of several aspects of life—income, health, hygiene, unequal status in gender and environment. Thus, the lower rungs had to endure untold sufferings. The policies should be geared towards the uplift of the vast segments of people in India, as Gandhi’s growth model would provide sufficient goods to meet the basic needs of “growing population”. (Jain, L.C. 1988, Rajini Kotari 1986 and George Rosen 1982)

i) Indebtedness

It is reported the indebtedness of all rural people was 25 per cent and 47.30 per cent for 1999-00 and 2004-05 respectively and it appears for SCs 25.30 per cent and 48.04 per cent, for STs 22.90 per cent and 39.39 per cent and for OBCs 22.60 and 46.67 per cent respectively for the same period. For labour households, the indebtedness reports that for all households average indebtedness per household is Rs 1515 in 1999-2000 and Rs 4852 in 2004-05 and the average debt per indebted household( for all) is Rs 6049 and Rs 10,259 in the similar period. Farmers’ suicides from 1997 (13,622) to 2006 (17,060) have been persisting. The rate of suicides during 1996-2005 reported as per lakh popu-lation from 1.42 per cent to 1.55 per cent and some years more than these rates.

The welfare of the society is to be taken care of by economic policies, which are in force, but in several respects, our economic policies are far removed from the expectations of the rural people. The holistic approach for welfare of the rural society can be established through Gandhain rural reconstruction across rural India. There is no need for hesitation to establish Pigovian welfare, as it could be brought into village development through the Gandhian village development. In the study of Hug, A.M. (1979), a comparative examination of welfare economics and Gandhian economics took place and he found considerable welfare ideology in the Gandhian economic model.

III. Rationale behind Rural Expenditure by Union and State Governments during 1950-2011

After the discussion above, an attempt is being made to know the rationale in the Budget allotments by the Union and State governments during the post-independence period. The combined expenditure of both Union and State governments incurred towards rural expendi-ture is shown here. Added to this analysis, are the estimates of rural expenditure of Praveen Jha and Nilachala Acharya (2011). The data is presented in table 1. The rural expenditure combined (fertiliser subsidy, cooperation, agriculture and allied activities, rural develop-ment and irrigation) reports the shares during 1950-2010. The significant fact is that the allotment meant for rural expenditure by both Central and State governments is mismatched with the population in the rural areas in any sub-period under study. The population ranges from 82 per cent to 69 per cent (1951-2011), while the spending of combined rural expenditure displays 12 per cent or below in either period. The villages constitute 641 to 557 thousand in the same period and this obviously brings out the area of rural India. During 1970-80, the combined rural expenditure was only 9.5 per cent and in the corresponding period, the population was 52 crores and villages were 557 thousand. If the components of rural expenditure, namely, Agriculture and Allied Activities, Rural Development and Irrigation are examined, we find meagre amounts of spending or allotment for the development of those sub-heads across the nation. The rationale behind such allotment to different heads of expenditure for rural India is a big question. Why this kind of distribution for the welfare of a huge chunk of people of the nation? One does not get a logical answer. Agriculture and Allied Activities reports 0.5 per cent in the fifties and sixties and a little bit increase appears after the sixties with a range of 2.7 per cent to 1.6 per cent during 1970-2010. In the case of Irrigation, the opposite trend appears during 1970-2010 and it reveals the lowest shares and a declining trend from 2.30 per cent to 0.60 per cent.

Thus, it is noticed that the Irrigation component has been relegated to the lowest rung in the allotment of the Budget. It is well known that irrigation of cultivable land can transform the whole rural economy, as many studies have substantiated it. For the Rural Development sub-head, it is observed that the government spending did not show more than 4.90 per cent during the period of study and it was only 2.70 per cent in 1950-51. Further, the per capita expenditure for rural development, as per the recent Budgets, was Rs 920 in the year 2010-11(RE), Rs 809 for 2011-12 and Rs 882 for 2012-13. There is stark criticism over the nature of this spending reaching rural beneficiaries and the success in completion of various programmes. Our former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi deplored of the sad state of 15 paisa out of 100 reaching the targeted beneficaries, and many citizens are categorical over the spending of the governments because development activities have been carried out through the ‘top to bottom’ hierarchy. “Allocating funds through Budgets is not adequate for better outputs or outcomes. Proper monitoring of how these allocated funds are put to use is very important to achieve goals and objectives.” (Praveen Jha and Nilachal Acharya, 2011)

IV. Future Pathway

The series of ideas stemming from Gandhi have provided the theoretical ground for hundreds of thousands of grassroot development activities all over the world. (Kazuya Ishii, p. 310, 2001) There is a lot of argument regarding the applicability of the Gandhian thought in village development across the world. The Gandhian model would be much reliable to reduce the gap between the haves and have-nots, instead of replicating the Western models of economic development, which lead to drastic inequalities and too much capital concentration in a few hands. It will be much more pragmatic in the Indian village to generate welfare for huge masses. (Naik J.P. 1983) There are certain objections to the adoptability of Gandhian rural reconstruction, since certain academic and polictical groups express the view that rural social stratification and social heirarchy may become obstacles for the development of the underpriveleged and backward sections in society. But at same time, they argue strongly for a new approach for the welfare of the huge masses of rural India. (Suryakant Waghmore, 2008 and Surinder S. Jodhka, 2002) However, some critics, that include Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr B.R. Ambedkar, were not supportive of the Gandhian model of development. Nehru’s planning gave no special attention to village reconstruction in the development process. Ambedkar was firmly against the model of village-oriented development as the villages in India were hotbeds of bigotry, casteism and mutual antagonism. Though there are doubts over the working of the Gandhian economic ideology, we should be ready to accept the ground realties of the present scenario of economic failure in ensuring well-being for a large chunk of our fellow men. Therefore, Mathur B.P. (2011) clearly articulated: “It is time we abandon a model whose foundations rest on materialism, consumption and greed.”

Notwithstanding the controversial aspects of the Gandhian model, one can hardly deny its relevance in the current turbulent and violent-prone societies. It is the right time to adopt the Gandhian model in the interest of 84 crores of the rural population and for the bright future of the whole nation. No one can repudiate the urgent necessity of an alternative rural develop-ment policy to alleviate the conditions of poverty and social strife. It would be much realistic to bring the Gandhian village transformation to save the nation from untold crisis in the coming years. In the words of Sonia Gandhi on the perception of Gandhi, “It is that wealth created and generated must contribute, first and foremost, to a larger social purpose and cause. better the quality of life of those whose voices remain unheard.” (Sonia Gandhi, pp. 3-4, 2007) Hence, our rural development policies are to be given shape through the prism of Gandhian rural reconstruction.

V. Conclusion

Where the old policies have failed to guarantee welfare to all, an alternative policy must be devised. Eventually, the governments are to remove social strife across nation, as our Directive Principles of the Constitution of India make them accountable for securing social, economic and political equality. It is also to be noted that the rural people are becoming conscious over their rightful share in the cake. Since the gloomy situation, as discussed earlier, stand in the way of ensuring peaceful and harmonious life for vast segments of our populace, it is necessary on the part of statesmen, politicians and policy formulators to consider the Gandhian project of village reconstruction, which certainly offers relief to village life in India and helps to ameliorate the prevailing conditions. This is a pressing need for the rural populace. We must assist them in this regard.

[I am thankful to Dr B.P. Mathur, IA & AS (Retd.) former Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General and former Director, National Institute of Financial Management, for his review of the initial draft of this paper.


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37. Suryakant Waghmore (2008), “Gandhi’s Thoughts on Development: A Critical Appraisal”, New Global Development, Vol:20 No:2, pp.55-70.

38. Tendulkar, D. G. (1951-1954), Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 8 Vols., Mumbai, The Times of India Press.

The author is a Professor and Director, Agro-Economic Research Centre, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam. He can be contacted by e-mail at:

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