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Gandhian Notion of Development in India

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma is arguably the most admired human being of the twentieth-century. Not an academic philosopher, Gandhi was never concerned with abstract philosophical analysis. When asked his philosophy, he typically responded, ‘My life is my message.’ And yet one could make a strong case that Gandhi is more philosophically interesting and significant than most professional philosophers. (Douglas Allen, 2004: 103-105)

Gandhi, like Socrates, was a gadfly, and he was often an embarrassment and an irritant, even to his friends and allies. He challenges unacknowledged assumptions and uncritically accepted positions and allows us to envision different ways of seeing things. He explodes myths and arrogant provincialism and challenges power positions that pretend to be based on sound knowledge and morality. (Douglas Allen, 2004: 103-105)

Gandhi’s approach expresses an activist philosophy, which he often relates to the action-oriented philosophy of karma yoga in the Bhagavad-Gita: Act to fulfil your ethical duties with an attitude of nonattachment to the results of your actions. In this way, Gandhi experimented with ways to intervene nonviolently to weaken endless cycles of violence and mutual destruction and allow us to realise ethical goals. (Douglas Allen, 2004: 103-105)

In this regard, Gandhi presents views that are relevant to recent philosophical developments regarding pragmatism, phenomenology and hermeneutics, relativism, anti-essentialism, and postmodernism. How do we deal with the inadequate dichotomy of universal, absolute essentialism versus particular, relative anti-essentialism? Gandhi, avoiding a kind of facile relativism, embraces absolute universals, such as nonviolence, truth and the unity of all life. But Gandhi also maintains that as particular, relative, embodied human beings, none of us fully comprehends the absolute. The unity is always a unity with particular differences. The absolute may serve as a regulative ideal, but at most we have ‘glimpses’ of truth that is always relative. (Douglas Allen, 2004: 103-105)

Therefore, we should be tolerant of the other, who has truths that we do not have, and we should realise that the movement toward greater truth is an action-oriented, cooperative, mutually reinforcing effort. This philosophical approach to truth necessarily involves dialogue, recognition of integral self-other relations, and embracing an open-ended process that resists the domination of false attempts at philosophical, religious, cultural, economic, or political closure. (Douglas Allen, 2004: 103-105)

While conducting the struggle for the country's independence from alien rule, Gandhi had given a model for its development. By development he clearly meant an all-round improvement of an average Indian's quality of life. His understanding, or diagnosis, of India's problems was basically right then and is no less right even today. It cannot be called wrong on the ground that it has failed because it has not been tried in all seriousness. (Rajendra Prasad, 2001)

Much has been said about Gandhi’s political, social and spiritual mission; but comparatively little is known of the Mahatma’s economic message. Mere economists, especially those of the present day, may be inclined to dismiss Gandhian economics as Utopian or out of tune with the breath taking world developments in science and technology. It requires sympathy, understanding and vision to appreciate Gandhi’s economic philosophy. (Rao, V.K.R.V., 1970: v)

He is in favour of having an indigenous way of development, using, as far as possible, indigenous resources, in keeping with India's cultural and ethical traditions. The idea most foundational to his model is that neither in planning a method of development, nor in its execution, should there be anything which is unethical, or which prompts, or gives an opportunity, to any participant in it to do anything unethical. It may look odd these days to be so much concerned with ethics or morality because, many including a good number of the ruling elite, think that in public life, in one's executing a public project or development scheme, some immoralities are unavoidable or not worth bothering about. That is why immoralities which Gandhi would have considered serious go unnoticed, or are not taken seriously even if noticed. (Rajendra Prasad, 2001)

To understand, what are the important elements of Gandhian notion of development, one has to see his utterances and writings and above all on the very life style he adopted, and programmes that he prescribed.  First and foremost, he would have wanted us to follow the path of social democratism where empowerment of women and weaker/poorer sections of our society was guaranteed.  Secondly, he would have liked us to link environmentalism with some basic social, economic and ethical tenets.  He would have also liked the society at large to take the full responsibility of carving its own future within the framework of a robust, sensible, credible and implementable environmentalism.  (Khoshoo, T.N., 1997)

The social and political thoughts of Gandhi would seem to be of great contemporary importance from at least two points of views. In the first place, Gandhi is the most important of the great thinkers of modern India who have drawn their inspiration largely from the intellectual and cultural tradition of India and tried to relate their thoughts to contemporary social and political realities. The further development of independent thinking in India in the context of rapidly changing socio – political milieu, therefore, requires an investigation into the thought of Gandhiji and the other great Indian thinkers as a starting point. Secondly the power – political approach to national and international politics during the last few centuries has led to a situation which calls for profound rethinking. (Jayantanuja, Bandyopadhyaya, 1969: 24)


Douglas Allen, “Mahatma Gandhi,” in Great Thinkers A-Z, Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom(eds.). London: Continuum, 2004.

Khoshoo, T.N., “Mahatma Gandhi: An apostle of applied Human Ecology,” New Delhi: Tata Energy Research Institute.2002.

Jayantanuja, Bandyopadhyaya, “Social and Political thought of Gandhi,” Bombay, Culcutta, New Delhi, Madras, Bangalore, London, New York: Allied Publishers.1969.

Prasad, Rajendra, 2001. Gandhi, Globalization, and Quality of Life: A Study in the Ethics of Development (Accessed 13 April 2007)

Available from World Wide Web:

Rao, V.K.R.V., “The Gandhian Alternative to Western Socialism,” Bombay: Bharatiya vidya Bhavan.1970

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