Corporate rule violates the principles of swaraj, sovereignty and self-rule. In the name of removing hunger and poverty, it pushes us deeper into poverty.
Swaraj, freedom, was one of the most frequently used terms in the campaign for 2014 general elections. During his speech on the ghats of the Ganga, expressing gratitude to the people of Varanasi for his massive victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed himself to governance based on Mahatma Gandhi’s principles.
The five-year term of the newly elected government will end in 2019 — which will also be Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary year. So we have a compass and a time frame to undertake our national journey over the next five years guided by swaraj.
Swaraj defined our freedom movement — it encompassed not just political freedom, but also economic freedom. For me, Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj is the best book on real freedom and it has become even more relevant in the search for freedom in times of corporate rule (also referred to as corporate globalisation and neoliberal economic reform).
Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj in 1908, more than 100 years ago, on his way to South Africa from England. It was first published in the columns of Indian Opinion newspaper in South Africa. In the book’s 1921 edition, he added A word of Explanation, and wrote: “In my opinion it is a book which can be put into the hands of a child… It teaches the gospel of love in place of that of hate. It replaces violence with self-sacrifice. It puts soul force against brute force…”
For Gandhi, civilisation was “that mode of conduct which points out to humans the path of duty,” i.e. the right to livelihood. And it was on this concept of right to livelihood that Gandhi defined freedom: “It is swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves.”
I was happy to see that Mr Modi reminded us that our civilisation is founded on the concept of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam (the earth as family) in contrast to the idea of man’s empire over the earth. This theory has dominated the colonising West and Western paradigms that solely consider gross domestic product as the measure of “growth”.
Gandhi said: “India should develop by using its ethos, which is essentially spiritual and which perceives unity, reverence for nature and a prayer for the welfare of all mankind.”
Mr Modi also reminded us that “Swami Vivekananda had cautioned us a century ago that ‘if we give up our spirituality, leaving it aside to go after the materialising civilisation of the West, the foundation on which the national edifice has been built will be undermined.’”
Corporate rule violates the principles of swaraj, sovereignty and self-rule. In the name of removing hunger and poverty, it pushes us deeper into poverty. Today, American biotechnology corporation like Monsanto would like to rule us by taking control of our seed supply and imposing GMO seeds, chemical and industrial agriculture in the name of the second Green Revolution. Corporations like Pepsi, Coke, Kellogs, Nestle etc. would like to rule us through imposing processed and junk food by changing our food safety laws, imposing the Food Safety Standards Authority Act (FSSA), criminalising the diversity of our foods by making local indigenous, artisanal foods illegal. Corporations like Wal-Mart would like to rule us by destroying our retail democracy, which creates livelihood for 50 million people and brings fresh, diverse food to our doorstep. Monsanto’s empire is based on seed patents. Controlling what grows means seizing control of life, which in turn means that life is Monsanto’s invention, not nature’s.
Our farmers are paying the price for corporate greed through their very lives — debt for costly seeds and chemicals is the root cause of 284,000 farmers’ suicide in India since 1995. The solution to farmers’ suicide is to promote GMO free, patent free organic agriculture based on beej and anna swaraj (seed and food freedom). Mr Modi has also supported organic farming, which is GMO free, chemical free farming.
The problem with “materialist” development is not just that it ignores spiritual values, but that it fails to take into account the health of the planet and the wellbeing of people. As Gandhi said, “Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word ‘civilisation’. Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life.”
Food and agriculture is an area where we can clearly see the failure of industrial agriculture models imposed by the West in providing “bodily comforts”. The so-called “modern” food and agriculture system, based on chemicals and GMOs pushed by global corporations, is a toxic food system — from the seed to our stomachs. While it is promoted as a solution to hunger, it is responsible for 75 per cent of all ecological and health problems globally. Hunger, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, allergies, cancers and neurological problems are built into this greed driven, toxic food system. While it destroys the real economy of nature and people’s healths and livelihoods, the GDP grows. The more Monsanto sells GMO-patented seeds, the more the economy grows. With the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds, seed costs jumped 8,000 per cent. Every year royalty worth thousands of crores of rupees leaves the country for seeds, something in which we should be sovereign. This sort of economic growth does not take into account the drain due to royalty payments for GMO seeds, farmers’ suicides and the death of pollinators and soil organisms. The more people are affected by cancer and kidney failure because of poison in our food, the more the economy grows. The inappropriateness of GDP as a measure of wellbeing of people became evident when recently Britain said it would include prostitution and illegal drugs in its official national accounts for the first time. Prostitutes and drug dealers are set to give Britain a £10bn boost as the country revamps the way it measures its economy.
The manipulation of life through genetic engineering, and of the economy through GDP is not serving the higher purpose of living on the principles of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam and swaraj. It is time to evolve a development model according to our ethos, for the wellbeing of all life and all people.
The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
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