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Dr. M. S. Swaminathan

Well-known scientist, Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, re-interprets the ideals and principles of Lokmanya Tilak in the context of the situation today 



n 29th July 1920, a day before his death, Lokmanya Tilak said, even while he was in a delirium, "I am quite sure that India will not prosper unless she gets swaraj. The four pillars of the edifice of a new India propounded by him over 90 years ago, were, "boycott, swadeshi, national education and swaraj”.

          What is their relevance to the India of today, nearly 54 years after our independence from colonial rule?

The first pillar is boycott. What should we boycott today? First and foremost, intolerance of diversity and pluralism in terms of religion, gender, caste, class and political belief, and secondly, unsustainable lifestyles. Unsustainable lifestyles promoted by the greed revolution we see in our midst are leading to the enlargement of the ecological footprint of human beings on mother earth.

The ecological footprint, which is the average amount of land and sea appropriated by each person for food, water, housing, energy, transportation, commerce and waste recycling, is roughly one hectare in developing countries, and 10 hectares in the United States.  If every citizen of this world aspires to reach the consumption level of an average U.S. citizen, we will need at least four more planet earths to fulfill such a desire.  Gandhiji drew our attention to such an untenable situation in the following prophetic words: "Nature provides for everybody's needs, but not for everybody's greed".

We have reached a stage in medical technology where our hearts can be replaced by artificial ones. Unfortunately, however, we cannot get back easily the natural ecosystems and genetic resources we drive to extinction.

Remaining silent spectators of the expansion of intra- and inter-generational inequity is the greatest tragedy of our times.  Environmental degradation, economic and gender inequity and jobless economic growth are growing concurrently with unprecedented progress in biotechnology, information and space technologies as well as the production of biological software for sustainable development.  Universities should become leaders in promoting job-led economic growth and not jobless growth. 



he second of Lokmanya's pillars is swadeshi. In Lokmanya's time, the entire population of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma - which were all part of the Indian empire during the British rule - was about 300 million. Now, India alone has a population exceeding one billion. Every night, nearly 300 million children, women and men go to bed partially hungry in our country. We witness the irony of growing grain mountains and hungry millions. The famine of food at the household level is now due to a famine of jobs or livelihood opportunities.

With the globalisation of trade, we face a confrontation in terms of cost and quality between products resulting from mass production technologies, and those produced by the Gandhian concept of production by masses. For example, the over 80 million tonnes of milk produced now in our country are the result of the hard work of nearly 80 million persons, most of whom are women. In contrast, the over 70 million tonnes of milk produced in the United Sates of America involve probably less than 200,000 persons.

The total number of farm families in USA is about 900,000 in contrast to over 105 million in India. Since the onus of livelihood generation falls on the farm sector, it is important that policies relating to the import of agricultural commodities are based on a careful analysis of their impact on rural and urban livelihoods, particularly of those living below the poverty line.

The recipe for poverty alleviation proposed by international organisations and bilateral agencies is micro-enterprises supported by micro-credit. National macro-economic policies and global trade policies, however often threaten the survival of micro-enterprises. There is no level playing field between the technology, capital and subsidy-driven macro-enterprises of the industrialised countries, and micro-enterprises functioning under conditions of poor infrastructure, low investment and high risk.

The fast-expanding transnational supermarkets are threatening the livelihoods of small-scale traders and vendors. The absence of venture capital for micro-enterprises further compounds the problems of the poor. Safeguarding and strengthening the livelihood security of the rural and urban poor should be the bottom line of all trade and investment policies.

The Government of Bhutan has chosen Gross National Happiness as the index of progress. The major components of this index are: environment protection, economic growth, cultural promotion and good governance. The component of cultural promotion includes spiritual and ethical values. Without ethics, technological progress may become a curse rather than a blessing. Without the same love for diversity and pluralism in human societies, as for biodiversity in plants and animals, lasting human peace will not be possible. The concept of Gross National Happiness represents a swadeshi approach to governance, since it includes non-monetary value systems in its measurement.



he swadeshi principle is even more relevant in technology development and dissemination. The 2001 UNDP Human Development Report has proposed a Technology Achievement Index (TAI) to measure the progress made by countries in technological progress. The indicators used by UNDP relate to technology creation as measured by the number of patents and royalty received per capita, extent of diffusion of old and recent innovations and human skills in terms of mean years of schooling and enrolment in science, mathematics and engineering.

We have been ranked 63 in TAI out of 72 countries. Our measure of technology creation should not be just the number of patents, but should relate to science for basic human needs like food, drinking water, shelter and work. Public science is as important as proprietary science. Also, more attention is needed to the development and adoption of socially relevant technology delivery systems. Our position of global leadership in milk production has become possible only because of power of scale conferred on small producers through the organisation of cooperatives.

Also, the emerging genetic and digital divides can be bridged only by adopting the antyodaya model of development advocated by Gandhiji. When technological empowerment begins with the poor, and among them with women, the diffusion of new innovations becomes rapid. The antyodaya approach to technology dissemination results in a win-win situation for all. The gap between know-how and do-how is high in our country because of the absence of a swadeshi approach, which alone can help us to reach the unreached.

Whether literate or semi-literate, rural women and men take to new technologies like fish to water, so long as the pedagogic methodology is learning by doing and the programme structure is based on the principle of partnership and not  patronage.  Technology has been and still is a dominant factor in enlarging the rich-poor divide.  By enlisting technology as an ally in the movement for economic, and gender equity, we can make significant contributions to promoting gross national happiness.

Job-led economic growth requires concurrent attention to technology and public policy.  Unfortunately, unidimensional teaching and thinking prevail in many of our academic institutions, with the result that reaching the unreached seldom receives priority in terms of technology development and dissemination.  Our experience with computer-aided rural knowledge centres in Pondicherry indicates that adoption of the antyodaya pathway of bridging the digital divide helps simultaneously to bridge the gender, social and technological divides. 



he third among Lokmanya's four pillars is education. The preliminary results of the 2001 census indicate that the percentage of literates in the country now is 65.38. Female literacy is 54.16, while male literacy is 75.85 percent. Thus, literacy for all is still a far cry. We should push ahead with both a national education guarantee programme and a techniracy (i.e., learning the latest technical skills through work experience) movement.

The digital revolution can help to promote a learning revolution. Lokmanya Tilak placed great emphasis on the need for free and fearless media. Kesari and Mahratta were thus born "to discuss every subject in an impartial manner, and in the light of what we think to be true". Maharashtra experienced during 1896-97, one the worst famines witnessed during the colonial period. Through the columns of Kesari, the Lokmanya fought for preventing misery and death, and suggested a 3-pronged strategy consisting of relief work, remission of land revenue, and the grant of short-term loans.

The last of the four pillars is swaraj. Lokmanya Tilak's concept of swaraj is similar to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who described four essential freedoms in the following words in an address to the US Congress on 6 January 1941: 

”In future days, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression, everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his/ her own way, everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want, which, translated into action, means economic security at the household level. The fourth is the freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point, and in such a thorough fashion, that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbour, anywhere in the world." 

We are still far from assuring to every person in our planet Roosevelt's four freedoms. Tilak's vision of swaraj can be realised only by ensuring that freedom from want and from fear become basic human rights.

Lokmanya's four pillars will help to generate social synergy and thereby help to accelerate progress in achieving purna swaraj or a country where every child, woman and man has an opportunity for a productive and healthy life.



hen Tilak died, Mahatma Gandhi said:

"He will go down to the generations yet unborn as a maker of modern India. Indians will revere his memory as a man who lived for them and died for them. It is blasphemy to talk of such a man as dead. The permanent essence of him abides with us forever. Let us erect for the Lokmanya of India an imperishable monument by weaving into our own lives his bravery, his simplicity, his wonderful industry and above all, his love of his country." 

In Chennai, we have started by making a small contribution to erecting such an imperishable monument for the Lokmanya based on the philosophy contained in his immortal Gita Rahasya, which stresses on action and not renunciation. Our monument to the Lokmanya is a programme titled, "every child a scientist", which aims to empower children from socially and economically underprivileged sections of the society with knowledge relating to their own body and health, as well as to the health of our environment and natural endowments.  

[Based on the text of a lecture delivered earlier this year by Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, Chairman of the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, on the occasion of his being awarded the Lokmanya Tilak Puraskar Award in Pune]

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