Swami Vivekananda’s economic thoughts offer many valuable lessons
For every country, the central objective of economic principles should be the welfare and progress of all sections of people. The ideas, approaches and policies of each country should be based on its fundamentals and ground realities. They should take into account the nature, background, experiences and potential of the people that comprise the nation.
It is all the more true for a country like India with a long history and unique backgrounds. But unfortunately the ruling establishment and the policy making circles are not aware of the realities and the functioning of the vast sections of our society. The elite and the educated sections coming out of universities know only the western concepts and theories taught to them in their class rooms.
The education system introduced by the British does not provide any scope to learn the background and functioning of our economy. As a result only those who have the practical exposure and knowledge about the unique functioning systems are able to understand the Indian economy.
Swami Vivekananda’s long travels across the nation and other parts of the world, his personal interactions with diverse sections of people and understanding of the history and functioning of societies provided him an opportunity to develop ideas based on the realities. His ideas and prescriptions are very useful to us even after more than a century.
Swami Vivekananda believed that the well-being of the universe should be the guiding factor for all the economic activities of the government as well as the individuals. No economist in the world has ever prescribed such a noble motive as the basis for economic activities. To quote: “The Vivekananda doctrine is firm in the belief that the spirit of universal well-being should be the guiding force behind the economic actions of both the government and the individuals.” 1
As for India, Swamiji was very clear that improving the living standards of the masses was the top priority. He wanted development involving all sections of the society. He said: "Let New India arise- out of the peasants' cottage, grasping the plough; out of the huts of the fisherman, the cobbler and the sweeper. Let her spring from the grocer's shop, from besides the oven of the fritter-seller. Let her emanate from the factory, from marts and from markets. Let her emerge from groves and forests, from hills and mountains." 2
Swami Vivekananda had original ideas for the different sectors of the economy. Take for example agriculture which is recognized as the primary sector in the economy. It is the basis for all the other economic activities, as it provides the most basic necessity of the human beings, namely food.
But unfortunately it is not given the required importance during the recent periods as modern economics assigns more emphasize to the other sectors. The financial and speculative fields dominate the economic discourse more than the productive areas. As a result the agricultural sector on which about sixty per cent of the population depends remains neglected.
Swami Vivekananda emphasized the importance of agriculture for India and underlined that the nation should not hesitate to make use of its strengths in the field. Swamiji noted that “Indians must not shy off from the unique characteristics of being an agricultural economy.”3 Quoting Swami Vivekananda, Ghosh writes: “Few people in India sincerely think about this matter. This has happened due to our education system. But he thinks that proper development of agriculture is needed for the economic development of India.” 4
India has inherent strengths in agriculture, which other countries lack. She has a long history of superior performance and achievements. Nature has endowed the nation with rich lands, adequate water sources and sunshine throughout the year. Besides, we have hardworking population possessing generations of the traditional knowledge systems in the field.
India is a huge nation with the second highest population in the world. Food security is very significant for the nation in the contemporary context when one cannot depend on other countries for food. Besides, there is no other nation in the world which can provide food for one sixth of the humanity. Hence agriculture is very critical for India. Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts relating to agriculture assume importance in the present period, when thousands are farmers are committing suicides every year and it is fast losing respect due to the wrong approaches of the policy makers over the years.
Swamiji was also aware of the need for the development of the industrial sector. With this view, he encouraged the promotion of industries in all possible ways. He discussed about industries in India with several persons on different occasions, both in India and abroad. Besides, he supported the small scale and cottage industries.
He urged the youngsters from the urban areas to go and learn the traditional and artistic work in the rural areas. He said: “Go, and see, even now in the distant villages, the old woodwork and brick work. The carpenters of your town cannot even turn out a decent pair of doors. Whether they are made for a hut or mansion is hard to make out! They are only good at buying foreign tools, as if that is all carpentry! Alas! That state of things has come upon all matters in our country. What we possessed as our own is all passing away, and yet, all that we have learnt from foreigners is the art of speechifying [sic]” 5
The essential requirement for a good economy is the overall development of different sectors and the existence of balance among them. Swamiji realized the need for this balance. Ghosh notes: “He was aware that in a developing nation, the primary need for a balance growth was to establish some sort of concordant relation between agriculture and industry.”6
Swami Vivekananda emphasized the need to develop our own methods to solve India’s problems. He said: “Open your eyes and see what a piteous cry for food is rising in the land of Bharata, proverbial for its wealth! Will your education fulfill this want? Never. With the help of Western Science dry yourselves to dig the earth and produce food-stuffs – not by means of mean servitude to others- but by discovering new avenues to production, by your exertion aided by Western science. Therefore, I teach the people of this country to be full of activities, so as to be able to produce food and clothing for themselves.” 7
Swamiji advocated development based on Indian ethos and realities. To quote: “There, in Japan, you find a fine assimilation of knowledge, and its indigestion, as we have here. They have taken everything from the Europeans, but they remain Japanese all the same, and have not turned European; while in our country, the terrible mania of becoming westernized has seized upon us like a plague.” 8
Thus Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts on economics offer us many valuable lessons for rebuilding India.
1. Ghosh, Sarup Prasad, Swami Vivekananda’s Economic Thought in Modern International Perspective, The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkatta, 2010, p.526
2. Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works, Vol. 7, No.1, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1992, p.327
3. Swami Gamvirananda quoted in Ghosh, op.cit., pp. 52-53
4. Ghosh, op.cit., p.53
5. Swami Vivekananda, Complete Works, Vol.5 No.1, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1992, pp. 474-5
6. Ghosh, op.cit., p.136
7. Swami Vivekananda, op.cit., Vol.7, No.1, p.182
8. Swami Vivekananda, op.cit., Vol. 5, No.1, p.372
( Yuva Bharati, Vol 41, No 5, Dec. 2013)