Rebuilding India 6

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)

Making Education Nation-Centric

The strength of a nation lies in its education system. India remained a pioneer in the field of education since the ancient times. The traditional system of education was aimed at grooming the youngsters to grow in to matured citizens and contribute the maximum in their fields of activities. With the introduction of the Macaulay system during the 1830s, the course of Indian education took a reverse turn.

It is unfortunate that even after sixty seven years of Independence we follow a system that is completely alien to the ethos and functioning of this great nation. Contemporary studies reveal that the fundamentals and functioning of India are rooted in our unique social and cultural traditions. It is high time that we started making the education nation-centric, when India is fast emerging as a powerful nation at the global level.


The introduction of the alien education system resulted in cutting off the umbilical connections of the young Indians with their roots. As a consequence, the youngsters began to lose touch with their own backgrounds, people and surroundings. Rabindranath Tagore noted this as early as in 1903: “Our real ties are with the Bharatavarsha that lies outside our textbooks. If the history of this tie for a substantially long period gets lost, our soul its anchorage. After all, we are no weeds or parasitical plants in India. Over many hundreds of years, it is our roots, hundreds and thousands of them, that have occupied the very heart of Bharatavarsha.  But we are obliged to learn a brand of history that makes our children forget this very fact. It appears as if we are nobody in India; as if those who came from outside alone matter.”1

The position did not change even after independence. In spite of the wise counsels of the great personalities like Swami Vivekananda, Maharishi Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore, solid recommendations of different committees,   suggestions of the higher courts and repeated appeals by the committed sections, concrete systems have not been put in place by the concerned authorities in this regard.  

School children want drastic changes

A survey on Indian education was earlier conducted by the International Foundation for India’s Heritage among school children studying between the ninth and twelfth standards 2. It covered more than 11,000 students spread across 21 different states of the country. It was the first study conducted among the children asking them to give their opinions. The study was later submitted to the central government during 2005.

The position, problems, difficulties and recommendations mentioned in the study are revealing. 91 per cent of children feel that they would benefit from learning the elements of Indian culture. Half of the students note that the education system is deficient in some respect. Majority of the students are not aware of the significance of even popular festivals such as Pongal and Holi. Their recommendations include reduction of the existing syllabi, less mechanical pedagogy, practical teaching, less book loads and lesser examination burden.

Higher education system has no originality

The position in the higher education system is equally alarming. The universities and colleges show little originality. They all try to imitate the western systems and implement the western approaches. As a result, the courses, syllabi and pedagogy are all invariably patterned after the west. Almost all the institutions try to prescribe the maximum number of text books written by the foreign authors. Even the remaining ones written by the Indian academics are mere carbon copies of their counterparts sitting in the distant lands.  

This is true for most of the subjects. As a result the Indian   university system has been outsourcing its knowledge from the western countries. Hence we are producing graduates and scholars who lack the proper perspective about our country, backgrounds and the functioning systems. This is causing serious damage to the functioning and development of our nation.

India is emerging despite the failure of educated sections

India was a poor and underdeveloped country at the time of Independence. The different sectors of the economy were in a very bad shape. About 45 per cent of the population was living below poverty line. The literacy rate was a little more than 18 per cent. People were tired of the alien domination for around thousand years. They had lost their supremacy, wealth, honor and energy due to the oppressive control of the Europeans in about two hundred years.

But the nation is fast emerging as a major power during the recent periods. It is already the third largest economy in the world. It remains the second fastest growing nation for over a decade. Indian businesses are already there in different parts of the world. All the predictions at different levels unanimously point out that India would emerge stronger in the coming years to reach higher positions at the global level.

 The emergence of India over the last six decades is one of the most successful stories of the contemporary world. It has happened in spite of the confusions and contradictions at the policy making levels.  The ruling classes have been consistently imitating only the western ideas and approaches after independence. It was socialism for more than three decades since the 1950s and it is the US driven capitalism from the early 1990s.

As a result, India is not able to fully realize her potentials and achieve the required results. Besides, there are serious problems that remain to be solved. The main reason for this situation is the lack of proper understanding of the nation by the educated sections.

Truth about India’s economic history known due to foreign scholars

India had a vibrant and prosperous economy since the ancient times. The advancements during the periods of the Indus-Saraswathy civilization and the subsequent centuries were due to the strong fundamentals. The first book on economics namely Arthashastra, was written in India about 2300 years ago. One of the major attractions of the alien forces towards India was the high level of prosperity and achievements of the country.

It is unfortunate that no Indian academic expert or an economics professor attempted to study India’s economic performance of the earlier centuries, after independence. It is the studies of a few western scholars in the foreign soils during the past three decades that give the position and status of the Indian economy over the past two millennia. The studies by Paul Bairaoch, Andre Gunder Frank and Angus Madission clearly reveal that India remained the most prosperous economy in the world for most of the period during the past two thousand years and the western countries entered the global economic map only about five hundred   years back.

The above studies have completely changed the global discourse on economics. They have established that India remained as the most powerful economy in the history till the Europeans intervened with the native systems and emerged as the leading performers. But even after the publication of the above path breaking studies, which are accepted by the rest of the world, the Indian universities are not using them and most of the academics from the concerned fields are not even aware of such studies till today.

Academics refuse to study the contemporary systems

Besides, the academics refrain from studying even the contemporary functioning systems. Different indicators show that the functioning of the Indian economy, business, social and cultural systems are much better than those of the western countries. This is the reason why the nation has been emerging powerfully, in spite of the repeated failures of the policy making classes and the many difficulties surrounding the lives of people. How many of us know that India’s growth rates after independence continue to remain more than those of most of the richer countries in the world?

The studies undertaken by the western experts in their countries reveal that their systems of functioning at the family, social, business and economic levels suffer from serious limitations and have been failing to a large extent. As a result they are looking for alternatives and find that many of the Indian methods are far superior. They openly admit that India has her own ‘business models’ and there is an ‘Indian way’ of functioning in the economy. As a result many of the western universities and business schools have started studying India. A few months back there was a big team of scholars from the Harvard institutions to study the Maha Kumbh Mela at Allahabad.

Field studies reveal strong fundamentals and unique systems

Field studies relating to the functioning of the economy being undertaken in different parts of the country from the Indian perspectives during the past two decades continue to reveal many new facts3. They show that India has strong fundamentals, with higher rates of saving and capital formation, lots of entrepreneurial abilities and distinct functioning methods. They also show that the families and societies play a larger role in shaping the functioning of the economy, with the women playing a crucial role.

Besides the studies reveal that the basic reason for the functioning of the Indian families, society, businesses and the economy remain the traditional and cultural strengths of our nation.  Further they show that the growth of nation has been due to the extraordinary efforts and native intelligence of the millions of people who are identified as the ordinary sections of the society.

India-centric studies is the need of the hour

Hence it is important that we have to understand the functioning systems of our country from the true   perspectives. Without a clear knowledge about the ground realities, it is not possible to develop original ideas and frame policies. For this purpose, we require studies at different levels. They can be better undertaken only by those who understand the local backgrounds without the preconceived notions. Simultaneously the Indian concepts, knowledge systems and functioning methods have to be disseminated to the relevant sections and the student community at different levels. 

India’s emergence should be on her own terms and native strengths. It should be for the benefit of all sections of the society.  The rest of the world expects the Indian model to show a new way for them as well. As the great visionary Swami Vivekananda noted we have to see the Bharat Mata sitting at the throne in all her glory very soon. It is possible, as she has the required strengths and all the potential. The immediate step in this process is to make the Indian education nation-centric.


1.   Rabindranath Tagore in  ‘ The History of Bharatvarsha’,
2.   Michel Danino, ‘ A Survey of Indian Education’, International Forum for India’s Heritage, Submitted to the Govt. of India, New Delhi, 2005
3.   P.Kanagasabapathi, Indian Models of Economy, Business and Management, Third Edition, PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2012

(Excerpts of the presentation on “Making Education Nation-Centric”, during the two day National Seminar on ‘Value building is nation building’ organized by Swami Vivekananda 150th Birth Anniversary Celebrations Committee at the VIT University Campus, Chennai, Oct 4-5, 2013)