Letters To Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi : Part 2

by | Aug 31, 2014

Subject – Organization, Ideology And Work

Mohan Bhai,

Did you hear the term social enterprise yet?  This concept of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship has received much attention since late 70’s. What is it that is so explicitly social about any particular enterprise? Every company that is organized for a commercial purpose is an enterprise. And every enterprise strives to add some or the other value to the society, ergo a social enterprise. Isn’t it implicit? Isn’t terming an enterprise social just a branding strategy? Would you call your Khadi Gram Udhyog unit a social enterprise? Oh why do I ask, you yourself are a master at this.

Anyways, the reason why I ask all this is because I am now a part of an organization that calls itself a social enterprise. Trying to understand whether it’s an advantage to be called a social enterprise or if it binds the strengths of a firm and creates unnecessary impediments. A proper profit-making capitalist firm seems to hold the capacity to have a greater impact than an enterprise bounded by self-created encumbrances. You liked the Birlas more right? Let’s see, I have a year more to figure this out.

Maybe, as per the popular perception, any enterprise that consciously tries and whose central theme is about fixing a social problem is a social enterprise. The issue that my organization perceives as a problem is the threat of extinction that the social fabric of rural life faces. We believe that the values that rural India represents-community living, living in sync with nature, a life of contentment; is worth preserving, and that it has to be saved from the onslaught of the consumerist culture propounded by the city life, if the society has to last longer.

The country has been witnessing a disproportionate rise in migrations from rural to urban in recent past. But I doubt it man, I wonder if it’s a recent phenomenon or this has been the case ever since the rise of cities in human society. I guess it’s just population explosion coupled with the revolution in information technology that is making the figures look so scary. Ultimately, everything comes down to population, isn’t it? Plato was so right!

Back to the problem-sustenance of rural lifestyle. How do we fix it? By creating sustainable livelihoods and developing basic infrastructure in the villages. ‘Sustainable Communities’ is our tagline. We also have a non profit wing that works in partnership with the government, CSR wings of corporate companies, and various other development organisations in implementing things at grass root level. We operate around the principle of ‘shared prosperity’. More about that later.

Our office is set up in the 8th floor of a corporate building (like the ones in Hyderabad’s Hitech city) in the outskirts of the national capital. A typical corporate style glass building, exactly the place I didn’t want to be in. People with soulless eyes, formal attire, complaining minds … did I say complaining? The irony! To be fair, it’s not all that gloomy. There were people in my office who seemed to be driven solely by passion and have a purpose other than just making money in their lives; like 4-5 people. The work culture is pretty horizontal – no separate cabins for the top management. We believe in the bottom up approach. It’s just the building that left a disappointing first impression on me. Damn the first impressions!

Thankfully, that building was not to be my work place. I am assigned to a project on vegetable supply chain and will be based in Gohana in Haryana for the next few months. As you know, agriculture has always been a prominent sector of our economy and still accounts for about 54.6% of total employment.

Interestingly, this decade’s census showed a decrease in the absolute number of cultivators in the country, which is unprecedented, from 127 million (2000-01) to 118 million (2011-12). I don’t know if it’s a positive or a negative sign for a 21st century economy.

But to a country with a population of 1.2 billion, that is aggressively mechanizing, this might be too early. What will absorb the displaced labour? Even the government feels there is an urgent need to make agriculture more farmer-friendly and one thing that we identified as a major bottleneck to the progress of agriculture in the country is the Mandi System that came into existence with the APMC act. Although the mandis have contributed to the growth of agriculture greatly, most people think the system has served its time. The Mandi Bharat is a long story, let us keep that and my project for a separate discussion.

Gohana is a medium-sized town in the Sonipat district of Haryana – a state with 80% of its land under cultivation. Man, how big was the forest that was burnt down by Arjun? One can see acres and acres of fields with Basmati crop as far as the eye can see on either side of the highways while travelling through the state. An extensively irrigated state, with canals everywhere. The people here are hardworking, well-built, a bit arrogant, and in general, content with their farming life. They seem to be obsessed with milk and milk products. Nobody eats roti without butter on it. They grow all the Basmati in the world, but then they don’t eat much rice. What’s wrong with these people?

Haryana is one of the most prosperous regions in agriculture in India. However, every time I sit with a group of villagers, the one question that I encountered all the time is  – “kya scheme laaye ho bhai?”. The farmer of one of the most fertile regions in the world, ask him if he is facing any problems in farming. He says “Bhai, khethi mein bass dhikkate hee dhikkate hai”. He wants a subsidy on seeds, subsidy on tractor, subsidy on fertilizers, on insecticides, pesticides, on bloody electricity, on a poly house, interest free loans … why this dependence? Did you ask your heir yet, why he strayed from your idea of village republics after independence or is he in the other house?

By the way, I’ve ordered the book on your Naked Ambition


Centralization Vs Decentralization

Subject – Obsession With Centralization

Dear Das

Firstly, Happy Birthday dead man! How does it feel to remain alive even after death? Most of the humans down here seem to be aiming at that – to be remembered by the world after they die, and all their actions are constrained by this hypocritical space of the mind. If we think about Big Crunch, this thought doesn’t make any sense at all. Nonetheless, it’s a good tool to keep people sane.

Coming to the subject of the letter, there is a movement going on in the country currently, to organize farmers into groups, of which I now am a part, accidentally. The idea is to form informal clubs of farmers in each village of the country in order to reduce their dependence on the middlemen-retailers who sell seeds, fertilizers, aadithi in the mandis; and also to use this as a platform through which the knowledge of sustainable farming can be disseminated. Of  course, there have been many unsuccessful attempts made in the past to collectivize farmers. But this one is different in the sense that it has the support of the national government. NABARD (National Bank For Agriculture and Rural Development) is incentivising farmer clubs in many ways.The farmers will be financially supported by NABARD for the first three years of its operation, government will provide grants for any income generating activity that the club wants to take up, etc. The motive is to collectivize farmers and encourage mutual cooperation.

It would have been a wonderful idea if it was only till forming a club in a village. But the plan is to confederate all such clubs into a federation at national level. Basically, a national union of farmers. Like the one that the Japanese have come up with. But the Nippons brainwash their kids with humility man, whereas in this country, everybody is a Chaudhary. Don’t we have enough centralized unions already? Each farmer club will have a coordinator who will be elected on democratic principles through vote. Scale it up to the national level federation and imagine the nuisance that happens at each level-block, district, zone, state, national. Will it be a good idea to corrupt the earth man with politics? We are presenting it as a tool to develop unity in the community, don’t we know how useful the democratic principles are in promoting unity among people?

I’m witnessing the effects of a general election (2014) in villages of a state with 4 major political parties contesting. A village with hardly 2000 people getting divided into 4 different groups that hate each other for the difference in the color of the flags hoisted on their rooftops. The levels of madness! I’ve heard somebody say, “democracy maybe the worst form of governance, but it’s the best we have”. Even after 200,000 years of evolution, it would be a pity if this is the best we can come up with.

Farmers’ federation … why this obsession with the centralization of things? Think of its effects on the balance of power in this imperfect society. Isn’t too much of empowerment and independence of one community from the other sections of the economy harmful to the society? Shouldn’t we rather concentrate our efforts on developing an individual’s conscience and allow him to explore on his own? Nobody developed a holistic economic theory which facilitates that.

The Varna System (NOT the birth-based one) could be a solution. Provide a child with as much knowledge as you can, till a certain age; identify his talent; and allow him to make a living out of it with total dignity of labor, without much fuss. You were supporting the Varna System, but only mildly. If you really thought it was wise to organize society on those lines, why didn’t you pursue it with all the force?

Were you prioritizing your issues; giving in to the social pressure created by the short-sighted modernists; or did you actually fear the influence of the communists over the ignorant people? Yeah, maybe the time was not right to push it harder. So that’s the thing birthday boy. And by the way, I’ve been reading OSHO of late. He seems to be preaching what you might have preached to an independent India, excepting forceful celibacy.

Forgive the naivety.

We Live In Dilemmas

We Live In Dilemmas

One brisk evening during my fellowship mid-point meet/training in Delhi , we...

Stay in the loop…

Latest stories and insights from India Fellow delivered in your inbox.

10 Comments

  1. Shankar Ravikumar

    Nice to see you don’t completely reject statistics and numbers as ways of answering questions. 🙂

    Reply
    • lucky2504

      Not always though 🙂

      Reply
  2. Shankar Ravikumar

    Nice to see you don’t completely reject statistics and numbers as ways of answering questions. 🙂

    Reply
    • lucky2504

      Not always though 🙂

      Reply
  3. vikash

    Helllooo lucky

    Reply
  4. vikash

    Helllooo lucky

    Reply
  5. conchitaadelaide

    Affirmative to those damn first impressions.

    As I was reading this I kept glancing at the barish from the 8th floor of the corporate style glass building hoping to escape my world through your writing. Instead all I saw was a mirror image of the descriptions in your words.

    TGIF.

    Reply
  6. conchitaadelaide

    Affirmative to those damn first impressions.

    As I was reading this I kept glancing at the barish from the 8th floor of the corporate style glass building hoping to escape my world through your writing. Instead all I saw was a mirror image of the descriptions in your words.

    TGIF.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *