MK Gandhi was trained to be a lawyer and he practiced the same. But the circumstances and his reactions towards them turned him into a political leader. Going by numbers (thirty crore followers during his time), his leaderships was undisputed. Going by purity of soul, he was and is an inspiration to many. But when it comes to economic thoughts, all does not seem to agree. Few (economists of the current times) say, his socialistic approach, preference of labor intensive small scale industries over the big production factories slowed the economic growth of India. I think they grossly miss a point.
Economics says if a good (or a service) can be produced cheap somewhere else (by employing less labor but producing more), that good should be imported and the local market should focus on producing what it is best at. Exchanging the goods helps the economy than trying to be self-reliant. Goods are available at cheaper prices for both parties and it improves efficiency. Theory is sound. Trade is fair but dumping is bad. Predatory pricing by a company can drive all other players out of the market making it a monopoly. Than the prices begin to go up. No further improvement in productivity will help reduce prices as it is not a free market. Laws of economics do not apply there. Check with an insider of steel industry today how much they are suffering from dumping of steel at lower prices from neighboring countries. Before the domestic industry becomes competitive they may get killed. To protect them, Govt. imposes import bans or higher duties etc. It is fair and necessary to protect the interests of the domestic economy. If we did not have our own Govt. and were ruled by someone else, what we would have done?
Before independence, when Gandhi was still not identified as a big leader, England was at the cusp of industrial revolution, its factories were producing surplus, and they had to find newer markets to dump their surplus. What better place than India which was one their biggest colonies for such a dump-trade? Clothing produced there was of better quality, but that killed much of the labor intensive textile industry in India. When Indians were fighting for human rights at that time, how they could have imported a steam engine to drive up productivity? And where was the capital for that? Gandhi fasted for the first time along with textile mill workers for arbitration of their rights in 1918. His struggle for independence began from there and he wanted it to be non-violent. He introduced the spinning wheel not just to produce our own clothing. Spending time at the spinning wheel would teach any one patience and tolerance. And becoming self-reliant would give necessary courage to question and protest dominance of someone else, peacefully. Independence was the first step to economic prosperity. Whatever taxes we pay now get redistributed within India but not so during the times of Gandhi. When poor were going hungry here without jobs, tax was sent (as profit) somewhere else. Gandhi's priorities and the messages were clear. We needed jobs for ourselves and we refuse to pay taxes which do not come back to the same system. Was not this more of a economical fight than political?
Almost two thousand years ago, King Ashoka had ruled the entire India. After that no other King could accomplish the same profile. Even the great Mughals did not rule half of today’s India. It had many languages, cultures. Uniting them was a dream and a gigantic task. But yet there were many common things, much of Indians were poor and most of them were rain dependent farmers living in villages. Gandhi had identified this common social fabric across the lands ruled by the British. His socialistic approach was necessary to unite the people from diverse cultures and mobilize them else India would not have come together. Had a fraction of India fought at a time, it would have become a weak fight and the British had successfully diffused many such attempts in the past. Gandhi traveled extensively to reach all corners with a uniform message of Independent India. Without social integrity, there was no platform for economic prosperity.
When India got its independence nobody had to ask us what the idea of India was as it was already sold to us decades ago by Gandhi. But we did not let him die a natural death. Incredible India! So for what happened in India after 1948, Gandhi cannot be held responsible. He was not alive to tell us to vote for Congress Party or Nehru family. We elected our leaders. Be it Nehru, Indira, Rajiv and now Modi, they all were/are representation of the mindsets of the society which elected them to power. These leaders had all the power to choose what was best for India. If India prospered or not, it is because of the decisions taken by these leaders and the society too is responsible for that.
What Gandhi did was his best given the circumstances in his times. If there was no Gandhi, India would not have been any better than many African countries are now. We owe much to the old man for stopping the economic and moral plight and helping us to fight back.
If we are not at peace with the history, how can we focus on the future?