Fainting echo of ‘Hind Swaraj’
The historians of modern India have done a lot many good things in establishing the pluralistic study of history. We can easily identify four or five major schools of Indian history today but this spectrum can be broadened. The 20th century India is yet to be studied in terms of history of science and technology. Such a study has the potential of creating vastly new sub-disciplines. This venture is yet to be taken in a big way. We have seen only monographs, extracts or small books on this theme but a sustained philosophic thought is yet to take shape. The last century started with a small attempt in form of ‘Hind Swaraj’ by Mahatma Gandhi. It was a small book scribbled in less than a month on the deck of a ship that ferried between South Africa and England.
The basic reason behind choosing ‘Hind Swaraj’ is primarily to relocate the chance of a viable philosophy of technology. A deeper synergy between philosophy and science is yet to be built. Both of them are first the methods of questioning and hence constitute the fundamentals of politics but such a positioning in a newly independent country was regarded somewhat dangerous. The post-independence India embraced a culture of science which was quite singular in approach. The Nehruvian era was over-enthusiastic in terms of bringing the modern technologies to the rescue of Indian planners and statesmen. A dedicated lot of scientists were incorporated into the mainstream development of science especially in the areas of nuclear technology, space sciences and agriculture but India mastered the art of fabricating technologies. They remained quite backward in developing theories of science. No resident Indian scientist could ever win a Noble prize in post-independence period. The best of talent migrated to western universities for better opportunities. S. Chandrasekhar and Hargobind Khurana did win this award but when they had left India. Of course, this smacks of narrow nationalism but the basic point is that Indian sciences lacked theoretical rigour and discipline. The realm of developmental sciences also could not take roots. The experiments like Hoshangabad Science Teaching Project and Vigyan Bharati did not go beyond a certain point. They were somehow, mired in the ideological wars Indian politicians vainly fought. Science could never occupy a central place in the broad futuristic plans of any political party. We did progress but our strength was more in the applied fields. The basic sciences could never undergo a desired paradigm shift as was the need of hour.
Traditional technologies did survive but they were not the result of a conscious choice rather they remained present because of an existential and financial compulsion of the masses who remained untouched from the modern fruits of technology. ‘Hind Swaraj’ was the most important treatise in highlighting the political struggles primarily in terms of technical choices. Doctors, railways and lawyers were the main focus of critiscism. It was quite clear that Gandhi wanted to deal with a commoner’s predicament vis-à-vis the politics of such forms of professional choices and non-local technologies. The railways and the modern medicine were severely treated as enslaving choices. Gandhian concern was quite like that of an elderly tribal leader but the broad spectrum of contemporary political groups could not go deep into the futuristic compulsions that these choices would generate. The position of science and modernity was not that thoroughly put under a discursive analysis. Our struggle with British government remained to the end only a struggle for political power. It was not an ideological war because we were never as cohesive a unit as the British imperialism was. All the modern choices were regarded more or less harmless. In such an amorphous ideological environment, ‘Hind Swaraj’ could never gather much strength. This text might have been criticized a lot because of its seemingly anti-western or anti-scientific stances but today, the kind of paraphernalia of physical and psychological dislocation, we have accumulated around, has something to suggest towards the cost of ignoring such a book. Contemporary Indian scholars have begun to take note of this blunder. Anupam Mishra, Ashis Nandy, Vandana Shiva and Shiv Vishwanathan have come out with remarkable studies in this regard but a vast work is yet to be done. The question of technology works within a matrix of modern ideologies which was not refuted by Mahatma Gandhi in a systematic manner. His stance was more of an activist and less of a theoretician. His distaste for the slogan of ‘technology for technology’s sake’ finally proved to be appropriate by the end of the century. The century-old fatigue of a cosmopolitan Indian is well visible in these words:
“In fact, the theories which vested rationality in techno-systems and technicians – and withdrew it from other human beings-lie in fragments around us, unable to cope with the fact that modern technology today has become a major bastion of irrationality and domination, apart from being a major eyesore. Our times have made it possible for a film-maker like Jean-luc Godard to think of a cinematic climax in which the world ends neither with a bang nor with a whimper, but with a traffic jam.”
-Ashis Nandy at page-85 in an essay ‘The Traditions of Technology’ in his book “Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias”, OUP, 1987
Mahatma Gandhi was rejected without even an attempt to ascertain his basic intention behind writing such a book. It was a kind of work that aimed at building a self-reliant politics of science instead of fabricating already developed technologies at home. His view was not a political one only rather it was focused on developing a complete philosophy of science and technology of a free Indian. Indian struggle could be called multi-dimensional but it was not holistic in approach. Gandhi tried in this regard but towards 40’s, he was as trapped in the hasty politics of driving the British faces out as others were though the imperialistic roots had already made deeper inroads into Indian mind without any resistance at all.
His work may be a bit polemical or crude in approach but its essence was not. It was a classic case of throwing baby out with bathwater. This was quite evident in the living choices we made. Why another Gandhian Masanobu Fukuoka was never even allowed any functional presence in Indian state sponsored agricultural policy? The philosophy of natural farming could never take roots here. Perhaps, the reason was inherent in the kind of agricultural methods we adopted in the high noon of green revolution. The notion of water-communities could not find any space in the bureaucratic structures. Land desertification, water shortage and silting of hydro-power generating dams started coming out as some of the most dangerous ecological crises of the waning century. Indian planning of the land, water, air and sea resources turned out to be the anti-thesis of what nature had planned for this land. All these things point to a sheer lack of any living philosophy of technology in the independent India.