Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gandhi and the middle classes

We watched Richard Attenborough's Gandhi last night. I was watching it after perhaps thirty years. Still an amazing film.
The amazing thing about Gandhi was not just his feelings for his countrymen and their suffering, he was able to express and communicate this suffering to the media and, through it, to the whole world.
What middle classes lack is the ability to communicate their feelings and their suffering to the wider audience. Partly, they don't do this because they feel that compared to the poor, these would be considered luxury problems. Partly, they don't do it because they think the rich have no feelings and would not care. And perhaps, partly they don't do it because it's not the done thing.
Secondly, Gandhi is able to sacrifice. He is able to take blows, physical and emotional, head on. If you want to be a leader, I guess this is another ability to be acquired. Many of us lack this. We are ill equipped to play political games because, alas, we have never played them. The only way to learn is to play the game and take the knocks.
If you think of it, the genius of Gandhi went beyond the Swadeshi movement of buying national goods and protesting in a non-violent way. It went beyond sustainable development and peaceful manifestations. It went to an ideology of living a simple life and doing things for others. Perhaps the time has come to find a way to simplify our lives and sharing.
Each day, the middle classes need to ask: do I need this? If not, why buy it? If not, why produce it? Intelligence purchase and intelligent consumption will lead to more sensible signals to the market place to stop producing items which are just being stored. With lower production, we will need to work less.
This need to work less can be channeled into two directions: a few strong greedy people cornering all the work or, alternatively, sharing the work with all. These are social choices. Pure capitalism leads to the strongest cornering the markets. Social capitalism leads to buying the right to share the work so that we see more joy around us. This political purchase is like any other economic purchase, except that it needs to be done collectively, just like buying buses and trains.
I think if the middle classes start doing this, they will lead the poor to new and beautiful directions which the rich will one day have to follow. Just like the world had to follow Gandhi.

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