Mahatma Gandhi opened up a new chapter in human history by offering a new set of thoughts and strategies steeped in human dignity. He offered some remedial prescriptions for almost all socio-economic maladies affecting our lives. The notable thing about Gandhi is that he was constantly growing in his outlook and continuously changing in his thought for the better and mature ideas. Therefore he could easily accept the change in conformity with the changing world which were refined and conditioned by his deep humanistic mosaic of belief and culture. He discussed almost all the issues ranging from production to distribution, wealth to poverty, education to employment, war to peace, and environment to balance of power and so on.

Gandhi was one of the greatest revolutionaries and one of the greatest leaders of all time. His ideals and vision were equally revolutionary whereby he suggested the principle of Trusteeship and other innovative economic doctrines. Through his ideas of trusteeship and other economic principles he strove to lay the foundation of a modern model-State on the basis of ethical, spiritual moral as well as practical considerations. Gandhi’s thoughts on economic systems evolved over time and they incorporated the good of both Capitalism and Socialism. His economic principles were not based on hardcore economic theories and every thought of Gandhi may not be relevant today; but Gandhian economics is very comprehensive to deal with many present day issues. Trusteeship was based on the trust between the ruler and the ruled. He suggested that there should be a minimum wage and maximum ceiling on the capitalist’s income and property. He was against the exploitative features of capitalism, though he was never against the capitalists. He wrote in an issue of Horijan in 1939, “I am not ashamed to own that many capitalists are friendly towards me and do not fear me. They know that I desire to end capitalism, almost, if not quite, as much as the most advanced Socialist or even Communist. But our methods differ, our languages differ. My theory of trusteeship is no make-shift, certainly no camouflage.” Herein lies the greatness of Gandhi because the language and methods he used did not encourage spilling of blood. Persuasion and non-violent assertion to convince the opponent were the hallmarks of his approach. The philosophy of Trusteeship involved the capitalists and landlords in the service of society without any element of coercion. He invited those people, who considered themselves as owners of their wealth to act as trustees. According to Gandhi, if an individual had a fair amount of wealth—either by way of legacy, or by means of trade and industry — he must know that all that wealth did not belonged to him; what belonged to him was the right to an honourable livelihood, no better than that enjoyed by millions of others. The rest of his wealth belonged to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community. As for the owners of wealth, Gandhi maintained that “they will have to make their choice between class war and voluntarily converting themselves into trustees of their wealth. They will be allowed to retain the stewardship of their possessions and to use their talent, to increase the wealth, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the nation and, therefore, without exploitation. When the people understand the implications of trusteeship and the atmosphere is ripe for it, the people themselves, beginning with gram panchayats, will begin to introduce such statutes.” Gandhi was against the physical liquidation of the capitalists and landlords. Yet he believed that their exploitation had to end. This could be done if the landlords and the capitalists acted as trustees of the poor. His doctrine of Trusteeship was designed to work in all spheres of life. “Like parents acting as trustees for their children, the government should act as trustees of those who have chosen them to be their representatives. The trustee, by its implications, meant that he is not the owner. The owner is one whose interest he is called upon to protect” .

Gandhi wanted capitalists to act as trustees (not owners) of their property and conduct themselves in a socially responsible way. The present day concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is rooted in the principle of Gandhian Trusteeship which links Corporate Sector to Social Sector. It is now gaining popularity in our society which is plagued by increasing inequalities. It emphasizes the fact that the corporate sector, which earns profit through the sale of its goods and services in the society, has some responsibility towards it as well. This is essential to promote growth with equity and to achieve an inclusive society. Increasing number of industrial houses is taking active interest in the welfare of the employees, their families and society at large. Starting from the provision of basic necessities like drinking water, primary education, health facilities to the development of environment friendly technologies on regional/national or even international scale, they are working in various spheres. In taking up few initiatives, some of them also have undertaken various social works. By doing so, they are not only able to advertise their products but are also selling them to the beneficiaries of their activities. Some of them are involved in the charity work like provision of mid day meals to school children. Many of them have their own NGOs operating at ground level, and in other cases they are involving the civil society in their activities. Economists and many CEOs argue that the role of business is to maximize shareholder profits, whereas the CSR community talks about contribution to society for the greater good. Thus the essential problem about the role of business cannot be resolved within the current framework unless the element of Trusteeship is incorporated. The TATA group of companies has declared that it is based around this principle. Trusteeship is the model of responsibility that best describes the group founder – JRD Tata’s view of himself and his role in the world. Hence the relevance of trusteeship lies in the fact that it provides a means of transforming the present capitalist order of society into an egalitarian one. It gives no quarter to capitalism, but gives the present owning class a chance of reforming itself. It is based on the faith that human nature is never beyond redemption.

About the Author: The author, Mr. Anupam Thakuria is working as Associate Professor and Head, Department of Economics at North- Guwahati College, Guwahati, Assam, India. A good numbers of research articles of the author have been published in many reputed journals. Creative writing is also his interesting area and published in many magazines, edited books etc. [Read More]

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