Turning Around Rural Economy

With two-thirds of the population still living in rural areas, it would be prudent for the government to boost rural economy, if it wants to turn India into a robust country

By Robin Keshaw

INDIA is a predominantly rural country. 83 crore of its 121 crore population according to 2011 census lives in villages and 65 per cent population has agriculture as the sole means of sustenance. Agriculture, however, is no more a highly profitable business since it depends a lot on various vagaries of weather.

There has been a spate of farmers’ suicides from across the country including Haryana and Punjab  country’s food bowl. This has given a major impetus to migration from rural to urban areas. Farmers have been selling their land and settling down in cities where they are working as labour mostly in the construction industry or are plying rickshaws. Their plight is aggravated because of lack of skills. 

This situation leads us to do a rethink on our economic and social policies. Whether we are neglecting the villages while providing thrust to industrialisation. We need to create job opportunities in villages.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA) was such a scheme. It halted migration to a large extent. But, it provided employment to the rural poor but did could have also created infrastructure marvels it had been envisaged to have produced. 


Heart of India lies in villages, Mahatma Gandhi had said. His vision of development incorporated villages not only as a basic unit but also as the key to progress.

He used to say, the nation will develop only when its villages are developed, all villages are electrified, have a strong infrastructure and all villagers are fully employed and contribute to making a robust economy.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi has imbibed Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of governance. Most of the schemes announced by his during past three and a half years are directing at uplifting the lot of rural poor – whether it’s providing free LPG connections, free electricity connections, free LED bulbs, providing skill training, antyodaya scheme, subsidised ration, old-age pension scheme and agri-loan waiver. 

Most important of these are Rurban mission that entails providing same infrastructure facilities to rural folk what are available to urban dwellers – be it roads, power, water, education or health.

This is one reason why most Americans and Europeans prefer to stay in the countryside than in cities. Only if Government is able to provide adequate employment opportunities in rural areas and make agriculture a profitable venture, there is no doubt that migration will come to a halt. 

Before venturing into the intricacies of these schemes, let’s recall Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a developed India. He was a visionary to stress the need for the upliftment of rural economy, as the first step to accelerate country’s growth curve. 

Gandhi has said, “I would say that if the village perishes India will perish too. India will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is possible only when it is no more exploited.

Industrialisation on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as the problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use.

Provided this character of the village industry is maintained, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation of others.”


Gujarat is often in the news, for being the leading industrialized state in the country. It is true that Gujarat, with 22 per cent of the country’s total investment, leads the country in industrialization.

Narendra Modi’s vision and leadership as chief minister of the state for 12 long years, has made it possible for Gujarat to not only attract industries and investments but has also led to an improved quality of life in rural areas. Today, Gujarat is a model state when it comes to initiatives in rural development

The roots of Gujarat’s holistic approach towards rural development can be traced back to Modi’s early years. As pracharak and party-worker, Modi travelled the length and breadth of this country. He stayed with local workers, shared meals with them and in doing so developed a deep understanding of the issues plaguing rural India.

Thus, Rural Development schemes in Gujarat deal with subjects as diverse as rural housing and employment, forestation, grievance redressal, sanitation, cleanliness and promotion of peace and brotherhood.


Elections in villages are often acrimonious and the bitterness creates impediments in the development of the village. In order to prevent such hindrances, the Government of Gujarat launched the Samaras Gram Yojana.

Under this initiative, villages, which select a Sarpanch by consensus, receive monetary benefits. Almost 3700 villages in the state are now ‘Samaras villages’ and have received Rs.2306.4 lakh from the government.

Houses in rural India often lack toilets leading to uncomfortable situations for the residents, especially women. Empathising with them, the government of Gujarat launched the Nirmal Gram Yojana.

In the past decade over four lakh toilets have been built in Gujarat and today there are over 4000 Nirmal Villages in the state, up from only 4 a decade back. This is exactly the model, he is trying to replicate at the national level as part of Rashtriya Swachhta Mission. 

Understanding the importance of a clean and green environment for the well-rounded development of the state, the government of Gujarat launched schemes to promote cleanliness in the villages and has undertaken afforestation drives.

Under the ‘Swachh Gram Swasth Gram scheme,’ sanitation and hygiene are highlighted and monetary incentives are offered to villages, which undertake cleanliness drives. Under the ‘Panchavati Yojana’ the advantages of tree-plantation are explained to the people and fallow lands are identified for tree plantation drives. These schemes have not only made the villages more scenic but have also improved rural health.

He also addressed the housing problem in rural areas, especially amongst landless labourers. The Government of Gujarat launched the Sardar Patel Awaas Yojana. Under this scheme, the government provides free plots of land for the purpose of house-building to BPL cardholders.

This scheme has been immensely successful and has been very well received across the state. Gujarat is an innovator when it comes to incorporating technology into Governance. 


Under the ‘E-Gram Vishwa Gram Yojana’ computers with broadband internet connections have been installed in all Gram Panchayats across the state. These centres provide a number of services to the people such as providing birth/death certificates, proofs of income, caste certificates and residence proofs.

Realizing the opportunity E-gram centres provide for facilitating the exchange of ideas, Voice over Internet Protocol facility has also been provided to the E-gram centres. This has led to increased communication between village officials and the state leadership.

It was Mahatma Gandhi’s vision that village-level problems be solved locally. Abiding by this philosophy, the Government of Gujarat launched the Gram Swagat program. Under this program, aggrieved citizens in villages can lodge their complaints at the E-Gram centres. These complaints are then taken up by the village head and are solved in a time-bound fashion.



In addition to these, schemes like the Garib Kalyan Mela, Krishi Mohatsav and Jyotigram Yojana have been instrumental in the overall development of the rural areas. The Garib Kalyan Mela, a ground-breaking program of the Government of Gujarat makes it easier for the people to receive entitlements from the government.

The Government has organized around 1000 Garib Kalyan Melas resulting in 85 lakh people receiving benefits worth 12,500 crores from the state government. Krishi Mahotsav has been a key driver behind Gujarat’s phenomenal Agriculture growth-rate and it functions on similar lines.

It includes kit distribution, cattle vaccination programs, and provision of soil health cards. In the recent Krishi Mahotsav, benefits worth 720 crores were provided to 15.17 lakh farmers in Gujarat. Because of the Jyotigram Yojana, which guarantees 24-Hour uninterrupted power to the villages, the quality of life in villages has gone up manifold.

These schemes have resulted in a substantial improvement in the quality of life in villages. The overall industrial development of the state has led to increased employment opportunities in villages. Owing to these factors, migration from rural to urban areas has reduced by 33 per cent.


In the Indian context, rural development may be defined as maximising production in agriculture and allied activities in the rural areas including development of rural industries with an emphasis on village and cottage industries.

It attaches importance to the generation of maximum possible employment opportunities in rural areas, especially for the weaker sections of the community so as to enable them to improve their standard of living.

Provision of certain basic amenities like drinking water, electricity, especially for the productive purpose, link roads connecting villages to market centres and facilities for health and education etc. figure prominently in the scheme of rural development.


Gandhian approach to rural development may be labelled as ‘idealist’. It attaches supreme importance to moral values and gives primacy to moral values over material conditions. The Gandhians believe that the source of moral values in general lies in religion and Hindu scriptures like the Upanishads and the Gita, in particular.

The concept of ‘Rama Rajya’ is the basis of Gandhiji’s idea of an ideal social order. Gandhi defined Rama Rajya as “sovereignty of the people based on moral authority”. He did not view Rama as a king, and people as his subjects. In the Gandhian scheme, ‘Ram’ stood for God or one’s own ‘inner voice’ Gandhi believed in a democratic social order in which people are supreme. Their supremacy is, however, not absolute. It is subject to moral values.


The village is the basic unit of the Gandhian ideal social order. Gandhi succinctly pointed out, “If the village perishes India will perish too…. We have to make a choice between India of the villages that are as ancient as herself and India of the cities which are a creation of foreign domination”.

Gandhi’s ideal village belongs to the Pre-British period, when Indian villages were supposed to constitute the federation of self-governing autonomous republics. According to Gandhiji, this federation will be brought about not by coercion or compulsion but by the voluntary offer of every village republic to join such a federation.

The work of the central authority will only be to coordinate the work of different village republics and to supervise and manage things of common interest, such as education, basic industries, health, currency, banking etc. The central authority will have no power to enforce its decisions on village republics except the moral pressure or power of persuasion.

The economic system and transport system introduced by the British have destroyed the “republican’ character of the villages. Gandhi, however, admitted that in olden times tyranny and oppression were in fact practised by feudal chiefs. But, “odds were even”. Today the odds are heavy. It is most demoralising.” In this way in the Gandhian scheme of things the ancient ‘republic’, an Indian village without tyranny and exploitation serves as a model unit.


Gandhi firmly believes that village republics can be built only through decentralisation of social and political power. In such a system decision-making power will be vested in the Village Panchayat rather than in the State and the national capital. The representatives would be elected by all adults for a fixed period of five years. 

The elected representatives would constitute a council, called the Panchayat. 

The Panchayat exercises legislative, executive and judicial functions. It would look after education, health and sanitation of the village. It would be the Panchayats responsibility to protect and uplift ‘untouchables’ and other poor people. Resources for Gandhian Approach to managing village affairs would be raised from the villages.


All the conflicts and disputes would be resolved within the village. And as far as possible not a single case is to be referred to courts outside the village. The Panchayat would play its role in propagating the importance of moral and spiritual values among the villagers for bringing about rural reconstruction.

Apart from managing its own affairs, the village would also be capable of defending itself against any invasion. A non-violent peace brigade of volunteers would be organised to defend the village. This corps would be different from the usual military formation. They would repose the utmost faith in non-violence and God.


Such a decentralised polity implies a decentralised economy. It can be attained only through self-sufficiency at the village level. The village should be self-sufficient as far as its basic needs – food, clothing, and other necessities – are concerned. The village has to import certain things which it cannot produce in the village. “We shall have to produce more of what we can, in order thereby to obtain in exchange, what we are unable to produce”.

The village should produce food-crops and cotton in order to meet its requirements. Some lands should also be earmarked for cattle and for a playground for adults and children. If some land is still available, it should be used for growing useful cash crops like tobacco, opium, etc. to enable the village to get in exchange things which it does not produce.

Village economy should be planned with a view to providing full employment to all the adults of the village. Each man should be guaranteed employment to enable him to meet his basic needs in the village itself so that he is not forced to migrate to towns. In the ultimate analysis, full employment should be linked with equality.

Physical labour occupies a central place in the Gandhian concept of the self-sufficient village. In this respect, he was highly influenced by Ruskin and Tolstoy. According to Gandhi, each man must do physical labour to earn his bread. Physical labour is necessary for moral discipline and the sound development of the mind. Intellectual labour is only for one’s own satisfaction and one should not demand payment for it.

The needs of the body must be supplied by the body. Gandhi said, “If all laboured for their bread then there would be enough food and enough leisure for all.” Shriman Narayan rightly observes, “Gandhiji recognised toil to be not a curse but the joyful business of life as it has the power to make man healthier, merrier, fitter and kindlier”.


Gandhiji maintained that industrialization would help only a few and will lead to concentration of economic power. Industrialization leads to passive or active exploitation of the villages. It encourages competition. Large-scale production requires marketing. Marketing means profit-seeking through an exploitative mechanism.

Moreover, industrialization replaces manpower and hence it adds to unemployment. In a country like India, where millions of labourers in the villages do not get work for even six months in a year, industrialization will not only increase unemployment but force labourers to migrate to urban areas. This will ruin villages.

In order to avoid such a catastrophe, village and cottage industries should be revived. They provide employment to meet the needs of the villagers and facilitate village self-sufficiency. Gandhians are not against machine per se if it meets two aims: self-sufficiency and full employment.

According to Gandhi, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they could make and could afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation of others.


Gandhiji was not against the institution of private property. But he wanted to restrict the right of private property to what was necessary to yield an honourable livelihood. For the excess, he prescribed the principle of trusteeship.

Gandhiji emphasized the principle of trusteeship in social and economic affairs. He firmly believed that all social property should be held in trust. The capitalists would take care not only of themselves but also of others. Some of their surplus wealth would be used for the rest of the society.

The poor workers, under trusteeship, would consider the capitalists as their benefactors; and would repose faith in their noble intentions. Gandhiji felt that if such a trusteeship were established, the welfare of the workers would increase and the clash between the workers and employers would be avoided. Trusteeship would help considerably “in realising a state of equality on earth.”


Gandhiji firmly believed that land should not be owned by any individual. The land belongs to God. Hence, individual ownership of land should be shunned. For that, a landowner should be persuaded to become a trustee of his land. He should be convinced that the land he owns does not belong to him. The land belongs to the community and must be used for the welfare of the community. They are merely trustees. By persuasion, the heart of landowners should be changed and they should be induced to donate their land voluntarily.

If the land-owners do not oblige and continue to exploit the poor workers, the latter should organise non-violent, non-cooperation, civil disobedience struggles against them. Gandhiji rightly held the view that “no person can amass wealth without the cooperation, willing or forced, of the people concerned”.


If this knowledge were to penetrate and spread amongst the poor, they would become strong and learn how to free themselves from the crushing inequalities which have pushed them to the verge of starvation. But the oppressed should not take recourse to violent methods. In the Gandhian scheme of things, the principle of cooperation, love and service is most important and violence has no place in it. Violence is against “moral values’ and civilized society is inconceivable in the absence of moral values.

Gandhiji’s concept of development is oriented to the uplift of the common man. He preferred village habitats to megalopolises and Swadeshi craft to imported technology for the economic well-being of the common man. He stressed the need for cottage industries in place of gigantic industries and advocated for a decentralised economy instead of a centralised one.

He realised the need for integrated rural development and believed that education, health and vocation should be properly integrated. He emphasised the need for education and training which he called ‘Naitalim’ (New training) for rural reconstruction.

In fine, Gandhian approach to rural development strives to reconstruct village republics which would be non-violent, self-governed and self-sufficient so far as the basic necessities of ruralites are concerned. Apart from creating a new socio-economic order, it endeavour’s to transform man; otherwise, the changes in the socio-economic order will be short-lived.


India does not need to be industrialised in the modern sense of the term. It has 7,50,000 villages scattered over the vast area 1900 miles long 1500 broad. The people are rooted to the soil and the vast majority are living a hand to mouth life. Agriculture does not need revolutionary changes. The Indians peasant requires a supplementary industry.

The most natural is the introduction of the spinning wheel, not the handloom. The latter cannot be included introduced in every home, whereas the farmer can, and it used to be so even a century ago. It was driven out not by economic pressure but by force deliberately used as can be proved from authentic records. The restoration therefore of the spinning wheel solves the economic problem of India at a stroke.


The real India lies in the 7,00,000 villages. If the country has to make its full contribution to the building up of a stable world order, it is this vast mass of humanity that has to be made to live again. We have to tackle the triple malady which holds our villages fast in its grip – want of corporate sanitation, deficient diet, inertia. 

Villages have suffered long from neglect by those who have had the benefit of education. They have chosen the city life. The village movement is an attempt to establish healthy contact with the villages by inducing those who are fired with the spirit of service to settle in them and find self-expression in the service of villagers….

A true life lived amongst the people is in itself an object lesson that must produce its own effect upon immediate surroundings. The difficulty with the young is, perhaps, that he has gone to the village merely to earn a living without the spirit of service behind it.


A Samagra Gramasevak must know everybody living in the village and render them such service as he can. That does not mean that the worker will be able to do everything single-handed. He will show them the way of helping themselves and procure for them such help and materials as they require. He will train up his own helpers. He will so win over the villagers that they will seek and follow his advice.


The villages will be surveyed and a list prepared of things that can be manufactured locally with little or no help which may be required for village use or for sale outside, such for instance as ghani-pressed oil and cakes, burning oil prepared through GHANIS, hand-pounded rice, jaggery, honey, toys, mats, hand-made paper, village soap, etc.

If enough care is thus taken, the villages, most of them as good as dead or dying, will hum with life and exhibit the immense possibilities they have of supplying most of their wants themselves and of the cities and towns of India.


The villagers should develop such a high degree of skill that articles prepared by them should command a ready market outside. When our villages are fully developed, there will be no dearth in them of men with a high degree of skill and artistic talent. There will be village poets, village artists, village architects, linguists and research workers. In short, there will be nothing in life worth having which will not be had in the villages.

Today the villages are dung heaps. Tomorrow they will be like tiny gardens of Eden where dwell highly intelligent folk whom no one can deceive or exploit. The reconstruction of the villages along these lines should begin right now. The reconstruction of the villages should not be organized on a temporary but permanent basis. 

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