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Issues and Challenges in Rural Development: A Gandhian Perspective

Shamim Bari

Research Scholar

Department of Political Science

A.M.U., Aligarh

Mob: +91- 9761078365


Abstract: Gandhiji’s life, ideas and work are of crucial importance to all those who want a better life for humankind. Gandhi holds the view of the maximization of social welfare and for this he gives prime importance to the welfare of the individuals by reducing inequalities in income and wealth. According to Gandhi every person should be provided with bare minimum necessaries i.e. food, shelter, and clothing. Concentration of wealth to a few groups of people certainly will shatter the dream of a society which will be socialist in nature. Gandhi is in favor of the self-sufficient village economy where the villages will be the independent economic units. In this paper an attempt has been made to analysis the Gandhian perspective on rural development. The paper also attempts to emphasize the emerging issues and challenges in rural development with prospective solutions under the shadow of Gandhian views on the same.

Key Words: Rural Development, Village Economy, Gandhian Perspective, Gram Swaraj, Ram Rajya, Cottage Industries.



Rural Development is a complex and interesting phenomenon because it involves a number of stakeholders from different sectors of society. Traditionally the concept of rural development has been agriculture and forest based process but over the years it has grown to involve community at large scale. In Indian context it can be defined as an increment in agriculture production and allied activities in rural areas. It emphasizes the generation of maximum possible employment opportunities in rural areas especially for the weaker sections of society. Gandhiji’s approach to rural development, theoretically, is idealistic in nature.  He gives more importance to moral values over material conditions. He believes that religion is the source of moral values in general and Hindu scriptures like Upanishads and Gita in particular.  His concept of ideal village republics is based on the concept of Ram Rajya. He did not view Ram as King and people as his subjects. In his views, Ram stood for good or for one’s own inner choice. Gandhi believes in democratic social order in which people are supreme. However, there supremacy is not absolute; it is subject to moral values.

For Gandhiji self reliant villages form the sound basis for a just, equitable and non violent order. This can be a guiding principle for all citizens, constructive workers and policy makers in India. Gandhiji developed his ideas on villages from his direct experience in South Africa. He was firm belief that if villages perish, India will perish too. It will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. His belief was that for rebuilding India, reconstruction of villages is essential. For that cause he initiated some efforts like Champaran in 1917, Sevagram in 1920 and Wardha in 1938.  With the passage of time, he visualized an elaborate programme of constructive work, which included economic self-reliance, social equality and decentralized political system.

Concept of Rural Development

Development is a complex and continuous process. It manifests itself in the improved living standard, social upliftment, political awareness, cultural development, stablisation and consolidation of participatory political institutions. Development therefore is more than economic development. It implies a change in individual and group values and norms and is essentially dynamic in nature seeking total societal transformation to bring about all-round, balanced and upward change. In backward countries development implies rural development. In the case of India, the real India lives in its villages. The concept of development is generally examined in the context of poverty, unemployment, inequality and exploitation.  Here, half the population lives below the poverty line. The landless and homeless, agricultural laborers, the small and marginal farmers, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are among the destitute and poor. Economic deprivation is compounded by social discrimination, poor infrastructural facilities and social services and even absence of basic necessities of life.

Rural development is an interesting and complex phenomenon because it involves a large variety of socio-economic-environmental situations, cultural and religious influences, and political conditions. The term rural development implies overall development of rural areas with a view to improve the quality of life of rural people. Rural development is a process in which typically large numbers of stakeholders are involved from different sectors of a society. Rural development is a process of transformation from traditionally oriented rural culture towards an acceptance and reliance on science and technology (Ensminger, 1974). Lela (1975) defined rural development signifies an improvement in the living standard of the masses of low-income population residing in rural areas and making the process of self-sustaining (Lela, 1975). Rural development is a strategy designed to improve the economic and social life of a specific group of people, the rural poor (Agarwal, 1989). Thus, rural development can be defined in several ways but for all practical purposes it means helping the poor people living in the villages in their economic development.  Rural development is the process of improving the quality of life improving the economic well being of people living in rural areas often relatively isolated and sparsely populated areas. Over the years the concept of rural development has changed from the traditional land intensive techniques such as agriculture and forestry to more community participation in development programmes.  Approaches to rural development from top-down approaches to community participation through political decentralization have been also changed.

In the Indian context rural development may be defined as maximizing production in agriculture and allied activities in the rural areas including development of rural industries with 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.  Basic objectives of rural development are as:

  • To achieve enhanced production and productivity in the rural areas
  • To bring about a greater socio-economic equity To bring about a spatial balance in social and economic development
  • To bring about improvement in the ecological environment so that it may be
  • conducive to growth and happiness, and
  • To develop broad based community participation in the process of development



Issues and challenges in Rural Development:

  1. Most poverty in the world is rural and reaching the UN sustainable goals means giving the rural development high priority.
  2. The nature of changes is changing constantly and the contemporary rural realities are challenging the traditional views in numerous ways.
  3. There is no shortage of narratives on rural development. In the past they were in the form of Community Development, Integrated Development Programmes and Green Revolution. The current narratives include doubly green revolution, sustainable agriculture, rural livelihoods and a growth based narratives.
  4. Based on these narratives critical choices about rural development: such as state or market, growth or stability, agriculture or non agriculture, high or low potential areas etc.
  5. Different narratives will apply in different sectors but all need to be consistent with current thinking on rural development like empowerment and income distribution.
  6. The changing nature of problems in rural development will require new narratives to deal with challenges such as globalization, urbanization, de-agrarianisation of rural areas, increasing diversity of rural environments, and special problems of low potential areas like small scale farming may face unprecedented pressure.
  7. In practice there will not be one narrative on rural development, but several and some of this need to pay special attention to growing diversity of livelihood strategies, rural poverty in low potential areas, conflict resolution and management and greater need for decentralization and devolution.
  8. The majority of the poor still live in rural areas, and yet donor support for agricultural and other rural development has slumped.
  9. There are few full-time farmers now, as households pursue multi-functional and multi-spatial livelihoods: Support to the non-farm rural economy and to migration are as important as agricultural support.

Rural Development and Gandhian Perspective

Mahatma Gandhi gave a big boost to rural development through his ‘back to the villages” movement and his comprehensive programme which included use of khadi, promotion of cottage and village industries and women’s upliftment. Gandhiji’s approach to India’s rural development was holistic and people-centred. For me, India begins and ends in the villages (in a letter to Nehru written on August 23, 1944.). Gandhi had a clear perception of its villages and said that India lives in her seven and half lakhs of villages. He further said that India have to lives in villages, not in towns, in huts not in palaces. Gandhi influenced by Tolstoy, Ruskin Bond and Gita, placed more emphasis on moral and spiritual values than economic motives as a means of overall development. To him the progress of the country lies in the development of its rural areas, develop rural economy, industry and rural skills.

Rural development has been one of India’s priority areas since independence. Consequently India adopted planned development process through successive five year plans. There was a direct attack on poverty in fifth and sixth five year plans as benefits of general development programmes had not proved successful for the removal of poverty of the masses. Gandhiji’s concept of Gram Swaraj was not just the resurrection of old village panchayats rather it the fresh formation of independent village units in context of present world scenario. Gokhle, his political guru, asked him to visit entire India if wants to feel the pulse of India. During his visit Gandhiji came across abject poverty, unemployment, deprivation, exploitation, hunger, disease and caste ridden society especially in rural areas. After his visit, he reached at the conclusion that poverty and villages are synonymous and without the emancipation of these millions of people no development is possible. Thus his concept of Gram Swaraj was comprehensive one encompassing social, economic, educational and political dimensions. He put emphasis on truth and non-violence in all aspects of life and said that the Swaraj of my dream will come when are firmly convinced that our Swaraj has got to be won, worked and maintained through truth and non-violence. The Gandhian model of rural development is based on the following premises:

  • India lives in villages, not in cities.
  • Exploitation of villagers by city dwellers is equivalent to violence; hence revival of India is possible only when villagers are exploited no more.
  • Everyone must his bread by physical labor and one who works hard must get his subsistence.
  • Simple living and high thinking; every one must pursuit moral and spiritual values with reduction in materialistic wants.
  • Utilization of swadeshi products, services and institutions and;
  • Balance between ends and means. Gandhiji believed that non violence and truth could not be sustained unless a balance between ends and means was maintained.

Gandhiji analyzed the causes of poverty. He was firm belief, like others such as Karl Marx, Dada Bhai Naoroji, that poverty in India was a British legacy and the principal cause of rural under development. He thought about the revival of indigenous industries so that people could have enough to feed themselves. Gandhiji believed that an economy which exploits people and concentrate wealth in few hands stand for self condemned. His major emphasis was on the revival of spun (hand spinning) and khadi (hand weaving) industries which had direct economic significance and that could shake the foundations of mighty British Empire. But it is obvious that such revival alone could not feed, clothed and sheltered the millions of people. Thus, he put forward the idea of upliftment of all though the scheme of sarvodaya which is being expanded and applied throughout India.

In his model of Gram Swaraj based on non-violence, Gandhi wanted to give the villages their proper place. Similarly, he said that we could not build non-violence on factory civilization only, but it could be built on self contained villages where rural economy could avoid exploitation altogether  because exploitation is the essence of violence. Thus, his concept of villages was narrow and parochial which kept preaching for old villages devoid of sanitation and having old rotten houses.  He said in a letter addressed to Nehru in 1945, I appreciate modern thought and I find that an old thing considered in the light of thus thought looks sweet. You would not be able to understand me if you thought that I am talking about the villages of today.  My ideal village exists only in imagination…… His orientation was not something else but wanted to build whole Indian economy and political structure on rural foundation. He portrayed the villages as the basic unit of economic and political development. To quote him, ‘A village unit as conceived by me strongest. My imaginary village consists of 1000 souls. Such a unit can give itself if it is well organized on a basis.

Gandhi said, while elaborating his concept of rural development that ‘independence must begin at the bottom’. He wanted to rebuild India from the lowest level with the poorest and the weakest. Subsequently Gandhi asked the people to go back to villages for village reconstruction. He visualized the concept of village republic with self reliant villages, free from exploitation and fear and as a significant part of the decentralized system. He said that life would not be a pyramid with the bottom sustaining the apex rather would be an oceanic circle with individual being the centre of the ocean and always ready to perish for the village and village ready to perish for the circle of villages till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are an integral units. Gandhi said that we are inheritors of a rural civilization. The vastness of our country, the vastness of the population and the situation and climate of the country destined it for rural civiliasation. To uproot it and substitute for it an urban civilization seems to me something impossible. Thus, every village will be republic or panchayats having full powers. The village should be self sustained and capable enough to manage its affairs and even to defend itself against the whole world. It should be trained and prepared to perish in an attempt to defend itself against the onslaught from outside. This does not exclude the possibility of willing help and dependence on the neighborhood villages and from the world. In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be ever widening, not ascending oceanic circle. Gandhi said that people of India remain idle at least for four months in a year. For crores of idle people the spinning wheel is the only occupation which can supplement their income for the fields as they have no other one. In the same fashion he regarded swadeshi as ‘Dharma’ or ‘Artha’ and stressed its economic importance and asked the people to adopt the swadeshi effectively and enthusiastically. In this context he said that if villages perish, India will perish too. It will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost.

Workers were the basic in the Gandhian model of rural development. He prescribed eleven tenets: truth, non-violence, physical labor, control of the palate, celibacy, equal respect for all religions, non-possession, no-stealing, fearlessness, swadeshi and spirit of brotherhood. Thus, Gandhian concept of rural development was all inclusive and multi-dimensional encompassing the overall development of the man with special emphasis on quality of development. Gandhi envisaged the reconstruction of nation on the basis of this scheme of rural society.  He wrote to Nehru that man is not born to live in jungle, he is born to live in society…..this conception will bring a change in human relationships all over the world.

Gandhi felt that a strengthened and economically sound rural economy would revitalize the national economy because India lives in villages; where more than seventy per cent of people are agriculturists. Thus, he said that a rural economy of self contained village alone could be the basis of a non-violent social order and to be rural minded you have true faith in the spinning wheel. Gandhi always talked about the self-contained villages and issues about balance relations between the man and nature. He wanted an ideal society of his own imaginations and his economic ideas are the part and parcel of his philosophical and sociological ideas. His ideas are centred on the growth of human beings and particularly the growth of the deprived and weaker sections of people. He always advocated the maximization of social welfare and believed that growth of an economy is depended on the development of total human personality. Gandhi said that an increase in personal income is an indication of an increase in national income. But opposite may not be true because an increase in national income may not always benefit every man in the society.

India lives in villages. Thus, the village is the basic unit of Gandhian social order. Gandhiji pointed out that ‘if the villages perish, India will perish too. We have to make a choice between India of villages that is ancient as itself and India of cities which is the creation of foreign domination’. Gandhi says that village republics can be built only through the decentralization of social and political power. In a decentralized system decision making power will be vested in panchayats rather than state and national government. The panchayats representatives will be elected by all adults for a fixed term of five years. These elected representatives will constitute a council, called the panchayats. This elected body exercises the executive, legislative and judicial functions. The panchayats looks after the health, education and sanitation of the village. The panchayats shall also be responsible for the upliftment and protection of untouchables and the poor. In Gandhian scheme, resources for managing village affairs will be raised from the villages. Apart from managing its affairs the village will be responsible for defending the village from outside invasion. The village will have an army of volunteers which is different from military formation. The army will repose utmost faith in non-violence and god. The panchayats will resolve all cases of conflicts and disputes and not a single case, if possible will be transferred to courts outside the village.

Gandhiji believes that development of a country depends on the development of its villages. The village should grow all the necessary goods and services. Thus, every village will be a self contained republic. Gandhi asked the villages to distribute their surplus produce to the poor villages in order to eradicate the problems of poverty and starvation. But agriculture sector alone cannot solve the issues of rural poverty and unemployment. Consequently, Gandhiji emphasizes the growth of rural industries like khadi, handlooms, sericulture and handicrafts. For Gandhi, large scale industries make people lazy and results in the concentration of wealth in the hands of few. On the other hands, rural industries are based on the family labor and require less amount of capital. Raw materials are also collected from the local markets and goods produced are also sold in local markets. That is why there is no problem of production and market.

Gandhi says that his ideal village will consists of intelligent humans only. They will not live in dirt and darkness like animals. His villages will be free of plague, cholera or small pox and no one will be neither idle nor wallowing in luxury. Everyone has to contribute his quota of manual labor in the formation of the village. Gandhiji knew little about industrial society but knew more about India’s villages. He says that village economy cannot be complete without the essential village industries like khadi, handlooms, handicrafts, hand grinding, hand pumping, paper making, match making, tanning and oil processing etc. Gandhi felt that regeneration of India is not possible without regeneration of villages. Hence, he gave the famous slogan ‘back to villages’. He asked everybody to go to and work in villages, develop village economy, rural industry and rural skill.


The Gandhian model of rural development has both its proponents and opponents. The supporters argue that under the prevailing socio-cultural and economic conditions in India, the Gandhian model is still relevant, and is the only alternative available for bringing about equitable and sustainable rural development. They assert that Panchayati raj institutions and cooperatives are still as relevant as when they were in Gandhiji’s days, and that the role of appropriate education cannot be overemphasized even in the present Indian context. The importance of moral and ethical issues raised by him, however, remain central to the future of individuals and nations. Today we need him, more than before.

The critics argue that Gandhiji’s ideals of swadeshi, voluntary curtailment of one’s wants, self-sufficient villages, and use of manual labor in preference to machines sound obsolete these days, particularly in the days of India’s new economic policy characterized by privatization, liberalization, and globalization. They also argue that India, by adopting an economic growth-oriented development trajectory and by following the Western model of industrialization, had abandoned the Gandhian model long ago.


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