Dr. Joseph Kumarappa was an eminent economist who travelled to the United States to obtain degrees in economics and business administration at Syracuse University and Columbia University, studying under Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman. Kumarappa worked to combine Christian and Gandhian values of trusteeship, non-violence and a focus on human dignity and development in place of materialism as the basis of his economic theories. His article ‘British Rule and Indian Poverty’ brought him in touch with Gandhi on May 09, 1929 in Sabarmati Ashram. Becoming a partner with Gandhi in the struggle for freedom, he helped set up and run the All India Village Industries Association at Maganwadi, Wardha.
This story has to do with Dr. Kumarappa, who had decided to live in a hut in Kallupatti in Madurai District of Tamil Nadu. It was a hut he had built himself. On the wall of his hut hung a remarkable photograph that would attract every visitor’s attention. It was a picture that showed a common farmer, with a turban on his head. What was this photograph doing here, in the house of a man such as Dr. Kumarappa? Many an important visitors would ask Dr. Kumarappa about this mysteriously unimportant looking man.
“Oh, he’s my master’s master.” Dr. Kumarappa would say. “Master’s master?”
“You see,” Dr. Kumarappa would explain to the puzzled visitor, “my master is Gandhi, and this villager, indeed every poor person in the land, is his master.”
On the occasion of the 145th Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, I believe it is important to revisit his perspectives on economics globally. In the United States, President Barack Obama faces a government shut-down for trying to include the most disengaged citizens into the healthcare of a nation that is fabled to live up to the dreams of everyone and anyone that stepped on its soil. At the other end of the spectrum, Gandhi gave birth to a nation freeing a geography from British Imperialism founded on the principle of democracy where every individual being able to find expression and take advantage of the collective resources the nation of India had to offer and create a better life. India is floundering from a senseless dereliction of duty by people in power and their officers. North America has recently seen a polarization among its political class never seen before in its history. Both smack of the distance the powers that be have created from the real citizen and their true aspirations and character. Somebody joked that while a government shut-down in the US is a rare occurrence, it is an everyday reality in India. It would be the biggest misfortune if these two economies were to set such behavior as an example for democracy.