Corporate rule violates the principles of sovereignty and self-rule – Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva“Corporate rule violates the principles of swaraj, sovereignty and self-rule. In the name of removing hunger and poverty, it pushes us deeper into poverty. Today, an American biotechnology corporation like Monsanto would like to rule us by taking control of our seed supply….  Corporations like Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s and Nestlé would like to rule us through imposing … junk food by changing our food safety laws, … criminalising the diversity of our foods by making local indigenous, artisanal foods illegal. Corporations like Wal-Mart would like to rule us by destroying our retail democracy, which creates livelihood for 50 million people and brings fresh, diverse food to our doorstep…. Controlling what grows means seizing control of life, which in turn means that life is Monsanto’s invention, not nature’s.” – Dr Vandana Shiva

Narendra Modi's Ganga PujaSwaraj, freedom, was one of the most frequently used terms in the campaign for 2014 general elections. During his speech on the ghats of the Ganga, expressing gratitude to the people of Varanasi for his massive victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed himself to governance based on Mahatma Gandhi’s principles.

The five-year term of the newly elected government will end in 2019 — which will also be Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary year. So we have a compass and a time frame to undertake our national journey over the next five years guided by swaraj.

Swaraj defined our freedom movement — it encompassed not just political freedom, but also economic freedom. For me, Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj is the best book on real freedom and it has become even more relevant in the search for freedom in times of corporate rule (also referred to as corporate globalisation and neoliberal economic reform).

Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj in 1908, more than 100 years ago, on his way to South Africa from England. It was first published in the columns of Indian Opinion newspaper in South Africa. In the book’s 1921 edition, he added a word of explanation, and wrote: “In my opinion it is a book which can be put into the hands of a child…. It teaches the gospel of love in place of that of hate. It replaces violence with self-sacrifice. It puts soul force against brute force….”

For Gandhi, civilisation was “that mode of conduct which points out to humans the path of duty,” i.e. the right to livelihood. And it was on this concept of right to livelihood that Gandhi defined freedom: “It is swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves.”

I was happy to see that Mr Modi reminded us that our civilisation is founded on the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the earth as family) in contrast to the idea of man’s empire over the earth. This theory has dominated the colonising West and Western paradigms that solely consider gross domestic product as the measure of “growth”.

M. K. Gandhi in 1929Gandhi said: “India should develop by using its ethos, which is essentially spiritual and which perceives unity, reverence for nature and a prayer for the welfare of all mankind.”

Mr Modi also reminded us that “Swami Vivekananda had cautioned us a century ago that ‘if we give up our spirituality, leaving it aside to go after the materialising civilisation of the West, the foundation on which the national edifice has been built will be undermined.’”

Corporate rule violates the principles of swaraj, sovereignty and self-rule. In the name of removing hunger and poverty, it pushes us deeper into poverty. Today, American biotechnology corporation like Monsanto would like to rule us by taking control of our seed supply and imposing GMO seeds, chemical and industrial agriculture in the name of the second Green Revolution. Corporations like Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, etc. would like to rule us through imposing processed and junk food by changing our food safety laws, imposing the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), criminalising the diversity of our foods by making local indigenous, artisanal foods illegal. Corporations like Wal-Mart would like to rule us by destroying our retail democracy, which creates livelihood for 50 million people and brings fresh, diverse food to our doorstep. Monsanto’s empire is based on seed patents. Controlling what grows means seizing control of life, which in turn means that life is Monsanto’s invention, not nature’s.

Our farmers are paying the price for corporate greed through their very lives — debt for costly seeds and chemicals is the root cause of 284,000 farmers’ suicide in India since 1995. The solution to farmers’ suicide is to promote GMO free, patent free organic agriculture based on beej and anna swaraj (seed and food freedom). Mr Modi has also supported organic farming, which is GMO free, chemical free farming.

The problem with “materialist” development is not just that it ignores spiritual values, but that it fails to take into account the health of the planet and the wellbeing of people. As Gandhi said, “Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word ‘civilisation’. Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life.”

MonsantoFood and agriculture is an area where we can clearly see the failure of industrial agriculture models imposed by the West in providing “bodily comforts”. The so-called “modern” food and agriculture system, based on chemicals and GMOs pushed by global corporations, is a toxic food system — from the seed to our stomachs. While it is promoted as a solution to hunger, it is responsible for 75 per cent of all ecological and health problems globally. Hunger, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, allergies, cancers and neurological problems are built into this greed driven, toxic food system. While it destroys the real economy of nature and people’s healths and livelihoods, the GDP grows. The more Monsanto sells GMO-patented seeds, the more the economy grows. With the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds, seed costs Coca Cola in Indiajumped 8,000 per cent. Every year royalty worth thousands of crores of rupees leaves the country for seeds, something in which we should be sovereign. This sort of economic growth does not take into account the drain due to royalty payments for GMO seeds, farmers’ suicides and the death of pollinators and soil organisms. The more people are affected by cancer and kidney failure because of poison in our food, the more the economy grows. The inappropriateness of GDP as a measure of wellbeing of people became evident when recently Britain said it would include prostitution and illegal drugs in its official national accounts for the first time. Prostitutes and drug dealers are set to give Britain a £10bn boost as the country revamps the way it measures its economy.

The manipulation of life through genetic engineering, and of the economy through GDP is not serving the higher purpose of living on the principles of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and swaraj. It is time to evolve a development model according to our ethos, for the wellbeing of all life and all people. – The Asian Age, 25 June 2014

» Dr Vandana Shiva’s website is here.  She is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

2 Responses

  1. Nanjappa garu, an emphatic yes to your last line; it is our collective ‘samkalpa’; ‘our’ God promised he would be ready to make it come true — re-establish Dharma!

    And thank you very much for your elaborate ‘comments’; in many posts, i gained more information from your comment than from the post itself (e.g., How Hindus Can Unite by Srinivas)! i am 55, ignorant of the events of pre-independence & immediate post-independence; nor am i like the present generation who don’t care for those times (i know so many punjabis and sindhis who don’t give a damn to the fact of the partition of the motherland); reading your responses (the language, the content, & the approach) made me certainly wiser and more knowledgeable; thank you (& thanks to Bharata Bharati)!!


  2. Vandana Shiva has been raising voices against the reigning corporate plunder of the world, and the monocultures of the mind for quite some time. But like that of Chipko leader, Sunderlal Bahuguna hers too has largely remained in the wilderness.

    It is true that Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj is a great manifesto of true Indian freedom. “My Swaraj is to keep in tact the genius of our civilization”, he said there. He said that the English did not conquer us but that we surrendered our freedom. He identified doctors, lawyers, modern education, railways as the instruments of our enslavement. He even ridiculed British parliament, likening it to a prostitute (because anyone could become PM and its master). He discounted the newspapers too. In short, he devalued every aspect of modern civilization and identified it as the real enemy and said both the West and India had become its victims. True Swaraj was therefore a return to our own genius.

    But Hind Swaraj ends in an anti-climax! Having said all the above,in the book, in the end he stated that his immediate aim then was not to establish such Swaraj but to work for a parliamentary system of government!
    One notices such reversals of stand at critical junctures, several times in his public life. So in the end, his struggle for Hind Swaraj can only be considered to have been abandoned.

    The same problem is seen in Vivekananda too. In the West, he was expounding religion and philosophy. In India, he talked mainly of social issues. He touched on many social problems but on none did he take a final position or offer definite program of action. Logically extended, his ideas would have involved political action, but he was shy of that. Perhaps he was aware, but he avoided it. His disciple Sister Nivedita, more true to him than anyone else imbibed his spirit and combined religious, social and political action, but was soon disowned by the RK Math who feared colonial official reaction and advised her to dissociate from the Math. Thus Vivekananda too cannot be looked upon as a practical guide to true Indian self-rule.

    The third figure in the forefront of true Indian freedom was Sri Aurobindo. He shook the British authorities in the first decade of the 20th century. The agitation following the Bengal partition of 1905 laid the true foundation of our freedom struggle and infused fresh blood into it. Sri Aurobindo identified India as a Shakti-Power, not a mere piece of earth. Bande Mataram was the mantra and war cry. ‘Sanatana Dharma, that is nationalism for us’, declared Sri Aurobindo in his Uttarpara speech. It was he who gave a practical program of action — Swaraj, Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education, Settlement of disputes by indigenous arbitration and not resorting to British courts, uplift of the downtrodden — these were the elements of practical action that Sri Aurobindo actually advocated and followed, long before Gandhi came on the scene.Our historians have not honestly acknowledged this.

    But here too follows an irony. Sri Aurobindo left active politics suddenly in April 1910, and the movement went into a limbo. Though theoretically interested in political developments, Sri Aurobindo refused to enter active politics. In the 20s, Gandhi felt his role ineffective and sent his son Devadas to Sri Aurobindo, asking him to come back to politics. Sri Aurobindo refused. Sri Aurobindo was requested to preside over the Nagpur Congress Session, but he declined. Gandhi plodded on, from one blunder to another, save for the individual Salt Satyagraha. The Second World War came and Gandhi was without a clue. He did not support England during the War and declared Quit India, asking people to do or die, without telling them what exactly to do. Gandhi was imprisoned, so were the followers and within 6 months the movement was totally broken. 1942 came but with it came the prospect of freedom, but also the Muslim problem. The Cripps proposals came with an offer. Sri Aurobindo sensed the great chance and sent a special emissary to the Congress leaders, urging them to accept the proposals. They spurned the advice and rejected the proposals. Thus ended the prospect of political Swaraj for a united India.

    Thus we see that all three leaders failed to tackle the issue of Swaraj in practical terms.

    The point in recalling/relating all this is twofold.

    1. Modi govt represents a clean break from the 60 odd years of Congress ideology (or lack of it). So there is a great chance of restoring the ideals of true Swaraj.

    2. Today, that Swaraj has major economic content. India is a signatory to international agreements/arrangements like the WTO which are actually fresh instruments of our enslavement. Globalisation works to our national disadvantage in the long run. The international trade and economic arrangements are nothing but the way international capitalism works. We have signed ourselves into fresh slavery to new commercial interests, instead of the old East India Company.

    In this background, Modi’s economic program is a source of great worry. Let us not delude ourselves on this score. Modi has ideas but they are based on current models of international capitalism-FDI, more freedom for corporate sector, etc. This is exactly where Vandana Shiva has built up formidable expertise to show how international capitalism is working for corporate profit, not for human welfare. These corporates are using democracy for their advancement, but will not hesitate to dump even democracy in favour of corporate profits. Conventional economists are pursuing fancy indices and funny figures like GDP which make no sense at all except to the economists themselves, instead of dealing with human welfare more directly, realistically.

    Real Swaraj is waiting to happen. That is essentially economic. Gandhi galvanised the people through a constructive programme. Vandana Shiva has such constructive programs already working on a limited scale. These will save our agriculture, serve our farmers, improve our health, save our environment, ensure our food security free from direct and indirect foreign control, corporate or otherwise, ensure revival of many local industries, protect us from international corporate predators and lead to gradual, all round prosperity.

    After Independence, India suffered because some of our best sons and daughters did not choose to work together. Now is a chance for Modi with his political base, to adopt a constructive program based on Vandana Shiva’s basic socio-economic model. Native political genius and economic wisdom should join hands. Will this dream come true?


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