Over the years, Mahatma Gandhi has been deified as a symbol for a host of human values ranging from non-violent protests to cleaning toilets. And between all this brouhaha to own the Father of the Nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s political and social experiments have been buried so deep that at best it resurfaces once a year – on Gandhi Jayanti.
Gandhi not only had strong theories about life, he made serious attempts to convert them into reality, something that was recognized by his contemporaries – right from Albert Einstein to Nelson Mandela.
For example, his Hind Swaraj, published in 1909 had proposed the theory of Gram Swaraj (Self Rule in Villages) as the future of the India State. He believed that the dream of a cohesive nation could only be achieved through having thousands of politically distinct and economically self-sufficient village republics. However, all our political class imbibed from this radical theory was Panchayati Raj!
“His idea of decentralized village republics, largely self-sufficient but also networked with each other, and the villages’ own production of goods – in other words, development from below – is highly topical among critics of the modern age in the current debate on globalization.” (Sharma and Singh, pp 728)
The idea was, perhaps, too radical for its time; nevertheless, some degree of decentralization would be vital in achieving India’s goal of 100GW of renewable energy by 2022. In order for renewable energy to establish itself as a vital part of rural life (as opposed to it being seen as an elite fad limited to urban India), villagers need to not only be made aware of the climate change fight, and the importance of switching to renewables, but they also have to have a seat at the table during the decision-making process.
At every point, the involvement of the representatives of the people is crucial, so it might help to have Panchayats or otherwise chosen representatives there, alongside bureaucrats and the private sector.
It would also be good to look at BOOT (Build-Own-Operate-Transfer) business models for the setting up and maintenance of solar (and other renewables) power plants.
BOOT is a public-private partnership where the public sector partner (usually a state or central government body) provides a small amount of the funds or other benefits such as tax exemptions, while the private sector partner assumes the risks associated with planning, constructing, operating and maintaining the project for a specified time period.
The customers are charged in order to realize a profit, and at the end of the (typically long-term) contract period, ownership is transferred to the public sector partner.
While Gandhi’s vision of achieving Gram Swaraj still remains a distant dream, the theory holds merit in a country which claims a federal structure but operates a centralized rule where states are “granted” their share of finances, a practice that often leads to political one-upmanship causing a total lack of sensitivity to the reality on the ground.
The Mahatma’s theory of independent, self-sufficient entities can indeed exist within the larger nation by making people stakeholders and not merely users and through involvement of sustainable energy development projects at the grassroot level.
The system may not be perfect, but would indeed be a giant step forward in Gram Swaraj.