ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reconceptualising India's Civilisational Basis

Questioning the aggressive pursuit of the urban-industrial versionof development which is resource-intensive and anti-poor, this article proposes a radical rethink of the current development practices as well as a reconceptualisation of our civilisational basis. Ruralisation, an alternative development paradigm, which entails creation of self-sufficient villages and urban republics with attached common pool resources, can be adopted to promote equitable and sustainable local economic development and decentralised governance.

Karl Marx famously argued, “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as farce.” Nothing can explain this better than the findings of an independent study called “Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY)” (Motesharrei et al 2014). Citing the historical trajectories of complex and advanced civilisations like the Roman, Han, Mauryan, Mesopotamian and Gupta empires, the study finds that the “process of rise and collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” In examining the interconnected variables that contributed to these civilisational declines, the study focuses on population, climate, water, agriculture, and energy. Specifically, it identifies two social phenomena that have consistently played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse” … for “the last five thousand years.” These two social features are “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity,” and “the economic stratification of society into Elites and Masses” (Motesharrei et al 2014).

Surprisingly relevant contemporarily, the study goes on to argue that “…accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but (is) rather … controlled by an Elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels” (Motesharrei et al 2014). Modelling a range of different scenarios, the study points out how this elite continues to maximise resource exploitation, and the detrimental consequences of the “environmental collapse” are borne first by the commoners (and eventually, by the elite themselves). It is these more than anything else that explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory” (Motesharrei et al 2014).

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