Nation First Policy Research Centre (NFPRC) is established to aid the government in sculpting meaningful policy designs and help drive their implementation and impact.

Policies themselves are carved out in a philosophical background. Ethics of public policy therefore, is the cornerstone of any policy framework. This warrants that the NFPRC has its own philosophical foundation, which becomes a guiding document at a fundamental level. More importantly, it will provide the oxygen to NFPRC’s purpose, and will nourish the everyday practices and routines of the Centre.

Foundationally, the guiding philosophy of NFPRC is to be found in the concpets of sarvodaya, antayodaya and gram swaraj. Even though these ideals have much in common, we take each of these three in turn.


Sarvodaya, formed as a compound-word of sarva (all) and udaya (rise/uplift) means rise/uplift of all. This can be loosely translated into rise of every. But every-what? Everyone? Or everything?

The two most prominent employment of this term in Indian intellectual traditions are found through Mahavira and Gandhi. The tirth of Lord Mahavira (24th Tirthankar amongst Jains) has been called as ‘Sarvodaya Tirth’ which related to the awakening of everything in someone. Gandhi used the terms to explain the central ideas in the book, Unto this Last by John Ruskin, which indicated progress/upliftment/rise of everyone.

We rely on Gandhi’s vision (which also became the driving force of Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s movement). There are indeed some differences between what Ruskin wrote exactly, and how Gandhi employed those ideals, but they indicate more or less the same values. The tenets of sarvodaya are quickly assumed to indicate a socialist order. But we at NFPRC look at the individual features of the philosophy rather than its overarching interpretation. For our purposes, we pick up three elements of sarvodaya:

  • Good of individual is in the good of all
  • Labor has dignity, regardless of its nature
  • Community self-sufficiency with individual freedom

The first idea emphasizes the need for everyone’s welfare for any individual welfare. This means that unless everyone around me is happy, my happiness has little value. Humans suffer psychologically when they witness high levels of inequality, regardless of their own wealth. Behavioral scientists call it, the inequality aversion. At a more specific level, this calls for designing policies that allow upliftment of communities rather than individuals.

The tenets espoused in the second idea is essential for advancing any society. Worth of a life should not be determined by the type of (legitimate) work one is engaged in. Every type of work is meaningful, and one should not create a hierarchy between a truck driver, handicraft worker, banker or a teacher. Everyone has an equally deserving space in the order of things. In policy terms, this centralizes importance to work in the eyes of the state, and accord it the necessary institutional dignity. Every person, regardless of her profession needs to be responded positively to, by policy framework.

The last idea may appear conflicting. Community’s association with individual freedom can go hand in hand. This is by a conceptual replacement of ‘ownership’ by ‘trusteeship.’ Gandhi had argued that wealthy are trustees of their wealth and not owners, and Indian intellectual framework offers unique advancement in this strand of idea. Through this, aspirations of both community and individuals can be met. An individual is free to adopt a life based on where she finds highest employment of her mental and physical ability, keeping in mind, her work adds value to community. From the perspective of policymaking, this translates into an interesting dichotomy between productive and destructive entrepreneurs (Baumol’s work is instructive in this regard). Entrepreneurs are productive in terms of value they add to the community, not by how much wealth they create.

Further, it is important to highlight the idea of self-sufficiency. This is closely connected to the idea of self-reliance and sustainability. ‘Need’ and ‘greed’ need to be identified and separated, and policy aspirations must arrest their tendencies to promote the latter. We discuss this more in gram swaraj.


Gandhi called to evolve sarvodaya through antyodaya. Literally, it means rise of the last person, where last could be understood as one who has the least, the poorest, the most underprivileged. This idea was most deeply studied, refined and crystallized by Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya in his concept of Integral Humanism, in which we locate our guiding principles.

Antyodaya of Integral Humanism is not very different from Gandhian principles. The simplest way to understand Upadhyay’s philosophy is to understand the basic core of human objectives, namely, dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Both socialist and capitalist pursuits focus on the middle two (wealth and material desires), but Integral Humanism – as the name proposes – advocates for the remaining two as well. One may also be able to discern, in addition to its enlightened view that goes beyond western ideological apparatuses of individualism and socialism, that Upadhyay was curating an Indian way of thinking, closely resembling Adi Shankara’s principle of non-dualism (advait). If we can talk to our mothers and grandmothers, we will not be surprised to recognize how innately Indian antyodaya is.

Fundamentally, the promise of antyodaya is not different from sarvodaya. At a more functional level, we choose the following designs from the philosophy of antyodaya:

  • Rejection of individualism and materialism of capitalism and socialism
  • Distinctive Indian way of development with cultural model of modernization
  • Primacy of morality in politics and economy that focuses on the last person

The first ideal has a clear policy implication. The importance of communal goals, that put collectives above individuals is the source of various methods in this philosophy. Since the community’s imagination of its last person will essentially be of inclusion, the idea fits its larger framework. While it is clear that capitalism’s rubric focuses on individual and her happiness, even if it comes at the cost of community’s goals, less is clear about how rejection of individualism can be the same as rejection of socialism. After all, socialist’s framework are built around suppressing individual freedom.

This can be resolved by looking at the community not at the scale which socialism imagines. Read with sarvodaya and gram swaraj, these confusions about antyodaya are dispelled. Socialism adopts a centralized, large-scale communitarian ethic, that arrests individual freedom and imposes state’s will on people. This is not what is espoused here. This is a middle path, where individual freedom is seen through the lens of ‘community’ and not ‘society.’ A community is closed-knit, decentralized and far more responsive to individual’s needs. Scale therefore, is the difference. Policy directions should therefore empower communities and individual’s participation in communities.

The quest brings us to the second principle, which is the natural next-step in discovering an Indian way of thinking about development that goes beyond the binaries of capitalism and socialism, because clearly, they do not fulfil the basic human flourishing rooted in moral and spiritual domain. Public policy cannot simply take note of material (bodily) and intellectual (mental) development, but must be grounded in higher goals. Taking the last person’s upliftment through these parameters, is the goal of integral humanism. One may say the policy model is that of trusteeship, or that of Integral Humanism, and that is the philosophy we would like our policy designs to be inspired by. It is important to mention here that culture-led-development may be the future of development globally. As the crises of identity and self-reflection assumes importance in global policy discourses, it may be necessary to carve the Indian ethos and embed them in policy-making processes. Every society has had its unique historical trajectory and accidents, which form their attitudes to life. Policy must have a dialogue with the culture of its population, not impose itself over it. To evolve meaningful policy designs therefore, will require an incisive and sensitive understanding of India, its diverse ethos and decentralized approaches to life.

Finally, the morality of politics and economy can be said to have achieved its highest goal, if the last person becomes the center of policy efforts.

Gram Swaraj

The principle of gram swaraj is perhaps fairly simple and accessible. Swaraj, often translated as self-rule, needs to be understood through the twin principles of self and rule. Concept of ‘Self’ cannot be distinguished from the cultural understanding of self. Here, it indicates the idea of self, in Indian intellectual traditions, which draws its meaning from its relational dependence on community and more permanent aspects of the world inherited. Rule is governance, and may carry the idea for the purposes of growth. But more importantly, it also means restraint.

Gram swaraj therefore, is village-self-rule. This refers to giving the authority to villages to use their fullest capacity to regulate and control their affairs in a decentralized fashion. More important here is not the aspirations of the village republic, but recognition that the necessary aspiration are drawn through ‘self.’ In other words, the idea indicates a heightened sense of self-reliance. There is interdependence, but second to independence a the level of village community.

Gandhi’s words on idea village offer some food for thought: “An ideal Indian village will be so constructed as to lend itself to perfect sanitation. It will have cottages with sufficient light and ventilation built of a material obtainable within a radius of five miles of it. The cottages will have courtyards enabling householders to plant vegetables for domestic use and to house their cattle. The village lanes and streets will be free of all avoidable dust. It will have wells according to its needs and accessible to all. It will have houses of worship for all, also a common meeting place, a village common for grazing its cattle, a co-operative dairy, primary and secondary schools in which industrial education will be the central fact, and it will have Panchayats for settling disputes. It will produce its own grains, vegetables and fruit, and its own Khadi. This is roughly my idea of a model village… I am convinced that the villagers can, under intelligent guidance, double the village income as distinguished from individual income. There are in our villages’ inexhaustible resources not for commercial purposes in every case but certainly for local purposes in almost every case.” (Emphasis ours.)­­

From the perspective of policy framework, we read Gandhi’s thoughts in a more general manner. The idea that we want to draw upon, can be concisely put under the following motivation:

  • Sustainable growth and self-reliance
  • Developing local capabilities not necessarily with scale
  • Allowing for diversity of aspirations and methodologies

The pandemic was perhaps a call, not just to a vaccine voyage, but a journey to and discovery of the self. Few would not have realized that the moment people began focusing on only their necessities, the economy tanked. Was the economy built of non-essential items, then? This is a larger question with no easy answers, but sustainability as a concept becomes most prominent.

What is important however is the recognition that societies that had means of their survival within their reach, did better. This is why the call for emphasizing on the ‘local’ was most pronounced. Dependence for survival over external sources makes one weak, susceptible to shocks and in perpetual anxiety. Self-reliance is the key. Gandhi spoke about it when he discussed village republics. We take these views even in larger context. Societies and communities must develop self-reliance.

The second point is connected. Local capabilities is a term often known for capabilities rather than local. There is an unsaid paradigmatic linkage from capability enhancement to scale, fueled by today’s society, which remains hugely influenced by the western models of development. Gandhi was prophetic to realize that scale does not necessarily brings happiness, and hence local capabilities does not only mean capability enhancement for locals, but one which remains for locals. Each community and society develops its own capabilities in their own way. Because any capability of a community, when used by another community, it no longer remains local for the second community. The pioneering work of thinkers like E.F. Schumacher or the Limits to Growth movement offers useful starting point. In nature, nothing grown indefinitely (except cancer), and therefore the culmination of growth has to be maturity, not more growth. Indian intellectual traditions provide with us necessary influence and our idea will be to surface them. Indeed, this does not imply that we are against growth. We are against an indefinite idea of growth, or growth for the sake of growth. We celebrate growth for purpose.

And finally, we welcome diverse approaches and methods of growth and aspirations. Western society has evolved a very straightforward definition of what must one aspire, with primarily materialistic foundations. This is not necessarily the universal truth, definitely not in Indian intellectual traditions. Each of us grow and develop diverse range of interests and preferences. The diversity should be celebrated, not homogenized. Communities develop their own trajectory of development, and have their unique ways of valuation. Social aspirations must evolve what suits them most, culturally, historically and ethically. Just like imposing history on a student interested in painting may not be a good idea, similarly imposing aspirations does incalculable harm too. This point is about diluting our obsession with making one type of development, as the only valued type of development.