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Quintessence of Gandhiji's Thought

By Vinoba Bhave

After his release from jail for the last time in 1945 Gandhiji repeatedly used the expression 'coordinated thinking'. We should become integrated, he emphasized again and again. This did not mean sewing together a number of disparate bits. Integration is not sewing but weaving. Various constructive activities should become woven like warp and weft. Only then could power be generated. This was Gandhiji's recurring theme towards his last days.

Swaraj had been won. But Gandhiji was not satisfied. The swaraj that had come had not brought fulfillment of his hopes. His hopes about Khadi and village industries, bringing about peace, about nonviolencenone of these hopes had been realized. He remained dissatisfied concerning the fulfillment of programmes which were the cornerstones of his life's work: viz., freeing the masses from exploitation through Khadi and village industries and from oppression through nonviolence and satyagraha. Pyarelal's remarkable work The Last phase brings this out very vividly. His mind was thus busy thinking out ways of giving a new direction to his various programmes.

But he did not get the opportunity for this. He had called for a conference at Sevagram. He had intended to explain to his co-workers how his mind was working. The conference did meet but only after he was no more, when his hand was not there to guide us.

After Bapu's going, I was faced with the question what I must do. It occurred to me that I would have to leave my place. Seeing the position of Pandit Nehru at the Sevagram conference and in response to his demand I declared that I would, by way of an experiment, give six months to the work of the resettlement of refugees. Some other constructive workers had used the occasion to ask for Governmental help for their work. But I told Pandit Nehru that I did not expect any help from him. On the contrary I should be happy if I could help him in his work in any way.

Thus, along with a few companions, I engaged myself in the work of resettlement of refugees. To describe the experiences I had during this six months of work would require a volume. My work was one of liaison like that of Narada Muni. I was a go-between. I saw that often Panditji had one view on some matter while those who were charged with the execution hereof had quite another. There would thus be an impasse. When I would say something, Panditji would at once say. “I do accept it. I have already issued orders and it is now three months.” Still the orders were never executed. Such was the confusion.

I worked very hard in those days. But the six months of experience was enough to convince me that we would not reach our goal by this kind of work. So I gave it up. The question again was what I should do. I saw that Bapu’s going had plunged the whole country into despair. Constructive workers had become a prey to dejection. They had lost all hope of being able to do anything. They were all but convinced that Gandhian thought had come to its end, that no one would listen to them any more, that it was the beginning of a new epoch in which nonviolence would not prosper. Sardar Patel spoke. He said: “People did not listen even to Gandhiji. Who will listen to us? The country is now free and we must develop industry that has a war potential.”

While Sardar Patel was insisting on developing such industries which may have ‘war-potential’, I myself began to search such works which may develop ‘peace-potential’.

My search for light took me to Telangana. I knew there was light somewhere. Only I was not able to see it. It was in Telangana I saw this light. I took it as a sign from God. It was, as if a voice were saying: “Do you or do you not have faith in nonviolence? If you shrink or become a prey to doubt you will have to give up your faith in nonviolence and everything.”

Thus began the work of Bhoodan. It was the beginning of a new process. It touched the heart of India. Thousands and hundreds of thousands of acres of land were received, of which 12,00,000 acres were distributed among landless peasants. With all the laws about land ceilings and compensation, less land has been given to the landless through the government’s efforts than through Bhoodan.

From Bhoodan emerged Gramdan: reordering of the village on a new foundation. It was not individual charity alone but it was reorganizing the village community through collective resolve and effort. This was a total programme of village Swaraj. Slowly it spread. Today Gramdan has progressed to prakhanddan, ziladan and prantdan. It is not just a movement. I call it ‘progression’. The higher we go the wider becomes the sweep of vision. Ever new spots of pilgrimage swim into sight. Also the journey becomes more and more arduous.

All this has been achieved in a matter of some 18 or 19 years. It is no small gain. Consider the Swaraj movement. The Congress began its work in 1885 and the word ‘Swaraj’ was discovered in 1906. Till then the work had been confined to serving the poor and criticizing the Government. In 1906, at the Calcutta session of the Congress, Dadabhai Naoroji declared that India’s ill could not be cured except through Swaraj. Thus it took 21 years to reach the word “Swaraj.” Then Gokhale and Tilak took up the word and gave it greater currency. Then Gandhiji came and the movement for Swaraj became intensified. In 1921 Gandhiji talked of ‘Swaraj in one year’. This, to be sure, did not come off, but it created a climate. Ultimately Swaraj came in 1947, i.e., 62 years after the founding of the Congress. Thus we may say that what we have achieved in the past 18 or 19 years is not a small thing. The idea of reorganizing society on non-violence lines gained strength and popular sanction. In village after village people came and singed the Gramdan document in hundreds of thousands. Dhirenbhai asserts that during Gandhiji’s lifetime we had not gone into villages in such a big way.

The idea of Sarvodaya has thus arrived at a important milestone. True, we are nowhere near the end of the journey; but if God grants it, this thing is going to advance our fundamental idea. It provides the groundwork, the foundation, for the realizing of Bapu’s dream of village Swaraj. A possibility has been created for bringing to fruition Bapu’s half-fulfilled hopes. We have a unique opportunity to tend from the roots the establishment of a non-violence social order. Those who believe in the idea of Sarvodaya are presented with a challenge.

In the Gita, Krishna speaks of Samghat (coming together), chetana (awareness) and dhriti (patience, perseverance), Krishna is describing the body. It has form, organs and a mind. Thus there are different constituents. He, therefore, reveals the principle of samghat.

Bapu set up a number of constructive organizations. They did not always have an identity of purpose. Different constructive activities were pursued in different ways. They lacked the necessary degree of co-ordination. Therefore it was that Bapu in the last stages talked of the 'whole' of integration. He had become convinced that nothing would be achieved without co-ordination. He suggested that all the organizations doing constructive work should be formed into one larger organization. If you cut off the tongue from its place in the mouth and place it on a table it will not give off speech. Cut off the ears from the body and they will not hear. Each organ, to perform its function, has to remain joined to the body. Similarly all the different programmes should form one co-ordinate pattern. Through Gramdan we arrive at the village unit which provides the field for all of Bapu's constructive programmes.

After co-ordination Krishna mentions awareness. Even when everything has been organized together it will serve no purpose without awareness. If all the institutions of constructive work are brought together but the inspiration to change the existing social order is lacking what good can that do? It is at this stage that the Gramdan movement comes in, carrying the torch of revolution and imbuing our activities with awareness.

So we have co-ordination and awareness. But the picture is not complete. Krishna adds to it perseverance. We must patiently keep at the work without being deflected. Without steadfastness no revolution is possible. Lenin and Gandhi made revolutions. Did Gandhi allow two days for the revolution? He wrote Hind Swaraj in 1908. He said that it was his dream and he pledged his life for its realization. He steadfastly carried on the work for forty years. It is in this way that we must pursue our programme based on Gramdan with perseverance, awareness and organization.

One hears Gramdan made light of by people who point out that it has been so far only a paper transaction. It is true. These gift-deeds have got to be executed. And what is all the voting and the governing that goes on and on? It is all paper work. A great deal of shouting is done in the name of democracy. People are brought in trucks, fed and pampered for a day and asked to vote. Still, as you see, something gets done.

But in Gramdan people themselves make an offering. There has been a large-scale collective offering. It now remains for us to give it practical shape. We have to bring into being a village army and pursue the work with universal consent. One twentieth part of the land has to be given to the landless. We have to have all land registered in the name of the Gram Sabha. We have to set up a village exchequer with income derived from the fortieth part of the village land. We have to set afoot a campaign to free the village from vices of all kinds and from police and courts. We have to organize a Shanti Sena in the village. We have to bring about an order in which peace is maintained in the village and if quarrels occur they are settled in the village itself. All this must be done speedily. If we can devise and execute such a comprehensive plan we shall see a great power generated. The paper transactions of Gramdan contain all these possibilities. The ballots cast at elections cannot generate such people's power.

So long as Gramdan is not accomplished we cannot have every village living like a family. We get no basis for our total work. The new age is the age of a world state. In this state India will only be a province, Gujarat will be no more than a district and the village will be the family. At present the family unit is too small. We have got to enlarge it to the size of the village. Therefore we must first concentrate on Gramdan and convert the village into a family. Only then shall we have the right to talk about world peace. Only then shall we be fit for the modern age. Only if there is peace in the village can the cause of world peace be advanced. Thus we have the slogan 'Jai Jagat' on the one hand and 'Gramdan' on the other. We cannot proceed one step except on the basis of a village society. After the manner of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics we must make each village a Sarvodaya Republic. And only after we have brought into existence a union of Sarvodaya Republics can our 'peace-potential' become manifested.

Today the army is the ultimate sanction of all States, whether they be Welfare States, Socialist States of Communist States. They are all unitary. A few old men have grabbed the world. Armies are their sole refuge. Democracy itself, from fear of foreign invasion and internal disorder, today finds its basis in armed might. It is therefore hardly fit to be termed 'democracy'. When democracy depends on armed might for its functioning it has to do what Communism and capitalism do. It has to entrust all power to one person and place its faith in the army. Thus the vicious circle will continue. Arms and armies are today the sole basis of all States. We have to free the world from this. The gift deeds of Gramdan are a powerful means for the realization of this idea. They have a great 'peace-potential'.

I feel that Bapu's soul is watching us intently. I do not know which corner of the Unknown it is. The souls of liberated men become united with God. If Bapu's soul has become united with God then it is God who is watching us intently. Which is to say that Bapu's soul is watching us from inside God. But if his soul has not become united with God but, suffering from desire, dwells elsewhere then it is certainly watching us. I always feel that God is with us. It is His will that India should show the world the way to peace.

For this we have to awaken the power of the people. "Our Destiny is not in our hands"this is a notion at which we have to strike. Someone asked me: "Do you wish to transform State Power?" I said, "Yes, I do."

The state power before swaraj was superficial. There were maybe a few thousands of Englishmen. They came from such a great distance and ruled the country. All that was needed to dislodge them was for us to wake up. We said: "Quit India". And they had to go. It was in this sense a negative movement. Whereas the task today is to transform power of the people into rule by the people.

This is our main thesis. We have to explain to the people that their destiny is in their own hands. We want to abolish State power and replace it by people's rule. We have called it "Lokaniti". If we keep this goal before our eyes and steadfastly work to reach it we shall certainly succeed.

I am convinced that Gramdan provides the foundation for the ideal of Sarvodaya that Gandhiji had placed before us. We shall raise the edifice of Sarvodaya on this foundation. Those who would follow Gandhiji should therefore dedicate themselves to this work entirely. We must understand that in Gramdan we have the quintessence of the Gandhian thought. Gandhian thought will prosper only when society is reorganized on the basis of nonviolence.

Source: Aspects of Gandhian Thought, Edited by Himmat Jhaveri