Jamnalal Bajaj: Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and Trusteeship
Gandhi's concept of trusteeship provides an alternative system of management of wealth and resources by creating a fine balance between individual initiative and societal commonweal. The practical application of this concept in the field of business involves running business on the basis of ethical maxims and devoting the fair earnings from the business for the welfare of the society. The life and practice of Jamnalal Bajaj was an earnest attempt to actualise Gandhi's idea of trusteeship in letter and spirit. This paper analyses how Jamnalal fine-tuned his life to literally adapt Gandhian idea of trusteeship and in that process how he went much beyond the present idea of Corporate Social Responsibility.
ONE OF THE MAJOR contributions of Gandhi was inculcating ethics in various walks of life including the realm of business. He considered creation of wealth as a major social contribution. But his primary concern was how the wealth is created and the way in which it is being used. He was quite convinced that there could be a fair deal in business and it would not hamper its growth.1 But more than that, he was equally concerned about the ethical use of the accumulated wealth for the societal good. It was such a perception of business and wealth creation and its use for social welfare that prompted him to enunciate his principle of trusteeship. In plain language, the Gandhian concept of trusteeship stands for a new way to manage private property and societal resources. Such a perspective was based on his understanding that all the resources at the disposal of man and nature are creation of God. As such no one has moral authority to use them purely for the personal interests. Therefore, it was for His people as a whole, not for a particular individual. When an individual had more than his proportionate portion he became a trustee of that portion for God's people. He further added that God who was all-powerful had no need to store. He created them from day to day; hence men also should in theory live from day to day and not stock things. A perusal of Gandhi's writings on trusteeship makes it amply clear that starting with voluntarism he gradually veered around the view that the State would have to play somewhat vital role in the entire scheme of trusteeship. Nevertheless he did not give up his emphasis on voluntarism in the field of trusteeship. As he put it “Socialism begins with the first convert. If there is one such, you can add zeros to the one and the first zero will account for ten and every addition will account for ten times the previous number.”2
Gandhi considered Jamnalal Bajaj as the first convert of his socialistic vision of society based on his idea of trusteeship. Gandhi wrote the following in Harijan about Jamnalal Bajaj “Whenever I wrote of wealthy men becoming trustees of their wealth for the common good I always had this merchant prince principally in mind. If his trusteeship did not reach the ideal, the fault was not his. I deliberately restrained him. I did not want him in his enthusiasm to take a single step which in his cool moments he might regret.”3
Jamnalal tried to adapt his life to the overall thinking of Gandhi and took some major steps towards the approximation of Gandhian ideas on trusteeship. He went much beyond the present idea of corporate social responsibility.
Jamnalal Bajaj: A brief sketch"
For a better understanding of Jamnalal's contribution to business ethics, corporate social responsibility and the idea of trusteeship, a brief life sketch is called for. Jamnalal Bajaj was born on 4 November 1889 at Kashi-ka-bas, a village in Sikar in Jaipur state of princely India. His parents were Kanhiram and Virdibai. They were people of little means. Seth Bachhraj of Wardha was one of their distant relatives. Bachhraj was pretty rich and wanted to adopt a child as his grandson who could inherit his property. Once he visited Kanhiram family at Kashi-ka-bas. Jamnalal was a four year child then. He appeared to be bright and intelligent. Bachhraj proposed to adopt Jamnalal and take him to Wardha. Jamnalal came to Wardha as the adopted grandson of Seth Bachhraj. He did spent a few years at the school. Soon he gave it up for good. But on his own initiative he picked up several languages including Hindi, Marathi and English. On the whole, he grew up as a very intelligent child. What was more remarkable about his childhood that besides being a child of rich family, he refused to be pampered and to lead a life of extravagance. His ethical and spiritual sight was set on a much higher plane. He was in search of a Guru to lead him to the desired destination. Equally determined was he to look for a purpose in his life and work for the welfare of others. When he was hardly seventeen, he donated Rs.100 from his savings as a child for the publication of Tilak's Hind Kesari in Hindi. Once he was scolded by his grandfather Seth Bachhraj for not wearing very expensive ornaments for going to a party. He revolted and left the home. But what is more remarkable is the kind of letter he wrote to Seth Bachhraj. That clearly brings out his high ethical and spiritual life even at the tender age of seventeen. He wrote a moving letter which is worth quoting. “You were so angry with me today. It was God's will and you had a right to be angry in that you adopted me. It is not your fault, rather it is the fault of those who gave me in adoption. The money is yours and you may do whatever you like with it. I am sorry for the expenses you have incurred on me so far, but from this moment, I will not touch a pie out of your money. I have no right against you and I would implore you not to be anxious about me. May God keep you many more years. Wherever I go, I shall pray for your welfare. Pray pardon me for having irritated you. I hope you never believed that I served you because of your money. Please dismiss that thought from your mind, if you ever had it. I care not for wealth. I pray that I may never forget the name of God who alone can keep me happy in this and the next life. And pray be of good cheer and don't sorrow over my going. All earthly relationship is hollow. The worldly possessions hold you in their grip. Thank God you have freed me today from their deadly grip. And please rest assured that I will not go to the law to claim a pie of what is yours. This is a regular release deed on a stamped paper and it declares that you owe me no obligation whatsoever. I owe no debts that you need repay. Use your money in charity; swear not at sadhus and others. As is your wont, but please them with whatever money you can give. I am taking nothing from the house, nothing but the clothes that cover me.”4
He met several leaders including S. N. Banerjee,Tilak and others to seek their guidance but he remained dissatisfied as he was not getting what he was looking from these interactions. Along with Shrikrishnadas Jajoo, he established Shiksha Mandal at Wardha in 1914. Ultimately he met Gandhi who had come back to India from South Africa in early part of 1915. He visited Satyagraha ashram at Kocharab in Ahmedabad and had several interactions with him. In Gandhi, he found an emotional and spiritual anchorage. When Gandhi launched his non-cooperation movement Jamnalal renounced his title of Rai Bahadur conferred by the British Government and joined the movement. He also became the Chairman of the Reception Committee of the Nagpur Congress held in 1920. It was in the same year that on his persistent appeal, Gandhi accepted him as his fifth son which literally changed his entire course of life.
Earlier he failed to persuade Gandhi to come over to Wardha for permanent residence. But in 1921 he succeeded in bringing Vinoba Bhave to Wardha to start a branch of Satyagraha ashram. He led the Flag Satyagraha in Nagpur in 1923 and was sent to jail for 18 months. When Gandhiji was in jail, Jamnalal took the initiative to form Gandhi Seva Sangh in 1924 for promoting Gandhian ideas and programmes. In 1924 after Gandhi was released from jail and started concentrating on Constructive work. Jamnalal played a very vital role in All India Spinners Association and even became its officiating President in 1927. Jamnalal was so committed to Gandhi's struggle against untouchablity that he threw open the gates of Laxmi Narayan Temple on July 17, 1928 for untouchables. This was the first temple in the country to be opened for the untouchables. He participated in the movement against Simon commission and also Salt satyagraha. He was elected as the treasurer of the Congress Party and the member of its Working Committee in 1933. In fact, Jamnalal Bajaj was responsible for bringing Gandhi to Wardha and setting up his Ashram at Sevagram. He also promoted Vinoba's Ashram at Paunar, Wardha. He also participated in All India States People's Conference and Praja Mandal Movement. He went to jail protesting against unjust actions of Jaipur State. Subsequently he was imprisoned during Individual Satyagraha. Despite all these activities and social service there remained a streak of restlessness which continued to afflict his inner life. Ultimately he received some solace and peace in the company of Mata Anandmayee. During the fag end of his life he took to Ksetrasanyas and Go Seva and settled at Gopuri in Wardha. He left his mortal being on 11 February 1942. Paying a glowing tribute to his fifth son Gandhi wrote: “In Seth Jamnalal Bajaj, death has taken a mighty man…... His simplicity was all his own. Every house he built for himself became a dharmashala. His contribution as a satyagrahi was of the highest order. In political discussions he held his own. His judgments were sound. As an act of renunciation his last was the crown of all. He wanted to take up a constructive activity to which he could devote the rest of his life and in which he could use all his abilities. This was the preservation of the cattle wealth of India personified in the cow. He threw himself into the work with a single-mindedness and zeal I had never seen surpassed. His generosity knew no distinction of race, creed or colour. He wanted to perform a rare thing for a busy man. He wanted to control his thoughts so as to prevent a single intruder from coming in. The world is poorer for his death. The country has lost one of the bravest of its servants. Janakidevi, the widow, has decided to take up the work to which he had dedicated himself. She has divested herself of all her personal property valued at about two and a half lacs. May God enable her to fulfill the trust she has undertaken.”5
Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and Trusteeship
Jamnalal came from a business family background. He inherited a small business in Cotton from his grandfather Seth Bachhraj. But hard labour and a good grasp of business rules helped him in building up a fairly large business house. He expanded not only his cotton business but also took to new fields like Steel, Sugar and others. What is noteworthy that he never deviated from the path of ethical dealing, fair play and business rectitude. It is to be noted that he was pursuing all ethical dealings in business and other walks of life even before he had met Gandhi. Initially he started philanthropic activities mostly in Bombay, Vidharbha and Rajasthan. Gradually it expanded throughout the country. Thus he donated a sum of Rs.31, 000 for the Institute set up by Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose in Calcutta,6 while many businessmen went back on their promise to support the scientific work undertaken by J. C. Bose. On the request of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, he donated a sum of Rs. 50,000 to the library of Benares Hindi University.7 These donations show his commitment to the cause of education, though he himself was not highly educated. There are many such acts of philanthropy in his life which shows his earnest desire to use the wealth he created for the societal welfare.8 While opening a new accounts book on October 20, 1922.” He prayed to Goddess Lakshmi to grant me wisdom to carry on business with honesty and grant me prosperity in business and the good sense to utilize it for the benefit of the country and afflicted people.”9 It is really given to a man to pursue both abhyudaya (worldly prosperity) and paramartha (societal good). Jamnalal was one of those rare persons who achieved both the ends in his own life time. He turned out to be a successful businessman. At the same time he also became a committed social worker, a freedom fighter, and a philanthropist. He asserted that the fight against the British was justified on the ground that they had been taking away our wealth to their own country. Did not the same principle apply in respect of the rich and the powerful who are also depriving the poor and the downtrodden of their wealth? In such a case the struggle of the poor against the Indian rich could be justifiable. Addressing the Aggarwal Mahasabha Conference in 1926 he stated “We do not realize the need for seeking the sympathy of the common people; we do not even try for it. If we do our business in accordance with an accepted code of ethics, we will win not only the sympathy, but the respect of the society and the country. The more we are with the people, the less afraid we will be of the officials.10
Jamnalal's Maxims on Business
Jamnalal was an upright, honest and straight forward businessman. He has developed a number of maxims which he applied to his own business daily and expected other businessmen to follow them. Jamnalal's Maxims on Business are given below.
The quintessence of Gandhi's trusteeship so far as the business class was concerned lies in running business on ethical lines and using one's earning for the welfare of others. Jamnalal's entire life was devoted in actualising Gandhi's ideas of trusteeship in true spirit. An occasion came when he was willing to offer all his property and earnings to a trust and he himself just working merely as its trustee. It was Gandhi who stopped him in taking such a decision in haste. He advised him to continue with his way of life and business.12 It is clear that Jamnalal Bajaj was literally willing to implement Gandhi's trusteeship ideal in toto.
It is clear that Gandhi's ideas of trusteeship might be difficult to realize in actual life they are not impossible and impractical. Jamnalal through his actions in various fields demonstrated that given the will and determination one could really give a practical shape to the idea of trusteeship. Of course, it requires a feeling of detachment, renunciation and high ideals as its prerequisites and also a great will to suffer and sacrifice. Jamnalal engaged himself in his business dealings with ethical restraint. Equally he fought for the freedom of the country with all the intensity at his command. He also carried on Constructive programmes in various fields like Harijan Seva, Communal Harmony, Khadi, education etc. It is not for nothing that Gandhi said no one has been blessed with a son like Jamnalal.
This is a revised version of a paper presented at Jamnalal Bajaj-125 Birth Anniversary Seminar on Trusteeship Current Issues, Corporate Social Responsibility and Creation of Non-violent Society, from February 19-21, 2015 organised by Institute of Gandhian Studies, Gopuri, Wardha-442001 Maharashtra. The authors would like to acknowledge the delegates of the seminar for their useful insights and comments.
Notes and References
Article is adapted from Journal, GANDHI MARG, Volume 37, Number 3 & 4, Combined issue Oct-Dec. 2015 & Jan.-March 2016
RAM CHANDRA PRADHAN is Senior Faculty, Institute of Gandhian Studies, Wardha, Maharashtra.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org His homepage is http://rcpradhan.iecit.in/
SIBY K. JOSEPH is Dean of Studies and Research, Institute of Gandhian Studies, Wardha, Maharashtra, Email:email@example.com. His homepage is http://siby.iecit.in/