On October 17, 1940, the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi had chosen Acharya Vinoba Bhave as the first satyagrahi (proponent of satyagraha) to start personal satyagraha (movement which meant holding to the truth) and Jawaharlal Nehru as the second. The British Colonial government had committed India into the Second World War without the consent of the Indian people. To oppose this decision by the foreign government, the Congress party decided to launch individual satyagraha. Underlying this decision there was a strategy of preparing their supporters and the party organisation for the mass movement which was to follow. By May 15, 1941, 25,000 satyagrahis had courted arrested and demonstrated the commitment of the people towards the freedom movement. After their release from jail the main worry of the national leadership was India’s security. In December 1941, the working committee meeting of the Congress party passed resolution to support the British government in their war effort but with the rider that after the end of the war, the British would give total freedom to the country.
During his period in prison, Bhave, wrote major
three books – Swaraj Shastra, Sthitpragya darshan and Isha Vasya Vrith. If
Mahatma Gandhi’s political guru was Gopal Krishna Gokhale then his spiritual
disciple was Acharya Vinoba Bhave. On June 7, 1916, Vinayak (Acharya Vinoba)
reached Mahatma Gandhi’s Kocharab Ashram in Ahmedabad. When the two met for the
first time, they realised that there was an eternal bond between them.
To quote Bhave:
“When I met Bapu, I felt a unique mixture of peace
of Himalaya and the revolution of Bengal present in him. From that moment, my
life became dedicated to the cause of peaceful revolution.”
Years later, after Vinayak had become Acharya
Vinoba, he said that the name had been given to him by Gandhiji.
Later, Gandhiji shifted his ashram from Kocharab
to the banks of the river Sabarmati. Morning and evening prayers were held daily
at the ashram. The ashram inmates had to make rotis and also clean toilets.
Subsequently, the charkha (spinning wheel) was also introduced and they all
started making thread. Acharya Vinoba was closely associated with all these
works going on at the ashram.
Who is this first satyagrahi, Acharya Vinoba? This
question was raised by most people of the country. No one in the country knew
about his silent meditation. In the end, Mahadev Bhai Desai introduced the first
satyagrahi through an article in the magazine Harijan. The first speech given by
Acharya Vinoba was given at a public meeting at Pavnar.
Acharya Vinoba went to jail for his personal
satyagraha and the Quit India movement. During his period in jail, Acharya
Vinoba read and wrote a lot and he also had the responsibility of serving the
country that had been entrusted upon him by Gandhiji, when he chose Acharya
Vinoba as the first Satyagrahi.
Acharya Vinoba was released from jail on July 9,
1945 and he returned to Pavnar and started working as he earlier used to
do.Independent India had seen the sacrifice of Bapu and the division of the
country. Once India became free on August 15, 1947 Mahatma Gandhi was in Bengal
trying to heal the wounds of communal conflict. He did not take part in the
celebrations of Swaraj, and he was assassinated on January 30, 1948 while going
for his evening prayers.
With the partition of the country, over 1.5 crore
of the population crossed the borders, over 10 lakh innocent Hindus and Muslims
were killed in the communal riots that ensued in the aftermath of the partition.
Around 1 lakh women were kidnapped during this period. Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s
adamant stance, the conspiracy of the British and the helplessness of the
national leadership resulted in the country’s partition.
To bring about communal amity in Delhi was one of
the biggest challenges before the country. On Mahatma Gandhi’s call, Pandit
Sunderlal came from Allahabad to Delhi. People like Indira Gandhi, Subhadra
Joshi, Anees Kidwai and other such enlightened people worked for communal
harmony. Pandit Sunderlal joined hands with communist K M Ashraf and started
working among Mev Muslims. On Pandit Nehru’s call, Acharya Vinoba also reached
Delhi and started resettling Mev Muslims of Rajasthan.
The Telangana agitation in Andhra Pradesh and
farmer’s militant Tebhaga movement in Bengal has caught the imagination of the
people of the country. Fed up with the oppressive rule of the Nizam, the farmers
of Telangana liberated 30,000 villages in the region and redistributed land
among the landless and poor. With this, land became the centre of politics in
The popular Congress government started abolishing
zamindari system and Princely States. During the struggle for independence the
Congress had promised the share croppers that they would abolish zamindari after
the country gained independence. However, due to loopholes in the law the rich
landlords were able to keep most of their land and the poor in the villages did
not get much. As a result the anger among the poor farmers kept on increasing
and this anger took a much bigger form in the farmer’s agitation in the
The question of land is closely related to
democracy. In communist countries, the question of land was sought to be solved
through collective farming and communes, but in India there was the successful
example of the Champaran and Kheda Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi, and inspiration
was sought from there. In 1936, under the guidance of the Congress party the
Bharatiya Kisan Sabha was formed and the work of organising farmers and working
to solve their problems started to take a new direction. The next step of
implementation of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy was the Bhoodan movement started
by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, which called for a change of heart, which was among
Mahatma Gandhi’s core beliefs.
Mahatma Gandhi, Saint Kabir and Gautam Buddha had
great influence on Acharya Vinoba. He was a great believer of non-violent
revolution. With his footing firmly on the ground realities, Acharya Vinoba
thought about peaceful revolution for the welfare of the entire universe. On
March 7, 1951 he left Sevagram and over the next 13 years and one month he
covered 43,000 miles on foot – nearly equal to walking the circumference of the
earth twice – before he returned to Sevagram on April 6, 1964. Commenting on
Acharya Vinoba’s journey, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said in Parliament,
“What our (government’s) powerful services could not achieve, a small fakir has
managed to do ….. Tathagat Gautam Buddha had said two and half thousand years
ago that enmity can never be finished by enmity; it is only love that can
overcome enmity. This is Sanatan dharma.”
Acharya Vinoba had appealed to the countrymen that
poverty eradication was the main task before them and they should unite
forgetting their party affiliation and work towards that goal.
Similarly, the first Prime Minister of free India,
Jawaharlal Nehru had said in December 1962: Poverty is our biggest enemy. All of
us should fight to defeat this enemy.
Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba believed in the path of
Sarvodaya, while Marx and Lenin believed in Communism. AcharyaVinoba said that
though Communism uses violent means, its fundamental strength comes from
compassion that is inherent in it. Acharya Vinoba said that we should imbibe the
urgency that is in the communists to eradicate poverty. Often it is seen that
those who advocate peace and non-violence are those who are for statusquo and
those who want to change the society are for violence. If we use Marx’s
dialectics then I can say that Ahimsa or non-violence is status-quo. Violence is
thesis, revolution is anti-thesis and non-violent revolution is synthesis.
At a public meeting in Sagar, Acharya Vinoba is
quoted to have said: There are five crore landless in the country and there is
30 crore acre of cultivable land. I want just one sixth of this entire
cultivable land. Vinoba
argued that giving one sixth of the share to the king is an old Indian tradition
and among the masses, the poorest of the poor is the king. I am asking for five
crore acre of land for this king, and this will prove to
be a unique revolution under Indian culture.
In 1957, the first elected communist government in
Kerala presented its own agenda for land reforms. The entire spectrum of forces
joined hands against this reform movement started by the communist government
and after 28 months the communist government collapsed.
The Left have a popular base in West Bengal,
Kerala and Tripura. Even though the Left Government has been ousted from Bengal
after 34 years of rule, the work of distributing government land among the poor
done by Hare Krishna Kanar was something unique. As a result of this work of
redistribution of land, the Left had a strong base in the rural areas and the
poor became and owners in villages.
There have been fundamental changes in the ground
realities over the years. Due to industrialisation and urbanisation, concrete
jungles and colonies are coming up on agriculture land. There have been violent
agitations against this tendency, and therefore, the teachings of Gandhi and
Acharya Vinoba are once again becoming relevant.
“All land belongs to Gopal”, this is what Acharya
Tulsi, a Jainist ascetic had said and Acharya Vinoba agreed with and adhered to
it. Without dropping a single drop of blood, without hurting anyone’s
sentiments, Acharya Vinoba attempted to end individual ownership of land.
When he used to visit villages during his padyatra,
Acharya Vinoba used to say, “For good governance and peace, give land, for a
great revolution give land.”
Jaiprakash Narayan was with Acharya Vinoba in this
movement, and Pandit Nehru was watching the entire Bhoodan movement with a keen
interest. Of the 5.5 lakh villages of the country Gramdan took place in 1.6 lakh
villages, which means that one fifth of the country’s population signed in the
paper agreeing to give up individual ownership of land and hand it over to the
community. The Bhoodan movement got 50 lakh acres of land,
and of them 13 lakh acre of land got distributed. In Bihar alone, five lakh
landless got land. It was ‘bhoodani baba’ who gave us this land. These words are
said by numerous landless people who got land due to the Bhoodan movement. The
entire family works hard on that plot of land and while eating the fruits of the
land, it is AcharyaVinoba they remember and thank humbly. Acharya Vinoba’s
Bhoodan movement has been seen and analysed by the entire world. The grandson of
English poet Lord Alfred Tennyson, Hallam Tennyson, was with Acharya Vinoba
during his padyatra. Later in his book, The Saint on the March he wrote, “Even
in saints there is a tiny bit of possessiveness, pride due to the sacrifices
they have made, but Vinoba never allowed any of these to affect him. And he
never told anyone to emulate him.”
France’s Lafadelvasta had written, “The
contribution of Acharya Vinoba in India’s social and economic revolution is a
dramatic miracle” These were some of the reactions to Bhoodan from eminent
people of the world. I salute the Padyatri sant.