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ASSOCIATES OF MAHATMA GANDHI > VINOBA BHAVE > ANASAKTI DARSHAN - BHOODAN SPECIAL ISSUE > From Bhoodan to an Alternative Development Model

 

From Bhoodan to an Alternative Development Model

Vinod Sahi

In the initial stages of human civilization, the relation between man and land was governed by natural laws. But man had to come out of that because the needs of development were not fulfilled by such a relation. The various types of human hunger, desire for better houses, more production and more profits, other needs and aspiration took human beings into a complex world of sociopolitical relations. This increased the rate of development but it also meant that the natural relation between man and land ended, and man, who can be  considered to be the son of earth, did not stop exploiting the mother earth in order to satisfy his needs for development.

But the present day crisis in the field of natural resources and environment has put a big question mark on the self-destructive journey of mankind. Under these circumstances it has once again become necessary to evaluate the pros and cons of a natural and unnatural relation between man and land. We should not just think blindly about the developmental goals, but also look at the fundamental forms of development and keep in mind the eternal needs. If we pause a while and think a bit then we can recollect that we had someone in our midst, in this modern era, who showed us the way – Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Before we get to know Vinoba Bhave, we should pay attention to one stream of thought; that if we have to get rid of the evils that have crept into the relationship between man and his environment due to socio-economic development, then it cannot solely rely on transformation of our culture or mentality. But they can act as a hint which will guide us to take the correct path. If we want to go deep and understand the matter then we can say that a healthy and humane culture will show us an alternative path that will lead to a better relation between man and his environment. But man has not only consciousness, but has land and also a body. So the cultural alternatives that he searches for has to be given a solid appearance. We have to test whether the alternatives, that are the products of human consciousness, are self-driven or not. If not, then sooner or later, even the grandest of all alternatives to the present day relation between man and his environment, comes close to fading out – like Vinoba’s Bhoodan movement.

At first, it would not be out of place to talk about the Bhoodan movement in general. Any movement has to be understood in its historical perspective and then we can draw conclusions about its success or otherwise. However, if the subject is such that it cannot be fitted into the historical perspective as it talks about something that can only be judged in times to come, then instead of calling it a movement\revolution, we must understand that subject as being something related to development or connected to our very survival. The first thing we have to keep in mind is that Bhoodan as a movement is something else – something that is quite limited in the economic sense. But Bhoodan as a step in the transformation and development process is quite another thing – it has to be understood in the paradigm of man’s fundamental relation with land. But before we can go to that fundamental issue, we have to understand the role and importance of Bhoodan as an instrument of revolution and its limitation.

After independence, the democratically elected government that took steps towards decentralization was mainly due to ending of the feudal rule in country. However, this goal of total decentralization could never reach its logical conclusion. This was because even though the feudal rule of the princely states of the country had ended, at the same time in an invisible way, they were also getting united. This was because we had to have a strong centre to dissolve and amalgamate all the feudal States into India. Sardar Patel’s role during that period received praise because he successfully integrated the States. That was the need of the hour. But, a strong Centre was against a strong people’s democracy. The Centre’s structure was democratic, but the structure was supported by elements whose power and mentality were feudal. Bureaucrats, big landlords and zamindars, erstwhile rulers and other powerful people camouflaged their intensions and entered into power by winning elections. And these elements were in favour of a strong Centre. That is why even though it appeared that people oriented democracy was coming, actually it receded and ultimately it vanished. But the Bhoodan movement by attempting to change the attitude of the land owners and making them donate land, was trying to create a pro-people atmosphere.

The Bhoodan movement is related to the fundamental question of reconstruction of the country. The question was whether the mentality of the feudal elements would change and would become democratic once their erstwhile principalities were merged with the democratic India. The moot question here is to whom does the maximum amount of agriculture land belong to? What had the local rulers and their partners, the British colonial rulers done when they were in power? Just to ensure that their rule became stronger and entrenched, the British legally allotted vast tracts of land in village after village to their supporters. Thus it had become necessary that after the merger of princely states into the India union, the erstwhile land owners should recognise the fact that the farmers were the real owners of the land and they should themselves take the initiative and return the land to them.

The Bhoodan movement was the first step taken in this direction, but later it was given some sort of legal sanctity. The land reforms that were undertaken in the villages were an extension of this and they can be considered to be progressive and pro-people efforts. But the real motive of Bhoodan movement was much bigger. It became evident that by land reforms the needs of only a small segment of the landless could be addressed. The second problem was despite the best efforts, maximum amount of agriculture land and other prime property remained in the hands of the traditional rich and influential class. These elements entered the power structure through elections, formed a mafia pressure group and ensured that their interests were protected.

Bhoodan movement wanted the ownership of land to be broad, humane and flexible, but though there was some decentralisation in ownership patterns, it did not penetrate much. The Bhoodan movement was unable to
change the feudal mentality, and it did not matter whether the land holding was large or small. The landowners wanted to increase the area of their land holding, were proud of their land holdings and had ambitions to be part of the power structure. In a democratic structure the chances of feudal elements getting elected increased only if they donated land. Therefore, the big land owners welcomed the Bhoodan movement. Moreover, the laws passed to regulate the amount of agriculture land one could hold, also did not harm the interests of the land owners. The big landowners started keeping their land in false names (benami) and this gave birth to a land mafia that became very powerful with time. Therefore, after the land reform bills were passed, the Indian democratic system saw the huge increase in the power of the land mafia in the power structure. Of course, it would be wrong to blame the Bhoodan movement for all the ailments in the system, but if we sit down to analyse we can say that even such a humane and noble movement like Bhoodan failed because it did not try and change the fundamental relation between land and man. As a result, the entire movement was comprised by the vested interests who instead of being defeated, came forward in another form and became more powerful and posed a greater challenge. This was the biggest challenge before Gandhi’s philosophy in the country. And even now this philosophy is practical and can take shape of a radical movement and bring big results. There is public support and cultural and moral pressure is exerted, but it fails to give long term results and become a model for development process. This is because by raising some fundamental questions it is prevented from being categorised as a philosophy or ideology. Not only this, people have created such a big image and halo around Gandhi and Vinoba that even a beginning cannot be made of discussing their philosophy and ideas. A frank and free discussion of Gandhi’s ideas was necessary so that with changing of time their ideas could be remoulded. The blind devotion to Gandhi’s philosophy created such a backlash that it created a feeling of disgust towards Gandhi. Thus, no one, neither the followers nor the critics of Gandhi raised some fundamental questions. Each had their own fiefdom and interest to protect and these people really did not have much concern about what Gandhi and Vinoba stood for. In the quest for the truth and ways of development, Gandhi, who was the first to stand for truth, was shown the door.

The relationship between man and land is universal. The entire earth is equally for the human beings and all the animals and other creatures in it. Though the concept of this world is not clearly defined, there is no doubt that there were no boundaries or barriers. This takes the form of consciousness of the unbreakable unity of the earth. But with the march of civilization and different social structures the relationship between man and land became more and more complex, varied and fragmented. In fact the different social structures provide backing and solidity to these complex and varied relationships between man and land. These relationships are defined and it appears that they can be understood, but at the same time, as these relationships are limited they appear to be adrift from the natural broad doctrine. This is one of the fundamental contradictions that forms one of the main unsolved problems in the social development of mankind. Man wants to get back to the universal and broad definition of relationship between man and land, but at the same time he is also unwilling to give up what he owns directly. Let us glance at the social development of man. At first man used to live in tribes. At that time, man used to get land naturally, but slowly it got converted into ‘land won through victory in war’. With the domination of the victorious, the era of history started, and it goes to the extent of claiming to represent even the soul of man.

That land belongs to the victorious, or that land can be won is one of the main planks of civilization which leads to new development. The history of the world as written by the victorious is still preponderant in the social and community consciousness of mankind. Along with this, the relationship between man and land changed. Instead of treating land as our mother we started treating it more like a servant.

Then came the next stage of development—it was the concept of state in which the head of this feudal set up was the king and then land became something that was granted as a gift by the king. If we look at the structure of social classes and their relationship with land, we can say that those who consider land as their mother are those who are the producers. Their labour is the product that they get from the land. But the creative freedom of this class is soon gone and they come under those who win the land by war and they consider the product that comes from the land as something that is under them. In this era, the producers also took the form of artists and craftsman. But once the relationship between land and man changed from that of a mother to a servant, and then it became natural that those who produced things became the Dalits, and was pushed to the lower strata of society.

Two groups are responsible for the social system under which land become a commercial tool.

One is the Brahmin ‘intellectual’ class which is involved in research and the other is the victorious king’s class. The Brahmins discover and bring new machines and other things and give a fillip to the development process. The farmers and artisans use these new machines and tools and produce new products from the land and these products slowly become expensive items. But unfortunately, like the beautiful girl who is going to lighten someone else’s house after marriage, these products are enjoyed not by the producers themselves, but by the kings. Not only this, the group that makes the products expensive are not the producers, but the traders. But at the same time, the status of land rises from that of a servant and the Brahmans bring in cultural rules that would govern the relationship between man and land. After the middle-ages, a new chapter is written in the modern era about the relationship between man and land. Land now becomes a product that can be sold and bought. Thus, land degraded to a saleable commodity status. This is much worse than the status of servant given in the earlier era because here there is no scope for human compassion in things bought and sold. Even from the ethical point of view, there was some scope of ethics to be followed where land is considered as a servant, and it can be termed as ‘preethical’. There is a chance that the relationship might turn ethical. But there was no ethics when it came to procuring land.

In the modern era, there is a primacy of capitalism in relationship between land and man. Even in the cases where land is inherited and there are sentiments of hoary traditions present, the shadow of capitalistic tendencies can be seen clearly. The third form of land holding is that of the State, where the land is given under the capitalist model of development or under individual ownership. Thus, in the modern era land is considered to be the main way for increasing personal wealth. But ever since, land has become an object for sale and purchase there is very little scope that the emotional relationship between man and the land he inherits, exists for a long time.

But when land comes under the influence of business capital then the only motive man has, is to maximise profit from the land. He wants to exploit the land to its maximum extent. As a result, with the spread of modern capitalism, fertile land has become barren and there is excessive dependence on technical experts in agriculture. Chemical fertilisers and improved seeds have become necessary for agriculture and use of tractors and combined harvesters have led to displacement of labour. In a country that has excessive labour, this displacement has meant that the youth have diverted to join mafia gangs or even become terrorists. Drug abuse and irresponsible behaviour that is plaguing the modern world is also one of the offshoots of this changed relationship between man and land. In land that is rich in minerals and other resources, excessive exploitation has meant that there is danger that these natural resources will vanish. Excessive exploitation has also meant that forest cover has come down as a result of which wild animals are on the verge of extinction. Tribal communities now have to be kept enclosed in their own small environment, something akin to a zoo. The excessive exploitation of land has made it polluted, sick and barren and the entire human race has become worried about this change. Bhoodan wanted to change this relationship between man and land into a more humane platform. By urging for donation of land, the Bhoodan movement aimed at laying foundation for the ultimate change in the relationship between man and land – that is the natural relation that existed at the dawn of civilization. But this change had to be supported by the existing social relationships so that it got a concrete shape, otherwise it would be reduced to just a socialistic utopia, an alternative-consciousness, that can be lost with time.

The work and success of Bhoodan movement lies mainly in the villages, but for land reforms and fundamental change in the relationship between man and land, it is also necessary that attention be paid to urban development and rejuvenation of forests. We have to ensure that the rising population and the migration of the people from the villages to the cities do not result in agriculture land being gobbled up for urban housing. Similarly, the remaining forests would also have to be protected since without the forest no development model can be termed as just and humane. But we also have to understand that for all this, simply moral pressure is not sufficient, and nor can any proposal for ‘donation’ of urban land bring about any practical results. If agricultural land and forests are acquired for industrial development then both the idea of development and social amity will be in crisis. This is why big questions come to the fore. Bhoodan is not possible in the cities but it is also necessary to ensure that the poor people in the cities get a small plot of land that would enable them to have a roof over their heads. It will also have to be ensured that the nearby agriculture land and forests are not encroached upon. So what should be the solution?

One of the possible solutions is to ensure that cities do not expand and enter into land that is meant for agriculture and forest. Instead of allowing the cities to spread horizontally, efforts should be made to make them grow vertically so that they move up to the skies, but not spread on the ground. Another solution might be to start a movement on the lines of Bhoodan and ask owners of houses and bungalows to give out their roofs voluntarily. It is not necessary that this be given out free of cost, but be given out on a ‘practical and development oriented’ basis so that these can be used for students accommodation or business purposes, which would be beneficial for all. There should be an agreement with house owners whereby permission would be granted for construction of additional four to five stories which would be given out on ‘reasonable rent’. The construction would be done on a cooperative basis by people who are going to stay there or start a business there. This would also lead to generation of employment. However, for this to succeed one would have to start non-cooperation movement against the cartel of property dealers who only want to increase rent and property prices. In countries like India where there is a huge population and for that matter in all third world countries, all institutions that call for exclusive use of land should be dismantled. The commercial land in residential areas, which are priced ten to twenty times are under the control of big property dealers and big land owners. The policy of having separate residential and commercial areas and having laws and rules to assist such a division acts against the development of people’s markets. The argument is that for the peace of the people living in residential areas, commercial activities should not be allowed there. Undoubtedly, such freedom should be thought about. But can there be no plan where the market and residential houses live and grow side by side? For example, in places, where the houses are open from both the sides, one of the roads can be used for market? Why cannot right to practise business be made a fundamental right? And why can’t all areas be made open for residential and commercial to exist side by side? The real fear is that once this is done then the value of commercial property will come down, things will become cheaper as producers will interact with the consumers directly. It has also become necessary that tax be imposed only at the level of the producer and licences and other requirements for business should be done away with. This flexibility, the produce of the villages will come directly to the cities and all middlemen would be cut out or at least dependence on them would get reduced to a great extent.

For example, freedom should be given to the farmers to sell their produce in the nearby cities. If small traders go to these villages and directly purchase, say 10 to 20 sacks of grain or rice from the farmers and sell it through their small shops then the dependence of the farmers on mandis would end. And no farmer would be forced to sell their produce at a lower price. The farmers would also come together and cooperate in building their own storage houses where they would be able to store their produce when there is excessive production and sell it when there is demand. The huge wastage of food grains in the government sector would also end as the farmers would take better care of the produce. Moreover, it is a guarantee that of the 100 persons who face hunger at present, at least 10 would get food if this regime is implemented.

All over the world, those who are born there consider that part of the earth as sacred and do not exploit the natural resources of the area in such an exploitative manner that the land becomes barren and the environment polluted. But land purchased by outsiders for profits on the strength of their capital usually results in land getting exploited. Therefore, the human race would have to bring a big change not only in their consciousness, but also in their mentality. We will have to accept that indigenous people have fundamental rights in their own land and environment. Also, that if there is any profit being derived from the land then the local inhabitants would be the natural partners of the profits. And there should be punishment for forcible removal of people and it should be considered as crime against humanity.

All this will result in mankind getting back voluntarily to the consciousness that they are sons of the earth. Earlier, this relationship between man and land was natural, but now it will be mankind’s choice. And this would be the path for human salvation.

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