Articles published in Anasakti Darshan: July 2010, [Vol.5 No.2] and June 2011, [Vol.6 No.1]
[ International journal for building a non-violent egalitarian society ]
Shiv Kumar Mishra
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 country.
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 Telangana region.
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.