Jamnalal Bajaj - An Ardent Disciple of Gandhi

Articles on Gandhiji's Associates & Disciples

Siby K. Joseph*

“There was no work of mine in which I did not receive his fullest co-operation in body mind and wealth. Neither he nor I had any attraction for what is called politics. He was drawn into it because I was in it. My real politics was constructive work, and so too was his. I had hoped that after me he would fully carry on those works of mine which would be regarded as of special importance” Gandhi wrote about Jamnalal Bajaj in Harijan in 1942. Jamnalal Bajaj was an ardent disciple of Gandhi and he personified principles of his master throughout his life. The quasquicentennial birth anniversary of Jamnalal Bajaj gives us an opportunity to look how he literally practised these ideals in his personal as well as public life. Jamnalal Bajaj, the adopted grandson of Seth Bachhraj of Wardha, was born on 4 November 1889 at Kashi-ka-bas, a village in Sikar in Jaipur State of princely India. He was just four years old when he was adopted and brought to Wardha. The most remarkable aspect about his childhood was his refusal to lead a life of extravagance in spite of being brought up in a rich family. 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 giving up everything except the clothes he was wearing. What he wrote to Seth Bachhraj shows that he is a different metal and his very attitude towards life and worldly possessions. “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.” Later Seth Bachhraj was successful in bringing young Jamnalal back to home respecting his ideals.
Young Jamnalal was in search of a Guru who could lead him to the desired destination. Though he met many leaders, sadhus and religious personalities none of them could fulfil the kind of personality he was looking for. Jamnalal was greatly impressed by the life and struggles of Gandhi in South Africa. After Gandhi’s final return to India in1915, he paid visits to Satyagraha Ashram in Ahmedabad and had several interactions with Mahatma. In fact, Jamnalal found an emotional and spiritual anchorage in Gandhi and that was the beginning of a long association. There was no looking back afterwards and he became part and parcel of Gandhian programmes and actions. When Gandhi took over the leadership of national movement in the1920s Jamnalal joined in it wholeheartedly. He became the Chairman of the Reception Committee of the Nagpur Congress held in 1920 and he was elected as the treasurer of the Congress Party. Jamnalal Bajaj was greatly attracted to Gandhi and his ideas so much that he requested Gandhi to accept him as his fifth son. Gandhi literally took him as his fifth son and Jamnalal proved through his life as his worthy son. Jamnalal joined the Non-co-operation Movement and renounced his title of Rai Bahadur conferred by the British Government in 1921. In the same year, he succeeded in bringing Vinoba Bhave to Wardha to start a branch of Satyagraha Ashram. In 1923, in memory of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, it was decided to organise tricolour flag procession in Nagpur and the Government banned it. Later, Jamnalal Bajaj took the challenge and organised the Flag Satyagraha and was sentenced to jail for 18 months and Rs. 3,000/- as fine. The leadership qualities he showed as the commander of Flag Satyagraha made him a real hero and a national leader.
When Gandhi was in jail Jamnalal took the initiative to bring all people who had faith in Gandhi’s principles and methods of action that finally resulted in forming of Gandhi Seva Sangh in 1923 to carry forward Gandhian ideas and programmes. In 1924, Gandhi after his release from jail started concentrating on Constructive work and Jamnalal vigorously followed the suit. Jamnalal played a very vital role in All Spinners Association by serving as its elected treasurer in 1925. He even became its officiating President in 1927. Jamnalal was so committed to Gandhi’s struggle against untouchablity that he threw open the gates of family temple Laxmi Narayan Mandir in July 17 1928 to members of all castes, creeds much against orthodox opposition. This was the first temple in the country to be opened for the untouchables. He actively participated in the movement against Simon Commission and also Salt Satyagraha. In fact he was the elected leader of Salt Satyagraha camp at Vile Parle. It was due to the loving persuasion of Jamnalal Bajaj, Gandhi selected Wardha as the headquarters of his activities after the closure of Satyagraha Ashram in the wake of Salt Satyagraha. Jamnalal Bajaj offered one of his bungalows in Wardha along with its orchard to house the All-India Village Industries Association (AIVIA) started by Gandhi in 1934. Well known J. C. Kumarappa seved as the Secretary of AIVIA. Jamnalal Bajaj was responsible for setting up Gandhi’s residence at Sevagram in 1936 which eventually took the shape of an Ashram. He was instrumental in the organisation of the Wardha National Education Conference in October 1937 where Gandhi presented his views on Basic Education. Jamnalal Bajaj gladly made available his Lal Bungalow in front of river Dham in Paunar to Vinoba Bhave in 1938 taking note of his health condition. It was here Vinoba Bhavee stablished Brahma Vidya Mandir. Similarly he made available his residence-Bajajwadi- as a guest house during the freedom struggle to facilitate the meeting and discussions of Congress leaders, constructive workers and other national leaders who came to Wardha to meet Gandhi. That is why Gandhi stated that every house built by Jamnalal for himself became a dharmashala.
Though Jamnalal Bajaj was living in Wardha, he was a subject of Jaipur. He helped to organise the Praja Mandal Movement of Jaipur State and became its elected President in 1938. The Jaipur State Government was not in favour of the Mandal and banned the entry of Jamnalal Bajaj into the State. He repeatedly defied the ban and he was finally put into prison. But in the face of protest and Satyagraha offered by the Mandal the Government had no other option other than releasing Jamnalal and his Mandal workers unconditionally from Jail. In the wake of Individual Satyagrha in 1941 he was sentenced to Jail for his anti-war propaganda. Despite being busy with all these activities, there was some sort of restlessness in his life. He found some solace and peace in the company of Mata Anandmayee whom he considered as his spiritual mother. At the fag end of his life, he withdrew from all other activities and began to live in a thatched hut in Gopuri, Wardha devoting himself to Go Seva. He embraced utmost simplicity in his day to day life. He hardly used any furniture and slept in charpoy. In spite of his deteriorating health, he was not ready to give up Go Seva. He left his mortal being on 11 February 1942.
If one look into the history of most of Gandhian institutions in this country including Sevagram Ashram, Paunar Ashram, Mahila Seva Mandal, Shiksha Mandal, Gandhi Seva Sangh, Akhil Bharat Krishi Go Seva Sangh, Harijan Sevak Sangh, Rashtra Basha Prachar Samity, Sastha Sahitya Mandal, Charkha Sangh, All India Village Industries Association and host of other organizations, one could easily find the figure of Jamnalal standing somewhere behind them. He not only donated and collected funds for them but also incessantly worked to fulfil the objectives of these organisations and institutions. In fact Jamnalal tried to put into practice all that Gandhi stood for particularly his trusteeship idea and in the process he went far beyond the present concept of Corporate Social Responsibility. Most of the charities done by Jamnalal Bajaj remained unrecorded. If we take into consideration the recorded charities only, it comes around nearly twenty five lakhs of rupees. He donated princely sums to Gandhi Seva Sangh (Rs. 2.5 lakhs); Tilak Swaraj Fund (Rs. 2 lakhs); All India Village Industries Association (Rs. 1,30,000/-) and many others. He practically applied trusteeship idea in the realm of business by running it on the basis of ethical maxims and devoting all the fair earnings from the business for the welfare of the society and nation at large. That is why paying rich tribute to his fifth son Gandhi wrote about Jamnalal Bajaj on 15 February 1942, “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.”
Gandhi wanted to have a suitable memorial at the Samadhi of Jamnalal Bajaj at Gopuri. Kamalnayan Bajaj, eldest son of Jamnalal Bajaj, in consultation with Vinoba Bhave conceived the idea of Gitai Mandir at the site and the foundation stone ceremony was done on November 4, 1969. It was finally inaugurated on October 7, 1980 coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the commencement of writing of Gitai by Vinoba Bhave. It is worth noting that Jamnalal Bajaj was the first publisher of Gitai (Marathi rendering of the verses of Bhagawat Gita by Vinoba) This memorial is a unique one and differs from traditional Mandir because it has noidols of God/Goddess, nor a sanctum sanctorum or a roof. It is a distinctively designed structure enclosed by symmetrically arranged granite slabs on which eighteen chapters of Gitai have been engraved. These granite slabs were brought from the four corners of India signifying national unity and integration for which this great son of India and Mahatma stood for. The aerial view of the Gitai Mandir is an architectural marvel in which one can find a uniquely blended shape of charkha and a cow which were close to the heart of Jamnalal Bajaj. Just opposite to the Mandir one can find the Institute of Gandhian Studies founded in memory Jamnalal Bajaj engaged in dissemination of Gandhian ideas and ideals in India and abroad. The work and contributions of different institutions started or promoted by Jamnalal Bajaj keep his memory alive in the minds and hearts of the people.

*This article is atribute to Jamnalal Bajaj on the occasion of his 125th Birth anniversary on 4th November 2015.
The author is Dean of Studies and Research,
Institute of Gandhian Studies,
Email: igsgvp@yahoo.com.
His homepage is http://siby.iecit.in.