Around sixty years ago, India's countryside watched a frail man in loin cloth walking from village to village, appealing for land for the poor. "The earth is the Lord's" was his refrain. "Land, like air and water, belongs to the Lord and is His gift to all His children, and should therefore be shared in common", he was telling the people, appealing to the landowners to part with a part of their land, and they were responding enthusiastically—the rich and the poor feeling themselves blessed for getting an opportunity to participate in this unique Tajna'. His words, overflowing with love and compassion, could just not be resisted. The whole world watched in amazement this unbelievable spectacle—'India's social miracle' being brought about by this 'Saint on the march'. The land problem, identified by economists as the most urgent and the most complex problem of Asia, was being tackled through a novel experiment in psychosocial engineering.
That man was Vinoba Bhave. Born in 1895 in a village in Western India, he had a thirst for knowledge of the Spirit as well as a longing for the freedom of the country even in his childhood. These made him leave his home at the age of 21 and subsequently join Mahatma Gandhi's ashram at Sabarmati. He spent thirty prime years of his life in Gandhian ashrams, doing all kinds of manual work, conducting experiments in constructive activities for the uplift of India's villages and serving the villagers while silently continuing his spiritual journey, which made him known as 'Gandhi's spiritual heir'. After Gandhi's death at the hands of an assassin he became the undisputed leader of the Gandhian movement and strove for the fulfilment of his master's unfinished mission of nonviolent total revolution.
In 1951, Vinoba started the Bhoodan (land-gift) movement. For thirteen years he traversed the country on foot. Bhoodan later blossomed into Gramdan, which sought freedom for village communities from the clutches of the State
power. Louis Fischer hailed Gramdan as 'the most creative thought coming from the East in recent times'. A sage and a spiritual genius, a social reformer and a social revolutionary, a creative educationist and an original thinker, a philosopher par excellence and a wonderful man of letters—Vinoba was all these and much more. This little book gives only a gist of his ideas on the ideal polity and the kind of politics necessary to build and sustain that polity.
Vinoba is popularly looked upon as Gandhi's spiritual heir. Certainly he was a worthy successor to Gandhi's legacy in the realm of spirituality, but he was not an heir to Gandhi alone in this respect; he had drunk deep at the springs of many spiritual traditions and symbolised the best and the most enduring in them; he was thus an heir to all of them. But as far as political ideas are concerned, he can truly be called Gandhi's heir only.
Gandhi was an original political thinker, although he was not adept in and cared little for the terminology of Western Political Science. Gandhi's contribution to political thought is three-fold. Firstly, he analysed nature of the State (which made him reject it) and sketched a picture of an alternative polity based on village communities. Secondly, he developed a new means for political action in the form of satyagraha. And thirdly, he put forth a concrete and effective political programme in the form of Constructive Programme—designed to make the villages viable and living political units—which he described as 'the truthful and nonviolent way of winning Poorna Swaraj (Complete Independence)'. The State is the most dominant institution in the modern world. It is all-pervasive and controls almost all aspects of individual and social life. When people come together, some arrangement of a political nature becomes inevitable for ordering mutual relationships within the community. As a result, different forms of polities had emerged in the past. The modern State as we know it today is the latest form of polity that has been evolving since the last 500 years.
Gandhi attacked the State, calling it 'violence in concentrated and organized form' and 'a soulless machine'. His critique of the State leaves no doubt about his position vis-a-vis the State; although contradictions may appear in his statements made on different occasions and in different contexts. He was not basically a theoretician; he was a man of action, a leader of the freedom movement that was working for the transfer of power from the British and not for the dissolution of power—although that was his ultimate aim. He could also not disregard compulsions of the situation. In the words of Martin Buber, he had 'to wrestle with the serpent in the kingdom of the serpent that he set out to destroy.' Besides, although opposed to the State, he appreciated the need for order and visualised what could be called 'a people's polity'; but he was severely handicapped in the articulation of his ideas for want of an apt term for the polity he envisaged. Vinoba coined such an apt term—Sarvayatan. Much confusion has arisen in the political discourse because of the ambiguity in the use of the term 'State'. The State is often equated with any form of polity, and therefore considered inevitable. But different forms of polity have existed in the past and could exist in the future; and modern State is just one of them.
Vinoba categorically declared that freedom from the State was the core of Gandhi's teachings, and it was the duty and the responsibility of Gandhians to work towards that goal. As he was unencumbered with many of the compulsions that Gandhi had to work under and also because he was temperamentally different, Vinoba's critique of the State is more incisive, cogent and comprehensive—and as caustic as that of the anarchists—as lines after lines in this book will reveal. Yet, Presidents and Prime Ministers and political leaders of different hues in Independent India came to see him in thatched huts where he camped during his long trek and sat at his feet. They made laws to facilitate his work. Western political scientists wondered at this strange phenomenon of 'legitimate anarchism'. This was the triumph of nonviolence.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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