hermit and a revolutionary. The Mahatma resolved that dilemma, and Vinoba became a disciple in the non-violent independence movement. Within a few months Gandhi was so impressed with him that he gave the young man, twenty-five years his junior, the title of 'Acharya', or 'Teacher', which he proudly bears today.
During the political troubles between the wars Vinoba spent a few months in jail, but it was only in 1940 that Gandhi singled him out for eminence as the individual who opened the campaign of passive resistance to the British war effort in India. He spent most of the next five years in jail, learning new languages and studying the Koran so that, as a Hindu, he could get on to terms with Muslim Indians.
After Gandhi's assassination in 1948, the ascetic, celibate Vinoba was his obvious successor ; but though others tried to push him to the fore, it was not till 1951 and the launching of the Bhoodan movement that he found his own platform for a national movement. Gandhi's crusade for political independence had succeeded ; Vinoba undertook the harder, subsequent task of freeing the Indian peasant from economic bondage. His methods remained fundamentally those of Gandhi, based on non-violence, meeting greed with sacrifice, the arrogance of power with humility, and above all meeting hatred, contempt and opposition with love. For the vast changes he wished to make, Vinoba coined the phrase 'the revolution of love'.
The gifts of land were at the core of Vinoba's movement, as the land problem is the core of India's difficulties, but they were only expressions of a deeper philosophy. "We do not aim at doing mere acts of kindness, but at creating a kingdom of kindness," Vinoba had stated. This 'Kingdom of Kindness' is no more a sloppy anti-intellectual sentimentality than the Kingdom of God in the Gospels. Vinoba's sharp intellect considered the progressive, competitive, mechanized social revolution, for which Pandit Nehru had been striving, and rejected it as Gandhi rejected it before him.
He was not absolutely opposed to machinery as such, so long as it was harnessed to 'the service of man' ; but he was convinced that mass production and a money economy which piled up wealth and goods was a social evil. What he wished to see in India was some 5,00,000 villages growing their own food, spinning and weaving their own cloth, building their own roads and houses, making their own furniture and implements, and buying from the factories only a tiny minimum of essential manufactured goods.
To achieve this ideal, it is first of all necessary to create a more equitable distribution of land—hence the 'looting with love' of the larger landowners, and the presentation of their gifts to the landless peasants. But, beyond this, Vinoba's revolution aimed specifically at
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the abolition of property-owning, and already some progress was made towards his apostolic ideal of "holding all things in common.' By 1962, the inhabitants in nearly 30,000 villages had given all their land to Vinoba, not as individual plots, but for the good of the village community as a whole.
Vinoba started Bhoodan (land-gift) movement in 1951 in Telangana in Hyderabad, which reached the climax of Gramdan (village-gift) by voluntary relinquishment of private ownership of land. In the 10,000 square miles of Telangana, 80,00,000 peasants had long suffered the worst land tyranny in India. They were virtual serfs, without hope of getting land of their own. Communist guerrillas moved m to correct this—in their own way. They killed or put to flight scores of landowners, distributed the land, seized whole villages and set up their own schools. In battles between guerrillas and state constables backed by government troops, 3,000 people were killed and 35,000 reds jailed. Both landowners and farmers were caught in the murderous crossfire. Bhave, first, with an idea of preaching ahimsa, wandered into areas from which the police had warned him to stay away. But soon he realized that this was not enough. "I confess," he said, "that the incendiary and murderous activities did not unnerve me, because I know that the birth of a new culture has always been accompanied in the past by blood baths. What is needed is not to get panicky, but to keep our heads cool and find a peaceful means of resolving the conflict. The police are not expected to think out and institute reforms. To clear a jungle of tigers, their employment would be useful. But here we have to deal with human beings, however mistaken and misguided. When a new idea is born, new expression cannot combat it." And he thought of asking landowners to give land to the landless, saying that if they did not, the communists or the government might take it away. Thus, Bhoomidan-yajna was born, in bloody Telangana. Even the Nizam of Hyderabad, one of the richest and most miserly men in the world, gave some land, though neither the Nizam nor Bhave would say how much (the merit earned by giving is lost by boasting of it). Some 35,000 acres were collected and reassigned to the most destitute. Gradually the revolt and the terror died down.
Even Prime Minister Nehru, a modern, half-westernized man, felt delighted on this achievement. In fact, in this age of wary scepticism, we find the new hope that in days of facing great social problems we shall stand about like men in a burning house, each unwilling to burn himself putting out the fire that is about to consume all. In India, one man assumed the responsibility for 'putting out the fire.' To solve the problems facing Indian children unclothed, unfed, villagers digging little pits in dry river beds to find clean water, walking a mile to bring water from slimy green pools, men without land and without work, Vinoba Bhave had taken drastic steps which left no doubt about his sincerity.
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He had left his home for ever to walk until land was distributed to the poor. He would take land, wealth, or labour donations from the poor as well as the rich. If he did not receive the first time, he or his workers would go again and again. Every individual has a right to those things that are necessary to his survival. Eating is as necessary as breathing and drinking ; water, air and sunlight are free, why not land ? And how can the rich refuse, when the poor give ?
He accepted any workers, of any background or beliefs. He asked them to consider themselves first as human beings. Members of all-India parties had come to him—Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists. Many had told him that these people were working in his movement to gain prestige. His reply was "let them come. There is no harm in prestige from good work. Need I go and ask them ?" Thus Vinoba had not only managed to get dissenting parties to co-operate towards the same goal, but he had also settled innumerable disputes.
In the cold light of western economics, Vinoba's crusade was full of pitfalls and anxious question marks. Like Gandhi, who never lived to practise as an administrator what he had preached as an agitator, he wanted to save the Indian village from western meterial-ism. He would transfer virtually all powers to the village assembly, so that necessary reforms would come about not by legislation from Delhi, but from inside the village itself. In this way, reforms would happen only when local conditions, based on the full understanding and consent of all the villagers, became ripe. A village assembly, for example, should have the right to prohibit imports of industrially produced food and mill cloth from the cities, where this would upset the pattern of village life or cause unemployment.
Politically, Vinoba's critics asked whether simple peasants would not confuse this noble message with communist invitation to grab land by violence. But no one dared assail—openly at least—the frail little man who probably represented the biggest bloc of votes throughout the length and breadth of the country. Since Vinoba's triumph in Telangana, the communists were bitterly aware that he was their deadliest rival for the possession of the souls of those million of under-privileged Indians whom Marxist theory had always promised them as easy recruits. In one village terrorized by communists, he challenged them directly: "Do you really believe in your ideology ? If so, why not come in the daytime instead of by night ? If you want to loot the people, loot as I do, with sincerity and affection."
His Spirit of Universal Love and Renunciation
The secret of Vinoba's success was his great spirit of universal love and renunciation. To the communist he also spoke words of affection. He said, "If you would give up class hatred and truly work for the good of all, I would be the first to join you." And
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despite official communist denunciation of his work, in some areas leading party members had contributed land. His approach was the same to all men, whatever their creed and conditions. An effort to reach the divine spark which he believed them to possess and then to make real to them the needs of their fellows in a language they could understand—this ideal he had put quite literally into practice, Vinoba had taught himself no less than 16 languages. At 16 he learned both Persian and Arabic so as to be able to converse more freely with his Muslim neighbours.
It should also be remembered that Indians honour one thing above all—renunciation. Renunciation of worldly possessions—that ideal finds its echo in every Hindu heart. Even industrial tycoons are still apt suddenly to throw up everything and retire to die in a mud hut by the Ganga. Vinoba had reversed this process. At the age of 57, when most people think of retirement, Vinobaji had emerged from it.
It was Gandhi who first demonstrated the powerful effect on his countrymen of renouncing wealth for the sake of human service rather than personal salvation. Vinoba had trodden the same pathway into India's heart. He had no possessions beyond a spinning wheel and a few home-spun clothes. Hundreds of people had offered him their cars, so that he could move more quickly from village to village. They believed he would get more work done. But Vinoba courteously refused such offers. He knew it that the peasants could not afford cars, and it was this magic bond of sympathy that bound him to the peasants. Again, Vinoba suffered from ill health. He had a chronic duodenal ulcer and was subject to dysentery. And this made him old and frail before his time. A few years back, when stricken with severe malaria, he refused to be treated with quinine since the peasants could not afford it. Was it any wonder that seeing this elderly saint slowly but surely ruining bis health in their service, these same peasants should hold him in veneration ?
Vinoba had acquired his strength through renunciation, much as India's ancient sages were supposed to acquire magical powers through their austerities. His magic was singleness of purpose and an iron will. There are many stories about his will power. At the age of ten, he is said to have sworn a vow of chastity from which he never swerved. At the age of twenty, when he joined Gandhi's rural centre, he took his certificates and diplomas—and being a brilliant scholar and mathemat ;ian he had many—and burned them one by one in the flame of an oil lamp, in spite of his mother's horrified protest. A few years later, at this same beloved mother's death he refused to attend her funeral, since the pyre would be lit oy a Brahmana ; and Vinoba, although himself born an orthodox Brahmana, had come to disapprove of the caste system. When he joined Gandhi, the Mahatma told him to simplify life. Vinoba
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took his words to heart. He vowed to wear no more than one garment at a time and to forgo salt, the last remaining condiment which he allowed himself.
But with all his asceticism, Vinoba had always resisted pride of poverty—that subtlest temptation of the saints. He had never urged anyone else to follow his way of life. And he went his own way with a striking serenity. To someone who asked him if his work would succeed, he replied, "Fire merely burns. It does not care whether anyone puts a pot on it, fills it with water and puts rice in it to make a meal. To burn is the limit of its duty."
His Democratic Approach
Vinoba's approach was democratic, and, as such, he did not try to impose solutions from above. He approached the villagers in familiar ways ; he talked to them in their own language, so that they could understand him. He did not try to put into effect a prearranged solution to 'uplift the masses.' He sought to prepare them so that they themselves could arrange their own lives to their best benefits. The seeds for afull andmeaningful life are there in India's half-million villages. Vinoba was preparing the ground so that these seeds might grow and bear fruit.
He strongly felt that laws, without a change in people's hearts, were not very effective. He cited the fact that though there was a law forbidding discrimination against Harijans, still it continued. Vinoba's approach was first to cause a revolution in people's hearts, andthen concern himself about legislation. Similarly, we cannot create full meaningful lives by plans and programmes, without first preparing the groundwork through direct sympathetic contact with the villagers—and this was Vinoba's way.
The cornerstone of Vinobaji's whole programme was flexibility. Just as he inspired the village folk, they inspired him. This mutual process is what is so outstanding about his approach. The evolution of Bhoodan into Gramdan, and all the other 'dans' has been a natural one. Although Vinoba firmly believed in village co-operation, he did not prescribe the particular structure of this co-operation, but left this to the villages. Here was his great strength.
It will be wrong to think that Vinoba was against industrialization. He himself had stated this many times. Once the groundwork is laid enabling villagers to decide for themselves how they hope to realize full lives, then they can choose how much and what forms of industrialization they find most suitable to their needs as they see them. Hence Vinoba was not against anything. He was for helping people realize themselves in ways that they thought were best.
Ram Rajya : Democracy on Village Level
In tune with the above principle of helping the people to work
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for themselves. Vinoba expounded the idea of Ram Rajya, the decentralized society of self-sufficient and self-ruling villages. He wrote that majority rule as a democracy was simply counting heads, not necessarily implying that greater reason or sagacity was on the bigger side. The entire emphasis is on rights, not duties, he writes, and the idea is to bring pressure on society, not render service to it. Therefore, he advised the villagers to rely more on themselves and less on the government. He directly encouraged democracy on the village level.
Vinoba talked of Swaraj in its Vedic connotation : "The government of each by each, such that k will seem to each his own rule, or it is government of all: the Kingdom of God, Ram Rajya." This society of 'God-rule' may also be called 'No-rule'. The state would wither away, leaving government to the village, which "will think and decide things with one mind." He explained that the government that was established in Delhi could not be expected to come and deliver happiness to all the villages in India. He, therefore, impressed upon the people to have a committee of their own in every village to look after its affairs. This committee should study the requirements of the village and try to meet them as far as possible in the village itself. He warned the villagers that they should cot allow the outside evils of party politics and the exploitation of the poor by the rich to enter into their villages. This will eliminate the evils of their villages one by one andwillmaintain a peaceful and healthy atmosphere there, Unless the peopleinvillages -^alize the necessity of self-government andstart relying in their own shakti (power), it is not possible, according to \ inoba, to materialize the dream of Ram Rajya or of Sarvodaya. The only legitimate government authority, he felt, isjanasakii, the non-violent power of the people.
The Gita and the Karma-Yoga
Vinoba mostly drew inspiration from the Bhagvad Gita. For him, as for Gandhi, it is the Supreme book of human guidance. This great Sanskrit poem, imbedded in a larger work called the Mahabharata, is later than the Vedas and the Upanishads, and fills a role in the Hindu holy books something like that of the New Testament in the Bible. During one cf his jail terms, Vinobaji lectured every Sunday on the Gita. He translated it into Marathi verse, and this work sold about a quarter of a million copies.
The Gita prescribes three paths for the Soul's union with God : Karma-yoga—the way of action ; Jnana-yoga—the way of knowledge ; and Bhakti-yoga—the way of love. The poem is set in the frame of bloody battle, a great battle on the plain of Kurukshetra. The hero, Arjuna, is downcast because he must fight against men who, he suspects, are his brothers, even though they are foes, and the God Krishna gives Arjuna advice. Krishna persuades Arjuna that it is
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permissible to fight, indeed, that he must fight, so long as the struggle serves no selfish ends. Although most Indian scholars believe that the poem refers to a real battle, Gandhi was so deeply committed to non-violence that he conceived himself that the battle of Kurukhshetra was an allegory, and that it portrayed the conflict of good and evil in the human heart.
Vinoba practised Karma-yoga, the way to God through action in the world. "You must perform every action sacramentally, and be free from all attachment to results." It is not to be undertaken without first mastering the other yogas, learning control of the body, the breathing and the mind ; learning concentration through love and devotion by prayer ; gaining knowledge by meditation.
Vinobaji had read and admired the scriptures of other religions, and he knew that the way of love was discovered long ago in many places outside the mountain-walled subcontinent of India. Yet in this racked century, the way of love seems, as Bhoomidan-yajna shows, to be quite new.
Vinoba as a person was unassailable : a selfless man, dedicated to service to God's children. And India is fortunate to have produced such a man and it is wise to remember his message of love, sympathy and selfless service.
JAYAPRAKASM NARAYAN ( I 902- I 979)
Birth and the Ideal of Freedom
Jayaprakash Narayan, born in a middle-class family of Bihar, received his education both in India and U. S. A. While still a young boy, he became an ardent nationalist and leaned towards the revolutionary cult of which Bengal was the noble leader at that time. But before his revolutionary leanings could mature, Gandhi's first non-cooperation movement swept over the land as a strangely uplifting hurricane. He bad an unusual experience of soaring up with the winds of a great idea.
It was then that freedom became one of the beacon-lights of his life, and it remained so till his death. His passion for freedom, with the passing of years transcended the mere love for the freedom of his country and embraced the idea of freedom of man everywhere and from every sort of trammel—above all, it meant freedom of the human personality, freedom of the mind and freedom of the spirit. This freedom Jayaprakash Narayan never thought to sacrifice either for the sake of bread or for power, security, prosperity, glory of the state or for anything else.
Quite strangely, it was in the land of resilient and successful capitalism, the United States of America, where he was a student from 1922 to 1929, that he came in contact with East European intellectuals and turned to Marxism. It was, he himself admitted, at "Madison, Wisconsin, the home of La Follette progressivism then, that in the company of Jewish and European-born fellow students I drank deep at the fountain of Marxism." At the same time, he was influenced deeply by the 'pungent* writings of M. N. Roy, which almost completed his conversion to Marxism.
While under the spell of Marxism, J. P. Narayan was much impressed by the Marxian philosophy of revolution. It seemed to him a surer and quicker road to the freedom of a country and the emancipation of its masses than Gandhi's technique of civil disobedience and non-cooperation. The thrilling triumph of the great Lenin in Russia, accounts of which he consumed with unsatiated hunger, seemed to establish beyond doubt the supremacy of the Marxian way to revolution. Also, Marxism stood, he felt, for equality and brotherhood—the qualities without which freedom is not