Friday, September 14, 2007

Vinoba Bhave -Social Entrepreneur or Sacred Fool ?


A couple of days ago on the 11th of September was the 112th birth anniversary of a man who has now become so obscure that even the usual speech and garland the statue routine that we are so used to was dispensed with. In fact, it has been that way for many years now. Recently he appeared in the news because the well known author V.S.Naipaul has lambasted him in his book " A Writer's People" soundly calling him a “fool parody of Gandhi”. Yet in his time, he made it to the cover of TIME magazine, won the Ramon Magasaysay award for community leadership in its inaugural year(this year P.Sainath received it) and has been called one a great social entrepreneur by the Asoka Foundation along side the likes of Florence Nightingale. And to top it all, he was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna.

Was Vinoba a fool or an eccentric entrepreneur? By the time, I came to know about him, he was past his prime and was derisively known as the “Sarkari Sadhu” the state approved holy man who could be brought forward to bless unpopular and controversial decisions. I remember two. When Mrs. Gandhi imposed the emergency in 1975, and was vehemently opposed by JP, Acharya Kripalani and a few other surviving Gandhians, she promptly paraded Acharya Vinoba Bhave who declared that the period of emergency was actually Anushashan Parva, a time of discipline. But because by that time, Vinoba Bhave was more or less considered senile, his pronouncement carried little clout.

On many other occasions, Hindu sants would go on an agitation demanding a ban on cow slaughter. This was some thing that Vinoba Bhave too was passionate about. But while the other sants were generally hostile to the government Vinobaji after a couple of days of token fast would be assuaged with some vague assurances and a glass of lime juice and often because Vinoba Bhave had a much higher stature than the typical Sadhu, the back of the agitation would be broken.
But there was a lot more to Acharya Vinoba Bhave than the eccentricities of his old age. He was the original Padyatri”, a man who was deeply learned in Eastern philosophy and skilled in mathematics. His utter simplicity of manner and dress belied the fact that he was at home in 18 Indian and foreign languages, including Persian, Arabic, French and English

Bhoodan is Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s lasting contribution, though in retrospective analysis, it was a movement that failed. But it is the sheer effort of the man that and the nobility of his motives that attracts attention. Writing as far back as in 1953, when TIME put him on its cover the magazine says that his popularity ranked next to Pandit Nehru in the post Gandhi era.

Vinoba Bhave and his followers vowed to collect 50 million acres of land from India's landlords by the simple process of "looting with love." The largest single gift was 100,000 acres from a maharajah. The smallest was one fortieth of an acre donated by a Telengana peasant who owned only one acre himself. By the time the Bhoodan movement petered out, Vinoba had walked 13 years, over 36,000 miles, accepting over 4.4 million acres of land.

Vinoba was a communicator, a simplifier, a translator of Gandhian thought. Though he had not one bit of Gandhi's humor or charisma, he could convince anyone. Bandits laid down their weapons at his feet and repented. As he himself said of himself and perhaps most of us – “Though we are small men we can stand on the shoulders of giants and perhaps see a little farther……” In today’s times, when so much of the unrest in our country is about land rights and unequal land distribution and the agitation is being fuelled by Naxalites and proponents, it is a pity that Bhoodan has not been given another chance.

1 comment:

Tusar N Mohapatra said...

[I asked him what he thought of Sri Aurobindo. His eyes glistened; I knew that because of his Baroda connections, Sri Aurobindo had great influence on Maharashtrian intellectuals. Vinoba replied, ‘What can I tell you about Sri Aurobindo? Leaving Gandhiji aside, he has been the most powerful influence on my mind.’ -- J.N. Mohanty. Between Two Worlds, East and West: An Autobiography, OUP, 2002]