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A Life in Search of Freedom for India

Civil Disobedience: Two Freedom Struggles, One Life by L C Jain (New Delhi: The Book Review Literary Trust, Vasant Enclave), 2010; pp 266, Rs 395.

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A Life in Search of Freedom for India

K S Krishnaswamy

them, which they all repaid as soon as they could. This action of trusting the borrowers was also repeated in Faridabad, where a sizeable number of refugees from the North-West Frontier Province had been settled. By

O
1949, the government proposed that inn the occasion of India’s independ-stead of giving doles to the refugees, they

Civil Disobedience: Two Freedom Struggles,

ence, Gandhi is reported to have One Life by L C Jain (New Delhi: The Book Review Literary be provided remunerative work. How this said: “We have gained political Trust, Vasant Enclave), 2010; pp 266, Rs 395. was to be done was taken as a challenge by

independence; but we have a bigger struggle ahead of us – we have to secure economic freedom to the people, especially those in our villages.” Of all Gandhi’s messages, this is an ideal one – the consummation of which remains a distant hope. This story of Lakshmi Chand Jain covers a truly eventful period of India’s 60 or more years of independence. And in all those years Lakshmi Jain strove hard to live by the values which Gandhi cherished. But as one looks around and sees what in fact has happened, Jain’s vision remains totally unfulfilled. He said, around 2007, regretfully “these are the forgotten areas, the lost chapters” (p 3).

Lakshmi Jain’s father was a veteran of the Indian National Congress, having participated in the non-cooperation struggle. For a while he was a bomb-carrying young man. But he changed quickly and retreated to peaceful resistance. Early enough, he faced the great tide of refugees returning from Pakistan and was asked to manage the refugee camp at Kingsway in Delhi. When the camp’s peace was disturbed by some miscreants he refused to call the police, the miscreants later apologised to him and were allowed to stay on in the camp. He had no trouble thereafter in managing the affairs of the camp. Persuading the troublemakers instead of calling the police was something which stayed with Jain thereafter, especially after those who had caused trouble became totally non-violent.

Chattarpur

Lakshmi Jain’s experiences with the refugee camp became sufficiently well known for distinguished visitors to be attracted to it, among whom was the Congress Socialist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya. It was she who raised the question of resettlement of the refugees, which had not occurred to Jain. He immersed himself in that operation, which led to his becoming involved with the second of Gandhi’s visions: the reconstruction programme. He set about establishing cooperatives for both farming and handicrafts, which led him to form the Indian Cooperative Union (ICU). However, before he could set up the ICU, he had to satisfy the refugees who, before coming to India, were mostly farmers. What they wanted, was to go back to farming on the lands vacated by those who had moved to Pakistan. At this stage, Lakshmi Jain ran into his first joust with the bureaucracy. Since the vacant lands had already been allocated in large chunks to some of the big landlords, who also had moved out of Pakistan, the bureaucracy had to be compelled to reallocate the lands to the refugees, most of whom were tillers rather than landlords. Lakshmi Jain had to seek the help of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya to approach Jawaharlal Nehru to compel the concerned minister and officers to recognise the stronger claim of those who were themselves cultivators. That was how Chattarpur was born.

While resettling the refugee farmers in that village, arrangement was also made to provide them with credit through the ICU, which had raised a small amount through voluntary contributions. The ICU trusted the refugee farmers by advancing loans to

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the Faridabad Development Board, which again faced bureaucratic delays and obstructions. The secretary to the board, S udhir Ghosh, had direct access to Nehru, who was persuaded to meet the refugees to ascertain their wish. In the result, the town of Faridabad, for which land, along with a plan, had been provided by the East Punjab’s public works department (PWD), was built by the refugees themselves – who were skilled craftsmen of various kinds. Lakshmi Jain, who was assisting Sudhir Ghosh in this endeavour found himself exposed to the full blast of the bureaucracy from the minister for refugee rehabilitation all the way downwards. To get the refugees build their own township required frequent approaches to the prime minister or the home minister. For Jain, it was an experience which made him stay out of government – until, that is, he became a member of the Planning Commission in 1989.

It was not only the rule book procedures of government officers that made him stay out of officialdom, but also the nepotism and cronyism to which ministers were subject. Though the government was, after 1947, independent, it had inherited both the legislative and administrative processes of the colonial administration – with an all-pervasive distrust of those who were outside its control. This, unfortunately, has worsened over the years as is evident from the corruption and other evils that characterise the present governments in both the centre and the states.

That aside, the Faridabad experiment had convinced Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya that

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a great deal could be achieved through encouragement of the crafts and skills, which the Indian villages had in abundance as well as variety. She had been instrumental in encouraging these through cooperative effort and set up both the handicrafts board and the ICU, in which Lakshmi Jain had become involved. Over the years such boards have been set up in virtually all states, with the result that these handicrafts have become a major export earner.

When sometime later, the government was faced with serious inflation of food prices, it turned to Lakshmi Jain, who set up the first Janata Bazaar in Delhi. In this task he did not seek the assistance of the bureaucracy but of those wholesale traders who still cared for the good of the people. He managed to get enough of them to supply the Super Bazaar, which made customers buy limited quantities, thereby avoiding hoarding in anticipation of price increases. It was again a move that spread out of Delhi to other major cities, such as Bombay and Calcutta. Though the Super Bazaars did not wholly succeed in curbing inflation they nevertheless prevented a further rise in prices. Kamaladevi’s (and Jain’s) efforts were mostly responsible for the revival and growth of the many handicrafts that seemed unable to withstand the competition from products of large-scale industries – especially in the textile industry.

The Cottage Industries Emporium and the Super Bazaar also pioneered several changes in sales promotion, which facilitated customers – again a silent revolution that has greatly assisted handicraft sales and yielded customer benefits. However, in later years, both the Cottage Industries Emporia and the Super Bazaars in different cities have tended to become more or less bureaucratised, like most government offices. Their interest in serving customers is no longer what it used to be under Jain’s supervision.

Having pioneered these two institutions with the objective of serving India’s handicrafts or consumers, Lakshmi Jain turned his attention to the Gandhian programme of Sarvodaya and Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement for land redistri bution. But with Gandhi’s death in 1948, it soon became clear that Nehru was more interested in adopting the Soviet model of rapid industrialisation than in village reconstruction. By the 1960s it was obvious that the First

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and the Second Five-Year Plans were far more interested in steel mills and machinery industries, with agriculture and cottage industries virtually forgotten. This neglect of the rural sector led to many twists and turns in national economic policy, with Nehru’s death and that of Lal Bahadur Shastri soon after. As Indira Gandhi went on to declare the Emergency in 1975, the government became a vested interest of politicians and bureaucrats; this was for Lakshmi Jain an anathema. He turned his attention to the north-eastern states, which sorely needed development, mostly of tribal economies. He found that in these states there were many handicrafts which merited encouragement. There was also a system of collective ownership of land, which badly needed to be promoted. As Jain went deeper into their economies, he found that economic planning in those states could be of a different kind from that of the central plan. When he was a member of the Planning Commission in 1989, he went to Assam to find out what the people’s interest in development was, and he was impressed by their common desire for development. This was a lesson which he did not forget. When the occasion needed, he was convinced that the best thing was to go to the people and check what exactly was their priority. That was a reinforcement of the Gandhian conviction – that it is the people in India’s villages who should decide their priorities. It made Lakshmi Jain become a votary of decentralisation.

Karnataka Decentralisation

In early 1983, the state government had the Janata Party in power and undertook a policy of establishing a range of governments at the local levels of districts and village groups. An Act to set up panchayats at the district and “mandal” (village groups) level was passed in 1983, but they could actually be set up only in 1987. At that time, Lakshmi Jain was a member of Karnataka’s Economic and Planning Council. As may be expected he was strongly supportive of this move to set up zilla and mandal panchayats, to ensure that the villages could actually exercise political and economic power. However, when the Janata government was dismissed in 1989 by the central government (where the Congress government was in power) and elections

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were held, the Congress came back to power. It then proceeded to undo much of the power and resources which had been given to the panchayats. Even though the Constitution was amended by then to set up panchayats at sub-state levels, virtually all state government politicians and officers took back much of the powers that had been transferred to panchayats. As before, planning continued to be a top-down affair rather than a bottom-up one. The poor, who are mostly in the villages continue to be deprived of the power to help themselves, or to exercise any command on the use to which the local resources – or government resources – are put.

Though Lakshmi Jain’s life was spent in service of the people of India through Gandhian means, he found in the final analysis that both national and global conditions tended to be quite unhelpful. Instead of being a matter of agricultural progress raising the level of education and health of the rural people, adding to poverty mitigation and provision of common amenities, development became a matter of enhancing the rate of growth of the gross domestic product, raising the export capability of the private sector and such other features of the capitalist world. It was no comfort to Lakshmi Jain to witness, as India’s High Commissioner in South Africa, that country also being drawn progressively into raising a ggregate output rather than seeking a fair distri bution of it. Likewise, he found that the Gandhian principle of power to the d ecentralised panchayats, increase in the standard of living of the common people and so on, there was a tendency to make the central and state governments more power ful. Though there was much talk of “inclusive” growth, very little was done to achieve it. Despite all the ballyhoo about devising policies for the “aam admi”, nothing has really been to achieve this. Having spent a lifetime for the good of the people, Lakshmi Jain probably died a disappointed person. One hopes that at least hereafter some of his (and Gandhiji’s) dreams will be fulfilled by India.

K S Krishnaswamy (drks1706@yahoo.com) worked in a number of senior positions in the Planning Commission and the Reserve Bank of India and retired as deputy governor of the RBI. He is a trustee of the Sameeksha Trust.

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