"Without peace, there is little hope for human rights" Martin Ennals      "Be the change that you want to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi      "If we wish our nature to be free and joyous, we should bring our activities into same order. Vinoba Bhave


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Acharya Vinoba Bhave (1895-1982)

Vinayak Narahari Bhave, known as Vinoba, was born at Gagoda, in the Kolaba district of Maharashtra on 11 September 1895. Vinoba who was deeply attached to his mother, Rukminibai, inherited her austerity, asceticism and altruism. His father, Narahari Shambhurao, was an ardent advocate of western learning and science.

Vinoba was a brilliant student. He studied Sanskrit and became proficient in all Hindu scriptural books. He was a self-taught multilinguist.

Before Vinoba came into contact with Gandhiji, the perusal of the Dasabodh of Swami Ramdas and Tilak’s writings in Kesari made him resolve to dedicate himself to the service of the country. At Sabarmati he began to expound the Bhagavad Gita. About the Gita, Vinoba said, "In all my actions, Gita has been my guide".

Once he became an ardent follower of the eleven vows, included in Gandhiji’s daily prayer, Vinoba shed the last trace of untouchability left in him. One day he consigned to the flames his sacred thread, which signified Brahmin superiority. In his famous Bhoodan campaign, Harijans had a special consideration. As most of them were landless, he decided to distribute one-third of his land gains among Harijans. His aim was to make universal brotherhood a living reality for the rich and the poor alike.

He was one of the moving spirits behind the Nagpur Flag Satyagraha. In 1930 he was arrested and sent to prison for participating in the Dandi march. In prison Vinoba dictated his Maxims of Independence.

The Sevagram School was the first experimental base for Gandhiji’s educational ideas, which Vinoba put into practice. After India became free he started the Sarvodaya movement for the establishment of equality. He fought for this until he breathed his last on 15 November 1982.

Of Vinoba, Gandhiji once said: "He is one of the Ashram’s rare pearls—one of those who have come not to be blessed but to bless, not to receive but to give".

THE 11TH OF SEPTEMBER 2007 was the 112th birth anniversary of Acharya Vinoba Bhave. His name has now become so obscure that even the routine speech and garlanding of the statue has been dispensed with. In fact, it has been that way for many years now. Recently he was in the news because the well known author V.S. Naipaul lambasted him soundly, calling him a “foolish parody of Gandhi". Yet in his time, he made it to the cover of TIME magazine, won the Ramon Magsaysay award for community leadership in its inaugural year (P. Sainath received it this year) and was called a great social entrepreneur by the Asoka Foundation, alongside 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 referred to as the "Sarkari Sadhu", or the State-approved holy man who could be called upon to bless unpopular and controversial decisions. I remember two of them. When Mrs. Gandhi imposed emergency in 1975 and it 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 then Vinoba Bhave had allegedly grown 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 something that Vinoba Bhave too was passionate about. But while the other sants remained generally hostile to the government, Vinobaji, after a couple of days of token fast, would be placated with some vague assurances and a glass of lime juice. Often because Vinoba Bhave enjoyed 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 associated with 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 retrospect, it was a movement that failed. But it is the sheer effort of the man and the nobility of his motive that attracted attention. As far back as 1953, the TIME put him on its cover and said that his popularity ranked next only to that of 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 of 100,000 acres was given by a Maharajah.

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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 for 13 years, over 36,000 miles, accepting over 4.4 million acres of land.

Vinoba was a communicator, simplifier and translator of Gandhian thought. Though nowhere near Gandhi in terms of humour or charisma, he could convince anyone. Bandits laid down their weapons at his feet and repented. As he 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 an agitation is being fuelled by Naxalites and proponents, it is a pity that Bhoodan has not been given another chance.

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