How many farmers does the land need?

March 14, 2018

People speak with such mathematical certainty about the necessity of reversing the ratio of farmers to non-farmers in India.

We can’t argue with Math, can we? Ah, if only they don’t conveniently ignore the ecological factor and the human factor. What will it mean for independent small farmers to shift to servile jobs? What will it mean for the future of humans (I think the earth will bounce back to health, after you know what), when more people are producing and consuming things that use up more resources that cannot be replenished? Are we going to employ them all in service industries? Will it not drive up consumption of luxurious items, and therefore, wasteful production of things? And what will the service industry service, if there is no equivalent manufacturing sector, either in India or abroad? We talk about America and China. Not only are their GDPs much higher than ours, their defence spending is also proportionately higher. Already, our military spending is more than that of Japan, Germany, UK and France, and almost as much as Russia, all with higher GDPs. There is surely some unarguable maths behind this too – x% of GDP should go to defence. Nobody can ask, why can’t it remain constant or be reduced? (Pakistan! China!) With more people needing to be employed, jobs have to be created. A bulk of those jobs might be in needless military activities. Orwell has got pretty much everything right, so far. I see no reason why he’ll be wrong on this count.

The economic benefits of shifting small farmers away from farming will be offset by the ecological and sociological damage it will cause.

I don’t profess any mathematical equation. But I’ll nevertheless say this with a logical certainty that I sound no more unscientific than those with that magical equation.

Perhaps, a better idea will be to give a perennial paid vacation to all those small farmers and their descendants. (Never mind the farmer tag on my profile, it’s part fake; I’ll opt out.) The farmers and low-waged farm workers have subsidized our luxurious lives so far, and it is a good way to return the favour, and also do ourselves a favour. They will do far less damage by simply not producing anything (as against joining the industrial/service economy). Anyway, as per those mathematical equations and prophesied technological innovations, we will have astronomical productivity in the industrialised farms and automated industries – it can surely support half a billion loafers.


The reason I am on such ranting mode, if it seems like one:
1. From Manmohan Singh and PC to every urban intellectual with a PC or a laptop have been saying this for long. Two on my timeline this week.

2. The open well at our farm dried up a few months ago. Now the bore-well at the farm, where we have rented a house, has also dried up. It is the main source of water there for us, our elderly landlords, the cattle and the trees. They re-bored with no success. They just drilled another borewell for over 1350 feet, with no success. For now, they have taken the cattle to the neighbour’s farm, who had this year drilled a 600 feet borewell and a 1300 feet borewell with some success. In the last two weeks, our landlords have already bought two tanks of water at Rs.1500 per tank (for residential use). There is panchayat water also but the quantity that reaches their farm is too little. Yes, worst case, a few pots can be carried from the village pipe, a few hundred meters away. We’d been staying back at Coimbatore, reluctant to go there and burden them by seeking our share; reluctant to see their broken hearts, though our presence may offer the lonely couple some solace. And therefore, I had time and internet connection to ramble.

The elderly couple I’m talking about are medium farmers (based on land holding). They became medium farmers because they couldn’t afford to remain as big farmers. They sold their 30 acre land and bought 6 acres and built a modern large house on it with attached bath and western toilets (renting out the old tiled house with Indian toilets outside to us). And those bloody western toilets need some 15 litres of water everytime they pee or poo. I don’t know if the villagers of yore had knee problems, but they do have now, and they too, those who can afford, need those western toilets. And we have made it such a shameful act for the rural rich to even pee outside, in a village, on their own farms, when there is not enough water. Nor have we helped them build toilets that consume minimal water.

But, anyway, I can’t argue with math, and rain. The small farmers don’t. The interest income on FD is already way higher than farm income. Land appreciation is what was holding them back. The land prices seem to have stalled in many areas. They will sell out. One by one.

ஆன்மீக அரசியல்/Spiritual Politics 2 :Vinoba

March 13, 2018

In Bihar I was given another kind of gift in the name of God. In Baidyanathdham at Deoghar I went along with some Harijans for darshan of the sacred image of Mahadev. We were not able to have that darshan, but we got our prasad in the form of a good beating at the hands of the God’s devotees. Those who beat us did so in ignorance, so I did not want them to be punished. On the contrary, I was very pleased that the hundreds of brothers and sisters who were with me all remained calm. Not only that, those of my companions who got the worst of the beating all said that they felt no anger at all. I believe that this will prove to be the death-throes of the demon of discrimination.

I had no desire to enter the temple by force or by the authority of the law. It is my custom never to enter any temple into which Harijans are not allowed entry. I had made enquiries, and was told that Harijans were allowed to enter, so after our evening prayer we all went reverently for darshan, keeping silence on the way. I myself was meditating inwardly on the Vedic verses in praise of Mahadev. That being the case, when we were unexpectedly attacked and beaten it was for me a specially moving experience. My companions encircled and protected me, intercepting the blows which were aimed directly at me. Still, I did get some taste of them to complete our ‘sacrificial offering.’ I remembered how, in this same dham, the one whose servant I call myself (Mahatma Gandhi) had received the same kind of treatment. I had experienced the same blessing, the same good fortune, as he did.


I went to Jagannathpuri for the Sarvodaya Sammelan (in March 1955); and we went to the Jagannath temple, but had to turn back without entering. I had gone there in a mood of great devotion, but I had a French lady with me, and it was my principle that if she could not go in, neither could I. I began in early youth to study the Hindu religion, and I have continued to do so to this day; from the Rigveda to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Mahatma Gandhi, I have studied the whole tradition as reverently as I could. I claim with all humility that I have tried my best to practise the Hindu religion as I understand it. In my opinion, it would have been a very unrighteous act for me to enter the temple and leave the French lady outside. I asked the authorities there whether she might enter along with me, and they said No. So instead of making my obeisance to the Lord, I saluted them respectfully and turned away. As I said at the time, I do not look down upon those who had refused us entry. I know that they too must have felt sorry about it, but they were enslaved by ingrained ideas and were unable to do the right thing. So I don’t blame them much. I say only this: that such an incident bodes ill for our country and for our religion. Baba Nanak was also refused entry into this temple and was turned away from its doors. But that is an old story, and I hope that it will not again be repeated.

[Gandhi had once castigated Mahadev Desai for not advising Kasturba and his wife against entering this temple.]


At Guruvayur there is a temple, so famous that it could be called the Pandharpur of Kerala. Years ago Kelappan had fasted there; Gandhiji had come and joined him. He asked Kelappan to give up his fast, saying, ‘I will fast in your place.’ Gandhiji thus took the fast upon himself, and after that the temple was thrown open to Harijans.

When I reached Guruvayur I had with me some Christian fellow-workers. I asked the temple authorities if they would allow us all to enter together. No, they said, they could not allow that, but they would be very pleased for me to enter and would feel sorry if I did not do so. ‘I am sorry,’ I replied, ‘I do not understand how I could have any experience of God if I were to leave these Christian friends of mine outside. I cannot worship in that way.’ So I did not go in.

A great debate ensued in the Malayalam newspapers about my not being allowed in Guruvayur. Public opinion on the whole was against my exclusion. Only one or two papers criticised me for insisting that people of another religion should be allowed inside the temple. The rest, a score or more newspapers, said that I was right, and that it was a big mistake, which would do much damage to Hinduism, not to allow us to enter.


ஆன்மீக அரசியல்/Spiritual Politics 1: Vinoba

March 13, 2018

[Again on Guha’s title of his essay on Vinoba: ‘What Gandhi was not’. Maybe, it should be ‘What Gandhi Was Not But Wanted to Be’. Gandhi said he wanted to be reborn as a bhangi. Vinoba became that in his lifetime. For Vinoba, Gandhi was where he found ‘both the peace of the Himalayas and the revolutionary spirit of Bengal’ ]

Then in 1946 I made a solemn resolve to take up scavengers’ work myself. By that time I was living at Paunar, and I began my scavenging in Surgaon, a village three miles away, setting off every morning with a spade on my shoulder. It took an hour and a half or two hours to come and go, and I spent an hour or an hour and a half on the actual work. I worked as regularly as the sun himself, except that I had to miss three days because of illness. I kept it up without a break throughout the year, through cold season, hot season and rains.

One day it rained so heavily that the whole road was waistdeep in water. There was also a deep gully which had to be crossed to reach Surgaon. Floodwater was rushing through it and it was impossible to cross. I stood on the bank and shouted across to a villager on the other side: ‘Please go to the temple and tell the Lord that the village scavenger came, but could not reach the village because of water in the gully.’ ‘All right,’ he said, ‘I’ll go.’ ‘And what will you say?’ I asked. ‘I’ll tell the priest,’ he replied, ‘that Babaji had come.’ ‘No, no, you have misunderstood,’ I said. ‘You must tell the Lord and tell Him that the village scavenger came, but could not reach the village because of the water.’

So I went back again to Paunar—but why did I set out at all that day? When the water on the road was waist-deep it was obvious that I could not reach the village, and yet I decided to go as far as I could before turning back, because for me the work was a form of worship. ‘How long will you go on with this work?’ people used to ask, and I would reply, ‘For twenty years, until the present generation makes way for the next. It is a question of changing the people’s mental attitude.’ In fact I could carry it on only for a year and three quarters; then, after Gandhiji passed away, I had to give it up. So long as it continued it took up five or six hours every morning. Sometimes people wanted to consult me, but I always told them that I would not be free before eleven, because up to then was my time for scavenging. For me this despised kind of work was a form of prayer, so I did not take a single day’s leave. Along with the scavenging I was able to teach a number of things especially to the children. ‘Baba,’ they would say as they greeted me, ‘today we have covered our excrement with earth’—and I would go with them to inspect. When the time of the Ganapati festival came round, I found the whole village spotlessly clean and there was no work left for me to do. The villagers had decided the day before that as the next day was a holy day they would do all the scavenging themselves—so they had cleaned the whole village. ‘Here is a revolution indeed !’ I thought. If Gandhiji were still alive, I would even today be doing scavenger’s work in Surgaon.

The Brahmin who fought to be a scavenger

March 12, 2018

A little after Gandhi’s much-maligned ‘epic fast’ in 1932, he had gone on another little fast in the same year. The story behind that fast is interesting. It was in solidarity with the semi-fast by one of his colleagues, Appasaheb Patwardhan, who was insisting on his right to do scavenging work at the prison (semi-fast, since, he didn’t want to weaken his body, and therefore, dodge other work). He was barred from taking up scavenging work, because he was a Brahmin and scavenging was alloted only to Dalits, even those who were not scavengers outside.

Suresh Venkatadri has written in detail about how much he was moved by the story of Appasaheb Patwardhan’s fast, which I narrated during my speech at an event organized by Aruvi yesterday.

I first heard about Appasaheb, in one of the speeches of Narayan Desai. But there is little about him on the internet. The whole sequence of events had been compiled earlier by Raattai Ragunathan R. I think Appa’s letter to Gandhi is a masterpiece, and brilliantly anticipates every objection to his claim, and interestingly, is in line with Gandhi’s own arguments with the Jail authorities (though Gandhi and Appasaheb had not corresponded on this before).

Appa Patwardhan

Gandhi’s approach to sanitation is criticized by some as glorifying a menial task, thereby becoming a tool to keep them under the yoke.

Bringing pride and dignity to a work despised by the general public is extremely critical till other work is found for those workers, working conditions are improved for them, and alternatives are found for that work. Gandhi attempted to do all of these. It is not easy to dismiss his approach as merely condescending.

By taking up to scavenging himself, and inspiring other upper caste colleagues like Vinoba and Appa Patwardan to take up scavenging, he brought dignity to the work. (That is my reading – I can’t say that was his stated intention.) He said the job of a scavenger and a lawyer are equal. He said he wanted to be reborn as a Bhangi.

Going further, he and his associates, continuously, explored and experimented with alternatives. He offered spinning as a revenue stream for people of all creed.

Wardha toilets are an important innovation.
Appasaheb is said to have later installed the first biogas plant based latrine in India. Inspired by him, a Doctor in Dehu village near Pune, Dr.S.V.Mapuskar “built several toilets in Dehu and eventually spread the idea to other states, too. These were no ordinary toilets, but came with a biogas tank. The gases generated from this plant were used to cook and provide gardening water. Even today, several houses in Dehu village are verdant with the plants that grew from this amenity.

Such was Mapuskar’s stature among villagers, that when he was once – and only once – transferred out from the Dehu PHC, the locals actually took out a morcha to the district collector’s office and forced a stay on the shift of their beloved doctor.” (…/articleshow/56785976.cms)

Dr. Mapuskar was awarded the Padmashri award last year. His organization is named after Appasaheb.


Excerpts from the letter of Appasaheb Patwardhan to Gandhi:

Outside I am free to do without the services of  a professional scavenger, or even if I employ one, I need not look down upon his work. But here conservancy work is regarded as degrading, it is forced upon the unwilling Harijan and I am forced to take his services.
I contend therefore that the usage inside jails is not simply a copy of the outside usage but a distorted copy. Or what is usage outside becomes hardened law inside.
I am aware that the responsibility for this injustice belongs primarily to the outside (mainly Hindu)  society and only secondarily to the jail administration, who consulted expediency rather than justice in copying, with adaptations, outside usage. The jail rules owe their origin to the attitude of outside highcaste public, highcaste jail authorities and also of high caste prisoners. It is upto all these to undo the injustice of their own doing.
But jail administration ought not to stand in the way of reformers.
So long at least as volunteers are available to do conservancy work and it can be assigned to them without detriment to normal or efficient working, the work should not be forced upon unwilling prisoners, especially of ‘low castes’.
If this were granted I felt I could wait for the final solution of the problem. I explained in the application that almost all the congress prisoners in this jail (nearly a hundred) and even some non-congress prisoners were eager to do the work as a matter of duty, leaving the authorities a wide field to choose from.
The application was rejected, that was all I was given to understand.
Another application to the I.G.: 10-11-32
Thereupon I addressed another application to the I.G. Therein I requested to be allowed to do at least my share of conservancy work; “the work could be assigned to me as a whole day task or I may be allowed to do it over and above my daily task, e.g. on Sundays when I have no other task to do. “
I made the request in an individual capacity without raising questions of general policy. I was content, and wd be grateful, to be allowed to do the work as a matter of sufferance or even indulgence. “It ought to be easy for you to grant my present request, whatever the general rules in that behalf, might be. Because I know from personal experience, that the rigour of jail discipline is in particular case tempered to make allowance for individual or communal prejudices.”
“Outside jail, I have tried as far as possible to do without the services of a professional scavenger. I have been doing scavenger work for my home or for the colony to which I happened to belong for the time being. And after the expiry of my present term of imprisonment I intend to to do scavenger work as a profession for at least one year, and, if circumstances permit, even longer.
“If if I am given the work I shall feel grateful and shall not expect any more facilities for myself than are ordinarily enjoyed by conservancy workers.
Notice of direct action:  “I hope to get a favourable reply from you within a fortnight at the latest, failing which it will be most unwilling duty to have resort to a mild sort of direct action. I shall eat no more than half the prescribed jail ration and I shall reduce it even further provided that I do not make myself physically helpless and unable to take care of myself.”
Though I present  my request in an individual form I also made mention, “in order to simplify matters for you of a fellow-prisoner of mine, who shares my views and feelings in this matter and is  resolved to go to the same lengths as myself, if he too is not given the work like myself.
(I shall strongly discourage sympathetic action on the part of other prisoners.) If however more prisoners come forward with similar requests and it becomes difficult for you to satisfy a larger number, both of us are ready to withdraw our demands in favour of them.”
P.S. I wrote this in English instead of Gujarati in order to render it easier for censoring if necessary.

Vinoba Bhave: through the eyes of critics and admirers

March 11, 2018

Even though it is now seen as a ‘failure, albeit a spectacular one’ (in the words of Ramachandra Guha), I consider Bhoodan Movement to be one of the strongest demonstrations of the potential of non-violence. I cannot imagine myself persuading someone to part with a square foot of land. Bhoodan movement succeeded in getting people to donate 44 lakh acres (‘the size of Scotland’ says Hallom Tennyson). The movement’s failure lay in not being able to convert the donations to title deed transfers, and the blame for that cannot be placed on the initiator and force behind the movement, Vinoba Bhave, alone. Even if only 13 lakh acres was actually distributed, it was still quite a remarkable feat.

I hope an unbiased and dispassionate study of the overall achievements and impact of the movement is made. (If anything already exists, I would love to go through it.)

Though the ideals of Gramdan were loftier than Bhoodan, and it is incredible that Gramdan also happened at many places, I feel Bhoodan had the right mixture of idealism and pragmatism. The shifting of focus away from Bhoodan to Gramdan could have negatively affected the overall success and focus of the movement.


In ‘India After Gandhi’, Ramachandra Guha rushes past Bhoodan Movement in a single paragraph.

Guha titled his essay on Vinoba Bhave in his ‘ An Anthropologist among the Marxists and other essays’ as “What Gandhi Was Not: Vinoba Bhave”. And, he had not a singe word of praise for him.

“To mark this event (Vinoba’s centenary, which he observes also coincided with the 20th anniversary of emergency), Bhave’s memoirs, Moved by Love, were published in English translation. They show him to be a pious, puritan, and self-righteous man, devoid of humour and the capacity for self-criticism. The book could more appropriately have been called Moved by Myself. It is littered with anecdotes showing Bhave as more virtuous than the people around him – as a glutton for hard work (at the spinning wheel or with the broom), as a master of self-denial (of food and sex), and as exceptionally adept at picking up new tricks. Here is a typical example of the way in which the author gives himself not merely pats but thumps on his own back. ‘Someone asked me why I was studying four languages,’ he writes, ‘and I replied – because I couldn’t find a fifth.’ “

Guha may be justified in being bitter about Vinoba for his passive, alleged ‘Sarkari Sant’ role during emergency. But as a historian and an anthropologist, he must have noticed that the ‘author’ of this particular book was not Vinoba himself (though the words may have been Vinoba’s, said/written at various points in time). It was compiled and edited by Kalindi, and translated by Marjorie Sykes. It is unfair to contrast this work by Vinoba’s devout disciples with the brutal honesty of the autobiography of Gandhi.

Guha says Vinoba is devoid of humour, and in the last line of the same paragraph, he seems to deride him for his humour. [In this case, Vinoba was talking about learning the four major South Indian languages together during his prison term. In fact, after this light-hearted but inaccurate quip, he goes on to explain the benefit of learning them together.]

Guha also says, “Bhave seems never to have broken out of his roots. As a Maharashtrian Brahmin, he acknowledges only Hindu influences on this thought: the Vedas, the Gita, the Vishnusahasranama.” By using the term ‘Maharashtrian Brahmin’, he not so subtly brackets him with those who were behind his master’s assassination, and their philosophy. This is about the man who coined the slogan ‘Jai Jagat’, walked through East Pakistan, and wrote the iconic inter-religious hymn ‘Om dat sat’. Vinoba has written books on ‘The essence of Christian teachings’ and Koran (after learning Arabic to study it in original).

Guha terms Vinoba as a ‘Sanskrit scholar and dialectician but an utterly shallow thinker’. He makes no mention of the fact that Vinoba had learnt over 20 languages, and had enough command in many of them to be able to read and remember the best spiritual literature in those languages. I have heard personal accounts from different people of how he cited (in Tamil) selections from Kural and other Tamil literary texts. Our daughter sang 3 Thevaaram songs this year at Jagannathan’s anniversary, and Krishnammal Jaganathan observed that all 3 happened to be personal favourites of Vinoba (அம்மையே அப்பா, முக்திநெறி அறியாத, மாதர்பிறை கண்ணியானை).

Guha quotes this line from Hallam Tennyson’s foreword, “many villages developed factions and disagreements leading to disillusion and the rapid flickering out of the Bhoodan spirit which Vinoba had inspired.” But he conveniently ignores the next passage:
“When I walked with Vinoba I found this aspect distressing, even heart-breaking. But today, reading the extracts translated by Marjorie Sykes, I see the situation in a different light. Vinoba was a true embodiment of the spirit of the Gita: ‘In every age I come back, to deliver the holy, to destroy the sin of the sinner, to establish righteousness,’ Krishna said. He did not promise permanent solutions; he redirected our gaze to the universal good and rekindled faith in human capacities.”

Guha also cites a scathing passage of Naipaul in his essay, ‘that measured the distance between Vinoba and the Mahatma’. No doubt, Gandhi was a peerless giant, but Vinoba was no midget.


Elsewhere, Naipaul calls Vinoba Bhave ‘a foolish parody of Gandhi’, and worse:
“He had lived for so long as a parasite, and away from the world, that he had become a kind of half-man, and he thought that Gandhi had been like that too…

There was, happily, a later career for Vinoba, not as a reformer, not as a wise man, but as a kind of holy fool, someone politicians at the very top wished to be photographed with and whose bless­ing they wished to have….”

[As an aside, Guha on Naipaul’s ‘A Writer’s People’:
There is far too much in this little book of what Walcott once called “the peevish sixth-grader still contained in an almost great writer”.]


He has come not like others to be blessed but to bless, not to receive but to give.
– Gandhi on Vinoba.


The two other tallest Gandhian contemporaries of Vinoba – Nehru and Jayaprakash Narayan, both with modern mindsets, treated him with respect and affection. Though JP fell out with Vinoba later on, he sacrificed his leadership position in politics, and potential Prime Ministership after Nehru, to be a follower of Vinoba for nearly two decades in the prime of his life.

Vinoba and Nehru

Despite the bitter days of emergency, a few associates of JP (and naturally Vinoba’s as well) whom I’ve personally met, held nothing but nostalgic warmth towards Vinoba.

Narayan Desai had this to say about the man ‘devoid of humour’.

Desai : I was in Paunar, talking to some of the inmates of the Vinoba ashram. And I made a statement that gave them a jolt. I said, our movement, the Sarvodaya movement, has two leaders – one of them is the saint and the other, the politician. And Jayaprakash is the saint.
Kannan : Haha
Desai : So Deshpande, who was listening, got so excited, immediately ran to the room where Vinoba was staying and said, ‘Bhaba you know what Narayan is saying’. And Vinoba had this habit : whenever he likes something, he would stand up from his seat and start clapping. He stood up and (claps)…”It is true what he said…our movement has two leaders, one a saint and the other the politician. Jayaprakash is the saint. And I am the politician!”. After this, in public meetings he started saying this. That is because of this man’s absolutely crystal-clear honesty. Absolutely. After working with him for 20 years, it was a great experience of life.

Desai also said this about his meeting with Vinoba before he parted ways:
I am afraid, this is the parting of ways. And I am going to be on the other side.’ I was weeping all the time…putting my head on his lap. He never encourages any kind of touching of the body…he is like namashkar….he put his hand on my head for half an hour..and everytime…the only sentence is that, ‘You are doing the right thing for you. It is absolutely right for you.’ That is the kind of freedom he gave.
I said, ‘Well, I am doing it because of what I learnt from you: that one has to work as per one’s conscience. Not from Gandhi, but from you. My conscience tells me to go to Jayaprakash.’ There was not, for one minute, any kind of bad blood between us. Nothing like that.

Perhaps, while we have come to terms with the spirituality of Gandhi, Vinoba’s even more overtly saintly inclinations and looks doesn’t allow the modern historians to evaluate him unbiasedly and give him his due. I sense that unease in what Guha says here:

“Even in their appearance, master and disciple made a study in contrast. Gandhi, clean-shaven with spectacles planted on his nose, looked like Everyman (only uglier), whereas Vinoba sported a long white beard and an absurd black head scarf – he wanted to be a baba, and look like one.”

Well, this baba refused to enter temples that didn’t allow entry to Dalits or people of other religions; this baba did scavenging in a village every day for over an year from 1946. This is the baba of whom Gandhi said, “Every hour of his is scheduled for his work and he would regard it as sacrilege to take a single moment therefrom for writing a shastra (on ahimsa).” This is the baba who chose to walk down to Delhi from Wardha, when the Prime Minister, Nehru, invited him to a discussion with members of the Planning Commission.