February 21, 2020
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Gandhi, Second Coming

Not averse to modern tools, the activists only seek a return to the basic human ideals absent in the age of consumerism.

Gandhi, Second Coming
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The idea germinated in Sevagram itself. Hence, it is called the Sevagram Initiative. The Sarva Seva Sangh workers went three months ago to a village near Sevagram to assess the political climate. To their horror, they found that the villagers had decided not to vote for anyone because it was the same old exercise over which they had gone many a time without any improvement in their lives or environments. Roads remained broken and drinking water wells distant. There was no healthcare. A high school, which they had demanded from all the candidates who sought their vote, was not even on paper.

A feedback from some other parts of India was no different. Some activists from Madhya Pradesh, including a few connected with the Narmada Bachao Andolan and a couple from B.D. Sharma's Bastar outfit, were also in Sevagram those days. They confirmed the feeling of helplessness among the people. From whichever point the discussion started, it ended with the conviction that social movements would meander into the wilderness if the law-makers remained so absolutely indifferent. For decades, the activists had tried to influence policies and programmes from outside the legislatures and Parliament but had reached nowhere. The consensus which evolved was that they should not be mere spectators but intervene politically.

In early August, about 100 activists—not from Mahatma Gandhi's ashram—met at Sevagram for two days to hark back to the values of secularism, simplicity and selflessness that Gandhiji represented. The invitation to the meeting reminded "those who give importance to the interests of the country" that members in the Lok Sabha had engaged themselves far too long "in an unseemly power struggle". Among the participants were activists of social movements, Gandhians, members of Parliament, academicians, lawyers, former military officers and leaders of the Sarva Seva Sangh.

The burden of the speeches at the meeting was that today's politics of power posed a danger to democracy as well as the country. They felt people were losing faith in present political parties, their leaders and in the electoral process itself. The participants did realise that they were late to enter the electoral field. Still, they decided to create the platform where individuals and those involved in social movements could assemble to fight elections from the places they could. They would put up People's Candidates, selected by the voters in the areas where the activists had worked all their life.

Four candidates have been fielded: three for the Lok Sabha and one for the assembly, after going through the process of consultation. For example, the candidate from Wardha for the Maharashtra assembly was selected by holding 'primaries' at all places in the constituency. The persons chosen, in turn, elected a medical practitioner. He has the required qualifications: "impeccable character, having a background of selfless service to people".

The political formation has not been given any name yet. There will be a bigger convention in December, inviting representatives of social movements throughout the country. The agenda is, however, clear: a new order based on justice and equality, something that Gandhiji had dreamt about. It is intended to be egalitarian, devoid of the spirit of consumerism that is rapidly spreading in the country. The emphasis will be on individual activists who feel that real social progress will come only when an opportunity is given to the individual to develop, provided 'the individual' is not the face of a selected group but of the whole community. The touchstone will be how far any political or social theory has enabled the individual to rise above his petty self and think in terms of the common weal.

The society the activists have in view is one where people will live in small face-to-face communities that are autonomous and self-reliant to the optimum extent. Their economy will be based on "affection and service" where there will be no competition. "The good of the individual will be included in the good of all," says the paper released after the meet at Sevagram.

In Bastar, the idea of "hamara gaon, hamara raj (our village, our rule)" has already caught the imagination of the tribals. This will be duplicated so that political and economic powers to order their affairs remain at the grassroots, with no interference from above. Every step taken will be for decentralising power. This will help people to draw up their own development plans with the fundamental objective of providing full employment to every able-bodied person in the community. There will be a mechanism for the resolution of disputes and dispensation of justice at the lowest level.

The Sevagram Initiative has expressed itself strongly against the new economic policy of globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation, which has "destroyed the livelihood of at least 20 million people". More and more people are being pushed to the brink of starvation, they believe. The initiative is not against utilising modern methods per se but against consumerism.

While employing new techniques and sources of power which science has placed at the disposal of the society, the activists do not want to establish a set-up which forgets the basic human elements and the fact that the objective is individual improvement and the lessening of inequalities. They believe that India must not forget the ethical and spiritual aspects of life which are ultimately basic to culture and civilisation and which have given some meaning to life.

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