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TWO DAYS before the nation celebrates its 70th year of Independence, renowned freedom fighter G G Parikh is preparing for his customary visit to Pune. Old age — Parikh is 92 years and eight-months-old — does not deter the hardcore socialist leader from making the trip to Yusuf Meherally Centre there.
Given his age, the 150-odd km drive will be tedious but the tradition of visiting the Pune centre is important, as the day the country gain Independence, Parikh was in Pune. Sitting in his small two-room apartment on Grant Road, Parikh reminisces the time leading to the day his freedom struggle bore fruit.
“It was the success of a people’s movement. I, like most of the youth of the time, only played a small part in it,” said Parikh. Old age may have diminished his eyesight and ability to hear but Parikh’s knowledge of Gandhian ideology is as sharp as ever. “When we fought for Independence, we believed that once free from the British, power will go to the people. But that did not happen,” he said.
He believes that true freedom comes with the development of rural India. “Our struggle for freedom was meant to emancipate the people on the ground— farmers, small-scale industries and producers,” said Parikh, fondly referred to as G G by friends and family.
It is with this ideology that Parikh established the Yusuf Meherally Study Centre in 1961 in memory of Yusuf Meherally Merchant, a socialist Congress leader and freedom fighter. On the 75th year of the Quit India Movement- dubbed the last nail on the coffin of the British Empire- it is important to note that it was Meherally who coined the term “Quit India”.
The study centre was later expanded to free medical camps in Tara, a tribal village near Panvel. Today, the Yusuf Mehrally Centre has branches across the length and breadth of the country. Tara village has been revolutionised and it has become a self-sufficient ecosystem with thriving small-scale industries.
“The country has made tremendous progress in the manufacturing sector in 70 years but governments have failed to create parallel economies that will benefit rural India,” said Parikh adding that the country’s economic policies needed an overhaul.
“True freedom is achieved when every citizen enjoys equal rights. Unfortunately, the current government doesn’t believe that. It is also afraid of people’s movements. The present situation is similar to that of the Emergency,” said Parikh who had been jailed during that time.
Although Parikh is disheartened by the shape that the nation took post Independence, he has not lost hope.
“Only Gandhi and his principles can help the country now. The youth of today holds promise. They are committed to social causes,” he said.
“The British were the oppressors. Today, there is an effort to change that narrative and depict Mughals as the oppressors. We must fight that and not become complacent. It is time we return to Gandhi’s methods,” said Parikh, who also runs the Janata Weekly. He is an active socialist who spends time managing the Yusuf Mehrally Centre, the weekly and organising socialist seminars.