Veteran Gandhian and Sarvoday leader, Chunibhai Vaidya, died here of old age on Friday. He was 97 and is survived by his adopted daughter — Neeta, son-in-law, Mahadev, and two grandchildren — Modita & Nirad.
Considered to be the face of resistance in Gujarat on people’s issues in general and land issues in particular, Vaidya’s death was condoled by people from the public sphere including the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel and Leader of the Opposition in Gujarat Assembly Shankersinh Vaghela.
Popularly known as Chuni Kaka, Vaidya was a close disciple of Vinoba Bhave— pioneer of Bhudan Movement (landlords donating land for landless)— and Jayprakash Narayan who played a key role in a movement against Emergency in India in 1975.
Native of Sander village in Patan district, Vaidya got his school education from Tata High School in Navsari where his father, Ramjibhai, had settled. After completing his education till Old Matriculation, Vaidya started as a clerk in the Surat Municipal Corporation. Soon he left the job and got involved in the freedom struggle. After independence, Vaidya had become a primary teacher at a school in Malund village of Patan district. He went on to became a principal at the same school.
Later however, under the influence of Vinoba Bhave, Vaidya decided to devote his full time to people’s issues and spreading the message of Bhudan Yatra which was part of the Bhudan Movement. Vaidya was also one of the three leaders who had launched Bhoomiputra, an alternate medium magazine that spread the message of Bhudan Movement and the issues of the under-privileged, from Vadodara. The other two of them include Narayan Desai and Prabodh Choksi. Incidentally, Desai is also critically ill and is admitted at a hospital in Surat.
Vaidya had also gone to Varanasi and Assam under the inspiration of Bhave to carry out Sarvoday activities there. He had spent 12 years in Assam. In 1975, he worked closely with Jay Prakash Narayan against the emergency and was imprisoned for more than six months.
Noted as the leader and sympathiser of the under-priviledged and farmers in particular, Vaidya participated in a number of people’s movements. His association can be seen in any major people’s movement in Gujarat, a significant one being the farmers’ movement against the proposed cement plant of Nirma on an alleged water body in Mahuva of Bhavnagar district. He also successfully led the salt-pan workers in Kutch district in early 1980’s when a Multi-National Company was allotted land by the state government for salt production in the region. Vaidya was also one of the leaders from the civil society who came out openly against 2002 Godhra train carnage and subsequent communal riots in the state.
Vaidya had also been opposing the state government’s policy of establishing Special Investment Regions (SIRs) in the state under the provisions of the Special Investment Region Act. He had also been opposing any move of the state government to take over grazing land from the control of gram panchayats. He was also opposing any move to relax the strict prohibition of liquor in the state. In fact, when Rajasthan government opened a liquor shop in Ratanpur — close to Gujarat border — Vaidya had forced the latter to close the same in 1980’s.
Vaidya, though, was ardent supporter of the Narmada Project of the state government and was seen in opposite side of Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Patkar that fiercely opposed the dam project.
Condolences pour in
Condoling Vaidya’s death, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “I am saddened by the passing away of eminent Gandhian Shri Chunibhai Vaidya. My condolences to his family. May his soul attain eternal peace.”
Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, in a press release, expressed grief while condoling Vaidya’s death.
Senior Congress leader and Leader of the Opposition in Gujarat Assembly, Shankersinh Vaghela, said that Vaidya was a true Gandhian and with him the country had lost a simple person who was carrying the message of Gandhi to the masses.
Ahmed Patel, political advisor of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat, expressed grief over Vaidya’s death and said that with hiss demise Gujarat had lost a true Gandhian who was ready to face any challenge to secure natural resources like water, forest and land. Noted human rights activist Father Cedric Prakash said that Vaidya’s death had ‘left a void’ and that he “will be solely missed by all those who cherish the values of truth, justice, simplicity and liberty”.
AIMMM state president Maulana Habibur Rahman Matadar said that Chuni Kaka’s demise was a great loss for the weaker sections of society and suppressed classes.