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A Life in Full

It was defined by the many battles that L.C. Jain fought

Written by Inder Malhotra | Bhopal |
January 15, 2011 5:13:47 am

The first of the two freedom struggles in his lifetime that L.C. Jain (Lakshmi,to friends) writes about in his book,Civil Disobedience,published posthumously,was for getting rid of the colonial yoke,which succeeded at the memorable midnight hour in mid-August 1947. The other is the struggle for India’s “economic,social and moral freedom”. Shortly before his assassination,the Mahatma had reminded the Congress and the country that this freedom had yet to be achieved. Jain argues,with a mixture of passion and gentle persuasion,that this goal remains a distant dream even 63 years after the tryst with destiny. His credentials to pronounce this verdict are impeccable.

For,this scion of a family of freedom fighters spent his entire adult life in vigorous pursuit of all causes that could promote equity,justice,poverty alleviation,cooperative effort,democratic decentralisation and so on. As a teenager he had taken part in the Quit India movement,sometimes working as a “courier of bombs”. But soon he became a steadfast adherent of Gandhian nonviolence and economic thought. This was to become a beacon of light when,at age 22,he was assigned the task of running Delhi’s Hudson Lines refugee camp at the time of Independence and Partition. The traumatised victims of the largest mass migration in peacetime,in the midst of myriad massacres,were angry,undisciplined and even violent. Through his innate tact and diplomatic skill,young Lakshmi restored calm and orderly functioning without calling in the police.

This was to be his style in the subsequent six decades whether he was organising the cooperative movement and building the capital’s Cottage Industries Emporium; constructing from scratch the town of Faridabad to resettle the “Hindu Pathans” who had fled Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province,now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; putting farmer refugees to work on land in Chhattarpur; taking part in the Bhoodan movement; protesting against huge dams on rivers,or whatever. Before proceeding further,let me declare interest. Jain and I were friends for more than half a century,but this has nothing to do with the content of this review.

Jain’s account of all that he did or was prevented from doing is vivid. It underscores that Jawaharlal Nehru was wholly supportive of all his exciting and constructive initiatives in the early years of Independence. But eventually even the iconic prime minister “could not prevail over his ministerials (sic)”. Ironically,the government’s cooperative department strangulated the cooperative movement,and “Nehru shut out Faridabad — even its great successes — like a bad dream”. Nearly four decades later,after serving on the Planning Commission for two years during V. P. Singh’s premiership,Jain had to tell him that centralised planning had done the country little good. In his words,“power is concentrated in the Bhavans of New Delhi: Yojna Bhavan,Rail Bhavan,Udyog Bhavan,Krishi Bhavan. We have forgotten to build the Janata Bhavan”.

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In 1997,at the behest of the then PM,I.K. Gujral,Jain agreed to go to South Africa as high commissioner. The NDA government inexplicably recalled him in something of a hurry. In 2009,Jain,one of the few surviving Indians associated with the Asian Relations Conference that Nehru hosted in March 1947,wrote a paper for the government on the historic meet. It is one of the fascinating chapters of the book. Another chapter that is both fascinating and moving is on the author’s marriage to Devaki whose Tamil Brahmin parents were resolutely opposed to the match. The civil marriage cost all of Rs 30. Another outstanding chapter consists of his indictment of the Emergency.

Jain’s book is a rich and rewarding read. It should be made compulsory reading for those votaries of globalisation who seem unaware that in Rising India inequalities and iniquities have increased and are increasing.

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