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Gandhian values a panacea, says Gopinathan Nair

Prachi Pinglay

"Mahatma said the lowest stratum has to be uplifted first. It has not been done"

  • An advocate of Gram Swaraj
  • Refers to the absence of dignity of labour

    Gopinathan Nair

    MUMBAI: He reverts to Mahatma Gandhi for a solution to most problems. He attributes them to the lack of Gandhian values. Speaking to The Hindu here on Saturday, P. Gopinathan Nair (84), who was awarded the Jamnalal Bajaj Award for an outstanding contribution in the field of constructive work, stressed the need to follow Gandhian principles.

    For someone who has followed the country's fortunes since independence, Mr. Nair finds the current situation disappointing. "Mahatma Gandhi had said that the lowest stratum of society has to be uplifted first. He said it was urgent. But until now, this has not been done. There were programmes, but the first preference was given to the development of upper class and middle class. As a result, disparity has only increased. The basic problem is not solved because it was not taken up at all."

    Mismanaged democracy

    Disappointed with party politics and a mismanaged democracy, Mr. Nair advocates Gram Swaraj or village self-rule, implying decentralisation.

    "How can one person represent lakhs of people in one constituency and be sent to Parliament to take decisions? How can he represent all those people? He does not even know them! This idea of democracy is not correct. Hundreds of years ago, the villages used to take care of themselves. It was working fine."

    What does he think of the changes in his home State Kerala, which is a politically aware region and known for its high literacy rate?"It is all a notion that certain parties are growing stronger. Some are more organised. But there is no such thing as RSS gaining a stronghold in certain parts of Kerala."

    Increasing unemployment is a major problem, says Mr. Nair. "It is a densely populated State and many are educated. So they will not do menial work and there are not so many jobs. You will find Keralite nurses all over India and even abroad."

    Referring to the obsession with white-collar jobs and the absence of dignity of labour, he says the discriminatory Indian value system is responsible for people believing that certain jobs are menial. "That is why Gandhi used to do everything, even cleaning his latrine himself. That is what he wanted to convey. In his ashram also, everyone had to interchange roles, be it cleaning, cooking, and teaching. Everybody did everything."

    Though he identifies the lack of political will as a major failure and challenge, it is growing "consumerism" that bothers Mr. Nair the most. "These days, if you see, there are advertisements everywhere.

    You may not need anything but when you see the advertisement you feel it is most important for me to have that particular thing.

    There is no end to wanting. Even if you do not desire something, your neighbours will acquire something and you will be forced to acquire it too. Because of this, man is exploiting nature, be it oil, be it metals, everything! He is ruining the environment for things that he does not need. If it continues like this, the world will flounder, as man is not leaving behind anything for future generations."

    Not surprisingly, Mr. Nair puts before you the example of self-restraint, which he has practised all his life. Though he is a reluctant witness to its fast disappearance from contemporary Indian life, he has not abandoned hope.

    "Man has to choose. He can continue to be a consumerist or he can practise self-restraint, which was the basis of Indian civilisation."

    A staunch Gandhian, Mr. Nair has worked all over India since the Quit India Movement. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, Mr. Nair has worked for over six decades on social, development-related issues including Gramdan, Bhoodan (giving up land) and cow protection.

    His Shanti Sena work, to establish peace in areas prone to communal tension, has taken him to Ayodhya, Tellichery, Kuttanad, Kozhikode as well as Punjab and West Bengal.

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