Did Gandhiji go wrong?

TOOTHPASTE-manufacturers, the world over, have been pouring their millions into advertisements trying to convince consumers that a smile is all about sparkling white teeth and little else. But then a toothless smile, of our Chief Guest that day, Jayadevappa Duggani by name, was better than any of those much-hyped branded smiles. This crossed my mind, while watching this old man in his 80s, who seemed to have some difficulty with his new set of dentures, and in the course of delivering his speech he had, at one stage, absently removed them, to firmly hold them clasped in his left hand. The occasion was Independence Day celebrations -1986

The only available details about this personality at my office [Bank of India, Mugutkhan Hubli Branch] were, three of his family members – himself, wife and their eldest daughter- all three of them were recipients of Taamra Patra from the government, in recognition of their role in freedom struggle. It was also learnt that he had not only met Mahatma Gandhi on a few occasions but the latter knew him personally as well!

Lucid & Interesting

His speech was quite lucid, that enabled us to get a peep into the pre-independence era. What struck me was his being so very different from the freedom fighters I had till then, come across, in the sense, he was not an active politician. On the other hand, he had retired as Head Master of Kittur High School. But why? Just what may have prevented him from doing that? I was curious to know. In fact, I wanted to know much more about this great man, if possible in a tête-à-tête.

The old man was already very tired, having traveled all the way from distant Kittur by bus but fortunately now, one of the guests who was bound for Dharwar, volunteered to drop the old man on his way, at Kittur; that meant my dream of an interview was a wash out! I therefore decided to ask him only one question, “Duggani-avare, how come you didn’t enter active politics?”

The answer was simple yet so very surprising. “As soon as freedom had become a matter of certainty, Gandhiji told us that the struggle was over; and that we ought to go back to our respective vocations…”

Wind up

The moment, it had become a matter of certainty that our country would get its independence, Mahatma Gandhi conveyed his wishes to Jawaharlal Nehru and others that the Congress Party ought to be wound up! And also wished that all volunteers ought to go back to their respective homes and get back to work. Jayadevappa Duggani, as a true Gandhian, Gandhiji’s word was for him, veda-vakya itself! So he left.

Now this left me wondering, ‘Who knows, how many more such Jayadevappa Dugganis had likewise instantly obeyed Gandhiji’s word and gone back to their respective vocations? Perhaps, for once, Bapuji had gone wrong in giving that call. This, coming as it did, at a time, when young independent India, was just about attempting to rise on its young feet, when shortfall of honest and sincere leaders on the supply side, was predictably acute, this directive of the Mahatma may have had the effect of pulling the rug from under the feet of Jawaharlal Nehru who was about to take over as the country’s first Prime Minister.

Tracking down

In reality, these are the leaders who alone deserve to be called Gandhians! They not only refrained from staking claim to any political spoils, but also to this day, don’t seem to have any regrets! Of course, a bulk of those volunteers may have by now, already died unsung, un-mourned; a life-long sacrifice for the cause of the country’s freedom notwithstanding!

After my transfer back to Bangalore in 1989, whatever transpired, while attempting to get an update on Jayadavappa Duggani, deserves special mention in this write-up.

I got in touch with my contacts at one of the leading English dailies, desirous of an update on the Dugganis when I was shocked to learn that they have nothing on record about them! They were, however, helpful in directing me to Nava Karnataka Publications who in turn directed me to N. R. Mathad, the Secretary of the Freedom Fighters’ Association, saying that he may be able to help. Of course, Sri NR Mathad did his best; the fact, he knew the Dugganis personally as also their contribution to the freedom struggle, was also somewhat heartening, all the same, he had his own limitations, having lost touch with them for over a decade.

Finally when he learnt that all I wanted to know about Jayadevappa Dugani was whether he is alive or not, he assured me that nine out of ten chances are that he is already dead and that I may proceed on that premise; hence the past tense used, in referring to him.

According to a few freedom fighters who had called on Sri NR Mathad, at his office, many genuine freedom fighters had not been getting pension at all! When probed further, it was learnt that much time had already been lost before the decision for payment of pension was taken, during which time many a freedom fighter had breathed his last too. But of those who were surviving also, only such of those brazen enough to put up with the bureaucratic red-tape coupled with unabashed corruption on the part of officials entrusted with the task of receiving & processing of the applications, could finally manage to get the pension! While on this topic a somewhat interesting topic came to light too, as follows:

The second world-war had brought about a sea-change in the fortunes of many a businessman. Black-marketing & Hoarding in essential commodities had been the most flourishing business during this period! Of course, the guilty were being caught and punished with a jail term as well; even so, the activity was so profitable as to make the risk worth taking, for any daring individual prepared to shed his scruples!

Membership Drive undertaken by Congress party

This is when the Congress party organized a Membership Drive in order to enhance its membership base at the ground level. The need for enrolling fresh members throughout the country was felt to be so immense, as to be incapable of being over-emphasized. Consequently, performance by each centre was adjudged in terms of, number of new members enrolled!

Under the circumstances, a kind of Mela-approach may have had to be adopted for enrolling fresh members, the over-arching guiding principle always being ‘The More, The Merrier!’

In the course of processing those applications, those who had served a jail-term were favourably weighted! Finer details, such as, reason why he/she was jailed, ie., for participating in freedom struggle OR engaging in Black-marketing & Hoarding etc., was conveniently ignored! And most importantly these names were to form part of the data-bank for the future as well.

After over a decade, when the list of freedom-fighters eligible for pension was being finalized in order to ascertain the number of candidates entitled for it as also the quantum, the exercise was ab initio beleaguered on the one hand by elected leaders and on the other by the aforesaid data-bank; so much so, that whereas many a genuine freedom fighter was left high and dry, it was also true that no undeserving candidate with the right contacts was ignored!

Perhaps for once, Bapuji had gone wrong in giving that call. At a time when an acute shortage of honest and sincere leaders was being experienced, this directive of the Mahatma might have amounted to pulling the rug from under the new regime headed by Jawaharlal Nehru.

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