Vishwanath Khanna, 104, who used to attend Mahatma Gandhi’s prayer meetings as a young freedom fighter, is ready to go to jail again or “take a bullet from the police”.
Academic Anand Kumar, 75, who had in the mid-1970s worked closely with Jayaprakash Narayan, is again gearing to “mobilise the entire country” against the government of the day.
Over 150 Gandhians from across India have gathered at the Sarva Seva Sangh — a Gandhian social service organisation in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency — to protest against his government’s efforts to “kill Gandhi again”.
The Gandhians in Varanasi Sourced by The Telegraph
More specifically, they want to launch a nationwide movement against the Centre’s alleged bid to take over the Gandhi Vidya Sansthan, an institute on the Sarva Seva Sangh’s premises that holds classes on Gandhian philosophy and was co-founded by JP.
On Monday, at the end of a two-day meeting, the Gandhians announced plans for countrywide meetings, marches and dharnas. A resolution said the government’s alleged move to hand over the Sansthan, along with its building and 2.5-acre plot, to the Union government’s Indira Gandhi National Centre of Art (IGNCA) was illegal and an insult to Gandhi and JP.
The Uttar Pradesh government had last month allegedly taken over the Sansthan, with officials saying it would be handed over to the IGNCA. On a plea from the Sarva Seva Sangh, Allahabad High Court later asked the Varanasi district administration to return to the Sangh the property on which the Sansthan stands if the documents submitted by the petitioner proved its ownership claim.
“We have planned three months of non-violent protests and marches to prevent the government from encroaching on the Sansthan,” 75-year-old Kumar, professor emeritus at the Gandhian School of Democracy and Socialism, ITM University, Gwalior, told The Telegraph over the phone from Varanasi.
Kumar, a former sociology professor at JNU, added: “I had, as the then student union president at JNU, been a companion of JP for a few years from 1974 and mobilised youths against the misrule at that time. Now, in my 70s, I shall mobilise the entire country against the Narendra Modi government’s conspiracy to dilute Gandhian studies.”
Kumar said a convention would be held in Delhi on June 17 and another in Varanasi on August 9-10 to bringmore Gandhians on the platform. In between, a meeting will be held in Lucknow in mid-July.
Sugan Baranth, a 75-year-old Gandhian from Nagpur, said: “Besides other programmes, our teams will make door-to-door visits in Varanasi for the next three months to make the people aware of the BJP government’s designs to kill Gandhi again.”
Khanna, the 104-year-old freedom fighter, a resident of Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh who was jailed for two years from 1942 during the Quit Indian Movement, said in his speech at the meeting that he would “happily be in jail or receive a bullet from the police while protesting against the (Sansthan) takeover”.
“It’s impossible for me and others like me to watch silently as the Modi government continues its dictatorial moves to dilute a Gandhian institute,” Khanna said.
“The legacy of Gandhi-Vinoba-JP cannot be destroyed before destroying all those who still believe in theirideals. We have to sit on dharnas and hold processions to tell the government that it is going against the country and its ideals.”
Both Kumar and Baranth, an MBBS doctor who had left the profession 45 years ago to take up social service, hit out at the BJP.
“The Gandhian centres in places such as Sabarmati, Sewagram, Rajghat and Varanasi are pilgrimage centres for us but this government is trying to capture them under some pretext or the other to finally destroy the Gandhian ideology,” Baranth said.
“The government has forcibly captured the Sansthan and will eventually take over the Sarva Seva Sangh too. This is not acceptable. We will start an extensive public awareness programme in Varanasi and across the country.”
Kumar said: “We are trying to bring all non-BJP groups into our movement.”
The 61-year-old Sansthan, dedicated to the ideals of Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, provides lessons to all on Gandhian philosophy, runs an informal school for children and brings out some publications. It is run by the Sarva Seva Sangh.
On May 16, police allegedly barged into the Sangh compound, broke the locks of the Sansthan and handed it over to a civil contractor for repairs.
Ram Dhiraj, head of the Sarva Seva Sangh, said: “We have submitted all the documents with the local administration to prove our right over the Sansthan and its properties, but they are under pressure from the government to grab the property. We handed over a memorandum to the divisional commissioner’s office on Monday, requesting him not to play politics with Gandhi and JP.”
Abhijit Dixit, regional director of the IGNCA, had told this newspaper last month that his centre was trying to strengthen institutes like the Sansthan at the behest of the Union cultural ministry.
“We are not taking over the glorious institute; we want to take care of it because it has rare books. We are into research and publication and want to revive the institute. The IGNCA is already looking after two similar institutes in Varanasi,” Dixit had said.
Kaushal Raj Sharma, the Varanasi divisional commissioner whose orders the police had cited while taking over the Sansthan on May 16, has said he would follow the rules and ensure that injustice is not done to anyone.