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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 40 September 30, 2023

Mahatma Gandhi Lives On Beyond Institutions I D M Diwakar

Saturday 30 September 2023


The people of India and their governments, irrespective of ideological sheds, remember their beloved leader, the Father of the Nation with gratitude. This is precisely because of the grand legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and its impact on the masses remains so deep that no government in India can afford to ignore it, whether it likes or not, be it a political party with a legacy of Nehru or Savarkar. Even the global community and organisations such as the United Nations Organization (UNO) also acknowledged the lifetime relentless services and contribution of Mahatma Gandhi, a freedom fighter with an alternative vision and path of development to humanity to evolve a Non-violent Society and his impacts and appeal in masses in India and the world even after his assassination. It resolved the 2nd of October, birthday as Non-Violence Day.

Services and experiments of Mahatma Gandhi in the freedom struggle of South Africa and India remained unparalleled, such as services to Boer War victims, experiments of Phoenix Settlement and Tolstoy Farm for cadre building and rehabilitations of cadres family, publication of Indian Opinion, Young India and Harijan to reach masses, Champaran Satyagraha (movement), Civil Disobedience, Dandi March and Quit India Movement to name a few, besides Constructive Programmes and eleven vows for non-violent cadre building process to create non-violent social order. His massive following and appeal in public remained larger even after his assassination by a ‘Hindu Terrorist Group and Ideology’ to which Nathuram Godse was a member. Many institutions, ashrams, memorials and people’s organizations were created to carry out the work started by Mahatma Gandhi during his lifetime even after his assassination to work with and among masses[1] on the idea, vision, and experiments of Mahatma Gandhi, articulated in his seminal contribution, the Hind Swaraj and his writings though out his life for the Experiments of Truth[2] and struggles compiled in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG)[3]. Mahatma Gandhi was evolving every day and his life is a message to humanity. He appealed masses to “absorb whatever appeared good in my life.”[4] These impacted the masses beyond calculation and made Mahatma Gandhi a material force beyond institutions.

The Akhil Bhartiya Sarva Seva Sangh (ABSSS) is one of the largest people’s organizations at the national level among many others. This was established in March 1948 in a conference under the presidentship of the first President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad, in the presence of great national leaders of the country, such as the then Prime Minister of India, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Aacharya Kriplani, Vinoba Bhave, Jaiprakash Narayan, J C Kumarappa, besides many other leaders. The basic objectives of establishing ABSSS are to work for such a society, which would be based on truth and non-violence, where lives are animated with human and democratic values, free from exploitation, repression, immoral and injustice, and has sufficient opportunities for development of comprehensive human personality. In order to achieve this objective, ABSSS will be completely away from competition to achieve State Power. It will endeavor to establish and in development of such a democracy, which is not based on party politics, rather it will work for power-neutral public policy. It will not accept any discrimination in society based on caste, creed, sect, commune, color, gender, language, country, etc. it will make efforts to develop such a life system, in which equality and partnership will grow continuously, class is resolved, conflicts of capital and labour should be removed, khadi and agriculture-industry, animal husbandry should be main source of livelihoods under decentralized economy. Sangh will arouse sublime consciousness of peace, love, friendship, compassion and justice through its programmes. Maintaining the decorum of non-violence, Sangh will create people’s power and carry experiment of Constructive Programmes and Satyagraha for the success of Sarvodaya through Total Revolution, as and when needed.” [5]

The ABSSS head quarter campus is spread over 13 acres of land. On the initiatives of late Lal Bahadur Shastri, this land, which the Railway purchased from Defense in 1941[6], was purchased by ABSSS on payment, from the President, Union of India, through the registered sale deed executed by the Divisional Engineer, Northern Railway, Lucknow, in three phases, i.e., in 1960 (8.7 acres) [7], 1961 (1.2 acres) [8] and 1970 (2.99 acres) [9] to work for Gandhian principles, values, and programmes towards building a harmonious society based on truth and non-violence. The ABSSS made payment of Rs. 26730, Rs.3240 and Rs.4485 respectively through treasury challans number 171, dated May 5, 1959, challan number 31 dated 27.04.1961 and challan number 3, 18.01.1968 respectively of State Bank of India, Varanasi. The ABSSS has been working with people towards its objective despite many odds.

Bhoodan (land gift) Movement has been one of the most important social mobilizations, that worked in reducing one of the most complicated social and institutional conflicts related to landlessness and inequality in land distribution in India to some extent under the leadership of Acharya Vinoba Bhave. He started this Bhoodan Movement on 18th April,1951 at Pochampalli in Telangna. This initiative of Bhoodan was adopted by the ABSSS in its conference at Sevapuri in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and later this movement was expanded to Gramdan (village gift) on 24th April in 1952. The ABSSS could mobilize 41,838,624 acres land out of which 1,879,576 acres were distributed among 9,65,368 families. Recorded Gramdan villages by 1969 were 1, 40, 000 out of which 13059 villages were verified under Pushhti campaign. About 1031 block were brought under Prakhanddan and 31 districts were listed in Ziladan by 1969.[10] This was the second largest land mobilization next to Government initiatives for land reforms.

In order to establish links between Social Movements and Social Science, Lok Nayak Jay Prakash Narayan (JP) with many other Gandhians, such as, Shankar Rao Dev and Arya Nayakam, established a social science research institute, the Gandhian Institute of Studies (GIS) in 1959. JP was of the view that if this experiment succeeds, it will have ‘incalculable value’. Basic objectives outlined for the GIS were “to help in the development of knowledge regarding human and social evolution leading to the growth of a balanced social life and world human relationship based on love and cooperation and to help in the application of this knowledge to the development of Indian society” besides many others, such as to study the problems of India and national development, to keep in touch with social movements, persons and organizations, which are engaged in constructive works, social movements, experiments and “collaborate with them in evolving a world social order based on Truth and Non-Violence.” [11]

The ABSSS has provided 5 acres of land to the GIS on perpetual lease at this campus and Uttar Pradesh Gandhi Smarak Nidhi (UPGSN) provided funds for the construction of buildings for the functioning of the GIS. The GIS has many success stories and achievements including the surrender of Dacoits of Chambal Valley and the JP Movement in 1974 to restore democracy against emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister of India. This Institute has a grand legacy of great social scientists including E F Schumaker, Amlan Dutta, Sugat Das Gupta, and Gandhian activists, such as, Usha Mehta, Thakurdas Bang, Siddhraj Dhaddha, Aacharya Ramamurti, Manmohan Chowdhary, and many others. The GIS started working well. Later Government of India through Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) and Government of Uttar Pradesh through its Planning and Development Department extended financial support (Plan and Non-Plan Grants) to GIS to carry out functioning of this Institute and its research and training activities. The author had also worked as a faculty member at this Institute for about ten years from 1992 to 2002.

The GIS was functioning well. It carried out many research projects sponsored by the Government of UP and Government of India through their various departments. The GIS was also publishing two well-received journals, namely Gandhian Perspectives (English) and Gandhi Vichar (Hindi) quarterly. These journals could bring many reputed national and international journals in exchange. However, ‘Sleeping Cells’ of the Godse (i.e., a notorious terrorist and assassinator of body and thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi) became openly active and started working against the spirit of GIS in the 1990s, when the Babri Mosque was demolished. Then, people could realize that anti Gandhian elements had already got regular senior faculty positions at GIS. Needless to emphasize that Gandhian workers are large-hearted and work with everyone without any sense of prejudice and animosity. They firmly believe in the goodness of an individual and the possibility of the change of the hearts of those, who are not necessarily Gandhian in thought and actions. They could hardly anticipate the sinister design of the ‘sleeping cells’ against Gandhian Institution. Or, one may say that they practice Gandhian principles of ‘Goodness of Man’ despite knowing the risks of damage that could be done by those ‘sleeping cell’(s).

The corporate friends of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in power in the Centre as well as in the state of UP had an eye on the real-estate of AISSS including GIS. Firstly, they tried to get entry of ‘sleeping cells’ in the Faculty and Management and got a few faculty members appointed. A few senior members of ABSSS were also having soft corners to those faculty members, as Gandhians hardly practice animosity to anyone. Therefore, they protected ‘sleeping cells’ and thereby corporate interests, knowingly or unknowingly. They could realize their limitations only when the Institute was brought to unwarranted controversy on flimsy ground of financial irregularity by the ‘sleeping cells’, who were injected very silently under grand design. They approached systematically to Registrar, Society Registration, Varanasi, with fabricated facts to create controversy. Instead of carrying out proper enquiry the Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister through the ICSSR and the Government of UP through the Planning and Development Department stopped its grant from 1999-2000 on the ground of a Registration dispute created by the Government of Uttar Pradesh, as the then Planning Minister of BJP led state government took interest to make it controversial and registration was not renewed. The GIS approached to High Court of Allahabad for relief. That case was still pending but the court gave a direction to reconstitute a Board of Governors by the Government of Uttar Pradesh, which was waiting with scripted design to keep the GIS almost defunct towards closure. Accordingly, the government of UP seized the Institute and appointed a receiver, and finally, the Institute was locked and sealed despite many initiatives and appeals to run the GIS and save the library of GIS, which had rare collections of original volumes of India Opinion, Young India, and Harizan edited by Mahatma Gandhi himself in South Africa and India and collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, besides celebrated rare collections of books of eminent authors and journals of national and international repute. It appears that it was designed to destroy the GIS and its library. The GIS remained locked and books and journals were stolen by breaking the back walls of the buildings, in the custody of the Government of UP.

Its employees were brought to a starving situation of hand to mouth. Faculty members of the GIS left the institute one by one, as and when they got an opportunity in other organizations. However, the situation of other employees in administration, such as peons, night guards, sweepers, and other supporting staff in office and library was more alarming. They had to withdraw their children from school and were forced to do some manual labour for their survival and to meet their emergency health expenditure. Still, they stayed in the campus with the expectation that the GIS would be restored. Many died for want of medicine and health care, but their family still had some hope for a revival of the GIS.

Meanwhile, the GIS started working in a camp office in the premises of the ABSSS. The GIS approached Tata Dorabji Trust (TDT) with a modest proposal and the TDT came forward despite odd winds to help the GIS financially for a few years too. The ABSSS wrote to the Commissioner of Varanasi many times to hand over the charges of functioning of the GIS to the ABSSS so that library with rare collections could be saved. But it remained unheard by the office of Commissioner, who were directed and entrusted to run the GIS by the High Court of Allahabad. The main building of GIS remained locked and sealed from 2007 to May 14, 2023.

District Varanasi captured a part of land of the ABSSS on December 2, 2020 for the purpose of Kashi Corridor. The work of Kashi Corridor was finished, still the district administration did not vacate the campus. In other words, it was the first attempt to capture the land of the ABSSS in the name of the Kashi Corridor. Suddenly on January 18, 2023 Commissioner of Varanasi came to GIS campus again. The ABSSS received a letter no. ROV/ 2922-26/2022-23 dated 25.02.2023 from Regional Higher Education Officer Varanasi, in which a meeting of a committee under the chairmanship of Commissioner, Varanasi, constituted by the Higher Education Department under sub-section 4 vide letter no 1266/70-4-2016 (1A)/2007 dated 16.09.2016 was convened on request of Regional Director, Regional Centre of Indira Gandhi Centre of Arts (RCIGA), Varanasi to hand over GIS campus to RCIGA. Needless to say that ABSSS had neither received any such request from RCIGA nor it was made available by the Commissioner, Varanasi too. Shri Ramdhiraj, local representative of AISSS was present in the meeting. According to him, no decision to hand over the campus was taken in the meeting in reference. The ABSSS did not find this so-called proposal justified. As a result, subsequently, Mr. Chandanpal, President of the ABSSS and Mr. Sheikh Hussain, Managing Trustee jointly wrote a letter no. 1250/2022-23 dated 28.02.2023 to the Commissioner Varanasi, appealing that the said committee in reference was constituted to run the GIS properly instead of transferring land and building to RCIGA. Moreover, a writ petition regarding dispute of GIS is pending before the High Court of Allahabad. Therefore, any decision on sub-judice matter is not possible without consent of the ABSSS and UPGSN and until the writ is disposed off. Moreover, there is a laid down procedure about the dissolution of the GIS and disposal of asset of GIS in its bi-laws. Accordingly, the GIS should be dissolved by the resolution of two third majority and properties and assets should be distributed as follows: “ (i) all the properties purchased or constructed by the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, existing at the time of dissolution, shall be returned to the Nidhi.” (ii) All the assets created with the financial assistance of the ICSSR and Government of Uttar Pradesh shall vest in Government of India (ICSSR) and Government of Uttar Pradesh. (iii) All other properties and assets will be retuned to Akhil Bhartiya Sarva Seva Sangh.”[11] In view of the above facts, move to hand over the land and building to RCIGA is neither proper nor justified. However, it remained unheard.

On May 16, 2023 Hon. High Court of Allahabad has disposed of a Civil Writ 29975/2007 directing District Magistrate to “examine the relevant records and reach to a conclusion regarding ownership of the land.” The SSS submitted details of its evidence with altogether 18 annexures related to ownership of land including sale deeds. Suddenly on May 18, 2023, District Magistrate, Varanasi came to GIS campus with a large number of Police Force along with officers of RCIGA to ensure possession of the land and building of GIS to RCIGA by the order of Commissioner Varanasi. However, no such order was served to ABSSS. District Magistrate ignored all these documents and took a decision on 26.06.2023 in favour of Railway. The ABSSS challenged the direction of High Court and decision of District Magistrate in the Supreme Court of India (case no. 16091/2023) pleading that District Magistrate is not an appropriate authority to decide the dispute of the tittle of the ownership of the immovable property. It should be decided by the competent civil court[12]. However, it did not challenge the direction of High Court in the High Court. The ABSSS has also filed a petition 522/2023 which is pending before the Civil Court, Varanasi. The Supreme Court dismissed the Writ Petition. District Civil Court is yet to hear the matter.

Unsigned notice of District Magistrate of Varanasi was pasted on the wall of building and served to resident workers to vacate on June 27, 2023. Campus building were vacated by force without any proper order from any competent judicial directions. On August 12, 2023 8 bulldozers were brought with adequate force and buildings were bulldozed and demolished despite protests to show the proper orders. Ten protesters were attested to custody till evening.

The action of demolition of ABSSS buildings and throwing out publications in an open air in rainy season by the BJP led Central Government was unbelievable and a recall of a bad memory of destruction of Nalanda Mahavihar (an international university of Buddhism) in the 12th century AD by invader Bakhtiar Khilji. Resident Gandhian Social Workers were dispossessed and dislodged from the buildings forcefully by deploying police force on August 12, 2023. Books, journals and other manuscripts were thrown out on the road in the open sky in the rainy season. Families of workers, who were residing in the campus were forcefully dislodged and their belongings were thrown out from the building. Publication office and other buildings were bulldozed and demolished without any proper order from competent court. This did not happen even during emergency in 1974, when this was one of the main centres of struggle against Congress Government at the Centre during Indira Gandhi regime.

Series of democratic protests and agitations by Gandhian workers and lovers of Gandhi from the civil society are going on throughout the country but the government did not wait for concluding decision of the competent court. Surprisingly, the advocate on Behalf of the District Magistrate submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court that ABSSS could not produce any sale deeds. On the contrary ABSSS claims that it has submitted all the three sale deeds along with other annexures. Moreover, sale deeds of ABSSS is uploaded in social media also. Therefore, it is hard to believe that ABSSS has not produced sale deeds to the office of District Magistrate. It appears that the District Magistrate and Commissioner Varanasi were in hest to oblige the beneficiary at the cost of democracy.

The irony of this central government is that it has to respect and carry Gandhi’s legacy on the international and national platforms, whether it likes it or not. This government has defaced Sabarmati Ashram and bulldozed ABSSS illegally and undemocratically. It only wants to keep Gandhi Samadhi at Rajghat as a monumental place to use it for claiming legacy to befool others. But they should remember that Mahatma Gandhi lives in the hearts and minds of the masses beyond institutions, which cannot be demolished. Mahatma Gandhi lives long beyond the institution.

(Author: D M Diwakar, Former Director, A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, and former faculty member, Gandhian Institute of Studies, presently associated with Development Research Institute, Jalsain 847411, email id: dmdiwakar[at]


[1] Diwakar, D M (2001): Non-Violent Social Mobilization and Social Reconstruction, Gandhi Marg, Vol. 23, No.1, pp.64-86.

[2] Gandhi, M.K., (1927): An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth:, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad.

[3] The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi.

[4] Diwakar, D.M., (2018): Gandhi 150: Absorb whatever appears good in my life”, Mainstream, Vol.56, No. 41, pp.20-26.

[5] Bi-Laws of Sarva Seva Sangh, 1948.

[6] The Supreme Court of India, Item No. 62, Court No. 9, Section 11, Petition for Special Leave Appeal (c) no. 16091/2023 Akhil Bhartiya Sarv Seva Sangh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh and Others.

[7] Sale deed dated 15.05.1960

[8] Sale deed dated 09.05.1961

[9] Sale deed dated 20.05.1970

[10] Chandra, Nirmal (1997): Bhoomi Samasya aur Bhoodan, Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi, p.98.

[11] Memorandum of Associations and Rules (Amended up to 2005), Gandhian Institute of Studies, Rajghat, Varanasi.

[12] Ibid, p.15.

[13] The Supreme Court of India, Item No. 62, Court No. 9, Section 11, Petition for Special Leave Appeal (c) no. 16091/2023 Akhil Bhartiya Sarv Seva Sangh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh and Others.

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