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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 41 New Delhi October 3, 2015

A Week to Remember and Learn from Five Pillars of Inspiration

Saturday 3 October 2015, by Bharat Dogra

The week from Sepember 26 to October 2 is a very special one for all those engaged in efforts to build a better India based on justice and equality. This week includes the birth anniversary of Shahid Bhagat Singh (September 28) followed by the birthdays of Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri on October 2. In addition this week we also observe death anniversaries of two of the most inspiring activists of post-indepen-dent India—Shankar Guha Niyogi (September 28) and Kishan Patnaik (September 27).

As we remember all these highly respected leaders, this week may also be a good time to remember that leaders with diverse opinions and sometimes even conflicting views can contribute in their own way to create a better society and should be accepted as such. For Shankar Guha Niyogi, Shahid Bhagat Singh was naturally a major source of inspiration as he was closer to his political views. Nevertheless, Niyogi not only accepted many positive aspects of Mahatma Gandhi but also incorporated these in his programmes of action. In his struggle against heavy mechanisation, for example, he often cited Gandhiji’s views on labour intensive technologies being more in tune with the needs of India.

Kishan Patnaik was very favourably inclined towards Mahatma Gandhi and his work on development alternatives and other ideas. Yet he and his followers in Samajwadi Jan Parishad and other organisations had a lot of respect for Shahid Bhagat Singh and his comrades.

I think that this ability of Niyogi and Patnaik to take what is most useful and inspiring from various leaders for various aspects of the overall agenda of contemporary social change is badly needed today. A disturbing aspect of recent debates has been to play, unnecessarily and without any justification, one national leader against the other. Indeed the level of debate has even sunk so low that various highly respected leaders have been called agents of foreign forces without providing any evidence at all. Such intolerant attitudes will not take us anywhere. We are passing through difficult times and very carefully we need to create an agenda of an alternative path based on justice, equality, environmenet protection, social harmony and peace. In this we should learn from the work and ideas of all those who made genuine contri-bution in these and related areas.

Shahid Bhagat Singh easily wins respect and admiration for his firm faith in justice and his willingness to sacrifice his all for resisting injustice and oppression. He had very clear ideas about creating an alternative society based on equality. Mahatma Gandhi’s firm commit-ment to peace and peaceful resistance as well as his ability to understand several essentials of environment protection at every stage give him a unique position of respect for all those sincerely searching for an alternative model of development today. Lal Bahadur Shastri is fondly remembered by many, many people in India for his combination of simplicity and integrity we so badly miss in our political life today. Shankar Guha Niyogi is remembered as much for his foresight in combining highly committed trade union work with many constructive activities as for the linking of labour struggles with peasants struggles and rural issues. Kishan Patnaik was an inspiration for an entire generation of activists engaged in many grassroot struggles while searching for an alternative path of develop-ment.

While observing their anniversaries, we need to learn to reconcile somewhat different view-points and attitudes of our leaders in such a way that the common heritage of their experiences and work can be protected as a source of help and inspiration for the difficult times ahead.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.