Jamnalal Bajaj

Ravindra Varma

All of us know that Jamnalalji was one of the titans that the national struggle for Independence produced. The struggle itself was unique. It was unique because it was waged by a weapon that had never been used by humanity to struggle for Independence. The excellence of the weapon, the moral excellence of the weapon, the concomitant cathar­sis that was called forth by the weapon was responsible primarily for the fact that the personalities who were at­tracted to take part in the struggle and to lead the struggle were also unique.

I do not think it is necessary to take your time to ask you to run through the illustrious list of our national leaders and the fields from which many of them came. Jamnalalji came from the business community. It is a somewhat risky affair these days when everybody is expected to talk in terms of revolutionary slogans and revolutionary phrases, to pay a tribute to a man coming from the business commun­ity. I am not suggesting that there are no black sheep in the business community, but sometimes it does happen that even when a highly merited tribute is paid, there is a ten­dency to regard that this tribute is being paid for extraneous considerations. This is absolutely untrue and baseless as far as Jamnalalji is concerned. It is a fact that he came from an affluent family and there are prejudices in the minds of the people about those who live in affluence. There is a preju­dice against those who have power of some kind or the other – those who have the power of wealth, those who are able to use their control of one kind of power to acquire other kinds of power. There is a prejudice against those who are believed to have arrived at their positions through unfair means. There is a prejudice against those who have arrived, according to some, by using means of exploitation. There is a prejudice against those who give primacy to material possessions and materialism.

It must be said to the credit of Jamnalalji that his life and message, the transparency with which he implemented the lofty ideals that he accepted were such that he, through his life, through the message of his life, through the penance of his life, overcome all these prejudices and came to be acknowledged as a titan of the freedom struggle in his own merit and was acclaimed by Gandhiji not merely as his ‘fifth son’, but the person who came nearest to his ideal of a trustee.

I shall have more to say about this ideal of trusteeship later but, as has been pointed out, Jamnalalji’s life was a life of sacrifice, renunciation and effort. In this sense, therefore, it could be said that he was truly a unique personality. No other industrialist in this country, I am sorry to say, identi­fied himself with the national struggle for independence, its objectives, its dedication to the common man, its throb for the misery of common man as Jamnalalji did. His com­mitment was total, his identification was total and he wanted to live the life of a common man so that he may understand the pangs of the common man and work for the removal of the misery of the common man by identifying himself with them. He, therefore, gladly faced the risks that came with such a life, when this country was being ruled by the British. He welcomed physical hardships to prove his mettle as well as his dedication to the lofty ideals that Gandhiji placed before the nation. He took the risk of per­secution, life imprisonment and all the likely effects that might have occurred, that did occur in some cases, to his business life.

There is yet another area in which I would say that his personality was unique, that is the fact that he was behind none in his acumen for business. His industriousness, his perspicacity, his acute sense of what leads to success in business, all this was there and was acknowledged and proved in his life. There was no reluctance on his part to pursue the ancestral profession, because he believed that he was pursuing his profession as a part of his dharma – it was at that time called vaishya dharma - often it is referred to in his life and discussions that others have had as vaishya dharma. I am not referring to the caste-aspect of it, but the fact that he looked upon the effort that he made in the economic life of the people in business, in industry, as a part of dharma as his contribution to the life of society, as his contribution to the fulfilment of his duty, to himself, his family and to society. This is what made him a unique personality.

There was no reluctance to follow the ancestral profession. Yet, there was this overwhelming sense of duty – the fact that this was being performed as a duty. This enabled him to arrive at two conclusions which he practised in his life – one was anything that was to be’ pursued as dharma could not be tainted and distorted by adoption of unfair means. No one could pursue any kind of dharma without purity of means, if his dharma to himself, his society, his ancestry and his heritage lay in pursuing business activity. He had to do them through fair means – pure means­fair means is perhaps a feeble word against pure means, that is, in accordance with truth, honesty, compassion and identification with society.

And the second aspect that is attached to dharma is non­attachment. Therefore, Jamnalalji’s concept of his business activity, again, gives proof of his total belief in non-attach­ment, non-attachment to physical goods, possessions and a particular standard of life. If a person is attached to these physical possessions, then of course there is a risk of his resorting to questionable means to accumulate and preserve wealth for compromise.

Jamnalalji’s fearlessness came from the fact that he believed in the fairness of means as well as in non-attachment to material goods. It is this attitude that attracted him to Gand­hiji and it is this attitude, again, which was responsible for his life which was one of incessant, unselfish activity regard­ing it as one’s contribution to society and, at the same time, a means for personal salvation.

This sense of individual and social responsibility, which Jamnalalji had, has come out most clearly in the address which he delivered to the Agrawal Mahasabha in the year 1926. Of course, in that address he did refer to social evils, extravagant living, dissipation amongst the wealthy, the vulgarity of the rich and poverty of the poor – all this and social evils like the purdah system, child marriage, child widows and all that to which my good friend, Ramakrish­naji, referred. But, I would try and draw your attention, particularly, to two aspects of his speech which I regard in that sense as a testament that he has bequeathed and these parts say – “Our complaint against the British is that they took away wealth from our country. A similar charge can be laid against the Marvaris. We should, therefore, look to the interest of the province, region, society, in the midst of which we earn our living and, wherever necessary, we should serve it with all our heart.” Then he says – “there is nothing wrong in trying to earn wealth,” Then he talks I of a lamentable lack of self-esteem and self-confidence, be­cause of fawning on those in authority. And this sentence, again, is worth quoting. “The reasons for our fears and cowardice are our excessive greed. We do not realise the need for seeking sympathy of the common people. We do not even try for it. If we do our business in accordance with our code of ethics, we get respect of the society and the country. The more we are with the people, the less afraid we will be.”

So this is the message of fearlessness which he presented not only to his community but, through his community, to the people of India, in a sense, the world because greed is a common affliction of all humanity. There is no monopoly and I do not think it will come under the MRTP.

Now, let us look at Jamnalalji’s concept of service. It con­sisted in the feeling that service was a duty, an obligation – a social and spiritual obligation. Therefore, it was not rendered for any quid pro quo. It was regarded by him as an instrument of self-realisation in the mundane world as well as in the spiritual world. Therefore, he was not satisfied with charity and philanthropy and that is precisely why he took to trusteeship like a duck taking to water, if I may say so. And that is why Gandhiji referred to him as the only person who came nearest to his ideal of trusteeship. Gand­hiji wrote, “whenever I wrote of wealthy men becoming trustees of their wealth for the common good, I always had this merchant prince principally in mind. If his trusteeship did not reach the ideal, mind you, the fault was not his. I deliberately restrained him. l did not want him in his enthu­siasm to take a single step which, in his cool moments, he might regret.” So Gandhiji himself said that if there was a limit in Jamnalalji’s achivement of the concept of a trustee, it was because of the limitations imposed by Gandhiji him­self.

Mahatma Gandhi was the incarnation of self-introspection. Now to Gandhiji, the concept of trusteeship was crucial in social transformation. It was not confined to power. It even extended to time – the concept of trusteeship. Trusteeship meant, therefore, a dedication of one’s talent to society – active exercise of one’s ability to society. In a return of the minimum to oneself, such an attitude, of course, meant honesty, fearlessness, skills to be used for social causes and not for personal wealth and aggrandisement, and also a rigorous self-introspection, and a sense of equality and dedi­cation to everybody, including the workers.

Jamnalalji accepted Gandhiji’s leadership, my friend re­ferred to it. But I must refer to the fact that though he accepted Gandhiji’s leadership totally, in a sense without question, he was never afraid of differing with Gandhiji. There were two very interesting occasions when he differed with Gandhiji and put down his differences in writing. One was when the Swarajis were allowed in 1924 by Gandhiji to take to Council entry, while other programmes were carried on. And the other is more interesting, that is, when after the 1937 elections the Congress ministries took power, they had to take an oath of loyalty. Now, the Honourable Chief Minister has to take an oath of loyalty to the Constitu­tion. At that time, it was to the Crown of England. Jamnalalji said he could not support this oath of loyalty. Jamnalalji also had his differences with the Sardar and resigned from the Congress Working Committee. Jamnalalji also had for­midable organisatizonal ability and the ability to serve with­out power. An administrator is nothing but a trustee of power and trusteeship supremely applies to politics. The concept of trusteeship is eminently applicable to the field of administration.

The very concept of the State today is being battered by the crucible of history. Hence, administration itself is in a crucible. The old method of coercion is no longer viable. The old methods of regimentation no longer work today as in the Soviet Union. The powers of the State should be returned to voluntary associations. The concept that society can be stamped by law and order, no longer works. Impatience with slowness in achieving social objectives has led to terror­ism. Today, many areas of our country are in the grip of terrorism. A new method is required to cope with terrorism. Terrorists should be deprived of public sympathy. Today, an administrator needs to be a public servant with social responsibility, identification with the people and a sense of trusteeship. All these qualities we saw in Jamnalalji and other great national leaders.


Excerpts from the Inaugural Jamnalal Bajaj Memorial Lecture delivered by Shri Ravindra Varma Founder Chairman, Institute of Gandhian Studies, Wardha on August 9,1991 at HCM Rajasthan State Institute of Public Administration, Jaipur


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