23 September 2021 01:40 PM


S.N.SAHU | 2 APRIL, 2019

‘Mr PM, Gandhi’s Trusteeship Was Directed at Big Business Not Chowkidars Who Guard Wealth’

Amit Shah described Gandhi as a ‘chatur bania’

Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violent approach to attaining freedom, positive social change and a peaceful restructuring of society has been scoffed at by generations of RSS and BJP leaders and their followers.

BJP president Amit Shah distorted Gandhiji's harmoniously blended multiple identities and reduced him to his immediate caste identity by describing him as a ‘chatur Bania’, a cunning person of the Bania castes.

It is shocking that such distortions of Gandhiji are continuing uninhibited, as manifested in the bizarre interpretation of his thoughts and worldview by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said on March 31 that the term chowkidar (watchman, sentry, guard) is rooted in the idea of trusteeship advocated by Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle.

It is rather regrettable and unfortunate that none other than the Prime Minister of India is grossly twisting the noble ideal of trusteeship which is embedded in the philosophy and practice of non-possession and voluntary poverty. The concept of chowkidar has nothing to do with it.

The idea of trusteeship recognises the talent and knowledge of those who generate wealth, and enjoins them to keep for their use a certain amount of the wealth created by the application of their mental prowess or skill – and makes them duty bound to share the rest of the wealth with the larger society, and with those who do not have wealth and other necessities of life.

Trusteeship according to Gandhi entails a sacred responsibility to share power and riches, not to guard someone else’s wealth and property, like chowkidars do when they are employed by those who have assets and property.

The prime minister by saying that the term chowkidar is rooted in the idea of trusteeship, is doing violence to Mahatma Gandhi and his noble and non-violent experiments in unchaining humanity from the bondage of violence, and engaging in social change based on a culture of sharing, reconciliation, understanding and fellowship.

The basis of trusteeship is non-possession, which is the foundational pillar of yoga. Someone who is driven by possessive instincts and accumulative tendencies would be nowhere near the idea of trusteeship. Once, when someone asked Gandhiji if Jamshedji Tata could be cited as an example of trusteeship, he replied that Jamshedji Tata with all his good work in taking care of employees of the Tata company was far from it.

Gandhi then affirmed that if at all anyone could come somewhat close to the idea of trusteeship it was Jamnalal Bajaj, a prominent freedom fighter and businessman who used all his wealth and business skills and acumen for the larger cause of society, leaving only a little for his own use.

Such was the exalted position of Jamnalal Bajaj in the assessment of Gandhiji that such towering entrepreneurs as Tatas could come nowhere near his example as trustees.

In making such a sweeping and superfluous remark, that the term chowkidar is evocative of the spirit of trusteeship advocated by Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister Modi is doing a disservice to his legacy, at a time when the entire country celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of the father of our nation.

It is indeed unbecoming of the prime minister to diminish the rich philosophy of Gandhiji, who looked at trusteeship as an ideal and approach to ensuring economic equality based on the sharing of riches and wealth of those who have the ability to create wealth.

Gandhi wanted the adoption of trusteeship to avoid the conflict between capital and labour which many economists thought was inevitable in a society where the means of production were possessed and owned only by a few, and where there was unwillingness by the owners of the means of production to part with them, and make those who never had them as co-sharers and partners.

Gandhi also stated that trusteeship could not be imposed from above, and its implementation would be a possibility only by mobilising public opinion in its favour, and the eventual enactment of a law for its enforcement. Such an elaborate process for making trusteeship a reality requires public reasoning based on which those possessing talent for creating wealth and those having wealth, property and riches would realise their common stake in sharing their talent and riches, after keeping what is legitimately granted for their own benefit and use.

The idea of trusteeship is thus applicable to those who have riches, wealth and knowhow for the creation of wealth. Not to those who are at the margins of society suffering deprivation and exclusion. The prime minister in juxtaposing chowkidars or hired watchmen with the idea of trusteeship, is grossly distorting Gandhiji's message.

Chowkidars are not the owners of the wealth, rather they are the ones who guard the wealth or riches of the privileged few by taking an unenviable salary. To expect them to share what little they earn with the rest of the society is an affront to them. By invoking the spirit of trusteeship in the context of chowkidars Prime Minister Modi is mocking them, and making their masters, the rich people in society, assume a superior position over the chowkidars.

Such a twisted understanding of trusteeship on the part of the prime minister does grave injustice to the cause of chowkidars.

In his essay ‘My Picture of Free India’ Gandhiji wrote, “The present owners of wealth would have to make their choice between class war and voluntarily converting themselves into trustees of their wealth. They would be allowed to retain the stewardship of their possessions and to use their talent to increase the wealth, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of the nation, and, therefore, without exploitation. The State would regulate the rate of commission which they would get commensurate with the service rendered and its value to society. Their children would inherit the stewardship, only if they proved their fitness for it”.

Mr Prime Minister, please ask the corporates and those who benefit from government policies promoting the cause of crony capitalism to be trustees, and not the humble chowkidars who are employed as guards of those corporates.

Can you bring a law to make corporates as trustees as envisaged by Gandhi? Many of your policies have helped corporates multiply their wealth and cause massive levels of inequality and deprivation in society. It is contrary to the spirit of trusteeship.

For heaven's sake do not distort Mahatma Gandhi's ideas for the sake of seeking votes during your election campaign, in which truth often becomes a casualty because of your habit of peddling falsehoods to appeal to the electorate.

S.N.Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India the late K.R.Narayanan and had a tenure as Director in Prime Minister's Office and Joint Secretary in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat.