For the record, ‘Civil Disobedience’ is an account of Lakshmi Chand Jain’s own life told through his vivid memory, series of interviews recorded by Nehru Memorial Museum and Library as part of their video/oral history project and his son Sreenivasan Jain, a television journalist.
The book traverses various landscapes capturing the joys of L C’s childhood, romance and ideals of his youth and the political events and legends he happened to watch from proximity in seven decades spanning from 1940 to 2010. Since the author’s father Milap Chand Jain, mother Chameli Devi and he himself were headlong into India’s freedom struggle, it retraces scenes from several major events including Quit India Movement, independence and partition, which in some way or the other shaped the destiny of present India.
More than that, it refers to the second freedom struggle, which was and is being fought for rural cooperatives, agriculture credit, institutions of self-governance, handicrafts, land redistribution, deprivation, inequality, poverty and social justice, the idioms associated with creating a new social order. It strongly advocates for devolution of power from the Bhawans in New Delhi – Yojana, Krishi, Udyog and Rail etc– to common man.
Split into thirteen chapters and an epilogue on love marriage of the author with development economist Devaki Jain, the book opens with Lakshmi, son of the then Delhi Congress Chief, acting as a bomb courier and a messenger between political prisoners. It poignantly sketches the turbulence and flood of refugees the partition brought about in its wake.
The book talks about how farmhouse culture and political apathy put paid to cooperative farming Jain and his Indian Cooperative Union (ICU) had so enthusiastically nourished in Chattarpur, a village on the outskirts of South Delhi, by introducing shared agriculture among the refugees. “By the 70s, the farm house phenomenon had escalated in Delhi. The small farmers were offered huge amounts of money to sell to big real estate operators who bought large chunks of land and sold to non-agriculturists in Delhi for building large farm houses…. One of the first experiments of cooperative farming in Independent India became the playground of Delhi’s big shots,” Jain writes. Civil Disobedience refers to the disconnect that grew more prominent between the rulers and the ruled after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. It tells the story of how Nai Talim, the Sevagram basic school method, which was initiated by Gandhi, and which emphasized on teaching wood work, gardening, songs, dramatics and other vocations, petered out in absence of political patronage. It also says how an employment guarantee scheme, which resulted in construction of thousands of houses in Faridabad, could not prevail over for a similar reason.
The volume may provide UPA-II a way for fighting inflation as it narrates the story of how Super Bazar, a cooperative consumer market, was created by the ICU in late 1960s to act as a buffer against rising prices. “We challenged virtually every anti-consumer practice: high margins, uncertain quality, variable prices,” L C Jain remembers.
Making a strong case for devolution of powers to the institutions of self-governance, Jain, who was member of a committee, which evaluated the work of Panchayats in Karnataka, reminisces: “We found that the teacher performance in primary schools had gone up straightaway. Salaries were distributed through the Zila Parishad. The earlier regime of the Director of Education and the Inspectors taking a cut from the teachers’ salaries was ended overnight.”
The author quotes a 2003 standing committee report of the Parliament to say, “there is willful defiance and default of the state governments in implementing the mandate and that the powers, functions and resources which were to be transferred to the Panchayats had not been done.”
Be it cooperative farming, cooperative marketing, basic schooling or devolution through Punchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), ‘Civil Disobedience’ may have answers to many contemporary puzzles.