Jamnalal Bajaj was accepted by Mahatma Gandhi as his fifth son, and became the alter ego of the Mahatma for all constructive programmes – he established the Satya Ashram at Wardha with Acharya Vinoba Bhave, participated in the Non-cooperation Movement in 1921, the Nagpur Jhandha Satyagraha in 1923, the boycott of the Simon Commission in 1929, Salt Satyagraha in 1930 and the anti-war campaign in 1941. He was in fact instrumental in convincing Gandhi ji to move to Wardha, which later became the epicenter of India’s freedom movement. In a free-wheeling conversation, Rahul Bajaj, grandson of Jamnalal Bajaj and Chairman of Bajaj Group of companies spoke about the relevance of Gandhi in modern India.
The Gandhian era was different - we were a fledgling nation, seeking independence from the British colonists - now we an economic powerhouse. We have an ambition of becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2025. At the same time, today we are a more westernized society – for example, we are habituated to use global products, such as iPhone and Uber. So, in this westernized society, are Gandhian values still relevant for us today?
Two most important things for Mahatma Gandhi were ‘truth’ and ‘non-violence.’ These two encompass all other teachings, and most people know about this. What many may not know is that when Gandhi ji was asked, if there is a choice between non-violence and truth what will his one choice be. He categorically said “truth." Except the Gandhians, people will not know about this. Truth means God. Someone asked him, how did you know there is a god? He said, “I am as sure of the fact that there is a God as I am sure that I am here."
You mentioned that the two values, Gandhi believed in, were truth and nonviolence. And this is widely known. However, there is a counter narrative in play in our country related to hate crimes and a polarized society. What are your views on this?
Gandhi's existence has influenced the world, certainly every Indian, and his philosophies are absolutely relevant. One can say that it is not followed one hundred percent, which is fine. Nowhere in the world is truth and nonviolence followed one hundred percent, but everything he stood for are absolutely correct. I don't think anybody can say that they are not, be it Mr. Trump or Mr. Boris Johnson or Mr. Modi - no one can say that they are not relevant.
Gandhiji propagated Swadeshi movement. Do you believe that Swadeshi movement has some semblance to Make in India? How would Gandhi ji feel about this?
I am not quite sure how he would have felt about big factories for economies of scale or technologies because in those times, of course, he was an ardent follower of Swadeshi and small industries.However, Gandhiji always believed that any decision that can help Indians and among them, the poorest of the poor, is the right call. I believe what Gandhiji would agree to any change that can have positive impact on Indians, and technology and industrialization has had a positive impact on India.Imagine this - some 20-30 years ago, when computers first arrived on scene in India, Unions in banks opposed it because they feared the arrival of computers would lead to loss of jobs. It was an incorrect premise, as computers were adopted and it did not lead to any job loss. Technology may have some immediate impact, but in long run it can create more and better jobs. It can help to improve quality and productivity, and reduced cost that makes us more competitive which in turn allows us to expand.
What do you believe are, our biggest concerns today?
People are afraid to talk about the hate crimes against the Dalits and minorities which the Government does not accept. Now, I won't go so far as to judge if they are right or wrong, but there is a feeling is it exists. And even the government will agree to it.
If you have a law against cow slaughter, then anyone who breaks the law, be it a dalit, a minority or even a Hindu, he should be punished. There should be no discrimination! All I am saying is that at the top, I believe, they should have been more criticism about the lynching, and police should take action against the culprits. Just saying that it was wrong, doesn't help. We need action!
Mahatma Gandhi was wedded in peace; do you think he will be proud of our country today?
Of course not, but I say that with a question mark. I believe that Gandhiji would probably understand that it impossible to follow his principles, one hundred percent. Basic values, ethics, truth and nonviolence are same everywhere, but it is impossible to follow them 100%. And that too is fine. So, I believe that Gandhiji would have wanted these values to exist, but he would realize that it is not possible to realise it one hundred percent.
Do you think our challenges, today, are far more complex right compared to those in the Gandhian Era. I do acknowledge that India had a mammoth challenge of gaining independence, but do you feel that we have far deeper challenges right now?
You cannot compare the two. Somebody said, Can this prime minster be compared to Vajpayee ji or Indira ji or Jawaharlal ji or Lal Bahadur ji – you cannot compare them. But on Gandhi ji, how can we have any bigger challenge than to mobilize thirty crore Indians, for 20 to 30 years before independence, and without any propaganda machinery. I think what was achieved was unbelievable. It was the first time in world history till 1947, among the hundred odd countries ruled by colonialist that included the English, Japanese, Belgian, French, Portuguese and Italians, that a country got its independence by following non-violence. It has never happened before. It's not easy. Non-violence is not cowardice; you have to be very brave to be non-violent and people do not understand that. I don't think we can compare any challenge to that.Comparisons are anyways odious, but if I were to answer someone then I would say that the challenges Gandhiji faced for 20 to 30 years, in getting India independence, compared to any challenge we face today, is far more difficult, keeping in mind those times.