Rahul Bajaj was a doyen of Indian industry, and a rare brave man who spoke his mind under all circumstances. His passing away is the end of an era in which he played a major role–from operating in the licence-permit raj, to competing in the liberalized regime, to establishing India’s position as an industrial force to be reckoned with.
What made him ‘him’ was surely shaped by his family influences—especially his grandfather, Jamnalal Bajaj. And that is whom we talk about today.
Jamnalal Bajaj was considered Gandhiji’s fifth son, and adopted all his values—from Ahimsa, to his dedication to the poor, to his commitment to locally made goods, to his patriotic spirit. Shri Bajaj was an active member of the Congress Party, and gave up the Rai Bahadur title conferred on him by the British Government and joined the non-cooperation movement. He fought for the admission of Harijans into temples, and in the face of strong objections, opened up his own family temple in Wardha—the first temple in the country to do this.
Wardha, Maharastra was where Jamnalal’s family was settled, and that is how it came to play such an important part in the Freedom Struggle. When Gandhiji left the Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad for the Dandi March, he vowed not to go back till freedom was achieved.
Jamnalal had earlier spent time at Sabarmati Ashram with his family, and had been deeply moved by the experience. He invited Gandhiji to come to Wardha and set up an Ashram there after the Dandi March. And thus did the Sewargram Ashram come up there, and Wardha become the centre of the Freedom Movement.
A few years ago I was privileged, during a visit to Wardha, to visit Bajajwadi, where critical meetings with regard to the freedom struggle were held, marked by the presence of not only Gandhiji but also Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Azad, Sarojini Naidu, Sardar Patel, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Dr. Pattibhi Sitaramayya among many others. All of them stayed there when they came for meetings and discussions. The historical resolution calling for the Quit India movement was signed at Bajajwadi.
Wardha was also the site where the Gandhiji’s idea of Nai Talim or New Education was developed, discussed at a National Education Conference in 1937, and put into practice at a model school.
The basic tenets of Nai Talim were:
- That education should include a “reverent study of all religions.”
- Education meant lifelong learning
- And a re-definition of the role of the teacher, which is summed up by him as : “A teacher who establishes rapport with the taught, becomes one with them, learns more from them than he teaches them. He who learns nothing from his disciples is, in my opinion, worthless. ..In this way, a true teacher regards himself as a student of his students.”
Another important initiative rooted close to Wardha was Maharogi Seva Samiti, the first indigenous leprosy care centre in India. Manohar Diwan, one of Gandhi’s followers became the first non-missionary Indian to work on leprosy, and set up the centre under the guidance of Vinoba Bhave and Gandhiji in 1937.
Jamnalal Bajaj was deeply involved in the freedom movement and every one of these political and social reform movements. Apart of course to his involvement in business and the founding of the Bajaj Group.
And thus was Rahul Bajaj’s role cut out for him!