Gandhigram: A Smile or a Sigh? Economic & Political Weekly Rajni Bakshi EPW
May 1, 2010 Loss of Communitarian Spirit
In the early years, with many volunteers living on campus Gandhigram had a communitarian spirit. But over the years Gandhigram has grown in size and its sprawling campus today is not quite an ashram, nor an estate nor an exclusive community bound by some common spirit.
“…somewhere it seems that Gandhigram has lost its way. The campus is getting fragmented into institutions; the elite and the better paid stay outside; and the residents consider administering the campus a management responsibility”, writes Banerjee.
The story of Gandhigram has, more or less, been repeated at many Gandhian institutions which were launched decades ago with sincere zeal. The scattered, sometimes mangled, remnants of the original goals and dreams do look sad, but documentation such as this enables us to appreciate the heartfelt striving of those who dedicated their entire life to building such institutions. We can respect, even admire, why these entities were created and yet learn from both their achievements and failures.
Notes from Gandhigram, highlights challenges to Gandhian praxis but cannot offer clear answers. That is only natural. It is only in hindsight that later generations can see that the quest for swaraj is too complex and multilayered a process to be anchored, or nudged along, through well-meaning projects run within the walls of an organisation. This is the dilemma that haunts even later day non-governmental organisations: has the enormous variety and quantity of micro-projects added up to sufficient macro-level transformation?
Fortunately, the power and potential of Gandhi’s insights is not dependent upon, or even linked with, the histories of institutions he inspired. Lively application of Gandhian praxis now depends on penetrating introspection about what we have understood as “core principles”. Only then can we the essence from mechanics, or fetishism. This exercise will always be helpful to the framing and running of institutions dedicated to sewa. But it will play a still more critical role in 21st century battles of ideas. Rajni Bakshi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a well-known freelance journalist. Notes from Gandhigram: Challenges to Gandhian Praxis by Samir Banerjee (
: Orient BlackSwan), 2009; pp 476, Rs 695. Hyderabad