The end of disobedience

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In his memoirs LC Jain explores the fate of dissenting imaginations in modern India, says Tridip Suhrud

Upholding standards
Upholding standards
Gandhian economist LC Jain

GANDHI WHO sits lightly on our shoulders, a guide both wise and playful,” LC Jain concluded his memoir. Few lives could make this claim and in post-independence India none more wisely than the Gandhian. But, it is not a book about Gandhi. It is a part autobiography (constructed through oral archives of the Nehru Memorial) part memoir, and a fascinating history of newly independent India. It is a story of creativity, innovation and forbearance. It is also a story of dissenting imaginations that went into the creation of modern India, which have become frayed, almost forgotten in our times.

Jain, who passed away on 14 November 2010, aged 85, bridged many worlds and many concerns; intellectual and political. For many he was a Gandhian economist, at a time when space for both Gandhi and his economics had shrunk. Jain came to Gandhi not only through Congress politics, but essentially through his pioneering work on the rehabilitation of refugees, the Indian cooperative Union and the work with Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya on the Indian handicrafts. It was the early years spent as a volunteer in the refugee camps, in establishing Chhattarpur village and the colony at Faridabad that Jain acquired intimate understanding of the innovation and resilience of the poor and the deprived. He carried these concerns and faith with him to all his other public activities — the Cottage Industries, the Super Bazars, the idea of the rural credit, the Planning Commission and to the office of the High Commissioner of India to South Africa. It was this faith in the democratic instinct of the Indian people that enabled him to be one of the most resilient dissenters against the Emergency and also be a critic of the Janata Party that he had helped create.

Jain was one of the most resilient dissenters against the Emergency and a critic of the Janata Party he helped create

For an autobiography, the book is not about the singular I. It is a story of a collective in the true spirit of cooperatives that he nurtured. In fact, it is sparse on personal biography or familial histories, except when the personal and the political are interlaced. Even the story of his life with his wife Devaki is told as an epilogue.

It is possible to read the book as a story of failure of our collective imagination, of marginalisation of craft, of innovation, of people itself; of paths that were available and not chosen. It is rare to find in our public life individuals who would choose to be chroniclers of frayed imaginations and rarer still to find a voice that is poised, self-reflective, and free of rancour. Jain’s memoirs attain that grace — each chapter at once a celebration of collective effort, of creativity and a story of its subversion. It is a record of possibilities that we had of creating public life that sought to measure itself by the highest standards of public ethics and personal virtues. It is also possible to read the book as a warning; a warning about the fates of dissenting imaginations.

Suhrud is a political scientist and cultural historian based in Gandhi Nagar

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