A Life of Dedication Rameshwari Nehru
I came into personal contact with Kumarappa during one of my visits to Gandhiji at Maganvadi sometime after the Gram Udyog Sangh was started. Since then more than two decades have passed and we have had frequent and intimate opportunities to meet and know each other. Every time I meet him he stimulates me, and my respect and admiration for him have grown with the passing of years.
Kumarappa has an inspiring personality and his life, dedicated as it is, to the service of humanity, bears the impress of his nobility. Born in a well-to-do family he received the highest education in certain subjects in England and in America. He made a deep study of economics and sociology and he developed an amazing insight into the problems of the villagers and their environment. He has used his knowledge and training in the West to great advantage in finding solutions to the difficult questions concerning Indian economics. He has written much and whatever he has written makes clear and stimulating reading. He is not only a clear thinker but a practical experimenter. He looks at everything from the Indian villagers point of view and is convinced that, any plan or scheme, which does not help in solving the difficulties of eighty per cent of the toiling masses of the country who live in the villages, is not worth a second thought. Very often, therefore, his criticism is sharp like the edge of a razor and his attitude in Committees and Conferences is totally uncompromising. That is why in certain quarters he is dubbed as a person with a 'one-tract mind' and as an impractical theorist. But in spite of all his extreme views even his critics admit the absolute truthfulness, sincerity and forcefulness of his arguments. Gandhian economics, as clearly and vigorously expounded by him, may not find general acceptance to-day but it is a challenge which all our economists must reckon with.
When Congress Governments were first set up in the various Provinces he was invited by five or six of them to make plans for the development of agriculture and village industries. The surveys he made and the reports he drew up still hold the field and will do so for a long time to come in regard to these subjects. His faith is in the self-sufficiency of the villages as the basis of a peaceful and just democracy in India. If the villagers have a balanced diet, clothes to wear and houses to live in and are above all wide awake in mind, then it will not be the towns but the villages which will rule and shape India. And India so ruled and shaped would be a great India which will be an example to the world in setting up a truly non-violent social order. He is, therefore, a ceaseless advocate of village reconstruction. In his book entitled “An Overall Plan for Rural Development”, he has given a detailed and at the same time comprehensive plan for national reconstruction in India.
To demonstrate the practicability of his plans, Kumarappa has now left the All India Village Industries Association, which he built up during the last sixteen years, to settle down in the village of Seldoh, twenty miles from Wardha. With Seldoh as his new-life centre, he will work in a rural area to accomplish self-sufficiency in regard to the primary wants of life in that area. All Constructive Workers will look to this experiment for inspiration. Kumarappa is bound to succeed in this experiment and when he does it will be a monument of his constructive genius and an example to the whole country.
Kumarappa has a living faith in non-violence and holds that the Gandhian way of life is for all. It will be difficult to find another person in India today who has done greater credit to Mahatma Gandhi's life and work than Kumarappa. He has given to Gandhiji's philosophy a body and a soul through his own work for village industries and village reconstruction. He built up the Gram Udyog Sangh from scratch. But for Kumarappa we would not have had a clear and scientific exposition of Gandhian economics. Kumarappa has written many books on the subject and these are now available in more than one Indian language. He could have amassed wealth if he had persisted in his work as a Chartered Accountant. For some time he did live the life of a wealthy and Europeanised person in Bombay. But when he came in contact with Gandhiji he gave up everything and accepted a life of poverty and complete simplicity. This change, which came over him, was amazing. Whenever I visit his tiny, neat and beautiful little hut in Maganwadi, I get a feeling of joy and peace. It is a one-room hut in which everything is arranged with taste and care. It is the modern version of the parna-kuti of the old Rishis of India.
Kumarappa as a true Christian found in Gandhiji the living embodiment of "The Sermon on the Mount". He, therefore, readily followed Gandhiji. He saw clearly that the seeds of conflict and war were inherent in the economics of Europe and America. He, therefore, turned away from the example of those countries to the light that came from Gandhiji. A just and peaceful democracy he decided , could come only from decentralization of economic and political power and resources. Not centralization, but decentralization became for him the watch-word for the future. The rediscovery of the charkha and village industries, the revival of village panchayats and the programme of maximum self-sufficiency on a regional basis became the main planks of his programme. To this he has now added a just redistribution of land as of basic importance. He has given himself truthfully and unreservedly to the mission he has inherited from Gandhiji. We all owe a deep debt of gratitude to him. He has set his hands to a great task. May God give him the life and the strength to fulfill his mission.