In a world where the richest 85 people have amassed assets equivalent to 3.5 billion of the poorest (half the world’s population), we could use another Vinayak Bhave. Given the diminutive name, Vinoba, by his mentor and friend, Mahatma Gandhi, he went on a 70,000-kilometer walk that lasted years and resulted in an unprecedented transfer of wealth. Millions of acres of land changed hands, not through purchase or coercion but through inspiration.
The land transfer began when he was returning on foot from a conference on constructive work. He stopped in the village of Pochampalli on April 18, 1951. As was his habit, he talked to people about the issues troubling them. Lack of land ownership was a major problem for two-thirds of the 700 families in the village. Vinoba asked if anyone could help with that. The landlord Ramchandra Reddy Vedre spontaneously stepped forward, donating 100 acres of land from his own holdings.
That was the start of the land-gift movement, Bhoodan, which gradually developed into a village-gift movement, where villagers relinquished individual rights over land in favour of common rights and benefits. People being the complicated creatures we are, inevitable problems arose, which you can learn more about by following the hyperlinks. But that does not lessen the significance of Vinoba’s dream of a more peaceful, egalitarian society.
One man set out on a quest to change the status quo. He was not a man who sought leadership. The mantle was placed on him by Mahatma Gandhi. It was a wise move, bringing this deeply spiritual, compassionate man into prominence, prodding him to act on a larger stage.
As Dr. Usha Thakkar, one of Gandhi’s biographers, wrote:
Vinoba saw the land as the gift of God like air, water, sky and sunshine. He connected science with spirituality and the autonomous village with the world movement. He regarded the power of the people superior than power of the state. Many of his ideas remain relevant and inspiring in the strife-ridden modern times.
People such as this are rare, but they are always among us. They inspire us to reach within and find our own better selves. Learning about Vinoba Bhave gives me hope.