Madhu babu, in whom Gandhiji had his friend, philosopher and guide

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Export of raw materials would help profiteers to exploit the country; but industrial use of the country’s working hands would make the motherland prosperous. So, instead of exporting raw materials, attempts should be made for their industrial utilization inside the country.

This was the essence of politico-economic realization of Madhu babu, the most revered Madhusudan Das of Orissa, whom Gandhiji was looking at as his source of inspiration in formulating his practical economic programs for the masses.

“Over 98 per cent of the population works on land. Land does not grow in area. Hands grow in number with the growth of population”. So, extra-agricultural engagement was needed for people to earn their livelihood and proceed to prosperity, Madhu babu had observed in a speech to Bihar Young Men’s Institute in 1924.

Gandhiji was deeply influenced by this speech. Two years later, on 9-9-1926, he wrote in Young India, “I have kept that speech by me so as to be able to deal with the essential part of it on a suitable occasion”.

In total agreement with Madhu babu’s remarks Gandhiji noted, “the value of his remarks is derived from the fact that, though a lawyer of distinction, he has not only not despised labor with the hands, but actually learned handicrafts at a late period in life, not merely as a hobby, but for the sake of teaching young men dignity of labor and showing that without their turning their attention to the industries of the country the outlook of India is poor. Sjt Das has himself been instrumental in establishing a tannery in Cuttack which has been a centre of training for many a young man who was before a mere unskilled laborer”.

Gandhiji was so much influenced by Madhu babu’s emphasis on utilization of the raw materials in engaging indigenous industries that on 19-6-1927, he wrote in Navajivan that, “raw materials worth crores of rupees are produced in this country and, thanks to our ignorance, lethargy and lack of invention, exported to foreign countries; as Sri Madhusudan Das has pointed out, that we remain ignorant like animals, our hands do not get the training which they ought to and our intellects do not develop as they should. As a consequence, living art has disappeared from our land and we are content to imitate the west”.

India being a land of the farmers and the farming community being cattle dependent, there was enough availability of cattle hides which were being exported to foreign countries, when by industrial use thereof toiling masses were to fetch handsome earning. This is why, Madhu babu, as a demonstrative venture, had established the tannery at Cuttack.

Inspired by him, Gandhiji had established a tannery at Sabarmati Ashram.

I am going to give the copy of Gandhiji’s letter to Madhu babu in this matter, which would show to what extraordinary extent, Gandhiji was influenced by Madhu babu in formulating his practical political economy meant for the masses.

Sent from Sabarmati Ashram to Sjt. Madhusudan Das, Mission Road, Cuttack on March 16, 1928, the letter was thus:

Dear Friend,
After a great deal of thought and bother I have established at the Ashram a little bit of tannery without any power-driven machinery and without skilled assistance saved that of a man who has received a rough-and tumble experience of tanning in America and who is a crank like myself. Though I did not succeed in sharing your troubles and taking the load off your shoulders in connection with your own great national enterprise, your inspiration is partly responsible for the establishment of this little tannery at the Ashram. Can you please help me with a list of literature on the subject, a handbook on tanning and the like? If you think that there is nothing like this in English, will you out of your own wide and varied experience write out something that may be of use for propaganda, just a few hints? What is happening at the tannery? Who is in charge? I may add that my idea is to make the Ashram tannery a model for villages so that the villagers may be able to treat their own dead cattle and make use of the hide themselves. I have asked many people without success as to how I can skin dead cattle. Everybody knowing anything of tanning has something to say about hides after they are received from the village tanner; but nobody has yet told me if I take charge of a dead animal I can skin the carcass economically and hygienically and make use of other contents such as bones, intestine, etc., for purpose of manure.
Yours sincerely,
March 16, 1928

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