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The Gandhian spirit 

Rajiv Tikoo  
``In Seth Jamnalalji, death has taken a might man. Whenever I wrote of wealthy men becoming trustees of their wealth for the common good, I always had this merchant prince principally in mind.''
-- Mahatma Gandhi on Jamnalal Bajaj's death in Harijan

Even in his death at the age of 52 in 1942, Jamnalal Bajaj lived up to the image. His entire share in the family wealth, amounting to Rs 5 lakh, went into setting up the Jamnalal Bajaj Seva Trust. Gandhi himself drafted the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the trust and its objectives as per the wishes of his fifth adopted son.

The primary objectives of the trust included assisting Sarvodya workers and Gandhian constructive programmes. In 1960, the trust set up an International Sarvodya Centre, Vishwaneedam, sprawling over 400 acres in Bangalore, for promoting and propagating the Sarvodya philosophy. The trust is also involved in rural development, agriculture, dairy development, and training local women and youth forself-employment.

The Jamnalal Bajaj Seva Trust is only one amongst several trusts and foundations run by the Bajaj group. Prominent among them are Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, Gita Pratishthan, Gita Mandir, Shiksha Mandal, Institute of Gandhian Studies, Gandhi Gyan Mandir, etc. Elaborates Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj group of companies, ``We are only continuing the good work started by our ancestors. I personally can't take any credit for it. Of course, I have my way which is very different. I don't want to do everything and do it badly. I am bringing in more focus. Also, more efficiency.''

Elaborates Niraj Bajaj, managing director of group company, Mukand Ltd, ``We have consciously tried not to shift our focus from Gandhian work. We feel, given our history, we have a moral responsibility towards the poor.'' Most of the community work undertaken by the group is centred under him. Adds he, ``So, our philanthropic work is aimed at the poorest of the poor, who are concentrated in the rural areas.'' This isevident in the fact that most of the activities are Gandhi-centric or rural oriented.

The Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation was established in 1976 for promoting Gandhian constructive programmes and assisting people dedicated to the national cause. The foundation is widely recognised because of the four prestigious awards it has instituted to recognise outstanding contributions in the field of constructive work; application of science and technology for rural development; uplift of women and children and/or Gandhian constructive work by women workers, and promotion of Gandhian values outside India by individuals other than Indian citizens.

Similarly, the Institute of Gandhian Studies, and the Gandhi Gyan Mandir, as the names indicate, are dedicated to Gandhian Studies. The Institute of Gandhian Studies organises, sponsors and promotes short-term as well as long-term courses of study on Gandhian thought and methodology, runs extension projects and publishes the results of Gandhian Studies and Research. While asthe Gandhi Gyan Mandir is not only a research centre for Gandhian Study, but also a library of Gandhian literatureBesides, the thrust is on rural development. Most of the trusts, including Jankidevi Bajaj Gram Vikas Sansthan, Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, Jammalal Kaniram Bajaj Trust and Jamnalal Bajaj Seva Trust, and group companies, like Bajaj Auto, Bajaj Hindusthan, Hind Lamps, have rural development on their social agenda. Some projects are executed independently, and others in partnership with CAPART, Khadi & Vllage Industries Commission, state governments and NGOs.

In addition to supporting various income generation programmes, the rural development activities centre around health, sanitation, drinking water, improved agriculture practices, sericulture, horticulture, social forestry, waste land reclamation, handicarfts, etc.

Education is another social passion with the group. Way back in 1915, the group set up Shiksha Mandal in Wardha. The Mandal runs three commerce colleges, one science college, anagricultural and rural institute, and a polytechnic. The group also made a donation to the University of Bombay for establishing the first management institute in the state, the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies. A recent grant to the institute has been for running a course on ethics in business. Besides, a donation of Rs 7.5 million has been given to SNDT Women's University in Mumbai for setting up an Institute of Management Studies for Women.

Not content with undertaking community projects only, the group trusts also encourage others working in these fields. For example, the Jankidevi Bajaj Purskar for Rural Entrepreneurship was instituted in 1992 to encourage and develop business entrepreneurship in rural areas and recognise the outstanding contributors. The list is endless. Little wonder, the net worth of the charitable trusts of the Bajaj group has swelled to approximately Rs 5,000 million, and their contributions total nearly Rs 70-80 million every year. Now, the emphasis is on quality.Says Niraj Bajaj, ``We are always looking at how to do whatever we are doing better and better so that more and more people benefit.'' And if the past is any indication, it looks set to better its own track record.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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