A Man in loin cloth

Undoubtedly Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is India's most known face. India's only Mahatma, with staunch beliefs in non-violence, self-reliance, and undying hatred against subjugation to imperialist forces, social injustice and inequality, spent some part of his life in the sleepy town of Wardha, which is a centre of cotton trade in the Vidarbha region.

And obviously, Wardha bears the signs of the agrarian crisis gripping the country due to the anti-peasant, domestic trade policies of the subsequent governments both at the Centre and Maharashtra. Incidentally both are led by the Congress Party.

Atmaram Godbole is a cotton trader for over three decades now and has his well furnished office on Wardha's main road, which takes one to Sewagram, where the Gandhi Ashram and its affiliated organisation operates out of its 250 odd acres of land.

Godbole, who employs five workers to assist, is a classical small town commodity trader. He doesn't have trading terminals and depends on his instincts to trade and uses a bound notebook to keep his accounts. He had a not so good year. “Volumes are low. Margins are falling. Don't know what happens in the future months”, mumbles the trader with gold rings on almost all his fingers to ward of any possible ill-fate. Although he doesn't talk about the margin he makes, back of the envelope calculations estimate it to be close to 30 percent.

Wardha is facing all the problems of a region caught in a crisis. “We do not have pucca houses, there is no water or electricity. In case of a rain or a storm our houses collapse. We don't have permanent jobs”, says a group of women who stopped the jatha as it went through the roads of Wardha and brought their problems to the notice of the leaders.

“Bapu led struggles like the Dandi March to oust British from India. And the Congress party is now welcoming companies like Wal-mart to India”, points out CPI (M) Polit Bureau member M A Baby.

Wardha's Sewagram Ashram had an important role to play in India's struggle for freedom. The meeting to finalise the call for the Quit India Movement was taken here in 1942. The Ashram complex is a perfect example of Gandhian philosophy and gets a steady stream of visitors from India and abroad.

Many of us forget that Gandhi learnt about the loin cloth wearing Indian only after extensively touring India. It is to identify himself with them that he too started wearing the loin cloth. If only all of those ruling the country in the name of Gandhi and paying tributes to him every year could also see the man with the loin cloth roaming on the roads around – the man who lost his land and livelihood.