Patriots > Freedom Struggle under Mahatma Gandhi > Mehta,Vaikunth Lallubhai
Mehta,Vaikunth Lallubhai (1891-1964)

Vaikunth Mehta was born on 23 October 1891 at Ahemdabad. His father, Sir Lallubhai, came from Bhavnagar (Saurashtra) where his father Samaldas Mehta and elder brother Vithaldas Mehta had been Diwans (Chief Ministers). Vaikunthbhai’s mother, Satyavati Ben, came from a family which had made notable contributions to social reform and literature in Gujarat. His sister Sumati Ben was a talented poetess who died at a young age, and his younger brother was G.L. Mehta, formerly India’s Ambassador to the United States.

Vaikunth Mehta was educated at the New High School (Bombay) and stood first in Mathematics in the Matriculation examination. He graduated from the Elphinstone College, obtaining a First Class Honours degree in Mathematics and also standing first in English in the University and winning the Ellis Prize. Among his college contemporaries were Mahadev Desai, later Gandhiji’s Personal Secretary, and Syed Abdulla Brelvi, who was afterwards Editor of the Bombay Chronicle, both of whom remained his lifelong friends.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale was a friend of Lallubhai Samaldas and but for his untimely death, Vailkunthbhai would have joined the Servants of India Society. He shared his father’s interest in the Co-operative Movement and joined the Bombay State Cooperative Bank, an institution which he nursed and served for 34 years and made it the pivot of rural reconstruction work in the Bombay State. In 1947 he was appointed the Finance Minister and Minister of Co-operation in the Kher Ministry (1947-52). In 1952 he became a member of the Finance Commission and of the Taxation Enquiry Committee.

In 1953 he was appointed Chairman of the All India Khadi and Village Industries Board which in 1957 became the Khadi and Village Industries Commission. He had been a member of the Bombay Province

Banking Inquiry Committee (1929), Textile Labour Inquiry Committee (1939-40), Textile Inquiry Commission (1953-54) and Chairman, Commission on Agricultural Co-operative Credit (1959). He was a member of the Bombay Provincial Board of the Harijan Sevak Sangh and Chairman of the Bombay Branch of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi.He was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind Silver Medal in 1916 and the Gold Medal in 1921, both of which he returned in 1930 in protest against the Government’s repressive policy. In 1954 he was awarded the ‘Padmabhushana.’

Vaikunth Mehta was the author of several books on the co-operative movement and village industries. Among them were ‘The Co-operative Movement’ (1915), ‘The Co-operative Movement in India’ (1918),’Studies in Co-operative Finance (1927), ‘Planning for Co-operative Movement’ (1941), ‘Why Village Industries’, ‘Economics of Non-Violence’, and ‘Decentralised Economic Development’ (1963).

A devoted Gandhian, Vaikunthbhai was more interested in the Mahatma’s constructive activities than in politics. He accepted the Finance Ministership in 1947 only after personal pressure was brought upon him by Gandhiji and Sardar Patel. He spun daily and wore only Khadi. His one hobby was reading and he built up a rich library of his own. His favourite authors were H. G. Wells, Joseph Conrad and among poets, Browning. He regularly read the Punch and the New Statesman and Nation.

Though Vailkunthbhai subscribed to Gandhian economics and believed in a decentralised economy and village self-sufficiency, he was a moderate in his political views and never, for instance, went to jail. He was a man of genuine humility who abhorred publicity of any kind. His life provides an excellent example of quiet dedicated service to the nation in the fields of co-operative movement and village industries.

Author : Aparna Basu