Vinoba Bhave (1895-1982) was widely regarded as Gandhi’s spiritual heir. The Mahatma appointed Vinoba to be a “Satyagraha of one” in 1940. At the time Gandhi wanted to show the British raj that he was still in open resistance to its rule but did not feel it was proper to launch full-scale Satyagraha because the British were preoccupied by the world war. (This strategy was an example of an important Gandhian principle known as non-embarrassment.) After Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, Vinoba’s permission was sought by key figures in Indian political life to undertake important actions. For instance in the 1970’s Jayaprakash (JP) Narayan wanted to launch Satyagraha against the Indira Gandhi government but was told no by Vinoba.
Vinoba was great scholar and interpreter of spiritual classics. His commentaries on the Gita, delivered while in prison for his part in the independence movement is considered a classic to this day. He is best known for the Bhoodan (land grant) movement that he launched after Gandhi’s passing. Using highly traditional Indian models of gift giving to sages, Vinoba walked the length and breadth of India getting wealthy landowners to donate part (usually a fifth) of their land to poor Harijan (untouchable) families. Five million acres were collected and redistributed. Some landholders were so taken up by enthusiasm for Bhoodan that they carried out Gramdan, the wholesale gift of entire villages to the sage for his redistribution. Gramdan is a concept akin to the Jubilee year or periodic forgiveness of debts in ancient Jewish practice.
Vinoba also played a major role in the development of the Shanti Sena. He once persuaded a whole clan of dacoits (brigands) to turn themselves over to the authorities in order to avert a bloody confrontation with the Indian army — perhaps a model for counter-terrorism today!
Known for his asceticism, taking the vow of bramacharya at an early age, and the utter simplicity of his material life, it is said that the young Vinoba, incensed by the injustices of British rule, was contemplating either running off to the Himalayas or becoming a terrorist when he fell under Gandhi’s influence and took up nonviolence.