Subba Rao, noted Gandhian, passes away at 93

Subba Rao became active in freedom struggle of the country and during his school days he organised social events under the banner of ‘Gandhi Sahitya Sangha’

Subba Rao
Subba Rao
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Prakash Bhandari

Salem Nanjundaiah Subba Rao, 93, a noted Gandhian, who devoted his life for social causes passed away in Jaipur on Wednesday morning at the Sawai Man Singh Hospital where he was undergoing treatment. Subba Rao, affectionately called Bhaiji was brought to Jaipur when he fell seriously ill at the behest of the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who ensured that he would get the best treatment. Gehlot had visited him on Tuesday at the hospital for the third time and arranged for his treatment. Gehlot was a great admirer of Subba Rao and he used to invite him to organise youth camps in Rajasthan. CM Gehlot also addressed him as Bhaiji.

Subba Rao, who was born in Bengaluru on February 7, 1929 was the son of an advocate of repute, Nanjudaiah who was known for his values and he taught all his three sons to practise Gandhian teachings.

Subba Rao started singing devotional songs at the age of ten in the Ramakrishna Vedanta College, Malleshwaram. While studying in the school he was inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. He became a Khadi-wearer. He took part in the Quit India movement as a teenager in Bengaluru and wrote slogans against the British. He was 13 and was still in school when he was arrested by the police but was later released as he was a minor.

Subba Rao became active in freedom struggle of the country quite early and during his school days he organised social events under the banner of ‘Gandhi Sahitya Sangha’. Subba Rao led youth to organise adult education programmes in mohallas of labourers.

Subba Rao’s mentor was Dr NS Hardiker, in 1948. After completing his law graduation, he joined the headquarters of Congress Seva Dal in 1951 and through Congress Sewa dal, he started participating actively in the activities of Sewa Dal. He would sit at the Delhi’s 7, Jantar Mantar office of the AICC and organise Sewa Dal work from there. He would conduct youth camps for the Sewa Dal volunteers and his abilities won him the affection of Jawaharlal Nehru, K Kamraj and several other national leaders.

When in 1954, Subba Rao walked through the terrains of Chambal, in Madhya Pradesh, he realised the importance of constructive educational module for the youth of Chambal. He founded Mahatma Gandhi Sewa Ashram in Chambal valley at Joura, district Morena (Madhya Pradesh),.

It was this ashram, which later on hosted the historic surrender of the most notorious dacoits like Mohar Singh, Madho Singh and others in 1972. These efforts were followed by the surrender of dacoits at Bateshwar (UP) and Talabshahi (Rajesthan). The ashram worked for rehabilitation of these dacoits‘ families and the families of their victims alike.

The ashram is a centre of constructive Gandhian work which includes running of charkhas in more than 3000 families providing employment to more than 5000 people.


Subba Rao actively organised the Mahatma Gandhi centenary celebration in 1965 all over the country and in Gandhi Centenary year, Subba Rao was nominated the Director of "Gandhi Darshan Train". These two trains equipped with audio-visual materials on the life of Mahatma were launched, one on meter gauge and the other on broad gauge. These caravans set out on a year long journey across the country reaching to the remotest stations exhibiting the life and time of the revered saint Gandhi. These trains acted as a medium for lakhs of volunteers in the country for promoting constructive work. Subba Rao became a lifetime member of Gandhi Peace Foundation’ in 1970 on the request of R.R. Diwakar, the Union Minister.

The ashram is a centre of Gandhian Constructive work which includes running of charkhas in more than 3000 families providing employment to more than 5000 people.

The great Gandhian exemplified the verve and spirit that Mahatma Gandhi personified. The nonagenarian was one of the fortunate few who have met Mahatma Gandhi in flesh and blood and has been enriched by the encounter.

Subba Rao always carried this invaluable lesson in his heart. He said, “In my country, 25-30 crore people can’t manage to get two square meals. It’s good that you pray, it is good that you take a dip in the Holy Ganges, but spirituality also means you extend help to the poor and hungry in your neighbourhood and those desperately seeking some form of employment.”

Demonstrating how Gandhi ji's life was a living example of the morals he espoused, Rao narrated, “One day a priest visited Gandhi, who was busy spinning his charka. The priest said that he had heard that Mahatma was the embodiment of non-violence. The priest then questioned him, ‘Mr Gandhi, Jesus Christ said love thy enemy like thyself. What are your comments?’ Gandhi ji kept spinning his wheel without answering. After a few minutes, the priest repeated the question, and then again. After a long pause, Gandhi ji responded, ‘I had heard you the first time itself. I was thinking about it. The thing is that I don’t consider anybody as my enemy in the first place.’”

“The priest was stumped and impressed at the same time. The priest then quietly added, ‘Mr Gandhi, you have gone a step ahead of Jesus Christ!’ Gandhi drew a lot of inspiration from Jesus Christ in his life, but went even beyond that thought process. This is the definition of spirituality.”

Lean, standing erect and dressed in simple khadi clothes, he used to burst into the boisterous song 'Jai Jagat', which was the clarion call of Vinoba Bhave. Even at the ripe age, he did not hesitate in engaging in social work with youth with the same vigour and passion. It was only befitting that a person like him founded the National Youth Project.

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