This article was first posted in February 2015 in Yo! Vizag magazine.
He sacrificed all the luxuries and comforts associated with a public position to tread a path influenced by the principles of Mahatma Gandhi. Indeed, Sri K S Sastry chose a simply saintly life over that of being a hugely popular trade union member. Our feature writer G V Ramesh interacts.
Hailing from East Godavari district, Kolluri Satyanarayana Sastry, known popularly as K S Sastry settled in Vizag since 1950. During the early forties in Vizag district, owing to the widespread arrest of all prominent Congress party leaders associated with the Quit India movement, many amateurs plunged themselves into the national struggle. Sri K S Sastry, Sri K S Tilak, and others were some of the noted student leaders, who emerged on the horizon in this part of the land. They formed the Student Congress and were literally prepared to die in order to free the nation from the draconian British rule. A staunch Congress supporter in the decade preceding Independence, Sastry was eventually drawn towards the Socialists, led by the charismatic Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan.
Accordingly, after independence, when the Socialists severed all their links with the parent Congress party to fight on their own in the maiden elections, he supported the Socialist party. It would be interesting to note that Vizag district, specifically Vizianagaram, became prominent on the map of Socialists, because the Socialist candidate – Sri K S Tilak, Sri Sastry’s best friend since childhood, had won pretty handsomely. Spanning from Ichapuram to Payakaraopeta, Vizag was one of the biggest districts in India. Obviously, the people of Vizag district were politically vibrant even during the outset of Indian democracy.
Back then, there was very limited access to primary education, let alone higher education. Keen on tackling the bane of illiteracy, he, along with some like-minded people, worked tirelessly for the establishment of Government Junior and Degree Colleges in Vizag. With the administrative support in the form of a matching grant from the then District Collector, Dr. Abid Hussain –and the donations collected from the public as well as the sizeable one from the family of Dr. VS Krishna, the renowned ex-Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University, the Dr. VS Krishna Govt. College was born.
Being a person in the political and social arena all his life, his observations provide a stark and realistic view of both the domains. According to him, even back then there was enough intrigue in politicians. ’However, its magnitude and the resultant ramifications were much less accentuated when compared to current times’, he opined. The follower of Mahatma Gandhi narrated how a person – whom he declined to name – who had been a life-long British supporter became a turncoat immediately after independence and joined a nationalist party to enjoy the fruits of independence.
Solutions to all the problems that Indian society has been facing from time to time lie in Gandhian teachings of truth, non-violence, morality, simplicity, education and promotion of decentralisation of political power, economy and industry.
As Socialism and trade-unionism are two sides of the same coin, he plunged deeply into the latter. He served as the General Secretary of All India NMDC Workers’ Federation for almost fourteen years, from 1972. During this period, he rubbed shoulders with many eminent stalwarts including the former President of India. He admitted that his experiences made him strong enough to face the biggest challenge of his life: that of saving the lives of workers of the Sugar mill, Bobbili, when its private owners decided to wind it up to the detriment of its poor workers. He had gone on a hunger strike which lasted for two weeks. It became such a huge success that the then chief minister Sri J Vengala Rao acceded to take over the factory for the welfare of its workers. This period proved to be cathartic in his life.
Having closely observed the workers’ plight and poverty, especially of the rural masses, he was deeply moved. He found that the forty years of independence could not change their fortune even by a wee bit. He concluded that the reason for such a pathetic state was abandoning the Gandhian teachings, by the people as well as the leaders. He found that all the solutions for the problems that Indian society has been facing from time to time lie in Gandhian teachings of truth, non-violence, morality, simplicity, education and establishing agro-industrial units in the rural areas. Since 1986, he devoted himself totally to the cause of Gandhian thoughts, words, and actions, and became a crusader himself: he established an institution and aptly titled it as ‘Gandhi centre’ and started propagating Mahatma’s ideals using pamphlets, publications, lectures, and workshops. He also became instrumental in supporting the ones in Andhra University, and many educational institutions.
A glimpse of his endeavors can be gauged from the fact that even at this ripe old age he is busy working for the advantages of organic farming and its promotion. For this, he sources information from the experiences of various foreign countries, in a very diligent and scientific manner. He takes special efforts to discourage young persons from going for junk food. His life was filled with so many challenges, yet he took courageous steps to alleviate people’s problems and has shown much dedication in his chosen path. After interacting with him, I not only felt humbled by his life but also learned a lesson or two, mainly to embrace the principles taught by the Mahatma. Amen 🙂