Achyut Yagnik (1946-2023), a well-known intellectual from Gujarat, passed away at the age of 78 on Friday morning in Ahmedabad. He was the founder and secretary of SETU: Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, a voluntary organisation based in Ahmedabad that has been working with marginalised groups since the early 1980s. He is survived by his wife and son Anand Yagnik, a well-known lawyer in the Gujarat High Court.
Achyit Yagnik, Achyutbhai to several thousands, was a journalist, activist, scholar and poet. In 1982, he founded SETU: Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, Ahmedabad, a social organisation based in Ahmedabad, working among vulnerable communities in western India. He was one of the clear headed and analytical voices from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, a social scientist and public intellectual.
His home in Ahmedabad was a world stage, inviting friends and scholars from India and the globe who came to his state, his beloved Gujarat. Over decades, if anyone wanted to understand, report on or research Gujarat, the mandatory first stop was the discussion with Achyut Yagnik. A storehouse of information, details, anecdotes, data and deep insight about the political landscape of the state and its society’s schisms and passions. Achyut Bhai himself personified the quintessential Indian citizen, a product of India’s Independence, far distant from powerbrokers in Gandhinagar, untempted by the glitz of money and glamour, yet always engaging with “authority” on behalf of the poor and the underprivileged. He was available to any organisation, any movement working on economic injustice in any part of Gujarat. Achyut Bhai would often direct those to the late Girishbhai Patel, the intrepid lawyer who fought, pro bono, interminable injustices all over Gujarat.
Achyut Yagnik has published several articles and books in Gujarati and has co-authored the following books in English: Creating a Nationality: Ramjanmabhoomi Movement and Fear of the Self with Ashis Nandy et al, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1995; The Shaping of Modern Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva and Beyond, Penguin India, New Delhi, 2005; and Ahmedabad: From Royal City to Megacity, Penguin India, New Delhi, 2011.
From 1970 to 1980, he worked as a journalist and was actively associated with the Working Journalists Union and Press Workers Union in Ahmedabad, committed to the conditions for working journalists.
Between 1981 and 1985, he was the Gujarat correspondent of the “Economic and Political Weekly”.
Yagnik was also the founder editor of the Gujarati research journal “Arthat” (1981) for the Centre for Social Studies, Surat. From 1982 to 1984 he was the Gujarat Coordinator of the Lokayan Project of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (Delhi) and also the General Secretary of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Gujarat.
In 1986-87, he was a consultant to and a Fellow of the United Nations University, Tokyo (1986-87).
Since 1982 he was Guest faculty of the Post-graduate Department of Development Communication, Gujarat University and has given lectures at the Universities of Columbia, Chicago and Berlin.
In the early 2000s, years 2005-06 he was Fellow at the Hebrew University at Jerusalem. The distinguished thinker and writer-activist was also a guest faculty at the Post-Graduate Department of Development Communication, at Gujarat University and has given lectures at the Universities of Columbia, Chicago and Berlin.
After the early 2000s, when the shrill noise of a new variant of politics rent the air and attempts were made to silence voices like Achyutbhai, who bore the legacy of both the 18th century poet Narmad and the 19th century Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, he still stood tall. Saluts Achutbhai!