His dream: world peace through education
The numbers speak for him: 56,000 students, 18 campuses and a Guinness World Record. Year after year, his students dominate the ICSE and ISC merit lists, crack competitive examinations, take part in many international events, rub shoulders with foreign students and delegates on a daily basis and the list of co-curricular engagements continues.
At 84, City Montessori School (Lucknow) founder-manager Jagdish Gandhi leads the largest chain of private English-medium schools in the state capital. The school that he established as City Montessori School in Lucknow with just five students, today, has over 56,000 students enrolled on 18 campuses and has found place in the Guinness World Records as the World’s Largest School by Pupils in a single city.
“My vision was to prepare not just literate adults but world citizens, who, apart from being adept at material knowledge, were endowed with the virtues of humankind (peace, unity and brotherhood) and who would act as agents of social transformation,” said Jagdish Gandhi, while signing piles of papers being put forth by his secretary.
The influence of Gandhi?
A staunch follower of Father of the Nation, Jagdish Gandhi decided to bring Mahatma Gandhi’s words and teachings into action. With no resources or personal wealth, he set out to leave a permanent impression of peace, unity and brotherhood in the minds of children while they were still impressionable.
“I began my fight against all odds to experiment in educating young minds towards the means to achieve lasting peace. I decided to use education as a vehicle for change, and to impart an education which included the material, human and divine: the three realities of life,” he said.
Young Jagdish was 11 years old when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, leaving him distraught. His dream of meeting the Mahatma in person lay shattered. However, young Jagdish made it his life’s goal to work for peace and unity in the world. He shed his surname, Agarwal and adopted Gandhi as his surname.
Born in 1936, in a poor family in a remote village of Aligarh district of Uttar Pradesh, young Jagdish immersed himself in social service in Aligarh, influenced as he was by the Mahatma.
During a fortnight-long strike by sweepers who were demanding an untimely hike in wages, Jagdish Gandhi led a team of 50 youth volunteers, even cleaned human excreta from the roads of Aligarh city for two weeks, to prevent the spread of diseases.
The inception of City Montessori School
Young Jagdish Gandhi arrived in Lucknow to pursue higher education. Year 1959 was a landmark year. Nearly 60 years ago, Jagdish Gandhi, founded the City Montessori School with a borrowed capital of few hundred rupees in his rented residence at 12 Station Road, barely a kilometre away from Charbagh railway station.
“In my early 20s, along with my wife, Bharti, I founded the City Montessori School with just five students. We approached a number of families to send their children so we may start our school. All refused. Our neighbour, Sohanlal Agarwal and his wife, who lived across the road agreed to enrol five of their children. That’s how the journey began,” he recalled.
“Our school adopted the motto of ‘Jai Jagat’ — ‘Victory to the World’, which was in sync with the ancient Indian ethos of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam’ (the world is one family),” he said. Gandhi vowed to create world citizens with a global mindset through inclusive education who would stand against conflict and war, and who, in addition, would become proactive agents of profound social transformation.
A brief political career
After landing in Lucknow in the 50s, he took admission in the University of Lucknow to pursue higher studies in commerce. With no money, Jagdish gave tuitions to the needy for petty amounts to pursue his studies and decided to contest the students’ union election for the president’s post.
He won in 1959. To celebrate the momentous occasion, he went to Delhi and invited the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to inaugurate his students’ union. Nehru obliged him and came to Lucknow University on his invitation to do the honour on March 2, 1959.
Ten years later, he contested Vidhan Sabha election in 1969 as an independent candidate from Sikandara Rao district Aligarh and won. He remained MLA for five years. Gandhi claims that shortly after getting elected as MLA, he motivated the then Vice-President of India, VV Giri, to contest the presidential election as an independent candidate.
“As Congress refused to field him for the coveted post, VV Giri contested the presidential election as an independent candidate and won the election on August 24, 1969, and became ‘the first independently contested President of India’. This happened despite the fact that not only was the Congress Party in power at the Centre, but also in a majority of states in India, he said.
To bring about lasting peace
Using a multi-pronged approach, he began to educate not only children but also parents and society, at large. As a result, all began to witness the remarkable benefits of such an approach on their children’s mindset. His beliefs are put into action through his school where all the 56,000 students recite prayers from all religions every morning in school assemblies, apart from a World Unity Prayer.
“Initially, parents would object to my programmes such as the ‘All Religions Prayer’ in which children recite prayers from all religious scriptures on the same platform, along with the message of unity of religions, based on the idea that the source of all religions is ONE God. Gradually, the parents began to buy into his ideas on education for unity. Parents slowly began to accept his belief that unity required two things, a common concern and a binding thread; and over 2 billion children of the world are a common concern and their secure future is the binding thread for all nations of the world and society in general,” he said.
Honour and awards
The City Montessori School or CMS, as it is popularly known, is also the only school ever to receive the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education (for the year 2002), the other notable recipients of the coveted prize being the likes of Mother Teresa and Robert Muller.
In 2014, the United Nations Department of Public Information associated City Montessori School Society as its NGO. CMS has also been awarded the Nuclear Free Future Special Achievement Award by the Franz Moll Foundation in 2004, besides other recognition by internationally renowned organisations and individuals.