Architect of Swaraj - 2

Architect of Swaraj

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel 

Gandhi and Patel made a strong team as President and Secretary of the Gujarat Sabha. Earlier it used to meet once a year and would pass resolution and submit some petitions to the Government. But now it was decided to set up an executive committee with Gandhi as Chairman and Patel as Secretary which would function with a fixed program for the welfare of the masses. Under the Secretaryship of Patel the Sabha rendered service to the people of Gujarat in time of distress. When in 1917 plague broke out in Ahmedabad, Patel organized an anti-plague campaign. People looked to him with confidence to organize the relief measures. No single man in our country organized with so unfailing a success so many and so extensive relief measures in natural calamities as Patel did.

Patel as Secretary of the Gujarat Sabha took up the question of forced labour. Patel wrote three letters to Mr. Pratt, the then Commissioner of Northern Division, to ascertain the Government views on the subject. When nothing materialized he published and distributed leaflets among , villagers to educate them against forced labour. It had the desired effect and people began to press for payment for the services rendered. This antagonized the Government officers against Patel but he remained unmoved.

In early 1918, the crops of Kaira district were washed away by rain. The farmers were left with nothing and could not pay the land revenue. They prayed for the exemption of land tax. But the Government turned a deaf ear to their request. So the people approached Patel for help. "I shall see the crops myself and if what you say is correct, I shall request Gandhiji to take up your fight."

Patel himself visited the villages on a fact-finding inquiry and when he was satisfied he wrote to the Government of Bombay to grant exemption from land revenue. But this had no effect. So Patel approached Gandhi to take up the case of the Kaira peasants. Gandhi advised Satyagraha but he wanted "one at least of the workers of Gujarat Sabha to accompany him and devote all his time to the campaign until it was completed.'' Vallabhbhai offered his services, much to Gandhi's delight. Patel gave up his "European dress and donned dhoti and Kurta and toured the villages of Kaira District along with Gandhi to train the people to suffer in the cause of Satyagraha. When Gandhi appealed to the people to refrain form plying land revenue, the Government became furious and enforced punitive measures for tax collection. Lands were attached, property confiscated, and cattle were auctioned. This meant too great a hardship for the famine-hit people of Kaira. Gandhi had to leave Kaira to go to Champaran in Bihar. But in his absence Patel went from village to village and exhorted the peasants to bear the hardships cheerfully and not to yield. The peasants had faith in their leader and stood firm. Ultimately the Government had to yield. It agreed that the tax should be collected only from those who could pay it. This was what the Gujarat Sabha had been asking for. So the no ­tax campaign was called off.

The Kaira campaign had two effects Firstly the efficacy of the technique of Satyagraha was proved. It was later developed and adopted for the freedom movement. Secondly, the Kaira campaign discovered a new leader in the person of Patel.

In 1917, Patel contested and was elected as Municipal Councillor in a by-election in Ahmedabad Municipality. At that time a headstrong I.C.S. Officer, J.A. Shillidy, was the Municipal Commissioner who did not care for the advice of the Municipal Board. Soon after his election Patel came into conflict with Shillidy. Shillidy was out to help his favoured Councillor, one Fateh Mohammad Munshi, who bad contributed a handsome amount towards the War Loan. There was a small Jake near the railway station. Since it was a breeding ground for mosquitoes, it was decided to fill it up. But Munshi had a match factory near this lake and was seasoning timber in this lake. He wanted the lake to remain unfilled. Disregarding the interest of the Municipality, Shillidy leased this Jake to Munshi for a song. Vallabhbhai came to know all the facts of the case. He moved a resolution demanding the removal of Shillidy. The resolution was passed and the Government bad no alternative but to remove him.

Eight years after, i.e., in 1924, Patel was elected President of the Municipality and devoted all his time and energies to the betterment of the city. He did his utmost to make Ahmeda­bad cleaner, healthier and more beautiful. He himself took up the broom to clean the city. He encouraged the development of parks, play-ground are recreational centres. He also opened schools to provide free education. And when Indian National Congress passed the historic resolution of Non-cooperation at Nagpur in 1920, Patel prevailed upon the Municipality to free Municipal schools from Government control. He told the school.5 to decline the education grant from the Government. The Deputy Education Inspector was told not to visit the Municipal schools. The Government was no prepared to brook this insult. This Commissioner dubbed this act of the Municipality ultra vires. When the Commissioner ordered the Municipality to hand over the schools to the Government, the Municipality closed the schools for a month. This annoyed the Commissioner and he moved the. Government to suspend the Municipality. The Municipality was suspended on 9th February, 1922, and the Government entrusted its affairs to a committee nominated by them. Vallabhbhai strongly condemned this act to the Government. He also appealed to the people for funds to run national schools and was able to collect Rs. 1.25 lakhs with which 43 national schools were opened. Ultimately the Government had to yield and after two years the Municipality was restored.

Vallabhbhai continued to be the President of Ahmedabad Municipality till 1928 when he had to resign to devote himself fully to Bardoli struggle. During his tenure as President he continued to instil courage, self-respect and self-confidence in the people. Soon after the successful completion of the Kaira Satyagraha, Vallabhbhai joined Gandhi in raising recruits for the War which was going on at the time. But once the War was over, the Government tried to resuscitate the old Anglo­-Indian life. As if to add fuel to the fire the Rowlatt Committee's report was published. After the Rowlatt Bills came the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh on April 13th, 1919. 

Vallabhbhai now agreed with Gandhiji that non-co-operation was the only answer to British cruelties. The Congress. session was to be held in Calcutta to pass the non-cooperation resolution. 



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