Architect of Swaraj - 3

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It was decided at the session to start civil disobedience movement on a mass scale and it was left to Gandhi to decide when and where the campaign should be launched. At the instance of Vallabhbhai, Gandhi selected Bardoli, for he felt that people of Bardoli were gentle and mild and would not resort to violence when provoked. He along with Vallabhbhai traveled over the entire district of Bardoli to educate them. They had to rouse the people's enthusiasm and yet keep their passions from breaking into violence. Their utterances electrified the people. The people responded enthusiastically. But only a few days after, Gandhi learnt about the outbreak of violence of Chauri Chaura. The police had opened fire on a peaceful procession without any provocation and the mob retaliated by setting fire to the police station and burning to death 21 constables and one young son of a sub-inspector of police. Learning this Gandhi immediately called off civil disobedience for he felt that the nation was not yet ready for non-violent non-cooperation. Many leaders including C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru and Lala -Lajpatrai resented the suspension of the movement when it was at its peak. They called it Gandhi's greatest blunder and protested vehemently against "the ignominious and ill-turned retreat". Patel however felt that Gandhi was right in suspending civil disobedience. He told the people not to question their leader but to follow him. To quote him, "During the struggle do what Gandhiji commands us, if he asks us to rise we shall rise, if he asks us to retreat we shall do so."

Next Borsad claimed the attention of Vallabhbhai, it was his Taluka and it appealed to him for help. This Taluka was infested with dacoits and robbers. Naturally this was going on with the connivance of the police. But the police attributed it to the indifference and cowardliness of the people who did not co-­operate with the police. To set matters right a special force was posted in the Taluka and the people were asked to pay Rs. 240,000 a year which worked out at Rs. 2 and Annas / per person above the age of 16. People resented this punitive tax.

Vallabhbhai himself went to Borsad and found that the superintendent of police was himself involved. He had issued a confidential circular to all the sub-inspectors and head constables "requiring them to turn a blind eye to dacoits and offences committed by Ali, as he had undertaken to assist in the arrest of Barber Deva." The police had even supplied weapons to Ali with which he had committed many murders and dacoities. Vallabhbhai exhorted the people not to pay this punitive tax and at the same time to remain non-violent against all provocations.

The people of Borsad stood firm. The police reacted with vengeance and attached property. This went on for five weeks when Sir Leslie Wilson was appointed Governor of Bombay. He happened to see in a newspaper a report of Vallabhbhai's speech in which he had quoted that confidential letter. He deputed the Home Member to visit the place and find out the facts. The Home Member confirmed that Vallabhbhai's allegations were correct. Thereupon the punitive tax was abolished, extra cost of extra police was to be borne by the Government. Vallabhbhai thanked the Governor of Bombay for this gesture. Gandhi complimented Vallabhbhai by conferring on him the title of "King of Borsad".

From Borsad Bardoli got the attention of Sardar Patel. In Bardoli he addressed a conference which was attended by peasants from nearly 80 villages. He told them that as to the justice of their case he had not the slightest doubt, but he was not sure of their strength. He added, "I shall stand by the side of anyone who is prepared to take risks."

On 6th February Patel addressed a letter to the Governor of Bombay requesting him to order a fresh inquiry as the increase was unjust and arbitrary, and to postpone the recovery of the revised land revenue. He received a curt reply saying that his letter had been sent to the Revenue Department for Disposal. Now the battle had begun. Vallabhbhai devoted all his time and energy to organizing, uniting and rousing the people. He went from village to village. He ate delivered numerous speeches everyday. He organized a publicity department which would issue, and distribute free, his speeches in pamphlets and also a daily news bulletin.

The Government fired their first shot on 15th February by serving notices on 50 Banias to pay the revised land revenue within 10 days. Banias were considered to be weak and mild people and the Government were hopeful that they would yield. But out of the fifty only two paid. When the people learnt of it they were annoyed with the two "black sheep" and wanted to boycott them. But Vallabhbhai told them to remain calm.

Patel moved from village to village and thousands listened to his speeches with devotion. He invited the women of Bardoli also to join the struggle, "for the burnt will have to be borne by them".

When the Government realized that the imposition of fines had no effect on the people it started confiscation of land. Here are some examples; land worth Rs. 40,000 was attached to recover a tax of Rs. 700. In another instance, 33 acres of land worth Rs. 15,000 was confiscated and sold to another buyer for Rs. 161. Again, land worth Rs. 30, 000 was sold for Rs. 115. But still the people remained unperturbed. To crush them the Government resorted to a new expedient of attaching the cattle of the peasantry.

Patel than appealed to Patels and Talatis to resign. At his call 69 out of the 90 Patels and 11 out of 35 Talatis resigned. It was at this time that Vallabhbhai came to be known as the "SARDAR" of the peasants. The appellation stuck to his name for all his life.

When the Government's repressive measures proved to be ineffective then sanity dawned on them. They were frightened that if the Bardoli Satyagraha spread to other parts of India that would be the end of British rule. So they decided to compromise. The government acceded to all the demands of Sardar Patel. The independent inquiry after a thorough investigation recommended an increase of 5.7% as against 22% originally fixed. Thus ended this glorious struggle. The Bardoli struggle was significant from many points of view. It demonstrated to all the world that truth and non-violence cannot be crushed. It compelled the mighty Government, pledged to crush, to yield within a fortnight of the pledge. It was a viceroy for both the Satyagrahis and the Government and that is why both Gandhi and Vallabhbhai congratulated the people as well as the Governor.

Secondly, the Bardoli Satyagraha was a landmark in the history of our freedom movement. It gave a new meaning and significance to the history of Satyagraha in India and paved the way for the future bigger struggle. Thirdly, it projected the personality of Sardar Patel and proved his organizing capacity and ability to lead people.

In March, 1929 Sardar was invited to preside over the fifth Kathiawad Political Conference. He did some plain-speaking by telling the people to speak less and work more.

A couple of months later he was invited to preside at the Maharashtra Political Conference.

TO BE CONTINUE…..

Courtesy : ARCHITECT OF SWARAJ
Page – 80-82

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