|SATYAGRAHA LABORATORIES OF MAHATMA GANDHI|
Till the advent of Gandhiji into the political arena in India, the Indian nationalists had visualised only two courses of action to lead India towards self-government. One, adopted by the Liberals, and more or less by the extremists also, was to pass resolutions, petitioning, so criticising or condemning Government, as also to agitate and focus public opinion. The other, adopted by the younger section styled "Revolutionary" was a resort to the bomb and other methods of violence. The former was ineffective and the latter was possible only for a few on account of the immense potentiality of the Government for counter-violence and repression, as was evidenced by the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The young mind of the country was surging with discontent accompanied by a feeling of disappointment and frustration.
Gandhiji had tried quite successfully his method of direct action first called "passive resistence" and subsequently described as "Satyagraha" in South Africa. It was, however, feared that what was possible in South Africa on account of the smallness of the population there, might not be possible in India with a vast population and diverse elements consisting of different religions, provinces, creeds, languages, interests, ete. Gandhiji, however, has abundant faith in the righteousness and the adaptability of his method under Indian conditions.
To Bihar, of all the proviness in India, belongs the honour of having served as the first laboratory for Mahatma Gandhi for his various experiments which were laterly to find their application in different phases of his campaign for national regeneration of the country.
The 10th day of April of the year 1917 will be marked as a red letter day in the annals of Bihar for it was on that day that the architect of India's freedom set foot upon its soil in response to the call of submerged humanity. The European planters, considered to be the powers behind the British throne, from whose oppression Gandhiji came to release the dumb driven millions of Champaran, rallied in a solid phalanx to obstruct and oppose him. The Statesman, the Englishman and the Pioneer, the powerful organs of the Anglo-Indian interests, opened their broadsides upon him. The eyes of the whole of India were fixed on Bihar, where the first round of the struggle for India's freedom had started, for it soon became manifest that the fight for emancipation of the peasants of Champaran meant battling not only against the European planters but also the white bureaucracy of the land. Acting under the instructions of the Commissioner of the Tirhut Division, the District Magistrate of Champaran ordered Mahatmaji to leave the district at once. How could the saviour respect this fiat by giving up his mission? He was hauled up in court for defiance of orders. In the course of his statement to the court he said, "As a law-abiding citizen my first instinct would be, as it was, to obey the order served upon me. But I could not do so without doing violence to my sense of duty to those for whom I came. I feel that I could just now serve them by remaining in their midst. I could not therefore voluntarily retire. Amidst this conflict of duty I could only throw the responsibility of removing me from them on the administration."
It is remarkable that it was in Champaran that the theory and practice of Satyagrah came to be associated for the first time with the fight for freedom. It was here again that the entire strategy of the struggle was evolved. What was to be done if Gandhiji was arrested? That was the question of questions. A number of suggestions were made. But again Mahatmaji's own method as he had practised in South Africa was considered to be the most suitable. It was decided that in case the Mahatma went to jail; Maulana Mazhrul Haque and Babu Brajkishor Prasad would take the lead. If they were removed, Babu Dharnidhar and Babu Ram Navami Prasad would take charge of the work. If they too were picked up, Babu Rajendra Prasad, Babu Shambhu Saran and Babu Anugrah Narayan Singh were to fill the gap.
Mahatmaji went about from village to village in Champaran preaching love and inspiring faith and confidence among the people. Here he felt that his efforts for the uplift of the masses could not have enduring results unless an urge was created within them. For this, it was necessary to educate them. On the 13th of November, 1917 Mahatma Gandhi opened his first school at Barharwa Lakhansen, a village at a distance of about 20 miles to the east of Motihari. Another school was opened by Gandhiji on the 20th of November in a village called Bhitiharwa. A third school was opened on the 17th of January, 191B at Madhuban, which had among its teachers, Mahadeva Desai.
It is worth mentioning that the Satyagrah of Champaran was responsible for initiation in the service of the motherland of two volunteers Acharya Kripalani and Deshratna Dr. Rajendra Prasad. While Bihar's indebtedness to Mahatma Gandhi is irritrievable not only for having succoured her millions from the tentacles of white planters but also for having breathed into her soul the new message.
The Monsoon of 1917 was poor, resulting in the failure of crops in the Kaira District of Gujarat. At that time, there was in Ahmedabad an old organisation called the Gujarat Sabha, which represented and worked for the political, social and economic welfare of Gujarat. Its work was being carried on the orthodox lines of the Liberals. Namelly, petitions and representations so far as government was concerned. Gandhiji was invited to accept the presidentship of the Sabha.
At this stage, Gandhiji led the Sabha to strike a new path on the line of direct action. The government were realising the dues from the agriculturists during the pendency of the Sabha's appeal to government. Gandhiji induced the Sabha to issue instructions to the peasants to hold over payment till the Sabha's appeal was decided by government. Characteristic of his method of pursuing any public cause, he directed the Secretaries of the Sabha to send a copy of the instructions to the peasants and to the Divisional Commissioner. This was the first time that the bureaucracy was met with a firm stand by a public body. The Divisional Commissioner interpreted the instructions to the peasants given by the Sabha, as a direct call to disobey the orders of the subordinate officers, and threatened to take such action as he deemed proper under the circumstances. This created a very serious situation from the point of view of the Managing Committee of the Sabha, which was naturally accustomed to the old methods of liberal type. It was at this stage that Gandhiji took the matter under his personal supervision and shifted the headquarters from Ahmedabad to Nadiad, a central place in the Kaira district. All the workers also shifted their headquarters, and Gandhiji carried on correspondence with the government on the subject, after getting information, personally by visits to several villages and from the reports of workers specially deputed to visit the villages and make enquiries about crops. Gandhiji would have been satisfied with an independent Committee of Enquity.
As anticipated, the government refused to appoint a Committee of Enquiry, because the Divisional Commissioner threatened to resign. On refusal by government Gandhiji advised the peasantry to refuse to pay the assessment on the false basis of there being no failure of crops. This was the first such experiment on a large scale undertaken in India. The Motihari refusal to obey the Magistrate's order was a case of individual civil disobedience, though limited to small district. The struggle went on for a few months. All pressure was brought by giving agriculturists notices of forfeiture of lands, but thanks to the presence of Gandhiji and his constant movement in the district from place to place, the people were not only non-violent, but were also very firm and prepared for any amount of sacrifices for the common cause.
The matter ended with an honourable compromise with notices of forfeitures being withdrawn and the forfeited lands returned. The experiment inspired a new confidence with a new outlook. The people saw that there was, after all, a new course open by which they could assert themselves and get what they wanted.
It is strange that the significance of Bardoli is little realised by those who talk of a Labour and Kisan Movement as distinct from the "bourgeois" movement of the Congress. In their attempt to fit every situation into a prefabricated mould, the leftists have often overlooked the fact that the Gandhian Congress sought its inspiration and strength from being a movement of the people or the kisans. The two terms were synonymous in India. Bardoli was, if anything, the spearhead of a military agrarian movement.
It will be seen, how from the very beginning Gandhiji believed that the key to Swaraj lay in the villages. His strategy was to choose a small target and focuss all national forces on what looked a moderate issue, but was really a part of an explosive chain, the keystone of a whole edifice. We have seen how he chose a direct attack on the British rule in Chamaparan and in Kaira. In fact non-cooperation movement was only a preparation for a revolution to be started at Bardoli, though it had to be given up after one or two attempts following Chauri Chaura incidents.
The story of Bardoli is important not only as a landmark in the march to fredom, but as giving, at a high level, the true pattern of the Gandhian technique. To "BARDOLISE" the country, became the ambition and plan of he national movement.
This technique may, perhaps, be analysed as: (1) the choice of a just, moderate and direct issue; (2) preparing the mass of people for fearless and disciplined defiance; (3) simultaneous work of education, moral uplift and material betterment of the people; (4) readiness for negotiation and compromise with the adversary; (5) skilful steering of the movement to intenser and wider activity from stage to stage in sacrifice and suffering on one hand and aggressive defiance of authority on the other.
Bardoli was a typical tehsil with less than a lakh of population, the bulk of whom were agriculturists, with a sprinkling of money lenders, and other petty traders and occupants of larger holdings. Quite a considerable number of Gandhiji' s Satyagrahis in South Africa were from Bardoli, including several Masalmans. Intense constructive work, organisation of national schools and khadi centres, social reform, prohibition, had been carried on in Bardoli since Gandhiji's attest in 1922.
The choice to lead the cherished campaign of Bardoli-which was to be a model and inspiration to the rest of the country-fell on Vallabhbhai deliberately. Vallabhbhai had come under Gandhi's spell much earlier and had already rediscovered himself in Kaira.
Gandhiji once, while arguing with the revolutionaries, remarked that he would retire in favour of, even a man of sword, if he found he was truly a man of the people, who gave up the plough to take to the sword.
It was six years later, in 1928, that an opportunity carne to redeem the pledge of Bardoli. Bardoli was to have one of the periodical resettlements of land which occurred once in a stated period of 20 or 30 years, when Land Revenue was raised by another 25 per cent or so. The people of Bardoli would not pay this enhancement and first demanded an impartial investigation into economic conditions, burden of taxation, and such things as the state of roads in these villages. All the constitutional methods were tried for Government acceptance of the demand for a Committee of enquiry. Then an ultimatum was issued and a no tax campaign was organised. Vallabhbhai was invited to lead this battle by the Kisans in their Taluka conference.
Vallabhbhai came to live in the midst of these villagers as one of them. For dealing with the Muslim population, he was assisted by the veteran leaders Abbas Tyabji and Iman Saheb. A host of other trained workers were at his disposal and besides them the agriculturists spontaneously raised volunteers from among themselves. These were to serve in their own villages, to collect and carry information. Daily news-bulletins and pamphlets with Vallabhbhai's speeches were published and distributed, not only in these villages but in towns and villages outside Bardoli. The stirring, simple words of Vallabhbhai sent a new thrill not only in Bardoli but in the whole of Gujarat at this time.
"I know that some of you are afraid of your lands being confiscated. What is confiscation? Will they take the lands away to England? The worst that can happen is that the lands might be transferred to Government in their books, but if you are united you can defy anyone to come forward to cultivate the lands. And rest assured when you are ready to allow your lands to be confiscated the whole of Gujarat will be at your back.
"Organise your village and you will set an example to others. The campaign has begun. Every village must now be an armed camp. The news from every village must reach the Taluka headquarters daily and punctually and every instruction from the headquarters must promptly be obeyed. Descipline and organisation means half the battle. Government have at the most one patel and one talati to every village. For us every adult in the village must be a volunteer."
While preparations were thus going on in the villages, Vallabhbhai was carrying a correspondence with the Government. But the Government was not to yield and the warning was given that if the people of Bardoli defaulted in the payment of revenue, acting on their own or yielding to the advice of persons from outside, they would have to suffer the consequence. Vallabhbhai while thanking the Government for the threat and the warning reminded the Revenue Secretary that he evidently "missed the fact that the Government which you represent is truly dominated by persons from outside."
The Government soon began to act. Both threats and cajolery began to be used. In one village some banias paid the new assessment. But the people were not demoralised. Vallabhbhai had prepared them against such desertions. A Satyagraha pledge was now being signed by all the villages.
The soul stirring eloquence of Vallabhbhai, in the peasants' idiom, had raised them to exalted heights, and fired them with a fearless resolve. "I see that these 15 days have taught you to cast fear from your hearts. You are however not yet completely free from it. Two annas in the rupee is still there. Shake it off." You seem to have lost the capacity of rightious indignation against wrong. The absence of it is cowardice. I go about in your village at dead of night sometimes, without ever once being asked, 'Halt. Who goes there? It is your quiescence that has been your undoing. I want to inoculate you with fearlessness, I want to galvanise you into life. I miss in your eyes the flash of indignation against wrong."
Notices of forfeiture now began to be served by the Government on selected landlords who were expected to show weakness. But this was having no effect. Every day the strength and organisation of the villages grew. Help in the shape of men and women workers and funds now began to come from outside. The world outside was becoming aware and was thrilled with what was happening in Bardoli. In the village itself enthusiasm reached a higher and higher level and the scenes of the mammoth meetings, of men and women of those days cannot be forgotten by those who participated in them.
The new life in the villages began to manifest itself in many ways, in better cleanliness, in temperance, in revival of Khadi, in awakening among the women, in the setting up of schools and Ashramas.
This close contact with the people and the burning zeal and rage that Vallabhbhai was experiencing and transmitting had brought home to him the stark reality, the central reality in India, the condition of the peasant. It became clearer and clearer to him and he developed his apothesis of the peasant on a two-fold basis, his keen appreciation of very high place of the peasant in a true social economy and his poignant anguish at the very low state to which the peasant has been reduced, by the Government, supported by the 'educated' classes. As Gandhiji put it "Vallabhbhai found his Vallabh (God) in Bardoli." Bardoli had created its Sardar. The Government soon mobilised all its machinery and lawlessness was soon let loose, in rising tide and ferocity. Many of the workers were arrested and imprisoned, after mock trials by special magistrates. Bardoli had by now become the cynosure of all eyes in India. It has stood the fire beyond all expectations. Attempts at breaches in its ranks had failed and the bania, the parsi and the musalman had all stood fast. The heroism of the simple women of Bardoli was an inspiration for the whole country.
In Ahmedabad, and in Bombay, news about Bardoli were anxiously awaited and read. There were meetings of protest and for relief and the Working Committee of the Congress that met in Bombay passed a resolution on Bardoli that rang through the country. Several M. L. C.s had already resigned their seats on the Bombay Legislative Council. Many of the leaders visited Bardoli at this time. As Jamanalal Bajaj put it they came to purify themselves and warm themselves at the sacred flame that had been lit in the villages there. Bardoli was now attracting even wider attention. Houses were deserted. A "Scortched earth" policy was followed and people lived as if in war trenches. The special correspondent of the Bombay Times reported with flaming headlines: 'Peasant Rebellion', 'Bolshevik Regime in Bardoli'. Reuter warned England of the Soviet Regime being established! There were questions in the House of Commons. The Government frantically intensified its repression and reinforced the garrison at Bardoli. Also negotiations were opened with Vallabhbhai by the Government. The elephant was feeling powerless against the gnat. But threats of crushing the movement were reiterated. Vallabhbhai kept a complete balance of mind, and combined firmness with fairness and moderation in his demands. Bardoli had become an all- India question and arrest of Vallabhbhai would not help the Government any longer. A settlement was ultimately brought about. The desciplined but revolutionary battle had ended in a triumph for the peasantry who fought with the weapons of truth and patient suffering against an enemy who could any day have crushed them to atoms.
It was the first great victory of Satyagraha on a mass-scale 10 which the victors and the vanquished both were winners.
There is no doubt, that the example of Bardoli was an abiding source of inspiration all through the subsequent struggle in our freedom movement. It also helped the Imperial bureaucracy to a realisation of the potential development of even an unarmed revolution.