Elder Brother Gandhi as Patel’s lieutenant at Bardoli

Plainly Speaking by Dr.Hari Desai

Elder Brother Gandhi as Patel’s lieutenant at Bardoli

   ‘If you wish to fight a war, you cannot afford to celebrate weddings’:  
Vallabhbhai called the  Government composed mainly of ‘outsiders’

As we have seen in the last installment that it was inevitable for Vallabhabhai Patel to take leadership of the Bardoli Satyagraha, he decided to launch it from 12 February 1928. Once set to take the lead, Barrister Patel would not look back. He decided to have support of respectable landholders of all the communities of the Bardoli Taluka, Patidars, Vanias, Christians, Muslims and backward classes. He kept an eye on everything that went on in every part of the Taluka. Half of the 87,000 inhabitants were Dublas (now Halpatis) and tribals; a third were Patidars; Muslims and Anavil Brahmins were 4 per cent each; and Vanias and untouchables 2 per cent each. But the Dublas, tribals and untouchables were a small minority among the 17,000 landholders. Patidars, Brahmins, Vanias, Muslims and a sprinkling of Parsis owned most of the land, records Rajmohan Gandhi in “Patel: A Life”.
Following the decision to launch the Bardoli Satyagraha, Patel worked out the plan. Narhari D. Parikh describes in “Sardar Vallbhbhai Patel”: “The battle was joined. Camps were opened at different places to warn people against the efforts which Government officers had already begun to make to break the unity of the people and to recover the land revenue by recourse to various methods of persuasion, pressure, etc. Another object of these camps was, of course, also to encourage the few who were hesitant or afraid of consequences and to achieve and maintain complete unity among the different caste and creed. Each of these camps was placed in charge of selected workers, workers from outside also started pouring in: they were placed in charge of camps at different places.” Four ‘Ks’ were already in action: they were Kalyanji Mehta, Kunvarji Mehta, Keshavbhai and Khushalbhai Patel. Uttamchand Shah too. Mahadev Desai was shuttling between Bardoli and Ahmedabad.
Vallabhbhai was the sole in charge or the Commander-in-Chief for the entire Satyagraha. He had allotted various departments to his lieutenants. Manilal Kothari was to collect funds for the campaign. Pyarelal took charge of the English publication Section. The leaflets issued daily by this department were to keep the people informed. Jugatram Dave was in charge of the bulletins or Patrikas. The sole spokesman for the movement was Vallabhbhai himself. Swami Anand was to be his Personal Assistant.
Vallabhbhai was to direct every activity from Bardoli’s Satyagraha Ashram. One of Mahatma Gandhi’s sons, Ramdas, was to manage the Ashram refectory with other helpers. Darbar Gopaldas Desai, Mohanlal Pandya, Ravishankar Maharaj, Balwantray Mehta, Dr. Sumant Mehta and a team of women workers consisted of Maniben, Shardaben Mehta, Bhaktiba Desai and Mithuben Petit joined the team of Vallabhbhai. Abbas Tyabji,73, a retired Chief Judge of Baroda State as well as Imam Saheb Abdul Kader Bavazir, who was with Gandhiji in South Africa, joined the Satyagraha to encourage Bardoli’s Muslims.
The beginning of the campaign coincided with the marriage season. Vallabhbhai issued a leaflet and warned the people against succumbing to any temptation. The leaflet declared: “If you have any marriage to celebrate, you will have to see that you are through with very quickly. If you wish to fight a war, you cannot afford to celebrate weddings. Pretty soon you will have to lock up your doors from dawn till sunset and wander about in the field. You will have to lead a camp life. Let everyone concerned men, women, children, old and young, understand this. Rich and poor of all classes and all communities must work in complete harmony. Everyone must come home at night. Arrange matters that the Government would find it impossible to discover a single man to help them in carrying away any confiscated property. That must be the condition throughout the Taluka.”
After the declaration of war, Vallabhbhai received a letter on 17 February from J. W. Smyth, Revenue Secretary to the Government of Bombay branding him and others as “outsiders” instigating the people of Bardoli not to pay up the land revenue. Not only Patel but even Gandhiji objected to the leaders of Bardoli Satyagraha being called “outsiders”. After thanking the Government for their threats to the people, Patel said: “You regard me and my colleagues as outsiders. I am helping my own people and am bringing to light your misdeeds. You are forgetting that you speak on behalf of a Government which is composed mainly of outsiders. Let me assure you that though I claim to belong to Bardoli as to any other part of India. I have come to Bardoli at the request of the distressed people of the Taluka, and it is open to them to tell me to clear out at any moment.”
So furious was Smyth with Vallabhbhai’s reply that he directed him to deal with the Collector of Surat. The Government machinery initiated aggressive campaign to issue threats of attaching the movables and buffaloes of those who withhold the tax. The Raj pressurized the Deputy Collectors, Revenue officers and even Talaties to collect the tax by hook or crook. Their soft targets were some Vanias. Acting in collusion with a revenue officer, two Vanias “accidently” left their dues near their windows and “neglected” to shut the windows when a drumbeat announced the arrival of an attaching party. The Raj was able, therefore, to “seize” Rs.1,500 from one of them and Rs.785 from the other. The villagers saw through the stratagem and were furious. Rejecting Vallabhbhai’s advice, they extracted “penance” from the two Vanias: one paid Rs. 800 towards the Satyagraha campaign and the other Rs. 651.
To teach a lesson to the people of Bardoli, the Government had brought the troops of Pathans. Efforts were made to attach the land of the defaulters. The official machinery started organizing auctions to sell off the attached land to outsiders. There was total non-cooperation from the local people with the Raj. Even when the Collector of Surat went on visit of Bardoli Taluka, he could not get any bullock-cart to travel. The movement was becoming an all-India issue as Gandhiji wrote about it in “Navjivan”. Even pro-Government newspapers like “Times of India” reported the impact of the Satyagraha. There was an indication of Vallabhbhai being arrested by the authorities. At this juncture, “Elder Brother” Gandhiji decided to go to Bardoli as “a solder of Vallabhbhai” to carry out the responsibility, in case Patel was arrested. Earlier the Mahatma had kept himself out of Bardoli. Both Gandhiji and Patel knew, in the words of Mahadev Desai, that Vallabhbhai, “who had in him the blood of generations of peasants”, could organize the Bardoli populace “in a form in which (Gandhi) could never have done”. Unlike the Mahatma, he spoke the language of the soil and as a Patidar, he belonged to the community that comprised the Satyagraha’s backbone. (To be continued)
(12 June 2018 Bardoli Day)

Elder Brother Gandhi as Patel’s lieutenant at Bardoli Elder Brother Gandhi as Patel’s lieutenant at Bardoli Reviewed by Dr.Hari Desai on June 12, 2019 Rating: 5

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