BARDOLI SATYAGRAH The no tax movement that was launched in Bardol i taluq of Surat di st rict in Gujarat in 1928 was al so in many ways a chi ld of the Non-cooperat ion days. Stung by Gandhi j i ’s rebuke in 1922 that they had done nothing for the upl i ftment of the low-caste untouchable and t ribal inhabi tant s— who were known by the name of Kal iparaj (dark people) to di st ingui sh them from the high caste or Ujal iparaj (fai r people) and who formed sixty per cent of the populat ion of the taluq — these men, who belonged to high castes started work among the Kal iparaj through a network of six ashrams that were spread out over the taluq. These ashrams, many of which survive to thi s day as l iving inst i tut ions working for the educat ion of the t ribal s, did much to l i ft the taluq out of the demoral izat ion that had fol lowed the wi thdrawal of 1922. Kunverj i Mehta and Keshavj i Ganeshj i learnt the t ribal dialect , and developed a ‘Kal iparaj l i terature’ wi th the assi stance of the educated members of the Kal iparaj communi ty, which contained poems and prose that aroused the Kal iparaj against the Hal i system under which they laboured as heredi tary labourers for upper-caste landowners, and exhorted them to abjure intoxicat ing drinks and high marriage expenses which led to financial ruin. Bhajan mandal i s consi st ing of Kal iparaj and Ujal iparaj members were used to spread the message. Night school s were started to educate the Kal iparaj and in 1927 a school for the educat ion of Kal iparaj chi ldren was set up in Bardol i town. Annual Kal iparaj conferences were held in 1922 and, in 1927, Gandhi j i , who presided over the annual conference, ini t iated an enqui ry into the condi t ions of the Kal iparaj , who he al so now renamed as Raniparaj or the inhabi tant s of the forest in preference to the derogatory term Kal iparaj or dark people. Many leading figures of Gujarat including Narhari Parikh and Jugat ram Dave conducted the inqui ry which turned into a severe indictment of the Hal i system, exploi tat ion by money lenders and sexual exploi tat ion of women by upper-castes. As a resul t of thi s, the Congress had bui l t up a considerable base among the Kal iparaj , and could count on thei r support in the future. Therefore, when in January 1926 i t became known that Jayakar, the officer charged wi th the duty of reassessment of the land revenue demand of the taluq, had recommended a thi rty percent increase over the exi st ing assessment , the Congress leaders were quick to protest against the increase and set up the Bardol i Inqui ry Commi t tee to go into the i ssue. It s report , publ i shed in July 1926, came to the conclusion that the increase was unjust i fied. Thi
s was fol lowed by a campaign in the Press, the lead being taken by Young India and Navj ivan edi ted by Gandhi j i . The const i tut ional i st leaders of the area, including the members of the Legi slat ive Counci l , al so took up the i ssue. In July 1927, the Government reduced the enhancement to 21.97 per cent . But the concessions were too meagre and came too late to sat i sfy anybody. The const i tut ional i st leaders now began to advi se the peasant s to resi st by paying only the current amount and wi thholding the enhanced amount . The ‘Ashram’ group, on the other hand, argued that the ent i re amount must be wi thheld i f i t was to have any effect on the Government . However, at thi s stage, the peasant s seemed more incl ined to heed the advice of the moderate leaders. ‘Ashram’ group of Congress leaderson thei r part , had in the meanwhi le contacted Val labhbhai Patel and were persuading him to take on the leadership of the movement . On 12 February, Patel returned to Bardol i and explained the si tuat ion, including the Government ’s curt reply, to the peasant s’ representat ives. Fol lowing thi s, a meet ing of the occupant s of Bardol i taluq passed a resolut ion advi sing al l occupant s of land to refuse payment of the revi sed assessment unt i l the Government appointed an independent t ribunal or accepted the current amount as ful l payment . Peasant s were asked to, take oaths in the name of Prabhu (the Hindu name for god) and Khuda (the Musl im name for god) that they would not pay the land revenue. The resolut ion was fol lowed by the reci tat ion of sacred text s from the Gi ta and the Koran and songs from Kabi r, who symbol ized HinduMusl im uni ty. The Satyagraha had begun. Val labhbhai Patel was ideal ly sui ted for leading the campaign. A veteran of the Kheda Satyagraha, the Nagpur Flag Satyagraha, and the Borsad Puni t ive Tax Satyagraha, he had emerged as a leader of Gujarat who was second only to Gandhi j i . Hi s capaci t ies as an organizer, speaker, indefat igable campaigner, inspi rer of ordinary men and women were al ready known, but i t was the women of Bardol i who gave him the t i t le of Sardar. The Sardar divided the taluq into thi rteen workers’camps or Chhavani s each under the charge of an experienced leader. One hundred pol i t ical workers drawn from al l over the province, assi sted by 1,500 volunteers, many of whom were student s, formed the army of the movement . A publ icat ions bureau that brought out the dai ly Bardol i Satyagraha Pat rika was set up. Thi s Pat rika contained report s about the movement , speeches of the leaders, pictures of the jabt i or confi scat ion proceedings and other news. The members of the intel l igence wing would shadow them night and day to see that they did not pay thei r dues, secure informat ion about Government moves, especial ly of the l ikel ihood of jabt i (confi scat ion) and then warn the vi l lagers to lock up thei r houses or flee to neighbouring Baroda. Special emphasi s was placed on the mobi l izat ion of women and many
women act ivi st s l ike Mi thuben Pet i t , a Parsi lady from Bombay, Bhakt iba, the wi fe of Darbar Gopaldas, Maniben Patel , the Sardar’s daughter, Shardaben Shah and Sharda Mehta were recrui ted for the purpose. As a resul t , women often outnumbered men at the meet ings and stood fi rm in thei r resolve not to submi t to Government threat s. Those who showed signs of weakness were brought into l ine by means of social pressure and threat s of social boycot t . Caste and vi l lage panchayat s were used effect ively for thi s purpose and those who opposed the movement had to face the prospect of being refused essent ial services from sweepers, barbers, washermen, agricul tural labourers, and of being social ly boycot ted by thei r kinsmen and neighbours. These threat s were usual ly sufficient to prevent any weakening. Government official s faced the worst of thi s form of pressure. They were refused suppl ies, services, t ransport and found i t almost impossible to carry out thei r official dut ies. The work that the Congress leaders had done among the Kal iparaj people al so paid dividends during thi s movement and the Government was total ly unsuccessful in i t s at tempt s to use them against the upper caste peasant s. By July 1928, the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, himsel f began to doubt the correctness of the Bombay Government ’s stand and put pressure on Governor Wi l son to find a way out . The face-saving device was provided by the Legi slat ive Counci l members from Surat who wrote a let ter to the Governor assuring him that hi s pre-condi t ion for an enqui ry would be sat i sfied. The let ter contained no reference to what the pre-condi t ion was (though everyone knew that i t was ful l payment of the enhanced rent ) because an understanding had al ready been reached that the ful l enhanced rentwould not be paid. Nobody took the Governor seriously when he declared that he had secured an ‘uncondi t ional surrender.’ It was the Bardol i peasant s who had won. The enqui ry, conducted by a judicial officer, Broomfield, and a revenue officer, Maxwel l , came to the conclusion that the increase had been unjust i fied, and reduced the enhancement to 6.03 per cent . The New Statesman of London summed up the whole affai r on 5 May 1929: ‘The report of the Commi t tee const i tutes the worst rebuff which any local government in India has received for many years and may have far-reaching resul t s . . . It would be di fficul t to find an incident qui te comparable wi th thi s in the long and cont roversial annal s of Indian Land Revenue.
1 7 The Indian Working Class and the National Movement Towards the end of the 19th century, there were several agi tat ions, including st rikes by workers in the text i le mi l l s of Bombay, Calcut ta, Ahmedabad, Surat , Madras, Coimbatore, Wardha, and so on, in the rai lways and in the plantat ions. However, they were most ly sporadic, spontaneous and unorganized revol t s based on immediate economic grievances, and had hardly any wider pol i t ical impl icat ions. There were al so some early at tempt s at organized effort to improve the condi t ion of the workers. These effort s were made as early as the 1870s by phi lanthropi st s. In 1878, Sorabjee Shapoorj i Bengalee t ried unsuccessful ly to int roduce a Bi l l in the Bombay Legi slat ive Counci l to l imi t the working hours for labour. In Bengal , Sasipada Banerjee, a Brahmo Social reformer, set up a Workingmen’s Club in 1870 and brought out a monthly journal cal led Bharat Sramjeebi (Indian Labour), wi th the primary idea of educat ing the workers. In Bombay, Narayan Meghajee Lokhanday brought out an Anglo-Marathi weekly cal led Dina-Bandhu (Friend of the Poor) in 1880, and started the Bombay Mi l l and Mi l lhands’Associat ion in 1890. Al l these effort s were admi t tedly of a phi lanthropic natureand did not represent the beginnings of an organized working class movement . Moreover, these phi lanthropi st s did not belong to the mainst ream of the contemporary nat ional movement . The mainst ream nat ional i st movement in fact was as yet , by and large, indi fferent to the quest ion of labour. The early nat ional i st s in the beginning paid relat ively l i t t le at tent ion to the quest ion of workers despi te the t ruly wretched condi t ions under which they exi sted at that t ime. Al so, they had a st rikingly, though perhaps understandably, di fferent ial at t i tude towards the workers employed in Europeans enterpri ses and those employed in Indian enterpri ses. At thi s stage, however, the nat ional i st s were unwi l l ing to take up the quest ion of labour versus the indigenous employer. Most of the nat ional i st newspapers, in fact , denied the need for any Government legi slat ion to regulate working condi t ions and act ively opposed the Factories Act of 1881 and 1891. Simi larly, st rikes in Indian text i les mi l l s were general ly not supported. Apart from the desi re not to create any divi sions in the fledgl ing ant i -imperial i st movement , there were other reasons for the nat ional i st stance.
The nat ional i st s correct ly saw the Government ini t iat ive on labour legi slat ion as dictated by Bri t i sh manufacturing interest s which, when faced wi th growing Indian compet i t ion and a shrinking market in India, lobbied for factor legi slat ion in India which would, for example, by reducing the working hours for labour, reduce the compet i t ive edge enjoyed by Indian indust ry. Further, the early nat ional i st s saw rapid indust rial i sat ion as the panacea for the problems of Indian poverty and degradat ion and were unwi l l ing to countenance any measure which would impede thi s process. Labour legi slat ion which would adversely affect the infant indust ry in India, they said, was l ike ki l l ing the goose that laid the golden eggs. But there was al so the nat ional i st newspaper, Mahrat ta, then under the influence of the radical thinker, G.S. Agarkar, which even at thi s stage supported the workers’ cause and asked the mi l lowners to make concessions to them. Thi s t rend was, however, st i l l a very minor one. The scenario completely al tered when the quest ion was of Indian labour employed in Bri t i showned enterpri ses. Here the nat ional i st s had no hesi tat ion in giving ful l support to the workers. The Indian Nat ional Congress and the nat ional i st newspapers began a campaign against the manner in which the tea plantat ion workers in Assam were reduced to vi rtual slavery, wi th European planters being given powers, through legi slat ion to arrest , puni sh and prevent the running away of labour. An appeal was made to nat ional honour and digni ty to protest against thi s unbridled exploi tat ion by foreign capi tal i st s aided by the colonial state. It was not fortui tous, then, that perhaps the fi rst organized st rike by any sect ion of the working class should occur in a Bri t i sh-owned and managed rai lway. Thi s was the signal lers’ st rike in May 1899 in the Great Indian Peninsular (GIP) Rai lway and the demands related to wages, hours of work and other condi t ions of service. Almost al l nat ional i st newspapers came out ful ly in support of the st rike, wi th Ti lak’s newspapers Mahrat ta and Kesari campaigning for i t for months. The Swadeshi upsurge of 1903-8 was a di st inct landmark in the hi story of the labour movement . Four prominent names among the Swadeshi leaders who dedicated themselves to labour st ruggles were Aswinicoomar Bannerj i , Prabhat Kumar Roy Chowdhuri , Premtosh Bose and Apurba Kumar Ghose. They were act ive in a large number of st rikes but thei r greatest success, both in set t ing up workers’
organizat ions and in terms of popular support , was among workers in the Government Press, Rai lways and the jute indust ry . The fi rst tentat ive at tempt s to form al l India unions were al so made at thi s t ime, but these were unsuccessful . The di fferent ial at t i tude towards workers employed in European enterpri ses and those in Indian ones, however, persi sted throughout thi s period. Beginning wi th the Home Rule Leagues in 1915 and cont inuing through the Rowlat t Satyagraha in 1919, the nat ional movement once again reached a crescendo in the Non-Cooperat ion and Khi lafat Movement in 1920-22. It was in thi s context that there occurred a resurgence of working class act ivi ty in the years from 1919 to 1922. The working class now created i t s own nat ional -level organizat ion to defend i t s class right s. The most important development was the format ion of the Al l India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) in 1920. Lokamanya Ti lak, who had developed a close associat ion wi th Bombay workers, was one of the moving spi ri t s in the format ion of the AITUC, which had Lala Lajpat Rai , the famous Ext remi st leader from Punjab, as i t s fi rst president and Dewan Chaman Lal , who was to become a major name in the Indian labour movement , as i t s general secretary. Lajpat Rai was among the fi rst in India to l ink capi tal i sm wi th imperial i sm and emphasize the crucial role of the working class in fight ing thi s combinat ion. Simi larly at the second session of the AITUC, Dewan Chaman Lal whi le moving a resolut ion in favour of Swaraj pointed out that i t was to be a Swaraj , not for the capi tal i st s but for the workers. In November 1921, at the t ime of the vi si t of the Prince of Wales, the workers responded to the Congress cal l of a boycot t by a count rywide general st rike. Any di scussion of these years would remain incomplete wi thout ment ioning the founding in 1918 by Gandhi j i of the Ahmedabad Text i le Labour Associat ion (TLA) which, wi th 14,000 workers on i t s rol l s, was perhaps the largest single t rade union of the t ime. Communi st influence in the t rade union movement , marginal t i l l early 1927, had become very st rong indeed, by the end of 1928. In Bombay, fol lowing the hi storic six-month-long general st rike by the text i le workers (Apri l -September 1928), the Communi st -led Gi rni Kamgar Union (GKU) acqui red a pre-eminent posi t ion. The AITUC in November 1927 took a deci sion to boycot t the Simon Commi ssion and many workers part icipated in the massive
Simon boycot t demonst rat ions. The Government , nervous at the growing mi l i tancy and pol i t ical involvement of the working class, and especial ly at the coming together of the nat ional i st and the Left t rends, launched a two-pronged at tack on the labour movement . On the one hand, i t enacted repressive laws l ike the Publ ic Safety Act and Trade Di sputes Act s and arrested in one swoop vi rtual ly the ent i re radical leadership of the labour movement and launched the famous Meerut Conspi racy Case against them. On the other hand, i t at tempted, not wi thout some success, to wean away through concessions (for example the appointment of the Royal Commi ssion on Labour in 1929) a substant ial sect ion of the labour movement and commi t i t to the const i tut ional i st and corporat i st mould about the end of 1928, the Communi st s reversed thei r pol icy of al igning themselves wi th and working wi thin the mainst ream of the nat ional movement . Thi s led to the i solat ion of the Communi st s from the nat ional movement and great ly reduced thei r hold over even the working class. The membership of the GKU fel l from 54,000 in December 1928 to about 800 by the end of 1929. Simi larly, the Communi st s got i solated wi thin the AITUC and were thrown out in the spl i t of 1931. On 6 July, Gandhi Day was declared by the Congress Working Commi t tee to protest against large scale arrest s, and about 50,000 people took part in the hartal that day wi th workers from forty-nine factories downing thei r tool s. The day Gandhi j i breached the sal t law, 6 Apri l , a novel form of Satyagraha was launched by the workers of GIP Rai lwaymen’s Union. Nei ther did the workers take an act ive part in the Civi l Di sobedience Movement of 1932-34. The next wave of working class act ivi ty came wi th provincial autonomy and the format ion of popular mini st ries during 1937-1939. The Communi st s had, in the meant ime, abandoned thei r suicidal sectarian pol icies and since 1934re-enacted the mainst ream of nat ional i st pol i t ics. They al so rejoined the AITUC in 1935. World War II began on 3 September 1939 and the working class of Bombay was amongst the fi rst in the world to hold an ant i -war st rike on 2 October, 1939. However, wi th the Nazi at tack on the Soviet Union in 1941, the Communi st s argued that the character of the War had changed from an imperial i st war to a people’s war. It was now the duty of the working class to support the Al l ied powers to defeat Fasci sm which threatened the social i st fatherland. Because of thi s shi ft in pol icy, the Communi st party di ssociated i t sel f from the Qui t India Movement launched by Gandhi j i in August 1942. They al so successful ly fol lowed a pol icy of indust rial peace wi th employers so that product ion and war-effort would not be hampered. The Qui t India Movement , however, did not leave the working class untouched, despi te the Communi st indi fference or opposi t ion to i tTowards the end of 1945, the Bombay and Calcut ta dock workers refused to load ships going to
Indonesia wi th suppl ies for t roops meant to suppress the nat ional l iberat ion st ruggles of South-East Asia. Perhaps the most spectacular act ion by the workers in thi s period was the st rike and hartal by the Bombay workers in sol idari ty wi th the mut iny of the naval rat ings in 1946.
1 8 The Struggles for Gurdwara Reform and Temple Entry The Akal i Movement developed on a purely rel igious i ssue but ended up as a powerful epi sode of India’s freedom st ruggle. The movement arose wi th the object ive of freeing the Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) from the cont rol of ignorant and corrupt mahant s (priest s). The Gurdwaras had been heavi ly endowed wi th revenue-free land and money by Maharaja Ranj i t Singh, Sikh chieftains and other devout Sikhs during the 18th and 19th centuries. These shrines came to be managed during the 18th century by Udasi Sikh mahant s who escaped the wrath of Mughal authori t ies because they did not wear thei r hai r long. (Many ignorant people therefore bel ieve that these mahant s were Hindus. Thi s i s, of course, not t rue at al l ). In t ime corrupt ion spread among these mahant s and they began to t reat the offerings and other income of the Gurdwaras as thei r personal income. Many of them began to l ive a l i fe of luxury and di ssipat ion. Apart from the mahant s, after the Bri t i sh annexat ion of Punjab in 1849, some cont rol over the Gurdwaras was exerci sed by Government -nominated managers and custodians, who often col laborated wi th mahant s. The Government gave ful l support to the mahant s. It used them and the managers to preach loyal i sm to the Sikhs and to keep them away from the ri sing nat ional i st movement . The Sikh reformers and nat ional i st s, on the other hand, wanted a thorough reformat ion of the Gurdwaras by taking them out of the cont rol of the mahant s and agent s of the colonial regime. The nat ional i st s were especial ly horri fied by two incident s — when the priest s of the Golden Temple at Amri t sar i ssued a Hukamnama (di rect ive from the Gurus or the holy seat s of the Sikh authori ty) against the Ghadari tes, declaring them renegades, and then honoured General Dyer, the butcher of Jal l ianwala massacre, wi th a saropa (robe of honour) and declared him to be a Sikh. A popular agi tat ion for the reform of Gurdwaras developed rapidly during 1920 when the reformers organized groups of volunteers known as jathas to compel the mahant s and the Government – appointed managers to hand over cont rol of the Gurdwaras to the local devotees. The reformers won easy victories in the beginning wi th tens of Gurdwaras being l iberated in the course of the year. Symbol ic of thi s early success was the case of the Golden Temple and the
Akal Takht . The reformers demanded that ‘thi s foremost seat of Sikh fai th should be placed in the hands of a representat ive body of the Sikhs,’ and organized a series of publ ic meet ings in support of thei r demand. The Government did not want to antagonize the reformers at thi s stage and decided to stem the ri sing t ide of di scontent on such an emot ional rel igious i ssue by appeasing the popular sent iment . It , therefore, permi t ted the Government appointed manager to resign and, thus, let the cont rol of the Temple pass effect ively into the reformers’ hands. To cont rol and manage the Golden Temple, the Akal Takht and other Gurdwaras, a representat ive assembly of nearly 10,000 reformers met in November 1920 and elected a commi t tee of 175 to be known as the Shi romani Gurdwara Prabhandak Commi t tee (SGPC). At the same t ime, the need was fel t for a cent ral body which would organize the st ruggle on a more systemat ic basi s. The Shi romani Akal i Dal was establ i shed in December for thi s purpose. It was to be the chief organizer of the Akal i jathas whose backbone was provided by Jat peasant ry whi le thei r leadership was in the hands of the nat ional i st intel lectual s. Under the influence of the contemporary Non-Cooperat ion Movement — and many of the leaders were common to both the movement s — the Akal i Dal and the SGPC accepted complete non-violence as thei r creed. The Akal i movement faced i t s fi rst bapt i sm by blood at Nankana, the bi rth place of Guru Nanak, in February 1921. The Government now changed i t s pol icy. Seeing the emerging integrat ion of the Akal i movement wi th the nat ional movement , i t decided to fol low a two-pronged pol icy. To win over or neut ral ize the Moderates and those concerned purely wi th rel igious reforms, i t promi sed and started working for legi slat ion which would sat i sfy them. It decided to suppress the ext remi st or the ant i imperial i st sect ion of the Akal i s in the name of maintaining law and order. he Akal i s, too, changed thei r pol icy. Heartened by the support of nat ional i st forces in the count ry, they extended the scope of thei r movement to completely root out Government interference in thei r rel igious places. They began to see thei r movement as an integral part of the nat ional st ruggle. Consequent ly, wi thin the SGPC, too, the non-cooperator nat ional i st sect ion took cont rol . In May 1921, the SGPC passed a resolut ion in favour of non-cooperat ion, for the boycot t of foreign goods and
l iquor, and for the subst i tut ion of panchayat s for the Bri t i sh court s of law. A major victory was won by the Akal i s in the ‘Keys Affai r’ in October 1921. The Government made an effort to keep possession of the keys of the Toshakhana of the Golden Temple. The Akal i s immediately reacted, and organized massive protest meet ings; tens of Akal i jathas reached Amri t sar immediately. The SGPC advi sed Sikhs to join the hartal on the day of the arrival of the Prince of Wales in India. The Government once again decided not to confront Sikhs on a rel igious i ssue. It released al l those arrested in the ‘Keys Affai r’ and surrendered the keys of the Toshakhana to Baba Kharak Singh, head of the SGPC. Mahatma Gandhi immediately sent a telegram to the Baba: ‘Fi rst bat t le for India’s freedom won. Congratulat ions. The culminat ion of the movement to l iberate the Gurdwaras came wi th the heroic non-violent st ruggle around Guru-Ka-Bagh Gurdwara which shook the whole of India. In September 1923, the SGPC took up the cause of the Maharaja of Nabha who had been forced by the Government to abdicate. Thi s led to the famous morcha at Jai to in Nabha. But the Akal i s could not achieve much success on the i ssue since i t nei ther involved rel igion nor was there much support in the rest of the count ry. In the meanwhi le, the Government had succeeded in winning over the moderate Akal i s wi th the promi se of legi slat ion which was passed in July 1925 and which handed over cont rol over al l the Punjab Gurdwaras to an elected body of Sikhs which al so came to be cal led the SGPC. Apart from i t s own achievement , the Akal i Movement made a massive cont ribut ion to the pol i t ical development of Punjab. It awakened the Punjab peasant ry. Thi s movement was al so a model of a movement on a rel igious i ssue which was ut terly non-communal . It was thi s idea of l iberat ion of the count ry from a foreign Government that uni ted al l sect ions of the Sikh communi ty and brought the Hindus, the Musl ims and the Sikhs of the province into the fold of the Akal i movement .’The Akal i Movement al so awakened the people of the princely states of Punjab to pol i t ical consciousness and pol i t ical act ivi ty. The Akal i Movement soon divided into three st reams because i t represented three di st inct pol i t ical st reams, which had no reasons to remain uni ted as a di st inct Akal i party once Gurdwara reform had taken place. One of the movement ’s st reams consi sted of moderate, pro-Government men who were pul led into the movement because of i t s rel igious appeal and popular pressure. These men went back to loyal i st pol i t ics and became a part of the Unioni st Party. Another st ream consi sted of nat ional i st persons who joined the mainst ream nat ional i st movement , becoming a part of the Gandhian or left i st Ki rt i -Ki san and Communi st wings. The thi rd st ream, which kept the t i t le of Akal i , al though i t was not
the sole hei r of the Akal i Movement , used to the ful l the prest ige of the movement among the rural masses, and became the pol i t ical organ of Sikh communal i sm, mixing rel igion and pol i t ics and inculcat ing the ideology of pol i t ical separat ion from Hindus and Musl ims. In pre-1947 pol i t ics the Akal i Dal constant ly vaci l lated between nat ional i st and loyal i st pol i t ics. Ti l l 1917, the Nat ional Congress had refused to take up social reform i ssues lest the growing pol i t ical uni ty of the Indian people got di srupted. It reversed thi s posi t ion in 1917 when i t passed a resolut ion urging upon the people ‘the necessi ty, just ice and righteousness of removing al l di sabi l i t ies imposed by custom upon the depressed classes.’At thi s stage, Lokamanya Ti lak al so denounced untouchabi l i ty and asked for i t s removal . But they did not take any concrete steps in the di rect ion. Among the nat ional leaders, i t was Gandhi who gave top priori ty to the removal of untouchabi l i ty and declared that thi s was no less important than the pol i t ical st ruggle for freedom. In 1923, the Congress decided to take act ive steps towards the eradicat ion of untouchabi l i ty. The basic st rategy i t adopted was to educate and mobi l ize opinion among caste Hindus on the quest ion. The problem was part icularly acute in Kerala where the depressed classes or avarnas (those wi thout caste, later known as Hari jans) were subjected to degrading and de-humani sing social di sabi l i t ies. For example, they suffered not only from untouchabi l i ty but al so theendal or di stance pol lut ion — the Ezhavas and Pulayas could not approach the higher castes nearer than 16 feet and 72 feet respect ively. St ruggle against these di sabi l i t ies was being waged since the end of 19th century by several reformers and intel lectual s such as Sri Narayan Guru, N. Kumaran Asan and T.K. Madhavan Immediately after the Kakinada session, the Kerala Provincial Congress Commi t tee (KPCC) took up the eradicat ion of untouchabi l i ty as an urgent i ssue. i t was decided to launch an immediate movement to open Hindu temples and al l publ ic roads to the avarnas or Hari jans. A beginning was made in Vaikom, a vi l lage in Travancore. There was a major temple there whose four wal l s were surrounded by temple roads which could not be used by avarnas l ike Ezhavas and PulayasThe KPCC decided to use the recent ly acqui red weapon of Satyagraha to fight untouchabi l i ty and to make a beginning at Vaikom by defying the unapproachabi l i ty rule by leading a procession of
savarnas (caste Hindus) and avarnas on the temple roads on 30 March 1924. Many savarna organizat ions such as the Nai r Service Society, Nai r Samajam and Kerala Hindu Sabha supported the Satyagraha. Yogakshema Sabha, the leading organizat ion of the Namboodi ri s (highest Brahmins by caste), passed a resolut ion favouring the opening of temples to avarnas. E.V. Ramaswami Naicker (popularly known as Periyar later) led a jatha from Madurai and underwent impri sonment . In hi s Kerala tour, Gandhi did not vi si t a single temple because avarnas were kept out of them. The KPCC decided to make a beginning by organizing a temple ent ry Satyagraha at Guruvayur on 1st November 1931. A jatha of sixteen volunteers, led by the poet Subramanian Ti rumambu, who became famous as the ‘Singing Sword of Kerala,’ began a march from Cannanore in the north to Guruvayur on 21 October. The Satyagraha entered a new phase on 21 September 1932 when K. Kelappan went on a fast unto death before the temple unt i l i t was opened to the depressed classes. The main weakness of the temple ent ry movement and the Gandhian or nat ional i st approach in fight ing caste oppression was that even whi le arousing the people against untouchabi l i ty they lacked a st rategy for ending the caste system i t sel f. The st rength of the nat ional movement in thi s respect was to find expression in the Const i tut ion of independent India which abol i shed caste inequal i ty, out lawed untouchabi l i ty and guaranteed social equal i ty to al l ci t izens i rrespect ive of thei r caste.
1 9 The Years of Stagnation — Swarajists, No-changers and Gandhiji The wi thdrawal of the Non-Cooperat ion Movement in February 1922 was fol lowed by the arrest of Gandhi j i in March and hi s convict ion and impri sonment for six years for the crime of spreading di saffect ion against the Government . C.R. Das and Mot i lal Nehru. They suggested that the nat ional i st s should end the boycot t of the legi slat ive counci l s, enter them, expose them as ‘sham parl iament s’ and as ‘a mask which the bureaucracy has put on,’ and obst ruct ‘every work of the counci l .’ Thi s, they argued, would not be giving up non-cooperat ion but cont inuing i t in a more effect ive form by extending i t to the counci l s themselves.
C.R. Das as the President of the Congress and Mot i lal as i t s Secretary put forward thi s programme of ‘ei ther mending or ending’ the counci l s at the Gaya session of the Congress in December 1922. Another sect ion of the Congress, headed by Val labhbhai Patel , Rajendra Prasad and C. Rajagopalachari , opposed the new proposal which was consequent ly defeated by 1748 to 890 votes. Das and Mot i lal resigned from thei r respect ive offices in the Congress and on 1 January 1923 announced the format ion of the Congress-Khi lafat Swaraj Party bet ter known later as the Swaraj Party. Das was the President and Mot i lal one of the Secretaries of the new party. The adherent s of the counci l -ent ry programme came to be popularly known as ‘pro-changers’ and those st i l l advocat ing boycot t of the counci l s as ‘no-changers.’ The Swaraj Party accepted the Congress programme in i t s ent i rety except in one respect — i t would take part in elect ions due later in the year. It declared that i t would present the nat ional demand for sel f-government in the counci l s and in case of i t s reject ion i t s elected members would adopt ‘a pol icy of uni form, cont inuous and consi stent obst ruct ion wi thin the counci l s, wi th a view to make the Government through the counci l s impossible. The Swaraj i st s said that work in the counci l s was necessary to fi l l in the temporary pol i t ical void. Even wi thout Congressmen, said the Swaraj i st s, the counci l s would cont inue to funct ion and, perhaps, a large number of people would part icipate in vot ing. Thi s would lead to the weakening of the hold of the Congress. Moreover, non-Congressmen would capture posi t ions of vantage and use them to weaken the Congress. Why should such ‘vantage point s in a revolut ionary fight be left in the hands of the enemy?’ By joining the counci l s and obst ruct ing thei r work, Congressmen would prevent undesi rable element s from doing mi schief or the Government from get t ing some form of legi t imacy for thei r laws. The no-changers opposed counci l -ent ry mainly on the ground that parl iamentary work would lead to the neglect of const ruct ive and other work among the masses, the loss of revolut ionary zeal and pol i t ical corrupt ion. The legi slators who would go into the counci l s wi th the aim of wrecking them
would gradual ly give up the pol i t ics of obst ruct ion, get sucked into the imperial const i tut ional framework, and start cooperat ing wi th the Government on pet ty reforms and piecemeal legi slat ion. Const ruct ive work among the masses, on the other hand, would prepare them for the next round of civi l di sobedience. Both groups of leaders began to pul l back from the brink and move towards mutual accommodat ion. Thi s t rend was helped by several factors. Fi rst , the need for uni ty was fel t very st rongly by al l the Congressmen. Secondly, not only the no-changers but al so the Swaraj i st s real ized that however useful parl iamentary work might be, the real sanct ions which would compel the Government to accept nat ional demands would be forged only by a mass movement out side the legi slatures — and thi s would need uni ty. Last ly, both groups of leaders ful ly accepted the essent ial i ty of Gandhi j i ’s leadership. Consequent ly, in a special session of the Congress held at Delhi in September 1923, the Congress suspended al l propaganda against counci l -ent ry and permi t ted Congressmen to stand as candidates and exerci se thei r franchi se in forthcoming elect ions. Gandhi j i was released from jai l on 5 February 1924 on heal th grounds. He was completely opposed tocounci l -ent ry as al so to the obst ruct ion of work in the counci l s which he bel ieved was inconsi stent wi th non-violent non-cooperat ion. Perceiving a di rect threat to the nat ional movement , Gandhi j i ’s fi rst react ion was anger. He wrote in Young India on 31 October: ‘The Rowlat t Act i s dead but the spi ri t that prompted i t i s l ike an evergreen. So long as the interest of Engl i shmen i s antagoni st ic to that of Indians, so long must there be anarchic crime or the dread of i t and an edi t ion of the Rowlat t Act in answer. As an answer to the Government ’s offensive against the Swaraj i st s, he decided to show hi s sol idari ty wi th the Swaraj i st s by ‘surrendering’ before them. As he wrote in Young India: ‘I would have been fal se to the count ry i f I had not stood by the Swaraj Party in the hour of i t s need . . . I must stand by i t even though I do not bel ieve in the efficacy of Counci l -ent ry or even some of the methods of conduct ing Counci l -Warfare. On 6 November 1924, Gandhi j i brought the st ri fe between the Swaraj i st s and nochangers to an end, by signing a joint statement wi th Das and Mot i lal that the Swaraj i st Party would carry on work in the legi slatures on behal f of the Congress and as an integral part of the Congress. Thi s deci sion was endorsed in December at the Belgaum session of
the Congress over which Gandhi j i presided. He al so gave the Swaraj i st s a majori ty of seat s on hi s Working Commi t tee. In the Cent ral Legi slat ive Assembly, the Swaraj i st s succeeded in bui lding a common pol i t ical front wi th the Independent s led by M.A. Jinnah, the Liberal s, and individual s such as Madan Mohan Malaviya. They bui l t simi lar coal i t ions in most of the provinces. And they set out to infl ict defeat after defeat on the Government . The legi slatures, reformed in 1919, had a ‘semblance’ of power wi thout any real authori ty. Though they had a majori ty of elected members, the execut ive at the cent re or in the provinces was out side thei r cont rol , being responsible only to the Bri t i sh Government at home. Moreover, the Viceroy or the Governor could cert i fy any legi slat ion, including a budgetary grant , i f i t was rejected in the legi slature. The Swaraj i st s forced the Government to cert i fy legi slat ion repeatedly at the cent re as wel l as in many of the provinces, thus exposing the t rue character of the reformed counci l s. In March 1925, they succeeded in elect ing Vi thalbhai Patel , a leading Swaraj i st , as the President of the Cent ral Legi slat ive Assembly. Though intervening on every i ssue and often outvot ing the Government , the Swaraj i st s took up at the cent re three major set s of problems on which they del ivered powerful speeches which were ful ly reported in the Press and fol lowed avidly every morning by the readers. One was the problem of const i tut ional advance leading to sel f-Government ; second of civi l l ibert ies, release of pol i t ical pri soners, and repeal of repressive laws; and thi rd of the development of indigenous indust ries. In the very fi rst session, Mot i lal Nehru put forward the nat ional demand for the framing of a new const i tut ion, which would t ransfer real power to India. Thi s demand was passed by 64 votes to 48. It was rei terated and passed in September 1925 by 72 votes to 45. The Government had al so to face humi l iat ion when i t s demands for budgetary grant s under di fferent heads were repeatedly voted out . On one such occasion, Vi thalbhai Patel told the Government : ‘We want you to carry on the admini st rat ion of thi s count ry by veto and by cert i ficat ion. We want you to t reat the Government of
India Act as a scrap of paper which I am sure i t has proved to be.’ The Swaraj i st s suffered a major loss when C.R. Das died on 16 June 1925. In Bengal , the majori ty in the Swaraj Party fai led to support the tenant s’ cause against the zamindars and, thereby, lost the support of i t s pro-tenant , most ly Musl im, members. Nor could the Swaraj Party avoid the int rusion of communal di scord in i t s own ranks. Very soon, a group of Responsivi st s arose in the party who wanted to work the reforms and to hold office wherever possible. The Responsivi st s joined the Government in the Cent ral Provinces. Thei r ranks were soon swel led by N.C. Kelkar, M.R. Jayakar and other leaders. Lajpat Rai and Madan Mohan Malaviya too separated themselves from the Swaraj Party on Responsivi st as wel l as communal grounds.