THE SWARAJISTS, CONSTRUCTIVE WORK AND BARDOLI SATYAGRAHA
- The Swaraj Party, established as the Congress-Khilafat Swarajaya Party, was a political party formed in India in December 1922 that sought greater self-government and political freedoms for the Indian people from the British Raj.
- After Gandhi’s arrest (March 1922), there was disintegration, disorganisation and demoralisation among nationalist ranks. A debate started among Congressmen on what to do during the transition period, i.e., the passive phase of the movement.
- One section led by C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru and Ajmal Khan wanted an end to the boycott of legislative councils so that the nationalists could enter them to expose the basic weaknesses of these assemblies and use these councils as an arena of political struggle to arouse popular enthusiasm.
- They wanted to ‘end or mend’ these councils, i.e., if the Government did not respond to the nationalists’ demands, then they would obstruct the working of these councils.
- Those advocating entry into legislative councils came to be known as the Pro-changers or Swarajists, while the other school of thought led by Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, C. Rajagopalachari and M.A. Ansari came to be known as the ‘No-changers’.
- The ‘No-changers’ opposed council entry, advocated concentration on constructive work, and continuation of boycott and non- cooperation and quiet preparation for resumption of the suspended civil disobedience programme.
- The differences over the question of council entry between the two schools of thought resulted in the defeat of the Swarajists’ proposal of ‘ending or mending’ the councils at the Gaya session of the Congress (December 1922).
- C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru resigned from the presidentship and secretaryship respectively of the Congress and announced the formation of Congress-Khilafat Swarajya Party, or Swarajya Party with C.R. Das as the president and Motilal Nehru as one of the secretaries.
- The Swarajists argued that entering the councils would not negate the non-cooperation programme; in fact, it would be like carrying on the movement through other means—opening a new front.
- In a time of political vacuum, council work would serve to enthuse the masses and keep up their morale Entry of nationalists would deter the Government from stuffing the councils with undesirable elements who may be used to provide legitimacy to government measures.
- Their only intention was to use the councils as an arena of political struggle; they had no intention to use the councils as organs for gradual transformation of colonial rule.
- The No-Changers argued that parliamentary work would lead to neglect of constructive work, loss of revolutionary zeal and to political corruption. Constructive work would prepare everyone for the next phase of civil disobedience.
- But at the same time both sides wanted to avoid a 1907- type split and kept in touch with Gandhi who was in jail. Both sides’ also realised the significance of putting up a united front to get a mass movement to force the Government to introduce reforms, and both sides accepted the necessity of Gandhi’s leadership of a united nationalist front. Keeping these factors in mind, a compromise was reached at a meeting in Delhi in September 1923.
- The Swarajists were allowed to contest elections as a group within the Congress. The Swarajists accepted the Congress programme with only one difference—that they would join legislative councils. The elections to the newly constituted Central Legislative Assembly and to provincial assemblies were to be held in November 1923.
The Swarajist Manifesto for Elections (Released in October 1923):
- The guiding motive of the British in governing India is to secure selfish interests of their own country;
- The so-called reforms are only a blind to further the said interests under the pretence of granting a responsible government, the real objective being to continue exploitation of the unlimited resources of the country by keeping Indians permanently in a subservient position to Britain;
- The Swarajists would present the nationalist demand of self-government in councils;
- If this demand was rejected, they would adopt a policy of uniform, continuous and consistent obstruction within the councils to make governance through councils impossible;
- Councils would thus be wrecked from within by creating deadlocks on every measure.
Programme of Swarajists:
- Attainment of dominion status
- Right to frame a constitution
- Control over bureaucracy
- Establishment of principle that bureaucracy derived its power from people
- Right of people to control machinery and system of Govt.
- Full provincial autonomy
- Attainment of swarajya
- Organisation of labour– Industrial and Agricultural
- Establishment of control over local and municipal body
- Agency for propaganda outside India
- Federation of Asiatic countries for promotion of trade and commerce
- Constructive programme of Congress
- Gandhi was initially opposed to the Swarajist proposal of council entry. But after his release from prison on health grounds in February 1924, he gradually moved towards reconciliation with the Swarajists because:
- He felt that public opposition to the programme of council entry would be counter-productive;
- In the November 1923 elections, the Swarajists had managed to win 42 out of 141 elected seats and a clear majority in the provincial assembly of Central Provinces and, in legislatures, had joined hands with the Liberals and the independents like Jinnah and Malaviya; the courageous and uncompromising manner in which the Swarajists functioned convinced him that they would not become just another limb of colonial administration;
- There was a government crackdown on revolutionary terrorists and the Swarajists towards the end of 1924; this angered Gandhi and he expressed his solidarity with the Swarajists by surrendering to their wishes.
Decline of the Swarajist:
- The strength of Swarajists as a politically viable force was the unity it forged in the legislatures and its development into a coalition. But the ground for ideological consensus o which the unity rested was weak and swallow which threatened disintegration as it was coalition of leaders of diverse and varied political outlook. The policy of obstruction or the policy of constitutionall advance was not powerful enough to hold these leaders together. Two important expressions of the rift and defection were emergence of the Nationalist Party under Malviya, N C Kelker etc and the Independent Party under Jinnah.
- By 1924, the Swarajist position had weakened because of widespread communal riots, split among Swarajists themselves on communal and Responsivist-Non-responsivist lines, and the death of C.R. Das in 1925 weakened it further.
- The Responsivists among Swarajists—Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malaviya and N.C. Kelkar—advocated cooperation with the Government and holding of office wherever possible to protect the so-called Hindu interests.
- They accused the Non-responsivists like Motilal Nehru of being anti-Hindu and a beef-eater. Thus, the main leadership of the Swarajya Party reiterated faith in mass civil disobedience and withdrew from legislatures in March 1926, while another section of Swarajists went into the 1926 elections as a party in disarray, and did not fare well.
- The Policy of obstruction and wrecking reforms from within had serious limitations. It could work up to a point and became severe constraint.
- Coming of Simon Commission given rise to an new political situation– parties joining hands as a result of anti-simon agitation. Constitutional programme lost its relevance.
- In 1930, the Swarajists finally walked out as a result of the Lahore Congress resolution on purna swaraj and merged with Congress and the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-34).
- With coalition partners, they outvoted the Government several times, even on matters relating to budgetary grants, and passed adjournment motions.
- They agitated through powerful speeches on self- government, civil liberties and industrialisation.
- Vithalbhai Patel was elected speaker of Central Legislative Assembly in 1925.
- A noteworthy achievement was the defeat of the Public Safety Bill in 1928 which was aimed at empowering the Government to deport undesirable and subversive foreigners (because the Government was alarmed by the spread of socialist and communist ideas and believed that a crucial role was being played by the British and other foreign activists being sent by the Commenter).
- By their activities, they filled the political vacuum at a time when the national movement was recouping its strength.
- They exposed the hollowness of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms or Montford scheme.
- They demonstrated that the councils could be used creatively.
- The Swarajists lacked a policy to coordinate their militancy inside legislatures with the mass struggle outside. They relied totally on newspaper reporting to communicate with the public.
- An obstructionist strategy had its limitations.
- Both ‘Swarajist Programme’ and ‘Swarajist at Work’ showed marked contradictions and inadequacy of efforts. They stood for class collaborations i.e. unity of Zamindar and peasant, capitalists and workers which rested o irrational ground. They could not harmonise their constitutional politics inside legislature and mass politics outside it.
- They could not carry on with their coalition partners very far because of conflicting ideas, which further limited their effectiveness.
- In later phase, the tendency towards responsive cooperation appeared at work in stead of non-cooperation.They failed to resist the perks and privileges of power and office. Motilal Nehru sat on Skeen Committee, Vithalbhai Patel became the president of assembly and A. Ramaswamy Iyenger accepted membership of Public Accounts Committee.
- They failed to support the peasants’ cause in Bengal and lost support among Muslim members who were pro- peasant.
Constructive Work by No-Changers
- Ashrams sprang up where young men and women worked among tribals and lower castes (especially in Kheda and Bardoli areas of Gujarat), and popularised charkha and khadi.
- National schools and colleges were set up where students were trained in a non-colonial ideological framework.
- Significant work was done for Hindu-Muslim unity, removing untouchability, boycott of foreign cloth and liquor, and for flood relief.
- The constructive workers served as the backbone of civil disobedience as active organisers.
- Gandhi was released from Jail in 1924 and remained aloof from direct politics and concentrated his energies on constructive work. Government considered him to be spent force, politically.
A Critique of Constructive Work:
- National education benefited the urban lower middle classes and the rich peasants only. Enthusiasm for national education surfaced in the excitement of the movement only. In passivity, the lure of degrees and jobs took the students to official schools and colleges.
- Popularisation of khadi was an uphill task since it was costlier than the imported cloth.
- While campaigning about the social aspect of untouchability, no emphasis was laid on the economic grievances of the landless and agricultural labourers comprising mostly the untouchables.
- Although the Swarajists and the No-changers worked in their separate ways, they kept on best of terms with one another and were able to unite whenever the time was ripe for a new political struggle.
BARDOLI SATYAGRAHA, 1928
- The Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928, in Gujarat was a major episode of civil disobedience and revolt in the Indian Independence Movement. The movement was eventually led by Vallabhbhai Patel, and its success gave rise to Patel becoming one of the main leaders of the independence movement. Quite like Kheda peasant struggle, the Bardoli (Surat, Gujarat) movement was also a no-tax movement.
- BArdoli had been selected in 1922 as the plae from where Gandhiji would launch the Civil Disobedience Compaign, but events in Chaura Chauri led to suspension of th movement. (Gandhiji had selected Bardoli as a suitable place for launching civil disobedience campaign because the place had witnessed and participated in the constructive work)
The socio-economic background of Bardoli and Construtive Works by Gandhains:
- Cultivators in Surat taluka were divided into two classes:
- Kali Paraj
- Ujta Paraj.
- The ‘Kali Paraj’ class of peasants literally means black skinned. It included the lower castes, tribals, backward classes and untouchables.
- The ‘Ujla Paraj’ literally means fair-complexioned people comprising all upper and well-to-do castes such as Patidar, Vania, and Brahmin and so on. Gandhiji observed that the Kali Paraj was living in dire poverty. Actually, they survived a near-slave life in Bardoli.
- The Patidars were a well-to-do class of peasants. Their relations with the lower caste, that is, small, marginal and agricultural labourers were quite unsatisfactory. The land with the poorer peasants was very meagre and largely unproductive. The wages of the agricultural labourers were so small that they could hardly keep their body and soul together.
- The Patidars could afford to invest their surplus money in the improvement of land. Some of the Patidars also worked in London and Africa. Whatever surplus money they got from foreign countries was also invested in the purchase of new land and provision of irrigation facilities. The land of Surat taluka was quite fertile. The black soil was quite suitable for taking cotton crop.
- The relations between the Kali Paraj and the landlords were characterised by exploitation. The stock of Kali Paraj people mainly consisted of Dubla, also called Halpati.
- Hali system: The Dubla or the Hali borrowed money from Patidar or other Ulji Paraj and in repayment of it worked as his master’s permanent agricultural labourer for a lifetime, simply because he could never repay the loan.Consequently, for a Hali the chain of bondage continued from one generation to another.The fact that until 1938 no movement was launched for freeing the Dubla agricultural serfs. And, the abolition of the Hali system in Surat district, suggests how deeply serfdom was rooted in the agrarian system there.
- The Ujli Paraj peasants cornered most of the benefits in terms of ownership of land and other facilities. All this created an antagonism between the rich and big Patidar peasants and the poor and marginal peasants and agricultural labourers.
- At the initiation of Gandhiji, some constructive work was started in the entire Bardoli taluka by Gandhian like Mehta brothers, Keshavji Ganeshji. On the one hand schools, ashrams and hostels were started whereas on the other hand reform movements were begun. This created an awakening among the peasant masses to get mobilised for fulfilling their demands. The constructive programmes also trained the youths to prepare for non-violence and satyagraha movement. They gave Kaliparaj tribals less derogatory name of Raniparaj (inhabitants of the forest) and exhorted them against the hali system under which they laboured as hereditary labourers for uljiparaj.
- Patidar Yuvak Mandals were constituted for the social reforms of the members of Patidar community. These youth associations had not only created unity among the Patidars but also developed among them a sense of antagonism against the peasants of lower castes. There is an interesting anecdote given by Gandhiji in Harijan. He happened to visit Bardoli and was accompanied by Mahadev Desai.
- Desai reported the anecdote in Harijan: In 1921 when Gandhiji asked someone about the population of Bardoli taluka, he said it was 60,000, the poor Dubla (Halpati) and the Chaudhra (tribal) not counting at all, whereas, they were not less than one-third of these.
- As a result of the constructive work done by Gandhiji the spinning wheel Charkha had become popular among the backward castes and tribes. A Swarajya Asharam was established in Surat and six similar centres were set up in Bardoli taluka to carry out constructive activities and to diffuse new political culture. Though the Patidars appeared to be benevolent to the lower castes, the harmonisation of the latter prepared a suitable ground for peasant satyagraha.
Events that led to the Bardoli satyagraha:
- In 1925, the taluka of Bardoli in Gujarat suffered from floods and famine, causing crop production to suffer and leaving farmers facing great financial troubles. However, the government of the Bombay Presidency had raised the tax rate by 30% (in many books 22% is mentioned) that year, and despite petitions from civic groups, refused to cancel the rise in the face of the calamities. (It was in January 1926 that Jayakar who was incharge of reassessment of land revenue had recommended a 30 per cent increase over existing assessment).
- The Bardoli peasants had immediately made several claims regarding this modification, like: The rate of enhancement was unjust and it had been established without full and appropriate investigation. In addition, they claimed that the tax official’s report was inaccurate and thus an increase in the tax was unwarranted.
Start of Satyagraha:
- The local Congress Party organization published a critical report to show that peasants could not sustain the enhanced assessments and a committee organized by the Congress drafted a petition and waited upon the Revenue Member of the State government early in 1927. Given that the authorities refused to recognize these claims as legitimate and change the law, the Bardoli peasants decided to organize a campaign.
- In September 1927, they held a conference in Bardoli, where participants unanimously resolved to withhold payment of the enhanced portion of the assessment. On January 5, 1928. Peasants invited Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The local leaders also contacted Gandhiji and after having assured him to observe non-violence, seriously launched the movement.
- Patel accepted presidency of the conference of peasants, which met on February 4, 1928. He initiated correspondence with the government, and upon the reply that the government was “not prepared to make any concession”, the peasants adopted a resolution (12 February 1928) setting forth the demand for an inquiry and the refusal to pay the assessment until the government either accepted the amount of the old assessment as full payment or until an impartial tribunal was appointed to investigate the situation.
- Gandhi, although not directly involved in the campaign, supported the struggle through his writings in Young India (a weekly journal published in English by Mahatma Gandhi from 1919 to 1932) and through his visit in Bardoli two months after the satyagraha had been launched.
- Active satyagrahis, or volunteers, supported the campaign, as well as several sympathizers and cooperators. The volunteers numbered about 250 and included Hindus, Muslims, and a few Parsis. Several thousand Kaliparaj (aboriginals) also cooperated with the campaigners(it was because of construtive work done by Gandhain, they were more educated and aware politically now). Women were well represented as participants.These were the women of Bardoli who gave Vallabhai Patel the title of ‘Sardar’.
- The initial phase of the campaign centered on educating the participants and potential participants in the meaning of the struggle. Speeches by leaders emphasized the need for discipline and preparation to undergo hardship and austerity.
- In the process of organizing the campaign, its leaders established a total of 16 satyagraha camps in various other villages in the taluka. From the headquarters(Bardoli village), participants issued a daily news bulletin, as well as occasional pamphlets and speeches.
- The Bardoli taluka was was divided into three camps, chhavanis, each under the charge of an experienced leader. One hundred political workers, drawn from all over the province, assisted by 1,500 volunteers, many of whom were students, formed the army of the movement. It was for the first time that an army of non-violent workers was developed.
- Peasants were asked to take oaths in the name of Prabhu (the Hindu name for god) and Khuda (the Muslim name for god) that they would not pay the land revenue. The resolution was followed by the recitation of sacred texts from the Gita and the Koran and songs from Kabir, who symbolised Hindu-Muslim unity. The satyagraha had begun. Campaigners collected signatures to the satygraha pledge (those who refused to sign were subjected to social boycott) and made efforts to convert headmen to the cause by persuading them that they should become spokesmen for their respective villages, rather than agents of the government.
- The main action phase of the campaign included non-cooperation, trespass, submission to arrest, and resignation of offices. The campaigners used economic boycott by refusing to supply officials and other members of the opposition with non-essential goods and services.
- The final step of the movement—usurping the functions of the government—was only partially present in the Bardoli campaign. For an official to receive any services in the taluka, he had to have the permission of the satyagraha headquarters, which was particularly alarming to the government.
Response of Government and Finall Settlement:
- The government issued final notices urging the peasants to pay the assessment or suffer forfeiture of land. The peasants refused to comply with these notices.
- The government of Bombay became stern and took all repressive measures such as attachment of land, and crops, and confiscation of cattle and other movable property. The government forfeited a large chunk of land.
- The national leadership was much influenced by the satyagraha displayed by the Bardoli peasants. K.M. Munshi and Lalji Naranji resigned from the Bombay Legislative Council in support of the movement.This was followed by Vitthalbhai Patel’s threat to resign who was president of the Bombay Legislative Council. The pressure of the legislative assembly was so strong that the government was obliged to take a soft stand against the movement.
- The Bardoli peasant movement, in course of time, took an altogether new dimension. Workers in Bombay textile mills went on strike and there was a threat to bring about a railway strike that would make movement of troops and supplies to Bardoli impossible. Even the flames of Bardoli had reached to Punjab and many jathas of peasants were despatched to Bardoli. Yet another strength of the movement came from Gandhiji who shifted to Bardoli on 2nd August, 1928.
- The British government had high stakes in the Bardoli agitation. The Simon Commission was about to come in India and the Congress declared that it would have nation-wide boycott of the Simon Commission. Looking to the national importance of Bardoli the British government took a soft-line. Sardar Patel was contacted and some kind of agreement was struck.
- Accordingly, on 18 July, 1928 Governor Wilson offered terms to Patel whereby the government insisted on full payment before agreeing to an inquiry. Patel accepted the principle of an official inquiry provided it was judicial in nature and that representatives of the people be invited to give evidence. Patel also presented additional demands: discharge of all Satyagrahi prisoners, restoration of all forfeited lands, payment at market price for confiscated movable property, remission of all dismissals and other punishments arising from the struggle. Patel reasserted the intention of the satyagrahis to arrive at a solution that was honorable and acceptable both to the government and people. On August 4, the campaigners and government agreed upon a formula that met the satyagrahis’ full list of basic demands. Patel conceded to the government’s demand that the original tax be paid before the government granted the inquiry.
- An enquiry committee was constituted by the government under the presidentship of a judicial officer, Broomfield in association with Maxwell, to find out the details about Bardoli agitation. The findings of the committee came to the conclusion that the increase had been unjustified. The committee also suggested reducing the enhancement of land tax from earlier 30% to 6%..
- The Government agreed to restore the confiscated lands and properties, as well as cancel the 30% raise in revenue payment not only for the year, but until after the succeeding year.The farmers celebrated their victory, but Patel continued to work to ensure that all lands and properties were returned to every farmer, and that no one was left out.
Importance of Bardoli Satyagraha:
- Although the campaign was limited to the local objective, it was integrated in the larger Indian struggle for self-government.
- The Bardoli satyagraha influenced not only other peasant movements in the country, but it also provided a new strength to the national freedom movement. Gandhiji observed on the success of Bardoli agitation: Whatever the Bardoli struggle may be, it clearly is not a struggle for the direct attainment of swaraj. That every such awakening, every such effort as that of Bardoli will bring swaraj nearer and may bring it nearer even then any direct effort is undoubtedly true.
- The movement provided strength to the national freedom struggle. Nehru observed, “the real success of the campaign…lay in the effect it produced among the peasantry all over India. Bardoli became a sign and a symbol of hope and strength and victory to the Indian peasant.”
- In addition to the peasants of Bardoli, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel also organized the peasants of Kheda and Borsad (in Gujarat) in non-violent civil disobedience against oppressive policies imposed by the British Raj, becoming one of the most influential leaders in Gujarat. He rose to the leadership of the Indian National Congress
Criticism of Bardoli Movement:
- The Bardoli movement has been criticised from varying perspectives. At a broader plane it could be safely said that the Bardoli agitation was more a national issue for experimenting satyagraha as a method for freedom struggle. Definitely, not much attention was paid to the basic problems of the peasants.
- The problem of Hali Pratha, which was highly exploitative, was not raised at all by the movement. The movement pleaded the cause of the rich and middle class peasants. The poorer masses of peasantry who had very little land in their possession were altogether neglected(though many had participated due to involvement of Gandhi).