Published on August 14, 2022
Gujarat is synonymous with Gandhi when it comes to India’s freedom struggle, but historians point out that the roots of the crusade for independence ran much deeper than that association. The state was unique in the way that many of the movements initiated here – be it in the British-ruled areas such as Ahmedabad, Surat and Kheda or Princely states – were sociopolitical in nature that not only yearned for freedom but also social reforms.
The book ‘Amdavad ni Kranti Yatra’ by Khadia Itihas Samiti and Heritage Cell of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) chronicles the city’s tryst with the freedom movement before 1915, the year when Mahatma arrived in the country.
According to the book, the first major political event of the 20th century was the Indian National Congress (INC) session in 1902 that revealed the city offered a conducive climate and a fertile ground for freedom movements. Soon after, the city was at the forefront of the 1905 Swadeshi movement and the mills gave a major boost to ‘Make in India.’
In 1909, Lord Minto, viceroy and governor general of India, visited the city along with his wife when two bombs were thrown at a procession in Raipur.
The governor general escaped unscathed, but the incident resulted in widespread action against the alleged conspirators. The event is seen as an assertion made by the revolutionary branch of freedom fighters who were not averse to violence.
In fact, two books under the guise of Ayurveda that were in circulation gave the ‘recipe’ for crude bombs. Khadia also had ‘United Bengal Home’ where 60 youths from Bengal stayed after the partition of Bengal.
Prof Ramji Savaliya, former director of the BJ Institute, said that the city and state saw all hues of patriotism and nationalism before the arrival of Mahatma on the scene.
“We find roots of Swadeshi even in Dalpatram’s 1851 poem ‘Hunnarkhan…’ The stalwarts of the era such as Ramanbhai Nilkanth, Balwantrai Thakor, Anandshankar Dhruv, Ambalal Desai, etc. primarily came from upper classes, were well-educated, and saw abolishment of age-old traditions as the step towards social uplift that would precede independence. In fact, the idea of ‘purna swaraj’ came much later, as what many wanted was self-governed dominion status,” he said.
Arrival of young barrister MK Gandhi who had caused much curiosity among the locals in 1915 changed the direction of the freedom movement for Gujarat, and India at large, said historians. Prof Sudarshan Iyengar, former Gujarat Vidyapith vice chancellor and noted Gandhi scholar, said that what connected all satyagraha movements – be it Kheda, Borsad, Bardoli, Salt March or Dharasana – was a new way of thinking and assimilating different walks of society.
“What changed after the Gandhian era was reduction in the general population’s fear of Raj. He insisted on social equality and inclusion of all classes and women in all his campaigns. Thus, it became a catalyst for social reforms and created a new cadre of volunteers who remained married to the cause even after independence,” said Iyengar.