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. selfstudyhistory.com
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:
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.
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 Gandhian, 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).