Bardoli Satyagraha: A Milestone of the Way of the Indian Freedom Movement

Under the leadership of Vallabhbhai Patel in 1928, the Bardoli Kisan Satyagraha proved to be the best example of the practice of Gandhian principle of non-violence as well as a milestone of the way of India’s freedom movement. There is not another Satyagraha in my view that could be compared with it. During the course of struggle, a journalist of a then-government supported newspaper “The Times of India” wrote:

“It is Bolshevism in Bardoli and Vallabhbhai is its Lenin.”

From the angle of the art of leadership, the Bardoli Satyagraha was also unique. Vallabhbhai Patel had divided all villages of the Taluka of Bardoli in 14 Satyagraha centres. On every centre, one or more than one person was appointed as supervisor or the chief organizer of the Satyagraha. The supervisors were made responsible to set the mode of action according to the situation. Along with them, Vallabhbhai Patel himself used to go from village-to-village to inspire people and infuse them with zeal. He especially inspires the wives of farmers to be bold and courageous. His inspiration worked like magic on them and thus women like Kunwarbehn, Ichhabehn, and Motibehn came forward and proved to be great women warriors.

The Bardoli Satyagraha was a unique example of unity. The administration was paralyzed by the unity shown by eighty seven thousand residents of all the 149 villages of the Bardoli Taluka of then Surat District in Gujarat region, irrespective of their religious-community and caste. Thus the process of auction, attachment, confiscation and indiscriminate arrest were made impossible for the government. There was such an atmosphere of harmony among people, they forgot all their differences. They became united and everyone stood in support of the peasants. The Bardoli Kisan Satyagraha continued for six month and was successful. The then-Governor of Bombay State, Leslie O. Wilson had to agree with the demands of the farmers and their leader. The title of Sardar was bestowed upon their leader, Vallabhbhai Patel.

The Bardoli Satyagraha received international recognition under the leadership of Vallabhbhai Patel. This movement had a deep impact on the social and political spheres of the country. A new wave of awareness arose as a result of this movement and more or less left an impression upon the whole nation. To understand how it happened, we will have to first analyze in brief the causes responsible for launching the Bardoli Kisan Satyagraha and how Vallabhbhai Patel associated himself with this famous and historical non-violent agitation?

In the beginning of 1922, when Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movement was on its zenith, Mahatma Gandhi had decided to apply his principle of Ahimsa-non-violence through a particular Taluka. And the Taluka he finally chose was Bardoli. But suddenly there was a violent incident at Chauri-Charua in U. P. and thus Mahatma Gandhi’s plan to apply his principle at Bardoli could not materialize as desired. The then officers of the Bombay Presidency Government had already been keeping an eye on the Taluka of Bardoli. When the process of survey of the land revenue in the Presidency of Bombay in general and in the Gujarat region in particular started in 1927, the government took advantage of the opportunity by increasing the land revenue by 22% in the Bardoli Taluka. This was an unjustified action because a few years ago, during the financial year 1921-22, the land revenue had already been increased by 30%.

The farmers reacted to the injustice committed by the Government. They tried to solve the problem by all means and requested the Colonial Government to repeal this decision. But when all their hopes were lost, they approached Vallabhbhai Patel for justice. Indeed, by then Vallabhbhai Patel was renowned as a perfect organizer for Satyagraha programmes and an able leader. He listened to the farmers and analyzed the facts on his own. He also assessed the courage, capability and determination of the people. Later, before starting the movement in April, 1928, as per the Gandhian traditions, Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to the Government, reminded it and at last warned it. In addition, he inspired farmers to be bold and united in fighting for their self-respect. He asked them to forget all the pains and called upon them to lay the foundation for a new life from Bardoli.

The devoted workers like Imam Saheb Abdul Kadir, Uttamchand Deepchand Shah, Mohanlal Kameshwar Pandya, Bhaktiba Desai, Darbar Gopaldas Desai, Meethubehn Petit, Jugatrambhai Dave, Surajbehn Metha and Phoolchand Kavi worked hard during the course of Satyagraha. Persons like Umar Sobani, Metha brothers-Kalyanji and Kunwerji, Kanaiyalal Nanabhai Desai, Vithalbhai Patel, Kanaiyalal Maniklal Munshi, and Jairamdas Daulatram supported the Satyagraha. Mahatma Gandhi himself gave inspirational support to the movement and under the leadership of Vallabhbhai Patel this movement established new records as a result. Through a collective strength exerted by the peasantry in Bardoli, the Indian people could understand well that the Gandhian way was capable to lead them to independence. Along with that:

On the one hand the government could assess the strength and capability of farmers and villagers, while on the other the nation’s farmers were inspired to unite. Consequently, farmers from every part of the country came forward to fight injustice, especially incensement in land revenue-a central point of their fight. In such a situation the Colonial Government of India grew nervous, especially after receiving a confidential letter from the Secretary of State for Revenue of Burma to the Government of India, dated the 31st October, 1930, in which he stated, “Assessing the influence of the movement of Bardoli farmers on the rest of the country, the government of various states should review the implications of the recent increase in the [land] revenue”. And,

The maximum participation of the awakened farmers started in the Indian freedom movement, which is proven by the participation of peasants and rural masses in the world famous Civil Disobedience Movement started in 1930, i.e., just one year and a few months after the Bardoli Satyagraha. At the initial stage, that is in 1930 itself, 63, 490 men and women who were arrested during the course of the movement, the majority were farmers and rural people inspired by Bardoli Satyagraha.

Thus, Bardoli Kisan Satyagraha’s contribution to India’s freedom movement was extraordinary. Furthermore, the vital role it played in the awakening of the country’s farming community is noteworthy. It was without a doubt a milestone of the way of the India Freedom Movement.

Dr. Ravindra Kumar
Dr. Ravindra Kumar is an eminent writer, Indologist, political scientist and a former vice chancellor of Meerut University, India, who authored and edited over 100 works on great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and on various social-cultural issues.