Lieutenant (1918 to 1922)
Ahmadabad Commissioner F Pratt had against the wishes of P appointed an engineer Macassey. Faced with a serious water problem, the Gujarat Sabha had urged action. Said Mr Pratt “The best way Mr Patel, is for your committee to cooperate with the municipal engineer”. Unable to control himself P said “The best way is to relieve Macassey. Is there anything he has asked that my committee has not done? Yet when the secretary of the Gujarat Sabha waited on you, you asked him to burn down our houses. Why our houses? Why not burn the bungalow of this fellow who is the root of the trouble? We can see the ruthlessness of P’s speech. Unable to deny the charge, Maccasey resigned.
Coming back to the peasants of Kheda, the Government of Bombay ruled out suspension of revenue, period. Preparing for a battle ahead, G and P left for an inspection of Kheda’s villages to get first hand information. Pratt had used threats of seizure to collect the first installment of revenue, G urged Pratt to defer the collection of the second but orders for collection had been issued. Realizing that the peasants case was genuine an agitation was launched. 200 peasants signed a pledge on March 22 not pay to revenue to the Raj. P was to later, address a big meeting of Kheda’ s peasants at Nadiad, the place of his birth and early childhood. Gone was the suited booted P, in place were Indian clothes. He said –
“ This fight will act as a spark which will set the whole country afire. Happiness cannot be obtained without undergoing trials and tribulations, and if perchance you get happiness easily, it does not last very long. In India there is a district called Kheda which is the land of brave men. They will not receive assistance in this manner (i.e. help from the people of Mumbai or Gujarat)”.
Pratt responded by seizing the land of some nonpaying peasants of Vadtal. On Pratt’s request, G allowed him to address a gathering of 2,000 peasants in Nadiad. Pratt told the peasants that the Raj was well within its rights to demand land revenue, their lands would be confiscated if they did not pay, there was no way Lord Willingdon would agree to a waiver of land revenue, the final decision was in their hands. Well not only did Pratt not carry out his threat but on April 24 he ordered cancellation of fines and notices of confiscation of land. Only movables would be seized for recovery of revenue and those who could not pay would not be forced to do so. The orders were however, not made public. Apparently, Viceroy Lord Chelmsford forced Pratt to backtrack. The Viceroy needed G’s support in the War effort and did not want to alienate him.
Kheda’s peasants celebrated victory on June 29. Said G on that occasion “If it were not P’s assistance, this campaign could not have been carried out so successfully”
The Indian Muslims hated the empire’s treatment of Turkey, then the world’s largest Islamic state. Not only was Turkey defeated but it transpired in August 1919 that Britain intended to end the Turkish Sultan’s custodianship of Islamic holy places in Saudi Arabia. To India’s Muslims, the Sultan of Turkey was Khalifa, charged with the duty to protect the holy places. In May 1920, Turkey lost all her colonies, places like Mecca and Medina were placed under British guardianship. Indian Muslims were upset and wanted to restore Khilafat – the Khalifa’s lordship. This was an erroneous understanding of Islam as pointed out by J.W. Hore “there is no canon which lays down that the Sultan will always remain the Khalifa” Subsequent events proved him right when in March 1924, Mustafa Kamal seized power in Turkey, abolished Khilafat, expelled the Sultan yet no Indian Muslim felt then that his Muslimness had diminished.
Writing in 1971, Indulal Yagnik quoted P as having said “Imagine our fighting for the Arabs of Arabia when we ourselves are held as slaves under British bayonets in our own land”. Said P in 1920 “It has been a heartbreaking episode for the Indian Muslims, and how can Hindus stand unaffected when they see their fellow countrymen in distress”. G wanted Indian Muslims to adopt the doctrine of nonviolence to protest against Khilafat.
Upset with the inactivity of the Government over the Jallianwalabag massacre (considered by many to be a secondary issue) and the Khilafat, G launched the non-cooperation movement. People left government jobs, lawyers have up their practice, charkhas were installed in large nos, hindus – muslims worked together for the success of the movement. But Hindu Muslim unity received a rude shock when infuriated by the tales of insults to their religious leaders, the Muslims of Malabar, who trace their ancestry to Arab immigrants, rose in revolt (Moplah Rebellion) first against the government and then against their Hindu landlords. An independent Muslim state was declared, murder – arson took place and Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. It increased the divide between hindus-muslims. Movements for strengthening the Hindu community were launched in reaction to these movements, in turn, caused disquiet among Muslims.
Foreign cloth was burnt. Once again P supported G. P switched to khadi. From 1921 most of P’s dhotis and kurtas were spun by his daughter Manibhehn. In July 1921, Muhammad Ali said that in the present circumstances the Holy Shariat forbids every Muslim to serve or enlist himself in the British army. For this sedition, the Ali brothers were arrested, tried and sentenced. What Ali brothers did not know that Mustafa Kamal for whose sake he was inviting Muslims to leave the army, intended to destroy the Khilafat. G raised the tempo by making two decisions. One would be a boycott of the tour by the Prince of Wales. Second, a mass civil disobedience would start in a selected area. Taxes would be withheld to press for Swaraj. The honor of hosting the first battle was to go Surat’s Bardoli taluka. The Prince’s visit was boycotted wherever he went.
To a truce offer backed by Abul Kalam Azad, G said that he would withdraw under two conditions, one the Ali brothers are released, two there should be an agreement before hand on the composition and date of appointment of the grievances committee. While all this was happening P was in Gujarat raising funds, recruiting fighters, reconciling differences and rallying the public. Asked to mediate in the villagers fight with Jehangir in the village of Varad in Bardoli taluka, Vallabhai was for the first time described as Suba (ruler) of Gujarat, an expression used by many till he would be called Sardar in 1928.
Bardoli was making intense preparations for independence. The patidars were willing to support the fight. While G addressed the crowds, P did not speak but occupied himself in studying the people very carefully. Gandhi issued the govt an ultimatum. In seven days prisoners should be released, bans lifted, Congress workers allowed to work without hindrance for Swaraj and Khilafat. However, violence in Chauri Chaura forced G to call the whole thing off making him unpopular in the process.
The Raj realized that arresting G would produce no rebellion. The Muslims felt that G had, by calling off the movement betrayed Khilafat while the Hindus were demoralized. In such an environment G was arrested and sentenced to six years imprisonment for preaching disaffection.