Sardar 1922 – 29
P emerged from the loneliness following G’s arrest to take charge of Gujarat. He raised a million rupees for the Gujarat Vidyapith. He set into motion a campaign against imported cloth. He wooed the untouchables. In the Kathiawad Political Conference was asked the abolition of untouchability in Patel’s presence. With this P had ceased to be a leader of the Patidars and became the leader of Gujarat.
In September 1922, the Raj announced a levy of Rs 2 and a half lakhs on the residents of Borsad taluka. The Raj claimed the money as its expense on special anti-dacoity police posted in the taluka. Before taking on the Raj, P asked his trusted lieftants to tour villages and ascertain the facts. Their checking reinforced the view that the police were hand in glove with several dacoits, particularly Aliya. Sure about his facts, P had the residents of Borsad start their satyagraha. The Raj empowered officials to attach property or cattle in lieu of the tax with no success. Under pressure, the police arrested Aliya. The Raj was forced to rescind its earlier order. Once again P had secured a victory. Please note that he did not start the agitation till he had ascertained all facts. This style was an essential part of his character. G had on his release from jail praised P for his efforts in Borsad.
As President of the Ahemdabad Municipality, he had some solid achievements. Only a third of the city had drainage when he took over. The complete city had it by the time ended his term in 1928. Half of the city was electrified by 1928. More water was drawn and distributed. He was called anti-Muslim when he supported a proposal for demolishing of the wall built by past Muslim rulers. A lull in India’s fight with the Brits coincided with P’s municipal spell between January 1924 and the summer of 1928.
The Fight of Bardoli – For two years the residents of Bardoli had been protesting against the proposals for increase in land revenue. In January 1928, the rates for Bardoli taluka were increased by 22 %. Simultaneously, 23 villages were raised to a higher-taxed category, which meant a double increase for their residents. The peasants decided not to accept the order. They knew that the only man could help them Vallabhai Patel. Egged on by various deputation’s to lead the struggle, he first asked a group of Patedars to visit the villages and give him a first hand report. The group subsequently assured G that they would continue with their struggle even if P was arrested. Look before you leap was P’s time-tested policy. On Feb 4, 1928, he personally visited Bardoli and cross-examined representatives from 79 villages. Sure about the villager’s determination to fight, he sent a letter to the revenue department asking them to appoint a tribunal to go into the question. If the tribunal were not appointed he would have no option but to ask the people not to pay revenue.
Next P went to Vankaner village and coached the peasants like a general trains his troops. “Keep your doors closed, locked and take to the fields, only to return home in the evening. Make friends with your bitterest enemies. Only that way you can present a united front. Make as many women attend these meetings as men for they might easily betray you if they did not learn to see their dear cattle seized before their own eyes. The news from every village must reach Bardoli daily and punctually”. He told farmers not to underestimate the power of their unity. The organizing skills that P had shown were honed by his Bordoli experience, stint as municipal president.
The Raj made it clear that farmers who were not paying revenue within ten days of receiving notice would have to pay a 25 % fine. If they persisted in defaulting, their movables and buffaloes would be attached or they would forfeit their lands. Fifty nine years later, a group of five who were part of the 1928 battle, said “He held everyone in his spell. People felt their day was incomplete if they hadn’t heard the Sardar or read his speech in the Patrika”.
It was in 1928 that someone referred to Vallabhai as the peasant’s Sardar. Thus Sardar Patel (SP) was born. SP gained a significant point when the Raj reverted 22 of 32 upgraded villages to their original category. They still faced a 22 % increase but no longer on a higher base. The Raj used Pathans to recover property, seize cattle but had to withdraw them after public protests.
Most striking was the role of Bardoli’s women. They began to outnumber men at meetings, gave SP spontaneous homage, their hard earned money and sang rustic songs of the misdeeds of the hapless government. The Raj warned the farmers that their land would be seized forever. Land was disposed off to outsiders. SP promised the peasants “Your land will come to you knocking at your door”.
SP asked the kerosene merchant from Bharuch who had bought some land “to give thought to the retribution which will me meted out to him by God in this life”. Funds began to pour in. By the end of June 2 lakh rupees had been given to the Satyagraha Fund that G had opened. In early June 63 village headmen and 11 talatis of Bardoli taluka resigned.
SP met the Governor but nothing was agreed. After negotiations, holding of cards close to the chest by SP, the Raj relented. Through an agreement of August 6, lands that had been sold were restored to their true owners, prisoners let off and headmen reinstated. This was agreed to provide the difference between the old and new revenue was deposited with the treasury. A Bombay businessman provided the funds. An inquiry committee was appointed to reexamine the revenue but decided against the increase in levy. So Patel now became Sardar Patel for ever.
Bardoli was SP’s fight all the way. Neither the Congress nor the GPCC had any role to play. Bardoli had restored Indian’s confidence in their ability to fight.