Bardoli Movement

 

Introduction

  • The Bardoli satyagraha, launched 90 years ago in February 1928, is one such episode in India’s national movement which not just elevated Sardar Vallabhai Patel to a new pinnacle of glory and greatness, but also revived the morale of Mahatma Gandhi, undeniably still in ‘recovery mode’ after the setback of withdrawing the non-cooperation movement after the Chauri Chaura violence.

 

Background

  • The Bombay Government (through its Revenue Department) had, in 1927, enhanced the land revenue assessment in the Bardoli taluka (county) by a nominal 22%, which, when applied, amounted in some cases to as much as 60% enhancement. This translated in increased land taxes
  • The Bardoli peasants had immediately made several claims regarding this modification, the most important of which were that the rate of enhancement was unjust and that 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.
  • 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 aimed at pressuring the Bombay government to launch an impartial inquiry into the enhancement of land revenue assessment in Bardoli.

 

The Movement

  • In September 1927, the peasants 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, a political and social leader, to lead them in their struggle.
  • Patel accepted presidency of the conference of peasants and 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.
  • The Struggle
    • Patel first wrote to the Governor of Bombay, asking him to reduce the taxes for the year in phase of the calamities. But the Governor ignored the letter, and reciprocated by announcing the date of collection.
    • Patel then instructed all the farmers of Bardoli taluka to refuse payment of their taxes.
    • Above all, Patel instructed the farmers to remain completely nonviolent and not to respond physically to any incitements or aggressive actions from officials.
  • The main action phase of the campaign included non-cooperation, trespass, submission to arrest, and resignation of offices. Peasants met revenue collectors with closed doors or, receiving them, read aloud extracts from Patel’s speeches and tried to persuade the enforcement agents that they could not collect the revenue.
  • However, the government declared that it would crush the revolt. Along with tax inspectors, bands of Pathans were gathered from northwest India to seize the property of the villagers and terrorize them.
    • The government began to auction the houses and the lands, but not a single person from Gujarat or anywhere else in India came forward to buy them.
  • Members of the legislative councils of Bombay and across India were angered by the terrible treatment of the protesting farmers.
    • Indian members resigned their offices and expressed open support of the farmers
    • The government was heavily criticised, even by many in the British Raj’s offices.

 

Resolution

  • Finally, in 1928, an agreement was finally brokered by a Parsi member of the Bombay government.
  • It agreed to restore the confiscated lands and properties, to cancel revenue payment for the year and to cancel the 22% raise until after the succeeding year.
  • The government appointed the Maxwell-Broomfield Commission to look in to the matter.
  • After a rigorous survey, the raise in taxes was decided to be just 03%.
  • However, the basic problems of the peasants were left unsolved, and bonded labour continued

Patel credited Gandhi’s teachings and the farmers’ undying resolve. And people across the nation recognised his vital leadership. It was women of bardoli who bestowed the title Sardar for the first time.

  • On the whole, the effect of the campaign extended beyond Bardoli. As Nehru observed, “the real success of their 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.”