The year of 1818 was momentous for Akhanda Bharat with the British managing to snuff out the Maratha Empire from under the Peshwas. Though the British thought that they had displaced a Muslim invader from the seat of power, the truth is that it was the Maratha Empire whose expanse and influence across Akhanda Bharat that they had displaced.
Western Bharat heavily influenced by the valour, honour and ambition of Hindavi Swarajya of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, undoubtedly the greatest and real emperor of Akhanda Bharat were actively working towards regaining their ascendancy and overthrowing the parasitic British rule, who on their part made a determined effort to dilute the influence and power of Poona and instead make Bombay their undisputed cultural and economic seat of power.
The British were still reeling under the shock of 1857, The First War of Independence when agrarian riots broke out in the districts of Poona, Satara, Solapur and Ahmednagar in 1875. This was followed by an outbreak of cholera, plague and smallpox in the Deccan between 1876 – 77 which led to acute famine. The British were incompetent and incapable as usual of rising to the occasion and handling the crises.
The farmers were unable to repay their debts owing to the miserable economic conditions that prevailed in the Deccan. The British reacted late and brought in the Deccan Agriculturists’ Relief Act of 1879 which sought to protect the farmers from imprisonment for their inability to repay their debts but the seeds of dissent were sown.
The callous attitude of the British while handling the epidemics and famine left an indelible mark in the minds of the farmers and locals. Akhanda Bharat at that time had a heady mix of liberal reformers, extremist nationalists and a group of political thinkers who felt that violent armed rebellion was the only solution to send the British packing from their country.
These political thinkers drew inspiration from the First War of Independence and believed that an uprising in the British Indian Army was the only way to liberate the country. The ‘Father of Indian Armed Rebellion’, Vasudev Balwant Phadke stormed into the limelight in 1874. Vasudev started off as a clerk in the audit office at the Great Indian Peninsula Railway and was soon promoted to the military finance office under the controller of military accounts and served there for over fifteen years.
Seeing the plight of his countrymen, Vasudev began organizing youth camps for unity and undertaking relief measures in remote famine-struck areas. By the end of 1874, the embers of nationalism that had been burning steadily within him rose to a crescendo.
Vasudev was an exemplary orator and his fiery speeches drew large crowds in Poona. The famine of 1876 – 77, the negligence and inaction of the British to help his countrymen and the watery response of nationalists disillusioned him. However, the turning point came when he heard his mother was dying and sought permission from his officer to visit his village which was categorically denied. Vasudev defied his officer and left for his hometown.
But his mother had already passed away and Vasudev was overcome with guilt at failing in his rightful duty and looked for an outlet to vent his depression. He formed a secret revolutionary group that would target children and senior citizens enlightening them on the pathetic plight of Bharat under the invader’s rule and injecting them with nationalism through songs, speeches, poems and carefully thought-out activities designed to train them for military exercises.
Vasudev got support from the Dhangars, Kolis and Ramoshis who willingly committed several political robberies to collect money. Vasudev went to the Konkan in May 1879 looting Nere, Chikhli and Palaspe and managed to secure Rs 1,50,000.
However, while returning from the Konkan, the British who had been keeping a keen eye on the sudden spurt of robberies of rich merchants caught them in Maval province and confiscated the loot. An order for Vasudev’s arrest was issued.
Vasudev, on his part, announced a double bounty on anyone who brought the heads of the Bombay governor Sir Richard Temple, Poona’s collector and the session judge and signed this audacious demand as ‘The new Pradhan of the Peshwa’. He also declared that his act would lead to a rebellion across Bharat and a repeat of 1857 is imminent and pasted this on all the important walls and buildings of Poona.
This was followed with two bungalows being set on fire and burning of government documents in Poona. Vasudev only echoed the deep discontent that simmered underneath each and every Indian underlining the emphatic failures of the British in every aspect of administration, law and order since the time they had wormed their way into the country on false pretexts and usurped power.
Vasudev called for assistance from all quarters irrespective of caste and religion envisioning a simultaneous uprising. To quote him, “Having obtained Rs 5000/- from a Savkar, I proposed to send to all sides three or four men a month in advance, so that small gangs might be raised by them and from which great fear would come to the English.
The mails would be stopped and the railways and telegraph interrupted, so that no information could go from one place to another. Then, the jails would be opened and all the long-sentenced prisoners would join me because if the English government remained they would not get off.
If I obtained 200 men, even should I not be able to loot the treasury, I should carry out my intention of releasing criminals. How many and where the military were would not be known and thus thousands of ignorant people would collect. This would be good and my intentions would be carried out.
When a child is born, it is as a drop of water, when he grows up, he can carry out his desires, but only in one year or five, can he do it? So also, with a ‘BAND’! Even though it may be small, if the foundation is good, it shall grow big and conquer this oppressive government. There is much ill-feeling among the people (against the British) and if a few make a commencement, those who are hungry will join. Many men are inclined to begin and the result would eventually be good.”
Unfortunately, the British who had left no stone unturned to capture Vasudev managed to encircle him in Gangapur. He was captured, tried and sentenced for life to the fort of Aden. He unsuccessfully tried to escape and finally fasted to death on 17 February 1883.
Martyr Vasudev Balwant Phadke is a spectacular gem of Akhanda Bharat. A true patriot who was willing to offer anything and everything he had for his country, even his life.
The martyrdom of Vasudev was not in vain. He inspired the citizens to snatch freedom from the British by arming themselves leading to the eruption of innumerable secret groups in Maharashtra.
This was looked upon with great alarm by the British who then came up with the ingenious plan of constituting the Indian National Congress to bring the “stakeholders” under one umbrella to “listen” to their “demands” and “improve communication”.
Accordingly, the Indian National Congress had its first session in Bombay on 28 December 1885 with seventy-two delegates with Allan Octavian Hume assuming charge as general secretary and Womesh Chunder Bonnerjee elected president.
The Indian National Congress pledged unswerving loyalty to the Crown making it known that they had no intention of seeking independence from British rule while the British would continue to be lording over Indians expecting unconditional gratitude for their “show of kindness” and “acceptance of demands”.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about Nathuram Vinayak Godse is taken from archives
Leave a Reply