Gandhi reached Champaran and realised that his understanding of the issues from hearsay were incomplete and he changed his tactic. Lalita Mishra Writes
It is said neel farming was taken to the foreign shores from India. It is called indigo in English. The root word is indicum, which comes from ‘India’. This color became extremely popular the world over and took on the form of a priceless commodity. When the East India Company came to India to do business and trade, the main commodity in 1600 was indigo. The indigo business had flourished for many years. To ensure more and more farming of indigo in India in the 18th century, the Company lent foreign farmers a lot of money. In the beginning, this farming become rampant in Bengal, and thus started the cycle of exploitation and torture of Indian farmers.
Gandhi reached Motihari at 4’O clock on 15th April 1917 along with his two fellow workers Babu Dharnidhar and Ramanavmi. Some students of the district school accompanied by a large number of people had come to receive them at the railway station. But this crowd was very less compared to the one which gathered at Champaran or at Bettiya when Gandhi reached there. The move which Gandhi took without informing the Commissioner of Muzaffarpur created a furore on reaching Motihari.It was not a question of the gatherings or the people’s support, but what was of prominence was that it shook the British government. Gandhi knew about the loss and profit of what he was doing but he took the risk anticipating the results at large. Actually based on hearsay and the information gathered from his followers at Muzaffarpur as well as seeing the attitude of the government it was quite clear that the picture of Champaran which was there in his mind was quite different from the real picture, which was deteriorating and needed immediate action.
Change in Tactic
Therefore, Gandhi who was earlier dependant on Raj Kumar Shukla till the time he reached Patna, now completely changed his mind on reaching Motihari as he was overcome by some sort of an obsession which made him restless.
On reaching the house of Gorakh Babu from the station Gandhi started preparing himself for the following day. Gorakh Babu’s house had become a rest house where amidst all the hustle and bustle the work was also going on.
The priorities for the following day were chalked out as Gandhi had to leave for Patti Jasauli the next day on elephant back. Telegrams were also sent to Malviyaji, CF Andrews, Henry Pollack and Rajendra Prasad. It was hot, being the month of April, and was quite difficult for the elephant or any kind of animal to undertake such a tedious journey. Gandhi could sense his imminent arrest, but more than that he was worried about the atrocities that may continue on the indigo workers after he is jailed. During that time Congress was not at the forefront in Bihar but it was like a meeting place and a forum of nation lovers and native people who met and exchanged their views on the political issues. There was not a single fulltime member of the Congress and Gandhi himself was not able to associate himself with the congress as well as with the socialistic organizations.
The attitude of the British towards Prof Malkani, in whose quarters Gandhi was staying, as well as towards Prof Kripalani and his personal interaction with the Commissioner and the Indigo Planters’ Club convinced Gandhi that he will be arrested very soon. Instead of refraining himself from his activities he wanted to cash on it by drawing political acclaim out of it. The official documents which were produced after independence revealed that the British government was afraid of the coming of Gandhi and they even alerted the Bajapta Army when he did not turn up after the discussion of April 7. From one or more letters of the police and the secret service we come to know how fearful the British were and what all arrangements they made to combat him.
The secret report read that Gandhi may ignite the flames at Champaran. The
fear of the government and the planned moves of Gandhi compelled and constrained Commissioner Morsehead to make a wrong move, who applied his dirty tactics and applied the formula of forcefully restraining Gandhi and had caught him in a false case in order to keep him out of the city.
Earlier the court used to pass judgements on the basis of pleas and witnesses produced by the Commissioner, but Gandhi was a hard nut to crack as he had already experienced these tactics in South Africa. The allegations put by the Commissioner on Gandhi were reversed thus putting the commissioner in a tight corner and insults were hurled at him right from the junior officers to the senior ones. But this kindled the start of a new struggle which not even Gandhi nor his followers ever imagined.
The Commissioner wrote a letter to the District Collector that there is a possibility that Gandhi may go to Champaran without informing the British and in such a scenario there will be chaos. Hence he should be served a notice under Section 144 of the Fauzdari Act and should be asked to return. Gandhi had already planned his itinerary, to visit the village and to meet the indigo farmers from the next day onwards.
On reaching Champaran he went to village Patti Jasauli where atrocities were committed on the indigo farmers a few days ago. Enroute he stopped at village Chandriya to inquire about the Motihari Indigo House. On being interrupted by the government authorities and the secret service, he terminated his journey and went back with them, but sent Dharnidhar Babu and Ramnavmi Prasad to Patti Jasauli. On his way the DSP handed over a notice written by the Collector WB Hancock which ordered Gandhi on the basis of the Commissioner’s letter to leave the district. Gandhi replied the letter diplomatically and with a cool mind “I am sorry that you had to serve me this notice based on the Commissioner’s statement. But I would like to state that the Commissioner has misunderstood me fully and keeping my commitments and duties towards the general public at large, I cannot leave the district.”
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