How Gandhi and Nehrus subverted Hindu grass-root peasant movements in collusion with British and Islamists-Part I
- In History & Culture
- 11:47 AM, Nov 06, 2016
- Dikgaj and Saswati Sarkar and Shanmukh and Latha Isloor
Gandhi is invariably posited as an icon for India and humanity, and identified with Hinduism, particularly in US and Europe. Dignitaries visiting India never miss the customary trip to Rajghat, and Indian prime ministers and presidents inaugurate one Gandhi memorabilia or another during each of their official international trips. One such statue was recently banished from a University campus at Ghana, due to emergence of documentary proofs of Gandhi’s racism. A flurry of articles followed both in left and right wing media defending Gandhi to the hilt. The ones in establishment-left projected him as a product of Hindu superstition, casteism of his times and attributed his racism to commitment towards welfare of his compatriots in South Africa. The ones in establishment-right sought to garner support for Gandhi from Hindus by equating criticisms of Gandhi to Hindu-phobia and leftism. Those arguing that Gandhi was indeed a racist have been advised to join forces with Khalistanis, Kashmiri separatists and evangelist Dalits. The desperation to defend brand Gandhi on both sides of the political spectrum suggests that there is more vested in Gandhi than an academic appreciation of history.
To understand the interests vested in Gandhi, we move back in time, about hundred years back to the fields of Awadh reverberating with the war cry of ``Sita-Ram’’. A Maharashtrian Brahmin with the pseudonym of Ram Chandra was organizing local peasants of lower and middle castes, through militant Hindu religious symbolisms, against the repression by the intermediaries of the British state, taluqdars and zamindars. He was a life-long peasant activist, he had genuinely sought to enhance the lot of indentured laborers in Fiji, albeit with less publicity than that accorded to Gandhi’s labor activism in South Africa. He was an educated man who attempted to connect peasant grievances to the nationalist freedom struggle, the Non-Cooperation movement that Gandhi had called. In normal course, he should have been treated as an asset by any leader committed to freedom fight as he was promising to connect the peasant multitudes to the freedom fight which was then being driven by urban educated middle and upper classes. Yet, he was crushed with contempt, unceremoniously flung to a cell in a British jail reserved for mad dogs and – unbelievable as it may sound – all this was conducted with the active connivance of the icon who was supposedly championing the ``dumb millions’’, and other leading lights of the freedom struggle such as Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehrus. But why? The peasant revolt was certainly in conflict with an important power base of Congress, the taluqdars and the zamindars. As an example, the famous taluqdar Kidwai family of Bara Banki district was involved with the Congress and the Khilafat movement. pp. 132-133,  But the root cause went deeper. We argue that such diabolical moves owed to deep rooted class and caste bias of the eminences in question, as also their aversion to Hindu militant movements emerging from India’s long-standing civilizational ethos. In particular, regardless of their public positions, Gandhi and Nehrus were irrevocably committed to a social hierarchy based on class, caste, religion and political power: Hindu peasants and workers were at the lowest rung of this ladder, Hindu middle classes (some zamindars belonged here) next, Hindu elites (aristocrats, zamindars with large estates, taluqdars, big industrialists) still higher, Muslims and British at the highest level (given they had ruled the Hindus for a long time and were bestowed with significant political power). The lower categories in this social hierarchy were expected to be subjugated to the higher ones. Thus, peasants resorting to violence against the taluqdars and zamindars and the British deserved to be crushed per this school of thought. The commitment to this hierarchy was so deep that the elite power seekers like Gandhi and Nehrus would rather debilitate the independence struggle by excluding those at the lowest of this hierarchy than share power with leadership emerging from this grassroots. They would not hesitate to join hands with foreign invaders (British and Islamists) to eliminate those who challenge this hierarchy. The celebration of Gandhi by establishment right and establishment left also stems from a perpetuation of the above repugnant mind-set. This is again why both sets repeatedly join forces inimical to the nation to keep the commoners in their place (eg, by facilitating illegal immigration, sparing Razakars of Hyderabad in Hyderabad who were guilty of indescribable brutalities and mass murders of Hindu commoners there).
The story that we reproduce from a forgotten chapter of history is more than debunking of the political brand that Gandhi now is. It is a story of association of individuals through shared values rather than the least common denominator of caste and ethnicity. It shows that there is a long-standing ethos of instilling the spirit of resistance in the oppressed through Hindu civilizational symbols, without resorting to lingos of Communism or internationalism. Ram Chandra epitomized everything that a genuine human-rights activist is supposed to accomplish, including transcending artificial casteist and gender barriers, discarding birth-based hierarchy, and eschewing exclusivity. But he had probably never heard of communism when he launched his struggle in the farm lands of Awadh, he did not need to: Sita-Ram, a deep understanding of peasant grievances, an identification with peasants and an innate sense of Indian nationhood sufficed. His movement was the ideological successor of Hindu Sannyasi rebellions led by Hindu sadhus and propelled by peasants about a century back. In many ways, the philosophy he lived is an antithesis to a plutocratic, aristocratic or a mercantile social order. This philosophy is also organically derived from Hindu ethos. Communism could never strike roots in Indic soil, but has successfully and ruthlessly hijacked the current political parlance. As a result, and because the Communist public discourse in India is so intrinsically Hindu-phobic that Hinduism is often equated to the ideological opposite of Communism, that is, unbridled capitalism and aristocracy. The faded pages of history wherein Baba Ram Chandra still lives commands us to get back to basics and rediscover the essence of Indic civilizational ethos.
The tragedy of Baba Ram Chandra eloquently speaks as to why effective counters to Gandhi could not emerge in contemporary India. The challenge was statistically likely to emerge either from the middle or lower classes, if at all, since it is these that were heavily discriminated against in the British regime and these contained a lion’s share of the populace. But the system was so designed that it was unbelievably simple to nip in the bud promising leaders from these categories. Thus Ram Chandras could easily be cast aside. The remaining section, the Indian elite were substantially fewer, and also significant beneficiaries of the British largesse, so only a few amongst them were likely to rebel against the foreign regime as also against their own class. Hence the Subhas Chandras who were best equipped to succeed were rare.
Gandhi’s popularity was particularly high in the Hindi belt. From the forgotten pages of history Baba Ram Chandra tells us how that was accomplished. The dominant section of the Congress leadership there, eg, Nehrus in the United Provinces, helped Gandhi crush local grass-root leaders who could emerge as his counter-weights in due course. In some other provinces like Bengal, Punjab, Maharashtra, Madras, Central Provinces, etc, Gandhi could never dominate Congress. So alternate voices could emerge, and Gandhi’s popularity remained substantially lower. It turns out that Gandhi disliked these provinces  and discriminated against them in the disbursement of the funds he collected .
Our article is divided into two parts. In this part, we start from the period in which peasant movements had just originated and were experiencing an uneasy co-existence with Congress. The rise of Gandhi in Congress power politics, and the formulation of his Non-Cooperation movement institutionalized the exclusion of the peasants from Congress and its agitations. Simultaneously, a Hindu militant peasant movement organically grew in Awadh from the grassroots, led by Ram Chandra, notwithstanding determined efforts to foster the personality cult of Gandhi through media propaganda relying on superstitions and miracles. As the peasant movement gathered steam, the Allahabad Congress leadership comprising of Nehrus and Gauishankar Mishra emerged in the scene, seeking to exploit the movement for their political ends. The peasant movement under Ram Chandra attained a revolutionary fervour, and Ram Chandra sought to connect it to the Non-Cooperation movement. This is when the Congress leadership decided that he had become too big for his own good, and Gandhi, Nehrus, and Khilafatists, all joined hands with the British to destroy him.
We start the sequel by analyzing why Gandhi and the Nehrus had decided to destroy Baba Ram Chandra The mechanisms they adopted for destructing Ram Chandra were a combination of brute force and subterfuge. He was removed from the scene through incarceration, the peasant movements continued for some time, but they lost their sting in absence of a visionary leader. By the time Ram Chandra returned from prison, his base was destroyed. Soon Gandhi assumed total control of Congress, and determinedly excluded the peasants from the national movement, particularly the lower strata among them, as long as he could. Ram Chandra remained active in Kisan sabhas, supported mass movements of the Congress, went to jail a few more times, but could never become the leader that he had potential for. In the end, Ram Chandra became no more than one human sacrifice for the noble cause of propelling Gandhi and the Nehrus to power.
We leave the reader with some intriguing questions. Why is it that the man who claimed to be closer to Marxism than anything else (Jawaharlal Nehru), the man who assumed trusteeship of the ``dumb millions’’ (Gandhi) would betray a peasant activist to foreign invaders? In the same vein, why is it that a peasant activist like Ram Chandra not been projected as a leftist icon, or for that matter a Hindu icon? Why have the Sannyasi rebellions not been celebrated in our mainstream history? Is it because it serves entrenched interests on both sides of the political spectrum to equate Hinduism with mercantilism and retrograde values such as birth-based hierarchy ? Is this why the establishment-left champions Gandhi and Nehru, while the establishment-right opts for their minor variants, Gandhi, Patel and Rajagopalachari ?
Congress and Peasant Movements in the United Provinces – An uneasy coexistence
Strong peasant movements had grown in the United Provinces [now Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand] and Bihar prior to the non-cooperation movement. In the United Provinces, the peasants were oppressed by huge rents, lack of occupancy rights and demands of nazaranas (gifts). Rack renting since early 1900s had left the subsistence farmers without any real means of sustaining themselves. Murdafaroshi , literally meaning the practice of selling corpses, figuratively meaning letting out land at higher rents soon after the death of a tenant, and frequent increase of rents were common p. 39, . Further, the deliberate ejection of the peasants and renting it to new tenants at higher rents, after accepting nazaranas for reinstatement of the old tenant was common. pp. 42-49,  The war and its aftermath made matters worse for the peasants, with forced war contributions p. 62, , and soaring prices, but limited rise in their wages or incomes p. 119, . Thus, the peasant movements were focused on grievances such as high rents, bedakhli (evictions), cesses, high prices, social humiliation and exploitation at the hands of the Raj and its intermediaries like the zamindars, banias (traders), mahajans (moneylenders), taluqdars and well-to-do cultivators, pp. 17-19, .
The Congress, speaking only for the middle class and the educated elite in India in the 1910s, was not regarded with any great import by the British; consequently, the Congress found the need to speak on behalf of a larger population base. For this purpose, it was necessary to bring the kisans into the Congress fold in some measure. In 1917, Gauri Shankar Mishra, under the patronage of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, organised the United Provinces Kisan Sabha, partly to expand the base of the Congress, and partly to obtain a handle into the rural politics. The UP Kisan Sabha occasionally raised its voice in favour of the poor peasants, rarely organised them or attempted to mobilise them, eschewed direct action and followed a policy of prayers and petitions to the authorities p. 72, . Other Congress leaders sought to enhance their political power by enlisting agrarian support, more specifically, by forming or joining Kisan Sabhas. For example, Purushottam Das Tandon had joined UP Kisan Sabha, while Nehrus organised an Oudh Kisan Sabha, rather belatedly. An attempt to bring the peasants into the INC fold was made when they were invited in large numbers to the Delhi session of the Congress in 1918 and Amritsar session in 1919. But, the Congress foray into the kisan domain remained a limited and sporadic venture.
It is important to note that these Kisan Sabhas were all organized by the Congress leadership that comprised of urban elites, and not by the peasants themselves nor by lifelong agrarian rights-activists. The organizations were foisted from above rather than growing from below. Also, Congress had always hesitated to embrace the peasants. Dhanagare states that, ``It [Congress] was dominated by the urban middle classes and the landed elite – mostly upper-caste Brahmins, Kayasthas, Khatris, and Banias. Most of the candidates int nominated from Oudh for the Legislative Council, from 1893 to 1900 were talukdars. A considerable number of delegates who attended the annual sessions of the Congress came from the professional classes as well as landlords and businessmen.’’ p. 116, . The Congress leadership emerged from the urban, educated, elite class as well. Thus, a bias against the peasantry was deeply entrenched at least at the upper and middle levels of Congress. In the 1919 Amritsar session, the Congress attempt to include the kisans had turned into a near fiasco with the kisans treated poorly by the Congress and the kisans rejecting the demands of the Congress leaders. p. 75,  Quoting from pp. 75-76, , ``The president of the 1919 session was Motilal Nehru. There was a problem with seating arrangements which eventually led to the 1800 kisans rushing through one of the gates. The peasants had been denied access to the seats that they had occupied earlier and had been treated without respect when they were told to take planks at the back of the pandal. Motilal did not approve of the kisans’ behaviour as the gate had been broken as well as many chairs. The Kisans were therefore not offered free tickets for the 1920 Nagpur session of the congress. This can be an early indication of the lack of commitment on the part of some INC leaders to the peasants’ cause.’’ The lack of commitment to peasants’ cause in Congress was also a result of the conflicts between their interests and the interests of one of their dominant components, the taluqdars and the landed elite. The taluqdars and the landed elite obviously commanded a lot more resources than the peasants and hence their interests took precedence.
How Gandhi sought to exclude peasants and their grievances from the Non-Cooperation movement
The political rhetoric underwent a fundamental paradigm shift with the emergence of Gandhi, he often posed as the champion of the ``dumb millions.’’ But the interests that the organization pursued did not change. It will also become clear that Gandhi shared the repugnance that the urban elite reserved for the peasants. Gandhi had broached the idea of a Non-Cooperation movement in the Khilafat Conference of November, 1919, and had sought to mobilize political and public opinion in its support throughout 1920. The movement was approved by Congress in a Special Session called in September, 1920, Calcutta. Gandhi was very wary of involving either peasants or workers in this movement to any significant degree. In fact, Gandhi did not incorporate any demand of the peasants in the Non-Cooperation movement, for the most part the movement precluded refusal to pay taxes, because it would inevitably lead to refusal to pay rents to the Zamindars. British journalist and politician, H. N. Brailsford, who was very complimentary on Gandhi has written, ``Tax-resistance by peasants in the North would have involved a strike against rent. It is significant that Gandhi and his Working Committee went out of their way to assure the landlords (zemindars) that Congress would scrupulously respect their legal rights. This singular man is a born conservative whom history has turned into a revolutionary.’’ p. 23,  We cite a few examples of Gandhi’s reluctance to involve the peasants to any significant extent.
On 19/07/1920, Gandhi said in Rawalpindi, ``I shall ask the soldiers to leave the army but not to turn their arms subsequently against the enemy. I ask them, rather to become soldiers without swords, like me. I have nothing by way of physical strength; but nobody, I think, can make me do anything against my will. By and by I will also ask the peasants not to pay revenue, but I tell both the soldiers and the peasants to take no step without instructions. The beauty of our struggle lies in the descipline it requires, and so I shall ask our unarmed, swordless army not to take up their weapons without orders. They will get their orders at the opportune moment. But so long as we are not sure that we can carry the whole of India with us, we will not ask the soldiers or the peasants to do anything. . . .’’ pp. 65-66, . It appears he thinks that the peasants do not have the discipline to be involved in his Non Cooperation Movement and that they must wait for orders to act. On 15th December, 1920, Gandhi said in Dacca, ``If our leaders go to Indian title-holders, pleaders, students and Councillors and appeal to them, it is my firm belief that they will condescend to undergo a sacrifice and will think that God is the only Being who feeds them and that Government, the courts and the Councils are not their gods. If you do this there will be no necessity of going to peasants and soldiers. The Mohammedans will then be able to save not only Islam but India, too. I congratulate the people of India in general and of Bengal in particular for the work they have done in connection with votes. We shall work with patience which can win over Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and other leaders, including our brother Surendranath Banerjea, to our side.’’ p. 104, .
The above speeches of Gandhi show his huge reluctance to involve the peasants in any agitation. Further, the Gandhians were reluctant to involve the peasants since they would invariably come with peasant demands, which included non-payment of rent and often clashes with the Zamindars, which the Congress was reluctant to espouse. The multiple speeches by Gandhi make it clear how reluctant he was to turn Non-co-operation into civil-disobedience.
1) ``Without any impertinence I may say that I understand the mass mind better than anyone amongst the educated Indians. I contend that the masses are not ready for suspension of payment of taxes. They have not yet learnt sufficient self-control.’’, December 13, 1920, p. 86, 
2) ``We do not now possess so much strength that we can approach the cultivators and tell them not to pay taxes or ask a soldier to leave his service.’’ December 15, 1920, p. 104, 
3) ``Now this Congress while reaffirming the resolution on non-violent non-co-operation passed at the Special Session of the Congress at Calcutta declares that the entire or any part or parts of the scheme of non-violent non-co-operation, with the renunciation of voluntary association with the present Government at one end and the refusal to pay taxes at the other, should be put in force at a time to be determined by either the Indian National Congress or the All-India Congress Committee’’ (Non-Cooperation resolution, Nagpur, December 30, 1920) p. 511, 
4) ``India can have dominion or independent status today if India learns and assimilates the secret and the invincible power of non-violence. When she has learnt that lesson, she is ready to take up all the stages of non-co-operation including non-payment of taxes. India is not ready today. ‘’ 29 June, 1921, p. 350, 
5) ``The more I think of it the more I am convinced that we shall not even be required to advise soldiers to lay down arms or tax-payers to refuse to pay taxes.’’ July 30, 1921, p. 24, 
Emergence of grass-root Hindu militant Peasant Movements
A Maharashtrian Brahmin, by the name of Sridhar Balwant Jodhpurkar (1864-1950), had left for Fiji in 1904 and assumed the name of Ram Chandra Rao, to conceal his ethnic and caste identity, as the British used to suspect the Maharashtrian Brahmins of seditious activities. He led popular demonstrations to focus on the grievances of the indentured labourers there, and has been referred to as ``a successful agitator’’ in Fiji. The demonstrations were fundamentally Hindu in nature. He often used religious symbolisms to organize the people. He staged `Ram Lila’ in Fiji which helped create a sense of solidarity among the coolies of Indian origin. He also ensured the dismissal of an official who hurt the religious sentiments of the coolies. He smuggled into India an article on the deplorable and inhuman conditions of the indentured labourers. The article was published in Bharat Mitra, a newspaper from Calcutta and created a furore, enough to alarm the Fiji Government. The Fiji government sought to locate its author. Bal Gangadhar Tilak wrote to Ram Chandra exhorting him to return to India to continue his struggle. Accordingly, he returned in 1917, before the Fiji authorities were able to locate him, and relocated to Awadh p. 37, .
Awadh was a heavily Hindu region, with the countryside being overwhelmingly Hindu. The districts affected by the revolt were Hardoi, Faizabad, Unnao, Sultanpur, Partabgarh, Allahabad, and Rae Bareli districts p. 112, . According to the 1911 census, Hindus constituted 89.24% in Hardoi, 91.64% in Unnao, 91.37% in Rae Bareli, 89.59% in Pratapgarh, 86.05% in Allahabad, 88.74% in Faizabad and 88.91% in Sultanpur pp. 272-275, . The neighboring Bara Banki was also largely Hindu, the Muslim population was nearly 17% in Bara Banki with a large number of Sheikhs, Juluhas (weavers) and Pathans concentrated in the old cities of Nawabganj, etc pp. 78-80, . [The exact fraction is not given, but in 2011, Nawabganj was 54.7% Hindu] The rural regions in both Awadh and Bara Banki were even more heavily Hindu and it may be assumed that, for all practical purposes, that nearly all the peasantry was Hindu, with possibly a sprinkling of Muslim peasantry here and there.
In Awadh, Ram Chandra started offering religious discourses which endeared him to the simple and religious peasantry who assembled in great numbers to hear him. It went around that he had received some divine visions during his sleep p. 37, . He became known as Baba Ram Chandra, the title Baba was ascribed to Hindu holy men. His success in organizing the peasants in Awadh reveals that ethnicity was not an important divide among Hindu peasants.
Meanwhile, independent of this UP Kisan Sabha and Oudh Kisan Sabha, led from above, at Rure in Gorakhpur district in 1917, Jhinguri Singh and Sahadev Singh had organized the poor landless agricultural laborers, ploughmen, tenants-at-will. Rure was likely selected because Tulsidas has mentioned it in his Ramcharitmanas, ``Raj samaj virajat Rure’’ (in the assembly of kings the two brothers shone like two moons in the galaxy of stars). The word Rure means beautiful, but local peasants associate the word to the village. There were no peasant grievances at Rure as it was an under-proprietary village and was out of reach of taluqdari oppression, so the location was also deemed safe p. 38, . This Kisan Sabha was a platform to discuss kisan problems and encourage kisan cooperation and organisation to solve these problems. In 1919, Jhinguri Singh and Sahdev Singh persuaded Ram Chandra to throw in his lot with this Kisan Sabha.
The Rure Kisan Sabha spread quickly throughout the United Provinces, eg, in, Oudh, in the districts of Sultanpur, Rai Bareily, Pratapgarh, Faizabad, Hardoi. p. 19, , p. 72, . Ram Chandra exhorted the kisans to withhold all kind of cesses, gift payments (nazarana), forced labour (begar), and pay only the normal rent, and also devised an eight fold programme for their upliftment pp. 38-39, . The eight points comprised of: 1) Reservation of jungle tracts for the grazing of cattle 2) Payment of rent should be made in advance of the fixed time 3) Tenants should sink wells and dig tanks 4) Planting of orchards where possible 5) Half the area to be sown should be sown with grain crops and the other half with cotton 6) The establishment of seed or grain depots at every three kos 7) acceleration of female education 8) creation of a union among kisans and labourers pp. 73-74  The Deputy Commissioner at Partapgarh commented that he had become ``a magnet of attraction’’ who provided ``some mental pabulum to a people usually intellectually starved in these out of the way places’’, and also that ``the people attended his meetings and many fraternized with him.’’ p. 39, . By 1919-1920, with the increasing problems of the peasants and the organisation to the Kisan Sabha by Ram Chandra, they were becoming an increasingly vocal and organised factor in UP politics.
Using the Kisan Sabhas as a launching pad, Ram Chandra started a peasant movement in earnest in May 1920. The local administration, fearing lawlessness, directed Ram Chandra to stop his ``poisonous propaganda calculated to incite class-hatred and ill-will’’ , and asked that he forward the complaints of the peasants to the Deputy Commissioner of Partapgarh p. 39, . Not to be outdone, Ram Chandra had Jhinguri Singh and Sahdev Singh march with one thousand men and women to the office of the Deputy Commissioner to lay their complaints before him. Meanwhile, the Kurmis and the low caste peasants joined forces p. 39, .
The Hindu militant nature of this peasant movement can be inferred from the religious significance associated with its founding location and also from Jawaharlal Nehru’s writings about its moving force: ``He [Ram Chandra] taught the peasants to meet frequently in sabhas (meetings) to discuss their own troubles and thus give them a feeling of solidarity. Occasionally huge mass meetings were held and this produced a sense of power. Sita-Ram was an old and common cry but he gave it an almost warlike significance and made it a signal for emergencies as well as a bond between different villages. Fyzabad, Partabgarh and Rae Bareli are full of the old legends of Ramachandra and Sita – these districts formed part of the kingdom of Ayodhya – and the favorite book of the masses is Tulsidas’s Hindi Ramayana. Many people knew hundreds of verses from this by heart. A recitation of this book and appropriate quotations from it was a favorite practice of Ramachandra’’ p. 53,  Other leaders of the peasants during this period were Baba Janaki Das and Baba Ram Ghulam, again, the word Baba was typically reserved for those perceived as holy men.
As genuine Hindu movements normally do, this movement had a rational and progressive approach, as evinced by the eight point welfare program enumerated above, and did not rely on superstitions or miracles. In accordance with its Hindu ethos, it transcended caste and gender barriers: it consolidated the Kurmis and the low caste peasants, emphasized female education (as mentioned above), and involved both men and women p. 52, . Besides, Hindu movements are rarely exclusive on religious basis, thus a sprinkling of Muslim peasants who could be found in these areas were included, as indicated by some oaths that cater to both Hindus and Muslims and statements of fakirs etc. pp. 22, 23, .
Note that several other Hindu militant movements against the invaders like the Muslim and the British rulers were led by Hindu holy men and powered by Hindu peasants, like the Sannyasi rebellion of Jalpaiguri in the late eighteenth century. The Peasant movement of Awadh appears to be one in this sequence. Perhaps this is why Hindu holy men have been reviled and stereotyped in Colonial literature and current imitations.
The Peasant Movement in Awadh and the Nehrus
The expediency of keeping the peasants aligned to the Congress was high enough that they were willing to pay a significant price for the purpose. Further, the internal factional politics of United Provinces Congress, where the Malaviya-Tandon group, which was not involved with the Non-Co-operation Movement, had a peasant outreach and the Nehrus didn’t meant that the Nehrus would embrace Ram Chandra to some extent. But right from the beginning, the Nehrus played a double game with Ram Chandra on the one hand and the taluqdars and the British on the other.
Ram Chandra’s Kisan Sabha had very little contact with the UP Kisan Sabha (organized by the Congress leadership) till 1920, the latter fact has been admitted by Jawaharlal Nehru. p. 72, . Subsequently, Ram Chandra sought to bring Gandhi and other educated leaders into the movement. Towards this end, in June 1920 p. 53, , he organized a march of five hundred peasants on foot from Patti to Allahabad, a tract stretching over 75 kilometres, the first ever march on foot by a large group of peasants. He had hoped to persuade Gandhi to come to Pratapgarh from Allahabad. Gandhi was scheduled to be in Allahabad on his way back from Benares where he had gone to attend an A.I.C.C. meeting. Ram Chandra met Jawaharlal Nehru and Gauri Shankar Mishra, instead; Nehru attended a meeting at Balua Ghat in the evening, in which the marchers spoke of their difficulties; they had been doing so throughout the day. Nehru promised to visit the peasants in a few days p. 40, .
How remarkably the peasant movement was organized as well as its essential Hindu character becomes evident from Jawaharlal Nehru’s description of his visit to the villages of Awadh: ``We found the whole countryside afire with enthusiasm and full of a strange excitement. Enormous gatherings would take place at the briefest notice by word of mouth. One village would communicate with another, and the second with the third, and so on, and presently whole villages would empty out, and all over the fields there would be men and women and children on the march to the meeting-place. Or, more swiftly still, the cry of Sita Ram – Sita Ra-a-a-a-m – would fill the air, and ravel far in all directions and be echoed back from other villages, and then people would come streaming out or even running as fast as they could.’’ p. 52,  Rama Chandra’s imprint on this organization becomes clear, as Nehru mentioned later that it was he who had transformed Sita Ram to a war cry. Also, observe that the Hindu movements, particularly those in the country-side, rarely segregate on gender, both men and women were part of the movement.
Ram Chandra independently continued his anti-taluqdar movement throughout the summer of 1920 and the taluqdars considered him dangerous, and feared that the situation was heading to a mutiny bigger in scale than in 1857. Baba Ram Chandra became the model par excellence of the indigenous peasant politician p. 8, . The taluqdars were frightened at the sight of the peasant’s class interest. The Taluqdars Association of Raibarelly met at Salon to devise means to bring into disrepute the Kisan Sabhas. Nehru visited in the rural areas and found that tenants were organizing and were hopeful in future. He urged the peasants to stop payments of illegal cesses, stop cultivating the (Sir) lands the taluqdars directly controlled, and not to cultivate the lands from where other peasants have been evicted. Most of the peasants abided by his programme, the few who went otherwise lured by the zamindars were brought back into the fold through intimidation. The local kisan Sabha under his direction called for ``direct action.’’ The Deputy Commissioner of Pratapgarh has documented, ``I think the local kisan sabha had got a bit tired by the patient tactics of the Allahabad Kisan sabha. It could not afford to wait for the law to alter after taking its own time.’’ pp. 41, .
The Congress politicians descended on the scene, urged ``reasonableness and compromise’’, organized several meetings to restore peace in the regions of disturbance, but to no avail, as the taluqdars opposed any middle ground, to retain their prestige. Jawaharlal Nehru was possibly one of the visitors, as his father wrote to him, ``If one or two visits like this to other parts of the Partapgarh district can be arranged there will be some chance for a pure nationalist getting into the council inspite of the Raja Bahadur of Partapgarh.’’ p. 41, . So the Nehrus were seeking to exploit the peasant movement to send one from their coterie to the council. Also, note that Congress those days used to describe themselves as nationalists, a term that BJP has now hijacked from them. Instead of providing the peasants with a legitimate and effective programme that they could follow, the Allahabad leadership like Jawaharlal Nehru and P D Tandon played both sides. On one hand they condemned the acts of high-handedness by the peasants, and threatened to withdraw their support if the peasants persisted with their actions. On the other hand they also urged the authorities to withdraw the cases filed against the peasants. Ram Chandra persisted with his methods, as eight criminal cases were slapped on the peasants and Ram Chandra and his lieutenants were involved as instigators in each p. 41, .
On August 28, 1920, Ram Chandra and his associates were arrested on flimsy grounds and refused bail. On September 1, a crowd of four to five thousand peasants assembled in the compound of the court where he would be tried, and they were ``ready to die for their leaders’’ (as per CID officials). The trial was moved to the jail compound, and the peasants rushed to the jail gate around 5 pm, but just stopped short of storming it. Jawaharlal Nehru and Gauri Shanker Mishra rushed to the scene, addressed the peasants briefly in Patti, urging that they march to the Sadr demanding Ram Chandra’s release (thereby direct action would be prevented) p. 42, . The peasants reappeared on September 10, and after the authorities sought to disperse and pacify them, they camped on the outskirts of the town, but again returned in greater numbers the next day. The authorities tried to negotiate with Ram Chandra, but he demanded that all his associates be released, and the peasants be compensated for the expenses they incurred in coming to Partapgarh. The authorities and the intermediaries (the Congress leaders) were worried that the surging crowds might ransack the jail, so Ram Chandra was released on a personal bond and all cases were withdrawn and an enquiry was ordered on peasant conditions pp. 42-44, . After the enquiry, the Deputy Commissioner, Mehta, submitted a report exposed the tyranny of the taluqdars. The Lieutenant Governor, Sir Harcourt Butler nicknamed as taluqdar Butler, refused to have the report published in its entirety, and fulminated, ``Mehta perhaps knew nothing of the controversies of tenant right and it was out of the question to print all the stuff.’’ p. 44, .
To acquire greater control over Ram Chandra’s movement and the Kisan Sabhas, the local Kisan Sabha led by Ram Chandra (along with a few other independent Kisan sabhas) were merged into Nehru’s Oudh Kisan Sabha on 17/10/1920, and Nehru addressed the Oudh Kisan Sabha. The Allahabad leaders had amalgamated the local Kisan Sabha under their leadership and further, hitched the peasants to the Non Co-operation movement. pp. 77-78, . However, Baba Ram Chandra had huge influence in this Kisan Sabha and he formulated his own programme. The programme envisaged by Ram Chandra was not at all to the liking of the urban leaders of the Congress.
The national and regional media of United Provinces remained blissfully ignorant of peasant movements in Awadh. Jawaharlal Nehru has written: ``What amazed me still more was our total ignorance in the cities of this great agrarian movement. No newspaper had contained a line about it ; they were not interested in rural areas.’’ pp. 54-55, 
Media was not interested in Ram Chandra’s movement because it had been enlisted as an instrument of projection of Gandhi.
1) On April 19, 1920, the AwadhBhashi published four miracles of Gandhi `` (1) An old man in Lucknow got back his lost eyesight in a night by believing in Gandhi. (2) A police inspector arrested a non-cooperator and so a brick from the sky fell on his head and wounded him severely. (3) An Aryasamajist lady became a non-cooperator and when, against her will, her husband bought foreign cloth, she cursed him and so whatever he wanted to eat became filth. (4) A Muhammadan rais (rich man) of Lucknow wanted to have a dancing party against Gandhi's instructions and so fire broke out in his palace.’’ p. 20. 
2) On November 1, 1920, the Bhavishya reported a speech of Gandhi in which he had supposedly remarked: "One hundred thousand of whitemen would be blown away by the very breath of thirty crores of Indians." p. 20, 
3) On November 25, 1920 the editor of Vartaman had printed several "Gandhi notes" and utilised the income from these in the non-cooperation movement p. 20, .
The local press succeeded in building the myth of Gandhi. People started believing in his super-natural powers. A rumour was circulated at Ajodhya that ``Gandhi was to rise from the river.’’ Hundreds of peasants rushed to witness the scene and this resulted in a stampede. Similarly, Gandhi had reportedly appeared as a 21-foot tall figure dressed in white and had vanished in the garb of a little boy after disclosing that his name was on every-body’s lips in India. p. 20,  A CID report in February 1921 read: ``The currency which Mr. Gandhi’s name has acquired in the remotest villages is astonishing. No one seems to know quite who or what he is, but it is an accepted fact that what he says is so, and what he orders must be done. He is a Mahatma (sacred soul) or Sadhu (Saint), a Pandit (priest), a Brahman (learned one) who lives at Allahabad, even a Deota (angel). One man said he was a merchant who sells cloth at three annas a yard….The most intelligent says that he is a man who is working for the good of the country, but the real power of his name is perhaps to be traced back to the idea that he was he who got bedakhli (ejectment) stopped at Pratapgarh. It is the curious instance of the power of a name’’ pp. 20-21,  .
Note that it was Ram Chandra who had organized peasants to resist Bedakhli in Partapgarh. But the credit for the resistance was being increasingly attributed to Gandhi, as Ram Chandra had marched to persuade him to come to Partapgarh. Thus, in our specific context, Ram Chandra became a direct casualty of the propaganda concerning Gandhi. Gandhi had nothing to do with any peasant movement in Partapgarh p. 21, .
Congress had a culture of paying media houses. For example, in 1923, Rs. 1200 was allocated for Navayuga, a Hindi daily in Allahabad, on condition that it would conduct propaganda regarding Congress resolutions . Since Gandhi and his coterie commanded substantial resources, they could influence the allocation of funds. For example, in July 1921, Motilal Nehru and Gandhi’s close associate and a big businessman Jamnalal Bajaj constituted the Grants Sub-Committee that decided on all grant applications .
Thus, the nature of the so-called mass support for the personality cult of Gandhi could have been the result of a clever propaganda misrepresentation by a section of the press and of pre-existing mass dissent against the colonial state with diverse agenda. In fact, a propaganda attributing religiosity to Gandhi’s persona was being conducted throughout India. He came across more as a religious leader, the Mahatma, to the masses, as opposed to a political leader. His popularity relied on a combination of religiosity, irrationality and susceptibility to personas who come across as Avatars promising to attain mission impossible. Subhas Bose analyzes the phenomenon well: ``Though Hindu society has never had an established church like Europe, the mass of the people have been profoundly susceptible to the influence of Avatars, priests, and gurus. The spiritual man has wielded the largest influence in India, and he is called a Saint, or Mahatma, or Sadhu. For various reasons, Gandhiji came to be looked upon by the mass of the people as a Mahatma before he became the undisputed political leader of India. At the Nagpur Congress in December 1920, Mr. M. A. Jinnah, who was till then a nationalist leader, addressed him as Mr. Gandhi, and he was shouted down by thousands of people who insisted that he should address him as Mahatma Gandhi. The asceticism of Gandhiji, his simple life, his vegetarian diet, his adherence to truth and his consequent fearlessness – all combined to give him a halo of saintliness. His loin cloth was reminiscent of Christ, while his sitting posture at the time was reminiscent of Buddha. Now, all this was a tremendous asset to the Mahatma in compelling the attention and obedience of his countrymen. …Consciously or unconsciously, the Mahatma fully exploited the mass psychology of the people, just as Lenin did the same thing in Russia, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany. But in doing so, the Mahatma was using a weapon which was sure to recoil on his head. He was exploiting many of the weak traits in the character of his countrymen which had accounted for India’s downfall to a large extent. After all, what has brought about India’s downfall in the material and political sphere? It is her inordinate belief in fate and in the supernatural – her indifference to modern scientific development – her backwardness in the science of modern warfare, the peaceful contentment engendered by her latter-day philosophy and adherence to Ahimsa (non-violence) carried to the most absurd length. In 1920, when the Congress began to preach the political doctrine of non-co-operation, a large number of Congressmen who had accepted the Mahatma as not merely a political leader but also as a religious preceptor – began to preach the cult of the new Messiah. As a consequence, many people gave up eating fish and meat, took the same dress as the Mahatma, adopted his daily habits like morning and evening prayer, and began to talk more of political freedom than of political Swaraj. In many parts of the country, the Mahatma began to be worshipped as an Avatar…... In 1922, when the writer was in prison, the Indian warders in the service of the prisons department would refuse to believe that the Mahatma had been cast in prison by the British Government. They would say in all seriousness that if Gandhiji was a Mahatma, he could assume the shape of a bird and escape from prison any moment he liked. ’’pp. 125-127, .
Till date, we observe that media shows an excessive propensity of representing the nitty-gritties of the current Gandhi family, or even other media-savvy politicians of other parties like Ms. Smmriti Irani etc., while ignoring genuine issues of human interest such as exile of Hindus from Muslim or Christian majority areas, conversion of tribals by Christian missionaries through exploitation of their poverty, alteration of demographics through infiltration as these primarily affect rural lives. We still note the propensity of deifying all regional and national politicians like Mayawati, Jayalalitha, Mamata Banarjee, Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal, and accepting them with unquestioning obeisance – in other words the bhakti culture continues unabated in all its primordial glory.
Ram Chandra seeks to link the peasant movement to the national freedom movement
The peasants of Awadh started to look upon Ram Chandra as their liberator. Along with Matabdal Koyari, starting October 28, he organized kisan sabhas in many villages of Rai Bareilly. He addressed large gatherings, advocated boycott of the forthcoming polls, and sought to defeat the taluqdari candidates greatly alarming the landlords. The peasant movements spread, and an uprising led by another peasant leader Thakurdin became so formidable that the police had to be deployed in the disturbed localities to protect the landlords. With the help of the police, the landlords let lose a reign of terror, plundering villages and molesting women. Thakurdin was arrested, but the movement gained in strength p. 44, 
Ram Chandra proclaimed December 20th (in 1920) as the kisan day, and 50,000-1 lakh peasants assembled defying the winter. The priests opened the temple doors to the marching peasants p. 45, . Gauri Shankar Mishra presided over the meeting. To provide a visual spectacle, Ram Chandra occupied the stage bound in ropes, as a representative of the peasants tied in ropes of bondage to the Government, taluqdars and capitalists. J A Farron wrote to the Deputy Commissioner, that the political education of the peasants was progressing, they were discussing their grievances in local panchayats which were formed in all villages, and had realized the power of unity within their ranks. If the unity continued, the oppressive taxes like nazarana and begari would automatically cease. The next rally was scheduled for January 20, 1921, at Unchahar in Rai Bareilly pp. 44-45, .
Ram Chandra now moved to Bara Banki, invited by Kashi Prashad who had attended the kisan rally at Ajodhya. He was accorded a hero’s welcome, taken in a huge procession throughout the city which chanted slogans hailing him. Frightened, the zamindars of Bhyara relinquished all zamindari dues beyond rent. An influential zamindar, Chaudhuri Mohamed Ali, announced his intention to stop bedakhli, nazarana and begar in his estate pp. 45-46, .
Having secured better peasant-landlord relations, late December 1920 onwards, Ram Chandra sought to link the peasant movement with the freedom movement p. 46, . As Kapil Kumar documents, ``Baba Ram Chandra made strenuous efforts to propagate the non-cooperation programme. He would tell his audience not to tolerate the zulum (tyranny) of district and police officials and to take to swadeshi and handspun cloth. He described the government as ``treacherous, tyrannical and dishonest’’ and would not rest ``until he had driven the British Government out’’. He often referred to the government as phupha (uncle) and referring to the King he would say, ``Bad-zat kafar ka badshah na man na chaiye’’ (we should not recognize the outcast as our king).’’ His dramatic methods included the auction of his lungi (lower dress) proclaiming that the amount thus collected would go towards the construction of a national school.’’ p. 21, . In fact, the peasants had tied Swaraj to the demise of the British Raj, as the Deputy Commissioner of Rae Bareilly reports, ``The situation at the time was extremely serious. The ignorant peasantry had been persuaded by the perambulating agitators that not only the taluqdars, but also the British Raj would soon cease to exist and that under the beneficent rule of Mr. Gandhi, they would enter on a golden age of prosperity in which they would be able to buy good cloth at 0.4.0 a yard and other necessities of life at similar cheap rates.’’ pp. 245-246, . Thus, Ram Chandra and his associates were translating Swaraj into peasant terms, welding them firmly to the Non-co-operation agitation.
In the last days of December and early January, there were a series of clashes between the taluqdars and the peasants, with significant violence from both sides pp. 240-249, . Many peasants began to loot the taluqdars, zamindars and banias with the cry, `Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai’, jai Ram Chandra, Mahatma Gandhi, Shaukat Ali and Mohammad Ali. The taluqdars and the British, on their side used ruthless force, against the peasants. This is confirmed by Dhanagare also who points out that in January 1921 violent peasant movements spread throughout Awadh, particularly in the districts of Unnao, Hardoi, Rae Bareli, Kheri and Faizabad, with looting of the oppressive merchants’ and zamindars’ homes and crops p. 119,  p. 22, . Large crowds moved from one estate to another destroying the crops of the taluqdars p. 46, . The banias were urged to sell cloth at four annas a yard and flour at eight sears a rupee or face plunder p. 22, . Note that the choice of slogan shows how the leaders of the movement had linked it to Non-Cooperation, since Gandhi had called Non-Cooperation on the issues of Khilafat, Punjab wrong, Swaraj, the names of the Khilafatist leaders had entered the slogans.
It was at this point that the Congress stalwarts, namely Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru and the Khilafat leaders like Maulana Abdul Bari and Shaukat Ali joined forces with the British and the taluqdars to destroy Ram Chandra.
Tune on to the next part for how Gandhi, Nehrus, Khilafatists and the British jointly destroyed Baba Ram Chandra. Read Part 2 here.