Political Integration Of Rajkot
The negotiations for transfer of power that ensued after the end of the War brought the problem of the States to the centre of the stage. It was, indeed, to the credit of the national leadership, especially Sardar Patel, that the extremely complex situation created by the lapse of British paramount which rendered the States legally independent — was handled in a manner that defused the situation to a great degree.
• Most of the States signed the Instruments of Accession as a result of diplomatic pressure, arm twisting, popular movements, and their own realisation that independence was not a viable option. However, some states, such as Travancore, Junagadh, Kashmir, and Hyderabad, resisted until the very last minute.
• Only Hyderabad was able to hold out and make a serious bid for independence in the end. To better understand the pattern of political activity in India, consider the movements in two representative states: Rajkot and Hyderabad — one among the smallest and the other among the largest, one made famous by Gandhiji's personal intervention and the other by its refusal to accede to the Indian Union in 1947, necessitating the use of armed forces.
Struggle in Rajkot:
• Because Rajkot city was the seat of the Western India State Agency, from which the British Political Agent maintained his supervision of the numerous States of the area, Rajkot, a small state with a population of roughly 75,000, situated in the Kathiawad peninsula, had an importance out of all proportion to its size and rank among the States of Western India, had an importance out of all proportion to its size and rank among the States of Western India.
• Rajkot had the good fortune of being ruled by Lakhajiraj for twenty years — until 1930 — who had taken great care to promote his state's industrial, educational, and political development.
• Lakhajiraj promoted public participation in government by establishing the Rajkot Praja Pratinidhi Sabha in 1923. This representative assembly was made up of ninety members who were elected by universal adult franchise, which was unusual at the time.
• Though the ruler, known as the Thakore Sahib, had complete power to veto any suggestion, this was the exception rather than the rule under Lakhajiraj, and popular participation was greatly legitimised.
• In 1921, Lakhajiraj encouraged nationalist political activity by granting Mansukhlal Mehta and Amritlal Sheth permission to hold the first Kathiawad Political Conference in Rajkot, which was presided over by Vithalbhai Patel. He himself attended the Conference sessions in Rajkot and Bhavnagar (1925), donated land in Rajkot for the establishment of a national school that became the centre of political activity, and wore khadi as a symbol of the national movement in defiance of the British Political Agent or Resident.
• He was incredibly proud of Gandhiji and his accomplishments, and he frequently invited ‘the son of Rajkot' to the Durbar, forcing Gandhiji to sit on the throne while he sat in the Durbar.
• Lakhajiraj died in 1939, and his son Dharmendra Singhji, who was the polar opposite of his father, quickly assumed control of the state. The new Thakore was only interested in pleasure, and effective power passed to Dewan Virawala, who did nothing to prevent the Thakore from frittering away the State's wealth, and finances deteriorated to the point where the State began to sell monopolies for the sale of matches, sugar, rice, and cinema licences to individual merchants.
• This immediately resulted in a price increase, adding to the growing discontent with Thakore's laid-back lifestyle and disregard for popular participation in government, as evidenced by the Pratinidhi Sabha's lapse and the increase in taxes.
• Political groups in Rajkot and Kathiawad had prepared the ground for struggle over several years of political work. Mansukhlal Mehta and Amritlal Sheth led the first group, followed by Balwantrai Mehta. Another was led by Phulchand Shah, a third by Vrajlal Shukia, and a fourth by Gandhian constructive workers, who rose to prominence in the Rajkot struggle after 1936 under the leadership of U.N. Dhebar.
• The first struggle began in 1936, when a Gandhian worker named Jethalal Joshi organised the 800 workers at a state-owned cotton mill into a labour union and led a twenty-one-day strike to demand better working conditions. The Durbar had been forced to give in to the demands of the union.
• This victory encouraged Joshi and Dhebar to call the Kathiawad Rajakiya Parishad's first meeting in eight years in March 1937. The conference, which drew 15,000 people, called for more responsible government, lower taxes, and less government spending.
• The Durbar did not respond, so on August 15, 1938, the Parishad workers staged a protest at the Gokulakshmi Fair against gambling (whose monopoly had been sold to a shady outfit known as Carnival). The protesters were severely beaten with lathis first by Agency police and then by State police, according to a prearranged plan.
• This resulted in a complete hanal in Rajkot, and on September 5, Sardar Patel presided over a session of the Parishad. Patel, speaking on behalf of the Parishad, demanded a committee to draught proposals for responsible government, as well as elections to the Pratinidhi Sabha, a 15% reduction in land revenue, the cancellation of all monopolies or /ijaras, and a limit on the ruler's claim on the State treasury.
• Instead of granting the demands, the Durbar requested that the Resident appoint a British officer as Dewan to deal effectively with the situation, and Cadell was appointed on September 12th. Meanwhile, Virawala became the Thakore's Private Adviser, allowing him to continue working behind the scenes.
• The Satyagraha had grown to major proportions, with land revenue withholding, defiance of monopoly rights, and a boycott of all state-produced goods, including electricity and cloth. There was a bank run, as well as strikes by students and workers at the state cotton mill. All of the state's revenue streams, including excise and customs duties were targeted.
• Despite the fact that he was not physically present in Rajkot for the majority of the time, Sardar Patel maintained regular telephone contact with the Rajkot leaders every evening. Volunteers began to arrive from Kathiawad's other districts, as well as British Gujarat and Bombay. The movement was extremely well organised: a secret chain of command ensured that when one leader was arrested, another took over, and newspaper code numbers informed each Satyagrahi of his arrival date and arrangements in Rajkot.
Government response: The British government, on the other hand, could hardly be pleased with the Thakore's open defiance. Immediate consultations with the Resident, the Political Department, the Viceroy, and the Secretary of State were held, and the Thakore was told not to accept the Sardar's list of Committee members, but to choose another set with the Resident's help.
• As a result, Patel's list of names was rejected, with the justification that it only included the names of Brahmins and Banias, with no representation for Rajputs, Muslims, or the poor.
• The Satyagraha was resurrected on January 26, 1939, following the State's breach of the agreement. Virawala retaliated with a barrage of repression. As in the past, this sparked widespread concern and outrage among nationalists outside of Rajkot. Gandhiji's wife, Kasturba, who was born and raised in Rajkot, was so moved by the situation that she decided to visit Rajkot despite her poor health and against everyone's advice. She and her companion, the Sardar's daughter, Maniben Patel, were arrested and detained in a village sixteen miles from Rajkot when they arrived.
• Mass Satyagraha was temporarily halted to allow for negotiations, as per his wishes. However, after a series of meetings with the Resident, the Thakore, and the Dewan Virawala yielded no results, Gandhiji issued an ultimatum, stating that if the Durbar did not agree to honour its agreement with the Sardar by March 3rd, he would fast unto death. Gandhiji had no choice but to begin his fast because the Thakore, or rather Virawala, who was the true power behind the throne, remained in his original position.
• The fast served as a call to action for a nationwide demonstration. Gandhiji's health was already deteriorating, and a prolonged fast would be dangerous. There were protests, the legislature was adjourned, and the Congress Ministries were threatened with resigning.
• The Viceroy was inundated with telegrams pleading with him to intervene. Gandhiji himself urged the Paramount Power to fulfil its obligation to the people of India by persuading Thakore to keep his promise.
• On March 7, the Viceroy proposed that the Chief Justice of India, Sir Maurice Gwyer, arbitrate whether the Thakore had indeed broken the agreement. Gandhiji decided to break his fast because this seemed like a reasonable proposition.
• The Sardar's claim that the Durbar had agreed to accept seven of his nominees was vindicated by the Chief Justice's award, which was announced on April 3, 1939. The ball was now in Thakore's court once more. Rajkot, on the other hand, had not changed its mind. Virawala maintained his policy of bolstering the claims of the Rajput, Muslim, and depressed classes to representation, refusing to accept any of Gandhiji's proposals to accommodate their representatives while retaining a majority of the Sardar's and Parishad's nominees.
• With hostile demonstrations by Rajputs and Muslims during Gandhiji's prayer meetings, and Mohammed Ali Jinnah's and Ambedkar's demands for separate representation for Muslims and the poor, the situation quickly deteriorated. All of this was used by the Durbar to continue to refuse to honour the agreement in its letter or spirit. The Paramount Power, too, would not intervene because it stood to gain nothing and lose everything if the Congress was defeated outright. It didn't see itself as promoting responsible government in the United States, either.
• At this point, Gandhiji was analysing the reasons for his failure to persuade his opponents to change their minds, and he came to the conclusion that the cause was his attempt to coerce the Thakore into signing an agreement using the Paramount Power's authority. This reeked of violence to him; nonviolence should have meant focusing his fast solely on the Thakore and Virawala, and relying solely on the strength of his suffering to bring about a "change of heart." As a result, he released the Thakore from the agreement, apologised to the Viceroy and Chief Justice for wasting their time, and to his opponents, the Muslims and Rajputs, for wasting their time, before departing Rajkot for British India.
• The Rajkot Satyagraha brought to light the paradoxical situation that existed in the United States, making resistance a difficult task. The British Government's might shielded the rulers of the States from any reform movements, and popular pressure on the British Government to force reform could always be resisted by citing the legal position of the States' autonomy.
• The British, on the other hand, frequently forgot about the States' legal independence when they wanted to pursue a course that was unpopular with the Crown. After all, it was the British government that pressed the Thakore to break his agreement with the Sardar.
• However, the legal separation of powers and responsibilities between the states and the British government provided a convenient justification for defying pressure, which did not exist in British India. As a result, resistance movements in the United States operated under conditions that were very different from those that existed in British India.
• Perhaps the Congress had been correct in insisting for years that the movements in Princely India and British India could not be merged. Its reluctance to take on the Indian states stemmed from recognition of the genuine difficulties in the situation, which were amply demonstrated by the example of Rajkot.
Despite its apparent failure, the Rajkot Satyagraha had a significant political impact on the people of the states, particularly in Western India. It also demonstrated to the Princes that they were only able to survive because the British were there to support them, and thus Rajkot's struggle, like that of others at the time, aided the process of state integration at the time of independence.