Posts Tagged ‘Freedom fighter’

Kanhaiyalal Munshi was a versatile man of great ideas and courage. He was an Indian freedom fighter, a politician, writer, educationalist, environmentalist and by profession, a lawyer. The list, however, does not end here. Munshi was also the founder of the organization called ‘Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’. The aim of the Bhavan that was established in 1938 was to create awareness of virtues like ‘Truth, Love and Beauty’ (Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram). His aim was to develop the Bhavan as an important cultural organization of the country. Munshi was also instrumental in establishment of Bhavan’s College, Hansraj Morarji Public School, Rajhans Vidyalaya and Rajhans Balvatika.

Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi was born on 30 December, 1887 in the town of Bharuch in Gujarat. He studied in Vadodara, where he always excelled in academics. At college, his thoughts were deeply influenced by Sri Aurobindo, a prominent freedom fighter-philosopher. A prize winner at the B.A. and LL.B. examinations, Munshi enrolled himself initially as a Pleader and later as an Advocate in the Bombay High Court. He first joined Dr. Besant’s All India Home Rule League in 1916 and later the Indian National Congress.

At the personal front, Munshi was married to Lilavati Sheth in 1926 (who was one of his literary critics) after the death of his first wife, Atilakshmi Pathak, whom he married when he was just 13.

Munshi always looked upon himself as a “sea shell thrown up by the mighty flood of Indian renaissance”. He actively participated in the freedom struggle of India alongside Mahatma Gandhi. Munshi was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council in 1927. He joined the

Swaraj Party but later on supported Indian National Congress for the Salt Satyagraha in 1930. He was imprisoned several times during the freedom struggle, including a rigorous captivity during the Quit India Movement of 1942.

A great admirer of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Munshi served in the Central Legislative Assembly in the 1930s. His career graph contained a whole lot of contributions to the society. Munshi was elected to the Bombay Legislative Assembly in 1937 and became the Home Minister in the first Congress Government. He served as India’s Agent-General in Hyderabad, until its accession in 1948. He became a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1948. He was the Food and Agriculture Minister of the Government of India in 1950. He was Governor of Uttar Pradesh during 1952-57. Later, he resigned from the Congress and became the Vice President of the newly formed ‘Swatantra Party’, which supported free enterprise. The party enjoyed limited success, but eventually died out. Later, Munshi joined the Jan Sangh.

As a part of other major achievements, Munshi was on the ad hoc Flag Committee that selected the Flag of India in August 1947, and on the committee which drafted the Constitution of India under the chairmanship of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. He and Purushottam Das Tandon were among those who strongly opposed propagation and conversion in the constituent assembly. He was also the main driving force behind the renovation of the historically important Somnath Temple by the Government of India just after independence.

Kanhaiyalal Munshi, apart from this political background, was a very well-known name in Gujarati Literature. He was an outstanding novelist, particularly of historical romance. His literary work ‘Kulapati’s Letters’ published in the Bhavan’s Journal, were widely read and appreciated.

Munshi, when not seen as a politician or a litterateur, was a noted environmentalist. He initiated the Van Mahotsav in 1950, when he was Union Minister of Agriculture and Food, to increase the area under forest cover. Since then Van Mahotsav a weeklong festival of tree plantation is organized every year in the month of July all across the country and lakhs of trees are planted.

Kanhaiyalal Munshi was given the name ‘Kulpati’, meaning ‘Chieftain’ for all his devotion and services to the society.  He passed away in 1971.

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Abbas Tyabji with Gandhiji

A very unique example of voluntary riches to rags – Abbas Tyabji was a nationalist and an Indian freedom fighter from Gujarat.

Born in Baroda before the Indian Revolt of 1857, Tyabji was a Sulaimani Bohra Muslim and the grandson of the Merchant Prince Mullah Tyab Ali Bhai Mian. He was an England-educated barrister, brought up in an atmosphere covered with loyalty to the Empire. He lived in England for eleven years and then moved on to the princely state of Baroda to become the Chief Justice of the (Baroda) Gujarat High Court.

During those days, Tyabji was seen as a model of Britishness, leading a Western lifestyle and wearing impeccably tailored English suits. Though a nationalist at heart, he would not stand adverse criticism of the British as people, or of the Raj. His moderate but simmering nationalism and his absolute integrity and fairness as a judge were widely recognized and lauded.

Tyabji’s life changed when he chaired an independent fact finding committee of the Congress to look into the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He decided to leave behind all the comforts when he was in his late 60s – a time when people usually take a backseat. He dumped his ‘British lifestyle’ and plunged himself whole heartedly into the freedom struggle. His first hand experience of the British atrocities committed by General Reginald Dyer turned him to become an ardent follower of Gandhiji.

Tyabji’s changed lifestyle included burning his English clothes and adopting Khadi as his clothing. He travelled around the country in third class railway carriages, stayed in simple dharamshalas and ashrams, slept on the ground and walked miles to preach non-violent disobedience against the British Indian government. He continued this new lifestyle well past the age of seventy, including several years in British jails.

Abbas Tyabji was also a key ally of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel during the 1918 Kheda Satyagraha, and the 1928 Bardoli Satyagraha. In the hot summer of 1928, when Tyabji was nearing 80, he went around Gujarat’s villages in a bullock cart popularizing “the livery of freedom”. After these, in early 1930, the Indian National Congress declared Purna Swaraj or independence from the British Raj. As a first act of civil disobedience, Gandhiji launched the well-known Salt Satyagraha. Tyabji was then chosen as the immediate successor in case of Gandhiji’s arrest. On May 4, 1930, after the Salt March to Dandi, Gandhiji was arrested and Tyabji was placed in charge of the next phase of the Salt Satyagraha. On May 7, 1930, Tyabji led the Dharasana Satyagraha with Gandhiji’s wife, Kasturba by his side. This was a raid on the Dharasana Salt Works in Gujarat. On May 12, before reaching Dharasana, Tyabji and 58 Satyagrahis were arrested by the British. After Tyabji, Sarojini Naidu was appointed the leader of the Satyagraha.

Tyabji’s was a household name in the 1930s. One popular slogan then went like this: “Khara rupaiya chandi ka/ Raj Tayab-Gandhi ka”. Tyabji had an affectionate relationship with Gandhiji and they exchanged an unending stream of letters. The ‘ever-smiling’ Tyabji kept poor health in the later years. Advised to spend more time in the hills, he moved to a cottage, ‘Southwood’, in Mussoorie, where he died in the night of June 9-10, 1936. After his death, Gandhiji wrote an article in the Harijan newspaper titled “G. O. M. of Gujarat” (Grand Old Man of Gujarat), including the following praise for Tyabji: “At his age and for one who had never known hardships of life it was no joke to suffer imprisonments. But his faith conquered every obstacle. He was a rare servant of humanity. He was a servant of India because he was a servant of humanity. He believed in God as Daridranarayana. He believed that God was to be found in the humblest cottages and among the depressed of the earth. Abbas Mian is not dead, though his body rests in the grave. His life is an inspiration for us all.”

With the polarization between the communities growing at a fast rate in our country, the common heritage of the legacy of people like Abbas Tyabji seems to have no place in our memories.

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While many know him as Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary and translator of his autobiography, few have a real sense of the role Mahadev Desai played in the Mahatma’s life. Also other attributes include him being an Indian freedom fighter and a nationalist writer of high regard.

Mahadev Desai was born on 1 January 1892 in a village named Saras in Surat district of Gujarat. His father Haribhai Desai was a teacher in a primary school. Mahadev’s mother Jamnaben belonged to Dihen, the ancestral place of this Desai clan. The family belonged to the Anavil Brahmin caste, one of the leading communities of the district. Mahadev lost his mother when he was only seven years of age.

Mahadev was educated in a manner befitting a brilliant son of a poor but cultured father. He got married to Durgaben in 1905, at the age of 13. He received his primary and secondary education at different places. He matriculated from Surat in 1906, at the age of 14, winning a scholarship for higher education. He then moved to Bombay in January, 1907 and joined the Elphinstone College and graduated from there after passing B.A Degree examination in 1910. Mahadev joined the Law College thereafter and got his LL.B in 1913.

Mahadev had many qualities imbibed in him that endeared him to all. He overlooked defects in others, but was always ready to see and acquire their virtues. He may be labeled a man of serious temperament but was warm hearted, jovial in nature, and possessed the art of combining fun and humor in a natural and easy way in the midst of serious and important work, so much so that there was always around him an atmosphere of playfulness, mirth and enthusiasm.

After completing his education, while working for his livelihood, Mahadev translated Lord Morley’s ‘On Compromise’ into Gujarati and won the handsome prize of a thousand rupees. This work was later published in 1925. He tried to practice law in courts but was not successful, and through his friend Vaikunth Mehta secured a job in the Central Co-operative Bank of Bombay. But Mahadev soon got tired of the irregularities being practiced there as well as a lot of traveling involved in the job, and left it. Also his destiny was fast drawing him into the folds of Gandhi.

Mahadev Desai joined Gandhiji in 1917 along with Narhari Parikh, Mohanlal Pandya and Ravi Shankar Vyas, and became his most devoted secretary for over 25 years, from 1917 to 1942. The four were the earliest supporters of Gandhi. That was the beginning of a relationship destined to last for a quarter of a century and Mahadev not only remained with Gandhi but also merged himself completely with his master. He began writing his diary, called ‘Day to day with Gandhi’ from 13 November 1917 and continued writing it until 14 August 1942 the day before he died.

After Mahadev Desai joined Gandhiji, three important events took place in their life as well as that of the country. These were the Champaran Satyagraha (1917), the Bardoli Satyagraha (1930), and in all these Mahadev actively participated and courted arrest. In 1921 Gandhiji sent him to edit Motilal Nehru’s periodical, the Independent, Allahabad, and there too he was arrested and jailed. After his release in January 1923, he returned to Ahemdabad and looked after the editorial work of the Navajivan. His sharp editorials on the hollowness of 1919 constitutional reforms and his outburst against the British Government kept up the tempo of the freedom struggle. Desai created a sensation by bringing out a hand-written cyclostyled newspaper after the printing press was confiscated by the British government. In 1924 he took over as editor of Navajivan and also saw his home blessed with a son, Narayan Desai, who is also a non-violent activist. Mahadev toured the country with Gandhiji, explaining the salient features of the freedom struggle. He accompanied Gandhiji in 1931 to the Round Table Conference in London. The chief period of interest is the time Gandhiji was imprisoned in the Yeravda Jail near Pune from 1931 to 1934. Desai wrote most of his important works on Gandhi during this period. In the Quit India Movement of 1942, he along with Gandhiji was arrested and sent to the Aga Khan Palace for imprisonment. Mahadev knew that to live with Gandhi was never an easy task; one would always feel being on the mouth of a volcano. Yet he adjusted his bearing so well that he became indispensable to Gandhi.

On August 15, 1942, Mahadev Desai died of a massive heart-attack at the age of 50. It was unacceptable for Gandhiji and the entire country mourned his death. Mahadev had become what he could. Gandhiji used to visit his Samadhi daily and had said: “Remaining the disciple, Mahadev became my Guru. I visit his Samadhi to remember and emulate his worthy example. Pray God; let us walk in his foot-steps. ”

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