Satyagraha in Gujarat
Supported by Congress volunteers Narhari Parikh, Mohanlal Pandya and Abbas Tyabji, Vallabhbhai Patel began a village-to-village tour in the Kheda district, documenting grievances and asking villagers for their support for a statewide revolt by refusing the payment o taxes. Patel emphasized potential hardships with the need for complete unity and non-violence despite any provocation. He received enthusiastic responses from virtually every village.
When the revolt was launched and revenue refused, the government sent police and intimidation squads to seize property, including confiscating barn animals and whole farms. Patel organized a network of volunteers to work with individual villages-helping them held valuables and protect themselves during raids. Thousands of activists and farmers were arrested, but Patel was not.
The revolt began evoking sympathy and admiration across India, including with pro-British Indian politicians. The government agreed to negotiate with Patel and decided to suspend the payment of revenue for the year, even scaling back the rate. Patel emerged as a hero to Gujarat is and admired across India. In 1920, he was elected president of the newly formed Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee-he would serve as its president till 1945.
Patel supported Gandhi’s Non-cooperation movement and toured the state to recruit more than 300,000 members and raise over Rs. 1.5 million in funds. Helping organise bonfires of British goods in Ahmedabad, Patel threw in all his English-style clothes. With his daughter Mani and son Dahya, he switched completely to wearing khadi. Patel also supported Gandhi’s controversial suspension of resistance in wake of the Chauri Chaura indent. He worked extensively in the following years in Gujarat against alcoholism, accountability and caste discrimination, as well as for the empowerment of women.
In the Congress, he was a resolute supporter of Gandhi against his Swarajist critics. Patel was elected Ahmadabad’s municipal president in 1922, 1924 and 1927-during his terms, · Ahmedabad was extended a major supply of electricity and the school system underwent major reforms. Drainage and sanitation systems were extended over the entire city. He fought for the recognition and payment of teachers employed in schools established by nationalists (out of British control) and even took on sensitive Hindu-Muslim.
Patel personally led relief efforts in the aftermath of the intense torrential rainfall in 1927, which had caused major floods in the city and in the Kheda district and great destruction of life and property. Patel established refuge centers across the district, raised volunteers, arranged for supply of food, medicines and clothing, as well as emergency funds from the government and public.
When Gandhi was in prison, Patel was asked by Congressmen to lead the satyagraha in -Nagpur in 1923 against a law banning the raising of the Indian flag. He organized thousands of volunteers from all over the country in processions hoisting the flag. Patel negotiated a settlement
that obtained the release of all prisoners and allowed nationalists to hoist the flag in public. Later that year, Patel and his allies uncovered evidence suggesting that the police were in league with local dacoits in the Borsad taluka even as the government prepared to levy a major tax for fighting davits in the area.
More than 6,000 villagers assembled to hear Patel speak and supported the proposed agitation against the tax, which was deemed immoral and unnecessary. Patel organized hundreds of Congressmen, ·sent instructions and received information from across the district. Every village in the taluka resisted payment of the tax, and through cohesion, also prevented the seizure of property and lands. After a protracted struggle, the government withdrew the tax. Historians believe that one of Patel’s key achievements was the building of cohesion and trust among st the different castes and communities, which were divided on sociology economic lines.
In April 1928, Patel returned to the freedom struggle from his municipal duties in Ahmedabad when Bardoli suffered from a serious predicament of a famine and steep tax hike. The revenue hike was steeper than it had been in Kheda even though the famine covered a large portion of Gujarat. After cross-examining and talking to village representatives, emphasizing the potential hardship and need for non-violence and cohesion, Patel initiated the struggle-complete denial of taxes.
Patel organized volunteers, camps and an information network across affected areas. The revenue refusal was stronger than in Kheda and many sympathy satyagrahas were undertaken across Gujarat. Despite arrests, seizures of property and lands, the struggle intensified. The situation reached a head in August, when through sympathetic intermediaries, Patel negotiated a settlement repealing the tax hike, reinstating village officials who had resigned in protest and the return of seized property and lands. It was during the struggle and after the victory in Bardoli that Patel was increasingly addressed by his colleagues and followers as Sardar.