Freedom 75
The Satara Prati Sarkar (Part IV)

Liberation is serialising this seminal article by the late Dr Gail Omvedt as part of its Freedom 75 series.

The Advance of the Prati Sarkar: March 1944 to January 1946

In March 1944, two important meetings were held that led to deepening the structure and widening the area of activity of the prati sarkar. First, a meeting of  30-40 leading activists was held in Bombay with, the Socialists, Achutrao Patwardhan, Nevalkar (who had been the delegate sent to Satara) and Tendulkar. This was prompted apparently both by some desire to regularize the work in Maharashtra as a whole and to help in taking some of the police pressure off the Satara people. At this meeting Achutrao proposed the name of Ratnappa Kumbhar of Kolhapur state as an overall `dictator' for the Deccan states and Satara, but the Satara people rejected this: they considered the Kolhapur movement to be a `doll's game' in comparison with theirs, and were not willing to be placed even formally under the authority of an 'outsider'.[1] However, they did not suggest an alternative overall 'dictator'. Instead, it was decided that the various groups should divide responsibility for areas within the district and outside. The Kundal group was given responsibility for their part of Satara district and Khandesh, the Shiralapeth group for Sholapur district, and the Karad-central group for Pune district. Kisan Vir, of the northern area, and Joshi Kaka, an old Gandhian of Shiralapeth, were assigned to the Bombay office. Besides recognizing the autonomy of different groups functioning within Satara, this decision also resulted in sending some activists outside to stimulate movements elsewhere and reduce to some extent the police pressure on Satara.

Following this, on 20 March, about 90 activists met again, this time only as a Satara group meeting, at Mirurvyaciwadi, a village in Kolhapur state, just across the border from Satara. This time they resolved their differences sufficiently to choose Kisan Vir as `dictator' (the primary debate was about Nana Patil, whom the Shirala group felt was too closely identified with the Kundal group). A fairly elaborate structure was set up. At the top was a Karyakari Mandal (called 'dictator board' in English) including eleven people: Dhanvantari, Kisan Vir, Babuji Patankar, Antu-kaka Barde (a relative of Barde Guruji from Wategaon), Buwa Mhayshikar, Sheikh Kaka (a young Muslim from Karad taluka who had run away from home with his father's army rifle at the age of fifteen and joined the Shirala group), Madhav Jadhav, S. P. Jadhav, Naganath Naikavdi, Nathaji Lad and Kisan Master (of Gohinde near Karad). This group, it may be noted, included seven Marathas, one Brahman, one Shimpi (tailor caste), one Muslim, and one Jain. Three supervisors were chosen, Pandu Master for the western area, G. D. Lad for the eastern area, and Pandurang Borate for the central-northern area. Within these regions, the entire area was divided into twenty districts, and the estimated 110 `underground activists' at the time were divided among them with 20 chosen vibhag-nayaks or leaders.[2]

Much of this elaborate structure may have been only a formality. But the programme given by the Karyakari Mandal, which was to form libraries, nyayadan mandals and Seva Dals in each village, was taken fairly seriously. The Seva Dals were formed first as local volunteer squads to aid the `undergrounders', and second as units of the Rashtra Seva Dal which functioned as open organizations with no official connection with the 'under-grounders': anyone who actively joined underground work was to give a formal resignation. They also served as the main units to carry on various aspects of the 'constructive' programme of the prati sarkarā€”sahbhojans and other anti-untouchability work, collective and inexpensive 'Gandhi weddings' (without bands, and with wedding accoutrements that generally included a picture of Gandhi or the national flag, instead of gods), road construction, `village cleaning'.

While these Dals were being set up, the dispersion of some Satara activists to underground work in other districts had one very spectacular effect: on 14 April, some five lakh rupees of Government money was robbed from a bus near Chimthana in Dhule districtā€”the Khandesh treasury robbery. This was carried out by a group of eight activists, including G.D. Lad and Naganath Naikaudi of the Kundal group and local Khandesh nationalists led by Uttamrao Patil. After a two-hour gunbattle with the police who were caught unawares, the attackers managed to escape with most of the money and only slight injury. Of this amount, roughly Rs. 125,000 was given to the 'national movement' (the Bombay centre?), Rs.100,000 was left with the Khandesh group, and the remainder approximately Rs.250,000, was left in the hands of the Kundal group.

The Kundal group apparently kept this money and did not distribute it among the rest of the Satara groups. From this period somewhat different ways of building up village-level structures emerged among the different groups, though these were more fully implemented only from the end of 1944 and 1945. The Shiralapeth and Karad groups concentrated more on building up Rashtra Seva Dals as local units, and in the process kept their contacts with the Socialists and at least a section of Gandhians. The Kundal group worked independentlyā€”as indeed they had been doing in many ways from the beginningā€”and began to build up what they called their Tufan Sena.[3] The money from the Khandesh treasury robbery provided funds for uniforms and organizing a training course. Village units were opened up, called Tufan Dals, and one or two 'captains' from every village were gathered for two to three month training courses held in the Vyayamshala at Kundal. These began to be held in 1945, and it was claimed there were 200-400 trainees at each course., Members of the Tufan Dals, like those of the Rashtra Seva Dals, did not themselves carry arms (only the actual `undergrounders' did) and their work was similarly that of supporting and implementing underground activity and nyayadan mandal decisions, and carrying out village constructive work. But the Kundal group developed, with the Tufan Sena, a more militaristic image and militaristic culture than in the other areas.

Apparently only Naganath Naikaudi of Valva, working independently within the Kundal group, concerned himself with a real programme of increasing military strength after 1944. His sub group's approach was that all was useless without building up a real 'army', and he first used some of the Khandesh money in purchasing arms in Goa, and then went to Delhi on a private trip to seek contact with the Azad Hind Sena so that real military training could be given to volunteers. He had a bad experience with Maniben Patel, whom he met in the Congress office set up for the support of the first three Indian National Army men on trial, but contacted two Sikh army youths in the office who later agreed to come to Satara and give training. This led to a training camp being set up in the Sahyadri hills at the end of 1945.[4]

But while all these developments had their beginnings in early 1944, they were interrupted in the middle of the year by a major crisis: Gandhi's call to surrender. Growing rifts between Socialists and Gandhians within the Congress organization had culminated in a split in the underground Bombay 'Central Directorate' in September 1943. On Gandhi's release from jail in May 1944, he apparently took an attitude of disowning the more violent underground activitiesā€”which left the socialist leadership feeling disillusioned and adrift[5] ā€”and on 1 August gave an open call for all those still underground to cease struggle and surrender. And all over the country, nationalists ranging from the disappointed socialist leadership to the loyal Congressmen who had set up the only other parallel government in the country in Medinipur, followed Gandhi's adviceā€”except in Satara.

The underground activists met Achutrao Patwardhan again in Bombay. Reportedly three to four hundred were present, and there was an intense debate. The Gandhian loyalists of Bilashi and Charan of the Shiralapeth group were the only ones who were ready, even reluctantly, to follow the Mahatma's call. The rest opposed it from the adamantly independent Kundal group to the main section of the Shiralapeth and Karad groups, who argued in the words of Dhanvantari, 'What Gandhi says is OK, but as long as the opposition has arms we will not throw down our arms. The question of surrender doesn't come in'.[6] The only decision that could be taken was to give those who wanted to follow Gandhi's advice the freedom to do so! And so Baburao Charankar and Ganpatrao Patil of the Shirala group, with about 60 of their youthful followers, surrendered. Notably this was the only section of the then existing prati sarkar that had developed ties with the Congress party hierarchy prior to 1942 (they also had no real background in the non-Brahman movement). For the 'new wave' of activists who had built the prati sarkar, Gandhi's slogan 'do or die' took precedence over his later expressed wishes, though they were helped in their decision by at least some knowledge of divisions within the Congress, and the news that people like Nehru were coming out in praise of the struggle and saying 'Jai Satara'.[7]

Thus, police repression made little difference to the movement. It is noteworthy that in June 1944 when new ransoms were declared by the government, a total of Rs.52,000 was offered for Satara activists, with Rs.5,000 (the same amount offered for the arrest of Achutrao Patwardhan) put on the heads of four activists, Barde Guruji, Baburao Charankar, Nana Patil and Nathaji Lad.[8] The call of the Congress high command to lay down arms was equally ineffective. What these different efforts produced was the sporadic loss of some leadersā€”Baburao Charankar (surrendered September 1944), Barde Guruji (arrested October 1944), Madhavrao Jadhav (arrested August 1945) and finally Dhanvantari (arrested September 1945). But there seemed to be sufficient new men to replace them, and enough original leaders evading arrest to provide continuity. The activities of the prati sarkar ā€” local nyayadan mandal work, punishment of criminals, and sporadic bank and post office robberiesā€”continued unabated.

Indeed, it can be said that they intensified after mid-1944. The end of 1944, as noted above, was the period when the Kundal group really moved to set up its Tufan Sena units and training courses. The other groups organized an intensive Rashtra Seva Dal programme beginning at the end of 1944. This meant increasingly open meetings. The first of these was a series of nearly 150 meetings held by Pandu Master, throughout the whole Satara region and in Kolhapur with the theme of 'establishing Gram Raj, fighting the British, defending the village'. Then, from late December 1944 to February 1945, a programme of Rashtra Seva Dal shibirs (camps) with Swami Ramananda Bharati, the Seva Dal leader, was organized. This began with a ten-day shibir at Wategaon; and the shibir went on in spite of the fact that the police arrested the leaders, beat the boys and destroyed the food. Later on, the Swami, released from jail for health reasons on 6 January 1945, undertook another tour of the district during which he addressed 108 meetings in three months. This was in defiance of an official ban on meetings and speeches. Often underground activists helped in organizing these programmes and made brief appearances in the shibirs and meetings, despite constant police pressure and attacks. There was a kind of alliance between the underground activists and the Gandhians - and in fact Ramananda Swami used the occasion to preach against violence.[9]

On 3 March 1945 at Surgundacyawadi, a meeting of the Satara activists was held which adopted a constitution for the prati sarkar.[10] This was from a Ramrajya constitution that had been drawn up for the nationalist ruler of Aundh state and was actually rather vague. It provided for the election of village committees of 5 to 7 members to handle the 'court' cases; above them were group committees elected from the chairmen of the village committees as well as (appointed) supervisors of the constituent 7 to 13 villages to handle appeals; and at the apex a 'central committee' to handle final appeals. Little was said in this about the type of laws to be enforced. The 'under grounders' themselves functioned as the final court of appeal or 'central committee'.

As to the extent of all this activity at the village level, there are a few statistical details available. Gokhale gives a list of 95 villages which had nyayadan mandals, 130 which had Seva DaIs, and 100 with libraries (many of these were overlapping), all of which were in Karad, Shirala, Valva, Patan talukasā€”that is the area in which the Shirala and Karad groups were working.[11] Appasaheb Lad gives a figure of 6250 petitions and 4040 decisions made in cases brought to nyayadan mandals in the talukas of Khanapur, Tasgaon, Valva and Karad, the areas in which the Kundal group was working.[12] It was also said that 260 Tufan Sena captains were trained at Kundal and up to 5000 Tufan Sainiks were created in the district.[13] Their main activity was to supervise and help the village activities of the panchayat/nyayadan mandal (including keeping diaries and reporting to higher committees), but they also served as a volunteer force; and one important event reported was that 250 captains went with G. D. Lad- the Tufan Sena 'field marshal' and overseer of all this activity-to Marathwada to train local youths and build a force to help people protect themselves from the Razakars.[14] (It is striking that there was no contact at this time of the Satara national revolutionaries with the Telengana revolt, which was just beginning, for the Satara activists only had organizational contact with the Congress hierarchy or with the Socialists inside the Congress.)

The main achievements claimed for the prati sarkar in all these areas were much the same: prohibition achieved in many villages; the ending of thefts, robberies, 'village goondaism' and dacoity; the stopping of atrocities on women; the spread of education, cleaning of villages and building of roads, inexpensive weddings, bringing together caste Hindus and untouchables.[15] A small movement was made in the direction of organizing women with the formation of women's Rashtra Seva Dals in some big villages of Karad and Valva talukas, and in May 1945 a three-week Seva Dal shibir was held for women at Kasegaon with 45 women and 25 children present.[16] Little is said, in the more official statistics provided by activists, of movements in the direction of ending sawkari or ending zamindari-though these seemed to be ideas that were gaining ground at least among some of the activists at the time. There were certainly pressures in this direction from the masses of peasants.

What should be remembered is that by this time-the middle of 1945 the question before the prati sarkar activists was not simply one of moving forward, but of defending their own achievements-before the Congress and the mass of the Indian people. The Congress was badly divided at this time about the 1942 upsurge itself. As far as Satara was concerned, the Brahman landlords and sawkars and the Marwari merchants had the ear of the local party hierarchy, as well as of influential people on the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee like Shankarrao Deo, in defining prati sarkar activities as criminal. The Satara people would have liked Congress help - in the reduction of police pressure, getting warrants against activists removed, and publicity about police atrocities-but it seems that by this time to even refer to the Satara prati sarkar in public meetings elsewhere in Maharashtra was the mark of a radical or a socialist.[17] Some of this tension apparently came out at the time of Achutrao Patwardhan's first visit to the district, when a meeting was held at Kundal. Activists met Achutrao who reportedly advised the Tufan Sena and Seva Dal to merge. Later, about 78 activists, the core group of all areas, met Achutrao, Raosaheh Patwardhan and Shankarrao Deo together.[18]

It is unclear what came out of this meeting, but the Congress itself was moving in the direction of focusing all its energies on the 1946 elections. This can be seen not only as a British strategy to divert Congress-nationalist activities from mass confrontations,[19] but also as a useful way for the Congress conservatives to reassert their control. It was the elections which effectively ended the prati sarkar, not British military force. A huge peasant conference arranged by the activists at Yelgaon in Karad taluka- Sheikh Kaka's village, where he had marked the beginning of the movement by robbing government grain stores and distributing the grainā€”served as the beginning of election propaganda. Underground activists came out to throw themselves into this activity. There was a division over candidatesā€”a left candidate, V. N. Patil, a lawyer who later became a Communist, and the right Congress candidate, Balasaheb Desai, who later became a Congress member of the state Legislative Assembly and a minister. Desai was backed by Y.B. Chavan, who began to come forward from that time as the Maratha Congress loyalist, appealing to all the `undergrounders' and clever enough to divert Left loyalties. But for the majority of underground activistsā€”even more so, for the masses of peasants and other working people behind themā€”the issues were not very clearly drawn. In a May 1946 speech marking his emergence from hiding, Nana Patil warned, 'The issue before the activists is whether in the drowning of imperialism a capitalist state or a peasants' and workers' state will be established. Since Mahatmaji has approved the principle of "land to the tiller" the work of establishing a base for a peasant-worker state has definitely been taken up; but this is not all that simple'.

Indeed it was not. The right-wing candidate won in Satara, and once the elections were over, people found that they had elected not simply a nationalist government but one dominated by the most conservative elements in Congress, which produced the Kher ministry and brought long-time opponents of the Maharashtrian bahujan samaj like Morarji Desai into key ministerial positions. And the last battle of the prati sarkar- when police surrounded a training camp at Mandur in the Sahyadris and killed one of the Sikh trainers and one local peasant boy in a shoot-out on February 26, 1946, exactly seven days after the naval mutiny in Bombay-went practically unnoticed in the context of the new tensions that were sweeping India at the time.

Read : Part - I

Read : Part-II

Read : Part - III

1. Gokhale, Baburao Gokhale. Jagrut Satara (Second Edition), Barde Guruji, interview.

2. Gokhale, op. cit.,

3. Bhagivanrao Patil, interview, confirms the name came from 'Hitler's Storm . Troopers'.

4. iplavi Chamundrao, op. cit., pp. 14-20.

5. Bhuyan, op. cit., pp. 139-42

6. Dhanvantari, interview

7. bid.

8. Lohar, op. cit., pp. 158-59 ; Gokhale, op. cit.

9. bid.

10. This is published in Appasaheb Lad, in Pawar, op. cit., pp.318-21 ; and in Gokhale, op. cit.

11. bid.

12. Appasaheb Lad, in Pawar, op. cit., p. 317.

13. Gokhale, op. cit.

14. Patil, in Pawar, op. cit., p. 326.

15. Gokhale, op. cit. ; Lad, in Pawar, op. cit., p.316. Numerous other sources, speeches etc. give nearly the same kind of list.

16. Muktabai Sathe, interview ; Indumati Patankar, interview ; Gokhale, op. cit.

17. ee Kunte, op, cit. for examples.

18. Gokhale, op. cit.

19. Sumit Sarkar, `Popular Movements and National Leadership, 1945-47', Economic and Political Weekly, 17, 14-16 (Annual Number 1982). This is an important overview of class conflict and the potentialities of revolt in this period.

The Satara Prati Sarkar