Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Vasudev Balwant Phadke - (1845-1883)
What the Indian Sepoys tried to do in 1857, the Marathas in three bitter wars and the Sikhs tried in 1840, but failed, one man attempted: to take on the mighty British Empire single handed.
Much of his doings are recorded in his own diary, written while hiding in a Hindu temple from the police. He describes how his feeling were stirred by the terrible famine that gripped western India in 1876/77 and realised that the miseries of India were the consequences of foreign oppressive rule.
Hence in true Hindu spirit he took a vow to stir armed rebellion and destroy the British power in India and re-establish Hindu Raj. For this he did not turn to the effeminate upper classes of India, who could not and cannot revert to such direct action but instead he turned to the sturdy rural Marathas who formed the bulk of the famous Hindu Maratha cavalry that had smashed the pride of Afghans and Mughals and only subsided after three wars with the British.
Here he found ready and able soldiers ‘First of all I went to Narooba Wada to perform my prayers and then coming and going on the road I turned the peoples minds against the British … I wished to ruin them. From morning to night, bathing, eating, sleeping I was brooding on this and I could get no proper sleep.
‘At midnight I would awake and think how the ruin of the western oppressors would be achieved until I was as one mad. I learnt to fire at targets, to ride and sword and club exercise. I had a great love of arms and always kept two guns and swords’
Phadke began to raid and cut the communications of the British and to raid their treasury. From Dhamari to Khed his fame began to collect. With each raid his monetary position increased, as did the numbers of followers in his desperate cause.
‘A child being born does not at once become a man but grow little by little and I saw my struggle with the British as such, from collecting small bands of raiders, to looting the treasuries to raising a band then an army of men for freedom … If I find that there is no success in this world then I shall go to the next to plead for the people of India’
The British government had put a price on his head by now but his following was gradually spreading. At the village of Ghanur he fought an engagement with the British army following which Phadke announced a reward for the killing of each European on a sliding scale depending on that mans position.
For some time he kept up a heroic unequal struggle with the British and their Pathan underlings under Abdul Haque.Eventually after a fierce fight he was captured in Hyderabad on 21 July 1879. He was charged for waging war against the British government which was proved by his own diary and his statements in court. There was great public enthusiasm during his trial and vast crowds collected daily to hear him speak to the point where the British were taken aback by his appeal to the common man.
A newspaper ‘Deccan Star’ in 1880 wrote ‘In the eyes of his countrymen, Vasudev Balwant Phadke did not commit any wrong … he showed spirit in trying to relieve the miseries of his countrymen … [and] by sacrificing himself he has averted the danger which sooner or later must follow intolerable oppression. We must consider him a harbinger of good fortune for India’
Realising that he was far too dangerous an individual to remain in India he was transported for life to prison in Aden. He was fettered and placed in solitary confinement. Nevertheless on 13 October 1880 this undaunted man pulled off the door by its hinges and escaped. Unfortunately, he was shortly captured again. Realising that life was now intolerable and unable to live under the bondage of the hated British he went on hunger strike and this noble son of India died on 17 February 1883.
Here was a single man standing out against what was one the most powerful empires the world has ever seen. The seeds he left grew into a mighty banyan tree with its shoots all over the nation within a short period of time. Soon the guns were booming for freedom all over from the Chaperkar brothers in Maharasthra, the Ghadr movement in Punjab to the revolutionaries in Bengal. He can, with justice, be called the father of militant nationalism and Hindutva in India.