MAHARASHTRA: Valiant Freedom Fighters of Satara Parallel Government Felicitated

Ashok Dhawale

AUGUST 9 this year marks 75 years of the Quit India movement and August 15 marks 70 years of Indian Independence. Recently a nostalgic and inspiring function that revived the glorious memories of the Satara parallel government during the freedom struggle was held at Shenoli village in Satara district and at Kundal village in Sangli district of Maharashtra.  

In a programme that was full of symbolism and emotion, the few remaining valiant freedom fighters of the Satara parallel government were warmly felicitated by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi. The chief guest at the function was renowned journalist and Magsaysay Award winner P Sainath. The function was presided over by CPI(M) central secretariat member and AIKS joint secretary Ashok Dhawale.

The three most prominent amongst the freedom fighters who were felicitated were Captain Ramchandra (Bhau) Lad, who was among those who led the looting of the British ‘Pay Special Train’ at Shenoli village on June 7, 1943; Hausatai Patil, the daughter of Krantisinh Nana Patil, the legendary leader of the Satara parallel government and a freedom fighter in her own right; and Madhavrao Mane. All of them were over 90 years of age.

 

SATARA PARALLEL GOVERNMENT

The Satara parallel government in Maharashtra from August 1943 to May 1946 against British rule was a legendary chapter in the glorious freedom struggle of India. It was an armed offshoot of the 1942 Quit India movement, like the parallel governments in Midnapore in Bengal, Bhagalpur in Bihar, Ballia in Uttar Pradesh and Basudevpur in Odisha.

The leader of the Satara parallel government was ‘Kratisinh’ Nana Patil (1900-1976), who later joined the Communist Party and was elected to the Lok Sabha on the CPI ticket from Satara in 1957 and again from Beed in 1967. Nana Patil was also elected national president of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) at its 13th conference at Dahanu in Thane district in May 1955. He was one of the towering leaders of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement.

British rule was effectively overthrown in large parts of Satara district (now bifurcated into Satara and Sangli districts) of western Maharashtra during those three years. The parallel government (prati sarkar) movement was a guerrilla type of struggle, and it operated in over 250 villages with solid peasant support. There were raids on taluka treasuries and armouries. The prati sarkar took over many of the functions of the government.

This parallel government established many public utilities like a market system, supply and distribution of food-grains and a judicial system to settle disputes and penalise dacoits and robbers, pawnbrokers and money lenders. Law and order was entirely in its hands. Under this government an army was formed named Toofan Sena. It harassed the imperial government by attacking its major establishments like the railways and postal department.

Nana Patil was influenced by Mahatma Phule’s Satyashodhak ideology and Rajarshi Shahu’s work for social justice. He worked for social reform through various means like establishing the frugal style of marriage ceremonies, propagation of education, establishing libraries, eradicating superstitions, de-addiction of the rural populace, etc. He then plunged into the anti-imperialist freedom struggle and became one of its leading figures in Maharashtra.

Some of Nana Patil’s closest comrades-in-arms in the Satara prati sarkar were Nagnath Naikwadi (Anna),  G D Lad (Bapu), Nathaji Lad and Kisan Ahir (who was martyred). 

In order to raise funds for and to defend the prati sarkar, the Toofan Sena looted the British special pay train in Shenoli, district Satara on June 7, 1943, ransacked rifles from a police station in Sangaon, district Kolhapur on October 10, 1943, and conducted a daring highway raid on the British treasury van at Chimthana village in Dhule district on April 14, 1944.

 

INSPIRING FUNCTION

The first function was held at Shenoli, right next to the railway line where the British train was looted exactly 74 years ago. Gopalkrishna Gandhi, along with the freedom fighters and hundreds of other people, visited that historic spot. It was followed by a brief meeting. Prominent among those who attended were Arun Lad, son of G D Lad, and Vaibhav Naikwadi, son of Nagnath Naikwadi. Both of them now head extremely well-run and progressive co-operative sugar factories in Sangli district.  

The second function was held in one of them, the Kranti Sugar Factory at Kundal, the village that was the capital of the parallel government. Here Gopalkrishna Gandhi felicitated all the valiant freedom fighters. They were overwhelmed that they were being felicitated by the grandson of the Mahatma himself, for whom they all had the greatest reverence.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi in his speech, said that the Satara parallel government was a glorious chapter in the annals of India’s epic freedom struggle and expressed his deep gratitude to all the freedom fighters. He also hailed the participation of women in the freedom struggle. It was the sustained and united struggle of the people of India, irrespective of religion, caste, creed and language, which led to its victory over the formidable British rule. The freedom struggle, he said, was also a struggle for democracy, secularism and equality. That struggle is far from completion and this is the biggest challenge before our country today. He called upon the gathering to join that crucial struggle.

P Sainath said that the freedom fighters looted the British treasury and used it for the people. But today, the Modi government is looting the people and giving away this loot to a handful of corporates like Ambani and Adani. A regime that refuses to give a loan waiver to millions of debt-ridden peasants, has no compunctions about giving massive loan waivers to these very same corporate fat cats. The BJP government has reneged on all its election assurances to the peasantry. The agrarian crisis is deepening and peasant suicides are rising. He called for a special session of parliament to discuss this issue and work out solutions.

Ashok Dhawale reminded the gathering that the same forces that were responsible for Mahatma Gandhi’s dastardly assassination were the ones who scrupulously stayed away from the historic freedom struggle of the Indian people. In fact, it was the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League who aided and abetted the British in their notorious policy of ‘divide and rule’, leading to the horrific slaughter of innocents during Partition. Today, it is the very same forces that are in power in our country. They are pursuing policies that are ruining all sections of the working people and accentuating inequality. He gave a call for strengthening the struggle for socio-economic justice, secularism and democracy.

The People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), edited by P Sainath, had prepared films of the memoirs of some of these freedom fighters. These inspiring films were screened at the end of the function. The chairman of the Kranti Sugar Factory, Arun Lad, made the introductory remarks and senior intellectual V Y Patil proposed the vote of thanks.

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