The ‘City of Destiny’, as Visakhapatnam is called, can look back with pride on its role in the freedom struggle against the British.
The earliest part of the recorded struggle dates back to October 3, 1780, when local sepoys revolted against their colonial masters. The rebellion was led by Shaik Mohammed Khan, a subedar in the Grenadiers Regiment. Two British officers Kingsford Venner and Robert Rutherford were killed and a couple of others were injured.
Though the rebellion was suppressed in no time, it left the East India Company pondering and it took time for them to realise that the first sepoy rebellion that took place in Visakhapatnam would become the harbinger for the Meerut Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, which is known as the First War of Independence, and the Vellore mutiny of 1806 and the Barrackpore one of 1824.
If 1780, was the earliest protest against British rule, 1906 was the turning point in the struggle with the residents of the town responding spontaneously to the Vande Mataram movement.
The movement gained momentum with the Vizagapatam Conference that was chaired by Bipin Chandra Pal and N.S. Ramaswamy. The meetings were held at Town Hall and at the open beach opposite Town Hall, where the VCTPL (Visakha Container Terminal Private Limited) stands today. Bhupathiraju Venkatapathi Raju, who presided over the Provincial Conference in Madras in 1906, had played a stellar role in the movement.
This was immediately followed by Marepalli Ramachandra Sastry, a Gandhian, starting the Swadeshi Shop, in direct defiance of the use of British goods.
The fillip to the Swadeshi movement was given by Bhupathiraju and Prabhala Lakshminarasimham who organised the Provincial Conference in the city in 1916.
The shot in the arm for the struggle was the meeting that was organised on the beach opposite Town Hall on April 6, 1919, which came to be known as Satyagraha Day. Kothanda Ramaswamy led the meeting defying the Press Act, and extracts from a book on ‘Indian Home Rule’ written by Gandhi were read out by him.
Mahatma’s rousing visit
The freedom movement reached its crescendo with the visit of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1921. Between 1921 and 1946, Gandhi visited Visakhapatnam five times, of which at least three visits are documented, said Prof. V. Balmohan Das, former Vice-Chancellor of Acharya Nagarjuna University and president of Gandhi Centre, Visakhapatnam.
The first time he addressed a gathering in 1921, he propagated and expounded on his ideal of non-violence. He addressed large gatherings in the on the beach opposite Town Hall, Allipuram and at Waltair Railway Station, said director of Gandhian Studies Centre, Andhra University, Prof. Challa Ramakrishna.
On April 28, 1929, Gandhi addressed a meeting on the beach promoting the use of Khaddar or Khadi.
The majority of the gathering was women who attended wearing khadi sarees and it was at this historic meeting that 10-year-old K. Sarojini, daughter of Gandhian K.S. Gupta, walked up to Gandhi and gave him her gold bangle as a show of solidarity with the freedom movement.
Based on Gandhi’s clarion call, local leaders such as Marepalli Ramachandra Kavi, Digumarthi Venkata Ramaswami, Tenneti Viswanadham, Kolluru Suryam Gupta, Bhamidipati Chinayagnanarayana Sarma, Digumarthi Janakibai, amd Kandala Sarweswara Sastry led the masses for the Salt Satyagraha, and many were arrested and were lathicharged by the police.
In 1933, Gandhi addressed a huge gathering at Town Hall, and stirred a movement among the young students of Andhra University, which had just started functioning by then.
Thirty students had to be suspended for donning the ‘Gandhi cap’ on the campus and staging a mock parliament. The students were led by Lanka Sundaram and K. V. Gopalaswamy, who later served as the Registrar of AU.