New book explores Gandhi’s role in Champaran satyagraha 

The Mahatma refused to abide by convention, says scholar

July 02, 2022 11:07 pm | Updated 11:07 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi | Photo Credit: The Hindu Photo Library

A book titled Gandhi and the Champaran Satyagraha: Select Readings, which has been edited by Jadavpur University Vice-Chancellor Suranjan Das, was released on Saturday.

At the virtual book launch event, Prof. Das thanked the West Bengal government and the Netaji Institute for Asian Studies for sponsoring the research.

Speaking during a panel discussion, Faisal Devji, Professor of History in the University of Oxford, said the book would immediately become an indispensable resource for those who wanted to look at Mahatma Gandhi’s journey at its very beginning in India with respect to the Champaran Satyagraha.

Prof. Devji said during the satyagraha, Mahatma Gandhi quite deliberately refused to abide by the inherited conventional standard categorisations of national politics that had existed till then. “I am, in particular, referring to the distinction between social reform on one hand and political freedom on the other, which also maps on to another distinction between moderates on the one hand and extremists on the other,” he said.

As the Congress party was said to have been divided between moderates and extremists, “Gandhi being Gandhi, of course, refuses to abide by these tenets and these terms of debate and you already see this in Champaran. What he does in Champaran, in my view, is he explicitly refuses to engage in formal political manoeuvres and he achieves political ends as it were through their opposite, the social”.

Mahatma Gandhi mentioned in his autobiography that during the Champaran Satyagraha, he refused to use the name of the Indian National Congress, it being seen as a highly political entity. It would, otherwise, have allowed the plantation orders to politicise the debate in the way he did not want.

He also refused to make this an issue in the Indian press, especially in the Indian nationalist press, because “he wants it to be dealt with in a calm and reflective manner and not precisely to be politicised”. Yet, he constantly communicated with prominent personalities of the time to ensure that everyone knew what was happening. However, there was no massive media campaign. Thus, he prevented the struggle from assuming a political aspect, which was meant to achieve politics in other ways.

It was also meant to neutralise the colonial State and disallow the expansion of conventionally understood political mobilisation. The Champaran satyagraha was the proof of the fact that service of the people in any sphere ultimately helped the country politically, said Prof. Devji.

Among the participants at the event were Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri, Director of the Netaji Institute for Asian Studies; Sugata Bose, Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs, Harvard University; Sudershan Iyengar, former Vice-Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith; and Neera Chandhoke, Distinguished Fellow of the Centre for Equity Studies.

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