New Delhi, Oct 2 (IANS) Mahatma Gandhi may have gained popularity in South Africa after he was thrown out of the first class compartment of the train and then for his fight against apartheid, but it took him time to get the similar recognition in Bengal in the initial days.
Bengal gave him cold reception in the beginning.
It was on July 4, 1896, when Gandhi first returned from South Africa to Kolkata. However, he left the city on the same day as he was set to travel his home town in Gujarat.
After returning from South Africa, Gandhi brought out Green Pamphlet to highlight the condition of Indians living in South Africa.
With the publication of his Green Pamphlet, Gandhi also decided to educate and make aware Indians on the conditions of Indians residing in South Africa by delivering lectures in mass meetings across the country.
Gandhi’s first such meeting was organised in Mumbai on September 26, 1896.
He then again returned to Kolkata on October 31, 1896 to address the issues of Indians in South Africa. As nobody in Kolkata knew him at that time, he stayed in the Great Eastern Hotel, opposite to the residence of present Governor House.
Gandhi wanted to organise public meetings in Kolkata, like he had done in Madras and Bombay, but nobody was interested for such meetings and he was given cold reception everywhere by then leaders of the Kolkata.
Gandhi, then first met with Surendranath Banerjee, who said to him that the people would not be interested in his work as there were a few difficulties prevailed in then Kolkata. Banerjee advised Gandhi to meet with the representatives of the British Indian Association and Maharajas of Kolkata like Raja Sir Pyarmohan Mukherjee and Maharaja Jyotindramohan Tagore who were in view of him liberal minded and used to take initiative in public work.
Gandhi met with those people but those meetings could not yield any fruitful result. None of these leaders gave Gandhi any importance and he was told that it was not an easy task to organize a mass meeting in Kolkata.
If anything could be done, it would depend on Banerjee as he was then a first rank political leader of the city. But all his efforts went in vein. None of the leaders of Kolkata came forward to help him to organise a meeting which Gandhi could address.
Following cold reception from political leaders, Gandhi went to the newspaper houses like The Amrita Bazar Patrika and the Bangabasi, a Bengali newspaper, expecting them to throw light on the South African problem but they also did not pay heed to him.
However Gandhi did not lose hope and met with the editors of the Anglo-Indian newspapers of Kolkata. The Statesman and The Englishman, who realised the importance of the subject and interviewed him and those interviews were published in full. The Statesman published Gandhi’s interview on November 11, 1896.
A day later, Gandhi received a cable from Dada Abdulla from South Africa’s Durban asking him to return to Natal as the Parliament there was opening in January.
Thus Gandhi, was again unable to arrange any lectures in the city then. But before the leaving the city Gandhi gave interview to The Englishman, an Anglo-India newspaper, where he confessed that the Indians were disliked by the colonists in South Africa on economic ground, especially for trade jealousy as the Europeans disliked competition from India traders.
Gandhi also discussed the legal hindrances imposed on the Indians there. The interview was published on November 14, 1896.
Gandhi left Calcutta on November 14, 1896 and from Bombay he set sail for South Africa for the second time on December 1,1896 along with his wife, Putlibai, two sons — Harilal of nine years and Monilal of five years only and ten years old Gokuldas, the only son of his widowed sister. They reached Durban after 18 days.
Gandhi along with other passengers of the Courland and Naderi , two steamers full of Asiatic passengers were not allowed to disembark and when allowed after seven days, Gandhi had to face a hostile situation and was assaulted by a section of Durban mob.
Gandhi then came back to India again on December 19, 1901 and decided to spend some days by travelling different parts of the country. In that year, the 17th annual session of the Indian National Congress was scheduled to be held in Kolkata.
Gandhi decided to attend the session. This was the first time Gandhi was present in the Congress session which was presided by Dinshaw Wacha.
Gandhi boarded the train from Bombay to reach Kolkata. Pherozeshah Mehta and D.E. Wacha were also travelling on the same train but in a separate saloon. On the way, Gandhi got down from his compartment and went to Firozshah Mehta‘s saloon to inform him about South African issue and got their consent to raise the issue in the Congress.
After his arrival in the city, Gandhi was made to stay in the Ripon College, presently known as Surendranath College, along with other delegates.
The sanitary condition of this Congress camp was very poor and unhygienic, as the number of toilets was inadequate and those were filled with filth and bad smell.
Gandhi drew the attention of the volunteers to the condition of the place but they refused to submit to him as it was a sweeper‘s duty. Gandhi then asked for a broom and cleaned the filth on his own.
As Gandhi arrived in Calcutta on December 23, three days before the Congress session from December 26, he decided to serve the Congress office so that he might get some experience and, therefore, approached then Congress secretaries Bhupendranath Bose and Janakinath Ghoshal seeking some work.
The Calcutta session of the Congress was held for three days from December 26 to 28, 1901 at Beadon square.
Gandhi attended the Congress on all the three days. This was for the first time he was in Congress session. On the second day, Gandhi moved a resolution on the South African issue. Gandhi recorded the events of the Congress session in his autobiography and wrote, “In the Congress at last. The immense pavilion and the volunteers in stately array, as also the elders seated on the dias, overwhelmed me. I wondered where I should be in the vast assemblage. Sir Pherozeshah had of course agreed to admit my resolution. But I was wondering who would put it before the Subject Committee ,and when… so we have done? Said Sir Pherozeshah Mehta.”
“No No there is still the resolution on Suth Africa. Mr. Gandhi has been waiting long,” cried out Gokhale. “Have you seen the resolution,” asked Sir Pherozshah. “Of course. Do you like it? It is quite good. Well then let us have it, Gandhi. I read it trembling. Gokhale supported it. Unanimously passed,‘ Cried out everyone.
“You will have five minutes to speak on it, Gandhi, said Mr.Wacha. The procedure was far from pleasing to me. No one had troubled to understand the resolution, everyone was in a hurry to go and because Gokhale had seen the resolution, It was not thought necessary for the rest to see it or understand it!
“As soon as it was time for my resolution, Mr. Wacha called out my name.…I stood up. My head was reeling. I read the resolution somehow….
Just at this moment Wacha rang the bell. I was sure I had not yet spoken for five minutes. I did not know what the bell was rung in order to warn me to finish in two minutes more. I had heard others speak for half an hour or three quarters of an hour, and yet no bell was rung for them. I felt hurt and sat down as soon as the bell was rung…And yet the very fact that it was passed by the Congress was enough to delight my heart,” Gandhi wrote in his autobiography.
(Anand Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)