Gandhi’s eventful tours in Karnataka

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The Congress session held in Belgaum in1924 was an important milestone. Gandhi was elected as the president of the party, the only time he would hold the post. The event saw an upsurge of nationalism and patriotic zeal in the Bombay Karnataka region.

MK Gandhi first visited Karnataka in May 1915, months after his return to India from South Africa. He arrived at Bangalore railway station to a rousing welcome by both the people and the State of Mysore. He was dressed like a Kathiwadi householder and was accompanied by his wife Kasturba. The Mysore administration was well disposed to Gandhi’s visit. The association between the two was not new. When he was in South Africa, a fundraising programme was organised by G A Natesan in Karnataka for his cause. DV Gundappa, in his newspaper, Karnataka, published an appeal for funds around 1914. Out of Rs. 1,800 collected, Rs. 200 came from the then Diwan of the Mysore State, M Visvesvaraya. Gandhi held that the rule of Nalvadi Krishnaraj Wadiyar came close to his concept of Ramarajya. 

During the same visit, at the Gokhale Institute in Bangalore, he unveiled the photograph of Gopalkrishna Gokhale, whom he considered as his political guru. Since he had returned from South Africa recently, there was no nationalist fervour accompanying this visit. But patriotism was in the air and Gandhi was very much a hero. Next, Gandhi visited Mangalore (then part of the Madras Presidency) in August 1920 as part of his efforts in the region to spread the word about Non-Cooperation. In the same year, on November 7 and 8, he visited Nippani in Belgaum and addressed a public meeting.

An incident of police firing took place in Dharwad on 7 January 1921 on a crowd picketing against a liquor shop that resulted in the death of three people and led to the arrest of a large number of leaders. This caused immense concern to Gandhi, who sent a message that he was closely observing the turn of events. He sent Lala Lajpat Rai and Shaukat Ali to meet the arrested people and praised the spirit of local people, who, he said, were not at all disheartened by the incident. The Congress session held in Belgaum in 1924 was an important milestone. The event saw an upsurge of nationalism and patriotic zeal in the Bombay Karnataka region. Gandhi was elected as the Congress president, the only time he would hold the post in the party. Pattabhi Sitaramayya writing about the history of the Indian National Congress talks of the importance of this Session.

The fight between moderates and hardliners was leading to a split in the party. Only the election of Gandhi as the president could bring about a reconciliation. The issue resolved, the party was able to go forward with a clear mandate for non-cooperation and an agitationist approach. This session also witnessed a little girl, by name Gangubai Hangal, singing the invocation song at the inauguration ceremony. The legendary Hindustani music singer would recollect this day in interviews even years later. Gandhi took up two ‘Harijan Tours’ in Karnataka, in 1934 and 1936, to increase awareness about the working and living conditions of the ‘depressed classes’ or the ‘untouchables’ as Dalits were known then. He was direct in advising the middle and upper castes not to practice untouchability. His next tour in 1937 was aimed at promoting Khadi.

He addressed the third annual meeting of the Gandhi Seva Sangh in Hudali, Belgaum, helping to give a boost to the use of Khadi. In Viduraswatha in Mysore, people defied the government ban on flying the Indian flag, holding of meetings and making speeches on April 26, 1938. The police opened fire and arrested many. Gandhi condemned the firing in which many lives were lost. Each of Gandhi’s tours was eventful in one way or another and left a lasting impact on the region. 

**Note: Names of places, such as Bangalore, Mysore etc, are reproduced as they were known in Gandhi’s time. 

(The author is Director, Bhavan’s Gandhi Centre of Science and Human Values, Bengaluru) 

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