On 9th August 1942 , the Indian people had warned the British rulers that they had to leave the country in the form of the Quit India movement. The people of Satara district of Maharashtra took Gandhiji’s slogan literally and from the very next day they overthrew the yoke of British rule in their land. The Quit India movement began, as Gandhiji had suggested, in a non-violent manner. But the British rulers fired at the Indians in five different places in Satara district, killing 11 patriots. With the backing of the repressive police force and the feudal lords and their local armies of criminals and thugs, the British managed to crush the rebellion for a brief while. Yet the people could not be repressed for too long because their rebellion represented the Indian people’s tremendous urge for liberation from the cruel and political-socially repressive power structures in the society.
A freedom fighter and rebel called Nana Patil reignited that fire in the hearts of people of Satara and spearheaded the rebellion with a renewed vigour. Born on 3 August 1900 Nana Patil developed many forms of revolutionary struggles on the Indian soil throughout his life. He passed away on 6 December 1976. This is his little known story which is worth recalling as we celebrate 75 years of freedom.
Organised Efforts to Overthrow British Rule
The rebellion in Satara was far more radical than the other agitations taking place in India at that time. On one hand there were individuals who did individual Satyagrahas. On the other hand, there were many organized efforts to overthrow the British rule. There emerged diverse forms of struggle. Agitations were taking place in places like Bhagalpur, Ballia, Midnapore, Komila, Champaran, among others. In 1930, the textile workers in Solapur district had liberated the city of Solapur from the British for a few days. The creation of Solapur Commune was a huge experiment carried out by the workers under the leadership of Mallappa Dhanshetty, Shrikrishna Sarada, Kurban Hussein and Jagannath Shinde who were later hanged by the British. The experiment of Solapur Commune was a response to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and it also reminded the whole world of the Paris Commune of 1871.
The winds of change seen in this agitation, however, were limited to a lone city. Later on they transformed into a huge hurricane in the neighbouring Satara district. Nana Patil, a live wire of an individual, successfully ignited people’s dormant desire for liberation into a huge force. He created a huge rural commune with people’s participation which lasted for a period of no less than three years, from August 1943 to May 1946. Nana Patil’s movement was distinctively different from all the other rebellions in that he managed to liberate hundreds of villages from the yoke of British rule despite being under siege from the British forces. This was no less than a miracle. This movement, spearheaded by Nana Patil, is known as the Prati Sarkar movement, meaning the Alternative Government movement.
In order to understand the distinctiveness of this movement, one has to understand the history and geography of this region. The region had witnessed the rule of a just and forthright king, Shivaji Maharaj; it also contained villages like Katgun and Naygaon, the birthplaces of Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule respectively; Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, the great reformer in 19th century was born in Tembhu in this region. It represented the traditions of liberation struggle of Shivaji against the Mughal rulers on the one hand, and on the other the anti-caste struggle of the Satyashodhak movement in the social arena. A new consciousness was spreading in society against the British imperialism, as well as the feudal structures in the society and the oppressive caste system. The region had witnessed social transformation created by Karmaveer Bhaurao Patil and his tremendous efforts to educate the masses including the lower cates through his network of schools. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar also had stayed in Satara for his education. Karmaveer Vitthal Ramji Shinde had organized the masses for eradication of the caste system in the same region. Com. V.V. Chitale was organizing the rural masses under the Red Flag of the Communist Party. All these movements had created a very fertile ground for liberation movements and Nana Patil represented the amalgamation of all these forces of liberation which were ready to usher in an age of revolution.
The Prati Sarkar movement took up cudgels against the established power structures that had repressed people for a long time. It would be rare to find a movement comparable to this revolution which caused a huge upheaval in the rural society and challenged the dominant power structures and their repressive practices. The aim of his movement was to create a new society under the leadership of the workers in which there would be no exploitation on the basis of class, caste, gender and religion.
One may even compare the tremendous changes this revolutionary movement brought about with the changes that Enlightenment had brought about in Europe. Nana Patil was inspired by Bhagat Singh’s essay on the Structure of National Liberation and the struggles against the fascist forces of Hitler in Europe. He realized that to win the fight against the British Empire, he had to identify the centres where this power was concentrated and strike these centres down. He identified the police stations, the feudal lords in the region and their armies of crooks and criminals as the three power centres through which the British operated. Like the seasoned wrestler that he was, he knew that if these power centres were attacked and destroyed, the British rule would collapse. Thus he managed to oust the power centres of the British rule in hundreds of villages.
Firstly, he organized young men into disciplined army called Toofan Sena which would attack the police stations, imprison policemen and take hold of their weapons. Another technique in this struggle was to loot the government coffers. In those times, huge funds collected through taxes and the funds for the salary of government workers would be sent by trains. The revolutionaries would attack the trains, take the money in the treasury boxes, and use it to fund their rebellious activities. Such attacks were commonly spread from Dhulia District to small villages like Kundal in Satara district. The revolutionaries would also burn down train stations. These activities sent shock waves amongst the British rulers and weakened their confidence.
Several feudal lords in the region worked as the agents of the British and oppressed the poor farmers in collaboration with the British. This section of toiling farmers became the soldiers of the revolutionary liberation army of Nana Patil. Before their attacks, the government officials and Watandars like Patil, Deshmukh and others were reduced to a weakened state. The Satyashodhak movement had already weakened the Bhat - Bhikshukshahi (The rule of the Brahmin priests and preachers) . The liberation army of Nana Patil attacked the domination of the money lenders who had tied the poor farmers in the monstrous trap of loans. The Prati Sarkar Movement attacked the houses of the money lenders and destroyed the files and documents of loans given to farmers. They declared that the farmers were free of these loans. In 1936, the Kisan Sabha was established which had given a call for cancellation of loans and equitable distribution of land to the landless. The Prati Sarkar took up these demands and immediately put them into practice. This gave the farmers a sense of self confidence. The Prati Sarkar also would distribute the government funds looted from the trains among the poor.
Apart from this, another major work the Prati Sarkar movement did was related to social reform. They addressed issues such as the eradication of the caste system, conducted inter-caste marriages, widow remarriages, prohibition of alcohol, release of prisoners from freedom and actively organized programmes where they put their ideas into practice. They also evolved various cultural forms for the spread of their ideas. They formed groups of young artists, singers and actors which would perform various Jalsas, (musical programmes with songs and music), and created among the people a new consciousness through their cultural programmes. This was a conscious attempt to create an alternative cultural front that challenged the traditional forms dominated by Brahmanism. Thus the Prati Sarkar was a complete revolution that embraced political, social and cultural aspects of people’s lives. It spoke to people in their own language . They made tremendous efforts to spread the ideas of Dr. Ambedkar, Marx and Lenin, in the popular language of saint poets – and the people loved it. As a result, the Tricolour of Indian freedom flew over each Chawdi, the village level office of British administration for months together.
The Prati Sarkar was not just a poet’s dream, nor was it an aberration. It represented the rule of people in the true sense of the term. The movement had a strong foundation of scientific thinking. There were many organizations that were created for the new State. There was an army of committed soldiers that were adept at guerrilla warfare. Then there was a treasury department created for people’s uplift. There was an organizing committee that supervised work done among people. There was a system for dispensing justice through judges that handled cases in a just manner. Then there was the Bahirji Naik Committee, a committee for spreading news among people, a committee for communication, schools for people and for training of their cadre. The most famous and popular among them was the Toofan Sena. They established groups of people which consisted of activist, sometimes their number would be small and sometimes there would be as many as 150. The groups had clusters with their own leaders, then there would be senior level leaders and at the top would be their controllers which they would call ‘Dictators’.
This was the structure of their government and administration. And that worked perfectly well. With all of these systems at work on various levels of organization, the Prati Sarkar movement presented a model of governance for people. It was an exercise in creating a system that sought to eradicate exploitation. It continued till 1946. Nana Patil led it from his underground hideouts. He came overground in 1946 when independence became a certainty. Over 1400 villages were directly administered by the Prati Sarkar.
Nana Patil continued this tradition even after India became independent. He provided help to the farmers in the Telangana struggle by sending them arms, a scintillating example of his deep commitment to the communist revolution. He also helped the movements for the liberation of Goa as well as Hyderabad. He was a staunch leader of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement. He became member of the CPI and also became the president of the All Indian Kisan Sabha. He was so popular that he was elected as a Member of Parliament from Satara in 1957 and also in 1967 from Beed, a district in distant Marathwada region. The Prati Sarkar movement gave stalwarts and great leaders like Kranti Agrani G. D. Bapu Lad, Krantiveer Nagnath Anna Naikwadi, Barde Master, Sheikh kaka, Babuji Patankar who was martyred, D. G. Deshpande, Shantaram Garud among others. The struggle against exploitation continues in this land even today. The tradition of the ideology and practice of Prati Sarkar continues through these efforts. Their commitment to the farmers is significant in these difficult times. It is this inheritance of the Nana Patil tradition that stands out against the background of the terribly regressive and increasingly fascist State in India.
The Prati Sarkar of Nana Patil and his comrades represented a beautiful socialistic dream that Maharashtra saw in the times of struggle against imperialism and exploitation. Our movement will follow in the footsteps of these great leaders. Red Salute to Nana Patil and his Comrades.