Soon after independence, the State of Saurashtra was established by unifying over two hundred Princely States and its first government under the leadership of Shri. Uchharangray Dhebar was formed. However it was not long before there was discontent among the people of Saurashtra against some of the government polices. The following are two out of the three main protests/struggles in Saurashtra against the first independent government of the region as written in the book [in Gujarati], ‘Saurashtra No Itihas, Part-2, 1948 to 1956’, by Professor Dr. S. V. Jani. The translation of select excerpts from the chapter – Saurashtra Sarkar same Prarambhik Padkaro- Praja Andolano (Early challenges faced by Saurashtra government and people’s struggles) from Gujarati has been done by me.
“...After the state was carved out in the year 1948, the responsibility of its development was handed over to its Chief Minister Shri Dhebar and his colleagues...Before the establishment of the new state he [Dhebarbhai] had successfully carried out the struggle to free the people crushed by the feudal rule of different princely states...in spite of all this, Dhebarbhai’s ministry in its early years had to face three people’s struggles...
“Before the unification of Saurashtra, the different princely states had adopted the policy of raising the education standard... [princely states] had also increased the facilities in education...most of the states had free primary education but secondary education was not free in all the [princely] states... Before unification and independence, different [princely] states were running English medium secondary schools. In many of the states, there were no fees at all in these schools, in some states there was a very nominal fee and in some states there was comparatively more fees...with the unification of Saurashtra it was necessary to keep a uniform fee structure...In the state assembly in the year 1950...the education minister Balvantbhai Mehta said that, ‘... there are no fees in half of Saurashtra and one can study free of cost in the high schools, in the other half, the fees are very nominal in the high schools and in the third part, the fees are a little more, this kind of standard in the middle school cannot be allowed to persist in today’s Saurashtra.’ Initially Shri Balvantbhai had suggested an increase in annual fee by fifty paisa to be increased subsequently to one rupee fifty paisa in three stages...with the increase in fees...The students were unhappy with this decision...anti government elements, anti-social elements supported the feeling of the students and instigated them due to which the students started a fierce struggle...students resorted to public meetings, demonstrations, stone throwing and destruction of public property...as the atmosphere became tense, to disperse crowds, police had to resort to lathi [baton] charge and even firing. One student died in the firing...looking at the intensity of the struggle...Dhebarbhai thought that if there is so much opposition among the people, till the time that people understand [the need to increase fees], the [government ] should wait [to increase the fees]... he urgently called the meeting of the cabinet and discussed the issue of withdrawing the hike in the fees...However Balvantbhai Mehta was not willing to let go...he resigned as the minister...the cabinet decided to take back the hike in fees...Within just two and half years of the establishment of Saurashtra state, the government had to step back due to the struggle by the students...”
|U.N. Dheberbhai (4th from right), the first chief minister of Saurashtra - Photo source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U._N._Dhebar|
2. Movement of the business class against sales tax:
“After independence, in a newly formed state of Saurashtra... the people’s leaders were committed to bring about all round development...To bring about development quickly...all states had to follow the five year plan for their development...the central government was to give rupees six crores for this to Saurashtra...the remaining funds had to be raised by the state government...for this, Saurashtra was ready to raise funds through sales tax as was being done in the other states...for all round development of the state, it was necessary that people belonging to all the classes in the state sacrifice a bit...therefore the state had decided to levy sales tax...this tax was to come into force from 1st December 1952...most of the items on which sales tax was to be levied were not of much use to the common people...except that clothes, sugar and oil were not exempted from the sales tax...and yet there was opposition to this and the merchants started a fierce struggle against increase in sales tax which became violet and formidable/fierce. They expressed their protest through public meetings, demonstrations, rallies, mashal julus [torch rallies], and strikes. Later this movement from the control of the merchants went into the hands of the politicians and anti government elements. ..in order to fight against the imposition of sales tax there was a struggle committee which had under the banner of the movement against sales tax given encouragement to antisocial behaviour . At many places violent attacks, damage to property, stone throwing etc was undertaken...later the struggle against sales tax got converted into a struggle against the government itself. The leadership of this movement went to the socialists, communal elements, capitalists and reactionary elements. Jana Sangh, RSS, Hindu Sabha, Communists party, socialists, farmers’ organisation and merchants had joined this movement...many leaders were arrested, one merchant in Bhavnagar was killed in police firing...one lady who had started a fast against the increase of sales tax died, later under the communist leader Niruben Patel there was slogan shouting...while the anti sales struggle was going on, at that time the chief minister Dhebarbhai had gone for change of air and rest to Urlikanchan near Pune...however he had to leave his treatment midway and return... he met the jailed representatives of the merchants...edible oil, shoes, chappals, medical equipment, etc were exempted totally from sales tax...on many other items sales tax was reduced...therefore by bringing a way out he [Dhebarbhai] was successful in getting the struggle/movement withdrawn...”
The third struggle titled – “Struggle against land reforms by kinsmen of the rulers and outlawry”, will be covered in the next post.