GANDHI IN ACTION network

the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net;

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com

Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India

 

 

Sardar Prithvi Singh and Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

 

Sardar Prithvi Singh was a freedom fighter and close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi helped him and guided. Sardar Prithvi Singh, who has been just taken in custody by the collector of Bombay Suburban District, is a life-sentence prisoner in connection with what is known as the first Lahore Conspiracy Case of 1915. He served part of the sentence in the Andamans, and when as a result of public agitation that criminal settlement was closed, Sardar Prithvi Singh was transferred to Madras and then to Rajahmundry. There, having grown tired of jail life, he made two attempts to abscond. He succeeded in the second attempt in 1922, and has ever since succeeded in eluding the police. He is a self-made man. He is a leading revolutionary and for some time has been revising his views on armed revolution, and ultimately decided in consultation with his friends to surrender himself to me and be guided by me. After having had a full conversation with him, I decided to take charge of him, and told him that according to my view of life there could be no secrecy and voluntary surrender to authorities was in itself a service to the country. He recognized the force of my opinion. He came to me on the morning of the 18th, and I wrote to the District Magistrate on the 19th, informing him that Sardar Prithvi Singh had surrendered himself to me, and that I was about to put myself in communication with the Government of India with a view to securing his discharge, and that if the District Magistrate could not legally allow Sardar Prithvi Singh to remain with me, he was at liberty to take him into custody. The District Magistrate wrote to me to say that he had no authority to leave him free.

He himself accompanied by the Superintendent of Police arrested him today at 1 p.m. at our residence at Juhu. I have been given to understand that he will be treated as an A class prisoner. I had asked Sardar Prithvi Singh to write an account of his career. It is a thrilling romance. So far as I can see, he has not been guilty of anything of which he need be ashamed. He developed revolutionary ideas in Canada where he had migrated in his youth. He was witness to the illegal and shameful turning away of the Coma Gata Maru from the Canadian shore, and he and a band of Indian settlers in Canada decided to return to India and lead a revolution. After absconding he has evidently made himself useful to the nation in various ways. He is very powerfully built Rajputs. Five months of hunger-strike in the Andamans and injuries received, whether in scuffles with the police or in escaping from custody, have left no visible trace of weakness on his body. He became a first-class gymnastics teacher and studied the science of physical culture and the art of massage, and gave training in physical culture in many schools. To seek the relief of the political prisoners has come to me in the later years of my life as a God-sent mission. To strive for the early discharge of Sardar Prithvi Singh is the latest addition to this mission. He tells me that he is endeavouring to examine the method of nonviolence for the deliverance of the country. He says that many of his past revolutionary companions are thinking along these lines. He has no other aim in life but the freedom of India. I was so much taken up by the sincerity with which he talked to me that I had no difficulty in taking his word at its face value, and I should love to have men like him as fellow-pilgrims in the pilgrimage to the temple of freedom. 1 

Sardar Prithvi Singh is an old revolutionary who, belonging to a party that believed in armed revolution, was one of the odd hundred Indians, who being enraged over the treatment meted out to the passengers of the Kamagata Maru who vainly sought legal landing on the Canadian shore, took their passage to India with the avowed purpose, I believe, of causing trouble. Sardar Prithvi Singh was tried and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. He was then tried in what is known as the first Lahore Conspiracy case of 1915 and was sentenced to transportation for life, and was sent to the Andamans. When the penal settlement was broken up, he, with many other prisoners was transferred to Madras and thence to Rajahmundry. On the way he absconded this was in 1922 and successfully evaded capture all these years of hiding he passed in studying the science of physical culture, and was responsible for training hundreds of youths. But this life gave him no satisfaction. He fell in the company of those who believe in the non-violent method. He seems to have developed faith in non-violence. On the 18th instant, he surrendered himself to me, and put himself under my guidance. I told him that I would love to keep him with me, watch him, and engage him in constructive national activity if the Government left him free. But I told him also that I could not keep him without informing the Government of what I was doing. On the 19th instant, therefore, I wrote to the Collector of the Suburban District in Bombay (for I was living in Juhu) telling him that if he had no authority to let Sardar Prithvi Singh remain with me, the Sardar was ready to be arrested. Yesterday the District Magistrate came to Juhu and arrested Sardar Prithvi Singh and lodged him in Thana Jail as an “A” class prisoner.

I have given only the bare outline of Sardar Prithvi Singh’s activities. I feel that persons like Sardar Prithvi Singh should be given an opportunity of leading a useful life, instead of being kept in custody, especially when some person like me, known to the Government, is willing to keep them, and hold himself responsible for their peaceful conduct. I wonder if my presentation makes any appeal to you. If it does I would urge you to make my way smooth, and restore Sardar Prithvi Singh to me. I may tell you that my having interested myself in the discharge of political prisoners has brought me in touch with many revolutionaries. I entertained high hopes of their conversion, especially if I received hearty co-operation from the authorities concerned. I do not know exactly whom or which department, or which provincial government I should properly approach. But I felt that as we have come to know each other, and there is a friendly contact between us, I would approach you, the fountainhead. May I expect an early reply? I know how busy you are, but perhaps you realize the importance of the matter and will therefore forgive me for the trouble I am giving you. 2

Sardar Prithvi Singh writes to me to say that he is keeping well and that his requirements are being supplied by the authorities and friends as the case may be. I am in constant correspondence with him. He tells me that many friends are desirous of meeting him. He wishes me to thank them all but also to tell them that they need not take the trouble to go all the way to Rawalpindi to meet him. And when they do wish to do so, they should not feel disappointed if they are not immediately given a date. The visiting days generally remain full. He would like all friends desiring to visit him to correspond with me so that I might guide them. Whilst I convey this wish to the would be visitors, and whilst Pyarelal, or Mahadev as soon as he is permitted to take up full work, will gladly make arrangements, this will be possible only in a few cases. For nothing will be possible without correspondence with the authorities. This means taxing work to which those who are helping me are hardly equal in the present state of my health. 3

Readers of Harijan know that after twenty-five years, part of which was spent in jail and sixteen in hiding as an absconder, Sardar Prithvi Singh finds himself a free man. He cannot call a life of freedom those sixteen years of dodging the C. I. D., assuming new names and new dresses as circumstances demanded. The reader will recall that Prithvi Singh made up his mind to discover himself to me last year when I was convalescing in Juhu, to confess his past sins and regulate his future under my guidance. I advised him to surrender himself to the police and purge his past by becoming a prisoner amenable to prison discipline by choice. I had told him that though I would try to secure his discharge, he must not bank upon my success but should be content, if necessary, to pass the rest of his life in prison. Quite cheerfully and light-heartedly he showed his preparedness to face life imprisonment. With sincere conviction he accepted the truth that voluntary imprisonment might be as good service of the country as life outside. I am glad to be able to say that he was true to his word. The readers know from Mahadev Desai’s description of him after his visit to the Sardar in Rawalpindi prison that he was a cent percent model prisoner. He endeared himself to his jailors who never found misplaced the trust that they had reposed in him. He learnt wool spinning and cotton-spinning and worked at the first so assiduously that even his powerfully built body had to take relaxation from strenuous labour. First Pyarelal’s and then Mahadev Desai’s enthusiastic testimony in favour of Sardar Prithvi Singh’s exemplary conduct in the jail decided me. Mahadev Desai felt confident that he could plead the cause successfully before Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan. I let him go. Sir Sikander made a generous response. He was impressed with the truth of Mahadev’s description, fortified as it was by the uniformly good reports from the officials in charge of Sardar Prithvi Singh. Mahadev knocked also at the viceregal gates. The result was that Sardar Prithvi Singh was delivered to me by the authorities on the 22nd instant. I greeted him with the remark that he had transferred himself from one jail to another and harder. He smiled a hearty assent. He knows that he is on his trial. He has been a staunch believer in violence as the only way to the deliverance of his country. He has to his credit examples of daring which may be equalled by some but surpassed by no revolutionary. His life is rich in romance. But by patient introspection he discovered that fundamentally his was a life of falsity, and that true deliverance could never come out of falsity. In spite of the glamour that surrounded his life of hiding and the adoration of his companions who marveled at his exploits, he had wearied of the false life and the hiding. The gymnastic lessons he gave to hundreds of young men had given him no satisfaction. Fortunately he had companions like Nanabhai of Dakshinamurti. They guided his footsteps towards me. I have told him I will not be satisfied unless he becomes a better example of ahimsa in action than I could ever be. I was never full of himsa in action except the himsa of a coward. He was himsa in action personified. If now he has assimilated ahimsa, his nonviolence should be infinitely richer in romance than his past violence. He should by God’s grace be a modern exemplar of the proverb: “The greater the sinner the greater the saint.” He has shown me authenticated leaves from his diary in which he describes his first night as a voluntary prisoner as death. I pick up the following striking passage from it: May the freedom the Sardar now enjoys prove that his notes were no creation of a heated imagination but were an expression of a yearning soul. 4  

I won’t interfere with your programme, but I must remind you that you have altered the schedule you had planned. Your decision was that after finishing your book in about eight days in Bombay, you would come here, begin the work and impart your knowledge to the people here. You will keep to the dates you have sent if you must. If it is not necessary then give them up and come soon. 5 I have seen the Associated Press message in the Press to the effect that I intend to open a class in Bardoli under the guidance of Sardar Prithvi Singh for training a non-violent army and that all preliminary arrangements have been made. There is no foundation whatever for this report. Sardar Prithvi Singh had intended, under Sardar Patel’s guidance, to open a Vyayam class in Bardoli As the final decision was to rest with me, with the concurrence of Sardar Prithvi singh even that has been stopped. I can but repeat my request to the Press not to publish news about persons without reference to them, especially when reference is easy and the public is not likely to suffer any harm by a little delay. 6 

I have gone through “The Scheme of Physical Training” which Sardar Prithvi Singh has given me. It was placed before the public many years ago but it does not seem to have been implemented anywhere. I liked the Scheme. It takes into account the condition of the country, is simple and inexpensive and can be readily implemented. I have always been of the opinion that for true education, strength of the body, mind and heart should be equally and simultaneously developed. But in practice attention is paid to one aspect only and that too without any reference to the condition of the country. Sardar Prithvi Singh’s suggestion regarding development of physique is worth pondering over. I hope that the experts in that field will study the Scheme and, if they approve of it, implement it. 7 We were all waiting for it. It is good that you have peace of mind. It is true that I no longer have faith in Amrita Lal. But how can I tell you to sever relations with him because of it? Yes, if you also feel that he is not trustworthy, it is your duty to break off with him. Yes, Mirabehn has come. She remains cheerful. She is all right but she keeps harping on the same thing. She is hopeful and does not worry. She passes her time in taking the name of God and spinning. She stays alone in Balkrishna’s hut. She comes to see me on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the evening. Rest of the time she observes silence. 8

As the readers are aware, an Ahimsak Vyayam Sangh was inaugurated at Malad a few days ago. Sardar Prithvi Singh is the soul of the Association. Shriyuts Rameshwardas Birla, Purshottam Kanji and Keshavdevji Nevatia are its Trustees. Prithvi Singh is imparting training to young men and women selected by him. But the Association will fulfil its real mission when Provincial Congress Committees send their selected workers for training. The programme of the Association is unique. Sardar Prithvi Singh is himself experimenting with the practicability of non-violence along with the building of a strong and vigorous body. He has devoted the first half of his life to the belief that India could be liberated through violence alone; and now he himself has become a convert to non-violence. I am convinced that his is an honest experiment. It is a difficult undertaking. To believe in a theory is one thing; to translate it into action is another? And then, the attempt is to be made through means with which one is habitually acquainted and which are today associated with diametrically opposite ends. Those who are assigned to Sardar Prithvi Singh for training should have at least a working faith in non-violence. 9

I am sorry that after association with me since his discovering himself and allowing himself to be arrested, Sardar Prithvi Singh has parted company with me, having lost all faith in me all of a sudden and as a result of a single talk with me. This naturally led him to tender his resignation from the Ahimsak Vyayam Sangh. As a natural corollary to this step, the trustees of the Sangh have decided to wind up the Sangh and close the Vyayam Shala, which was established by the Sangh, purely to let him make an experiment and find out, under guidance, the scope and quality of non-violent Vyayam. I am hoping that, though he has lost faith in me, he has not lost it in ahimsa to which he was led after close and careful self-examination during years of secrecy. 10

 

 

References:

 

  1. Harijan, 28-5-1938
  2. Letter to Lord Linlithgo, May 21, 1938
  3. Harijan, 14-1-1939
  4. Harijan, 30-9-1939
  5. Letter to Prithvi Singh, July 15, 1940
  6. The Hindu, 28-7-1940  
  7. Testimonial to Prithvi Singh, December 14, 1940
  8. Letter to Prithvi Singh, March 8, 1941
  9. Marathi Harijan, 3-5-1942
  10. Harijan, 7-6-1942

 

 

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