Social Scientist. v 11, no. 117 (Feb 1983) p. 16.


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KAPIL KUMAR*

Peasants' Perception of Gandhi and His Programme:

Oudh 1920-1922

THE ROLE of Gandhi in the multi-class national struggle against imperialism has been constantly analysed by the historiographers of modern India. We have a heap of literature on Gandhian studies which emphasises Gandhi's initiatives in resisting the colonial dominance. This emphasis partly reflects the hold of the Indian ruling classes and their intelligentsia on the national struggle. The initiatives on the part of the peasantry in responding to the Gandhian call is a subject to which few historiographers have paid attention and this needs further investigation. It is necessary to note that in the field of Gandhian studies a vacuum will persist so long as we do not analyse the peasants' response to Gandhi and the attitude of Gandhi towards this response. How did the peasants look upon Gandhi? Why and how did they follow him? We have discussed the attitude of national leaders towards the peasants elsewhere.1 This study is an attempt to analyse, at a regional level, the peasants' attitude and response to Gandhi and his programme of non-cooperation—an attempt to look at Gandhi from below—and Gandhi's attitude towards this response in the light of contradictions within the anti-imperialist struggle during 1920-1922 in Oudh, a taluqdari region of the United Provinces in British India.

The Non-Cooperation Movement was the first major attempt on the part of the Indian National Congress leadership to broaden its mass base against imperialism. The credit for this breakthrough goes to Gandhi, the originator of the movement, who was fully aware of the necessity to enlist the peasants' support for the programmes of the national movement as visualised by the Congress leaders. This is apparent from his observation in 1916: "Our salvation can alone come through the farmers. Neither the lawyers, nor the doctors, nor the rich landlords are going to achieve it."2 Again, in January 1921, Gandhi told the merchants of Calcutta:

^Swaraj depends of the agriculturists. If they do not help then

* Junior Fellow, Nehru Memor.al Museum and Library. New Delhi



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