Thursday, March 19, 2009

A sleepless night - and a new dawn

Gandhiji was in Madras on March 18, 1919, staying as a guest of Rajaji, who he had met for the first time earlier that day. He had come to the city to mobilize opposition to the report of the Rowlatt Commission, which had been submitted to the Imperial Legislative Council in 1918. Set up in response to a conspiracy by radical Indian nationalists and Germany to undermine British power in Asia, the Rowlatt Commission recommended that the Viceroy of India be given untramelled power to persecute anyone suspected of treason or sedition. Gandhiji, even then, believed the British government would play by the rules, that they would pay heed to public opinion against the provisions of the 'Black Bill'. His visit to Madras was part of his nationwide campaign against those provisions.

Gandhiji addressed a meeting of leaders at Tilak Bhavan, a guest house belonging to Kasturi Ranga Iyengar and the gathering continued their discussions on actions against the Rowlatt Bill late into the evening. As they were debating, they received news of the Bill becoming law; the infamous Rowlatt Act had been passed. Gandhiji's belief that the British government could be countered by normal democratic processes was completely shattered by this high-handed behaviour. No wonder that he spent a "..restless historic night..." as the inscription says. The morning brought clarity with it: Gandhiji had now become a convert to the idea that cooperating with British institutions would not bear fruit and he articulated his chosen form of attacking them through satyagraha, (desire for truth) the non-violent, non-cooperation movement that became his defining legacy much later.

That, as 'The Story of Gandhi' says, "...was the great awakening of India in her struggle towards independence". But Thilak Bhavan, where that restless sleep and the great awakening happened, is no more. The high-powered business executives, movie stars and political leaders going into Sheraton Chola do not have the time to even spare a glance at this monument to that historic day of 90 years ago!


Anonymous said...

them from the city would have not seen this in front of Chola Sheraton.....

Shantaram said...

@ Ram: You're right; it is so very well hidden!