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Vasudev Balwant Phadke – The Father of Bharat’s armed revolt

Niranjan Bhombe

Santosh Biradar

18 February 2022

"Phadke created an armed insurgent group of 300, that aimed to liberate Bharat....."

Vasudev Balwant Phadke was born in the coastal Konkan village of Shirdhon, in Raigad district, on November 4, 1845. He showed no interest in regular school education, and preferred to learn wrestling and horse riding. His mentor was Krantiguru Lahuji Salve, an expert wrestler, and Dalit belonging to the Mang community, who taught him sword fighting and dandapatta.But more than anything, Salve, emphasized the importance of getting the backward communities in the freedom struggle to Phadke. It was during this time too that Phadke, began to attend lectures by M.G.Ranade where he came to know of the Economy drain. He founded the Aikya Vardhini Sabha, a voluntary organization in Pune to educate the youth, and inculcate nationalist feelings. He along with Waxman Indarpukar, and Waman Bhave also formed the Poona Native Institution which became MES, one of the leading institutes now and currently runs around 77 institutes in Maharashtra.

Most of the freedom fighters in Maharashtra invested a lot in education, be it Tilak (Fergusson) or Phadke. When the Gaekwad ruler of Baroda was deposed by the British in 1875, Phadke launched the protest against the Govt, and toured the Deccan, then reeling under a severe famine.However with most of the upper castes not supporting him, he felt only a mass based armed revolt, involving the smaller peasant communities, could strike against the British rule. A Chitpavan Brahmin from Konkan rallied with the lower peasant castes like Dhangars, Kolis, Bhils as well as warrior communities like Ramoshis against British rule. He often attacked rich English businessmen or zamindars, to raise funds for his liberation struggle. He taught the men shooting, horse riding and fencing, and soon Phadke created an armed insurgent group of 300, that aimed to liberate Bharat. In need of funds, he made his first raid on a small village near Shirur on a local businessman Balchand Sankla. Phadke attacked Sankla’s home, took the money for the benefit of the villagers, but was branded as a dacoit. Now on the run, he traveled from village to village, sheltered often by his followers most of whom were the poor peasants. His followers were mainly small farmers, from the backward communities, who were worst hit by the British rule. The villagers of Nanagaon, offered him refuge in the forest nearby, from where he made his regular raids now. Soon he began to conduct many more such raids, primarily around Pune and Shirur, his followers began to swell. His raids were to raise funds for feeding the famine affected peasants, and would often involve cutting off all communications and raiding the treasury.

However Phadke suffered a major blow when his close associate, the Ramoshi leader, Daulat Rao Naik, was killed at Ghat Matha in Konkan on May 10, 1879 by Major Daniel, while returning from a raid.He moved further south, to Srisailam, to escape from the British, where he spent some time incognito at the Mallikarjuna Temple. His grand plan of organizing multiple attacks on the British met with limited succcess. After a direct engagement with the British at Ghanur, a bounty was offered on his head. Phadke struck back offered a reverse bounty for the capture of the Governor of Bombay, and followed it up with offering bounty for any Britisher killed or captured.Phadke tried to get the Rohillas in the Nizam’s army to fight along side him. However Abdul Haq, the then Police Comissioner of Hyderabad State, along with Major Henry Daniel, got wind of the plans, and he once again was on the run. The bounty offer by British was a succces, as one of his associates betrayed Phadke, and on July 20, 1879 he was captured in a temple at Kaladgi (now in Bagalkot district), en route Pandharpur, after a bitter fight. Phadke was taken to Pune for trial, where he was defended by Ganesh Vasudev Joshi, a prominent lawyer, also called as Sarvajanik Kaka, after the organization he founded. Ganesh Joshi would later be the guide to Tilak and Agarkar, and one of the first generation freedom fighters. He was housed in Pune for some time district sessions court jail, located near Sangam Bridge that currently houses the state CID Dept.

Phadke was later transported to Aden, from where he tried to escape in 1883, breaking the prison door. He however was recaptured and went on a hunger strike unto death in prison. Finally on Feb 17, 1883, he breathed his last in prison, giving up his life for freedom. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's epic novel Ananda Math based on the Sanyasi revolt, incorporated episodes from his life too, as part of the story. Coincidentally the year in which he passed away, would be the same year in which a certain Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was born. On his death anniversary do take some time to pay a tribute to Vasudev Balwant Phadke, considered the father of the armed revolt in Bharat, believed to be one of the influences for Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's Anand Math.

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