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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

How A Freedom Fighter’s Concept Revolutionised India’s Rail Journey


In a 2005 column for The Hindu, historian Ramachandra Guha argued that for the reason that daybreak of Independence, there are just a few Authorities of India ministers who “shall be remembered for having carried out programmes that radically reshaped the lives of their folks”.

Guha listed Sardar Vallabhai Patel, who as residence minister between 1947 and 1950, carried out the combination of the princely states, “thus altering the politics and geography of recent India”. Subsequent, he listed Manmohan Singh, who as finance minister between 1991 and 1996, “dismantled the licence-permit-quota-raj, thus altering the financial system and society of recent India”.

After Vallabhai Patel and Manmohan Singh, Guha listed the title of Madhu Dandavate — a physicist, freedom fighter, and socialist chief from Maharashtra — who as railway minister within the Janata Authorities between 1977 and 1979 “put two inches of froth on what handed for ‘reserved sleeper berths’ within the second-class sections of trains”. Though a easy intervention, this initiative had a profound affect on the lives of tens of millions of bizarre Indians.

As Guha argued, “Earlier than 1977 (the yr Dandavate grew to become railway minister), there was an infinite distinction between the first-class, the place the berths had been padded, and the second-class, the place they had been product of arduous and naked wooden.”

“When you had been fortunate sufficient to journey up entrance, you slept effectively; in any other case you wakened with a painful again and (had been it winter) a chilly within the head as effectively,” he added.

Right now, the Indian Railways carries roughly 23 million passengers day by day from almost all strata of society. Dandavate’s resolution to introduce these two inches of froth was pushed by a want to help the nation’s poor in a sensible means. As he as soon as famously argued, “What I wish to do just isn’t degrade the primary class, however elevate the second class”.

As railway minister for these two years, these two inches of froth had been put in place throughout the main trunk traces. The primary practice with these safer and extra comfy seats was flagged off on 26 December, 1977, between Mumbai and Kolkata (and again). Despite the fact that the Railway Board needed to name this practice the Japanese Specific, Dandavate selected the title Gitanjali Specific, impressed by Rabindranath Tagore. The practice even had portraits of the Bengali poet hung inside it.

As Guha wrote, “As soon as the method was begun it may scarcely be stopped. By the top of the Eighties, all trains of the Indian Railways had these padded berths of their second-class compartments. By now the change has helped a whole lot of tens of millions of individuals. If a social historical past of the Indian Railways is ever written, it could be divided into two components, these entitled ‘Life earlier than Dandavate’ and ‘Life after Dandavate’.”

Moreover this initiative, he additionally launched the computerisation of railway reservations “to curb corruption” and “streamline the procedures”. As he famous in his Railway Funds speech for 1978-79, “To streamline the mammoth and sophisticated operation concerned within the matter of reservation of rail lodging in trains and to remove malpractices, I’m additionally contemplating computerisation of passenger reservations within the 4 metropolitan cities.”

He additionally repaired the connection between the Indian Authorities and railway unions that had suffered throughout the strike of 1974 and was suppressed by the Indira Gandhi Authorities.

A person of his time and forward of his time, Dandavate lived a outstanding life within the public eye.

Madhu Dandavate Rail Minister

Impressed by Gandhi

Born on 21 January, 1924, in Ahmednagar, Dandavate accomplished his MSc in Physics from the Royal Institute of Science, Mumbai, following which he went on to go the physics division at Siddhartha School of Arts and Sciences, Mumbai. His entry into politics, nevertheless, was impressed by Mahatma Gandhi throughout the tumultuous Stop India Motion in 1942.

“As a younger faculty pupil, I used to be current on the Gowalia Tank Maidan (August Kranti Maidan), in Bombay on the morning of 9 August, 1942, as a result of it was introduced that the nationwide flag can be unfurled there,” wrote Dandavate in his e book ‘Dialogue with Life’.

On the earlier two days, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) held a session at this very venue the place Mahatma Gandhi had issued the clarion name for ‘Stop India’.

“I used to be within the Royal Institute of Science. I heard the speech delivered by Mahatma Gandhi on the Congress session in 1942. I used to be in faculty when the decision given to the folks was ‘Do or Die’ and the warning given to the British was ‘Stop India’,” wrote the Independence activist.

“Mahatma Gandhi needed his message to be heard all around the world, so he delivered his speech each in Hindi and English. I used to be current as a customer in that session and was deeply moved and impressed by its proceedings,” he added.

Past Gandhi, nevertheless, he was additionally deeply impressed by the beliefs of the Congress Socialist Social gathering. Its leaders — together with the likes of Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, and Yusuf Meherally — performed a pivotal function in shaping his politics.

Following Independence, these socialist leaders stop the father or mother Congress celebration, offering a robust and principled opposition to Jawaharlal Nehru. Dandavate adopted their lead on this regard.

Satyagraha for the Liberation of Goa

Though Goa was free of the clutches of Portuguese colonial rule and joined the Indian union solely on 19 December, 1961 (following army motion by the Indian Military), many leaders — together with the likes of Dandavate — carried out brave acts of Satyagraha marked by nonviolent protests to place strain on the Indian Authorities to behave.

As secretary of the Goa Vimochan Sahayak Samiti (Goa Liberation Support Committee) in Mumbai, he bravely led a gaggle of 93 folks to launch a Satyagraha at Netarda (a small village on the border of Goa) and paid a reasonably heavy value for it.

As he wrote in his e book ‘Dialogue with Life, “Usually when the Satyagraha was introduced, the police had been posted on the border, however we walked about 7-8 miles past the Portuguese border, elevating slogans. I had the nationwide tricolour flag in my hand.”

“The Portuguese police got here. They had been well-armed. We had been stopped. I used to be within the entrance and was requested handy over the flag. I refused to take action. We had come right here to hoist this flag within the Goan territory, and I might not give up it. They beat me and after an intense battle, they took away the flag. We had been requested to return however we didn’t budge,” he added.

Backed by slogans like ‘Nahin, nahin, Kabhi nahin, Bharat Goa alag nahin’ and ‘Lathi, goli khayenge, phir bhi Goa jayenge’, he took on the would possibly of the Portuguese colonial police as they started a lathi cost on all satyagrahis and beat them with the butts of their rifles.

“They beat me until I fell unconscious. Unusually sufficient, even after I grew to become unconscious, they trampled on my again with their army footwear. After some time, my colleagues took me to the Army Hospital at Belgaum after which to Bombay. They discovered that my hip joints had been injured very badly and I needed to be given infrared rays for that harm. My sturdy younger bones may take the torture then, however in a while, after a few years, it was recognized that my hip joints had completely degenerated and the alternative of those joints with metallic plates and rods was the one resolution. At current I’ve two stainless-steel plates and two metallic rods in my physique,” he wrote.

It was actually a brutal episode so far as police motion is anxious. Prior to now, the police would normally simply arrest the satyagrahis and take them to jail. However the satyagrahis made their level.

Writing on the affect of this Satyagraha motion, he famous, “I really feel proud to say that it did generate a local weather to pressurise the Indian Authorities resulting in the army motion to liberate Goa. There was hardly any resistance throughout the army motion. My feeling is that if this army motion had been taken earlier, there wouldn’t have been a lot sacrifice and demise. Our Satyagraha in 1955 did create a spirit of resistance towards Portuguese rule in Goa.”

Taking over Indira Gandhi’s Emergency

Like lots of his socialist friends, Dandavate challenged the Indira Gandhi administration’s proclamation of Emergency (1975 to 1977) — a darkish interval in our historical past marked by the usurping of primary civil rights and democracy — and served many stints in jail consequently.

Witnessing the inhuman remedy meted out to political prisoners, significantly his colleague and socialist chief Mrinal Gore, Dandavate shot off a letter to Indira Gandhi from jail.

“I’m fairly aware of the implications of this letter. I can effectively think about that by this communication, I’m more likely to incur your wrath and get my detention extended. Nevertheless, I really feel least apprehensive about it. I’ll stay fully undeterred even when the jail yard from which I write this letter had been to turn into my graveyard,” wrote Madhu Dandavate in a letter dated 14 January, 1976, to the then prime minister Indira Gandhi throughout the Emergency.

He signed off this scathing letter to the then-prime minister by declaring his timeless will to withstand. “Relaxation assured that on this land of Mahatma Gandhi, my will to battle for freedom will ever stay extra highly effective than the engine of repression that seeks to suppress it,” he wrote.

Dandavate, nevertheless, can be famously identified for his collection of letters from jail to his spouse Pramila, a legendary socialist activist in her personal proper, who was additionally imprisoned throughout the Emergency.

After almost 23 years of marriage, the couple had been immediately cut up aside by a distance of over 800 km. As merchandise of the liberty battle, avowed socialists and seasoned activists, the Authorities arrested Dandavate on 26 June, 1975, and subsequently picked up Pramila on 17 July, 1975.

Throughout their time in jail, the one means they may correspond was by letters. The couple exchanged almost 200 letters, the place they mentioned, amongst different issues, music, poetry, books, philosophy and politics. Extra importantly, nevertheless, their letters had been a testomony to how the love they shared for one another translated into resistance towards an authoritarian regime.

“The letters register the ache of separation in addition to how they labored by it to reaffirm their emotional bond by restating their dedication to freedom….They beloved one another as a result of they beloved freedom. Their love additionally enriched and prolonged the which means of freedom,” wrote scholar Gyan Prakash in Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s Turning Level.

Madhu Dandavate Freedom Righter and Rail Minister
Pramila and Madhu Dandavate

Abandoning a legacy

Dandavate had an extended and noteworthy profession in politics — serving as a five-time Member of Parliament from the Rajapur constituency of Maharashtra, finance minister within the VP Singh authorities (1989-90), and deputy chairman of the erstwhile Planning Fee in 1990, and once more from 1996 to 1998. His parliamentary profession got here to an finish after dropping to a Congress candidate in 1991, following which he slowly moved away from nationwide politics.

After battling most cancers for a protracted interval, Dandavate handed away in Mumbai on 12 November, 2005, at age 81. As per his needs, his physique was donated to town’s JJ Hospital. 

From combating for India’s freedom to Goa’s liberation from the Portuguese and impacting the lives of tens of millions as a union minister and parliamentarian, Dandavate represented the most effective of us.

(Edited by Pranita Bhat; Photographs courtesy X/Asia Society India Centre and loksabha.nic.in and Shutterstock)

Sources:

‘Two Inches of Foam’ by Ramachandra Guha, Revealed on 20 November 2005 by The Hindu
‘Dialogue with Life’ by Madhu Dandavate; Revealed on 11 March 2005 by Allied Publishers
‘Speech of Prof. Madhu Dandavate Introducing the Railway Funds for 1978-79, on twenty first February 1978’ courtesy Indian Railways
‘An ethical compass’ by Ramachandra Guha; Revealed on 13 January 2024 courtesy The Telegraph (on-line)
‘Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s Turning Level’ by Gyan Prakash; Revealed on 28 November 2018 courtesy Penguin Viking



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