Gandhi and the origin of hartal against Rowlatt Act

It is a known fact that Mahatma Gandhi travelled in trains, that too, in the third class compartment and later that class was abolished by the railways. A cursory look at the plaque outside Welcomhotel on Cathedral Road here and one can jocularly say that Gandhiji had been here! The wording at the bottom of the plaque reads as: “It was here then Gandhiji met Rajaji for the first time and stayed as his guest.”

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The youth of this generation may truly believe this, as meetings between leaders happen in star hotels these days. “In the place where the hotel exists now, there was a house where C. Rajagopalachari (popularly known as Rajaji) lived, paying rent. It was at his residence that Gandhiji met Rajagopalachari for the first time. It was here that the idea of ”hartal” (strike) came to Gandhiji,” Vakula S. Varadarajan, a historian told IANS.

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He said that the house rented by Rajagopalachari was then owned by S. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar who had acquired The Hindu publication. A full reading of the plaque would show the historical importance of that residence. It was at Rajaji”s residence where Gandhiji dreamt about the hartal against the draconian Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act.

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“In this premises known as ”Tilak Bhavan” Mahatma Gandhi spent the restless historic night of 18th March 1919, when the sad tidings of the passing of the humiliating Rowlatt Bills enveloped him. Before the day dawned, the idea of all-India hartal occurred to Gandhiji in a dream which later blossomed into the non-violent non-cooperation movement.

“Referring to this memorable event, Gandhiji writes – I was still in that twilight condition between sleep and consciousness when suddenly the idea broke upon me – it was as if in a dream that we should call upon the country to observe a general hartal. The whole of India from one end to the other, towns as well as villages, observed a complete hartal on that day. It was a most wonderful spectacle.”

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The Rowlatt Act provided for preventive detention for an indefinite period, an imprisonment without trial and judicial review. The plaque also had a quote from Jawaharlal Nehru: “Whereever Bapu sat became a temple. Where he trod was hallowed ground.” The plaque was opened by Acharya Kriplani on 13.4.1968 and was donated by M/s Satyanarayana Bros.

(With the Inputs of Agency).

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