Gandhi hurried back to Ahmedabad.
Before taking up the Labour dispute Gandhi
wanted to move his ashrama. The Satyagraha Ashrama was in a village near
Ahmedabad, but the surroundings were not clean and plague had broken out. It
had spread there from Ahmedabad.
A rich merchant of Ahmedabad, who was closely
associated with the ashrama, volunteered to procure a suitable piece of
land. Gandhi went about with him looking for land and at last they chose a
place on the bank of the Sabarmati Ashrama was started.
In Ahmedabad there were many textile mills.
Prices had gone up and the mill workers were demanding higher wages. The
mill owners would not agree. Gandhi sympathized with the workers and took up
their cause. He launched a struggle and resorted to peaceful resistance. The
workers proudly followed Gandhi and pledged their full support to him. They
paraded the streets with large banners, and said they would not go back to
work until a settlement had been reached.
Days passed. The mill owners were adamant. The
strikers were getting impatient for they were faced with starvation. Their
discipline became weak. Gandhi feared that some workers would break their
pledge and go back to work. That would be a great moral defeat.
One morning he called the workers and said,
‘Unless the strikers rally and continue the strike till a settlement is
reached. I will not touch any food.’
The workers were shocked.
‘Not you, but we shall fast,’ they said.
‘Please forgive us for our lapse; we shall remain faithful to our pledge.’
Gandhi did not want anybody else to fast. His
fast was not against the mill owners, but against the lack of co-ordination
and unity among the workers. The fast lasted only for three days. It
influenced the mill owners so much that they came to an agreement with the
Hardly was the mill workers’ strike over, when
Gandhi had to plunge into the Kheda Satyagraha struggle.
The Kheda district of Gujarat was on the verge
of famine owing to failure of the crops. The yield had been so low that the
cultivators, especially the poorer section, were unable to pay the revenue.
But the government insisted that the yield had not been so bad and that the
cultivators should pay the tax. Gandhi saw the justice of the cause of the
cultivators and advised them to offer Satyagraha by not paying their taxes.
Many leaders, like Vallabhbhai Patel,
Shankarlal Banker, Mahadev Desai and others, took an active part in this
struggle. The campaign came to an unexpected end. There had been signs that
it might fizzle out, but after four months’ struggle there came an
honourable settlement. The Government said that if well-to-do cultivators
paid up the poorer section would be granted suspension. This was agreed to
and the campaign ended.
The Kheda Satyagraha marked the beginning of
an awakening among the peasants of Gujarat, the beginning of their true
political education. In addition it gave to the educated public workers the
chance to establish contact with the actual life of the peasants.