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139. In The Lion's Den
When in 1917 Gandhiji stepped into Champaran (Bihar) to enquire into the condition of the agriculturists there and understand their grievances against the indigo planters, there was a hue and cry raised against him by the latter fully backed up by the Anglo-Indian Press. The planters demanded his instantaneous removal from the district and even hinted that they would take the law into their own hands if the authorities did not arrest his further progress. It is now a matter of history how the authorities, succumbing to the agitation, served a notice on him to quit the district immediately, how he refused to oblige them, how he was then put under arrest and asked to stand his trial, how finally realizing the serious consequences that would follow his conviction, the Viceroy intervened and had the case against Gandhiji withdrawn.
The chagrin of the planters at such a turn of events could well be imagined, and some of them began to hold out threats of direct action. A day before the interview which Gandhiji was to have with the Governor of the Province, the Pioneer published a lengthy letter from a leading planter, Mr. W. S. Irwin, Manager of the Motihari Factory, in which he wrote as follows :
"Mr. Gandhi, I believe, is a well-intentioned philanthropist, but he is a crank and a fanatic and is too utterly obsessed with his partial success in South Africa and his belief that he has been ordained by Providence to be a lighter of wrongs to be able to realize that he is being made a cat's paw of by pleaders and Mukhtears etc...Mahajans and moneylenders...and by Home Rule politicians... For the protection of the property of the Champaran planters, one and probably only one step is essentially necessary and that is the removal of Mr. Gandhi from the district. The extreme forbearance of the planters has so far prevented the outbreak of any serious disturbance, but unless Government can see its way to protecting them they will unavoidably be forced into taking, the steps necessary for their own protection."
The European planters' threats were, however, unavailing as Gandhiji refused to be cowed down and ultimately the Bihar Government felt obliged to appoint a commission of enquiry into the grievances of the agriculturists.