In Nehru’s Word, last week, on 26 July, we published excerpts from Jawaharlal Nehru’s article in The Independent of 22 January 1921, in which he compares the firing on the kisans at Munshiganj in Rae Bareli in which 13 of them were killed with Jallianwala Bagh. The very next day, he again wrote in The Independent, expressing his outrage at the fact that it was the taluqdar, Sirdar Birpal Singh, who had illegally opened fire, and not the police, but the entire administration was covering up for him by concocting stories, thus demonstrating the collusion between the landlords and the colonial state.
It appears that the firing order was not ordered by anyone. The officer in charge of the military expressly ordered his men not to fire. The Superintendent of Police disclaims all responsibility, the Deputy Commissioner did not do so. He says he was too confused. Was it then the Sirdar who gave the word of command or was it a case of spontaneous combustion? …
Truly it is an amazing thing even in this land where bureaucrats may do as they like. Incompetents may misgovern us and may shoot us down, but their actions are sure to be justified and they gain the plaudits of their superiors even though the price of their folly be the lives of the innocents…. The Deputy Commissioner knew that I was coming; he knew that I would probably succeed in dispersing the crowd, but he would not hold his hand, he would not wait a few minutes…
The Deputy Commissioner stands by his friend and proclaims his innocence. He was not so sure a few days ago. Soon after the firing I spoke to Birpal Singh and he gave me a short account of the firing. There was no mention there of the crowd attacking… The D.C. said nothing on the point. Later when all Rae Bareli people were saying that Birpal Singh was guilty of the deed, he denied it utterly. Even then there was no mention of the shot fired in self-defence. The D.C. when asked stated that he could not swear whether Birpal Singh had fired or not. But the plot developed.
Seeing the impossibility of a total denial, the Sirdar took refuge in “self-defence”. And memory returned to the Deputy Commissioner and he proclaimed to all and said that Birpal Singh had not fired. Do they imagine that anyone believes their effusions? Do they think that by drumbeat they will instil affection for Birpal Singh in the minds of his tenantry?
He has ventured to deny the charges brought against him. But he has to answer for much more than that incident at Munshiganj.
He has to answer for the suffering he has caused to his poor tenantry. He has to answer for long continued oppression, for the turning out of many kisans from their hearths and homes. Is it any wonder that there is no love for him in the hearts of his tenantry? Is it any wonder that the sight of him is anathema to them?
Yet he is their liege and he is their representative in the Provincial Council. He has gone to the Council of H.E. the Governor to fight for the rights and liberties of the constituents! I wonder if there is one person in a thousand of his constituents who trusts him or who does not bitterly dislike him.
Backed by the D.C., basking in the sunshine of the Governor’s smile, he grows bold and venturous….
And terrorism reigns in Rae Bareli. No man is safe who has offended the taluqdar. No voter, who refrained from voting in obedience to his mandate, can escape the wrath of Birpal Singh or his underlings. It is but another stage in the long agony of the people. Too long have they suffered and put up with the tyranny. But the time for reckoning has come, deliverance is near. The kisans have awakened from their long slumber and all the King’s horses and all the King’s men will not frighten them or keep them back from their goal.
(Reproduced from Jawaharlal Nehru Selected Works, Volume 1, pp.212-14.)
Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library