Patriots > Social and Religious Reformers > Bapat,Pandurang Mahadev ( Senapati )
Bapat,Pandurang Mahadev ( Senapati ) ( 1880-1967 )

Hailed as the ‘Senapati’ since he led the Mulshi Satyagraha (1921), Pandurang Mahadev Bapat was born at Parner(Maharshtra) on 12 November 1880, in a poor Brahmin family. He had five brothers and three sisters. His father, a clerk and mother (Gangabai) were both devotees of God Gajanana. Feeling insulted at the hands of his superior officer (1897), his father left both service and home and resorted to the Ganpati temple nearby where he lived till his death (1933). Bapat was married to Rukminibai (Yamutai Bhave of Kopargaon) in 1898 and had a son and a daughter.

Starting rather late he got his schooling, interrupted at intervals, in Poona and Ahamadnagar, from where he matriculated (1899), winning the second Jagannath Sunkersett Sanskrit Scholarship. He graduated in 1903 from the Deccan College, Poona. While there, in 1902, he was administered, on the unsheathed blade of a sword, a solemn oath of striving for and sacrificing his life in the cause of liberating the motherland. This gave a turn to his life. He became an ardent and a daring revolutionary. Though a Sanskrit scholar and a graduate of Philosophy, he preferred a technical scholarship of the Bombay University for the study of Mechanical Engineering in an Edinburgh College (1904).

While there he learned shooting from the Queen’s Rifles. His study of Indian conditions from books by Dadabhai Naoraji and Digby embittered him against the British rule in India, and his fiery speeches advocating violent methods against it cost him his scholarship. Left in the lurch, he was welcomed by the India House (London) of Shayamji Krishnavarma. Coming in contact with the revolutionaries there, he became an active member of the ‘Abhinava Bharat of Savarkar.

At his behest he learned the Russian formula of bomb manufacture and returned to India in1908, with that formula and a few rifles, to start secret revolutionary work Betrayed by a co-worker, Bapat had to go underground suffering all the privations of the situation (1908-1913)

It was only after 1913 that Bapat could come out. He settled down at Poona to serve on the staff of Tilak’s English weekly, the Maratha, and Ketkar’s Marathi ‘Encyclopaedia’ and the ‘Dnyanaprakash’. But it came to an end on the death of his wife in 1920.

In 1921 he volunteered to join the Mulshi Satyagraha against the Tata Hydroelectric Project which submerged 54 villages the villagers demanding compensation in land. Bapat moved heaven and earth, was called the ‘Senapati’ for his uncompartable lead and suffered four imprisonments in the course of his fight. The fourth lasted for seven years. On being released he was elected President of the Maharashtra Congress Committee.

He started a whirlwind propaganda. His speech at Ratangiri brought him another seven year’s imprisonment (1931-37).

The dissensions and corruption he found in the country on his release made him think of resorting to ‘Jala Samadhi’ (or drowning oneself) on 23 July 1939. being frustrated in his design he declared himself dead in spirit, continuing only a physical existence. And yet he could not forbear marching in the front rank of the Goa Liberation Satyagraha of 1955, nor could he abstain from leading the Samyukta Maharashtra Satyagraha of 18 November 1956, courting lathi-blows in both. His fast at the critical stage of the border issue (1966) between Maharashtra and Mysore is another instance. He died of heart attack after a short illness on 27 November 1967.

Bapat, admirably at home with Sanskrit, Marathi, Hindi and English, expressed his thoughts in all these languages, more readily in verse than in prose, and wrote a good deal on a variety of topics even when in prison. A few of his booklets were published since 1921, and D. V. Dev even brought out his ‘Samagra Grantha’ (collected works) in 3 volumes (1937-39).

In ‘Senapati Bapat Samagra Grantha; Part Three’ (1967) his son later included the last instalment of unpublished material. His outstanding contributions are; A Holy Song’, the gist in English verse of the Bhagavadgita and thirteen of the Upanishads (1934); and ‘Divya Jivana’, a Marathi translation of Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine’ in three parts (1960-65).

Bapat dressed simply in Khaddar (dhoti and kurta and cap), and for some time (1931-32) used to wear only a prison uniform to signify that the whole country was but an open prison. In complete self-abnegation he lived every moment of his life for his country, resorted to fasting as many as eight times, offered to embrace death on not less than eleven critical occasions and underwent short and long term imprisonments totaling to over seventeen years.

He was devoted Congressmen and yet he had place in his programme for each and every means of political liberation. A scholar, poet, patriot and philosopher, Bapat was above all a national saint and an enigma. Extremely pained by the dishonesty and degeneration of his fellowmen, Bapat seriously thought of self-immolation as an effective method of countering them.

A tireless worker, a tough propagandist and a wonderful fighter, he had come to the startling conclusion that even suicide or self-destruction must be accorded a place of honour in the liberation programme and must, therefore, be allowed by the laws of the country. He even went so far as to propose the organization of a ‘Prana Yajna Dala’ or a self-sacrificing squad.

Author : D. V. Kale