The Little Town with a Large Heart Part 2

8:46 PM Posted by ukmad

The region was greatly influenced by Balgangadhar Tilak who visited Belgaum in 1906. Several leaders emerged here, including Gangadhar Rao Deshpande, Annu Guruji, Jivanrao Yalgi, Ramchandra Wadavi and Baburao Thakur.
During the swadeshi movement of 1905-08, Govindrao Yalgi was responsible for starting secret revolutionary associations. Belgaum was made headquarters of the State unit of Tilak’s Home Rule League.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak who gave the ‘cutting edge’ to the Indian National Congress, visited Belgaum in 1906 and met many like-minded individuals here – like Gangadharrao Deshpande, Kaka Kalelkar, et al. Tilak decided to hold a Conference in Belgaum to focus on pivotal issues of ‘Swarajya’.
Some elements who were opposed to Tilak tried to persuade Mahatma Gandhi not to attend this Conference, to which he had been personally invited by Kaka Kalelkar.
Getting to know of this opposition Gangadharrao Deshpande wrote an anguished letter to Gandhiji.
Gandhiji’s terse reply was on a small postcard – “Nothing but death can prevent me from going to Belgaum to attend the Conference”.
This was to be Gandhiji’s first visit to Belgaum – arriving, as he usually did by Third Class Compartment of a train on the 29th of April 1916.
Gandhiji worked hard, behind the scenes, to heal the split that had developed in the freedom movement after the 1907 Surat Congress Session. One Group had favoured lawful agitation, the other group in Swadeshi, a boycott of foreign goods, Swarajya, and more direct action. Tilak proposed a resolution that united both factions. Gandhiji spoke in favour of Tilak (on the 1st of May 1916) and an open split was averted.
A day earlier Gandhiji had spoken in Raviwar Peth (our main market) against untouchability.
In the 38th Congress Session at Kakinada which Mohammed Ali presided over, Gangadharrao Deshpande was elected Secretary along with Jawaharlal Nehru and Saifuddin Kichalu. Deshpande immediately proposed that the next session be held in the Karnatak Province. Mohd. Ali accepted the suggestion.
When the Mysore Raja – Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar backed out of hosting the Congress, Sadashivrao Karnad of Mangalore and Shrinivas Koujalgi of Bijapur staked the claims of their cities to host the Congress Session.
However, the fleeter footwork of Gangadharrao Deshpande of Belgaum won the day, by bringing in some merchants from Shahapur in Belgaum who were prepared to underwrite the expenses of the Congress to a tune of Rs. 30,000. That clinched the venue of the 39th Session of the Congress. This move was enough to convince Gandhiji and the senior leaders that Belgaum was indeed a Little Town with a Large Heart.


Gandhiji Addressing Open Session at Belgaum 1924 session

For a small town of 36,000 to attempt to host an All India Congress Session was an audacious move – something like a small country wishing to host the Olympics today.


Gandhiji Evening walk in BGM in 1924

But the 39th Congress Session at Belgaum in 1924 proved to be one of the most momentous sessions.
By Nitin Khot

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