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The Inspiring Life of Pandurang Mahadev ‘Senapati’ Bapat

Pandurang Mahadev Bapat, universally known as Senapati Bapat, was a figure in the Indian self-government movement. Due to his management during the Mulshi satyagraha, he acquired the Senapati title, meaning commander. As a leader of the Mulshi Satyagraha, he got the title of Senapati. He got the respect of hoisting the Indian flag in Pune for the first time after independence. He had been locked up for public speaking and destruction; later, he turned himself in because of satyagraha. He was not made up to follow the path of violence.

Senapati Bapat studied at Deccan College and then traveled to Britain on a government scholarship to study engineering. During his stay in Britain, he was linked with India House, spending most of his time learning bomb-making skills as an alternative to pursuing his official studies. He became connected at this time with the Sarvarkar brothers, Vinayak and Ganesh. Bapat had considered blowing up the Houses of Parliament in London. He took his skills back to India and passed them on to others.

Pandurang Mahadev Bapat was born at Parner in a poor Brahmin family on 12 November 1880. He had five brothers and three sisters. His father was a clerk, and his mother were both devotees of God Gajanana. In 1897, feeling insulted at the hands of his superior officer, his father left both service and home and resorted to the nearby Ganpati temple, where he lived till his death. 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 Ahmednagar, from where he enrolled (1899), winning the second Jagannath Sunkersett Sanskrit Scholarship. He was graduated in 1903 from the Deccan College, Poona. After that, in 1902, he was administered on the unsheathed blade of a sword a somber oath of striving for and sacrificing his life in the cause of therapeutic the motherland. This gave a huge turn to his life. He became a passionate and daring radical. Although a Sanskrit scholar and a graduate of Philosophy, he preferred a technical scholarship from Bombay University for the study of Mechanical Engineering at Edinburgh College in 1904.

In 1921, Bapat led the three-year farmers’ protest named satyagraha against the construction of the Mulshi Dam by the Tata company. Ghanshyam Shah considers this “the first recorded organized struggled against [forced] displacement” that occurred by an irrigation project. The company had originally dug test trenches on land without obtaining permission, and the farmers, who were mostly tenants, objected in fear of losing their lands. The boom was finally constructed, and thus the protest eventually failed. Recompense for lands covered by the dam’s construction was eventually arranged but given to the landlords rather than the tenants. However, satyagrahas are planned to be non-violent. Bapat was imprisoned for damage to the construction project; rather than being captured, he turned himself in. His third prison sentence was for speaking at a public gathering held by Subhas Chandra Bose.

The dissensions and dishonesty Bapat found in the country on his free made him think of resorting to ‘Jala Samadhi’ on 23 July 1939. Frustrated by his design, he declared himself dead in spirit, progressing only to physical existence. And yet he could not refrain from marching in the front rank of the Goa Liberation Satyagraha of 1955. He couldn’t resist leading the Samyukta Maharashtra Satyagraha of 18 November 1956, courting lathi-blows in both. Another example is his fast at the critical stage of the border issue 1966 between Maharashtra and Mysore.

Bapat dressed simply in dhoti and kurta, and cap and, for some time (1931-1932), used to have on only a prison uniform to indicate 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 obtainable to hold death on not less than eleven significant occasions and underwent short and long-term imprisonments totaling over seventeen years.

He was a dedicated congressman, yet he had a place in his program for every means of following liberation. A scholar, poet, patriot and philosopher, Bapat was a nationwide saint and a mystery. Extremely pained by his fellowmen’s dishonesty and deterioration, Bapat seriously considered self-immolation a productive method of countering them.

An untiring worker, a tough propagandist and a wonderful combatant, he had come to the startling close that even suicide or self-destruction must be accorded a place of honor in the liberation program and must, as a result, be allowed by the country’s laws. He even went so far as to propose the organization of a ‘Prana Yajna Dala’ or a self-sacrificing squad on 15 August 1947 — Indian Independence Day. Bapat was honored to raise the Indian national flag over Pune for the first time. Major public roads in Pune and Mumbai have been named in his honor, and he was featured in issue 303 of the Amar Chitra Katha comic book series in 1984. After independence, Senapati Bapat took a lively part in political life. He passed away on 28 November 1967 at the age of 87.

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