FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

‘Captain Elder Brother’ and the Whirlwind Army

by

01-dsc00301-ps-captain_elder_brother__and_-max-1400x1120

Captain Elder Brother Photo: P. Sainath.

At 94, a forgotten hero of India’s struggle for freedom returns to the scene of his most daring exploit in the anti-British Raj uprising that saw a parallel government established in Satara, Maharashtra, in 1943. 

“Our squad attacked the train in two groups, one led by G.D. Bapu Lad, the other by myself. We stopped the train by piling up rocks on the track – right here where you are now standing. Then we piled up boulders behind it, so it could not retreat. We had no firearms, no weapons other than our sickles, lathis and a couple of unstable ‘country bombs’.  The main guard had a gun, but he was petrified and easily overpowered. We lifted the payroll and bolted.”

That was 73 years ago. But to hear  ‘Captain Bhau’ Lad tell it, it was yesterday. Now 94, Ramchandra Sripati Lad called ‘Bhau’ (brother or elder brother in Marathi) speaks with startling clarity about the attack he led on the Pune-Miraj train carrying the salaries of officials of the British Raj. “He hasn’t been this articulate in some time,” whispers Balasaheb Ganpati Shinde, a follower of the old freedom fighter. But memories come alive for the nonagenarian everyone calls  ‘Captain Elder Brother’ as he stands by the very spot on the track where he and Bapu Lad had led the  daring Toofan Sena  raid of June 7, 1943.

This is the first time he has returned to this site, at the village of Shenoli in Satara district, since that battle. For some moments, he is lost in his own thoughts, then it all comes back. He remembers the names of his comrades on the raid. And wants us to know: “The money did not go to any individual’s pocket but to the prati sarkar  [or provisional government of Satara]. We gave that money to the needy and poor.”

“It is unfair to say we ‘looted’ the train,” he says with asperity. “It was money stolen [by the British rulers from the Indian people] that we brought back.”  His words echo what G.D. Bapu Lad told me in 2010, a year before he died.

The Toofan Sena  (whirlwind or typhoon army) was the armed wing of the prati sarkar – an astonishing chapter in India’s struggle for freedom. Springing up as an armed offshoot of the Quit India movement of 1942, this group of revolutionaries declared a parallel government in Satara, then a huge district that included present-day Sangli. Their sarkar, seen as a legitimate authority by the people of the region and in at least 150 villages – over 600, insists Captain Bhau – effectively overthrew British rule. “What do you mean underground government?” growls Captain Bhau, annoyed by my use of the term. “We were the government here. The Raj could not enter.  Even the police were scared of the Toofan Sena.

 

That is a valid claim. The prati sarkar, headed by the legendary Krantisinh Nana Patil,  functioned as a government in the villages it controlled. It organised supply and distribution of foodgrain, set up a coherent market structure and ran a judicial system. It also penalised moneylenders, pawnbrokers and landlord collaborators of the Raj. “Law and order was under our control,” says Captain Bhau. “The people were with us.”  The Toofan Sena  conducted daring strikes on imperial armouries, trains, treasuries and post offices. It distributed relief to peasants and labourers in great distress.

The Captain was jailed a few times. But his growing status saw even the jail guards treat him with respect. “The third time I went it was the jail in Aundh. It was like living in a palace as the king’s guest,” he boasts, laughing. Between 1943 and 1946, the prati sarkar and its whirlwind army held sway in Satara. As India’s Independence became a certainty,  the Sena dissolved.

And I’ve piqued him again. “What do you mean when did I join the Toofan Sena?” he grumbles. “I founded it.”  Nana Patil headed the government. G.D. Bapu Lad, his right hand man, was the ‘field marshal’ of the Sena. Captain Bhau was its operational head. Together with their followers, they dealt the colonial Raj a humiliating blow. That, at a time when similar uprisings in Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha were proving hard for the British to handle.

The captain’s drawing room at home is crowded with memories and mementos. His own room holds his modest belongings. His wife Kalpana, more than a decade younger than Captain Bhau, says bluntly of her legendary husband: “To this day the man doesn’t know where his family’s farm land is located. I, one lone woman, took care of the children, the household, the fields. I managed everything – with five children, 13 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren to look after across all these years. He was in the jails of Tasgaon, Aundh and even Yerawada for a while. When free, he would vanish to the villages and return after months. I ran everything, I still do.”

The prati sarkar and Toofan Sena  threw up some of the most important leaders of India’s freedom struggle in Maharashtra. Nana Patil, Nagnath Naikwadi, G.D. Bapu Lad, Captain Bhau and many others. Most never got the importance they deserved after Independence. Different political forces operated within the sarkar and the Sena. Many were or became members of the Communist Party of India of the time. Amongst them, Nana Patil who went on to become president of the All India Kisan Sabha and was elected to parliament from Satara on a CPI ticket in 1957. Others, like Captain Bhau and Bapu Lad, went into the Peasants and Workers Party. Yet others like Madhavrao Mane were with the Congress. Almost all the living freedom fighters, irrespective of affiliation, mention the Soviet Union of the time and its resistance to Hitler as an inspiration for their uprising.

The 94-year-old is now tired but still reminiscing. “We dreamed of bringing freedom to the common man. It was a beautiful dream. We did achieve Independence.” And he is proud of that. “But I don’t think the dream was ever realised…today the man who has money rules. This is the state of our freedom.”

For Captain Elder Brother, in spirit at least, the whirlwind army still lives. “The Toofan Sena is still here for the people and will rise again when there is a need for it.”

More articles by:

P Sainath is the founder and editor of the People’s Archive of Rural India. He has been a rural reporter for decades and is the author of ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought.’ You can contact the author here: @PSainath_org

February 21, 2018
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein’s on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail