Nagnath Naikwadi – a revolutionary of a different mould

When a freedom fighter passes away, it breaks a link with the hoary past when common men and women had become heroes by their involvement, commitment and persistent effort to throw out the British. One among them, passed away at the ripe age of 90 in a Mumbai hospital on Thursday. He was Nagnath Naikwadi.

Naikwadi was a revolutionary of a different mould. He looted a government treasury in Dhule to fund the freedom movement, was caught in a skirmish with the British police, took a bullet to his shoulder in the process, and helped rebels fighting the Nizam in Hyderabad. He even led a jailbreak of freedom fighters from the Satara jail, after which he remained underground for four years.

Naikwadi was also part of a parallel government that held sway over 150-odd villages of Satara-Sangli belt in Western Maharashtra, popularly known by a corrupted pronunciation patri sarkar for prati sarkar for over four years, from August 1943 to May 1946. This was the highpoint of their rebellion. Kisanrao Ahir and Nana Patil were his compatriots.

With his compatriots lost to history, he went about trying to run small but meaningful institutions to show that equity can be strived for and transparency made a reality. Reuters

I recall his one and only visit he payed me in the early 1990s when, soon after the offer of a cup of tea, he bluntly asked me, "Do you think the freedom we fought for is what you have?” I was stunned; he followed with his own reply: “The way the country has been run and the way it is being run shows our dreams have turned into a nightmare. I’d rather wake up and let both the dream and the nightmare vanish at once. That is asking for too much, isn’t it?”

With his compatriots lost to history, as he is now – they included Vasantdada Patil – he went about trying to run small but meaningful institutions to show that equity can be strived for and transparency made a reality.

Post-Independence, he did not flow into the Congress stream. As days slipped into years after 1947, he was ill at ease with the Congress way of governance and showed how even a sugar factory can be transparently run. He dared the system by being open about his dealings. He hoped that he would expose the system by his own ‘how-to’ model.” He named it after his fallen brother revolutionary.

The board of the cooperative met in the open, with unhindered access to all shareholders who have to be, according to rules, sugarcane cultivators and supply to the cooperative. All negotiations with suppliers were held before the entire general body. He bargained well once the price was settled, the vendors were asked to further cut the price by what normally were the kickbacks to other sugar factory brass.

That kept his capital and working capital requirements low.

Despite his connections – after all, all freedom fighters were compatriots in one cause – he had a struggle ahead to get a licence for this cooperative. His associates recall how it took eight years of ‘struggle’ to acquire one, for perhaps the tribe which had made a profitable political business out of cooperatives, this rough-hewn, rustic man may have an entirely contrarian approach to working. They had scented the risks but he got the go-ahead in 1981. They were right.

When for official purposes, the top brass like the chairman or directors were called by the government or the State Cooperative Bank, he would send a shareholder because they were all the same. All knew the workings of the Hutatma (Martyr) Kisan Ahir Cooperative Sugar Factory. It did not pass muster but it needled the establishment. He only made a point, which unfortunately was seen as an oddity, not a purpose.

Nagnath Naikwadi prepared his cooperative’s members well. When he enrolled members, he carried a duster and chalk to a blackboard – the same hands which once carried arms – and explained the intricacies of sugarcane cultivation, sugar manufacture and the finances. At the annual ritual when the boiler of the sugar factory is lit, it was normal for him, or later his successors, to respond to the shareholders. Members were free to vote freely, with no groupism patent.

But some oddities were on display. For instance, when he contested elections from Satara-Karad to Parliament, he was assigned a symbol, lion. He hired one from a circus and took it around the constituency. His shareholders cooked meals for themselves and other workers and transported them to the campaign trail, showing an uncanny camaraderie – there were no ‘workers’ other parties claim to have. He told me: "They are my people; I am not a leader but one among them.’’ In his earlier two stints as MLA in the Maharashtra Assembly, he chose to be with the people than with the establishment.

It is another matter that he lost the elections. That perhaps was when the link between a revolutionary and a people snapped. His death in a Mumbai hospital after a long spell of illness, confined, with tubes and wires on his body and needle pokes, was only a formality. The country, it seemed, has no use anymore for a revolutionary. Nor, it so happens, for a people’s man.


Updated Date: Mar 23, 2012 19:53 PM

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