The role of the Andhras in the Freedom Struggle is next to that of none and they had always been in the forefront along with the rest of the countrymen. The first War of Independence in A.D.1857 did in no way affect the state of affairs in the south, though ripples were felt in the State of Hyderabad, in the shape of a raid by Rohilla and Arab soldiers against the Residency and a rebellion by the Gonds in the Adilabad district under the leadership of Ramji Gond. However, in A.D.1860, the English suppressed all these rebellions.
The rest of the 19th century passed away without any event of major importance, though occasional rebellions of the peasants here and there brought out their dissatisfaction to the forefront. The introduction of English education helped the formation of a strong educated middle class, which found security of life in the Government jobs. Agriculture became the mainstay of the people, as the cottage industries, especially the cloth industry, dwindled due to the deliberate policy of the Government to encourage British industries and trade at the expense of the indigenous ones. However, construction of dams across the Godavari and the Krishna by A.D.1852 and 1855 respectively, resulted in increasing agricultural production and helped, for a time, to cloud the real issues.
The beginning of the twentieth century saw the emergence of the numerically strong, educated, confident but dissatisfied middle class, seeking equality with the white ruler. The dissatisfaction, as elsewhere, was voiced in the form of pamphleteering. The foreign government, ever vigilant in such things, sought to nip it in the bud and as a consequence of it, repressive measures were introduced. Gadicherla Hari Sarvottama Rao (1883–1960) was the first victim of the move in Andhra. He was sentenced for his seditious article `Cruel Foreign Tiger’. The young men of Andhra had their own share in the `Vande Mataram’ and `Home Rule’ movements also.
But, along with this agitation, a kind of constructive work was also carried on by some fore-sighted leaders such as Kopalle Hanumantha Rao (1880–1922). Long before Gandhiji thought of the constructive programme, Hanumantha Rao founded his `Andhra Jateeya Kalasala’ (National College) in Machilipatnam to train young men in techniques of modern production, as he thought that it was the surest way to win independence from an imperialist rule which cared more for its markets than anything else.
In 1920, when Gandhiji started his non-co-operation movement, it had an immediate response in Andhra. Under the leadership of eminent men like Konda Venkatappaiah (1866–1948), Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu (1872–1957), Bulusu Sambamurti (1886–1958) and Bhogaraju Pattabhi Seetaramaiah (1880–1959), the Andhra young men made many a sacrifice for the cause of the Nation. Many practicing lawyers gave up their lucrative practice and many a brilliant student gave up their studies to respond to the call of the Nation. In November, 1921, the Congress gave permission to the Provincial Committee to start Civil Disobedience if the conditions laid down by Mahatma Gandhi were fulfilled.
Three episodes during the Civil Disobedience Movement in Andhra attracted the attention of the whole country. The first was the Chirala-Perala episode led by Duggirala Gopalakrishnayya. He served for some time in the Government College at Rajahmundry and the National College at Machilipatnam. He was, however, not satisfied with the kind of education that was imparted there. Moreover, after attending the Calcutta Congress in 1920, he was attracted to the programme of Non-co-operation and resolved to dedicate his life to the achievement of Swaraj. For this purpose he trained thousand disciplined band of warriors and gave them the name `Ramadandu’. He put them to test at the All-India Congress Session in Vijayawada to maintain peace and order and the All-India leaders were immensely pleased with the kind of work they did.
Chirala and Perala were two contiguous villages in Prakasam (then part of Guntur) district with a population of 15,000. The Government wanted to combine them into a municipality in 1920. But the people protested against this move because it meant imposition of additional taxes. These protests were not headed to and the municipality was constituted. As a protest against this, all elected councilors resigned. The Government, however, carried on the administration of the municipality with a paid chairman. In January, 1921, the residents refused to pay the municipal taxes. Several of them including a woman were prosecuted, tried and sentenced to imprisonment. This woman was considered to be the first woman in the country to be imprisoned on political grounds. After the All-India Congress session at Vijayawada, Gandhiji came to Chirala. Gopalakrishnayya sought his advice on the future course of action to be taken. Gandhiji suggested two alternatives, (1) to continue the No-Tax Campaign in a non-violent manner and (2) mass exodus of people to the vacant areas beyond the municipal limits. The second would automatically end the municipality. But he made it clear that whatever course they chose the Congress would bear no responsibility and that they must stand on their own legs. Gopalakrishnayya had enough confidence in himself and the people, and in spite of the warning, he persuaded the residents to move to the area outside the municipal limits and raise temporary tenements which he called `Ramanagar’.
It was an unprecedented step in the history of the country. For eleven months people lived there in thatched huts braving the severity of weather. Gopalakrishnayya and his Ramadandu kept up the morale of the people. Their aim was to establish a parallel government and demonstrate to the outside world how Swarajya, as conceived by him, would be like. He constituted an Assembly comprising members elected from each caste and established an
arbitration court. Sankirtans and Bhajans kept up the morale of the people. He, however, faced financial difficulties and he went to Berhampore in 1921, when the Andhra Conference was in session to collect some money. There he was prohibited to address the public meetings but he defied the orders. He was arrested and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment and sent to Trichinapally. There was no other person who could occupy his place. The Government also took repressive measures against those who built sheds on government lands. People returned to their homes in the municipality at the end of eleven months and reconciled themselves to its constitution. Though the movement failed, the qualities of courage and fearlessness they developed stood them in good stead in the subsequent stages of the freedom movement.
There were similar movements, though not of the same scale or character, in Repalle and Vijayawada municipalities. The Government was not obdurate and yielded to popular pressure and took steps to redress their grievances.
The next episode was the `Forest Satyagraha’ of the ryots of Palnad in Guntur district in 1921. The peasants of this place had to pay heavy tax for permission to graze their cattle in forests. When the crops failed that year, they decided to send their cattle into the forests without paying the fee and suffer the penalties. They resorted to social boycott of all government officials and refused supply of even the bare necessaries of life to them. It did not produce the desired change in the attitude of the officials. They took the cattle forcibly, confined them in cattle-pounds and refused to free them unless the fee was paid. There was, therefore, clash between the cattle owners and the armed police that was brought on the scene. In the firing that took place one Kannuganti Hanumanthu was killed. Meanwhile, Gandhiji called off the Non-Co-operation Movement due to some untoward incidents at Chowri Chowra and with this the Palnad Satyagraha also came to an end.
The No-Tax Campaign at Pedanandipadu in Bapatla taluk of Guntur district was the third famous landmark. There was considerable difference of opinion between leaders like Konda Venkatappayya and Mahatma Gandhi with regard to this campaign. Gandhiji wanted to try the experiment first in Bardoli in Gujarat. The local leaders, however, tried to convince him that the conditions laid down for starting such a campaign were fulfilled by the people of this place and they were very keen on starting it. Gandhiji reluctantly gave permission to proceed with it. In January, 1922, when the first instalment of land revenue fell due, a non-payment campaign was started under the leadership of Parvataneni
Virayya Chowdery. As a first step the village officers were persuaded to resign so that no land revenue could be collected. The Revenue officials could not collect even five per cent of the demand of land revenue. Repressive measures were resorted to movables, cattle and even lands were attached for non-payment of land tax, but none was present to bid them in the auctions. Military was moved into the area to terrorise them. These did not produce any result. The volunteers worked day in and day out to maintain order and see that no untoward incident took place. Before they proceeded on further action, the movement was called off and the local leaders gave up the No-Tax Campaign, and the taxes were paid.
When the movement was called off, it left the minds of many young men sore and the disappointment took a violent turn in one instance. A rebellion broke out in the agency areas of the Northern Circars under the leadership of Alluri Sitaramaraju (1897–1923). He was a simple and unostentatious young man given to studies of spiritual importance. He was keen on the welfare of the lowly and the innocent. He contributed his mite in the days of the non-co-operation movement and later settled down among the hill tribes of the Visakhapatnam district, spending his time in spiritual practices. The misdeeds of a British contractor, who took pleasure in under-paying the workers drawn from the hill tribes, brought him into a tussle with the police who supported the contractor. This led to encounters between the police and Sitaramaraju, who was supported by the hill tribes under the leadership of the Gamu brothers. Sitaramaraju raided many police stations and carried off guns and powder. The alien Government then made use of all its resources to quell the rebellion. A company of the Assam rifles under the leadership of Saunders was sent there. The campaign lasted nearly for one year from December 1922 and, in the end, many of the followers of Raju, especially the Gamu brothers, were overpowered in an encounter. The rebellion petered off by October 1923. Raju surrendered himself, so it was said, and was shot dead without any trial.
In 1930 when Gandhiji started his salt-campaign, the broad east coast of Andhra became the venue of memorable deeds of many a young man and woman, who in spite of the severe blows of lathis, prepared salt and courted imprisonment. The tremendous awakening, which was an outcome of this movement, resulted in the rout of the parties other than the Congress in the elections of 1937.
The thirties saw the emergence of leftist organisations in Andhra which gave a fillip to the progressive trends. Meanwhile, in 1939, the British Government dragged India into World War II and the Congress ministries resigned.
From 1942, history moved with a quick and vigorous pace. The arrest of the leaders at Bombay on August 9, 1942, provoked the masses. The `Do or Die’ message of the National Congress inspired the people of Andhra, who under the leadership of young but devoted workers, brought the functioning of the Government to a stand still for a few days. Many young students and workers faced the bullets cheerfully, to swell the number of those unknown, unwept, and unsung heroes of India who died to make their country live.
Events moved on quickly and, on August 15, 1947, India achieved its Independence. A new Constitution came into force from the 26th of January, 1950, which envisaged the new set-up of Government at the Centre as well as at the States by duly elected representatives from the people on an adult franchise.
The Andhras all along their fight with the British authorities thought that the exit of the Britishers would facilitate the early formation of the Telugu areas as a separate State. But the Constituent Assembly had to decide otherwise and this proved to be a bitter pill for the Andhras to swallow.