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Special Content

Issue no 22, 28 August - 3 September 2021

Rangoji Bapu

Forgotten Martyr of Eighteen Fifty Seven


Rangoji Bapu, who belongs to a historical town Satara in Maharashtra, has become synonymous with the revolt of 1857 and they are complementary to each other. There was a golden era of history hidden beneath the ruins of Satara. Lord Dalhousie had come to India in the year 1848, whom the English historians had honoured with the title of' Empire Builder'. He had imperialism in his blood and unstinting faith in colonialism. As soon as he landed on the shores of India, he had declared, "I will strenghten the land of India." He had come to India to strenghten the land and to strengthen the throne of the British Empire. He was not satisfied by merely tying up Punjab and Burma in chains of British slavery, as yet the ruins of ancient kingdoms remained. He had the apprehension that in future any person could rise from these ruins, tombs may stand up to take revenge against the injustices of the British. Satara's ruins were one of them.

The Former ruler of Satara, Appa Saheb had adopted Chhatrapati Pratap Singh to be his heir but the British did not agree to it claiming that he was, after all, Appa Saheb's brother and not his son. Thus, they acquired Satara on the plea that it had no legal heir. The person who was most disheartened by this act was Rangoji Bapu Gupte.

The former rulers of Satara decided to send this loyalist to London to apprise the higher authorities of the East India Company about the pathetic story of Satara. Resolute to his goal, Rangoji Bapu left for London with the notion that whether or not he succeeds, he would atleast give his best try. He started from Bombay on September 12, 1839 and reached London in December end.

Rangoji Bapu rummaged through the Leeds Hall Street. He was even forced to spend his last penny as the fee of the British Barristers. He went from pillar to post but the point blank reply he got from the officers was, "Go away, we will not give Satara back.

“While in London, Rangoji got the opportunity to meet Ajimullah Khan, a man of extraordinary talent, who was in London to help Nana Dhudhu Pant Peshwa claim his pension. Both faced rejection. Their religions were different, their castes were different but their aims were the same. Offended by the injustice of the British, they both discussed and pledged to retaliate.

'India's Mutiny of 1857', the writer of this prolific manuscript, Veer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar writes, "If Rangoji Bapu had come here to revive the ghost of the throne of Satara, Ajimullah Khan was here to destroy the ghost of the throne of the Peshwa. They were here also to gather more information about the Britishers who had brought about the complete ruin of their country.

“The ember of revenge for injustice which lit in their hearts before they reached London grew further with the disappointment they faced there each day. It may not be there in the pages of history about what vows they had taken there to bring down the British Empire or what plan they had come up with when they came back to their land but it is a fact and indivisable part of history that the war of Independence occurred in 1857. In the same way, it is an irrefutable fact that the plan for revolutionary sacrificial blaze was made by Rangoji Bapu Gupte and Ajimullah Khan in London.

Rangoji returned directly to Satara from London and dedicated himself to the preconstruction work of the grand building which was to be built at Brahmavarta while Ajimullah Khan went on a tour wanting to know people's view abroad on the question of India's independence.

 Whilst in England, Rangoji Bapu Gupte devoted his complete attention to learning English language. He might not have succeeded in speaking the language fluently but he could write it correctly. He wrote two letters to the East India Company in English dated 26 May, 1847 and 11 November, 1847 to apprise them about the whole situation. It was at that time that he got the news of the sad demise of Chattrapati Pratap Singh; he was frustrated but remained dutybound. He continued the case, in the name of Shahu Pratap Singh the foster son. While he was constantly putting in all his efforts during these years, he was in such a pitiable state that even if he had begged, one would have given him alms. His brother Ravji Bapu tried to collect money for his home coming but he was arrested. This period of six years long stay in London of Rangoji resulted in huge debts for his brother. He returned in 1854.

 The year 1857 marked the awakening of India and in the month of June, Parli, a place near Satara got ignited with the fire of independence. Satara was the place where, in the year 1674, Shivaji was coronated by Ganga Bhatt. The great warriors like Santaji, Dhannaji, Nikaji and Baji, bowed before the throne, for prosperity of which Bajirao I dedicated his valour. The same may have got pulverized by Dalhousie but that desire for independence and the ardent interest to attain it through duty bound struggle was there. After his return from London, Rangoji Bapu Gupte immersed himself in the task of lighting the dormant fire to achieve independence. The British officials had the notion that the spark of revolt which was instilled for over a month amongst the people by Rangoji Bapu in the fort of Parli had led to the transformation.

 The British also had an apprehension that it was under Rangoji Bapu's guidance and influence that people of Satara, Yavteshwar, Mahabaleshwar had conspired for rebellion against the authority and annihilation of the British. While in London, Rangoji along with Ajimullah Khan had vowed to enchant the Goddess of Freedom with independent rituals. Rangoji had well remembered it on his return. He was in correspondence with Nana Saheb of Kanpur. Through a fixed plan, the soldiers of the army for independence consisting of representatives of Brahmins, Moulvis and revolutionary army of north India had penetrated the British forces at Pune, Satara, Belgaon, Dhar-wad, Mumbai and Hyderabad, etc. and were igniting the fire of freedom. Rangoji Bapu, of course, was playing a fundamental role in this.

 It was fighters like Rangoji Bapu whose efforts were yielding the outcome that from Mysore to Vindya Mekhala the pledge was taken that, "when the north rises, south will rise too". It was not as easy as that to erase the lines of destiny from the forehead of India and it eventually took 90 more years. The information available about him says that Rangoji Bapu was fair and a brilliant man. His efforts for freedom made him achieve a far greater stature which has made his name immortal.

(Excerpt from Forgotten Martyrs of Eighteen Fifty Seven (Part-III) by Banarsi Singh)