India’s 75th: Neki Ram Introduced Haryana to Gandhi
By SUKANT DEEPAK
When the British offered to buy him out by offering free land, he said: “The whole country belongs to me.”
Born on September 7, 1887, in Kelanga village in present-day Haryana, Pt. Neki Ram devoted his whole life to fighting against the Raj.
He spent 2,200 days in the jail of the Raj and participated in each struggle that defined India’s fight for freedom — the Anti-Rowlatt Act Movement (1919), Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22), Salt Satyagraha (1930), Individual Satyagraha (1940-41), and finally, the Quit India Movement (1942). Later, he became a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha on a Congress ticket.
It was in 1905 in Benaras, where he received his higher education in Sanskrit, that he got to meet some of the major nationalist leaders, including Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Surendra Nath Banerjee, and Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya at the annual session of the Indian National Congress. It gave direction to his life.
When in 1907 Lala Lajpat Rai was deported to Mandalay Jail in Myanmar, Pt. Neki Ram, who was 20 years old, became a determined opponent of the British Raj. Records show that there was a time when he even wanted to make a bomb to attack British personnel. But the moderate Congress leader, Surendra Nath Benerjee, whom the young man met in Calcutta, guided him on the importance of following the path of non-violence.
Pt. Neki Ram, who was later given the honorific ‘Haryana Kesari’, came into prominence when he organized the Ambala Divisional Political Conference in Bhiwani on October 22, 1920, to popularize the Non-Cooperation Movement. On the insistence of Pandit Neki Ram, Mahatma Gandhi, the Ali Brothers — Shaukat and Mohammad, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Kasturba Gandhi joined the conference. And the Mahatma won the hearts of the people by sitting on the ground like them.
A year later, on October 16, 1921, Gandhi was back in Bhiwani, this time to raise money for the Tilak Swaraj Fund for constructive work, including the fight against untouchability. The day is important in the history of Bhiwani, for the local women generously donated their gold ornaments to the Fund.
Pt. Neki Ram’s association with Gandhi went back to 1915 when he started backing the Mahatma’s movement against untouchability, although he had already made his mark as a Hindu Sanatanist leader. In fact, he was consistent in his efforts to push for social reforms in Hindu society and took steps for the uplift of the downtrodden. During the First World War, he also strongly opposed the recruitment of soldiers from Haryana for the British Army.
When on July 15, 1922, the young freedom fighter was released from Mianwali Jail, which is now in Pakistan (and is famous for once counting Sheikh Mujibur Rehman among its inmates), people welcomed him all along the way to Bhiwani.
A large crowd gathered at the Bhiwani railway station to receive their leader, who had put their hometown on the map of the country’s freedom struggle. A major college in Rohtak is named after Pt. Neki Ram and so is the district library in Bhiwani. He died on June 8, 1956.