Vithalrao Lakshman Kotwal, fondly known as Annasaheb Kotwal was a brave revolutionary who did not hesitate to offer himself to the sacrifice we call ‘the struggle for Indian independence’. The freedom we enjoy today is the fruit of labour by thousands of valiant fighters like Annasaheb Kotwal. Let us learn about Annasaheb’s contributions to the freedom struggle.
A brilliant academic career and the quality of leadership
Annasaheb Kotwal was born on 1st Dec. 1912 in Matheran (Maharashtra). Annasaheb was a bright student. Once his teacher graded an answer of his as incorrect. The next day Vithalrao asked his classmates not to enter the class before he did. He went alone and explained to the teacher how his maths answer was right and persuaded him to accept it. The teacher accepted and exclaimed ‘Vithal you have won and I have lost’.
Patriotism takes precedence over studies
By the time he was in Matric the fiery speeches of Tatyarao Savarkar and the sacrifices by Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagatsingh, Rajguru, Sukhdev did not allow him to sit quietly. The intensifying freedom struggle fired up his resolve. Whilst in a university in Poona, Annasaheb suddenly disappeared and landed up on the steps of the Congress House in Bombay where he signed up as a volunteer.
Annasaheb trains his guns on the Bombay Governor
The Bombay Governor was imprisoning innocent people without any rhyme or reason. This high handed nature of the Governor infuriated Annasaheb who resolved that the Governor had to pay with his life. He got hold of a pistol and went to Bombay along with his friend. They waited near the Governor’s bungalow and kept vigil. But they could not find opportunity to use the pistol. Annasaheb asked his friend to keep vigil on the bungalow of Governor. But later he came to know that the Governor had gone elsewhere. Annasaheb got very angry for the lapse on his friend’s part. The friend was so scared for his own safety that he threw the pistol away into the river in Thane and fled. Other well meaning people tried to reason with Annasaheb that violence was the right way to what he wanted to achieve. But Anna has already made up his mind that he would willingly embrace death in service of the nation, and that would prefer death to the alternative of having to backtrack!
Annasaheb quits his job
One Dr. Tukaram had taken charge of his education. At the same time he got Annasaheb employed in the capacity of a Kotwal for a princely salary of Rs.50. Annasaheb’s family heaved a sigh of relief when they learned about this and were grateful that he was now on the ‘right track’. A white sahib used to head the office where Annasaheb worked. Every morning when he arrived, all the people would stand up and salute him. However, Annasaehb refused to do so. One day, as Annasaheb kept reading his newspaper the sahib got angry and asked him why he did not pay his respects like the others did. Annasaheb replied that ‘I am paid to do my work and not to salute you’! The sahib did not like the audacious reply from the ‘Kotwal’ and ordered him to get out. Annasaheb nonchalantly replied that ‘it is not us, but you who will have to get out of my beloved Bharat! That time is quite near now’. And so, he quit his job in the very second month.
Annasaheb form the Kotwal group
The Second World war was on. Britain’s colonies including India were working to provide the Allied troops with all the support they needed. Annasaheb hatched a plan to harass the British. The Railways, the armaments producing factories in Poona and the mills in Bombay all run on Electricity. Annasaheb planned to disrupt the electricity so that all these industries would be affected and intern this would hamper British efforts in the Second World War.
Anna went in hiding. He started contacting like minded people and formed a group of individuals who came to be known as the Kotwal Group after Annasaheb’s short lived job stint.
Down go the mighty electric poles
Anna took into confidence an officer of Tata group of Companies and extracted information on how to fell the electric poles. 24th September 1942, the Kotwal group set out to bring down their first electric pole. For nearly 3 hours the work continued in pitch dark conditions. Finally they became successful in cutting their first pylon. The pole came crashing down with a defining sound. As the wires went down there were spectacular sparks around. Everybody hailed this magnificent spectacle and shouted ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. The people were so impressed by this that they resolved that they should not be found wanting. The electric poles started going down everywhere.
The British issue orders to capture Annasaheb dead or alive!
Everywhere the felling of Poles was in progress. The frustrated British issued orders to catch Kotwal live or dead. The name of Annasaheb Kotwal as the undisputed leader of the Pole-felling group started to float all around.
Annasaheb’s ultimate sacrifice
As the police increased their vigil, Annasaheb and his companions took refuge in the Sidhagadh valley. However, the police managed to trace them and ambushed them in the house they were staying in. Wounded in his thigh, Annasaheb lay wounded beneath a tree. However, the police did not dare to approach him and continued to fire into the trees. In the cluster of trees around there were signs of 60-70 bullets having been fired. More bullet marks were seen a little away. How many bullets can be fired upon a wounded individual ! After some time, a British officer named Hall came there. A policeman asked wounded Annasaheb if he was Vithalrao Kotwal. When Annasaheb confirmed it the police wanted to take him alive. However Hall had other ideas, he shot Annasaheb in the head. Annasaheb Kotwal who had tormented the British, was dead. the names of Annasaheb Kotwal and his companion Hiraji Patilare inscribed on a pole erected in Sidhagadh to commemorate the bravery of these sons of Bharatmata.
Reference : The valorous revolutionary martyr Bhai Kotwal of the Freedom movement.
– Author Shashikant Chauhan