BELGAUM: The 39th Congress Plenary chaired by Mahatma Gandhi in Belagavi in 1924 is considered one of the historic events in the pre-independence times as it gave a new fillip to the freedom struggle.
As the year marks the 96th anniversary of the plenary, a tableau featuring the event is set to be the cynosure of all eyes at the mega Republic Day ceremony in New Delhi today.
Belagavi played an instrumental role in uniting the people in the southern part of the country for the freedom movement. What added significance to the historic session in the city was the presence of stalwarts like Sarojini Naidu, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Motilal Nehru, Saifuddin Kichulu, Anne Besant and Shaukat Ali.
Many of the greatest freedom fighters from across the country figured in the only session of the Congress chaired by Gandhiji in India’s pre-independence history. Businessman and journalist Subhash Kulkarni recalls his freedom fighter father R H Kulkarni’s words about the session and the massive preparations made for it. “A large number of freedom fighters from Dharwad, Belagavi, Vijayapura, Ankola, Bengaluru and Mysuru wanted the Congress to hold the plenary session in their respective areas, but Gangadhar Rao Deshpande, a noted freedom fighter, convinced Gandhiji about the significance of having it in Belagavi,’’ says Kulkarni.
Deshpande proposed Belagavi for the 39th Congress Plenary at the previous session of the organisation held at Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh merely a year earlier and got the green signal for it.
When the preparations for Belagavi session began, Deshpande raised Rs 30,000, a huge sum then, from the Marwari community which ran garment business in Shahpur locality of the city. The local freedom fighters rallied behind Deshpande to ensure that the session was held in a grand way.
A team of freedom fighters from Belagavi had a serious task in hand to ensure the supply of drinking water to a mammoth gathering of 70,000 people at a time when the region was reeling under a water crisis. They decided to dig a huge well exclusively to provide water to the delegates. When the well was ready ahead of the session, it was named as Pampasarovara, which came to be known decades later as the Congress Well. When all preparations were made for the session, the local freedom fighters decided to name the venue as ‘Vijayanagara’ in memory of the great empire.
As soon as Gandhiji arrived at the railway station for the session, he was accorded a grand welcome and a procession was taken out from there to the venue located 1 km away. A hut was constructed for Gandhiji’s stay during the session at a cost of Rs 300. When Gandhiji learnt about it, he objected to the money spent on it. Later, the organisers auctioned the hut for Rs 200 and deposited the amount in the Congress’ account. Incidentally, when the session was being held, the Hindalga Central Prison was jam-packed with freedom fighters. Some of locals who attended the event included Annu Guruji, Srirang Kamat, Charmu Chikkannavar, Pundlik G Katgade, Gangadharao Deshpande, Appanagouda Patil, Ananthrao, Appasaheb Patwardhan,
Arvind Yalgi, Mohan Joshi, Venkareddy Hooli and Raghavendra Mandagi.To keep the memories of historic event alive, the district administration constructed a fabulous monument, called Veerasoudha, at the venue a decade ago. Several photos of the plenary are on display inside the structure.