Amarajeevi Potti Sriramulu

(This post is reproduced from my answer on Quora about Amarajeevi Potti Sriramulu here).

The best tribute to Potti Sriramulu came from Mahatma Gandhi himself

If only I have eleven more followers like Sriramulu I will win freedom  in a year.

Born in a remote hamlet in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh to Guravayya and Mahalakshmamma , in 1901, his parents migrated to Chennai( then Madras), due to the persistent drought conditions there. They lived there for some time, but Sreeramulu grew up in Nellore district, the reason why it is also named after him now. He did his schooling in Chennai, and then did a diploma in Sanitary Engineering from the prestigious VJTI in Mumbai. He joined the Great Indian Peninsular Railway in Bombay and worked there for four years. His family life, was marked by tragedy, he lost his wife in 1928 after she gave birth to a child, and the baby too died a few days letter, leaving him distraught. The twin deaths of his wife and infant, made Sriramulu lose his interest in worldly affairs, and that was when he plunged headlong into the freedom struggle inspired by Gandhi’s call.

He took part in the Salt Satyagraha and was imprisoned in 1930, and later along with the Mahatma was put in jail during the 1942 Quit India movement. Responding to Gandhi’s call for serving the rural areas, he joined the ashram at Komaravolu in Krishna district, that was established by Yerneni Subramanyam. He believed that social reform was as much needed as political independence, and worked tirelessly for it. Setting up the Hindu Sanskarana Samithi, he worked for the upliftment of Dalits and also eradication of untouchability. He went on a fast , for allowing Dalits entry into Nellore’s Venugopala Swamy Temple and was successful for it. He undertook another fast to get the Madras Government to pass orders for Dalit upliftment. In true Gandhian spirit, he also called for a widespread adoption of Charka in Nellore district.

Ostracized by most upper castes for his support to Dalits, Sriramulu neverthless did not flinch from his views. He often walked the streets of Nellore, barefoot and with no umbrella under the scorching sun, carrying placards demanding a more humane treatment to Dalits. After Mahatma Gandhi’s assasination, he attempted to spread his philosophy as director of Gandhi Memorial Fund, throughout Andhra. However the rather lukewarm response to his efforts, as also Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement, made him feel that a separate Andhra state would be a better method for it.

The demand for Andhra State was quite a long standing one, raised for the first time in 1910. Many Telugu people, felt their interests would be better served on their own, than being a part of Madras State.  The convention held at Nidadavolu in 1912, reinforced this, and subsequent ones at Bapatla, Vijayawada, Vishakapatnam also passed the resolution. Under the leadership of Annie Beasant, Congress Working Comittee  too passed a resolution, in favor of creation of linguistic states. The demand was however rejected by the British Govt, and later the Dhar Comission appointed post independence, rejected the idea.

Massive protests in coastal Andhra however made Nehru reconsider the idea, and in 1948, the JVP( Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhai Patel, Pattabhi Sitaramayya) comittee, to look into it. The JVP comittee concluded that a separate Andhra state could be formed without Madras, but this was something most Telugu people would not accept. Prior to Sriramulu, Swamy Seetharam launched a fast unto death in 1951, the Center ignored it initially. However as it went on for 35 days, and the situation was getting out of hand, Vinobha Bhave and Nehru, met Seetharam and made him break his fast, assuring him of looking into his demands.

However with Nehru going back on his promise, Sriramulu again went on a fast, this time in the home of Bulusu Sambamurthy in Chennai. Sambamurthy hailing from the Godavari districts, was a true Gandhian, and was associated for long with Andhrodayam. In 1952, when Sriramulu began his fast, no Congress leader was willing to offer him shelter, only Bulusu Sambamurthy stepped forward, and offered him his house. He would pay for his dearly later on, when the Congress party ignored him, and he died in utter penury.

In the meanwhile Sriramulu’s fast was gaining attention, Tanguturi Prakasam( who would later become the Chief Minister) visited him, while Yerneni Subramanyam wept for him. Sadly the Andhra Congress turned their back on Sriramulu and gave him no support for the fast. However the public by now was fully with Sriramulu, and massive demonstrations broke out in all major towns of Andhra.  Sriramulu’s health slowly deteriorated, on the 56th day he went into a coma, and finally on December 15, 1952, he breathed his last. The only other case where a freedom fighter fasted to death was Jatin Das in prison. Legendary singer Ghantasala composed a song in his honor, he was there when he passed away.

Sriramulu’s funeral procession drew huge crowds, slogans of “Amarajeevi Potti Sriramulu”( The Immortal one) rent the air.  Mount Road in Chennai turned into a mass of humanity, as mourners accompanied him on his last journey. The emotion soon broke out into riots, as the protesters went about breaking and destroying public property.  The riots spread like wildfire in Andhra, and 7 people were killed in firing in Anakapalle and Vijayawada.  All the major towns in Andhra, Vizag, Guntur, Nellore, Vijayawada, Tenali, Eluru erupted in fury with huge demonstrations and riots. Finally on December 19, 1952 Nehru announced the formation of Andhra State, it would be the first state in India to be formed on a linguistic basis. Andhra State was formed on Oct 1, 1953 with Kurnool as it’s capital.

Potti Sriramulu’s fast unto death, would spark off a similiar demand for other linguistic states, and the map of India would never be the same again.  His supreme sacrifice for a separate state of Andhra, would forever be remembered.

Source:  Life of Amarajeevi Potti Sriramulu

About Ratnakar Sadasyula

Blogger with a passion in movies, music,books and history. A techie by profession, and a writer at heart. Author of City of Victory a book on Vijayanagar Empire
This entry was posted in Andhra Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Formation of States, Great Indians, Indian Freedom Struggle, Modern India and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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