Meanwhile Nagpur was passing through a harrowing period. Plague epidemic had broken out. People were deserting the town in hordes. The death stalked everyone.
Every face had a pair of terror struck eyes.
But the brother of Keshava, Mahadeva stayed put in his house. He was following in the foot steps of the parents. He would not listen to any one. A lot of people advised him to take discretion as the better part of valour. Mahadeva had turned deaf to all pleas.
Keshava too argued with his brother in favour of the departure. Mahadeva stood his shaky ground.
He would pay the price of his obstinacy.
A few days later he ran fever. Boils and rashes appeared on his feet. Desperate Keshava brought in the best doctors of the town to get his brother treated. But it helped little.
The condition of Mahadeva deteriorated. And one day he breathed his last. The death of the brother was a severe blow to Keshava.
He could not change what was fated.
After Mahadeva’s death, another elder brother of Keshava, Sitaram pressed for an early marriage of his freshly qualified doctor brother.
For the people around Dr. Keshava could be a prize catch for their daughters. The winner would be a lucky wife of a prosperous doctor, so everyone thought.
Keshava told his brother that he was not interested in marriage and that he had a different mission in life. But the families of the prospective brides raised the sales pitch for the most eligible bachelor who was a qualified doctor on the verge on being a money spinner. The prospectors approached the uncle of Keshava and offered hefty dowry in the manner of auction bids.
Keshava learnt about it and wrote a letter to the uncle to the following effect—
‘Respected uncle, I want to serve the cause of the country without any distraction. My life is pledged to Bharat Mata. There is no place for personal pleasures or family in my life. I might be required to sacrifice my life for the country or I may be jailed for life. I do not want any one condemned to widowhood. So, I have decided not to marry at all.’
After that no one dared to talk to Keshava about the marriage.
That was the period when Europe was in the throes of the I Word War. The British were upto their necks in the war and were facing reverses. Indian British army had gone to Europe to join the war. Thus, the British army in India had thinned out. It encouraged the revolutionaries to resume militancy acts to harass the authorities.
The plan for the armed strikes was made in Bengal and the appointments for regional commands were made. Keshavarao was given the charge of Vidarbha and Madhya Pradesh regions. He accepted the challenge and prepared to put things in motion.
Vaidya Bhauji Kanwre was one of the close friends of Keshava. He had taken part in 1908 revolutionary activities. Vaidya gladly agreed to help Keshava raise the organsation. The fact was that in his boyhood Keshava had run errands for Vaidya Bhauji Kanwre.
Thus, in a way the two were old associates.
Keshava and Vaidya started moving around the areas befriending the youth and preaching patriotism. They were spreading hatred against the colonial rule. Some youth would be extra receptive to the preachings and they would join the revolutionary organisation to play active roles. The two toured scores of villages and towns of Vidarbha and Madhya Pradesh.
In a short period a large revolutionary group came up. The members collected money through small contributions from the people. With that money a gun and revolver factory was set up. The production began in earnest. The youth started shooting practice in the denseness of the jungles.
During that period there was a military garrison at a place called Kanthi near Nagpur. Some revolutionaries managed to procure some weapons from the officials of the garrison.
Once the revolutionaries learnt that the British were despatching some military ammunition and armaments through a train that was to briefly halt at Nagpur. Keshava hatched a plot to loot the train.
The revolutionaries in army uniforms marched in to the railway station and flagged down the armament train when it arrived. No one suspected them. The railway staff thought that it was the concerned army unit. The disguised revolutionaries unloaded some boxes and walked out with the loot. The railway security guards failed to detect them.
Later the authorities came to know of the truth and the realisation dawned on them that some militant group had outsmarted them.
It shocked the administration and red balloon went up. The police searched for the militants in army uniforms. The militants remained untraceable. Keshava had got all the uniforms burnt to ashes and the ashes were thrown into a drain.
It was the mission successful.
As the larger part of the British Indian army was engaged in Europe Keshava was of the opinion that all the Indian political leaders must unanimously declare the country liberated of the alien rulers. He wanted the declaration to be published in all the english and vernacular newspapers all over India simultaneously.
He revealed his idea to Dr. Munje. But Munje thought that it was impracticable.
Keshava discussed his idea with other leaders also but no one supported him. Later, Keshava went to Pune to meet Lokmanya Tilak. Doctor Munje had written an introductory letter for his benefit. Keshava gave the letter to Tilak who was very busy on that day.
Still he took time out and played host to Keshavarao. They exchanged views. Tilak was very impressed with the declaration idea of the former. But he also knew that the idea was not practicable inspite of being attractive.
Tilak advised Keshava to visit Shivneri fort for inspiration. This was the fort where Chattrapati Shivaji was born. For Tilak himself if was a kind of spiritual pilgrim centre. Keshava obeyed the advice of the elder statesman.
Meanwhile, the youngmen were enthusiastically joining the revolutionary outfit of Keshava. They were being put through stringent tests to discover the worthy ones. After passing the test the young revolutionaries were asked to take a pledge dedicating their lives to the cause of the organisation.
Vaidya used to devise various modes to test the sincerity and the determination of a volunteer.
Once he came upon a well near village in Nagpur area accompanied by three revolutionary recruits. He asked them to jump into the well. The two boys peeped into the well and stepped back in fright.
The third one jumped into the well without flinching. Vaidya too jumped after him into the well and brought him out safely.
The third one had passed the test.
The recruits were given the inspiring biographies of famous revolutionaries besides being imparted the arms training. After that the revolutionaries took an oath of secrecy and dedication to the organisation.
Meanwhile the I World War ended in 1918 with the defeat of Germany. The British had become cocky and more arrogant at least in India.
They were now determined to crush the rebellions in India ruthlessly. Their barbaric attitude shocked everyone. Anyone talking of human right or civil liberties was put in jail.
Many people who had earlier rejected the idea of ‘Declaration of Independence’ proposed by Keshava were feeling sorry because it might have worked.
The worst was already happening. There were some people who were talking in a resigned manner saying that God was with British. Opposing them could a sin. It was all the work of fate.
It was the nadir of hopelessness. There was frustration all around.
But Keshavarao was his old hopeful and cheerful self. He was full of plans. His enthusiasm made an acquaintance ask, “Doctor brother you don’t look hopeless like all other people around. What keeps you cheered up?”
“We are faithfuls of Lord Shiva. There is no victory or defeat for us. We believe in our work and mission. Disappointments don’t trouble us. We find new ways to deal with the new situations. Some way is bound to lead us to our destination sooner or later,” Doctor Keshavarao replied.
Keshava saw great hope in growing activities of Congress party and its snowballing popularity. He became an active members of the party and attended all the public meetings organised by it in and around Nagpur.
Whenever he got a chance to speak he delivered fiery speeches against the colonial British drawing huge public support and applause. He became more and more involved in the Congress politics.
After the Word War Indian Muslims got divided in two camps. One was involved in Khilafat movement which was against the colonial rule in Muslim Turkey. The other group was in favour of keeping away from the problems of the Muslims of another country.
Mahatma Gandhi was trying to bring peace between the two groups and forge unity between Hindus and unified Muslims to fight for the independence of the country.
Keshavarao was against the Khilafat movement considering it against the interests of India. But he continued to go along Gandhiji being a Congressman. He did not want to raise the flag of rebellion and then Gandhiji was a towering leader who commanded the respect of the partymen.
Meanwhile Homerule League movement was in full swing in the country. In Madhya Pradesh the followers of Lokmanya Tilak were in control of the party. For Keshava Tilak was his political inspiration.
So, he toured the state propagating the movement. Tilak followers had set up an organisation called ‘Rashtriya Mandal’. Its aim was to gain independence from British through peaceful, non-violent and constitutional means. Keshavarao worked for the organisation for quite some time inspite of not
agreeing with its policies which to him looked impracticable. He thought that winning freedom through peaceful and non-violent means was foolish dream. Many other fellow members were in agreement with Keshava.
So, Keshava and like minded members founded a separate organisation called ‘Nagpur National Union’ which had discipline based rules and regulations. Keshava believed in strong organisation to strive for a clear cut objective.
He set up another organisation with the cooperation of Doctor Paranjpe called ‘Bharat Swayam Sevak Sangh’ which was to be a cadre based outfit.
Keshava’s own ideology formed its fundamental guiding principles.
In 1920, Congress was to hold its annual session in Nagpur. The name of Lokmanya Tilak was already agreed upon for the presidentship of the session.
On behalf of the ‘Welcome Committee’ of the session Keshava toured the entire state urging the people to take part in it. But unfortunately Tilak passed away before the session.
It came as a great shock to the Congress workers. The Congress cadres were dismayed. The loss of Tilak was irreparable. But Keshavarao kept up his morale and did not lose hope.
He went to Arvindo Ghosh with Dr. Munje. The two requested Arvindo Gosh to preside over the Nagpur Congress Session.
Arvindo Ghosh was living at Pondicherry doing spiritual meditation. He had been an ardent Tilak follower. He had shifted to Pondy from Calcutta after getting frustrated with the repressive policies of the British and the police brutality.
The police harassment was too much for him to carry on with the political work. All the hardliners of the Congress party wanted to bring him back to the active politics.
The Nagpur session was to begin on 26th Sept. 1920. Keshava put forward a resolution demanding total independence from the foreign rule before the Congress Working Committee prior to the session.
He also met Gandhiji to seek his support for the resolution.
The Congress Session began at a grand scale. Keshava and Paranjpe served as the leaders of the Congress volunteers. But the session came as a disappointment when Congress rejected a resolution demanding cow-protection to appease the sentiments of the devout Hindus. The leaders did not want to antagonise Muslims by raking up controversial religious issue.
Keshavarao was one of those who saw independent India as the homeland of Hindus where basic beliefs of Hindu religion would be made the fundamental principles. He also thought that the freedom struggle would not succeed by uniting the Hindus and Muslims.
According to him the effort gave importance to Muslims which created separatist tendencies in them insulating them from the national integration.
Keshavarao openly propagated his views in Madhya Pradesh and won a large following. They sided with him in the freedom effort.
He used to criticize the British rule in fiery words. His inflammatory speeches drew the attention of the authorities. The public activities of Keshavarao were banned for a month. It made no impression on Keshavarao.
He carried on his anti-British agenda.
The British reacted by filing a case against him charging him of treason. The authorities had hoped that Keshava would own his crime and desist from contesting the case. But Keshavarao decided to defend himself in the court of law.
Several lawyers of Nagpur were friends with Keshava. They willingly volunteered to fight the case on his behalf.
But the British judge of the Nagpur court was a very arrogant person. He took particular pleasure in humiliating Indian lawyers. Before the case could start the lawyers of Nagpur decided to boycott the court of that judge.
Thus, Keshavarao was forced to plead his own case.
He went to the court and read out a written statement—
‘The speech I gave before the public was very simple. Still the government has charged me with the offence of treason. I want to make it clear that winning freedom of India is the basic aim of my life. For the freedom every Indian must struggle and strive for. British can never understand our feelings because they are cruel imposters. The courts set up by them can not deal us justice. Why would they? They don’t know what the justice is. Those whose very business is to do injustice to others are strangers to justice or fair deal. The British have established their rule in India through brute force. But they don’t know the power of the human spirit. That is what we shall show them. Through my speeches I have tried to kindle the flame of patriotism in the hearts of my countrymen. And it will be carried on at all costs. The aliens should understand that their days in this land are now numbered. They will have to depart sooner than later.’
The statement shocked the judge and stirred up his anger. His anger reflected in his judgement—
‘Your speech is the most vitriolic and vicious I have ever heard. You are being sentenced to rigorous imprisonment of one year’.
After the delivery of the judgement the court adjourned.
The well wishers and the friends of Keshavarao were waiting outside the court. A crowd of curious onlookers was also there. The word spread around about what was going on inside the court.
As soon as Keshava emerged out of the courtroom the crowd hailed him. The well-wishers garlanded him. Keshava was forced to speak to the gathering. He calmly said—
“Friends! We have taken a pledge to serve the country. We must face all the hardships and punishments bravely in the course of our duty to the motherland. I am going to serve a prison sentence this time. Next time it can be gallows. But that does not matter. Without ultimate sacrifice the freedom won’t come. Until we expose the meanness of the British before the world we can’t sit in comfort or take rest. With firmness the British will be driven out of our land. I am going in for one year. We shall meet again only after that period.”
Keshavarao greeted everyone with folded hands and allowed himself to be escorted by the policemen to the jail.
The crowed again raised slogans hailing him.
Keshavarao had never before gone to the prison but he had heard a lot about the life in the British jail. As he was engaged in anti-government activities for a long time he had mentally prepared himself to being a prisoner as an inevitable outcome.
So, he was not panicky. He walked away calmly thinking of his future plans.
In jail, he met several characters. There was a man who was extremely short tempered. Even trivial matters would send him in fits of rage. Then, there a gentlemen who was very small hearted. Even a small unfavourable thing would throw him in depressive mood. Keshavarao would often try to put him at ease. And then there was a Muslim prisoner. One day he uttered an uncharitable remark against cow. An enraged Hindu youth at once pounced at him. The two grappled. Keshava jumped between them and separated the two.
He was able to calm them down.
There were prisoners of all age groups, caste and creeds. There always was some ill feeling and altercation breaking out between the antagonistic prisoners. Most of the time it was Keshava who would play the peace maker.
His friendly nature had won many a heart and he had earned the respect of the most of the prisoners.
One year went by and Keshavarao’s prison term ended.
Strangely he had become a fat man. He had outsized his earlier dresses. He was now heavier by 25 pounds. Most of the prisoners used to come out of the prisons sick, weak and thinned down.
It was a surprise for several friends. One of them asked, “What made you so fat?”
“A good digestive power. My stomach extracted every bit of nutritive elements from the one year sentence,” Keshava joked.
In jail, Keshavarao had spent his idle hours in mulling over the social and the political situations of the country. He had analysed the developments in those fields to work out his own solutions to the problems. He had evolved his own line of thinking and socio-political ideology.