Ballari: If being kicked off a train at the Pietermaritzburg railway station in South Africa set a young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the path of a non-violent freedom struggle for his countrymen in India, a century old Ballari railway station too played a significant role in his life.
It was when he had assumed leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, and was leading a nationwide campaign for easing poverty, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, and independence from foreign domination that Mahatma Gandhi visited Ballari and spent about eight hours at the railway station here on October 1 that year.
Interestingly, he had not missed his train, but was resting, away from the factionalism that was causing much infighting in the Ballari unit of the Congress at the time. When two Congress factions refused to assemble at one place to meet him, Gandhiji preferred not to meet either, and in his own unique style staged a "silent protest," staying back at the railway station for eight hours waiting for his train to continue the tour.
Spreading a cloth on the platform he slept at the railway station and continued his journey the next morning. No Congressman was present to see him off and it is said that he purchased tickets for himself and his two companions. The incident reportedly provided Gandhiji a chance to understand the "varieties of internal bickering"' at the grassroots in the then Congress party and later helped him establish an unparalleled leadership. According to a passage in Discovering Tekur Subramanyam, a commemoration volume brought out by Kannada University, Hampi, "Mahatma Gandhi, during his visit to Bellary in 1921 was disgusted with the factions in the district unit of the Congress. Gandhiji refused to visit the offices of the factions, and preferred to rest at the Bellary railway station platform for eight hours".
Bellary, which was part of the erstwhile Madras Presidecy till October 1, 1953, had two Congress committees - the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee. Seeing the committees divided on linguistic lines, Gandhiji, preferred not to bow to pressure from either and decided not to attend the programme for which he had come at all.
This incident, coming days after he assumed the leadership of the Congress, is said to have given him a better understanding of the rank and file of the party and turn it into a committed cadre-based force to fight British rule. A granite 4 ft by 5 ft plaque on the wall at the entrance of the historical platform reads, "This is the sacred place where the Mahatma spent about 8 hours on 01-10-1921 during his visit to Bellary." But sadly, it is not prominently displayed. A visitor to the railway station would find it difficult to see it at first glance, which only reflects the value that the railways place on the country's history and heritage.