Pandurang Mahadev Bapat was a freedom fighter of India who is known for uniquely combining the diverse revolutionary and Gandhian ideologies. He is also remembered today as an environmental activist, and an advocate of 'public cleanliness'.
Born on 12th November 1880 in a lower-middle-class family at Parner in the Ahmednagar district, Bapat joined the Deccan College in Pune for higher education. It was here that he came in contact with Damodar Balwant Bhide, a member of the Chapekar club, who initiated Bapat into the revolutionary movement. In 1904, after securing the Mangaldas Nathubai Scholarship, Bapat went to England to study engineering at the Herriot-Watt-College, in Edinburgh. Here he came into contact with socialist and Russian revolutionaries and also with V. D. Savarkar. On the advice of the latter, Bapat went to Paris to learn the technique of bomb-making.
Armed with a ’bomb manual' and two revolvers, Bapat returned to India in 1908. He disseminated the knowledge of bomb-making amongst the Indian revolutionaries. Bapat wanted to build a country-wide network before starting the struggle against the British. However, his advice was not heeded.
In 1908 the Alipore Bombing took place and Bapat had to go underground. However, he could not evade the police and got arrested in 1912, and was imprisoned for 3 years. On being released in 1915, he started working as an assistant editor of the 'Mahratta’, a newspaper owned by Tilak.
In the 1920s Bapat became attracted to the methods and philosophy of Swaraj advocated by Gandhi. Consequently, from 1921 till 1923, he led the Mulshi Satyagraha to protest against the construction of a dam by the Tata Company in Pune which would have meant the loss of land and livelihoods for the farmers. It was his anti-dam Satyagraha that earned him the title of Senapati, which means a ‘commander’.
The Mulshi Satyagraha led to his arrest and the subsequent imprisonment for almost seven years. On being released from jail in 1931, he was made the President of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC). In 1939 he participated in the Hyderabad Satyagraha. He also initiated the cleaning of public places and himself swept streets with a broom.
On August 15, 1947, on the day of independence, Bapat raised the Indian national flag over the city of Pune for the first time. However, it did not mean an end of his political life as he went on to participate in the liberation movement of Goa and the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement.
Although not known for writing any major political treatise, Bapat expressed his political thought through pamphlets, letters, statements and essays. He also used poetry to set forth his views, through works such as Chaitanya Gatha, Geeta-Hriday, Geeta Sevak, and several other poems composed in Marathi, Hindi, English and Sanskrit.
As a mark of tribute, two streets, one each in the city of Mumbai and Pune, have been named after him. In 1977 a postage stamp was also issued in his name.