Unsung Heroes | History Corner | Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, Ministry of Culture, Government of India

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Paying tribute to India’s freedom fighters

Ganpat Laxman Kandalkar

Mumbai City, Maharashtra

May 22, 2023 to May 22, 2024

Ganpat Laxman Kandalkar was an individual actively involved in labor activism and trade unions during the early 20th century in India. He hailed from Ratnagiri District and relocated to Mumbai in search of better job prospects. Kandalkar worked as a jobber in the Simples Mill and later assumed a leadership position in the Girni Kamgar Union (GKU) after the arrest of prominent Communists in the Meerut conspiracy case.

As the  Girni Kamgar Union (GKU) president and vice-president of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Kandalkar played a role in collecting funds for the Meerut Defense Fund and supporting the Indian National Congress during the Civil Disobedience Movement. However, differences emerged within the GKU, leading to a split between Kandalkar's pro-Congress faction and the anti-Congress faction represented by the Deshpande-Randive group. Under Kandalkar's leadership, the GKU witnessed a significant increase in membership. However, he faced legal troubles and imprisonment for his involvement in a labor meeting incident and for delivering a speech advocating unity against the British government. Despite these setbacks, Kandalkar continued his activism upon release, including leading strikes and organizing celebrations for the Russian Revolution, and expressing support for striking railway workers in Madras. Over time, the GKU's membership and income grew, and Kandalkar's leadership contributed to the mobilization of textile workers during the general mill strike in 1934. He also served as the President of the AITUC and aligned with the Congress in the struggle for India's independence. In 1945, Kandalkar criticized professionals holding leadership positions in trade unions, emphasizing the importance of workers themselves leading such organizations.

Kandalkar's efforts focused on improving working conditions, wages, and welfare for workers while actively opposing British rule. Although he expressed reservations about the pacifism of the Indian National Congress and Mahatma Gandhi, Kandalkar supported Congress when necessary for the freedom movement.