Gopaldas Ambaidas Desai (1887–1951) also called Darbar Gopaldas Desai was a former prince and later ruler of the State of Dhasa in Saurashtra and a noted Gandhian political and social activist. He is remembered as the first prince in India who gave up his principality to become a freedom fighter against the British Raj.
Prince and Ruler of Dhasa and Rai-Sankhli
Gopaldas was born at Vaso in the present day Kheda district of Gujarat. He was an inamdar or feudatory to the Baroda State, the ruler of the Dhasa State and a jagirdar of the Rai and Sankhli villages. He was a Vaishnavite and a Patel by caste and a Desai and Amin by title. He became the ruler of Dhasa succeeding his maternal grandfather Ambaidas who adopted him as heir to the throne. Gopaldas had been a supporter of Mohandas Gandhi and the Indian National Congress and had often given them financial support. He was a progressive ruler and began a scheme for free education in his state. Impressed by the ideas of Montessori schooling, he helped finance the first Montessori pre primary school in Dhasa in 1915.
By 1921, Gopaldas had become active in the Indian National Congress. That year he became president of the Kheda District Congress Committee. The following year, his state was confiscated and was deposed as ruler by the British after he disobeyed the British Resident General's warnings against his involvement in the national movement and extending financial support to Gandhi. Gopaldas and his wife Bhakti Lakshmidevi Desai better known as Bhaktiba became active freedom fighters from 1922. After his removal, the British proposed Gopaldas' eldest son Suryakant as the new ruler. He however rejected the offer arguing that he held the same political views as his father. The British then rejected the claims of Gopaldas' other three sons and instead appointed Gopaldas' brother Chaturbhai as the new ruler.
Following the confiscation of his estates, Gopaldas relocated to Borsad from where he participated in both the Borsad and Bardoli Satyagrahas. During the Civil Disobedience Movement, the entire Desai family was imprisoned including Gopaldas, his wife Bhaktiba, the two elder sons Mahendra and Suryakant and the youngest, then a mere six-month old, Barindra. The Desais were also active participants in the Quit India Movement. Bhaktiba became a renowned social worker and Gandhian political activist in her own right while Yog Sunder went on to become a renowned dancer and choreographer and the founder of the Indian Revival Group.
Gopaldas and Bhaktiba worked tirelessly for the Gandhian causes of eradication of untouchability and for women's education. Bhaktiba and he played a role in setting up the Kadvibai Virani Kanya Vidyalaya at Rajkot in 1946 Just after independence, in 1947, it was Darbar Gopaldas who was given the honour to lay the foundation stone of the Kirti Mandir, Porbandar, the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi.
He was elected to the Constituent Assembly of India as a member from Baroda. Gopaldas regained his estates only after India's independence when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reinstated them to Gopaldas' family. He died in 1951.
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