Sunday, July 24, 2011

Role of Mahatma Gandhi in India's Struggle for Freedom

The third and last phase of the national movement began in 1919 when the era of popular mass movement was initiated. During the First World War, the Allies had declared that the War was being fought in defence of democracy and the right of nations to self-determination. But after their victory they showed little willingness to end colonial rule. While the British Government made half-hearted attempt at constitutional reform, it also made it clear that it had no intention to part with political power. Instead of democratic progress had come further restrictions of civil liberties. The Rowlatt Act came like a sudden blow. Unrest spread in the country and a powerful agitation against the Act arose. During this agitation a new leader, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, took command of the nationalist movement.

Gandhiji was born in a well to do Hindu family of Porbander in Gujarat on October2, 1869. He went to England for studies in 1881 and qualified for bar. He returned to India in 1891 and began his practice in Bombay High Court. In 1893 he went to South Africa. He stayed there up to 1914 with two breaks in between. He had evolved in his struggle against racialism[ apartheid] in South Africa a new form of struggle- non cooperation- and a new technique of struggle- satyagraha- which could be practiced against the British in India. He would accept sufferings willingly in the course of struggle against the wrong-doer. He would never bow down before evil whatever the consequences. In Gandhi’s eyes non-violence was not a weapon of the weak and the cowardly. Only the strong and brave could practise it.

Another important aspect of Gandhi’s outlook was that he would not separate thought and practice, belief and action. Gandhiji had an immense faith in the capacity of the common people to fight. Gandhiji returned to India in 1915 at tha age of 46. In 1916 he founded the Sabarmathi Ashram at Ahmedabad where his friends and followers were to learn and practise the ideas of truth and non-violence. He also set out to experiment with his new method of struggle.

Champaran Satyagraha[1917]

Gandhiji’s first experience in satyagraha came in 1917 in Champaran, a district in Bihar. The peasantry on the indigo plantations was excessively oppressed by the European planters. They were compelled to grow indigo on at least 3\20th of their land and to sell it at prices fixed by the planters.

Having heard of Gandhi’s campaigns in South Africa, several peasants of Champaran invited him to come and help them. Gandhiji reached Champaran in 1917 and began to conduct a detailed inquiry into the conditions of the peasantry. The district officials ordered him to leave Champaran, but he defied the order and was willing to face trial and imprisonment. This forced the Government to cancel its earlier order and to appoint a committee of inquiry on which Gandhiji served as a member. Ultimately the disabilities from which the peasantry was suffering were reduced and Gandhiji had won his first battle of civil obedience in India.

Ahmedabad Mill Strike[1918]

In 1918, Gandhiji intervened in a dispute between the workers and mill-owners of Ahmedabad. He advised the workers to go on strike and to demand a 35% increase in wages. He insisted that the workers should not use violence against the mill-owners during the strike. He undertook a fast unto death to strengthen the workers resolve to continue the strike. His fast put pressure on the mill-owners who relented on the fourth day and agreed to give the workers a 35% increase in wages.

Kheda Peasant Struggle[1918]

In 1918 crops failed in the Kheda district in Gujarat but the government refused to reduce land revenue and insisted on its full collection. Gandhiji supported the peasants and advised them to withhold payment of revenue till their demand for its remission was met. The struggle was withdrawn when it was learnt that the government had issued instructions that revenue should be recovered only from those peasants who could afford to pay. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel became Gandhiji’s follower during this struggle.

These experiences brought Gandhiji in close contact with the masses whose interests he actively exposed all his life. In time he became the symbol of poor India, nationalist India and rebellious India. Three causes were very dear to Gandhiji’s among the masses. Thousands of peasants in U.P and Bengal responded to the call of non-co-operation. In the Punjab the Sikhs were leading a non-violent movement known as Akali movement, to remove corrupt mahants from the Gurudwarasheart. The first was Hindu-Muslim unity, the second, the fight against untouchability, and the third, the raising of the social status of women in the country.

The Rowlatt Act[1919]

While trying to appease the Indians, the Government of India was ready with repression. The Government decided to arm itself with more far-reaching powers, which went against the accepted principles of rule of rule, to be able to suppress those nationalists who would refuse to be satisfied with the reforms. In March 1919, it passed the Rowlatt Act. This Act authorized the Government to imprison any person without trial. The Act would enable the Government to suspend the right of Habeas Corpus which had been the foundation of civil liberties in Britain.

Satyagraha Against the Rowlatt Act

Gandhiji was aroused by the Rowlatt Act. In February 1919 he founded the Satyagraha Sabha. Its members took a pledge to disobey the Act and thus to court arrest. Here was new method of struggle. Big meetings and demonstrastions, refusal to cooperate with the government, boycott of foreign cloth and schools or individual acts of terrorism were the only forms of political work known to the nationalists. Satyagraha immediately raised the movement to a higher level. Nationalists could now act, instead of merely agitating and giving only verbal expression to their dissatisfaction and anger.

Gandhiji asked the nationalist workers to go to the villages. That is where India lives, he said. He increasingly turned the face of nationalism towards the common man and the symbol of this transformation was to be Khadi, which soon became the uniform of the nationalists. The people responded magnificently to Gandhi’s call. March and April 1919 witnessed a remarkable political awakening in India. There were hartals, strikes, and demonstrations. The entire country was electrified.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre[1919]

The Government was determined to suppress the mass agitation. Gandhiji gave a call for a mighty hartal on 6th April 1919. The people responded with unprecedented enthusiasm. The government decided to meet the popular protest with repression, particularly in the Punjab. At this time was perpetrated one of the worst crimes in modern history.

A large but unarmed crowd had gathered on 13 April 1919 at Amritsar in the Jallianwala Bagh, to protest the arrest of their popular leaders, Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr. Satyapal. General Dyer, the military commander of Amritsar decided to terrorise the people of Amritsar into complete submission. Jallianwala Bagh was a large open space which was enclosed on three sides by buildings and had only one exit. He surrounded the Bagh with his army unit, closed the exit with his troops, and then ordered his men to shoot into the trapped crowd with rifles and machine-guns. Thousands were killed and wounded. After this massacre, martial law was proclaimed throughout the Punjab and the people were submitted to the most uncivilized atrocities. Popular shock was expressed by Rabindranath Tagore who renounced his knighthood in protest.

The Non-Cooperation Movement

The Congress met in a special session in September 1920 at Calcutta. The Congress supported Gandhi;s plan for non-cooperation with the government till the Punjab and Khilafat wrongs were removed and swaraj was established. The people were asked to boycott government educational institutions, law courts and legislatures, to give up foreign cloth and to practise hand-spinning and hand-weaving for producing khadi. Congressmen immediately withdrew from elections, and the voters too largely boycotted them.

The non co-operation resolution was endorsed in the Nagpur Session of the Congress held in Dec1920. The annual session of the Congress was held at Nagpur in December 1920. The Nagpur session also made changes in the constitution of the Congress. Provincial Congress Committees were reorganized on the basis of linguistic areas. The Congress was now to be led by a Working Committee of 15 members.The Congress now changed its character. It became the leader of the masses in their national struggle for freedom from foreign rule. Moreover, Hindus and Muslims were marching sholder to shoulder.

The years 1921 and 1922 were to witness an unprecedented movement of the Indians. Thousands of students left schools and colleges and joined national schools and colleges. It was at this time that the Jamia Millia Islamia[National Muslim University] of Aligarh, the Bihar Vidyapith, the Kashi Vidyapith and the Gujarat Vidyapith came into existence. The Jamia Millia later shifted to Delhi. Hundreds of lawyers including Chittaranjan Das, popularly known as Deshabandhu, gave up their legal practice. The Tilak Swaraj Fund was started to finance the Non Co-operation movement and within six months over a crore of rupees were subscribed. Women showed great enthusiasm and freely offered their jewellery. Boycott of foreign cloth were organized all over the land. Huge bonfires of foreign cloth were organized all over the land. Khadi soon became the symbol of freedom.

The Government took recourse to repression. The activities of the Congress and Khilafat workers were declared illegal. By the end of 1921 all important nationalist leaders, except Gandhiji, were behind bars. In November 1921 huge demonstrations greeted the Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne, during his tour of IndiaIn Bombay government tried to suppress the demonstration killing 53 persons.

The movement had spread deep, their places of worship. On 1st February 1922, Mahatma Gandhi announced that he would start mass civil disobediance, including non-payment of taxes, unless within seven days the political prisoners were released and tha Press freed from government control.

The Chauri-Chaura Incident[1922]

On 5th February 1922 a Congress procession of 3000 peasants at Chauri-Chaura, a village in U.P. was fired upon by the police. The angry crowd attacked and burnt the police station causing the death of 22 policemen. Other incidents of violence by crowds had occurred earlier in different parts of the country. Gandhiji was convinced that the nationalist workers had not yet properly understood nor learned the practice of non-violence without which, he was convinced, civil disobedience could not be a success. He believed that the British would be able to easily crush a violent movement, for people had not yet built up enough strength to resist massive government repression. He therefore decided to suspend the non- cooperation movement.

The Congress Working Committee met at Bardoli on 12 February passed a resolution stopping all activities which would lead to breaking of laws. It urged the Congressmen to donate their time to the constructive programme. The Government arrested Mahatma Gandhi and charged him with spreading disaffection against the government.

Very soon the Khilafat question also lost relevance. The people of Turkey rose under the leadership of Mustafa Kamal Pasha and deprived sultan of his political power. Mustafa Kamal Pasha abolished the Caliphate and separated the state from religion. He nationalized education, granted women extensive rights, introduced legal codes based on European models and took steps to introduce modern industries. All these steps broke the back of the Khilafat agitation.

The Non Co-operation movement had far reaching results. Nationalist movement had now reached the remotest corners of the land. Millions of peasants, artisans and urban poor had been brought into the national movement. Women had been drawn into the movement. It is this politicization of millions of men and women that imparted a revolutionary character to the Indian national movement.

Boycott of the Simon Commission

In 1927, the British government appointed the Indian Statutory Commission, known popularly after the name of its chairman as the Simon Commission, to go into the question of further constitutional reform. All the members of the commission were EnglishmenThis announcement was greeted by a chorus of protest from all Indians. What angered them most was the exclusion of Indians from the Commission and the basic notion behind this exclusion that the foreigners would discuss and decide upon India’s fitness for self government.

The national Congress decided to boycott the Commission. The Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha decided to support the Congress decision. On 3 February 1922, the day the Commission reached Bombay, an all India hartal was organized. Whereever the Commission went, it was greeted with hartals and black flag demonstrations under the slogan Simon Go Back. The government used brutal suppression and police attacks to break the popular opposition. Lala Lajpat Rai succumbed to the injuries which he received in the police lathi charge at Lahore.

Nehru Report

The British Government justified the exclusion of Indians from the Commission on the plea that ther were vital differences among the various Indian political parties. They also challenged them to produce and submit an agreed constitution. All important Indian leaders and parties tried to meet the challenge of the Simon Commission by getting together and trying to evolve an alternative scheme of constitutional reforms. Several conferences of leading political workers were held. The end result was the Nehru Report named after its chief architect, Motilal Nehru, and finalized in August 1928. Unfortunately, the All Party Convention, held at Calcutta in December 1928, failed to pass the Report. Objections were raised by some of the communal-minded leaders belonging to the Muslim League, the Hindu Maha Sabha and the Sikh League. Communalism began to grow steadly after this.

Lahore Congress and Poorna Swaraj

Gandhi came back to active politics and attended the Calcutta session of the Congress in 1928. He now began to consolidate the nationalist ranks. The first step was to reconcile the militant left-wing of the Cingress. Jawaharlal Nehru was now made the President of the Congress at the historic Lahore session of 1929.

The Lahore session of the Congress gave voice to the new, militant spirit. It passed a resolution declaring Poorna Swaraj [Complete Independence] to be the Congress objective. On 31 December 1929 the newly adopted tricolour flag of freedom was hoisted. 26 June 1930 was fixed as the first Independence Day. The Congress session also announced the launching of a civil disobedience movement. But it did not draw up a programme of struggle. That was left to Mahatma Gandhi.

The Civil Disobedience Movement

The Lahore Congress had left the choice of the methods of non-violent struggle for Poorna Swaraj to Gandhi. He placed 11 points of administrative reforms before the British government. His important demands were [a] Salt tax should be abolished, [b] salaries of the highest grade services should be reduced, [c] Military expenditure should be reduced, and [d] All political prisoners should be discharged.

The government response to Gandhi’s demands was negative. The Civil Disobedience Movement was started by Gandhi on 12 March 1930 with his famous Dandi March. Together with 78 chosen followers, Gandhi walked nearly 375 km from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, a village on the Gujarat sea coast. On 6 April Gandhiji reached Dandi, picked up a hand full of salt and broke the salt law as a symbol of the Indian people’s refusal to live under British made laws.

The movement spread very quickly. Violation of salt laws all over the country was followed by defiance of forest laws in Maharashtra, Karnataka and the Central Provinces. And refusal to pay the chaukidatri tax in Eastern India. Every where in the country people joined in hartals, demonstrations, and the campaign to boycott foreign goods and to refuse to pay taxes. Lakhs of Indians offered satyagraha. A notalable feature of the movement was the wide participation of women. Thousands of them left the seclusion of their homes and offered satyagraha. They took active part in picketing shops selling foreign cloth or liquor. They marched shoulder to shoulder with men in processions.

The movement stirred the brave and hardy pathans of north-western India. Under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffer Khan, popularly known as the Frontier Gandhi. The Pathans organized the society of Khudai Khidmadgars [or Servants of God] known popularly as Red Shirts. They were pledged to non-violence and the freedom struggle. Two platoons of Garhwali soldiers refused to open fire on non-violent mass demonstrators. This episode showed that national;ism was beginning to penetrate the Indian army. In the eastern corner of India the Manipuris took a brave part in the movement. Nagaland produced a brave heroine, Rani Gaidilieu, who at the age of 13 responded to the call of Congress and raised the banner of rebellion against the foreign rule. The Rani was captured in 1932 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Government tried to crush the movement through ruthless repression, lathi charges and firing on unarmed crowds of men and women. Over 90000 satyagrahis , including Gandhiji, were imprisoned. The Congress was declared illegal. The nationalist press was gagged through strict censorship of news. The police often beat up men just for wearing khadi or Gandhi caps.

First Round Table Conference [1930]: The British Government summoned the First Round Table Conference of Indian leaders and spokemen of the British Government in 1930 in London to discuss the Simon Commission Report. But the National Congress boycotted the Conference and it failed to achieve its goals.

Gandhi-Irwin Pact[1931]: The Government made attempts to negotiate an agreement with the Congress so that it would attend the Round Table Conference. Finally, Lord Irwin and Gandhiji negotiated a settlement in March 1931. The Government agreed to release those political prisoners who had remained non-violent and conceded the right to make salt for consumption as also the right to peaceful picketing of liquor and foreign cloth shops. The Congress suspended the Civil Disobedience Movement and agreed to take part in the Second Round Table Conference.

Second Round Table Conference: Gandhiji went to England in September 1931 to attend the Second Round Table Conference. The British Government refused to concede the basic nationalist demand for freedom on the basis of the immediate grant of Dominion Status.

The Government prepared to crush the Congress. Government repression succeeded in the end, helped as it was by the differences among Indian leaders on communal and other questions. The Congress officially suspended the movement in May 1933 and withdrew it in May 1934. Gandhiji once again withdrew from active politics. The movement had succeeded in further politicizing the people, and in further deepening the social roots of the freedom struggle.

The Communal Award: The Government arrested Gandhiji in January 1932 and unleashed a reign of terror. The communal problem gripped the nation’s attention. In August 1932 Ramsay Macdonald, the British Prime Minister announced the proposal on minority representation known as the Communal Award. It recommended to double the existing seats in provincial legislatires, to retain a system of separate electorates for minorities, to grant weightage to Muslims in provinces where they were in minority and to recognize depressed class as minority and make them entitled to the right of separate electorates.

The Poona Pact: Gandhiji reacted strongly to the proposal of granting the right of separate electorate to the depressed classes. He regarded them as an integral part of the Hindu society. He resorted to a fast unto death. In an anxiety to save his life the Poona Pact was signed between Gandhiji and Ambedkar. The main provisions of the Poona Pact were:

1.It was agreed to allot 148 seats to the depressed classes in the provincial legislatures as against 71 promised by the communal award.

2.It was promised that a certain percentage of seats allotted to the general non Muslim electorate would be reserved for the depressed classes.

3.The principle of joint electorate was accepted.

The Congress Ministries: The Congress ministries could not change the basically imperialist character of the British administration in India. But they did try to improve the condition of the people within the narrow limits of the powers given to them under the Act of 1935. The Congress ministries reduced their own salaries. Most of them traveled second or third class on the railways. They set up new standards of honesty and public service. They promoted civil liberties, repealed restrictions on the press and radical organizations, permitted trade unions and kisan organizations to function and released political prisoners including a large number of revolutionary terrorists. The Congress governments introduced prohobition in selected areas, undertook Harijan uplift, and paid grater attention to primary, higher and technical education and public health. Support was given to khadi and other village industries.

National Movement during the Second World War

Resignation of Congress Ministries: The Second World War broke out in September 1939. The Congress urged the government to declare war aims. The British authorities issued contradictory statements about the war aims. The British government involved in the war without consulting the national leaders. The Viceroy assumed emergency powers under the defence of India rules. Protesting against such policies of government, the Congress ministries in the provinces resigned in October 1939.

The National Congress was in full sympathy with the victims of fascist aggression. It was willing to help the forces of democracy in their struggle against fascism. But, the Congress leaders asked, how was it possible for an enslaved nation to aid others in their fight for freedom? T6hey therefore demanded that India must be declared free or at least effective power put in Indian hands before it could actively participate in the War.The government reused to accept this demand and tried to pit the religious minorities and Prices against the Congress. Therefore, the Congress asked its ministries to resign.

August Offer: In August 1940 the Viceroy announced an offer which proposed the expansion of Governor General’s Council with representation of the Indians and establishing a war advisory council. The Viceroy promised the Muslim League that the British government would never agree to a constitution or government in India which did not enjoy their support. The Congress was wholly disappointed with the August Offer.

Individual Satyagraha: In October 1940, Gandhi gave a call for a limited satyagraha by a few selected individuals. The satyagraha was kept limited so as not to embarrass Britain’s war effort by a mass upheaval in India. Vinoba Bhave was the first to offer satyagraha. By 15 May 1941, more than 25000 satyagrahis had been jailed.

Japanese Threat and the Cripps mission.

Two major changes in world politics occurred in 1941. Germany attacked Soviet Union and Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, an American fleet. Japan occupied Rangoon in March 1942. This brought the war to India’s doorstep. The Congress leaders denounced Japanese aggression and once again offered to cooperate in the defence of India and the Allied cause if Britain transferred the substance of power to India immediately and promised complete independence after the war.

The British government now desperately wanted the active cooperation of Indians in the war effort. To secure this cooperation it sent to India in March 1942 a mission headed by a Cabinet Minister, Sir Stafford Cripps. Important proposals of Cripps were [a] dominion status would be granted to India immediately after the war with the right to secede,[b] immediately after the cessation of hostilities a constitution making body would be set up, [c] The constitution so framed after the war would be accepted by the British government on the condition that any Indian province could, if so desired, remain outside the Indian union, and [d] the actual control of defence and military operations would be retained by the British government.

The British government refused to accept the Congress demand for immediate transfer of effective power to Indians. The Indian leaders could not be satisfied with mere promises for the future. Gandhiji termed the Cripps Mission as a post dated cheque on a crashing bank. The Cripps mission failed to pacify Indians.

The Quit India Movement

Gandhiji becoming more and more militant as Japanese forces moved towards India. The Congress now decided to take active steps to compel the British to accept the Indian demand for independence. The All India Congress Committee met at Bombay on 8 August 1942. It passed the famous ‘Quit India’ Resolution and proposed the starting of a non-violent mass struggle under Gandhiji’s leadership to achieve this aim. Gandhiji gave a mantra, ‘Do or Die’, to the people. Gandhiji told the British to quit and ‘leave the country in God’s on hand’. Addressing the Congress delegates Gandhi said, “ I, therefore , want freedom immediately, this very night, before dawn, if it can be had. …….”

But before the Congress could start a movement, the government struck hard. Early in the morning of 9 August, Gandhi and other Congress leaders were arrested and taken to unknown destinations, and the Congress was once again declared illegal.

Left leaderless and without any organization, the people reacted in any manner they could. All over the country there were hartals, strikes in factories, schools and colleges, and demonstrations, which were lathi charged and fired upon. The movement was based on non-violent lines in the initial phase. Angered by repeated firings and repression, in many places the people took to violent actions. They attacked the symbols of British authority- the police stations, railway stations, etc. The Gandhian method of non-violent strugtgle was pushed into the back ground and people started their own methods of struggle. Barun De said, “ what started as individual acts of angry defiance, soon swelled into a movement and the movement into revolt”.

British authority disappeared in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Andra, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. In some areas, such as Ballia in Eastern U.P, Tamluk in Midnapore district of Bengal and Satara district of Bombay, the revolutionaries set up parallel governments.

In general the workers, peasants and students provided the leadership of the movement. The movement did not evoke much response from the merchant community. The Muslim League kept aloof from the movement. The Hindu Mahasabha condemned the movement. The Communist Party of India did not support the movement due to its ‘people’s war line’.

In the end the government succeeded in crushing the movement. Arrests, detention, police firing, burning of Congress offices etc. were the methods adopted by the government. India had not witnessed such intense repression since the revolt of 1857.

The importance of the Quit India movement lay in the fact that it demonstrated the depth that nationalist that nationalist feeling had reached in the country and the capacity for struggle and sacrifice that the people had developed. It was evident that the British would no longer find it possible to rule India against the wishes of the people.

Kerala also witnessed the echo of Quit India Movement in the form of meetings and processions and attacks on police stations and government offices. A major incident in connection with the movement was Kizhariyur Bomb Case in which 27 persons under the leadership of K.B.Menon were accused of conspiracy to make bombs for the purpose of destroying bgovernment buildings and bridges. K.B.Menon and twelve others were sentenced to long term imprisonment.


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