The Nationalist Movement of India
In India, the rise of nationalism was intricately linked with the opposition of colonialism. The revolt or Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 was the first war of Indian independence.
People realised that they were experiencing a common suffering under the oppressive British colonial rule. This understanding brought the different groups together in their anti-colonial struggle.
The event which proved instrumental in the history of the Indian Freedom Struggle was the FirstWorld War India was forced to participate in the First World War in which the British for increasing their defence expenditure levied new taxes on Indians.
Common people were the forced to enrol in the army to fight in the First World War.
During 1918 India was hit by crop failure and shortage of food grains followed by famines and outbreak of influenza.
This harsh social and political situation set the stage for the beginning of the nationalist struggle in India. The Indian freedom movement gained momentum with the coming of Mahatma Gandhi in 1915.
He had successfully tested novel ideas of non-violence and anti-colonial struggle in South Africa. He had fought for the civil He motivated diverse social groups to rise above petty differences of caste, creed, religion, region and work single-mindedly towards the common goal of freedom.
Satyagraha - Ideals and Implementation
Mahatma Gandhi infused a new life into the Indian Freedom Movement and had successfully used Satyagraha and non-violence in South Africa.
Satyagraha literally means an appeal for truth and is passive resistance used powerfully to appeal to the conscience of the oppressor.
Mahatma Gandhi successfully organised Satyagraha Movements in different parts of India. Mahatma Gandhi used the concept of Satyagraha for mass mobilisation and political movements against the injustice of the government.
In 1916, Mahatma Gandhi visited the poor peasants of Champaran district in Bihar. The British used to force the peasants of Champaran to cultivate indigo instead of food crops.
The villages in Champaran were very unhygienic and affected by social evils like the pardah system and untouchability. Mahatma Gandhi started a drive to improve the infrastructure of villages in Champaran. He started a Satyagraha movement against the oppression of peasants.
In 1917, Mahatma Gandhi visited the Kheda district in Gujarat people of which were also stricken with poverty and social evils.
Mahatma Gandhi along with Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, garnered mass support and organised a Satyagraha against the tax burden.
Another Satyagaraha movement was organised by Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad in 1918 to support the demands of the cotton mill workers.
Successful implementation of Satyagraha motivated the Indians and also paved the way for the other nationalist movements in future.
Rowlatt Act and Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre
The Satyagraha Movements by Mahatma Gandhi achieved their desired objectives and were a great success.
To control such movements, the British proposed the Rowlatt Act in 1919. The Rowlatt Act aimed to curb the political activities in the country and equipped the courts with the power to detain political prisoners without trial for two years.
Mahatma Gandhi opposed the Rowlatt Act by starting a peaceful Satyagraha. He suggested a Civil Disobedience beginning with a hartal on 6th April 1919.
The British were threatened that this mass movement could break all lines of communications in the country and so they decided to suppress the nationalists. Several local leaders were arrested and Mahatma Gandhi was prohibited from entering Delhi.
On 13th April 1919 several villagers had gathered at the Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar to attend a cattle fair on the occasion of Baisakhi. General Dyer blocked all the entry points to the ground and without any prior warning, opened fire on the hapless crowd.
The merciless firing continued for 10-15 minutes leaving hundreds of people including women and children dead and wounded.
The Jallianwalla Bagh massacre triggered many protests, strikes, and clashes with policemen and attacks on Government buildings, across North India. The British Government suppressed these protests and humiliated the Satyagrahis.
Launch of Non-Cooperation Movement
Mahatma Gandhi in his book Hind Swaraj suggested that if Indians resolved not to cooperate, the British rule would get abolished. The fall off the British rule will pave the way for Swaraj or self-governance.
In March 1919, the Ali brothers, Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali formed the Khilafat Committee in Bombay to garner support for the Turkish Khalifa. Mahatma Gandhi realised that Khilafat movement could be used to unite Muslims and Hindus for the common cause of a national movement.
He hence launched the Non-cooperation Movement in support of Khilafat. To gain maximum reach and success, Mahatma Gandhi proposed a stage by stage strategy implementation for the movement:
- The movement had to begin with a surrender of titles, honours and honorary posts by people.
- Planned to shun or boycott Civil Services, Army, Police, British Courts and Legislative Assemblies, School and Colleges and British goods.
- The British goods were to be replaced by domestic goods or Swadeshi to promote the native cottage industries.
- In case of government suppression, Civil Disobedience Movement will be launched.
- Mobilization of popular support.
After a lot of debates the Non-Cooperation Movement was adopted by the Congress during the Nagpur conference in December 1920. Under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership Non- cooperation-Khilafat Movement began in full force.
Non-cooperation Movement in Towns and Countryside
The Non-cooperation-Khilafat Movement began in 1920. Many diverse regional groups joined this movement to meet their specific objectives. Many students, teachers and headmasters joined the movement. Lawyers also gave up their legal practice and joined in.
People picketed the liquor shops and boycotted foreign goods and cloth. Some Indian traders also rejected foreign goods and foreign trade. The demand for the Indian cloth increased and the vanishing textile industry of India got a new lease of life.
The Non-cooperation movement began with an active response from the people but it slowed after a while. The Non-cooperation movement spread to the rural areas as well and coincided with the protests of peasants and tribals.
In Awadh, Baba Ramchandra, led the peasant movement. This movement demanded revenue reduction, abolition of begar and social boycott of oppressive landlords. In October 1920, Oudh Kisan Sabha was set up headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Baba Ramchandra.
The Peasant movement developed a violent streak, as the peasants attacked houses of the landlords and looted markets. Leaders misused Mahatma Gandhi’s name and ideals.
In the Gudem Hills of Andhra Pradesh, tribal peasants misinterpreted the meaning of Swaraj and had suffered a lot of oppression at the hands of the British. As a result they staged a rebellion under the leadership of a man called Alluri Sitaram Raju.
Under the new forest policy the British Government had imposed a lot of restrictions on tribal. They were not allowed to collect fuelwood and graze their cattle in the forests. British had also forced them to render their services as Begars.
Raju did not believe in the Gandhian ideals completely. He thought that freedom could be acquired by force and not non-violence. To achieve Swaraj, the rebels of Gudem hills attacked British officers and carried on Guerilla warfare. In 1924, Raju was captured and executed.
Non-Cooperation Movement in Plantations
The Non-cooperation Movement was conceptualised as a non- violent, resistance of the British rule. However, it developed a violent streak.
The plantation workers in Assam worked under very strict rules and regulations. As per the Inland Immigration Act of 1859, the plantation workers were rarely allowed to leave the tea gardens without permission and were seldom allowed to go back homes.
Inspired by the Non-Cooperation Movement, thousands of workers disobeyed the British authorities and left the plantations to go back to their homes.
Their journey was disrupted due to railway and streamer strikes, were caught by the police and beaten up. The plantation workers had ascribed their own meaning to Swaraj different from that of the congress. They felt that Swaraj marked an era when their sufferings would end.
On 4th February, 1922 thousands of protesters gathered to picket a of the liquor shop at the local market in Chauri Chaura.
To threaten the protestors, the policemen fired in the air. However the agitated crowd began to pelt stones at the police. The sub inspector ordered fire on the crowd which 3 protestors were killed and several others got injured.
The agitated protestors retaliated in a violent manner and began attacking the police from all sides. The policemen got threatened by thousands of people and they locked themselves up in the police station.
To avenge the death of the protestors, the frantic crowd set the Police station on fire. In this incident 22 policemen were burnt alive, including the station sub inspector. Shocked by the growing violence, Mahatma Gandhi decided to take back the Non-Cooperation Movement in February 1922.
Simon Commission and the Civil Disobedience Movement
In 1922, the Chauri Chaura incident is considered as an Act of Violence and completely shook Mahatma Gandhi and other Congress leaders.
In Chauri Chaura, a peace demonstration to picket a liquor shop turned violent when policemen opened fire, killed and injured some satyagrahis. In reaction the police station was set on fire where the policemen had locked themselves burning many of them alive.
In February 1922, Mahatma Gandhi took back the Non-Cooperation Movement owing to the widespread of violence. Moti Lal Nehru and Chittaranjan Das formed the The Swaraj Party within the Congress in 1922. Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose opposed this formation and stressed on full independence based on socialist ideas.
The growth of the National Movement was influenced by two factors;
- The worldwide Economic Depression and
- The formulation of the Simon Commission under Sir John Simon.
The Simon Commission was a statutory commission aimed at looking into the constitutional system of India and suggest changes. It was an all-white commission without any Indian representation.
In 1928, when Simon Commission came to India all parties protested against it. To pacify the leaders, Lord Irwin the Viceroy gave a vague offer of Dominion status to India and also proposed a round table conference.
In the Lahore session of the Congress, in 1929 Jawaharlal Nehru declared the demand for Purna Swaraj. The call of Purna Swaraj did not create much enthusiasm among people.
Mahatma Gandhi discovered salt was a common ingredient in the food of both rich and poor. He viewed the tax on salt and the monopoly of the Government on its production as downright oppressive.
On 31st January 1930, he sent a letter to Lord Irwin stating eleven wide ranging demands of various classes of India. The launch of Civil Disobedience was also stated.
On refusal to negotiate by the British, Mahatma Gandhi launched a salt March from Sabarmati Ashram to the coastal town of Dandi in Gujarat.
On 6th April Mahatma Gandhi broke the salt law manufactured salt by boiling sea water. This marked the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement.
The Non- cooperation movement aimed at bringing the British Government to a stand-still by refusing to cooperate with them. The Civil disobedience movement was more assertive and aimed at non-cooperation with the British as well as an open violation of oppressive British laws.
Gandhi-Irwin Pact and Round Table Conference
Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the Civil Disobedience Movement spread across the country like wildfire. The British got worried by the growing popularity of the movement, and so arrested all prominent Congress leaders.
In April 1930, Abdul Gaffar Khan, a political and spiritual leader and follower of Gandhiji was arrested. Demonstrations and protests followed to oppose Gaffar Khan’s arrest which was suppressed by the British.
The British government dealt with the protestors with an iron hand. Around 10,000 Satyagrahis were arrested and small children and women were thrashed by the police.
Mahatma Gandhi decided to call off the Civil Disobedience movement in 1931. On 5th March 1931, Mahatma Gandhi entered into a pact with Lord Irwin the viceroy of India known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. He agreed to participate in the Round Table Conference to be held in London.
In December 1931, Mahatma Gandhi visited London but came back disheartened as the negotiations did not reach any final decision.
On his arrival in India, he found that several Congress leaders had been arrested the Congress was declared an illegal party. Mahatma Gandhi hence re-launched the Civil Disobedience Movement but it lost its momentum by 1934.
Attitude of Different Sections of Society
Several people from different sections of society had participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement to meet their specific objectives. The rich peasant communities of Gujarat and UP were badly affected by the economic depression and the resultant fall in agricultural prices.
They demanded the revenue to be waived off but the government refused and hence they joined the Civil Disobedience Movement.
In 1931 the movement was abruptly called off by Mahatma Gandhi without any revision of the revenue rates. Hence, they did not participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement when it was re- launched in 1932.
The poor peasants grappled with the problem of paying rent during the time of Depression. The Congress was uncertain about supporting them in their ‘No Rent’ campaign as they feared it could spoil their ties with the Landlords and rich peasants.
The business class had reaped huge profits during the First World War and wanted to expand their business but the stringent colonial laws were obstructing their way.
To get the business class together, Indian Industrial and Commercial Congress was formed in 1920 and the Federation of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FICCI) in 1927. These organisations were headed by prominent business personalities like Purushottamdas Thakurdas and G.D. Birla.
Business class viewed Swaraj as an ideal situation, favourable for the growth of their business, a time when all colonial restrictions would be removed. However, the failure of the Second Round table Conference and the growth of socialist ideas in Congress disappointed the business class and made them anxious about the future.
The Hindustan Socialist Republican Army or HSRA was formed in 1928 with Bhagat Singh, Jatin Das and Ajoy Ghosh its prominent leaders.
The industrial working class adopted a few Gandhian ideas like boycott of foreign goods as part of their own movement against low wages and poor working conditions. The Congress still did not want to include workers’ demands in the movement as they thought it would alienate the industrialists.
The Civil Disobedience Movement witnessed mass participation of women. They were involved in protests, picketing and boycotts and also helped in manufacturing salt.
On the face of it, Congress encouraged women participation but even Mahatma Gandhi gave more importance to the traditional domestic role of women.
Personification of Indian Nationalism
In India, People felt a collective belonging because they had participated together in freedom struggles against the common aggressor, the British.
Common folklore, song, popular pictures and symbols also helped in solidifying unity and the spirit of nationalism. The image of Bharat Mata was first created by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. He also wrote our national song ‘Vande Mataram’.
Later, Abanindra Nath Tagore created the famous image of Bharat Mata as an ascetic figure wearing saffron coloured clothes and carrying chain of beads cloth, palm leaves and scriptures in her hands.
The portrayal of Bharat Mata also underwent a lot of changes. In the 1905, painting by Abhanindranath tagore Bharat Mata is not portrayed as an ascetic. She is holding a flag and standing beside an Elephant and Lion both of which are symbols of power and authority.
Revival of the Indian folklore was another process which contributed greatly to the growth of Nationalism. In the late 19th century, the nationalists began gathering the folk tales. The Indian tricoloured flag with red, green and yellow colour was first designed during the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal.
In 1921, Mahatma Gandhi redesigned the Indian flag with the spinning wheel or Charka at the centre. This flag was often used by nationalists during protests and marches. The growth of nationalism also happened through the process of reinterpretation of history.
The Indians began exploring glories from their past and wrote about the ancient times when India was much developed. They saw the Colonial British era an opposition to the Golden years of the past.
The glories of the past and the symbols used by nationalists such as Bharat Mata were all very Hindu in nature. Consequently, people of other religions and communities felt alienated.