Gradually, over the years, the trend of militant nationalism (also known as Extremism) had been growing in the country. It found expression in the movement against the partition of Bengal in 1905.
The Indian national movement even in its early days had increasingly made a large number of people conscious of the evils of foreign domination and of the need for fostering patriotism. It had imparted the necessary political training to the educated Indians. It had, in fact, changed the temper of the people and created a new life in the country.
At the same time, the failure of the British government to accept any of the important demands of the nationalists produced disillusionment among the politically conscious people with the principles and methods of the dominant moderate leadership. Instead of conciliating the moderate nationalists, the British rulers denigrated and looked down upon them. Consequently, there was a strong demand for more vigorous political action and methods than those of meetings, petitions, memorials and speeches in the legislative councils.
Recognition of The True Nature of British Rule
The politics of the moderate nationalists were founded on the belief that British rule could be reformed from within. But the spread of knowledge regarding political and economic questions gradually undermined this belief. The political agitation of the moderates was itself responsible for this to a large extent. The nationalist writers and agitators blamed the British rule for the poverty of the people. Politically conscious Indians were convinced that the purpose of the British rule was to exploit India economically, that is, to enrich England at the cost of India. They realised that India could make little progress in the economic field unless British imperialism was replaced by a government controlled and run by the Indian people. In particular, the nationalists came to see that Indian industries could not flourish except under an Indian government, which could protect and promote them. The evil economic consequences of foreign rule were symbolised in the eyes of the people by the disastrous famines which ravaged India from 1896 to 1900 and took a toll of over 90 lakhs of lives.
The political events of the years 1892-1905 also disappointed the nationalists and made them think of more radical politics. The Indian Councils Act of 1892, discussed in Chapter 10, was a complete disappointment. On the other hand, even the existing political rights of the people were attacked. In 1898, a law was passed making it an offence to excite “feelings of disaffection” towards the foreign govern¬ment. In 1899, the number of Indian members in the Calcutta Corportation was reduced. In 1904, the Indian Official Secrets Act was passed restricting the freedom of the press. The Natu brothers were deported in 1897 without being tried; even the charges against them were not made public. In the same year, Lokamanya Tilak and other newspaper editors were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for arousing the people against the foreign government. Thus, the people found that, instead of giving them wider political rights, the rulers were taking away even their few existing ones. The anti-Congress attitude of Lord Curzon convinced the people more and more that it was useless to expect any political and economic advancement as long as Britain ruled India. Even the moderate leader Gokhale complained that “the bureaucracy was growing frankly selfish and openly hostile to national aspirations.”
Even socially and culturally, the British rule was no longer progressive. Primary and technical education was not making any progress. At the same time, the officials were becoming suspicious of higher education and were even trying to discourage its spread in the country. The Indian Universities Act of 1904 was seen by the nationalists as an attempt to bring Indian universities under tighter official control and to check the growth of higher education.
Thus an increasing number of Indians were getting convinced that self-government was essential for the sake of the economic, political and cultural progress of the country and that political enslavement meant stunting the growth of the Indian people.
Growth of Self-Respect and Self-Confidence
By the end of the nineteenth century, the Indian nationalists had grown in self-respect and self-confidence. They had acquired faith in their capacity to govern themselves and in the future development of their country. Leaders like Tilak, Aurobindo Ghose and Bipin Chandra Pal preached the message of self-respect and asked the nationalists to rely on the character and capacities of the Indian people. They taught the people that the remedy to their sad condition lay in their own hands and that they should therefore become fearless and strong. Swami Vivekananda, though not a political leader, again and again drove home this message. He declared:
If there is a sin in the world it is weakness; avoid all weakness, weakness is sin, weakness is death. … And here is the test of truth—anything that makes you weak physically, intellectually and spiritually, reject as poison, there is no life in it, it cannot be true.
He also urged the people to give up living on the glories of the past and manfully build the future. “When, O Lord,” he wrote, “shall our land be free from this eternal dwelling upon the past?”
The belief in self-effort also created an urge for extending the national movement. No longer should the nationalist cause rely on a few upper-class educated Indians. Instead, political consciousness of the masses was to be aroused. Thus, for example, Swami Vivekananda wrote: “The only hope of India is from the masses. The upper classes are physically and morally dead.” There was the realisation that only the masses could make the immense sacrifices needed to win freedom.
Growth of Education and Unemployment
By the close of the nineteenth century, the number of educated Indians had increased perceptibly. Large numbers of them worked in the administration on extremely low salaries, while many others increasingly faced unemployment. Their economic plight made them look critically at the nature of British rule. Many of them were attracted by radical nationalist politics.
Even more important was the ideological aspect of the spread of education. The larger the number of educated Indians, the larger was the area of influence of western ideas of democracy, nationalism and radicalism. The educated Indians became the best propagators and followers of militant nationalism both because they were low- paid or unemployed and because they were educated in modern thought and politics, and in European and world history.
Several events abroad during this period tended to encourage the growth of militant nationalism in India. The rise of modern Japan after 1868 showed that a backward Asian country could develop itself without western control. In a matter of a few decades, the Japanese leaders made their country a first-rate industrial and military power, introduced universal primary education and evolved an efficient, modern administration. The defeat of the Italian army by the Ethiopians in 1896 and of Russia by Japan in 1905 exploded the myth of European superiority. Everywhere in Asia, people heard with enthusiasm the news of the victory of a small Asian country over one of the biggest military powers of Europe.
The newspaper, the Karachi Chronicle of 18 June 1905 expressed the popular feeling as follows:
What one Asiatic has done others can do. … If Japan can drub Russia, India can drub England with equal ease. … Let us drive the British into the sea and take our place side by side with Japan among the great powers of the world.
Revolutionary movements in Ireland, Russia, Egypt, Turkey and China, and the Boer War in South Africa convinced the Indians that a united people willing to make sacrifices could challenge even the most powerful of despotic governments. What was needed more than anything else was a spirit of patriotism and self-sacrifice.
Existence of A Militant Nationalist School of Thought
From almost the beginning of the national movement a school of militant nationalism had existed in the country. This school was represented by leaders like Rajnarain Bose and Ashwini Kumar Dutt in Bengal and Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar in Maharashtra. The most outstanding representative of this school was Bal Gangadhar Tilak later popularly known as Lokamanya Tilak. He was born in 1856. From the day of his graduation from Bombay University, he devoted his entire life to the service of his country. He helped to found during the 1880s the New English School, which later became the Fergusson College, and the newspapers the Mahratta (in English) and the Kesari (in Marathi). From 1889, he edited the Kesari and preached nationalism in its columns and taught people to become courageous, self-reliant and selfless fighters in the cause of India’s independence. In 1893, he started using the traditional religious Ganpati festival to propagate nationalist ideas through songs and speeches, and in 1895, he started the Shivaji festival to stimulate nationalism among young Maharashtrians by holding up the example of Shivaji for emulation. During 1896-97 he initiated a no-tax campaign in Maharashtra. He asked the famine-stricken peasants of Maharashtra to withhold payment of land revenue if their crops had failed. He set a real example of boldness and sacrifice when the authorities arrested him in 1897 on the charge of spreading hatred and disaffection against the government. He refused to apologise to the government and was sentenced to 18 months’ rigorous imprisonment. Thus he became a living symbol of the new national spirit of self-sacrifice.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, the school of militant nationalists found a favourable political climate and its adherents came forward to lead the second stage of the national movement. The most outstanding leaders of militant nationalism, apart from Lokamanya Tilak, were Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghose and Lala Lajpat Rai. The distinctive political aspects of the programme of the militant nationalists were as follows.
They believed that Indians themselves must work out their own salvation and make the effort to rise from their degraded position. They declared that great sacrifices and sufferings were needed for this task. Their speeches, writings and political work were full of boldness and self-confidence, and they considered no personal sacrifice too great for the good of their country.
They denied that India could progress under the ‘benevolent guidance’ and control of the English. They deeply hated foreign rule, and they declared in a clear-cut manner that swaraj or independence was the goal of the national movement.
They had deep faith in the strength of the masses and they planned to achieve swaraj through mass action. They, therefore, pressed for political work among the masses and for direct political action by the masses.
A Trained Leadership
By 1905 India possessed a large number of leaders who had acquired during the previous period valuable experience in guiding political agitations and leading political struggles. Without a trained band of political workers it would have been difficult to take the national movement to a higher political stage.
The Partition of Bengal
The conditions for the emergence of militant nationalism had thus developed when in 1905 the partition of Bengal was announced and the Indian national movement entered its second stage. On 20 July 1905, Lord Curzon issued an order dividing the province of Bengal into two parts: Eastern Bengal and Assam with a population of 31 million, and the rest of Bengal with a population of 54 million, of whom 18 million were Bengalis and 36 million Biharis and Oriyas. It was said that the existing province of Bengal was too big to be efficiently administered by a single provincial government. However, the officials who worked out the plan had also other political ends in view. They hoped to stem the rising tide of nationalism in Bengal, considered at the time to be the nerve centre of Indian nationalism. Risley, Home Secretary to the Government of India, wrote in an official note on 6 December 1904:
Bengal united is a power. Bengal divided will pull in several different ways. That is what the Congress leaders feel: their apprehensions are perfectly correct and they form one of the great merits of the scheme. … One of our main objects is to split up and thereby to weaken a solid body of opponents to our rule.
The Indian National Congress and the nationalists of Bengal firmly opposed the partition. Within Bengal, different sections of the population—zamindars, merchants, lawyers, students, the city poor and even women—rose up in spontaneous opposition to the partition of their province.
The nationalists saw the act of partition as a challenge to Indian nationalism and not merely an administrative measure. They saw that it was a deliberate attempt to divide the Bengalis territorially and on religious grounds—for in the Eastern part Muslims would be a big majority and in the Western part, Hindus—and thus to disrupt and weaken nationalism in Bengal. It would also be a big blow to the growth of Bengali language and culture. They pointed out that administrative efficiency could have been better secured by separating the Hindi-speaking Bihar and the Oriya-speaking Orissa from the Bengali-speaking part of the province. Moreover, the official step had been taken in utter disregard of public opinion. Thus the vehemence of Bengal’s protest against the partition is explained by the fact that it was a blow to the sentiments of a very sensitive and courageous people.
The Anti-Partition Movement
The Anti-Partition Movement was the work of the entire national leadership of Bengal and not of any one section of the movement. Its most prominent leaders at the initial stage were moderate leaders like Surendranath Banerjea and Krishna Kumar Mitra; militant and revolutionary nationalists took over in the later stages. In fact, both the moderate and militant nationalists cooperated with one another during the course of the movement.
The Anti-Partition Movement was initiated on 7 August 1905. On that day a massive demonstration against the partition was organised in the Town Hall in Calcutta. From this meeting delegates dispersed to spread the movement to the rest of the province.
The partition took effect on 16 October 1905. The leaders of the protest movement declared it to be a day of national mourning throughout Bengal. It was observed as a day of fasting. There was a hartal in Calcutta. People walked barefooted and bathed in the Ganga in the early morning hours. Rabindranath Tagore composed the national song, ‘Amar Sonar Bangla,’ for the occasion, which was sung by huge crowds parading the streets. This song was adopted as its national anthem by Bangladesh in 1971 after liberation. The streets of Calcutta were full of the cries of‘Bande Mataram’ which overnight became the national song of Bengal and which was soon to become the theme song of the national movement. The ceremony of Raksha Bandhan was utilised in a new way. Hindus and Muslims tied the rakhi on one another’s wrists as a symbol of the unbreakable unity of the Bengalis and of the two halves of Bengal.
In the afternoon, there was a great demonstration when the veteran leader Ananda Mohan Bose laid the foundation of a Federation Hall to mark the indestructible unity of Bengal. He addressed a crowd of over 50,000.
The Swadeshi and Boycott
The Bengal leaders felt that mere demonstrations, public meetings and resolutions were not likely to have much effect on the rulers. More positive action that would reveal the intensity of popular feelings and exhibit them at their best was needed. The answer was Swadeshi and Boycott. Mass meetings were held all over Bengal where Swadeshi or the use of Indian goods and the boycott of British goods were proclaimed and pledged. In many places the public burning of foreign cloth was organised and shops selling foreign cloth were picketed. The Swadeshi Movement was an immense success. According to Surendranath Banerjea:
Swadeshism during the days of its potency coloured the entire texture of our social and domestic life. Marriage presents that included foreign goods, the like of which could be manufactured at home, were returned. Priests would often decline to officiate at ceremonies where foreign articles were offered as oblations to the gods. Guests would refuse to participate in festivities where foreign salt or foreign sugar was used.
An important aspect of the Swadeshi Movement was the emphasis placed on self-reliance or Atmasakti. Self-reliance meant assertion of national dignity, honour and self-confidence. In the economic field, it meant fostering indigenous industrial and other enterprises. Many textile mills, soap and match factories, handloom-weaving concerns, national banks and insurance companies were opened. Acharya PC. Ray organised his famous Bengal Chemical Swadeshi Stores. Even the great poet Rabindranath Tagore helped to open a Swadeshi store.
The Swadeshi Movement had several consequences in the realm of culture. There was a flowering of nationalist poetry, prose and journalism. The patriotic songs written at the time by poets like Rabindranath Tagore, Rajani Kant Sen, Syed Abu Mohammed and Mukunda Das are sung in Bengal to this day. Another self-reliant, constructive activity undertaken at the time was that of National Education. National educational institutions where literary, technical or physical education was imparted were opened by nationalists who regarded the existing system of education as de-nationalising and, in any case, inadequate. On 15 August 1906, a National Council of Education was set up. A National College with Aurobindo Ghose as Principal was started in Calcutta.
The Role of Students, Women, Muslims and The Masses
A prominent part in the Swadeshi agitation was played by the students of Bengal. They practised and propagated Swadeshi and took the lead in organising picketing of shops selling foreign cloth. The government made every attempt to suppress the students. Orders were issued to penalise those schools and colleges whose students took an active part in the Swadeshi agitation; their grants-in-aid and other privileges were to be withdrawn, they were to be disaffiliated, their students were not to be permitted to compete for scholarships and were to be barred from all service under the government. Disciplinary action was taken against students found guilty of participating in the nationalist agitation. Many of them were fined, expelled from schools and colleges, arrested and sometimes beaten by the police with lathis. The students, however, refused to be cowed down.
A remarkable aspect of the Swadeshi agitation was the active participation of women in the movement. The traditionally home- centred women of the urban middle classes joined processions and picketing. From then on they were to take an active part in the nationalist movement.
Many prominent Muslims joined the Swadeshi Movement including Abdul Rasul, the famous barrister; Liaquat Hussain, the popular agitator; and Guznavi, the businessman. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad joined one of the revolutionary terrorist groups. Many other middle- and upper-class Muslims, however, remained neutral or, led by the Nawab of Dhaka (who was given a loan of Rs 14 lakh by the Government of India) even supported Partition on the plea that East Bengal would have a Muslim majority. In this communal attitude, the Nawab of Dhaka and others were encouraged by the officials. In a speech at Dhaka, Lord Curzon declared that one of the reasons for the partition was “to invest the Mohammedans in Eastern Bengal with a unity which they have not enjoyed since the days of the old Mussalman Viceroys and Kings.”
All-India Aspect of The Movement
The cry of Swadeshi and Swaraj was soon taken up by other provinces of India. Movements in support of Bengal’s unity and boycott of foreign goods were organised in Bombay, Madras and northern India. The leading role in spreading the Swadeshi Movement to the rest of the country was played by Tilak. Tilak quickly saw that with the inauguration of this movement in Bengal, a new chapter in the history of Indian nationalism had opened. Here was a challenge and an opportunity to lead a popular struggle against the British Raj and to unite the entire country in one bond of common sympathy.
Growth of Militancy
The leadership of the Anti-Partition Movement soon passed to militant nationalists like Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghose. This was due to many factors.
First, the early movement of protest led by the moderates failed to yield results. Even the liberal Secretary of State John Morley, from whom much was expected by the moderate nationalists, declared the Partition to be a settled fact which would not be changed. Second, the governments of the two Bengals, particularly of East Bengal, made active efforts to divide Hindus and Muslims. Seeds of Hindu- Muslim disunity in Bengal politics were perhaps sown at this time. This embittered the nationalists. But, most of all, it was the repressive policy of the government which led people to militant and revolutionary politics. The Government of East Bengal, in particular, tried to crush the nationalist movement. Official attempts at preventing student participation in the Swadeshi agitation have already been mentioned above. The singing of Bande Mataram in public streets in East Bengal was banned. Public meetings were restricted and sometimes forbidden. Laws controlling the press were enacted. Swadeshi workers were prosecuted and imprisoned for long periods. Many students were even awarded corporal punishment. From 1906 to 1909, more than 550 political cases came up before the Bengal courts. Prosecutions against a large number of nationalist newspapers were launched and freedom of the press was completely suppressed. Military police was stationed in many towns where it clashed with the people. One of the most notorious examples of repression was the police assault on the peaceful delegates of the Bengal Provincial Conference at Barisal in April 1906. Many of the young volunteers were severely beaten up and the Conference itself was forcibly dispersed. In December 1908, nine Bengal leaders, including the venerable Krishna Kumar Mitra and Ashwini Kumar Dutt, were deported. Earlier, in 1907, Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh had been deported following riots in the canal colonies of the Punjab. In 1908, the great Tilak was again arrested and given the savage sentence of 6 years’ imprisonment. Chidambaram Pillai in Madras and Harisarvottam Rao and others in Andhra were put behind bars.
As the militant nationalists came to the fore, they gave the call for passive resistance in addition to Swadeshi and Boycott. They asked the people to refuse to cooperate with the government and to boycott government service, the courts, government schools and colleges, and municipalities and legislative councils, and thus, as Aurobindo Ghose put it, “to make the administration under present conditions impossible.” The militant nationalists tried to transform the Swadeshi and Anti-Partition agitation into a mass movement and gave the slogan of independence from foreign rule. Aurobindo Ghose openly declared: “Political freedom is the lifebreath of a nation.” Thus, the question of the partition of Bengal became a secondary one and the question of India’s freedom became the central question of Indian politics. The militant nationalists also gave the call for self-sacrifice without which no great aim could be achieved.
It should be remembered, however, that the militant nationalists also failed in giving a positive lead to the people. They were not able to give effective leadership or to create an effective organisation to guide their movement. They aroused the people but did not know how to harness or utilise the newly-released energies of the people or to find new forms of political struggle. Passive resistance and non-cooperation remained mere ideas. They also failed to reach the real masses of the country, the peasants. Their movement remained confined to the urban lower and middle classes and zamindars. They had come to a political dead end by the beginning of 1908. Consequently, the government succeeded to a large extent in suppressing them. Their movement could not survive the arrest of their main leader Tilak, and the retirement from active politics of Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghose.
But the upsurge of nationalist sentiments could not die. People had been aroused from their slumber of centuries; they had learned to take a bold and fearless attitude in politics. They had acquired self-confidence and self-reliance and learnt to participate in new forms of mass mobilisation and political action. They now waited for a new movement to arise. Moreover, they were able to learn valuable lessons from their experience. Gandhiji wrote later that “after the Partition, people saw that petitions must be backed up by force, and that they must be capable of suffering.” The Anti-Partition agitation in fact marked a great revolutionary leap forward for Indian nationalism. The later national movement was to draw heavily on its legacy.
Growth of Revolutionary Nationalism
Government repression and frustration caused by the failure of the Indian leadership to provide a positive lead to the people ultimately resulted in revolutionary terrorism. The youth of Bengal found all avenues of peaceful protest and political action blocked and out of desperation they fell back upon individual heroic action and the cult of the bomb. They no longer believed that passive resistance could achieve nationalist aims. The British must, therefore, be physically expelled. As the Yugantar wrote on 22 April 1906 after the Barisal Conference: “The remedy lies with the people themselves. The 30 crores of people inhabiting India must raise their 60 crores of hands to stop this curse of oppression. Force must be stopped by force.” But the revolutionary young men did not try to generate a mass revolution. Instead, they decided to copy the methods of the Irish terrorists and the Russian Nihilists, that is, to assassinate unpopular officials. A beginning had been made in this direction when, in 1897, the Chapekar brothers assassinated two unpopular British officials at Poona. In 1904, VD. Savarkar had organised the Abhinava Bharat, a secret society of revolutionaries. After 1905, several newspapers had begun to advocate revolutionary terrorism. The Sandhya and the Yugantar in Bengal and the Kal in Maharashtra were the most prominent among them.
In December 1907 an attempt was made on the life of the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, and in April 1908 Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki threw a bomb at a carriage which they believed was occupied by Kingsford, the unpopular Judge at Muzaffarpur. Prafulla Chaki shot himself dead while Khudiram Bose was tried and hanged. The era of revolutionary terrorism had begun. Many secret societies of terrorist youth came into existence. The most famous of these were the Anushilan Samiti whose Dhaka Section alone had 500 branches, and soon revolutionary terrorist societies became active in the rest of the country as well. They became so bold as to throw a bomb at the Viceroy Lord Hardinge, while he was riding on an elephant in a state procession at Delhi. The Viceroy was wounded.
The revolutionaries also established centres of activity abroad. In, London, the lead was taken by Shyamaji Krishnavarma, VD. Savarkar and Har Dayal, while in Europe Madame Cama and Ajit Singh were the prominent leaders.
Terrorism too gradually petered out. In fact, terrorism as a political weapon was bound to fail. It could not mobilise the masses; in fact, it had no base among the people. But the terrorists did make a valuable contribution to the growth of nationalism in India. As a historian has put it, “they gave us back the pride of our manhood.” Because of their heroism, the terrorists became immensely popular among their compatriots even though most of the politically conscious people did not agree with their political approach.
The Indian National Congress (1905-1914)
The agitation against the partition of Bengal made a deep impact on the Indian National Congress. All sections of the National Congress united in opposing the Partition. At its session of 1905, Gokhale, the President of the Congress, roundly condemned the Partition as well as the reactionary regime of Curzon. The National Congress also supported the Swadeshi and Boycott movement of Bengal.
There was much public debate and disagreement between the moderate and the militant nationalists. The latter wanted to extend the Swadeshi and Boycott movement from Bengal to the rest of the country, and to extend the boycott to every form of association with the colonial government. The moderates wanted to confine the Boycott movement to Bengal and even there to limit it to the boycott of foreign goods. There was a tussle between the two groups for the presidentship of the National Congress for that year (1906). In the end, Dadabhai Naoroji, respected by all nationalists as a great patriot, was chosen as a compromise. Dadabhai electrified the nationalist ranks by openly declaring in his presidential address that the goal of the Indian national movement was “ ‘self-government’ or Swaraj like that of the United Kingdom or the Colonies.”
But the differences dividing the two wings of the nationalist movement could not be kept in check for long. Many of the moderate nationalists did not keep pace with events. They were not able to see that their outlook and methods, which had served a real purpose in the past, were no longer adequate. They had failed to advance to the new stage of the national movement. The militant nationalists, on the other hand, were not willing to be held back. The split between the two came at the Surat session of the National Congress in December 1907. The moderate leaders having captured the machinery of the Congress excluded the militant elements from it.
But, in the long run, the split did not prove useful to either party. The moderate leaders lost touch with the younger generation of nationalists. The British government played the game of‘divide and rule’. While suppressing the militant nationalists, it tried to win over moderate nationalist opinion so that the militant nationalists could be isolated and suppressed. To placate the moderate nationalists, it announced constitutional concessions through the Indian Councils Act of 1909 which are known as the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909. In 1911, the government also announced the annulment of the Partition of Bengal. Western and Eastern Bengals were to be reunited while a new province consisting of Bihar and Orissa was to be created. At the same time the seat of the central government was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.
The Morley-Minto Reforms increased the number of elected members in the Imperial Legislative Council and the provincial councils. But most of the elected members were elected indirectly, by the provincial councils in the case of the Imperial Council and by municipal committees and district boards in the case of the provincial councils. Some of the elected seats were reserved for landlords and British capitalists in India. For instance, of the 68 members of the Imperial Legislative Council, 36 were officials and 5 were nominated non-officials. Of the 27 elected members, 6 were to represent the big landlords and 2 the British capitalists. Moreover, the reformed councils still enjoyed no real power, being merely advisory bodies. The reforms in no way changed the undemocratic and foreign character of British rule, or the fact of foreign economic exploitation of the country. They were, in fact, not designed to democratise Indian administration. Morley openly declared at the time: “If it could be said that this chapter of reforms led directly or necessarily to the establishment of a parliamentary system in India, I for one would have nothing at all to do with it.” His successor as the Secretary of State, Lord Crewe, further clarified the position in 1912: “There is a certain section in India which looks forward to a measure of self-government approaching that which has been granted in the dominions. I see no future for India on those lines.” The real purpose of the Reforms of 1909 was to confuse the moderate nationalists, to divide the nationalist ranks and to check the growth of unity among Indians.
The Reforms also introduced the system of separate electorates under which all Muslims were grouped in separate constituencies from which Muslims alone could be elected. This was done in the name of protecting the Muslim minority. But, in reality, this was a part of the policy of dividing Hindus and Muslims, and thus maintaining British supremacy in India. The system of separate electorates was based on the notion that the political and economic interests of Hindus and Muslims were separate. This notion was unscientific because religions cannot be the basis of political and economic interests or of political groupings. What is even more important, this system proved extremely harmful in practice. It checked the progress of India’s unification which had been a continuous historical process. It became a potent factor in the growth of communalism—both Muslim and Hindu—in the country. Instead of removing the educational and economic backwardness of the middle-class Muslims and thus integrating them into the mainstream of Indian nationalism, the system of separate electorates tended to perpetuate their isolation from the developing nationalist movement. It encouraged separatist tendencies. It prevented people from concentrating on economic and political problems which were common to all Indians, Hindu or Muslim.
The moderate nationalists did not fully support the Morley-Minto Reforms. They soon realised that the Reforms had not really granted much. But they decided to cooperate with the government in working out the Reforms. This cooperation with the government and their opposition to the programme of the militant nationalists proved very costly to them. They gradually lost the respect and support of the public and were reduced to a small political group.
The Growth of Communalism
Along with the rise of nationalism, communalism too made its appearance around the end of the nineteenth century and posed the biggest threat to the unity of the Indian people and the national movement. Before we discuss the emergence and growth of communalism, it is perhaps necessary to define the term.
Communalism is basically an ideology. Communal riots are only one consequence of the spread of this ideology. Communalism is the belief that because a group of people follow a particular religion they have, as a result, common secular, that is, social, political and economic interests. It is the belief that in India religious groups like Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians form different and distinct communities; that all the followers of a religion share not only a commonality of religious interests but also common secular interests; that there is, and can be, no such thing as an Indian nation, but only a Hindu nation, or a Muslim nation and so on; that India can, therefore, only be a mere confederation of religious communities. Inherent in communalism is the second notion that the social, cultural, economic and political interests of the followers of one religion are dissimilar and divergent from the interests of the followers of another religion. The third stage of communalism is reached when the interests of the followers of different religions or of different religious ‘communities’ are seen to be mutually incompatible, antagonistic and hostile. Thus, at this stage, the communalists assert that Hindus and Muslims cannot have common secular interests, and that their secular interests are bound to be opposed.
It is not true that communalism was a remnant of, or survival from, the medieval period. Though religion was an important part of people’s lives and they did sometimes quarrel over religion, there was hardly any communal ideology or communal politics before the 1870s. Communalism is a modern phenomenon. It had its roots in the modern colonial socio-economic political structure.
Communalism emerged as a result of the emergence of new, modern politics based on the people and on popular participation and mobilisation. It made it necessary to have wider links and loyalties among the people and to form new identities. This process was bound to be difficult, gradual and complex. This process required the birth and spread of modern ideas of nation, class and cultural-linguistic identity. These identities, being new and unfamiliar, arose and grew slowly and in a zig-zag fashion. Quite often people used the old, familiar pre-modern identity of caste, locality, sect and religion to grasp the new reality, to make wider connections and to evolve new identities. This has happened all over the world. But gradually the new, modern and historically-necessary identities of nation, nationality and class have prevailed. Unfortunately, in India this process has remained incomplete for decades, for, as pointed out earlier, India has been for the last 150 years or more a nation-in-the-making. In particular, religious consciousness was transformed into communal consciousness in some parts of the country and among some sections of the people. The question is why did this happen?
In particular, modern political consciousness was late in developing among the Muslims. As nationalism spread among the Hindus and Parsis of the lower-middle class, it failed to grow equally rapidly among the Muslims of the same class.
As we have seen earlier, Hindus and Muslims had fought shoulder to shoulder during the Revolt of 1857. In fact, after the suppression of the Revolt, British officials had taken a particularly vindictive attitude towards the Muslims, hanging 27,000 Muslims in Delhi alone. From now on the Muslims were in general looked upon with suspicion But this attitude changed in the 1870s. With the rise of the nationalist movement the British statesmen grew apprehensive about the safety and stability of their empire in India. To check the growth of a united national feeling in the country, they decided to follow more actively the policy of‘divide and rule’ and to divide the people along religious lines, in other words, to encourage communal and separatist tendencies in Indian politics. For this purpose they decided to come out as ‘champions’ of the Muslims and to win over to their side Muslim zamindars, landlords and the newly educated. They also fostered other divisions in Indian society. They promoted provincialism by talking of Bengali domination. They tried to utilise the caste structure to turn non-brahmins against brahmins and the lower castes against the higher castes. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where Hindus and Muslims had always lived in peace, they actively encouraged the movement to replace Urdu as the court language by Hindi. In other words, they tried to use even the legitimate demands of different sections of Indian society to create divisions among the Indian people. The colonial government treated Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs as separate communities. It readily accepted communal leaders as authentic representatives of all their co-religionists.it permitted the propagation of virulent communal ideas and communal hatred through the press, pamphlets, posters, literature and other public platforms. This was in sharp contrast with its frequent suppression of the nationalist newspapers, writers, etc.
In the rise of the separatist tendency along communal lines, Sayyid Ahmad Khan played an important role. Though a great educationist and social reformer, Sayyid Ahmad Khan became towards the end of his life a conservative in politics. He laid the foundations of Muslim communalism when in the 1880s he gave up his earlier views and declared that the political interests of Hindus and Muslims were not the same but different and even divergent. He also preached complete obedience to British rule. When the Indian National Congress was founded in 1885, he decided to oppose it and tried to organise along with Raja Shiva Prasad of Varanasi a movement of loyalty to the British rule. He also began to preach that, since the Hindus formed the larger part of the Indian population, they would dominate the Muslims in case of the weakening or withdrawal of British rule. He urged the Muslims not to listen to Badruddin Tyabji’s appeal to them to join the National Congress.
These views were, of course, unscientific and without any basis in reality. Even though Hindus and Muslims followed different religions, their economic and political interests were not different for that reason. Hindus were divided from fellow Hindus, and Muslims from fellow Muslims, by language, culture, caste, class, social status, food and dress habits, social practices and so on. Even socially and culturally the Hindu and the Muslim masses had developed common ways of life. A Bengali Muslim and a Bengali Hindu had much more in common than a Bengali Muslim and a Punjabi Muslim had. Moreover, Hindus and the Muslims were being equally and jointly oppressed and exploited by British imperialism. Even Sayyid Ahmad Khan had said in 1884:
Do you not inhabit the same land? Are you not burned and buried on the same soil? Do you not tread the same ground and live upon the same soil? Remember that the words Hindu and Mohammedan are only meant for religious distinction—otherwise all persons, whether Hindu or Mohammedan, even the Christians who reside in this country, are all in this particular respect belonging to one and the same nation. When all these different sects can be described as one nation, they must each and all unite for the good of the country which is common to all.
The question then arises: how could the communal and separatist trend of thinking grow among the Muslims?
This was to some extent due to the relative backwardness of the Muslims in education and in trade and industry. Muslim upper classes consisted mostly of zamindars and aristocrats. Because the upper- class Muslims during the first 70 years of the nineteenth century were very anti-British, conservative and hostile to modern education, the number of educated Muslims in the country remained very small. Consequently, modern Western thought with its emphasis on science, democracy and nationalism did not spread among Muslim intellectuals, who remained traditional and backward. Later, as a result of the efforts of Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Nawab Abdul Latif, Badruddin Tyabji and others, modern education spread among Muslims. But the proportion of the educated was far lower among Muslims than among Hindus, Parsis or Christians. Similarly, the Muslims had also taken little part in the growth of trade and industry. The small number of educated persons and men of trade and industry among the Muslims made it possible for the reactionary big landlords to maintain their influence over the Muslim masses. As we have seen earlier, landlords and zamindars, whether Hindu or Muslim, supported the British rule out of self-interest. But, among the Hindus, the modern intellectuals and the rising commercial and industrialist class had pushed out the landlords from leadership. Unfortunately, the opposite remained the case with the Muslims.
The educational backwardness of the Muslims had another harmful consequence. Since modern education was essential for entry into government service or the professions, the Muslims had also lagged behind non-Muslims in this respect. Moreover, the government had consciously discriminated against the Muslims after 1858, holding them largely responsible for the Revolt of 1857. When modern education did spread among the Muslims, the educated Muslim found few opportunities in business or the professions. He inevitably looked for government employment. And, in any case, India being a backward colony, there were very few opportunities of employment for its people. In these circumstances, it was easy for the British officials and the loyalist Muslim leaders to incite the educated Muslims against the educated Hindus. Sayyid Ahmad Khan and others raised the demand for special treatment for the Muslims in the matter of government service. They declared that if the educated Muslims remained loyal to the British, the latter would reward them with government jobs and other special favours. Some loyalist Hindus and Parsis too tried to argue in this manner, but they remained a small minority. The result was that while in the country as a whole, independent and nationalist lawyers, journalists, students, merchants and industrialists were becoming political leaders, among the Muslims loyalist landlords and retired government servants still influenced political opinion. Bombay was the only province where the Muslims had taken to commerce and education quite early; and there the National Congress included in its ranks such brilliant Muslims as Badruddin Tyabji, R.M. Sayani, A. Bhimji and, the young barrister, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. We can sum up this aspect of the problem with a quotation from Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India:
There has been a difference of a generation or more in the development of the Hindu and the Muslim middle classes, and that difference continues to show itself in many directions, political, economic, and other. It is this lag which produces a psychology of fear among the Muslims.
As students of history we should also know that the manner in which Indian history was taught in schools and colleges in those days also contributed to the growth of communalist feelings among the educated Hindus and Muslims. British historians and, following them, Indian historians described the medieval period of Indian history as the Muslim period. The rule of Turk, Afghan and Mughal rulers was called Muslim rule. Even though the Muslim masses were as poor and oppressed by taxes as the Hindu masses, and even though both were looked down upon by the rulers, nobles, chiefs and zamindars, whether Hindu or Muslim, with contempt and regarded as low creatures, yet these writers declared that all Muslims were rulers in medieval India and all non-Muslims were the ruled. They failed to bring out the fact that ancient and medieval politics in India, as politics everywhere else, were based on economic and political interests and not on religious considerations. Rulers as well as rebels used religious appeals as an outer colouring to disguise the play of material interests and ambitions. Moreover, the British and communal historians attacked the notion of a composite culture in India.
The Hindu communal view of history also relied on the myth that Indian society and culture had reached great, ideal heights in the ancient period from which they fell into permanent and continuous decay during the medieval period because of ‘Muslim’ rule and domination. The basic contribution of the medieval period to the development of Indian economy and technology, religion and philosophy, arts and literature, culture and society, and fruits, vegetables and dress was denied.
All this was seen by many contemporary observers. Gandhiji, for example, wrote: “Communal harmony could not be permanently established in our country so long as highly distorted versions of history were taught in her schools and colleges, through the history textbooks.” In addition, the communal view of history was spread widely through poetry, drama, historical novels and short stories, newspapers and popular magazines, children’s magazines, pamphlets and, above all, orally through the public platform, classroom teaching, socialisation through the family and private conversation.
The founding fathers of Indian nationalism fully realised that the welding of Indians into a single nation would be a gradual and hard task, requiring prolonged political education of the people. They, therefore, set out to convince the minorities that the nationalist movement would carefully protect their religious and social rights while uniting all Indians in their common national, economic and political interests. In his presidential address to the National Congress of 1886, Dadabhai Naoroji had given the clear assurance that the Congress would take up only national questions and would not deal with religious and social matters. In 1889, the Congress adopted the principle that it would not take up any proposal which was considered harmful to the Muslims by a majority of the Muslim delegates to the Congress. Many Muslims joined the Congress in its early years. In other words, the early nationalists tried to modernise the political outlook of the people by teaching that politics should not be based on religion and community.
Unfortunately, while militant nationalism was a great step forward in every other respect, it was to some extent a step back in respect of the growth of national unity. The speeches and writings of some of the militant nationalits had a strong religious and Hindu tinge. They emphasised ancient Indian culture to the exclusion of medieval Indian culture. They identified Indian culture and the Indian nation with the Hindu religion and Hindus. They tried to abandon elements of a composite culture. For example, Tilak’s propagation of the Shivaji and Ganapati festivals, Aurobindo Ghose’s semi-mystical concept of India as mother and nationalism as a religion, the terrorists’ oaths before the goddess Kali and the initiation of the Anti-Partition agitation with dips in the Ganga could hardly appeal to the Muslims. In fact, such actions were against the spirit of their religion, and they could not be expected as Muslims to associate with these and other similar activities. Nor could Muslims be expected to respond with full enthusiasm when they saw Shivaji or Pratap being hailed not merely for their historical roles but also as ‘national’ leaders who fought against the ‘foreigners’. By no definition could Akbar or Aurangzeb be declared a foreigner, unless being a Muslim was made the ground for declaring one a foreigner. In reality, the struggle between Pratap and Akbar, or Shivaji and Aurangzeb had to be viewed as a political struggle in its particular historical setting. To declare Akbar or Aurangzeb a ‘foreigner’ and Pratap or Shivaji a ‘national’ hero was to project into past history the communal outlook of twentieth century India. This was not only bad history; it was also a blow to national unity.
This does not mean that militant nationalists were anti-Muslim or even wholly communal. Far from it, most of them, including Tilak, favoured Hindu-Muslim unity. To most of them, the motherland, or Bharatmata, was a modern notion, being in no way linked with religion. Most of them were modern in their political thinking and not backward looking. Economic boycott, their chief political weapon, was indeed very modern as also their political organisation. Tilak, for example, declared in 1916: “He who does what is beneficial to the people of this country, be he a Muhammedan or an Englishman, is not alien. ‘Alienness’ has to do with interests. Alienness is certainly not concerned with white or black skin or religion.” Even the revolutionary terrorists were in reality inspired by European revolutionary movements, for example, those of Ireland, Russia and Italy, rather than by Kali or Bhawani cults. But, as pointed out earlier, there was a certain Hindu tinge in the political work and ideas of the militant nationalists. This proved to be particularly harmful as clever British and pro-British propagandists took advantage of the Hindu colouring to poison the minds of the Muslims. The result was that a large number of educated Muslims either remained aloof from the rising nationalist movement or became hostile to it, thus falling an easy prey to a separatist outlook. The Hindu tinge also created ideological openings for Hindu communalism and made it difficult for the nationalist movement to eliminate Hindu communal, political and ideological elements within its own ranks. It also helped the spread of a Muslim tinge among Muslim nationalists. Even so, quite a large number of advanced Muslim intellectuals such as the barrister Abdul Rasul and Hasrat Mohani joined the Swadeshi movement, Maulana Azad joined the revolutionary terrorists and Muhammad Ali Jinnah became one of the leading younger leaders of the National Congress. This was because the national movement remained basically secular in its approach and ideology. This secularism became sturdier when leaders like Gandhiji, C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, M.A. Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Subhas Bose, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad and C. Rajagopalachari came to the helm.
The economic backwardness of the country, the consequence of colonial underdevelopment, also contributed to the rise of communalism. Due to the lack of modern industrial development, unemployment was an acute problem in India, especially for the educated. There was, in consequence, an intense competition for existing jobs. Far-sighted Indians diagnosed the disease and worked for an economic and political system in which the country would develop economically and in which, therefore, employment would be plentiful. However, many others thought of such short-sighted and short-term remedies as communal, provincial or caste reservation in jobs. They aroused communal and religious and, later, caste and provincial passions in an attempt to get a larger share of the existing, limited employment opportunities. To those looking desperately for employment such a narrow appeal had a certain immediate attraction. In this situation, Hindu and Muslim communal leaders, caste leaders and the officials following the policy of‘divide and rule’ were able to achieve some success. Many Hindus began to talk of Hindu nationalism and many Muslims of Muslim nationalism. The politically immature people failed to realise that their economic, educational and cultural difficulties were the result of common subjection to foreign rule and of economic backwardness, and that only through common effort could they free their country, develop it economically and thus solve the underlying common problems, such as unemployment.
Some believe that a major factor in the growth of communalism was the existence of several religions in India. This is not so. It is not true that communalism must arise inevitably in a multi-religious society. Here we must distinguish between religion as a belief system, which people follow as a part of their personal belief, and the ideology of a religion-based socio-political identity, that is communalism. Religion is not the cause of communalism, nor is communalism inspired by religion. Religion comes into communalism to the extent that it serves politics arising in non-religious spheres. Communalism has been rightly described as political trade in religion. Religion was used, after 1937, as a mobilising factor by the communalists. Secularism is not, therefore, opposed to religion. It only means confining religion to the private life of the individual and dissociating it from politics and the state. As Gandhiji repeatedly declared: “Religion is the personal affair of each individual. It must not be mixed up with politics or national affairs.”
The separatist and loyalist tendencies among a section of the educated Muslims and the big Muslim nawabs and landlords reached a climax in 1906 when the All India Muslim League was founded under the leadership ofAga Khan, the Nawab of Dhaka, and Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk. Founded as a loyalist, communal and conservative political organisation, the Muslim League made no critique of colonialism, supported the partition of Bengal and demanded special safeguards for the Muslims in government services. Later, with the help of Lord Minto, the Viceroy, it put forward and secured the acceptance of the demand for separate electorates. Thus, while the National Congress was taking up anti-imperialist economic and political issues, the Muslim League and its reactionary leaders preached that the interests of Muslims were different from those of Hindus. The Muslim League’s political activities were directed not against the foreign rulers, but against Hindus and the National Congress. Hereafter, the League began to oppose every nationalist and democratic demand of the Congress. It thus played into the hands of the British who announced that they would protect the ‘special interests’ of the Muslims. The League soon became one of the main instruments with which the British hoped to fight the rising nationalist movement and to keep the emerging intelligentsia among Muslims from joining the national movement.
To increase its usefulness, the British also encouraged the Muslim League to approach the Muslim masses and to assume their leadership. It is true that the nationalist movement was also dominated at this time by educated town-dwellers but, in its anti¬imperialism, it was representing the interests of all Indians—rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim. On the other hand, the Muslim League and its upper-class leaders had little in common with the interests of the Muslim masses, who were suffering as much as the Hindu masses at the hands of foreign imperialism.
This basic weakness of the League came to be increasingly recognised by patriotic Muslims. The educated Muslim young men were, in particular, attracted by radical nationalist ideas. The militantly nationalist Ahrar movement was founded at this time under the leadership of Maulana Mohamed Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Hasan Imam, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan and Mazhar-ul-Haq. These young men disliked the loyalist politics of the Aligarh School and the big nawabs and zamindars. Moved by modern ideas of self-government, they advocated active participation in the militant nationalist movement.
Similar nationalist sentiments were arising among a section of traditional Muslim scholars led by the Deoband School. The most prominent of these scholars was the young Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who propagated his rationalist and nationalist ideas in his newspaper Al Hilal which he brought out in 1912 at the age of 24. Maulana Mohamed Ali, Azad and other young men preached a message of courage and fearlessness and said that there was no conflict between Islam and nationalism.
In 1911 war broke out between the Ottoman empire (Turkey) and Italy, and during 1912 and 1913 Turkey had to fight the Balkan powers. The Turkish ruler claimed at this time to be also the Caliphor religious head of all Muslims; moreover, nearly all of the Muslim holy places were situated within the Turkish empire. A wave of sympathy for Turkey swept India. A medical mission, headed by Dr M.A. Ansari, was sent to help Turkey. Since Britain’s policy during the Balkan War and after was not sympathetic to Turkey, the pro-Turkey and pro-Caliph or Khilafat sentiments tended to become anti- imperialist. In fact, for several years—from 1912 to 1924—the loyalists among the Muslim League were completely overshadowed by nationalist young men.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a few persons like Azad who were rationalists in their thinking, most of the militant nationalists among Muslim young men also did not fully accept the modern secular approach to politics. The result was that the most important issue they took up was not political independence, but protection of holy places and of the Turkish empire. Instead of understanding and opposing the economic and political consequences of imperialism, they fought imperialism on the ground that it threatened the Caliph and the holy places of Islam. Even their sympathy for Turkey was on religious grounds. Their political appeal was to religious sentiments. Moreover, the heroes and myths and cultural traditions they appealed to belonged not to ancient or medieval Indian history but to West Asian history. It is true that this approach did not immediately clash with Indian nationalism. Rather, it made its adherents and supporters anti-imperialist and encouraged the nationalist trend among urban Muslims. But in the long run this approach too proved harmful, as it encouraged the habit of looking at political questions from a religious view point. In any case, such political activity did not promote among the Muslim masses a modern, secular approach towards political and economic questions.
Simultaneously, Hindu communalism was also being born and Hindu communal ideas were arising. Many Hindu writers and political workers echoed the ideas and programme of Muslim communalism and the Muslim League. From the 1870s, a section of Hindu zamindars, moneylenders and middle-class professionals began to arouse anti-Muslim sentiments. Fully accepting the colonial view of Indian history, they talked and wrote about the ‘tyrannical’ Muslim rule in the medieval period and the ‘liberating’ role of the British in ‘saving’ Hindus from ‘Muslim oppression’. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, they took up, correctly, the question of Hindi, but gave it a communal twist, declaring, totally unhistorically, that Urdu was the language of Muslims and Hindi of Hindus. All over India, anti-cow slaughter propaganda was undertaken in the early 1890s. The campaign was, however, primarily directed not against the British but against Muslims; the British cantonments, for example, were left free to carry on cow slaughter on a large scale.
The Punjab Hindu Sabha was founded in 1909. Its leaders attacked the National Congress .for trying to unite Indians into a single nation. They opposed the Congress’ anti-imperialist politics. Instead, they argued that Hindus should placate the foreign government in their fight against Muslims. One of its leaders Lal Chand declared that a Hindu should believe that he was “a Hindu first and an Indian later”. The first session of the All-India Hindu Mahasabha was held in April 1915 under the presidentship of the Maharaja of Kasim Bazar. But it remained for years a rather weak organisation. One reason was the greater weight and influence of the modern secular intelligentsia and middle class among Hindus. Among Muslims, on the other hand, landlords, bureaucrats and traditional religious leaders still exercised dominant influence. Moreover, the colonial government gave Hindu communalism few concessions and little support, for it relied heavily on Muslim communalism and could not easily simultaneously placate both these forms of communalism.
The Nationalists and The First World War
In June 1914, the First World War broke out between Great Britain, France, Russia and Japan on one side (joined later by Italy and USA), and Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey on the other. In India the years of the War marked the maturing of nationalism.
In the beginning, the Indian nationalist leaders, including Lokamanya Tilak, who had been released in June 1914, decided to support the war effort of the government in the mistaken belief that grateful Britain would repay India’s loyalty with gratitude and enable India to take a long step forward on the road to self-government. They did not realise fully that the different powers were fighting the First World War precisely to safeguard their existing colonies.
The Home Rule Leagues
At the same time, many Indian leaders saw clearly that the government was not likely to give any real concessions unless popular pressure was brought to bear upon it. Hence, a real mass political movement was necessary. Some other factors were leading the nationalist movement in the same direction. The World War, involving mutual struggle between the imperialist powers of Europe, destroyed the myth of the racial superiority of western nations over the Asian peoples. Moreover, the War led to increased misery among the poorer classes of Indians. For them the War had meant heavy taxation and soaring prices of the daily necessities of life. They were getting ready to join any militant movement of protest. Consequently, the war years were years of intense nationalist political agitation. But this mass agitation could not be carried out under the leadership of the Indian National Congress, which had become, under moderate leadership, a passive and inert political organisation with no political work among the people to its credit. Therefore, two Home Rule Leagues were started in 1915-16, one under the leadership of Lokamanya Tilak and the other under the leadership of Annie Besant, an English admirer of Indian culture and the Indian people, and S. Subramaniya Iyer. The two Home Rule Leagues worked in cooperation and carried out intense propaganda all over the country in favour of the demand for the grant of Home Rule or self- government to India after the War. It was during this agitation that Tilak gave the popular slogan: “Home Rule is my birthright, and I will have it.” The two Leagues made rapid progress and the cry of Home Rule resounded throughout the length and breadth of India. Many moderate nationalists, who were dissatisfied with the Congress inactivity, joined the Home Rule agitation. The Home Rule Leagues soon attracted the government’s anger. In June 1917, Annie Besant was arrested. Popular protest forced the government to release her in September 1917.
The war period also witnessed the growth of the revolutionary movement. The terrorist groups spread from Bengal and Maharashtra to the whole of northern India. Moreover, many Indians began to plan a violent rebellion to overthrow British rule. Indian revolutionaries in the United States of America and Canada had established the Ghadar (Rebellion) Party in 1913. Most of the members of the party were Punjabi Sikh peasants and ex-soldiers, who had migrated there in search of livelihood, and who faced the full brunt of racial and economic discrimination. Lala Har Dayal, Mohammed Barkatullah, Bhagwan Singh, Ram Chandra and Sohan Singh Bhakna were some of the prominent leaders of the Ghadar Party. The party was built around the weekly paper the Ghadar, which carried the caption on the masthead: Angrezi Raj Ka Dushman (An Enemy of British Rule). “Wanted brave soldiers”, the Ghadar declared, “to stir up Rebellion in India. Pay—death; Price—martyrdom; Pension—liberty; Field of Battle—India.” The ideology of the party was strongly secular. In the words of Sohan Singh Bhakna, who later became a major peasant leader of Punjab: “We were not Sikhs or Punjabis. Our religion was patriotism.” “The party had active members in other countries such as Mexico, Japan, China, Philippines, Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Indo-China, and East and South Africa”.
The Ghadar Party was pledged to wage revolutionary war against the British in India. As soon as the First World War broke out in 1914, the Ghadarites decided to send arms and men to India to start an uprising with the help of soldiers and local revolutionaries. Several thousand men volunteered to go back to India. Millions of dollars were contributed to pay for their expenses. Many gave their lifelong savings and sold lands and other property. The Ghadarites also contacted Indian soldiers in the Far East, Southeast Asia and all over India and persuaded several regiments to rebel. Finally, 21 February 1915 was fixed as the date for an armed revolt in the Punjab. Unfortunately, the authorities came to know of these plans and took immediate action. The rebellious regiments were disbanded and their leaders were either imprisoned or hanged. For example, 12 men of the 23rd Cavalry were executed. The leaders and members of the Ghadar Party in the Punjab were arrested on a mass scale and tried. Forty-two of them were hanged, 114 were transported for life and 93 were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Many of them, after their release, founded the Kirti and Communist movements in the Punjab. Some of the prominent Ghadar leaders were: Baba Gurmukh Singh, Kartar Singh Saraba, Sohan Singh Bhakna, Rahmat Ali Shah, Bhai Parmanand and Mohammad Barkatullah.
Inspired by the Ghadar Party, 700 men of the 5th Light Infantry at Singapore revolted under the leadership of Jamadar Chisti Khan and Subedar Dundey Khan. They were crushed after a bitter battle in which many died. Thirty-seven others were publicly executed, while 41 were transported for life.
Other revolutionaries were active in India and abroad. In 1915, during an unsuccessful revolutionary attempt, Jatin Mukerjea popularly known as ‘Bagha Jatin’ gave his life fighting with the police at Balasore. Rash Bihari Bose, Raja Mahendra Pratap, Lala Hardayal, Abdul Rahim, Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi, Champakaraman Pillai, Sardar Singh Rana and Madame Cama were some of the prominent Indians who carried on revolutionary activities and propaganda outside India, where they gathered the support of socialists and other anti-imperialists.
Lucknow Session of The Congress (1916)
The nationalists soon saw that disunity in their ranks was injuring their cause and that they must put up a united front before the government. The growing nationalist feeling in the country and the urge for national unity produced two historic developments at the Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress in 1916. First, the two wings of the Congress were reunited. The old controversies had lost their meaning and the split in the Congress had led to political inactivity. Tilak, released from jail in 1914, immediately saw the change in the situation and set out to unify the two streams of Congressmen. To conciliate the moderate nationalists, he declared:
I may state once for all that we are trying in India, as the Irish Home- rulers have been all along doing in Ireland, for a reform of the system of administration and not for the overthrow of government; and I have no hesitation in saying that the acts of violence which have been committed in the different parts of India are not only repugnant to me, but have, in my opinion, only unfortunately retarded to a great extent, the pace of our political progress.
On the other hand, the rising tide of nationalism compelled the old leaders to welcome back into the Congress Lokamanya Tilak and other militant nationalists. The Lucknow Congress was the first united Congress since 1907. It demanded further constitutional reforms as a step towards self-government.
Second, at Lucknow, the Congress and the All India Muslim League sank their old differences and put up common political demands before the government. While the War and the two Home Rule Leagues were creating a new sentiment in the country and changing the character of the Congress, the Muslim League had also been undergoing gradual changes. We have already noted earlier that the younger section of the educated Muslims was turning to bolder nationalist politics. The War period witnessed further developments in that direction. Consequently, in 1914, the government suppressed the publication of theAl Hilal of Abul Kalam Azad and the Comradeof Maulana Mohamed Ali. It also interned the Ali Brothers— Maularias Mohamed Ali and Shaukat Ali—and Hasrat Mohani and Abul Kalam Azad. The League reflected, at least partially, the political militancy of its younger members. It gradually began to outgrow the limited political outlook of the Aligarh school of thought and moved nearer to the policies of the Congress.
The unity between the Congress and the League was brought about by the signing of the Congress-League Pact, known popularly as the Lucknow Pact. An important role in bringing the two together was played by Lokamanya Tilak and Mohammad Ali Jinnah because the two believed that India could win self-government only through Hindu-Musiim unity. Tilak declared at the time:
It has been said, gentlemen, by some that we Hindus have yielded too much to our Mohammedan brethren. I am sure I represent the sense of the Hindu community all over India when I say that we could not have yielded too much. I would not care if the rights of self-government are granted to the Mohammedan community only. … I would not care if they are granted to the lower and the lowest classes of the Hindu population. … When we have to fight against a third party, it is a very important thing that we stand on this platform united, united in race, united in religion, as regard all different shades of political creed.
The two organisations passed the same resolutions at their sessions, put forward a joint scheme of political reforms based on separate electorates and demanded that the British government should make a declaration that it would confer self-government on India at an early date. The Lucknow Pact marked an important step forward in Hindu-Muslim unity. Unfortunately, it did not involve the Hindu and Muslim masses and it accepted the pernicious principle of separate electorates. It was based on the notion of bringing together the educated Hindus and Muslims as separate political entities; in other words, without secularisation of their political outlook, which would make them realise that in politics they had no separate interests as Hindus or Muslims. The Lucknow Pact, therefore, left the way open to the future resurgence of communalism in Indian politics.
But the immediate effect of the developments at Lucknow was tremendous. The unity between the moderate nationalists and the militant nationalists, and between the National Congress and the Muslim League aroused great political enthusiasm in the country. Even the British government felt it necessary to placate the nationalists. Hitherto it had relied heavily on repression to quieten the nationalist agitation. Large numbers of radical nationalists and revolutionaries had been jailed or interned under the notorious Defence of India Act and other similar regulations. The government now decided to appease nationalist opinion and announced on 20 August 1917 that its policy in India was “the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of Responsible Government of India as an integral part of the British empire.” And in July 1918 the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms were announced. But Indian nationalism was not appeased. In fact, the Indian national movement was soon to enter its third and last phase— the era of mass struggle or the Gandhian Era.