Chapter 12 The Struggle for Swaraj: 1919-27


The third and the last phase of the national movement began in 1919 when the era of popular mass movements was initiated. The Indian people waged perhaps the greatest mass struggle in world history and India’s national revolution was victorious.

As we have seen in the previous chapter, a new political situation was maturing during the War years, 1914-18. Nationalism had gathered its forces and the nationalists were expecting major political gains after the war; and they were willing to fight back if their expectations were thwarted. The economic situation in the post-War years had taken a turn for the worse. There was first a rise in prices and then a depression in economic activity. Indian industries, which had prospered during the War because foreign imports of manufactured goods had ceased, now faced losses and closure. Moreover, foreign capital now began to be invested in India on a large scale. The Indian industrialists wanted protection of their industries through imposition of high customs duties and grant of government aid; they realised that a strong nationalist movement and an independent Indian government alone could secure these. The workers and artisans, facing unemployment and high prices, also turned actively towards the nationalist movement. Indian soldiers, who returned from their triumphs in Africa, Asia and Europe, imparted some of their confidence and their knowledge of the wide world to the rural areas. The peasantry, groaning under deepening poverty and high taxation, was waiting for a lead. The urban, educated Indians faced increasing unemployment. Thus all sections of Indian society were suffering economic hardships, compounded by droughts, high prices and epidemics.

The international situation was also favourable to the resurgence of nationalism. The First World War gave a tremendous impetus to nationalism all over Asia and Africa. In order to win popular support for their War effort, the Allied nations—Britain, the United States, France, Italy and Japan—promised a new era of democracy and national self-determination to all the peoples of the world. But after their victory, they showed little willingness to end the colonial system. On the contrary, at the Paris Peace Conference, and in the different peace settlements, all the wartime promises were forgotten and, in fact, betrayed. The ex-colonies of the defeated powers, Germany and Turkey, in Africa, West Asia and East Asia were divided among the victorious powers. A militant nationalism, born out of a strong sense of disillusionment, began to arise everywhere in Asia and Africa. In India, while the British government made a half-hearted attempt at constitutional reform, it also made it clear that it had no intention of parting with political power or even sharing it with Indians.

Another major consequence of the World War was the erosion of the White man’s prestige. The European powers had from the beginning of their imperialism utilised the notion of racial and cultural superiority to maintain their supremacy. But during the War, both sides carried on intense propaganda against each other, exposing the opponent’s brutal and uncivilised colonial record. Naturally, the people of the colonies tended to believe both sides and to lose their awe of the White man’s superiority.

A major impetus to the national movements in the colonies was given by the impact of the Russian Revolution. On 7 November 1917, the Bolshevik (Communist) Party, led by V I. Lenin, overthrew the Czarist regime in Russia and declared the formation of the first socialist state, the Soviet Union, in the history of the world. The new Soviet regime electrified the colonial world by unilaterally renouncing its imperialist rights in China and other parts of Asia, by granting the right of self-determination to the former Czarist colonies in Asia and by giving an equal status to the Asian nationalities within its border, which had been oppressed as inferior and conquered peoples by the previous regime. The Russian Revolution put heart into the colonial people. It brought home to the colonial people the important lesson that immense strength and energy resided in the common people. If the unarmed peasants and workers could carry out a revolution against their domestic tyrants, then the people of the subject nations too could fight for their independence provided they were equally well united, organised and determined to fight for freedom.

The nationalist movement in India was also affected by the fact that the rest of the Afro-Asian world was also convulsed by nationalist agitations after the War. Nationalism surged forward not only in India but also in Ireland, Turkey, Egypt and other Arab countries of Northern Africa and West Asia, Iran, Aghanistan, Burma, Malaya, Indonesia, Indo-China, the Philippines, China and Korea.

The government, aware of the rising tide of nationalist and antigovernment sentiments, once again decided to follow the policy of the ‘carrot and the stick’, in other words, of concessions and repression. The carrot was represented by the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms.

The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms

In 1918, Edwin Montagu, the Secretary of State, and Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy, produced their scheme of constitutional reforms which led to the enactment of the Government of India Act of 1919. The Provincial Legislative Councils were enlarged and the majority of their members were to be elected. The provincial governments were given more powers under the system of Dyarchy. Under this system some subjects, such as finance and law and order, were called ‘reserved’ subjects and remained under the direct control of the Governor; others, such as education, public health and local self-government, were called ‘transferred’ subjects and were to be controlled by ministers responsible to the legislatures. This also meant that while some of the spending departments were transferred, the Governor retained complete control over the finances. The Governor could, moreover, overrule the ministers on any grounds that he considered special. At the centre, there were to be two houses of legislature. The lower house, the Legislative Assembly, was to have 41 nominated members out of a total strength of 144. The upper house, the Council of State, was to have 26 nominated and 34 elected members. The legislature had virtually no control over the Governor-General and his Executive Council. On the other hand, the central government had unrestricted control over the provincial governments. Moreover, the right to vote was severely restricted. In 1920, the total number of voters was 909,874 for the lower house and 17,364 for the upper house.

Indian nationalists had, however, advanced far beyond such halting concessions. They were no longer willing to be satisfied with the shadow of political power. The Indian National Congress met in a special session at Bombay in August 1918 under the presidentship of Hasan Imam to consider the reform proposals. It condemned them as “disappointing and unsatisfactory” and demanded effective self- government instead. Some of the veteran Congress leaders led by Surendranath Banerjea were in favour of accepting the government proposals. They left the Congress at this time and founded the Indian Liberal Federation. They came to be known as Liberals and played a minor role in Indian politics hereafter.

The Rowlatt Act

While trying to appease Indians, the Government of India was ready with repression. Throughout the war, repression of nationalists had continued. The terrorists and revolutionaries had been hunted down, hanged and imprisoned. Many other nationalists such as Abul Kalam Azad had also been kept behind bars. The government now decided to arm itself with more far-reaching powers, which went against the accepted principles of rule of law, to be able to suppress those nationalists who would refuse to be satisfied with the official reforms. In March 1919 it passed the Rowlatt Act even though every single Indian member of the Central Legislative Council opposed it. This Act authorised the government to imprison any person without trial and conviction in a court of law. The Act would thus also enable the government to suspend the right of Habeas Corpus which had been the foundation of civil liberties in Britain.

Mahatma Gandhi Assumes Leadership

The Rowlatt Act came like a sudden blow. To the people of India, promised extension of democracy during the War, the government step appeared to be a cruel joke. It was like a hungry man, expecting bread, being offered stones. Instead of democratic progress had come further restriction of civil liberties. 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. The new leader made good one of the basic weaknesses of the previous leadership. He had evolved in his struggle against racialism in South Africa a new form of struggle—noncooperation—and a new technique of struggle—satyagraha—which could be put into practice against the British in India. He had, moreover, a basic sympathy for and understanding of the problems and psychology of the Indian peasantry. He was, therefore, able to appeal to it and bring it into the mainstream of the national movement. He was thus able to arouse and unite all sections of the Indian people in a militant mass national movement.

Gandhiji and His Ideas

M.K. Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 at Porbandar in Gujarat. After getting his legal education in Britian, he went to South Africa to practise law. Imbued with a high sense of justice, he was revolted by the racial injustice, discrimination and degradation to which Indians had to submit in the South African colonies. Indian labourers who had gone to South Africa, and the merchants who followed were denied the right to vote. They had to register and pay a poll-tax. They could not reside except in prescribed locations which were insanitary and congested. In some of the South African colonies, the Asians, as also the Africans, could not stay out of doors after 9 p.m.; nor could they use public footpaths. Gandhi soon became the leader of the struggle against these conditions and during 1893—1914 was engaged in a heroic though unequal struggle against the racist authorities of South Africa. It was during this long struggle lasting nearly two decades that he evolved the technique of satyagraha based on truth and non-violence. The ideal satyagrahi was to be truthful and perfectly peaceful, but at the same time he would refuse to submit to what he considered wrong. He would accept suffering willingly in the course of struggle against the wrong-doer. This struggle was to be part of his love of truth. But even while resisting evil, he would love the evil-doer. Hatred would be alien to the nature of a true satyagrahi. He would, moreover, be utterly fearless. 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 the brave could practise it. Even violence was preferable to cowardice. In a famous article in his weekly journal, Young India, he wrote in 1920 that “Non-violence is the law of our species, as violence is the law of the brute,” but that “where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence…. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour, than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour.” He once summed up his entire philosophy of life as follows:

The only virtue I want to claim is truth and non-violence. I lay no claim to super-human powers: I want none.

Another important aspect of Gandhi’s outlook was that he would not separate thought and practice, belief and action. His truth and non-violence were meant for daily living and not merely for high- sounding speeches and writings.

Gandhiji, moreover, had an immense faith in the capacity of the common people to fight. For example, in 1915, referring to the common people who fought along with him in South Africa, in the course of his reply to an address of welcome at Madras, he said:

You have said that I inspired these great men and women, but I cannot accept that proposition. It was they, the simple-minded folk, who worked away in faith, never expecting the slightest reward, who inspired me, who kept me to the proper level, and who compelled me by their sacrifice, by their great faith, by their great trust in the great God to do the work that I was able to do.

Similarly, in 1942, when asked how he expected “to resist the might of the empire,” he replied: “with the might of the dumb millions.”

Gandhiji returned to India in 1915 at the age of 46. He spent an entire year travelling all over India, understanding Indian conditions and the Indian people and then, in 1916, founded the Sabarmati 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)

Gandhi’s first great experiment in satyagraha came in 1917 in Champaran, a district in Bihar. The peasantry on the indigo plantations in the district was excessively oppressed by European planters. They were compelled to grow indigo on at least 3/2Oth of their land and to sell it at prices fixed by the planters. Similar conditions had prevailed earlier in Bengal, but as a result of a major uprising during 1859—61 the peasants there had won their freedom from the indigo planters.

Having heard of Gandhi’s campaigns in South Africa, several peasants of Champaran invited him to come and help them. Accompanied by Babu Rajendra Prasad, Mazhar-ul-Huq, J.B. Kripalani, Narhari Parekh and Mahadev Desai, Gandhiji reached Champaran in 1917 and began to conduct a detailed inquiry into the condition of the peasantry. The infuriated 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 won his first battle of civil disobedience in India. He also had a glimpse into the naked poverty in which the peasants of India lived.

Ahmedabad Mill Strike

In 1918, Mahatma Gandhi 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 per cent increase in wages. But he insisted that the workers should not use violence against the employers during the strike. He undertook a fast unto death to strengthen the workers’ resolve to continue the strike. But his fast also put pressure on the mill-owners who relented on the fourth day and agreed to give the workers a 35 per cent increase in wages.

In 1918, crops failed in the Kheda District in Gujarat but the government refused to remit 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 was one of the many young persons who became Gandhiji’s followers during the Kheda peasant struggle.

These experiences brought Gandhiji in close contact with the masses whose interests he actively espoused all his life. In fact, he was the first Indian nationalist leader who identified his life and his manner of living with the life of the common people. In time he became the symbol of poor India, nationalist India and rebellious India. Three other causes were very dear to Gandhi’s heart. 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. He once summed up his aims as follows:

I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice, an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people, an India in which all – communities shall live in perfect harmony. … There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability. … Women will enjoy the same rights as men…. This is the India of my dreams.

Though a devout Hindu, Gandhi’s cultural and religious outlook was universalist and not narrow. “Indian culture,” he wrote, “is neither Hindu, Islamic, nor any other, wholly. It is a fusion of all.” He wanted Indians to have deep roots in their own culture but at the same time to acquire the best that other world cultures had to offer. He said:

I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other peoples’ houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave.

Satyagraha Against The Rowlatt Act

Along with other nationalists, Gandhiji was also aroused by the Rowlatt Act. In February 1919, he founded the Satyagraha Sabha whose members took a pledge to disobey the Act and thus to court arrest and imprisonment. Here was a new method of struggle. The nationalist movement, whether under moderate or extremist leadership, had hitherto confined its struggle to agitation. Big meetings and demonstrations, 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 new, higher level. Nationalists could now act, instead of merely agitating and giving only verbal expression to their dissatisfaction and anger.

The movement, moreover, was to rely increasingly on the political support of the peasants, artisans and the urban poor. 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, or hand-spun and hand-woven cloth, which soon became the uniform of the nationalists. He spun daily to emphasise the dignity of labour and the value of self-reliance. India’s salvation would come, he said, when the masses were wakened from their sleep and became active in politics. And the people responded magnificently to Gandhi’s call. March and April 1919 witnessed a remarkable political awakening in India. Almost the entire country came to life. There were hartals, strikes, processions and demonstrations. The slogans of Hindu- Muslim unity filled the air. The entire country was electrified. The Indian people were no longer willing to submit to the degradation of foreign rule.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

The government was determined to suppress the mass agitation. It repeatedly lathi-charged and fired upon unarmed demonstrators at Bombay, Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Delhi and other cities. Gandhiji gave a call for a mighty hartal on 6 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 political crimes in modern history. A large but unarmed crowd had gathered on 13 April 1919 at Amritsar (in the Punjab) in the Jallianwala Bagh to protest against 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 (garden) 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. They fired till their ammunition was exhausted. Thousands were killed and wounded. After this massacre, martial law was proclaimed throughout the Punjab and the people were submitted to the most uncivilised atrocities. A liberal lawyer Sivaswamy Aiyer, who had received a knighthood from the government, wrote as follows on the Punjab atrocities:

The wholesale slaughter of hundreds of unarmed men of Jallianwala Bagh without giving the crowd an opportunity to disperse, the indifferences of General Dyer to the condition of hundreds of people who were wounded in the firing, the firing of machine-guns into crowds who had dispersed and taken to their heels, the flogging of men in public, the order compelling thousands of students to walk 16 miles a day for roll-calls, the arrest and detention of 500 students and professors, the compelling of school children of 5 to 7 to attend on parade to salute the flag… the flogging of a marriage party, the censorship of mails, the closure of the Badshahi mosque for six weeks, the arrest and detention of people without any substantial reasons … the flogging of six of the biggest boys in the Islamiah school simply because they happened to be school boys and to be big boys, the construction of an open cage for the confinement of arrested persons, the invention of novel punishments like the crawling order, the skipping order and others unknown to any system of law, civil or military, the handcuffing and roping together of persons and keeping them in open trucks for fifteen hours, the use of aeroplanes and Lewis guns and the latest paraphernalia of scientific warfare against unarmed citizens, the taking of hostages and the confiscation and destruction of property for the purposes of securing the attendance of absentees, the handcuffing of Hindus and Muhammedans in pairs with the object of demonstrating the consequences of Hindu-Muslim unity, the cutting off of electric and water supplies from Indians’ houses, the removal of fans from Indian houses and giving them for use by Europeans, the commandeering of all vehicles owned by Indians and giving them to Europeans for use. … These are some of the many incidents of the administration of martial law, which created a reign of terror in the Punjab and have shocked the public.

A wave of horror ran through the country as the knowledge of the Punjab happenings spread. People saw, as if in a flash, the ugliness and brutality that lay behind the facade of civilisation that imperialism and foreign rule professed. Popular shock was expressed by the great poet and humanist Rabindranath Tagore who renounced his knighthood in protest and declared:

The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part wish to stand shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of my countrymen who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.

The Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement (1919-22)

A new stream came into the nationalist movement with the Khilafat movement. We have seen earlier that the younger generation of educated Muslims and a section of traditional divines and theologians had been growing more and more radical and nationalist. The ground for common political action by Hindus and Muslims had already been prepared by the Lucknow Pact. The nationalist agitation against the Rowlatt Act had touched all the Indian people alike and brought Hindus and Muslims together in political agitation.

For example, as if to declare before the world the principle of Hindu-Muslim unity in political action, Swami Shradhanand, a staunch Arya Samaj leader, was asked by the Muslims to preach from the pulpit of the Jama Masjid at Delhi while Dr Kitchlew, a Muslim, was given the keys of the Golden Temple, the Sikh shrine at Amritsar. At Amritsar such political unity had been brought about by governmental repression. Hindus and Muslims were handcuffed together, made to crawl together and drink water together, when ordinarily a Hindu would not drink water from the hands of a Muslim. In this atmosphere, the’nationalist trend among the Muslims took the form of the Khilafat agitation. The politically-conscious Muslims were critical of the treatment meted out to the Ottoman (or Turkish) empire by Britain and its allies who had partitioned it and taken away Thrace from Turkey proper. This was in violation of the earlier pledge of the British Premier Lloyd George who had declared: “Nor are we fighting to deprive Turkey of the rich and renowned lands of Asia Minor and Thrace which are predominantly Turkish in race.” The Muslims also felt that the power of the Sultan ofTurkey, who was also regarded by many as the Caliph or the religious head of the Muslims, over the religious places of Islam should not be undermined. A Khilafat Committee was soon formed under the leadership of the Ali Brothers, Maulana Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Hasrat Mohani, and a country-wide agitation was organised.

The All-India Khilafat Conference held at Delhi in November 1919 decided to withdraw all cooperation from the government if their demands were not met. The Muslim League, now under the leadership of nationalists, gave full support to the National Congress and its agitation on political issues. On their part, the Congress leaders, including Lokamanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, viewed the Khilafat agitation as a golden opportunity for cementing Hindu- Muslim unity and bringing the Muslim masses into the national movement. They realised that different sections of the people—Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, capitalists and workers, peasants and artisans, women and youth, tribal people and people of different regions—would come into the national movement through the experience of fighting for their own different demands and seeing that the alien regime stood in opposition to them. Gandhiji looked upon the Khilafat agitation as “an opportunity of uniting Hindus and Mohammedans as would not arise in a hundred years.” Early in 1920 he declared that the Khilafat question overshadowed that of the constitutional reforms and the Punjab wrongs and announced that he would lead a movement of non-cooperation if the terms of peace with Turkey did not satisfy the Indian Muslims. In fact, very soon Gandhi became one of the leaders of the Khilafat movement.

Meanwhile, the government had refused to annul the Rowlatt Act, make amends for the atrocities in the Punjab or satisfy the nationalist urge for self-government. In June 1920, an all-party conference met at Allahabad and approved a programme of boycott of schools, colleges and law courts. The Khilafat Committee’launched a Non- Cooperation Movement on 31 August 1920.

The Congress met in a special session in September 1920 at Calcutta. Only a few weeks earlier it had suffered a grievous loss— Lokamanya Tilak had passed away on 1 August at the age of 64. But his place was soon taken by Gandhiji, C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru. The Congress supported Gandhi’s plan for non-cooperation with the government till the Punjab and Khilafat wrongs were removed and swaraj established. The people were asked to boycott government educational institutions, law courts and legislatures; to give up foreign cloth; to surrender officially-conferred titles and honours; and to practise hand-spinning and hand-weaving for producing khadi. Later the programme would include resignation from government service and mass civil disobedience, including refusal to pay taxes. Congressmen immediately withdrew from elections, and the voters too largely boycotted them. This decision to defy in a most peaceful manner the government and its laws was endorsed at the annual session of the Congress held at Nagpur in December 1920. “The British people will have to beware,” declared Gandhiji at Nagpur, “that if they do not want to do justice, it will be the bounden duty of every Indian to destroy the empire.” The Nagpur session also made changes in the constitution of the Congress. Provincial Congress Committees were reorganised on the basis of linguistic areas. The Congress was now to be led by a Working Committee of 15 members, including the president and the secretaries. This would enable the Congress to function as a continuous political organisation and would provide it with the machinery for implementing its resolutions. The Congress organisation was to reach down to the villages, small towns and mohallas, and its membership fee was reduced to 4 annas (25 paise of today) per year to enable the rural and urban poor to become members.

The Congress now changed its character. It became the organiser and leader of the masses in their national struggle for freedom from foreign rule. There was a general feeling of exhilaration. Political freedom might come years later but the people had begun to shake off their slavish mentality. It was as if the very air that India breathed had changed. The joy and enthusiasm of those days was something special, for the sleeping giant was beginning to awake. Moreover, Hindus and Muslims were marching together shoulder to shoulder. At the same time, some of the older leaders now left the Congress. They did not like the new turn that the national movement had taken. They still believed in the traditional methods of agitation and political work which were strictly confined within the four walls of the law. They opposed the organisation of the masses, hartals, strikes, satyagraha, breaking of laws, courting of imprisonment and other forms of militant struggle. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, G.S. Khaparde, Bipin Chandra Pal and Annie Besant were among the prominent leaders who left the Congress during this period.

The years 1921 and 1922 were to witness an unprecedented movement of the Indian people. Thousands of students left government 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, th/ Kashi Vidyapith and the Gujarat Vidyapith came into existence. The Jamia Millia later shifted to Delhi. Acharya Narendra Dev, Dr Zakir Husain and Lala Lajpat Rai were among the many distinguished teachers at these national colleges and universities. Hundreds of lawyers, including Chittaranjan Das, popularly known as Deshbandhu, Motilal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Saifuddin Kitchlew, C. Rajagopalachari, Sardar Patel, T. Prakasam and Asaf Ali gave up their lucrative legal practice. The Tilak Swarajya Fund was started to finance the non-cooperation 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 became a mass movement. Huge bonfires of foreign cloth were organised all over the land. Khadi soon became a symbol of freedom. In July 1921, the All-India Khilafat Committee passed a resolution declaring that no Muslim should serve in the British-Indian army. In September the Ali Brothers were arrested for ‘sedition’. Immediately, Gandhiji gave a call for repetition of this resolution at hundreds of meetings. Fifty members of the All-India Congress Committee issued a similar declaration that no Indian should serve a government which degraded India socially, economically and politically. The Congress Working Committee issued a similar statement.

The Congress now decided to raise the movement to a higher level. It permitted the Congress Committee of a province to start civil disobedience or disobedience of British laws, including nonpayment of taxes, if in its opinion the people were ready for it.

The government again took recourse to repression. The activities of the Congress and Khilafat volunteers, who had begun to drill together and thus unite Hindu and Muslim political workers at lower levels, were declared illegal. By the end of 1921 all important nationalist leaders, except Gandhiji, were behind bars along with 3000 others. In November 1921 huge demonstrations greeted the Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne, during his tour of India. He had been asked by the government to come to India to encourage loyalty among the people and the princes. In Bombay, the government tried to suppress the demonstration, killing 53 persons and wounding about 400 more. The annual session of the Congress, meeting at Ahmedabad in December 1921, passed a resolution affirming “the fixed determination of the Congress to continue the programme of non-violent non-cooperation with greater vigour than hitherto … till the Punjab and Khilafat wrongs were redressed and Swarajya is established.” The resolution urged all Indians, and in particular students, “quietly and without any demonstration to offer themselves for arrest by belonging to the volunteer organisations.” All such satyagrahis were to take a pledge to “remain non-violent in word and deed,” to promote unity among Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Jews, and to practise swadeshi and wear only khadi. A Hindu volunteer was also to undertake to fight actively against untouchability. The resolution also called upon the people to organise, whenever possible, individual or mass civil disobedience along nonviolent lines.

The people now waited impatiently for the call for further struggle. The movement had, moreover, spread deep among the masses. Thousands of peasants in Uttar Pradesh and Bengal had responded to the call of non-cooperation. In parts of Uttar Pradesh, tenants refused to pay illegal dues to the zamindars. In the Punjab the Sikhs were leading a non-violent movement, known as the Akali movement, to remove corrupt mahants from the Gurudwaras, their places of worship. In Assam, tea-plantation labourers went on strike. The peasants of Midnapore refused to pay Union Board taxes. A powerful agitation led by Duggirala Gopalakrishnayya developed in Guntur district. The whole population of Chirala, a town in that district, refused to pay municipal taxes and moved out of town. All village officers resigned in Peddanadipadu. In Malabar (northern Kerala) the Moplahs, or Muslim peasants, created a powerful anti-zamindar movement. The Viceroy wrote to the Secretary of State in February 1919 that “The lower classes in the towns have been seriously affected by the Non-Cooperation Movement…. In certain areas the peasantry have been affected, particularly in parts of Assam valley, United Provinces, Bihar and Orissa, and Bengal.” On 1 February 1922, Mahatma Gandhi announced that he would start mass civil disobedience, including non-payment of taxes, unless within seven days the political prisoners were released and the press freed from government control.

This mood of struggle was soon transformed into retreat. On 5 February, a Congress procession of3000 peasants at Chauri Chaura, a village in the Gorakhpur District of Uttar Pradesh, 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 afraid that in this moment of popular ferment and excitement, the movement might easily take a violent turn. He was convinced that the nationalist workers had not yet properly understood nor learnt the practice of non-violence without which, he was convinced, civil disobedience could not be a success. Apart from the fact that he would have nothing to do with violence, he also perhaps believed that the British would be able to easily crush a violent movement, for people had not yet built up enough strength and stamina to resist massive government repression. He therefore decided to suspend the nationalist campaign. The Congress Working Committee met at Bardoli in Gujarat on 12 February*and passed a resolution stopping all activities which would lead to breaking urged Congressmen to donate their time to the constructive programme—popularisation of the charkha, national schools, temperance, removal of untouchability and promotion of Hindu-Muslim unity.

The Bardoli resolution stunned the country and had a mixed reception among the bewildered nationalists. While some had implicit faith in Gandhiji and believed that the retreat was a part of the Gandhian strategy of struggle, others, especially the younger nationalists, resented this decision to retreat. Subhas Bose, one of the popular and younger leaders of the Congress, has written in his autobiography, The Ifidian Struggle:

To sound the order of retreat just when public enthusiasm was reaching the boiling-point was nothing short of a national calamity. The principal lieutenants of the Mahatma, Deshbandhu Das, Pandit Motilal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai, who were all in prison, shared the popular resentment. I was with the Deshbandhu at the time and I could see that he was beside himself with anger and sorrow at the way Mahatma Gandhi was repeatedly bungling.

Many other young leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru had a similar reaction. But both the people and the leaders had faith in Gandhiji and did not want to publicly disobey him. They accepted his decision without open opposition. The first Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience Movement virtually came to an end.

The last act of the drama was played when the government decided to take full advantage of the situation and to strike hard. It arrested Mahatma Gandhi on 10 March 1922 and charged him with spreading disaffection against the government. Gandhiji was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment after a trial which was made historic by the statement that he made before the court. Pleading guilty to the prosecution’s charge, he invited the court to award him “the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.” He traced at length his own political evolution from a supporter of the British rule to its sharpest critic and said:

I came reluctantly to the conclusion that the British connection had made India more helpless than she ever was before, politically and economically. A disarmed India has no power of resistance against any aggression. … She has become so poor that she has little power of resisting famines. … Little do town dwellers know how the semi-starved masses of India are slowly sinking to lifelessness. Little do they know that their miserable comfort represents the brokerage they get for the work they do for the foreign exploiter, that the profits and the brokerage are sucked from the masses. Little do they realise that the government established by law in British India is carried on for the exploitation of the masses. No sophistry, no jugglery in figures, can explain away the evidence that the skeletons in many villages present to the naked eye…. In my opinion, administration of the law is thus prostituted, consciously or unconsciously, for the benefit of the exploiter. The greater misfortune is that Englishmen and their Indian associates in the administration of the country do not know that they are engaged in the crime I have attempted to describe. I am satisfied that many Englishmen and Indian officials honestly believe that they are administering one of the best systems devised in the world, and that India is making steady, though slow progress. They do not know that a subtle but effective system of terrorism and an organised display of force on the one hand, and the deprivation of all powers of retaliation or self- defence on the other, have emasculated the people and induced in them the habit of simulation.

In conclusion, Gandhiji expressed his belief that “non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.” The judge noted that he was passing on Gandhiji the same sentence as was passed on Lokamanya Tilak in 1908.

Very soon the Khilafat question also lost relevance. The people of Turkey rose up under the leadership of Mustafa Kamal Pasha and, in November 1922, deprived the Sultan of his political power. Kamal Pasha took many measures to modernise Turkey and to make it a secular state. He abolished the Caliphate (or the institution of the Caliph) and separated the state from religion by eliminating Islam from the Constitution. He nationalised education, granted women extensive rights, introduced legal codes based on European models, took steps to develop agriculture and to introduce modern industries. All these steps broke the back of the Khilafat agitation.

The Khilafat agitation had made an important contribution to the non-cooperation movement. It had brought urban Muslims into the nationalist movement and had been, thus, responsible in part for the feeling of nationalist enthusiasm and exhilaration that prevailed in the country in those days. Some historians have criticised it for mixing religion with politics. As a result, they say, religious consciousness spread to politics, and in the long run, the forces of communalism were strengthened. This is true to some extent. There was, of course, nothing wrong in the nationalist movement taking up a demand that affected Muslims only. It was inevitable that different sections of society would come to understand the need for freedom through their particular demands and experiences. The nationalist leadership, however, failed to some extent in raising the religious political consciousness of the Muslims to the higher plane of secular political consciousnesss. At the same time it should also be kept in view that the Khilafat agitation represented much wider feelings of the Muslims than their concern for the Caliph. It was in reality an aspect of the general spread of anti-imperialist feelings among the Muslims. These feelings found concrete expression on the Khilafat question. After all there was no protest in India when Kamal Pasha abolished the Caliphate in 1924.

It may be noted at this stage that even though the Non- Cooperation and Civil Disobedience Movement had ended in apparent failure, the national movement had been strengthened in more than one way. Nationalist sentiments and the national movement had now reached the remotest corners of the land. Millions of peasants, artisans and urban poor had been brought into the national movement. All strata of Indian society had been politicised. Women had been drawn into the movement. It is this politicisation and activisation of millions of men and women that imparted a revolutionary character to the Indian national movement.

The British rule was based on the twin notions that the British ruled India for the good of the Indians and that it was invincible and incapable of being overthrown. As we have seen earlier, the first notion was challenged by the moderate nationalists who developed a powerful economic critique of colonial rule. It was now, during the mass phase of the national movement, that this critique was disseminated among the common people by youthful agitators through speeches, pamphlets, dramas, songs,prabhatpheries and newspapers.

The notion of invincibility of the British rule was challenged by satyagraha and mass struggle. As Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in The Discoveiy of India:

The essence of his (Gandhiji’s) teaching was fearlessness … not merely body courage but the absence of fear from the mind…. But the dominant impulse in India under British rule was that of fear, pervasive, oppressing, strangling fear; fear of the army, the police, the widespread secret service; fear of the official class; fear of laws meant to suppress and of prison; fear of landlord’s agents; fear of the moneylender; fear of unemployment and starvation, which were always on the threshold. It was against this all- pervading fear that Gandhiji’s quiet and determined voice was raised: Be not afraid.

A major result of the Non-Cooperation Movement was that the Indian people lost their sense of fear—the brute strength of British power in India no longer frightened them. They had gained tremendous self-confidence and self-esteem, which no defeats and retreats could shake. This was expressed by Gandhiji when he declared that “the fight that was commenced in 1920 is a fight to the finish, whether it lasts one month or one year or many months or many years.”

The Swarajists

Major developments in Indian politics occurred during 1922-28. Immediately, the withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation Movement led to demoralisation in the nationalist ranks. Moreover, serious differences arose among the leaders who had to decide how to prevent the movement from lapsing into passivity. One school of thought headed by C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru advocated a new line of political activity under the changed conditions. They said that nationalists should end the boycott of the Legislative Councils, enter them, obstruct their working according to official plans, expose their weaknesses, transform them into arenas of political struggle and thus use them to arouse public enthusiasm. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr Ansari, Babu Rajendra Prasad and others, known as ‘no-changers’, opposed Council entry. They warned that legislative politics would lead to neglect of work among the masses, weaken nationalist fervour and create rivalries among the leaders. They, therefore, continued to emphasise the constructive programme of spinning, temperance, Hindu-Muslim unity, removal of untouchability and grassroots work in the villages and among the poor. This would, they said, gradually prepare the country for the new round of mass struggle. In December 1922, Das and Motilal Nehru formed the Congress-Khilafat Swarajya Party with C.R. Das as president and Motilal Nehru as one of the secretaries. The new party was to function as a group within the Congress. It accepted the Congress programme except in one respect—it would take part in Council elections.

The Swarajists and the ‘no-changers’ now engaged in fierce political controversy. Even Gandhiji, who had been released on 5 February 1924 on grounds of health, failed in his efforts to unite them. But both were determined to avoid the disastrous experience of the 1907 split at Surat. On the advice of Gandhiji, the two groups agreed to remain in the Congress though they would work in their separate ways.

Even though the Swarajists had little time for preparations, they did very well in the election of November 1923. They won 42 seats out of the 101 elected seats in the Central Legislative Assembly. With the cooperation of other Indian groups they repeatedly out-voted the government in the Central Assembly and in several of the Provincial Councils. They agitated through powerful speeches on questions of self-government, civil liberties and industrial development. In March 1925, they succeeded in electing Vithalbhai J. Patel, a leading nationalist leader, as the president (Speaker) of the Central Legislative Assembly. They filled the political void at a time when the national movement was recouping its strength. They also exposed the hollowness of the Reform Act of 1919. But they failed to change the policies of the authoritarian Government of India and found it necessary to walk out of the Central Assembly first in March 1926 and then in January 1930.

In the meanwhile, the ‘no-changers’ carried on quiet, constructive work. Symbolic of this work were hundreds of ashrams that came up all over the country where young men and women promoted charkha and khadi, and worked among the lower castes and tribal people. Hundreds of National schools and colleges came up where young persons were trained in a non-colonial ideological framework. Moreover, constructive workers served as the backbone of the civil disobedience movements as their active organisers.

While the Swarajists and the ‘no-changers’ worked in their own separate ways, there was no basic difference between the two, and, because they kept on the best of terms and recognised each other’s anti-imperialist character, they could readily unite later when the time was ripe for a new national struggle. Meanwhile, the nationalist movement and the Swarajists suffered another grievous blow in the death of C.R. Das in June 1925.

As the Non-Cooperation Movement petered out and the people felt frustrated, communalism reared its ugly head. The communal elements took advantage of the situation to propagate their views and after 1923 the country was repeatedly plunged into communal riots. The Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha, which was founded in December 1917, once again became active. The result was that the growing feeling that all people were Indians first received a setback. Even the Swarajist Party, whose main leaders, Motilal Nehru and Das, were staunch nationalists, was split by communalism. A group known as ‘responsivists’, including Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lala Lajpat Rai and N.C. Kelkar, offered cooperation to the government so that the so-called Hindu interests might be safeguarded. They accused Motilal Nehru of letting down Hindus, of being anti-Hindu, of favouring cow-slaughter and of eating beef. The Muslim communalists were no less active in fighting for the loaves and fishes of office. Gandhiji, who had repeatedly asserted that “Hindu-Muslim unity must be our creed for all time and under all circumstances” tried to intervene and improve the situation. In September 1924, he went on a 21-day-fast at Delhi in Maulana Mohamed Ali’s house to do penance for the inhumanity revealed in the communal riots. But his efforts were of little avail.

The situation in the country appeared to be dark indeed. There was general political apathy; Gandhi was living in retirement, the Swarajists were split, communalism was flourishing. Gandhiji wrote in May 1927: “My only hope lies in prayer and answer to prayer.” But, behind the scenes, forces of national upsurge had been growing. When in November 1927 the announcement of the formation of the Simon Commission came, India again emerged from darkness and entered a new era of political struggle.

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