• This chapter analyses Gandhiji’s activities in India during crucial period 1915-1948. It explores his interactions with different sections of Indian society and popular struggles that he inspired and led.
A Leader Announces Himself
• In January 1915, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returned to his homeland after two decades of residence abroad.
• These years had been spent for most part in South Africa, where he went as a lawyer, and in time became a leader of Indian community in that territory.
1. As historian Chandran Devanesan has remarked, South Africa was ‘the making of Mahatma’.
2. It was in South Africa that Mahatma Gandhi first forged distinctive techniques of non-violent protest called satyagraha, first promoted harmony between religions, and first alerted upper-caste Indians to their discriminatory treatment of low castes and women.
• The India that Mahatma Gandhi came back to in 1915.
• Through Swadeshi movement of 1905-07 it had greatly broadened its appeal among middle classes.
• That movement had thrown up some towering leaders among them Bal Gangadhar Tilak of Maharashtra, Bipin Chandra Pal of Bengal, and Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab. The three were called ‘Lal, Bal & Pal’.
• There was a group of ‘Moderates’ who preferred a more gradual and persuasive approach. Among these Moderates was Gandhiji’s acknowledged political mentor, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, as well as Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who, like Gandhiji, was a lawyer of Gujarati extraction trained in London.
• On Gokhale’s advice, Gandhiji spent a year travelling around British India, getting to know land and its peoples.
• His first major public appearance was at opening of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in February 1916.
• At annual Congress, held in Lucknow in December 1916, he was approached by a peasant from Champaran in Bihar, who told him about harsh treatment of peasants by British indigo planters.
The Making and Unmaking of Non-Cooperation
• Mahatma Gandhi was to spend much of 1917 in Champaran, seeking to obtain for peasants security of tenure as well as freedom to cultivate crops of their choice.
• The following year, 1918, Gandhiji was involved in two campaigns in his home state of Gujarat.
• First, he intervened in a labour dispute in Ahmedabad, demanding better working conditions for textile mill workers.
• Then he joined peasants in Kheda in asking state for remission of taxes following failure of their harvest.
• These initiatives in Champaran, Ahmedabad & Kheda marked Gandhiji out as a nationalist with a deep sympathy for poor.
• During Great War of 1914-18, British had instituted censorship of press and permitted detention without trial. The Khilafat Movement, (1919-1920) was a movement of Indian Muslims, led by Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, that demanded following: The Turkish Sultan or Khalifa must retain control over Muslim sacred places in erstwhile Ottoman empire; jazirat-ul-Arab (Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Palestine) must remain under Muslim sovereignty; and The Khalifa must be left with sufficient territory to enable him to defend Islamic faith. The Congress supported movement and Mahatma Gandhi sought to conjoin it to Non-cooperation Movement.
• On recommendation of a committee chaired by Sir Sidney Rowlatt, these tough measures were continued.
• In response, Gandhiji known as for a countrywide campaign against ‘Rowlatt Act’.
• Gandhiji was detained while proceeding to Punjab, even as prominent local Congressmen were arrested.
• In Amritsar in April 1919, when a British Brigadier ordered his troops to open fire on a nationalist meeting.
• More than four hundred people were killed in what is called Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It was Rowlatt satyagraha that made Gandhiji a truly national leader.
• Emboldened by its success, Gandhiji known as for a campaign of ‘non-cooperation’ with British rule.
• To further broaden struggle, he had joined hands with Khilafat Movement that sought to restore Caliphate, a symbol of Pan-Islamism which had recently been abolished by Turkish ruler Kemal Attaturk.
Knitting a Popular Movement
• Gandhiji hoped that by coupling non-cooperation with Khilafat, India’s two major religious communities, Hindus & Muslims, could collectively bring an end to colonial rule.
• Students stopped going to schools and colleges run by government. Lawyers refused to attend court. The working class went on strike in many towns and cities.
• Hill tribes in northern Andhra violated forest laws. Farmers in Awadh did not pay taxes. Peasants in Kumaun refused to carry loads for colonial officials.
• In February 1922, a group of peasants attacked and torched a police station in hamlet of Chauri Chaura, in United Provinces (now, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal).
• Several constables perished in conflagration. This act of violence prompted Gandhiji to call off movement altogether.
• During Non-Cooperation Movement thousands of Indians were put in jail. Gandhiji himself was arrested in March 1922, and charged with sedition.
A People’s Leader
• By 1922, Gandhiji had transformed Indian nationalism, thereby redeeming promise he made in his BHU speech of February 1916.
• It was no longer a movement of professionals and intellectuals; now, hundreds of thousands of peasants, workers & artisans participated in it.
• He spent part of each day working on charkha (spinning wheel), and encouraged other nationalists to do likewise.
• The act of spinning allowed Gandhiji to break boundaries that prevailed within traditional caste system, between mental labour and manual labour.
• Between 1917 and 1922, a group of highly talented Indians attached themselves to Gandhiji.
• They included Mahadev Desai, Vallabh Bhai Patel, J.B. Kripalani, Subhas Chandra Bose, Abul Kalam Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Govind Ballabh Pant and C. Rajagopalachari.
• Mahatma Gandhi was released from prison in February 1924, and now chose to devote his attention to promotion of home-spun cloth (khadi), and abolition of untouchability.
• For, Gandhiji was as much a social reformer as he was a politician. He believed that in order to be worthy of freedom, Indians had to get rid of social evils such as child marriage and untouchability.
• Indians of one faith had to cultivate a genuine tolerance for Indians of another – hence his emphasis on Hindu-Muslim harmony.
• Meanwhile, on economic front Indians had to learn to become self-reliant – hence his stress on significance of wearing khadi rather than mill-made cloth imported from overseas.
The Salt Satyagraha- A Case Study
• For several years after Non-cooperation Movement ended, Mahatma Gandhi focused on his social reform work.
• In 1928 there was an all-India campaign in opposition to all-White Simon Commission, sent from England to enquire into conditions in colony. Gandhiji did not himself participate in this movement.
• In end of December 1929, Congress held its annual session in city of Lahore. The meeting was significant for two things: election of Jawaharlal Nehru as President, signifying passing of baton of leadership to younger generation; and proclamation of commitment to ‘Purna Swaraj’, or complete independence.
• On 26 January 1930, ‘Independence Day’ was observed, with national flag being hoisted in different venues, and patriotic songs being sung.
• Soon after observance of this ‘Independence Day’, Mahatma Gandhi announced that he would lead a march to break one of most widely disliked laws in British India, which gave state a monopoly in manufacture and sale of salt.
• On 12th March 1930, Gandhiji began walking from his ashram at Sabarmati towards ocean. He reached his destination three weeks later, making a fistful of salt as he did and thereby making himself a criminal in eyes of law. Meanwhile, parallel salt marches were being conducted in other parts of country.
• As with Non-cooperation, apart from officially sanctioned nationalist campaign, there were numerous other streams of protest.
• In some towns, factory workers went on strike while lawyers boycotted British courts and students refused to attend government-run educational institutions.
• The Salt March was notable for at least three reasons.
1. First, it was this event that first brought Mahatma Gandhi to world attention. The march was widely covered by European and American press.
2. Second, it was first nationalist activity in which women participated in large numbers. The socialist activist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay had persuaded Gandhiji not to restrict protests to men alone. Kamaladevi was herself one of numerous women who courted arrest by breaking salt or liquor laws.
3. Third, and perhaps most significant, it was Salt March which forced upon British realisation that their Raj would not last forever, and that they would have to devolve some power to Indians.
‘Round Table Conferences’
• The first meeting was held in November 1930, but without pre-eminent political leader in India, thus rendering it an exercise in futility.
• Gandhiji was released from jail in January 1931 and following month had several long meetings with Viceroy.
• These culminated in what was known as ‘GandhiIrwin Pact’, by terms of which civil disobedience would be known as off, all prisoners released, and salt manufacture allowed along coast.
• A second Round Table Conference was held in London in latter part of 1931. Here, Gandhiji represented Congress.
• The Conference in London was inconclusive, so Gandhiji returned to India and resumed civil disobedience. The new Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, was deeply unsympathetic to Indian leader.
• In 1935, however, a new Government of India Act promised some form of representative government.
• Two years later, in an election held on basis of a restricted franchise, Congress won a comprehensive victory.
• Now eight out of 11 provinces had a Congress ‘Prime Minister’, working under supervision of a British Governor.
• In September 1939, two years after Congress ministries assumed office, Second World War broke out.
• Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru had both been strongly critical of Hitler and Nazis.
• Accordingly, they promised Congress support to war effort if British, in return, promised to grant India independence once hostilities ended.
• In March 1940, Muslim League passed a resolution committing itself to creation of a separate nation known as ‘Pakistan’.
• The political landscape was now complicated: it was no longer Indians versus British; rather, it had become a three-way struggle between Congress, Muslim League, and British.
• In spring of 1942, Churchill was persuaded to send one of his ministers, Sir Stafford Cripps, to India to try and forge a compromise with Gandhiji and Congress.
• After failure of Cripps Mission, Mahatma Gandhi decided to launch his third major movement against British rule. This was ‘Quit India’ campaign, which began in August 1942.
• ‘Quit India’ was genuinely a mass movement, bringing into its ambit hundreds of thousands of ordinary Indians.
• The Congress leaders languished in jail, Jinnah & his colleagues in Muslim League worked patiently at expanding their influence.
• In June 1944, with end of war in sight, Gandhiji was released from prison. Later that year he held a series of meetings with Jinnah, seeking to bridge gap between Congress and League.
• In 1945, a Labour government came to power in Britain and committed itself to granting independence to India. Meanwhile, back in India, Viceroy, Lord Wavell, brought Congress and League together for a series of talks. Early in 1946 fresh elections were held to provincial legislatures.
• The Congress swept ‘General’ category, but in seats specifically reserved for Muslims League won an overwhelming majority.
Direct Action Day
• A Cabinet Mission sent in summer of 1946 failed to get Congress and League to agree on a federal system that would keep India together while allowing provinces a degree of autonomy.
• After talks broke down, Jinnah known as for a ‘Direct Action Day’ to press League’s demand for Pakistan. On designated day, 16th August 1946, bloody riots broke out in Calcutta.
• The violence spread to rural Bengal, then to Bihar, and then across country to United Provinces and Punjab.
• In some places, Muslims were main sufferers, in other places, Hindus. In February 1947, Wavell was replaced as Viceroy by Lord Mountbatten.
• Mountbatten known as one last round of talks, but when these too proved inconclusive he announced that British India would be freed, but divided. The formal transfer of power was fixed for 15th August.
The Last Heroic Days
• At initiative of Gandhiji and Nehru, Congress now passed a resolution on ‘the rights of minorities’.
• The party had never accepted ‘two-nation theory’: forced against its will to accept Partition, it still believed that ‘India is a land of many religions and many races, and must remain so’.
• Whatever be situation in Pakistan, India would be ‘a democratic secular State where all citizens enjoy full rights and are equally entitled to protection of State, irrespective of religion to which they belong’.
• Gandhiji had fought a lifelong battle for a free and united India; and yet, when country was divided, he urged that two parts respect and befriend one another.
• At his daily prayer meeting on evening of 30 January 1948, Gandhiji was shot dead by a young man.
• There are many different kinds of sources from which we can reconstruct political career of Gandhiji and history of nationalist movement.
1. Public voice and private scripts One important source is writings and speeches of Mahatma Gandhi and his contemporaries, including both his associates and his political adversaries.
2. Mahatma Gandhi regularly published in his journal, Harijan, letters that others wrote to him.
3. Framing a picture: Autobiographies similarly give us an account of past that is often rich in human detail.
4. Through police eyes: Another vital source is government records, for colonial rulers kept close tabs on those they regarded as critical of government. The letters and reports written by policemen and other officials were secret at time; but now can be accessed in archives.
5. From newspapers: One more important source is contemporary newspapers, published in English as well as in different Indian languages, which tracked Mahatma Gandhi’s movements and reported on his activities, and represented what ordinary Indians thought of him.
1905 – Bengal got partitioned
1915 – Mahatma Gandhi came to India from South Africa.
1919 – The Rowlatt Satyagraha started. The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre took place.
1921 – The Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements.
1922 – Gandhiji known as off Non-Cooperation Movement.
1928 – Peasant movement in Bardoli
1929 – ‘Purna Swaraj’ accepted as Congress goal at Lahore Congress (December)
1930 – Civil Disobedience Movement begins; Dandi March (March-April)
1931 – Gandhi-Irwin Pact (March); Second Round Table Conference (December)
1935 – Government of India Act promises some form of representative government
1939 – Congress ministries resign
1942 – Quit India Movement begins (August)
1946 – Mahatma Gandhi visits Noakhali and other riot-torn areas to stop communal violence