The First World War, Khilafat And Non-Cooperation
Effects of First World War: The War led to a huge increase in defence expenditure. This was financed by war loans and by increasing taxes. Customs duties were raised and income tax was introduced to raise extra revenue. Prices of items increased during the war years. The prices doubled between 1913 and 1918. The common people were the worst sufferers because of price rise. Forced recruitment of rural people in the army was another cause of widespread anger among people.
Crop failure in many parts of India resulted in acute shortage of food. Influenza epidemic further aggravated the problem. According to 1921 census, about 12 to 13 million people died because of famines and epidemic.
The Idea of Satyagraha
Mahatma Gandhi advocated a novel method of mass agitation; called satyagraha. This method was based on the idea that if someone is fighting for a true cause, there is no need to take recourse to physical force to fight the oppressor. Gandhiji believed that a satyagrahi could win a battle through non-violence, i.e. without being aggressive or revengeful.
Some early satyagraha movements organized by Gandhi:
1.Peasants’ movement in Champaran in 1916.
2.Peasants’ movement in Kheda in 1917.
3.Mill workers’ movement in Ahmadabad in 1918.
The Rowlatt Act(1919):
The Rowlatt Act was passed by the Imperial Legislative Council in 1919. The Indian members did not support the Act, but it was passed; nevertheless. The Act gave enormous powers to the government to repress political activities. It allowed detention of political prisoners without trial for two years.
On 6th April, 1919; Gandhiji launched a nationwide satyagraha against the proposed Rowlatt Act. The call of strike on 6th April got huge response. People came out in support in various cities, shops were shut down and workers in railway workshops went on strike. The British administration decided to clamp down on the nationalists. Several local leaders were arrested. Mahatma Gandhi was barred from entering Delhi.
On 10th April 1919; in Amritsar; the police fired upon a peaceful procession. This provoked widespread attacks on government establishments. Martial law was imposed in Amritsar and the command of the area was given to General Dyer.
The infamous Jallianwalla Bagh massacre took place on 13th April; the day on which Baisakhi is celebrated in Punjab. A crowd of villagers came to participate in a fair in Jallianwalla Bagh. This was enclosed from all sides with narrow entry points. General Dyer blocked the exit points and opened fire on the crowd. Hundreds of people were killed in the incident. Public reaction to the incident took a violent turn in many north Indian towns. The government was quite brutal in its response. Things took highly violent turn. Mahatma Gandhi called off the movement as did not want violence to continue.
Need of Wider Spread of Movement: The Rowlatt satyagraha was limited mainly to the cities and towns. Mahatma Gandhi felt the need of a more broad-based movement in India. He was convinced that it could be only possible by bringing the Hindus and Muslims on a common platform.
The Khilafat issue gave him the opportunity to bring the Hindus and Muslims on a common platform. The Ottoman Turkey was badly defeated in the First World War. There were rumours about a harsh peace treating likely to be imposed on the Ottoman emperor; who was the spiritual head of the Islamic world (the Khalifa). A Khilafat committed was formed in Bombay in March 1919 to defend the Khalifa. This committee had leaders like the brothers Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali. They also wanted Mahatma Gandhi to take up the cause to build a united mass action. At the Calcutta session of the Congress in September 1920, the resolution was passed to launch a non-cooperation movement in support of Khilafat and also for swaraj.
In his famous book Hind Swaraj (1909) Mahatma Gandhi declared that British rule was established in India with the cooperation of Indians, and had survived only because of this cooperation. If Indians refused to cooperate, British rule in India would collapse within a year, and swaraj would come. Gandhiji believed that if Indians begin to refuse to cooperate, the British rulers will have no other way than to leave India.
Some of the proposals of non-cooperation movement:
1.Surrender the titles which were awarded by the British government.
2.Boycott civil services, army, police, courts, legislative councils and schools.
3..Boycott foreign goods.
4.Launch full civil disobedience campaign, if the government persisted with repressive measures.
Differing Strands within the Movement: The Non-Cooperation-Khilafat Movement began in January 1921. Various social groups participated in this movement, each with its own specific aspiration. All of them responded to the call of Swaraj, but the term meant different things to different people.
The Movement in the Towns:
1.The movement started with good participation from the middle-class in the cities.
2.Thousands of students left government-controlled schools and colleges, headmasters and teachers resigned, and lawyers gave up their legal practices.
3.The council elections were boycotted in most provinces except Madras. In Madras, the Justice Party, the party of the non-Brahmans, felt that entering the council was one way of gaining some power – something that usually only Brahmans had access to.
4.Foreign goods were boycotted, liquor shops picketed, and foreign cloth burnt in huge bonfires. The import of foreign cloth halved between 1921 and 1922, its value dropping from Rs 102 crore to Rs 57 crore. The boycott of foreign cloths helped in increasing the demand of cloths made in India.
Reasons for Slowdown of Movement:
1.Khadi was more expensive than mill-made cloth. The poor people could not afford to buy khadi.
2.Boycott of British institutions posed a problem of lack of alternative Indian institutions. Such institutions were slow to come up. Students and teachers began coming back schools. Similarly, lawyers resumed their work in the courts.
Rebellion in the Countryside: From the cities, the Non-Cooperation Movement spread to the countryside. It drew into its fold the struggles of peasants and tribals which were developing in different parts of India in the years after the war.
The peasants’ movement in Awadh was led by Baba Ramchandra. He was a sanyasi who had earlier worked in Fiji as an indentured labourer. The peasants were against the high rents and may other cess which were demanded by talukdars and landlords. The peasants demanded reduction of revenue, abolition of begar, and social boycott of oppressive landlords.
Jawaharlal Nehru began touring the villages in June 1920. He tried to understand the problems of the peasants. Oudh Kisan Sabha was set up by October. It was headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Baba Ramchandra and a few others. By associating itself with the peasants’ movement, Congress was able to integrate the movement in Awadh with a wider non-cooperation movement. At many places, people stopped paying rents by invoking the name of the Mahatma.
Tribal peasants gave their own interpretation of Mahatma Gandhi and the idea of swaraj. The tribals were prevented from entering the forests to graze cattle, or to collect fruits and firewood. The new forest laws were a threat to their livelihood. The government forced them to do begar on road construction.
Many rebels from the tribal areas became non-violent and often carried guerilla warfare against the British officials.
Swaraj in the Plantations
The plantation workers were not permitted to leave the tea gardens without permission; as per the Indian Emigration Act of 1859. When the news of Non-Cooperation Movement spread to the plantations, many workers began to defy the authorities. They left plantations and headed towards their homes. But they got stranded on the way because of a railway and steamer strike. They were caught by the police and brutally beaten up.
Many analysts are of the opinion that the vision of the movement was not properly defined by the Congress. Different people interpreted the term ‘swaraj’ in their own ways. For them, swaraj meant an end to all their problems. However, people from various strata of society began to chant the name of Gandhi and the slogan of Swatantra Bharat. In some way or the other, they were trying to relate to the wider movement which was beyond their comprehension.
Civil Disobedience Movement
By the end of 1921, the movement was turning violent at many places. Gandhiji decided to withdraw the non-cooperation movement in February 1922. Even many Congress leaders were fatigued by mass struggles and wanted to participate in the elections to the provincial councils. The provincial councils were set up by the Government of India Act of 1919. Many leaders were of the opinion that it was important to oppose the British policies by becoming a part of the system.
The older leaders; like Motilal Nehru and Motilal Nehru formed the Swaraj Party (within the Congress) and began to argue for a return to council politics.
The younger leaders; like Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru; were in favour of more radical mass agitation and pressed for full independence.
This was a period of internal debate and dissension within the Congress. This was also the period when the effect of the Great Depression was being felt on India. Agricultural prices began to fall from 1926. The prices collapsed in 1930. The whole country was in turmoil because of the effects of Great Depression.
The British government constituted a Statutory Commission under Sir John Simon. The commission was made to look into the functioning of the constitutional system in India and suggest changes. But since all the members in the commission were British, the Indian leaders opposed the commission.
The Simon Commission arrived in India in 1928. It was greeted with the slogan ‘Go back Simon’. All parties joined the protest. In October 1929, Lord Irwin announced a vague offer of ‘dominion status’ for India but its timing was not specified. He also offered to hold a Round Table Conference to discuss the future constitution.
The radical leaders within the Congress became more assertive. They were not satisfied with the British proposal. The liberals and moderates were in favour of the dominion status, but they were losing their influence in Congress.
In December 1929, the Lahore Congress was presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru. It passed the resolution of ‘Purna Swaraj’ or full independence for India. It declared 26th January 1930 as the Independence Day and gave a call to the people to take a pledge to struggle for complete independence. But the celebrations attracted little public support.
It was then left to Mahatma Gandhi to correlate the abstract idea of freedom to more concrete issues of everyday life.
Mahatma Gandhi believed that salt could be a powerful symbol to unite the whole nation. Most of the people; including the British scoffed at the idea. Abolition of the salt tax was among many demands which were raised by Gandhiji through a letter to Viceroy Irwin.
The Salt March or Dandi March was started by Gandhiji on 12th March 1930. He was accompanied by 78 volunteers. They walked for 24 days to cover a distance of 240 miles from Sabaramati to Dandi. Many more joined them in the way. On 6th April 1930, Gandhiji ceremonially violated the law by taking a fistful of salt.
The Salt March marked the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement. Thousands of people broke the salt law in different parts of country. People demonstrated in front of government salt factories. Foreign cloth was boycotted. Peasants refused to pay revenue. Village officials resigned. Tribal people violated forest laws.
Response of British Rulers
The colonial government began to arrest the Congress leaders. This led to violent clashes in many places. Mahatma Gandhi was arrested about a month later. People began to attack the symbols of British rule; such as police posts, municipal buildings, law courts and railway stations. The government’s repression was quite brutal. Even women and children were beaten up. About 100,000 people were arrested.
Round Table Conference
When things began to take a violent turn, Mahatma Gandhi called off the movement. He signed a pact with Irwin on 5th March 1931. This was called the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. As per the Pact, Gandhiji agreed to participate in the Round Table Conference in London. In lieu of that, the government agreed to release the political prisoners.
Gandhiji went to London in December 1931. The negotiations broke down and Gandhiji had to return with disappointment.
When Gandhiji came back to India, he found that most of the leaders were put in jail. Congress had been declared illegal. Many measures were taken to prevent meetings, demonstrations and boycotts. Mahatma Gandhi relaunched the Civil Disobedience Movement. By 1934, the movement had lost its momentum.
People’s Perception Of The Movement
Farmers: For the farmers, the fight for swaraj was a struggle against high revenues. When the movement was called off in 1931; without the revenue rates being revised; the farmers were highly disappointed. Many of them refused to participate when the movement was re-launched in 1932. The small tenants just wanted the unpaid rent to the landlord to be remitted. They often joined the radical movements which were led by Socialists and Communists. Congress did not want to alienate the rich landlords and hence, the relationship between the poor peasants and Congress was uncertain.
Businessmen: The Indian merchants and industrialists could grow their business during the First World War. They were against those colonial policies which restricted their business activities. They wanted protection against imports and a rupee-sterling foreign exchange ratio which would discourage imports. The Indian Industrial and Commercial Congress was formed in 1920 and the Federation of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FICCI) was formed in 1927. These were the results of attempts to bring the common business interests on a common platform. For the businessmen, swaraj meant an end to oppressive colonial policies. They wanted an environment which could allow the business to flourish. They were apprehensive of militant activities and of growing influence of socialism among the younger members of the Congress.
Industrial Workers: The industrial workers showed lukewarm response to the Civil Disobedience Movement. Since industrialists were closer to the Congress, workers kept a distance from the movement. But some workers selectively participated in the Movement. Congress did not want to alienate the industrialists and hence preferred to keep the workers’ demands at bay.
Women also participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement in large numbers. However, most of the women were from high-caste families in the urban areas and from rich peasant households in the rural areas. But for a long time, the Congress was reluctant to give any position of authority to women within the organization. The Congress was just keen on the symbolic presence of women.
The Limits Of Civil Disobedience
Participation of Dalits
Initially Congress used to ignore the dalits; because it did not want to alienate the conservative high-caste Hindus. But Mahatma Gandhi was of the view to bring social reforms to improve the plight of the dalits. Mahatma Gandhi declared that without removing the practice of untouchability, swaraj could not be achieved.
Many dalit leaders wanted a different political solution to the problems of the dalit community. They demanded reserved seats in educational institutions and separate electorate for dalits. Dalit participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement was limited.
Dr. B R Ambedkar organized the dalits into the Depressed Classes Association in 1930. He clashed with Mahatma Gandhi; during the second Round Table Conference; on the issue of separate electorate for dalits.
When the British government conceded Ambedkar’s demand, Gandhji began a fast unto death. Finally Ambedkar had to accept Gandhiji’s position. This resulted in signing of the Poona Pact of September 1932. It made the provision for reserved seats for the Depressed Classes in provincial and central legislative councils. But the voting was to be done by the general electorate.
Participation of Muslims
After the decline of the Non-Cooperation-Khilafat Movement, a large section of Muslims became alienated from the Congress. From the mid-1920s, the Congress was more visibly associated with the Hindu religious nationalist groups.
The Congress and the Muslim League tried to renegotiate and alliance. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was an important leader of the Muslim League. He was willing to give up the demand for separate electorate. But he wanted reserved seats for Muslims in the Central Assembly. He also wanted representation in proportion to population in the Muslim-dominated provinces (Punjab and Bengal). At the All Parties Conference in 1928, M R Jayakar of the Hindu Mahasabha strongly opposed the efforts at compromise. This further alienated the Muslims from the Congress.
The Sense Of Collective Belonging
Nationalism spreads when people begin to believe that they are all part of the same nation, when they discover some unity that binds them together. The united struggles for independence helped in building the sense of collective belonging. Additionally, a variety of cultural processes also captured the spirit of nationalism.
Nation Depicted in Images: The identity of the nation is most often symbolised in a figure or image; with which people can identify the nation. The image of Bharat Mata was the pictorial representation of the mother land. ‘Vande Mataram’ the national song was written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in 1870s. This was sung during the Swadeshi movement in Bengal. Different artists projected their own version of Bharat Mata.
Folklores: Many nationalist leaders took help of folk tales to spread the idea of nationalism. It was believed that the folk tales revealed the true picture of traditional culture.
National Flag: The national flag which we see today has evolved through various stages. A tricolor (red, green and yellow) was used during the Swadeshi movement. There were eight lotuses on it which depicted the eight provinces of British India. There was a crescent moon on the flag which represented Hindus and Muslims. Gandhji had designed the Swaraj flag by 1921. It was also a tricolor (red, green and white) and there was a spinning wheel in the centre.
Reinterpretation of History: Many Indians felt that the British had given a different interpretation of the Indian history. They felt that it was important to interpret the history from an Indian perspective. They wanted to glorify the rich past of India so that the Indians could feel proud of their history.