The period from 1919 to 1947 is a historic one in India’s freedom movement. It brought about a revolution—social, economic, political and intellectual—though with certain limitations.
It was a period when Indian nationalism entered a new phase. Swaraj through ‘struggle’ and ‘sacrifice’, instead of ‘pressure’ or ‘appeal’, became the watchword of the movement for India’s Independence. Participation in the Freedom Movement was no more the monopoly of the educated middle class. Common people, peasants and workers participated actively and the freedom struggle became a mass movement.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 had its own impact on the Indian National Movement. It radicalised politics in India. The Leftist Movement began to take root in India. Workers were organised in trade unions. The Communist Party and the Congress Socialist Party were formed. Students, youth and peasants were organised and politically motivated. Thus, a mass political movement began to take shape.
Trade, commerce and industry were growing. A bourgeois class came into being, to play its role in the furtherance of the Indian political movement. Gandhiji introduced new methods of struggle, particularly Non-Cooperation, Passive Resistance and Satyagraha. He put forward a “constructive programme” to remove social evils like untouchability.
However, the national struggle for freedom suffered from many limitations. While the movement for national
liberation was going deep into the masses, communal disharmony was raising its ugly head. The Hindu revivalists organised the Hindu Mahasabha. At the same time, the Muslim League became more active and aggressive in its communal tone.
Separatism began to subvert national unity. Communal riots occurred on a large scale at a time when the national movement was passing through a delicate phase. Communalism and separatism were poised against nationalism and radicalism; conservatism was pitted against modernism, and reformism and obscurantism counteracted nationalism. All this happened in 1920. The later events are merely culmination of this process.
In 1929, the Congress proclaimed “Complete Independence” as the ultimate political aim of the freedom movement. All the conservative and reactionary elements gathered during the Round Table Conference at London to counter and sabotage this demand. The Congress started the Non-Cooperation Movement and Satyagraha. The Government announced the Communal Award, which intensified the internal discord. Even the demand for a Muslim Homeland, or Pakistan, was voiced. The communalists assured the Crown of their loyalty and appealed it to frame a Constitution for India. The Act of 1935 was passed. It was described as “Charter of Slavery” for India by the nationalist forces. It was the last constitutional measure introduced by the British in India. The Hindu and Muslim communalists welcomed it. The right-wing Congressmen too welcomed it, while Socialists, Communists and other leftist and radical elements were all out for its rejection. But they were too weak to resist the rightist forces.
The Congress rebels came to power in the elections to Provincial Assemblies in 1937 and gave good proof of their ability as rulers. The communalists, who preached and assured loyalty all along to the British Government, girded up their loins against the Congress Government. They celebrated the “Day of Deliverance” when the ruling Congress in provinces resigned office to protest against the imperialist act of throwing India into war without consulting popular representatives.
While India was fighting for independence, V. D. Savarkar, President of the Hindu Mahasabha and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, President of the Muslim League, were competing with each other in propounding the Two-Nation Theory. Savarkar had the honour of preceding Jinnah officially, proclaiming the creed of two nations. The League passed the Pakistan Resolution in 1940.
After the Congress leaders were arrested in 1942 as a result of the Quit India Resolution, the nationalist elements resorted to violent means. Various proposals like the August Offer, the Cripps Proposals and the Wavell Plan were offered to conciliate them. But no compromise could be reached.
By 1945, the Indian political atmosphere had already been thoroughly vitiated with communalism. Ultimately, the country was partitioned and a new state “Pakistan” was carved out of united India on August 14, 1947. India attained Independence on August 15, 1947.
Jallianwala Bagh Tragedy
The Jallianwala Bagh tragedy opened a new chapter in the history of India. At the end of the First World War, the Defence of India Rules were to be scrapped. The British Government appointed the Sedition Committee to enquire into the terrorist movement and make recommendations whether the Government needed to acquire extraordinary powers to correct the
political situation in the country. Its recommendations were in the affirmative. The Government introduced the Rowlatt Act for the purpose. It resulted in an all-India protest. The people wanted a Responsible Govern-ment after the termination of the War and not the repressive legislation which denied them civil and political freedom.
Mahatma Gandhi declared hartal to be observed on March 30, 1919. It was a day of fasting, penance, public meetings and processions were taken out. Hindus and Muslims came together. They exchanged food and water. As a symbol of Hindu-Muslim amity, the Hindu leaders were actually allowed to preach from the pulpit of a mosque. Unfortunately, it ended with shooting, killing many innocent people. The demonstrations and hartal were then held on April 6, 1919, all over the country.
The scene of tragedy and sufferings soon shifted to Punjab. The Congress session of 1919 was to be held in Amritsar. The Government could not afford Punjab, their military base, going political. The District Magistrate of Amritsar called Dr. Kitchlew and Dr. Satyapal, the Congress leaders in Punjab, and took them to an unknown place. It was the beginning of trouble. People wanted to know the whereabouts of the two leaders. A crowd was prevented from going to the District Magistrate by the military. On their return, the mob burnt a bank and a railway shed. A European manager of a bank and four other Europeans were killed. The authorities handed over the town to military authorities. The trouble spread to Gujranwala, Kasur and other towns. In Lahore, shootings and reprisals took place. Gujranwala also witnessed scenes of great violence.
Mahatma Gandhi left Delhi for Punjab, but, on the way, he was arrested and taken to Bombay. By that time trouble had started in Ahmedabad and was slowly spreading all over India. Amritsar had become the symbol and centre of political agitation.
On April 13, 1919, a meeting was held at Jallianwala Bagh. It was attended by over 20,000 people, including women and children. While it was being addressed by Hans Raj, General Dyer, accompanied by 100 Indian and 50 British soldiers, entered the place and ordered the gathering to disperse. After two to three minutes, he ordered
firing, and over 1,600 rounds were
fired. It stopped only when the entire ammunition was exhausted.
General Dyer imposed inhuman punishments on the residents of Amritsar. Electricity and water supply were cut off. Public flogging became common. Not more than two persons could walk together on pavements. One English lady, Miss Sherwood, was murdered in a lane. The British authorities took stern action against the people. The residents of that lane and others had to crawl on their bellies. Public platforms for whipping and flogging were erected. A large number of people were arrested and convicted. Fifty-one people were sentenced to death, while others were sentenced to imprisonment for various terms. Motor cars and cycles owned by the Indians were confiscated by the British Government. People were stripped naked, tied to trees and poles, and flogged indiscriminately. They were forbidden to travel by train. News could not flow out of Punjab. It became a big prison house. All these inhuman actions of General Dyer were approved by the Lt-Governor, Sir Michael O’Dwyer. Horniman, the editor of Young India, was deported for criticising these acts. Mahatma Gandhi took over the publication of Young India. The Indian freedom struggle was imbued with revolutionary spirit. Hindus and Muslims came together to fight against imperialism. Thus, the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy proved a nail in the coffin of British imperialism.
Khilafat Movement—A Symbol
of Hindu-Muslim Amity
The defeat of Turkey in the First World War alienated the Muslim community of India from the British. Turkey was defeated and the Khilafat of the Sultan of Turkey was in danger. The Treaty of Serres dismembered the Ottoman Empire and the Jazirat-ul-Arab (Mesopotamia, Arabia, Syria and Palestine), the holy land of the Muslims, was split and some of its parts were placed under the non-Muslim European powers. This infuriated the Muslims all over the world. The Indian Muslims started a movement for the restoration of the temporal and spiritual jurisdiction of the Sultan of Turkey. The Muslim League met in its annual session at Delhi in 1918 under the presidentship of Dr. Ansari and demanded Self-Government for India. It was passed under the influence of nationalist Muslims.
The Ulemas, under the leadership of Maulana Mohammad-ul-Hasan, formed the Jamait-ul-Ulema-e-Hind. It developed on the nationalist lines and remained true to national unity. It took active part in the Khilafat Movement in India.
The Khilafat Movement was supported by Mahatma Gandhi. He made it an all-India phenomenon.
C. Rajagopalachari, commenting on the Khilafat Movement, once said: “The Khilafat has solved the problem of distrust of Asiatic neighbours out of our future. The Indian Struggle for Freedom has brought about a more lasting entente and a more binding treaty between the people of India and the people of the Musalman States.”
A joint conference of prominent Hindu and Muslim leaders was held in Delhi in November 1919. Not only Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress, but also Shraddhanand, the Arya Samaj leader, gave wholehearted support to
the conference. The Ali Brothers (Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali) assumed leadership of the Khilafat Movement. Mahatma Gandhi’s` scheme of Non-Cooperation was accepted on May 28, 1920 by the Khilafat Committee. The All-India Congress Committee met in Banaras on May 30 and adopted Non-Cooperation as its policy. A conference of all leaders was held in Allahabad in June 1920, and the policy of Non-Cooperation was decided upon. A committee consisting of Mahatma Gandhi and Muslim leaders was constituted to draw up a programme, which included the boycott of schools, colleges and law courts, renunciation of titles, honorary posts and membership of the Councils, posts in police and military, and refusal to pay taxes.
The Khilafat Movement and the Non-Cooperation Movement of Mahatma Gandhi dominated the political scene for two years. However, they failed at the end. Gandhiji withdrew the Non-Cooperation Movement after violence was committed at Chauri Chaura. The Khilafat Movement too slowed down and in 1924, with Kamal Ataturk coming to power in Turkey, it got a death blow. The Muslim League leaders adopted separatist programmes making the communal forces even stronger. Moreover, the Ali Brothers and Jinnah left the Congress. This heralded a new phase in Muslim politics after 1924.