The East India Company had established its control over almost all parts of India by the middle of the 19th century. There were numerous risings in the first hundred years of British rule in India. They were, however, local and isolated in character. Some of them were led by the nobility who were refusing to accept the changing patterns of the time and wanted the past to be restored. But the risings developed a tradition of resistance offoreign rule, culminating in the 1857 revolt.
The Revolt of 1857, which was called a Sepoy Mutiny by British historians and their imitators in India but described as “the First War of Indian Independence” by many Indian historians, shook the British authority in India from its very foundations.
The Revolt of 1857, an unsuccessful but heroic effort to eliminate foreign rule, had begun. The capture of Delhi and the proclamation of Bahadurshah as the Emperor of Hindustan are a positive meaning to the Revolt and provided a rallying point for the rebels by recalling the past glory of the imperial city.
On May 10, 1857, soldiers at Meerut refused to touch the new Enfield rifle cartridges. The soldiers along with other group of civilians, went on a rampage shouting ‘Maro Firangi Ko’. They broke open jails, murdered European men and women, burnt their houses and marched to Delhi. The appearance of the marching soldiers next morning in Delhi was a’signal to the local soldiers, who in turn revolted, seized the city and proclaimed the 80-year old Bahadurshah Zafar, as Emperor of India.
Within a month of the capture of Delhi, the Revolt spread to the different parts of the country. Kanpur, Lucknow, Benaras, Allahabad, Bareilly, Jagdishpur and Jhansi. In the absence of any leader from their own ranks, the insurgents turned to the traditional leaders of Indian society. At Kanpur, NanaSaheb, the adopted son of last Peshwa, Baji Rao II, led the forces. Rani Lakshmi Bai in Jhansi, Begum Hazrat Mahal in Lucknow and .Khan Bahadur in Bareilly were in command. However, apart from a commonly shared hatred for alien rule, the rebels had no political perspective or a definite vision of the future. They were all prisoners of their own past, fighting primarily to regain their lost privileges. Unsurprisingly, they proved incapable of ushering in a new political order.
Queen Victoria issued a proclamation on November 1, 1858, placing India under direct government of the Crown, whereby:
(a) A viceroy was appointed in India
(b) Princes were given the right to adopt a son (abolition of Doctrine of Lapse)
(c) Treaties were honoured
(d) Religious freedom was restored and equality treatment promised to Indians
The Proclamation was called the ‘Magna Carta of Indian Liberty’. The British rule in India was strongest between 1858 and 1905. The British also started treating India as its most precious possession and their rule over India seemed set to continue for centuries to come. Because of various subjective and objective factors which came into existence during this era, the feeling of nationalism in Indians started and grow.
Although the British succeeded in suppressing the 1857 Revolt, they could not stop the growth of political awareness in India. The Indian National Congress was founded in December 1885. It was the visible embodiment of the national awakening in the country. Its founder was an Englishman, Allan Octavian Hume, a retired member of the Indian Civil Service. The Indian leaders, who cooperated with Hume in launching the Congress, were patriots of high character. The first President of the Congress was W.C. Bannerjee.
The aims of the Congress were: promotion of friendship and cooperation amongst the nationalist political workers from the different parts of the country; the eradication of racial, creed or provincial prejudices and promotion of national unity; formulation of popular demands and their presentation before the Government; and, most important of all, the training and organisation of public opinion in the country.
On December 30, 1898, Lord Curzon took over as the new Viceroy of India. The partition of Bengal came into effect on October 16, 1905, through a Royal Proclamation, reducing the old province of Bengal in size by creating a new province of East Bengal, which later on became East Pakistan and present day Bangladesh. The government explained that it was done to stimulate growth of underdeveloped eastern region of the Bengal. But, actually, the main objective was to ‘Divide and Rule’ the most advanced region of the country at that time.
In 1906, All India Muslim League was set up under the leadership of Aga Khan, Nawab Salimullab of Dacca and Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk. The League supported the partition of Bengal, opposed the Swadeshi Movement, and demanded special safegurds for its community and a separate electorates of Muslims. This led to communal differences between Hindus and Muslims.
The Swadeshi movement has its genesis in the anti-partition movement which was started to oppose the British decision to divide Bengal. With the start of the Swadeshi movement at the turn of the century, the Indian National Movement took a major leap forward.
The Indian National Congress took up the Swadeshi call in Benaras Session, 1905, presided over by G.K. Gokhale, supported the Swadeshi and Boycott Movement of Bengal, Militant Nationalism spearheaded by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Aurobindo Ghosh was, however, in favour of extending the movement of the rest of India and carrying it beyond the programme of just Swadeshi and boycott of goods to full-fledged political mass struggle.
Morley-Minto Reforms were introduced in 1909 during the period when Lord Minto was the GovernorGeneral of India. The reforms envisaged a separate electorate for Muslims besides other constitutional measures. The government thereby sought to create a rift within the Congress on the one hand by winning the support of the moderates,
and on the other, to win favour of Muslims against Bindus. To achieve the latter objective, the reforms introduced the system of separate electorates under which Muslims could only vote for Muslim candidates. This was done to encourage the notion that the political, economic and cultural interests of Hindus and Muslims were separate and not common. Indian political leaders were however dissatisfied by these reforms.
An important step forward in achieving Hindu-Muslim unity was the Lucknow Pact 1916. AntiBritish feelings were generated among the Muslims following a war between Britain and Turkey which opened way for Congress and Muslim League unity. Both the Congress and the Muslim League held sessions at Lucknow in 1916 and concluded the famous Lucknow Pact. The Congress accepted the separate electorates, and both organizations jointly demanded dominion status for the country.
Hindu-Muslim unity weakened the British attitude and forced the government to announce its future policy. In 1916 a British policy was announced whereby association of Indians was increased and there was to be a gradual development of local self-governing institutions.
Dr. Annie Besant, inspired by the Irish rebellion, started a Home Rule Movement in India in September 1916. The movement spread rapidly and branches of the Rome Rule League were established all over India. Bal Gangadhar Tilak wholeheartedly supported this movement. Rejoined forces with Dr. Besant and persuaded the Muslim League to support this programme.
Mahatma Gandhi dominated the Indian political scene from 19181947. This period of the Indian National Congress is also referred to as the Gandhian Era. It was the most
intense and eventful phase of India’s freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi provided the leadership of the highest order and his philosophy of non-violent Satyagraha became the most potent weapon to drive out .the British from the Indian soil.
The Caliph, Sultan of Turkey, was looked upon by the Muslims as their religious head. During the First World War, when the safety and the welfare of Turkey were threatened by the British thereby weakening the Caliph’s position, Indian Muslims adopted an aggressive anti-British attitude. The two brothers, Mohammed Ah and Shaukat Ali launched an antiBritish movement in 1920-the Khilafat Movement for the restoration.
While trying to appease Indians, the British Government was following a policy of repression. Throughout the First World War, repression of freedom fighters had continued. The revolutionaries had been hunted down, hanged or imprisoned. The Government now decided to arm itself with more powers in order to suppress the freedom fighters. In March 1919, it passed the Rowlatt Act. This Act authorised the government to detain any person without trial. The Rowlatt Act came like a sudden blow. The Indians had been promised extension of democracy during the war. They felt humiliated and were filled with anger when they found that their civil liberties were going to be curtailed still further. Unrest gripped the country and a powerful agitation against the Act started. During this agitation, Gandhiji took command of the nationalist movement. March and April 1919 witnessed a remarkable political awakening in the country. There were hartals, strikes and demonstrations at various places. The slogans of Hindu-Muslim unity filled the air.
The Government was bent on suppressing the mass agitation. In Bombay; Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Delhi and at other places demonstrators were lathi-charged and fired upon. Gandhiji gave a call for a general hartal on April 6, 1919. The call was responded to with great enthusiasm. The Government decided to resort to repression to suppress the agitation. At this time the British Government committed one of the worst political crimes in modem history. An unarmed but a large crowd had gathered in Jallianwalla Bagh, Amritsar (Punjab) on April, 13, 1919 for a meeting. General Dyer ordered his troops to open fire on them without warning. This massacre of unarmed people (hundreds died and thousands were wounded) in an enclosed place from which there was no exit, was followed by a reign of terror in several districts under martial law.
With the Congress support of the Khilafat movement, Hindu-Muslim unity was achieved which encouraged Gandhiji to launch his non-violent, non-cooperation movement. At the Calcutta Session in September 1920, the Congress resolved in favour of the non-violent, non-cooperation movement and defined Swaraj as its ultimate aim. The movement envisaged: (i) Surrender of titles and honorary officers; (ii) Resignation from nominated offices and posts in the local bodies; (iii) Refusal to attend government darbars and official functions and boycott of British courts by the lawyers; (iv) Refusal of general public to offer themselves for military and other government jobs, and boycott of foreign goods, etc.
The non-cooperation movement also saw picketing of shops selling foreign cloth and boycott of the foreign cloth by the followers of Gandhiji.
The Congress session held at Ahmedabad in December 1921 decided to launch a Civil Disobedience Movement while reiterating its stand on the non-violent, noncooperation movement of which Gandhiji was appointed the leader. Before Gandhiji could launch the Civil Disobedience Movement, a mob of countrymen at Chauri Chaura, a place near Gorakhpur in D.P., clashed with the police which opened fire. In retaliation the mob burnt the police-station and killed 22 policemen. This compelled Gandhiji to call off the Civil Disobedience Movement on February 12, 1922.
Despite this Gandhiji was arrested and sentenced to six years imprisonment. The Chauri Chaura incident convinced Gandhiji that the nation was not yet ready for the mass-dis6bedience and he prevailed upon Congress Working Committee in Bardoli on February 12, 1922 to call off the Non-Cooperation Movement.
Gandhiji’s decision to call off the agitation caused frustration among masses. His decision came in for severe criticism from his colleagues like Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das and N.C. Kelkar, who organized the Swaraj Party. The foundations of the ‘Swaraj Party’ were laid on January 1, 1923, as the ‘CongressKhilafat-Swarajya Patty’. It proposed then an alternative programme of diverting the movement from widespread civil disobedience programme to restrictive one which would encourage its member to enter into legislative councils (established under Montford Reforms of 1919) by contesting elections in order to wreck the legislature from within and to use moral pressure to compel the authority to concede to the popular demand for self-government.
Under the 1919 Act, a statutory commission was to be appointed by the British Government at the end of ten years from the passing of the Act to inquire into the working of the system of government in the country and to recommend further reforms. Thus the commission was scheduled to be appointed in 1929. It was actually appointed two years earlier in 1927. The commission consisted of seven members of the British Parliament. It was headed by Sir John Simon. As all its members were British, the Congress decided to boycott it. The Commission arrived in India in Feb. 1928. It was greeted with black flags and hostile demonstrations everywhere it went. In one such demonstration at Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai was seriously injured in a wanton police lathi-charge on the demonstrators. Lalaji died soon after from wounds received during the demonstration.
Also called the ‘Salt Satyagraha’. To achieve the goal of complete independence, Gandhiji launched another civil disobedience movement. Along with 79 followers, Gandhiji started his famous march from Sabarmati Ashram on March 20,1930, for the small village Dandi to break the Salt Law. While Gandhiji was marching to Dandi,
Congress leaders and workers had been busy at various levels with the hard organizational tasks of enrolling volunteers and members, forming grassroot Congress Committees, collecting funds, and touring villages and towns to spread nationalist messages.
On reaching the seashore on April 6, 1930, he broke the Salt Law by picking up salt from the seashore. By picking a handful of salt, Gandhiji inaugurated the Civil Disobedience Movement, a movement that was to remain unsurpassed in the history of the Indian National Movement for the countrywide mass participation it unleashed. The movement became so powerful that it sparked off partriotism even among the Indian soldiers in the Army. The Garhwal soldiers refused to fire on the people at Peshawar.
Early in 1931 two moderate statesmen, Sapru and Jayakar, initiated efforts to bring about rapprochement between Gandhiji and the government. Six meetings with Viceroy Lord Irwin finally led to the signing of a pact between the two on March 5, 1931, whereby the Congress called off the movement and agreed to join the Second Round Table Conference. The terms of the agreement included the immediate release of all political prisoners not convicted for violence, the remission of all fines not yet collected, the return of confiscated land not yet sold to third parties, and lenient treatment of all the government officials who had resigned.
Gandhiji and other leaders were released from jail as Irwin agreed to release most political prisoners and to return the properties that had been seized by the governments. The government also conceded the right to make the salt for consumption of villages along the coast, and also the right to peaceful and non-aggressive picketing. The Congress on its part, agreed to discontinue the Civil Disobedience Movement and to participate in the next Round Table Conference.
The Simon Commission report submitted in 1930 formed the basis for the Government of India Act 1935. The new Government of India Act received the royal assent on August 4, 1935.
The Act continued and extended all the existing features of the Indian constitution. Popular representation, which went back to 1892, dyarchy and ministerial responsibility, which dated from 1921, provincial autonomy, whose chequered history went back to eighteenth century presidencies, communal representation, which first received recognition in 1909, and the safeguards devised in 1919, were all continued and in most cases extended. But in addition there were certain new principles introduced. It provided for a federal type of government. Thus, the act:
(a) Introduced provincial autonomy
(b) Abolished dyarchy in provinces I
(c) Made ministers responsible to the legislative and federation at the centre
The Act of 1935 was condemned by nearly all sections of Indian public opinion and was unanimously rejected by the Congress. The Congress demanded instead, the convening of a Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult franchise to frame a constitution for an independent India.
On August 8, 1942, the Congress in its meeting at Bombay passed a resolution known as ‘Quit India’ resolution, whereby Gandhiji asked the British to quit India and gave a call for ‘Do or die’ to his countrymen. On August 9, 1942, Gandhiji was arrested but the other leaders continued the revolutionary struggle. Violence spread throughout the country, several government officers were destroyed and damaged, telegraph wires were cut and communication paralyzed. The movement was, however, crushed by the government.
The struggle for freedom entered a decisive phase in the year 1945-46. The British Prime Minister, Lord Attlee, made a declaration on March 15, 1946, that British Cabinet Mission would visit India to make recommendations regarding constitutional reforms to be introduced in India. The Cabinet Mission which constituted of Lord Lawrence, Sir Stafford Cripps and A.V. Alexander visited India and met the representatives of different political parties but a satisfactory solution to the constitutional difficulties could not be found. The Mission envisaged the establishment of a Constituent Assembly to frame the Constitution as well as an interim government. The Muslim League accepted the plan on June 6, 1946, while maintaining its rights of striving for a separate Muslim state. The Congress also partially accepted the plan.
On September 2, 1946, an interim government was formed. Congress members led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru joined it but the Muslim League did not as it withdrew its earlier acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan.
The Constituent Assembly met on December 9, 1946, and Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected its President. The Muslim League did not join the Assembly.
In March 1947, Lord Mountbatten replaced Lord Wavell. He announced his plan on June 3, 1947. It offered a key to the political and constitutional deadlock created by the refusal of the Muslim League to join the Constituent Assembly formed to frame the Constitution of India. Mountbatten’s formula was to divide India but retain maximum unity. The country would be partitioned but so would be Punjab and Bengal, so that the limited Pakistan that emerged would meet both the Congress and the League’s position to some extent. The League’s position on Pakistan was conceded in that it would be created, but the Congress position on unity would be taken into account to make Pakistan as small as possible. He laid down detailed principles for the partition of the country and speedy transfer of political powers in the form of dominion status to the newly formed dominions of India and Pakistan. Its acceptance by the Congress and the Muslim’ League resulted in the birth of Pakistan.
The Bill containing the provisions of the Mountbatten Plan of June 3, 1947, was introduced in the British Parliament and passed as the Indian Independence Act,
1947. The Act laid down detailed measures for the partition of India and speedy transfer of political powers to the new government of India and Pakistan.
In accordance with the Indian Independence Act, 1947, India was partitioned on August 15, 1947 into India and Pakistan. The Act made India and Pakistan independent dominions. Bloodshed and violence marked the exodus of refugees. The state of Kashmir acceded to the Indian Union, after the raiders were helped by Pakistan, in October 1947. Lord Mountbatten was appointed the Governor-General of free1ndia and M.A. Jinnah the first Governor-General of Pakistan.