Freedom Struggle

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India's Struggle for Independence

Nehru and Gandhi

The heroic struggle waged by the people of India to liberate themselves from foreign rule was the result of the rise and growth of Indian nationalism. Indian nationalism took birth in the nineteenth century as a result of the conditions created by British rule. British rule was intended only to serve the interests of the ruling classes of Britain. This was the cause of the fundamental antagonism between the British government  and the Indian people.

The rise of nationalism marks a definite stage in the development of human societies everywhere in the world. The British conquest had disrupted the evolution of Indian society through internal processes. Nationalism, therefore, arose in India, as in other countries which were victims of imperialist conquest, under conditions created by foreign rule. With the growth of nationalism, the demands of the Indian people assumed as increasingly nationalist character. Beginning with the demand to have a share in administration, it developed into the struggle for complete independence. The Character of the struggle was also gradually transformed. Beginning with constitutional agitation by small sections of educated people, it gradually turned into a revolutionary struggle, peaceful though not constitutional, of the overwhelming majority of the people of India. Besides being a struggle for political independence, it also became a struggle for the reconstruction of India society on the basis of democracy and social equality.

The Revolt of 1857

The people in different parts of India, right from the beginning of the British conquest, never acquiesced in their political subjection. Not a year passed without an armed resistance to British rule in one part of the country or the other. Some of these revolts were those of the Sanyasis in Bengal and Bihar (1763 Onwards), of the peasants  (Midnapur in 1766, Rangpur in 1783, Mysore in 1830 -31, Khandesh in 1852), of the chiefs and other landed sections (for Ramnathapuram, Shivaganga and other places during 1795-1805, of Velu thambi in Travancore in 1808-09, of Rani Chinnamma of Kittur during 1824-29, etc.), and of the tribal people (notably of the Bhils during 1817-31, the Kols during 1820-37, the Khasis under U. Tirot Singh during 1829-33, the Santhals during 1855-56, etc. There were also mutinies, for example, at Vellore in 1806. All these revolts were, however sporadic and localized and though some of them lasted many years, they did not pose a serious challenge to British rule. The greatest of the revolts, which shook the very foundations of British rule, occurred in 1857.

The revolt began at Meerut on 10 May 1857, with the uprising of Indian sepoys of the British arms on India. It was the result of accumulated resentment, which had been growing since the beginning of  British conquest, but was triggered off by the greased cartridge incident. In fact the cause were much deeper that this.

Peasants had been dispossessed of their lands and artisans had been ruined. The British policy of annexation of territory had led to the dispossession of many Indian rulers. As a result of these, discontent was widespread. Dalhousie, who came India as the Governor - General, annexed eight new states in the course of eight years of his stay in office. There was also fear in the minds of many people that the British government was out to forcibly convert them to Christianity. That the British government paid scant regard to the religious beliefs of the Indian people is clear from the use of the greased cartridge. Thus the British government had alienated vast numbers of people - common people as well as former rulers - and resentment had been building up for some time. Lord Metacalfe, who was the Governor - General in 1835-36, had written: All India is at all time looking out for our downfall. The people everywhere would rejoice, or fancy they would rejoice at our destruction. And members are not wanting who would promote it by all means in their power. A little over 20 years after, the revolt broke out.

The revolt soon spread over northern, central and eastern India. The rebels declared Bahadur Shah II, the  Mughal King, the Emperor of Hindustan. Hindus and Muslim fought shoulder to shoulder against the British. The deeds of valor of rebels, like the Rani of Jhansi, Maulvi Ahmadulla, Kanwar Singh, Bakht Khan and Tantia Tope, have become proud legends and have inspired the later generation.

The revolt was suppressed after biter fighting for over a year, though peace was not restored until 1859. The British rulers followed a ruthless and indiscriminate policy of vengeance. Thousands of people were hanged in Delhi, Lucknow and other places. The inhuman reprisals of the British government provoked resentment even in England. Many Englishmen protested against the barbarities of the British rulers and expressed their sympathy and support for the Indian People. The revolt and its cruel suppression left a legacy of bitterness and hatred amongst the people of India.

The revolt marked a turning point in the history of India. The rule of the East India Company Came to an end and the control passed to the British Crown. The British government promised not to annex any more Indian States. The Indian states accepted the paramountcy of the British government and became loyal allies of the British rule.

The revolt made the Indian people more politically conscious than before. The movements of social reform and modernization had already started. These movements gathered momentum. The hold of the Indian princes on the Indian people declined and it was increasingly realized that national independence would be attained through a movement of the people themselves and not under the leadership of the old rulers of India. The struggle against the rulers on Indian states itself became a part of the national struggle for the independence. The most valuable legacy of the revolt was the memory of united struggle. Soon India was to witness the growth of the nationalist movement aiming at national independence democracy, social equality and national development.

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Rise of Indian Nationalism Early Phase 1858-1905

Nationalism is a phenomenon which appeared in world history after the close of the Middle Ages. Nation-states had begun to be formed with definite boundaries, with a definite political system within these boundaries, with the uniformity of laws and with the people inhabiting the state living under the same political, social and economic system and sharing common aspirations. The middle class had played a significant role in the formation of nation-states. In many countries of Europe, like Italy and Germany, nationalism emerged as a powerful force only in the nineteenth century. The French Revolution of 1789 had added a new element to the phenomenon of nationalism. It identified the nation with the people. This meant that, in a nation, the people were sovereign. Wherever, after 1800 or so, new sovereign states have been called into experienced a violent of abrupt change of political order, they were best explained as conjunction of these two forces. at work -- Nationalism and Democracy.

The growth of the Indian nationalism started in the nineteenth century. Political unification of the country, destruction of India's old social and economic system, the beginning of modern trade and industry and the rise of new social classes laid the basis of nationalism. The social and religious revolts contributed to the growth of nationalism.

British rule was inimical to the interest of almost all sections of Indian society. The peasants were suffering under the new land-tenure systems introduced by the British. The Indian Industrialist were not happy because of the economic policy of the British government. For example all import duties on cotton textiles were removed in 1882 which harmed the nascent Indian textile Industry. the educated people suffered because they were discriminated against. Almost all sections of the Indian society realized that their interests were antagonistic to British rule. The people of India became aware of the fact that the development of their country was not possible unless British rule was ended. All these factors forged the people of India into a Nation and this consciousness expressed itself in the struggle for national independence.

Several other factors helped in the growth of national consciousness amongst India people. The exploitation of India by the British rules and dislocation caused by their policies worsened the condition of the already impoverished masses. There was a series of famines which took a toll of millions of human lives due to the indifference of the autocratic British administration. The British government made use of Indian resources to pursue its imperialist aims in other parts of Asia. The Governor General (now also the Viceroy) was the supreme authority in the country, responsible only to British parliament thousands of miles away. He was assisted by executive and legislative councils, which consisted of persons, mostly Englishmen  appointed by him. Indian people had no say in the administration of the country. The Indian civil Service, which ran the administration of the country also consisted mostly of Englishmen . Though Indians could appear for competitive examinations were held in England and fey could afford to appear for them.

Another factor was the practice of racial discrimination. Before the revolt of 1857, many Englishmen, officials and others, were not averse to mixing socially with Indians. After the revolt, the feeling of racial superiority grew and everything Indian appeared inferior and barbaric to them. They were exclusive clubs and railway  coaches for Europeans where the entry of Indians was prohibited. As Jawaharlal Nehru put it, "India as a nation and Indians as individuals were subjected to insult, humiliation ant contemptuous treatment."  The feeling of racial superiority may be seen from the failure of the libert Bill in1883. The bill sought to bring Indians and Europeans on par as far as the criminal jurisdiction of court was concerned and to withdraw the privilege enjoyed by Europeans of being tried by a judge of their own race only. The Europeans launched an agitation against the bill and it was withdrawn.

The British government consistently followed a policy of repression after 1857. Many measures of the government provoked widespread agitation. Tow of these were the Vernacular Press Act of 1878 and the Arms Act of 1879. The former Act imposed severe restriction on the freedom of the press and the later forbade the possession of arms by Indians.

Thus, various factors contributed to the rise of the nationalist movement. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the movement started assuming an all-India form. Beginning with the demand for small  concessions, the nationalist movement for complete independence of India. The American War of Independence, the French Revolution, the wars of Italian unification, and the Ideas of Voltaire, Rosseau, Thomos Paine and Garibaldi and Mazzini (who were the leaders of the struggle for Italian Unification) provided inspiration to Indian nationalist. In the twentieth century, the ideas of socialism and internationalism influenced them.

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Early Political Movements and the Indian National Congress   

A number of political organizations came into existence in the later half of the nineteenth century. As early as 1851, the British Indian Association was formed in Bengal to represent Indian grievances to the British government. In 1876, Surendranath Banerjee founded the Indian Association in Bengal. DadaBhai Naoroji had started the Bombay Association. Some of the other associations were the Madras Native Association formed in 1852, the Puna Sarvajanik Sabha and the Madras Mahajan Sabha set up in 1870 and 1884 respectively. Attempts were made to form an All India organization. In 1883, Surendranath Banerjee called All-India National Conference which was described by its President as the first step to a National Parliament. In 1885, Indian National Congress was founded. In the founding of the Congress, a retired English civil servant, A.O. Hume, played an important role. The Governor General, Lord Dufferine blessed the Congress. He thought the Congress would be a good forum for the government to keep itself informed regarding the best Indian Public opinion. Soon however the Congress was to become a revolutionary organization leading the Indian people to independence.

Even at the first session of the congress held in Bombay, under the Presidentship of W.C. Bannerjee all regions of India were represented. Persons attending the session belong to different religious faiths. The problems, that were discussed concerned all Indians, Irrespective of their religion, caste language and region. Thus the Indian nationalist movement, which the congress represented, was from the start, an all-India secular movement embracing every section of Indian society. It was attended by such eminent person as Dadabhai Naoroji, Badruddin Tyabji, W.C. Banerjee, G Subramanya, Aiyer, P. Ananda Charlu, Behramji Malabari and N.G. Chandavarkar.

The Congress followed a moderate program during the first two years of its coming into existence. The aim of the congress, as outlined by its President, W.C. Banerjee, was to enable the workers in the cause of national progress to become personally known to each other and to unite the people of India for common political ends irrespective of differences in respect of race and language or social and religious institutions. The Congress held its session once a year passed resolutions for the consideration of the government. They demanded not independence but representative institutions. Some of the early demands of the congress were for elected representatives in the provincial and central legislative councils, holding the Indian Civil Service Examinations in India and raising the minimum age of entry, the reduction of military expenditure, the spread of education, industrial development of India, relief in agricultural indebtedness and the amendment of the Arms Act.

The leadership of the Congress, which included leaders like Surendranath Banerjee, M.G. Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, R.C. Dutta and Pherozeshah Mehta, had faith in justness of their demands and in the British government. They believed that, as soon as the British government was convinced of the justness of their demands these would be accepted. They wanted not separation but association with British Government. Surendranath Banerjee, for example said "It is not severance that we look forward to but unification, permanent embodiment as an integral part of that great empire that has given the rest of the world the models of free institutions." However, the criticism of the government gradually increased at the sessions of the Congress and more radical demands were raised. At the second session of the Congress, one speaker said " Self - Government is the arbiter of nature and the will of Divine Providence. Every nation must be arbiter of its destiny. But do we govern ourselves ? No, are we not living then in an unnatural state ? Yes ". With the growth of these radical ideas in the congress, the government became hostile to it. Government servant were barred from attending the Congress Sessions. Lord Dufferin referred to it  contemptuously as representing a 'Microscopic Minority' and being unworthy of attention.

In the early period, the congress was dominated by what were called 'Moderates'. Its demand were primarily demands of the educated middle class and rising Indian industrialists. However, it played an extremely significant role in the early stages of the growth of the Indian nationalist movement. Its emphasis on national unity, its criticism of the drain of Indian wealth, its demand for representative institutions and Indianization of services, its opposition to repressive measures like the Arms Act and its constant underscoring of people's poverty as the basic factor of Indian politics helped to put the nationalist movement on sound foundations. This phase of the movement lasted till about 1905.

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Indian Nationalist Movement (1905-1919)

Even the moderate demands of the Congress were not accepted by British Government. The non-fulfillment demands, combined with the rising awareness among the people led to the growth of a radical wing in the Congress which advanced the movement further. A new phase began in the history of the Indian nationalist movement. New demands were made and new methods of struggle adopted with increased mass mobilization.

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Rise of Extremism

At the turn of the century. a new trend developed which has been called 'Extremism'. Under the influence of the new trend the nationalist movement gave up the practice of merely issuing appeals to the government and adopted new radical ways of political agitation. The demands put forward also assumed a more radical character. Several new factors contributed to this.

Curzon came to India as the new Viceroy in December 1898. During his period of Viceroyalty, he imposed extremely unpopular measures which intensified the opposition to British rule. He had said that he would assist in the 'Peaceful demise' of the Congress. When he left India, the Congress and the Nationalist movement were stronger than ever before and had, in fact, assumed new dimensions.

His most unpopular act was the partition of Bengal. The object of the measure was given out as administrative convenience. The leaders could clearly see that it was actually measure to divide the people. East Bengal was to be a Muslim majority province and the West a Hindu majority province. The partition was designed to disrupt Hindu - Muslim unity and thus weaken the nationalist movement. However, the effect of the measure belied the hopes of the British Government. It provoked an agitation and such angry reaction against British rule that the partition measure had to be annulled.

International events also contributed to the growth of vigorous nationalism. Russia was defeated by Japan in 1905. This was the first victory over an European Nation. Although Japan herself was turning into an imperialist gains in China, Japan's victory gave confidence to the Indian nationalist in their struggle against Britain. the revolution had aimed at the overthrow of the Czarist autocracy but had been suppressed. The revolution also influenced the thinking of Indian nationalist.

The group which led the 'Extremists' in the Congress consisted of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Rajpat Rai. It was usually referred to as "Lal Bal Pal". They extolled the past of India in order to inculcate self-confidence and national pride in the Indian people. Tilak had been active in the Congress since 1890. In 1897 he was prosecuted and sentenced to 18 months rigorous imprisonment for his seditious writing and speeches. He had started a newspaper 'Kesari' in Marathi through which he conducted his nationalist campaigns. He revived the 'Ganapati and Shivaji' festivals and made use of them fir arousing national feelings. He exhorted people to action which according to him, was the true message of the Bhagwat Gita . In this period the 'Extremist' wing came to be more and more concerned with arousing pride in Indian Culture. In Bengal the cult of the Goddess Kali was adopted. The extremist condemned the old leadership of the Congress for their praise of Western culture and their faith in the British Government.

There was a wide divergence between the views of the extremist and the moderates on the means to achieve political rights. Tilak summed up the difference thus "Political rights will have to be fought for. The moderates think that these can be won by persuasion. We think that they can only be got by strong pressure". The extremist leaders drew masses into the struggle, particularly in urban areas. The mobilization of the people, particularly the youth for the struggle was a major contribution of the extremists.

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The Boycott and Swadeshi Movements

The partition of Bengal created widespread indignation all over the country. In the turbulent atmosphere that followed the boycott and Swadeshi movements started. Swadeshi literally meaning of one's own country, aimed at the promotion of indigenous industry.  Along with Swadeshi, boycott of British goods was organized. The Swadeshi and boycott were powerful instruments directed against foreign rule. They attacked the British rule where it hurt most. About Swadeshi Lalpat Rai said " I regard it as a salvation of my country. the Swadeshi movement ought to teach us how to organize our capital, resources, labor, energies, talents for the greatest good of all Indians irrespective of creed, color or caste. It ought to unite us, our religious and denominational differences notwithstanding. In my opinion, Swadeshi ought to be the common religion of united India.". On the boycott movement, he said, "The meaning of the boycott is this ... The primary thing is prestige of the government and the boycott strikes at the root of the prestige. The illusory thing they call prestige is more powerful and potent than authority itself and propose to do this by boycott -- We desire to turn away our faces from the government house and turn them to the huts of people".

It was at the height of nation-wide protest movement against the partition of Bengal that the annual session of the Congress was held at Calcutta in 1906. At the session Dadabhai Naoroji sponsered the new programme of the congress which had been advocated by the Extremist. Dadabhai's support for the stewardship of the programme led to its general approval. For the first time, it declared the attainment of Swaraj as the aim of the Congress. Swaraj or self-government was defined as the system of government obtaining in the self governing British colonies. The Swadeshi and the boycott movements were favored as the means of resistance. Promotion of  national education was declared as an aim of the Congress.

The Swadeshi and boycott movements spread to many parts of country. Shops selling foreign goods were picketed. Students played an important part in the Swadeshi and boycott movement. Meetings were held all over the country and associations were formed. The government restored to repressive measures. Meeting were banned, the chanting of the nation song Bande Mataram  composed by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was prohibited, recognition was withdrawn from schools and grants were stopped, processionists were lathi-charged and various attempts were made to strike terror in the people. However, all the measures of oppression were of no avail. The popular upheaval was so intense that many people came to believe that the end of British rule was near. It was at the first time that Tilak wrote ' Repression is repression, if it is legal, it must be resisted peacefully; but if it is illegal, it must be illegally met". He also gave Congress the slogan "Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it." The movement continued into the year 1907. The nationalist newspaper were banned and their editors prosecuted. Many leaders were imprisoned.

In 1907, the 23rd session of the Congress was held at Surat. here the 'Moderats' and the extremist came into conflict. The 'Moderates' wanted to modify the resolutions Swadeshi and the boycott passed at Calcutta session in the previous year. They also wanted to write into the constitution of the congress a clause that self-government was to be achieved through constitutional means and by reforming the existing system administration. They were opposed the intensification of the movement. Tilak tried to capture the leadership of the Congress. There ensued disorderly scenes and session broke up. The two group later meet separately. Leadership of Congress remained in the hands of moderate group. The 'extremist' worked separately until the reunion in 1916. 

Meanwhile, the repressive measures of the government continued. The repression was particularly brutal in, Maharastra,Punjab and Tamil Nadu. In 1907 the Seditious meeting Act was passed to prevent the holding of meeting 'Likely to promote the disturbance of public tranquility'. In 1910, the Indian Press Act was passed which gave the authorities wide power to punish the editor of any paper which publish the matter which in their view was incitement rebellion. The government deported people without trial under a century old law. A numbers of newspapers were banned and leaders imprisoned and deported. Tilak was sentenced to six years imprisonment deported to Mandalay for two articles which he had published in his paper Keshari.  His arrest was widely resented and led to one of the earliest strikes in the history of the India by the textile workers of Bombay.

Thus in the first decade of the twentieth century the nationalist movement entered a new phase. More and more people were drawn into it. And they were no longer satisfied by appeals to the government. The association of religion with the movements in some places encouraged communal thinking and proved harmful.

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