Post the Home Rule League, there emerged on the scene a leader who truly led the masses to fight and yet not a drop of blood was to be shed. The British rulers were terrified of him and the Indians admired him. Realising that merely moderate policies or extremist methods were not enough to win freedom, he developed a new style of resistance which has since then gained widespread attention not just across the country but across the world. It was simple yet powerful giving the Indian freedom movement the much needed leap in the direction of Independence. He was instrumental in channeling the movement in the right direction and leading it to Independence. A lawyer by profession, Satyagrahi by passion, he brought in the change he wished to see – M K Gandhi. Here is what is the role of gandhi in Indian Independence?
How did the Home Rule Movement fail?
The Home Rule Movement came at a time when there was not much political activity in India after the Swadeshi Movement although the fight for freedom in India began by different groups in different parts of the world – most famous one being Ghadar Movement. These movements lasted for a very short duration owing to very less participation but nevertheless they have been significant in taking the message of Indian conditions to others. During this time, the World War I had begun and the nationalists were confused as to how to deal with this – either to overthrow the British or wait for them to finish the war for their cause was just. The Home Rule League came at the right time, spreading messages of India’s past glory instilling in them a sense of the fame and prestige of the earlier kingdoms and the powerful Hindu philosophical texts. The movement under the able leadership of Annie Besant and Tilak spread across the country gained pace with the arrest of Besant and other leaders, the coming together of both moderates and the extremists for the Home rule league and the people who supported this movement in large number with protests, demonstrations, meetings and other forms of agitations.
But, by 1918, the whole movement diffused the energy of the Movement due to a combination of various factors – the British had pacified the moderates with reforms soon after the War, Annie Besant was confused as to how to lead the movement and did not follow a clear directive and Tilak could not sustain the movement for a long time because of Besant and the change in the Moderate’s Stance. He left for London to pursue a case and was away for a few months.
Also read – What is Lokmanya Tilak’s contribution in Indian Freedom Struggle?
Through the short time they kept up the struggle, the Home Rule leaders inspired the next generation of leaders who took the struggle forward and ensured victory even though they could not show the way forward. So, by further building on the base which the early nationalists had made, they strengthened the masses who were now looking for ways to express themselves by participation in political actions.
This was a turning point in the history of Indian Independence with the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi in the scene. Let us find out more about this dynamic leaders who is idolized across the world even today.
The Champaran Satyagraha – First one in India
On arrival in India in 1915 on Gokhale’s request from South Africa, Gandhiji decided to study the society for a year before taking any political action. Through experience, he had known by then that the moderate or the extremist methods were not the solution, the solution was in pursuing ‘Satyagraha’ like he had done in South Africa. Through his non-violent civil disobedience movement there against the discriminatory policies against Indians in South Africa, he had been successful in forcing the English to negotiate and concede his demands having faced a series of incidents himself when he had come to South Africa. Who cannot recall the famous train incident where he was pushed out of the train for travelling first class? These incidents also gave him the impetus to fight for the rights of Indians there. In South Africa, he also had the experience of leading people of diverse communities and realized the power which masses could wield for a cause that moved them.
Another aspect which he had learnt from the South African struggle which helped him in India too was that leadership involves facing the ire of not only the enemy but also of one’s followers. This was hard to do.
His politics and leadership techniques in South Africa thus provided the ground to come out with new techniques and innovations in the struggle and evolving them from the ‘Moderate phase’ he initially used for a long time till the ‘Gandhian phase’ which convinced him was the best method for India as well.
In 1917, while he was still travelling across the country to study, Raj Kumar Shukla, a local man decided to follow Gandhiji across the country to persuade him to come to Champaran to investigate the problem. Problems in Champaran had begun from the 19th Century when the European planters had involved the cultivators in agreements that forced them to cultivate indigo on 3/20th of their holdings. But due to German synthetic dyes, indigo was forced out of the markets. The European planters keen to release the cultivators from the obligation, secured enhancements in rent and other illegal dues as a price for the release. When ordered by the Commissioner to leave in Champaran, Gandhiji refused to do so something unusual for the national leaders that time. Standing up to the unjust order was one of the first forms of resistance using Gandhian methods. The authorites did not know how to react to this. The Government ordered the Local government to retreat and allow Gandhiji to proceed with his enquiry. After investigation, he demanded only 25% of the money they had taken illegally as compromise. Gandhiji had envisioned the blow to the power and prestige of the European planters for paying back the natives. One part of the battle was one. He used similar tactics in the Ahmedabad and Kheda Satyagraha in Gujarat – the former one against the Mill owners and the latter against the government authorities for remission of land revenue despite the extreme distress which the peasants faced due to failure of crops.
Although leaders like Tilak were the first ones to include the masses for any kind of political action against the British, it was Gandhiji who gave it proper direction. By touring the country, he had come across countless problems faced by the people at the local level from the British thus building a connect with the people. The major reason for the problems were economic demands of the masses which translated into difficulties in the social sphere as well. He recognized this through this study and came to understand the masses too at large.
Also read- What was Dadabhai Naoroji’s role in the Indian freedom struggle?
By now, he was known across the country. The third wave of Indian Independence had begun under the leadership of Gandhiji with many new leaders emerging out of these struggles – J L Nehru, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad being the prominent ones, Vinobha Bhave, S C Bose and other people who took inspiration from how he identified the problems and came up with the solutions for them. The mere fact that he took up their local causes impressed them. The recognition across the country helped him call for a nation-wide protest against British legislations.
Let us read more about how he organized the protests.
Satyagraha against British Rule begins –
In 1919, when the World War had recently concluded, the Government was threatening to introduce the Rowlatt Act – an Act which could put any political prisoner behind bars without a trial. This would give the colonial government ample scope to put anyone in jail on the pretext of this Act.
Since the Constitutional methods had failed, Gandhiji stepped in and suggested the use of Satyagraha. For this, a Satyagraha Sabha was formed. People who were waiting for some action from the Home Rule League joined the Satyagraha Sabha with much enthusiasm. Old leaders were also called and a nation-wide ‘hartal’ was decided as the plan of action which was accompanied by fasting and prayer. Civil Disobedience would also be used against some laws.
Although people did join in the protest from across, there was some confusion with regards to dates and people did not know how the protest was to be observed. Many places experienced violence. The worst affected was Punjab due to severe war-time repression, diseases and other poor conditions, and the gruesome shootout of a peaceful procession by a European Army General killing several people. The brutality in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar stunned the entire nation.
Seeing the violence, Gandhiji decided to call off the Rowlatt Satyagraha. A year later he again launched the Non-Cooperation Movement. By then people were familiar with the Gandhian methods. The movement became an instant hit.
Strategies in Non-Cooperation Movement –
With the Rowlatt Act, Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, the Montague Chelmsford Reforms introducing dyarchy, the nation was seething with anger at the events which had taken place. The Indian Muslims too were angry with the British for not fulfilling their promises to Turkey after the war despite assurances. The Caliph of Turkey was regarded as the spiritual head. Indian Muslims were agitated with the British. With so much anger and discontentment among the people, the leaders realized that it was time to launch another movement. Propaganda in legislatures was not going to help anymore. Gandhiji wrote a letter to the Viceroy asserting the “right of the subject to refuse to assist a ruler who misrules” as Bipan Chandra, the famous historian points mentions. This move was very simple at the same time very powerful – giving the enemy time to oblige and giving him the notice to dissent if they don’t oblige. This kind of a tactic was used for the first time in the history of freedom struggles. The movement was launched on August 1, 1920. Lokmanya Tilak passed away in the early hours of 1st August. The day was spent in mourning and launch of the struggle. People observed hartals across the country and took out processions.
Slowly, Congress too joined in the Non-Cooperation Movement. By December, its annual session a resolution was passed on non-cooperation. The basic idea of the movement was non-cooperation with the government for which titles and honours were surrendered, students and government officials would boycott government affiliated institutions, law courts were to be boycotted, taxes were not to be paid and in general there was to be a mass civil disobedience. Anything foreign was to be boycotted and in this regard the Swadeshi Movement too was started with new vigour.
In turn national schools and colleges were to be setup, panchayats would enable dispute resolution at the local level and related changes were to be made. Gandhiji promised that if the programme was fully implemented, Swaraj would come within a year. With this all the people were excited and participated in huge numbers by Congressmen. For fulfilling this, a new Congress Working Committee was created which would look into the day to day affairs. The objective of Congress now was the attainment of Swaraj by peaceful and legislative means. Congress Committees at the level of Provinces were also created to keep in touch with the local people reaching people at the village level to include the masses as members. Congress was no longer a party of the intellectuals now. This was changed by Gandhiji. He truly believed that freedom would not be attained if the masses did not participate. By also including the issue of Muslims, the movement saw a great Muslim participation across the country. Burning of foreign goods and picketing of toddy shops became the most popular in many parts of the country.
However, the movement got violent in nature gradually and had to stop. It began with the clashes between the crowd who was attending the welcome function of the Prince of Wales who was visiting India and those who were returning from Gandhiji’s speech in Bombay in 1921. Riots followed leading to police firing leaving many dead. In many areas the movement merged with the local movements giving it a communal colour as well like in Malabar. Many incidents across the country came up which did not stick to the programme of the non-cooperation movement or even non-violence. By 1922, Gandhiji called off the Non-Cooperation because of the incident in Chauri-Chauraha in Gorakhpur where clashes between people and the local police led to the death of 22 policemen.
He felt that the people were not ready yet. But gradually, the Civil Disobedience Movement in the 1930s, the Quit India Movement etc and significant other events in the next twenty years would be reflective of the Indian population who would protest to get their independence. Independence was not far away.
Role of Gandhi in Indian Independence –
Gandhiji suddenly calling off the non-cooperation movement because of a few villagers bewildered most of the national leaders at that time. They had not anticipated this. Many experts criticized this move saying he may have done this to support the British. Many of them were writing off Gandhi from the political scene.
But, we need to understand the reason behind this in detail. For once, this movement was one of the first ones which included the whole country. Earlier movements were merely restricted to a few places in the North. There was bound to be chaos and confusion. People across the country were fighting for their local issues and had become emotional using violence as a method something which Gandhiji had warned not to for he had realized that if violence was used, it would give the British all the more reason to repress the people with laws or force, something he didn’t want for the people. And, there might be a difficulty in calling similar movements in the future if repressed brutally.
Being a shrewd and calculative politician, Gandhiji had realized that the people were not ready for the struggle and for that ground work was to be done first by working along with them spreading the message of nationalism among the people. The next few years thus went into applying this strategy. This is just one of those instances where he envisioned the future consequences. By sharpening work at the ground level, he also worked on a number of social issues like forging Hindu-Muslim unity, removing untouchability and involving the women. Being an established leader by now, the masses were listening to him. When time would come, these people – women, peasants, tribals, artisans and all others would lead the struggle forgetting the differences of caste, class, gender, religion and region in the future.
He started by leading as an example. In his Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, all were welcome. Whenever he travelled also, he would ensure interaction with all. He would do menial jobs also himself to prove to others that no job was small. This is why he was being heard. He had never imposed his leadership upon the people and always looked for a practical solution to the problem which lay ahead. In demanding only 25% of the money as compensation in Satyagraha, Gandhi had won a huge battle against European prestige and power.
The movements which Gandhiji called – Non-Cooperation Movement, the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Quit India Movement may have diffused after the initial momentum but they did leave a huge impact on the British. He had the power to make the British realize that what they did was wrong. Adopting principles like non-violence, truth and peace, he practiced what he preached. No other leader could set such an example like he did. Even those leaders who criticized him for his stance on the issue admired and respected him. It is thus justified that he be called ‘Father of the Nation’ as Netaji did for he did achieve what he set out to gain in the start – Swaraj. His contributions to the Indian society as a politician, social reformer and a leader is the reason why we became a nation. He is immortalized through his strong actions and simple messages of peace and non-violence making him one of the greatest people in not only India but across the world.
Now, that Gandhiji had emerged in the scene, he led a struggle which we will unravel in detail in the subsequent articles. Watch out for this space!
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