Themes in Indian History-III

1.A Leader Announces Himself In January 1915, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returned to his homeland after two decades of residence abroad. These years had been spent for the most part in South Africa, where he went as a lawyer, and in time became a leader of the Indian community in that territory. As the historian Chandran Devanesan has remarked, South Africa was “the making of the Mahatma”. It was in South Africa that Mahatma Gandhi first forged the distinctive techniques of non-violent protest known as satyagraha, first promoted harmony between religions, and first alerted upper-caste Indians to their discriminatory treatment of low castes and women. The India that Mahatma Gandhi came back to in 1915 was rather different from the one that he had left in 1893. Although still a colony of the British, it was far more active in a political sense. The Indian National Congress now had branches in most major cities and towns. Through the Swadeshi movement of 1905-07 it had greatly broadened its appeal among the middle classes. That movement had thrown up some towering leaders – among them Bal Gangadhar Tilak of Maharashtra, Bipin Chandra Pal of Bengal, and Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab. The three were known as “Lal, Bal and Pal”, the alliteration conveying the all-India character of their struggle, since their native provinces were very distant from one another. Where these leaders advocated militant opposition to colonial rule, there was a group of “Moderates” who preferred a more gradual and persuasive approach. Among these Moderates was Gandhiji’s acknowledged political mentor, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, as well as Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who, like Gandhiji, was a lawyer of Gujarati extraction trained in London. On Gokhale’s advice, Gandhiji spent a year travelling around British India, getting to know the land and its peoples. His first major public appearance was at the opening of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in February 1916. Among the invitees to THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III this event were the princes and philanthropists whose donations had contributed to the founding of the BHU. Also present were important leaders of the Congress, such as Annie Besant. Compared to these dignitaries, Gandhiji was relatively unknown. He had been invited on account of his work in South Africa, rather than his status within India. When his turn came to speak, Gandhiji charged the Indian elite with a lack of concern for the labouring poor. The opening of the BHU, he said, was “certainly a most gorgeous show”. But he worried about the contrast between the “richly bedecked noblemen” present and “millions of the poor” Indians who were absent. Gandhiji told the privileged invitees that “there is no salvation for India unless you strip yourself of this jewellery and hold it in trust for your countrymen in India”. “There can be no spirit of self-government about us,” he went on, “if we take away or allow others to take away from the peasants almost the whole of the results of their labour. Our salvation can only come through the farmer. Neither the lawyers, nor the doctors, nor the rich landlords are going to secure it.” The opening of the BHU was an occasion for celebration, marking as it did the opening of a nationalist university, sustained by Indian money and Indian initiative. But rather than adopt a tone of self-congratulation, Gandhiji chose instead to remind those present of the peasants and workers who constituted a majority of the Indian population, yet were unrepresented in the audience. Gandhiji’s speech at Banaras in February 1916 was, at one level, merely a statement of fact – namely, that Indian nationalism was an elite phenomenon, a creation of lawyers and doctors and landlords. But, at another level, it was also a statement of intent – the first public announcement of Gandhiji’s own desire to make Indian nationalism more properly Fig. 13.3 Mahatma Gandhi in Karachi, March 1916 representative of the Indian people as a whole. In the last month of that year, Gandhiji was presented with an opportunity to put his precepts into practice. At the annual Congress, held in Lucknow in December 1916, he was approached by a peasant from Champaran in Bihar, who told him about the harsh treatment of peasants by British indigo planters. 2.The Making and Unmaking of Noncooperation Mahatma Gandhi was to spend much of 1917 in Champaran, seeking to obtain for the peasants security of tenure as well as the freedom to cultivate the crops of their choice. The following year, 1918, Gandhiji was involved in two campaigns in his home state of Gujarat. First, he intervened in a labour dispute in Ahmedabad, demanding better working conditions for the textile mill workers. Then he joined peasants in Kheda in asking the state for the remission of taxes following the failure of their harvest. These initiatives in Champaran, Ahmedabad and Kheda marked Gandhiji out as a nationalist with a deep sympathy for the poor. At the same time, these were all localised struggles. Then, in 1919, the colonial rulers delivered into Gandhiji’s lap an issue from which he could construct a much wider movement. During the Great War of 1914-18, the British had instituted censorship of the press and permitted detention without trial. Now, on the recommendation of a committee chaired by Sir Sidney Rowlatt, these tough measures were continued. In response, Gandhiji called for a countrywide campaign against the “Rowlatt Act”. In towns across North and West India, life came to a standstill, as shops shut down and schools closed in response to the bandh call. The protests were particularly intense in the Punjab, where many men had served on the British side in the War – expecting to be rewarded for their service. Instead they were given the Rowlatt Act. Gandhiji was detained while proceeding to the Punjab, even as prominent local Congressmen were arrested. The situation in the province grew progressively more tense, reaching a bloody climax in Amritsar in April 1919, when a British Brigadier ordered his troops to open fire on a nationalist meeting. More  Discuss... Find out more about the national movement in India before 1915 and see whether Mahatma Gandhi’s comments are justified. THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III than four hundred people were killed in what is known as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. It was the Rowlatt satyagraha that made Gandhiji a truly national leader. Emboldened by its success, Gandhiji called for a campaign of “non-cooperation” with British rule. Indians who wished colonialism to end were asked to stop attending schools, colleges and law courts, and not pay taxes. In sum, they were asked to adhere to a “renunciation of (all) voluntary association with the (British) Government”. If noncooperation was effectively carried out, said Gandhiji, India would win swaraj within a year. To further broaden the struggle he had joined hands with the Khilafat Movement that sought to restore the Caliphate, a symbol of Pan-Islamism which had recently been abolished by the Turkish ruler Kemal Attaturk. 2.1 Knitting a popular movement Gandhiji hoped that by coupling non-cooperation with Khilafat, India’s two major religious communities, Hindus and Muslims, could collectively bring an end to colonial rule. These movements certainly unleashed a surge of popular action that was altogether unprecedented in colonial India. Students stopped going to schools and colleges run by the government. Lawyers refused to attend court. The working class went on strike in many towns and cities: according to official figures, there were 396 strikes in 1921, involving 600,000 workers and a loss of seven million workdays. The countryside was seething with discontent too. Hill tribes in northern Andhra violated the forest laws. Farmers in Awadh did not pay taxes. Peasants in Kumaun refused to carry loads for colonial officials. These protest movements were sometimes carried out in defiance of the local nationalist leadership. Peasants, workers, and others interpreted and acted upon the call to “non-cooperate” with colonial rule in ways that best suited their interests, rather than conform to the dictates laid down from above. “Non-cooperation,” wrote Mahatma Gandhi’s American biographer Louis Fischer, “became the name of an epoch in the life of India and of Gandhiji. Non-cooperation was negative enough to be peaceful but positive enough to be effective. It entailed denial, renunciation, and self-discipline. It was training for self-rule.” As a consequence of the Non-Cooperation Movement the British Raj was shaken to its foundations for the first time since the Revolt of 1857. Then, in February 1922, a group of peasants attacked and torched a police station in the hamlet of Chauri Chaura, in the United Provinces (now, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal). Several constables perished in the conflagration. This act of violence prompted Gandhiji to call off the movement altogether. “No provocation,” he insisted, “can possibly justify (the) brutal murder of men who had been rendered defenceless and who had virtually thrown themselves on the mercy of the mob.” During the Non-Cooperation Movement thousands of Indians were put in jail. Gandhiji himself was arrested in March 1922, and charged with sedition. The judge who presided over his trial, Justice C.N. Broomfield, made a remarkable speech while pronouncing his sentence. “It would be impossible to ignore the fact,” remarked the judge, “that you are in a different category from any person I have ever tried or am likely to try. It would be impossible to ignore the fact that, in the eyes of millions of your countrymen, you are a great patriot and a leader. Even those who differ from you in politics look upon you as a man of high ideals and of even saintly life.” Since Gandhiji had violated the law it was obligatory for the Bench to sentence him to six years’ imprisonment, but, said Judge Broomfield, “If the course of events in India should make it possible for the Government to reduce the period and release you, no one will be better pleased than I”. 2.2 A people’s leader By 1922, Gandhiji had transformed Indian nationalism, thereby redeeming the promise he made in his BHU speech of February 1916. It was no longer a movement of professionals and intellectuals; now, hundreds of thousands of peasants, workers and artisans also participated in it. Many of them venerated Gandhiji, referring to him as their THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III “Mahatma”. They appreciated the fact that he dressed like them, lived like them, and spoke their language. Unlike other leaders he did not stand apart from the common folk, but empathised and even identified with them. This identification was strikingly reflected in his dress: while other nationalist leaders dressed formally, wearing a Western suit or an Indian bandgala, Gandhiji went among the people in a Fig. 13.5 simple dhoti or loincloth. Meanwhile, he spent part Mahatma Gandhi with the charkha of each day working on the charkha (spinning wheel), has become the most abiding image and encouraged other nationalists to do likewise. of Indian nationalism. In 1921, during a tour of South The act of spinning allowed Gandhiji to break the India, Gandhiji shaved his head boundaries that prevailed within the traditional caste and began wearing a loincloth system, between mental labour and manual labour. in order to identify with the poor. In a fascinating study, the historian Shahid Amin His new appearance also came has traced the image of Mahatma Gandhi among to symbolise asceticism and the peasants of eastern Uttar Pradesh, as conveyed abstinence – qualities he celebrated in opposition to the by reports and rumours in the local press. When he consumerist culture of the travelled through the region in February 1921, modern world. Gandhiji was received by adoring crowds everywhere. Source 1 This is how a Hindi newspaper in Gorakhpur reported the atmosphere during his speeches: At Bhatni Gandhiji addressed the local public and then the train started for Gorakhpur. There were not less than 15,000 to 20,000 people at Nunkhar, Deoria, Gauri Bazar, Chauri Chaura and Kusmhi (stations) … Mahatmaji was very pleased to witness the scene at Kusmhi, as despite the fact that the station is in the middle of a jungle there were not less than 10,000 people here. Some, overcome with their love, were seen to be crying. At Deoria people wanted to give bhent (donations) to Gandhiji, but he asked them to give these at Gorakhpur. But at Chauri Chaura one Marwari gentleman managed to hand over something to him. Then Source 2 there was no stopping. A sheet was spread and currency notes and coins started raining. It was a sight … Outside the Gorakhpur station the Mahatma was stood on a high carriage and people had a good darshan of him for a couple of minutes. Wherever Gandhiji went, rumours spread of his miraculous powers. In some places it was said that he had been sent by the King to redress the grievances of the farmers, and that he had the power to overrule all local officials. In other places it was claimed that Gandhiji’s power was superior to that of the English monarch, and that with his arrival the colonial rulers would flee the district. There were also stories reporting dire consequences for those who opposed him; rumours spread of how villagers who criticised Gandhiji found their houses mysteriously falling apart or their crops failing. Known variously as “Gandhi baba”, “Gandhi Maharaj”, or simply as “Mahatma”, Gandhiji appeared to the Indian peasant as a saviour, who would rescue them from high taxes and oppressive officials and restore dignity and autonomy to their lives. Gandhiji’s appeal among the poor, and peasants in particular, was enhanced by his ascetic lifestyle, and by his shrewd use of symbols such as the dhoti and the charkha. Mahatma Gandhi was by caste a merchant, and by profession a lawyer; but his simple lifestyle and love of working with his hands allowed him to empathise more fully with the labouring poor and for them, in turn, to empathise with him. Where most The miraculous and the unbelievable Local newspapers in the United Provinces recorded many of the rumours that circulated at that time. There were rumours that every person who wanted to test the power of the Mahatma had been surprised: 1. Sikandar Sahu from a village in Basti said on 15 February that he would believe in the Mahatmaji when the karah (boiling pan) full of sugar cane juice in his karkhana (where gur was produced) split into two. Immediately the karah actually split into two from the middle. 2. A cultivator in Azamgarh said that he would believe in the Mahatmaji’s authenticity if sesamum sprouted on his field planted with wheat. Next day all the wheat in that field became sesamum. contd THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III Source 2 (contd) There were rumours that those who opposed Mahatma Gandhi invariably met with some tragedy. 1. A gentleman from Gorakhpur city questioned the need to ply the charkha. His house caught fire. 2. In April 1921 some people were gambling in a village of Uttar Pradesh. Someone told them to stop. Only one from amongst the group refused to stop and abused Gandhiji. The next day his goat was bitten by four of his own dogs. 3. In a village in Gorakhpur, the peasants resolved to give up drinking liquor. One person did not keep his promise. As soon as he started for the liquor shop brickbats started to rain in his path. When he spoke the name of Gandhiji the brickbats stopped flying. FROM SHAHID AMIN, “GANDHI AS MAHATMA”, SUBALTERN STUDIES III, OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, DELHI.  You have read about rumours in Chapter 11 and seen that the circulation of rumours tells us about the structure of the belief of a time: they tell us about the mind of the people who believe in the rumours and the circumstances that make this belief possible. What do you think these rumours about Gandhiji reflect? other politicians talked down to them, Gandhiji appeared not just to look like them, but to understand them and relate to their lives. While Mahatma Gandhi’s mass appeal was undoubtedly genuine – and in the context of Indian politics, without precedent – it must also be stressed that his success in broadening the basis of nationalism was based on careful organisation. New branches of the Congress were set up in various parts of India. A series of “Praja Mandals” were established to promote the nationalist creed in the princely states. Gandhiji encouraged the communication of the nationalist message in the mother tongue, rather than in the language of the rulers, English. Thus the provincial committees of the Congress were based on linguistic regions, rather than on the artificial boundaries of British India. In these different ways nationalism was taken to the farthest corners of the country and embraced by social groups previously untouched by it. By now, among the supporters of the Congress were some very prosperous businessmen and industrialists. Indian entrepreneurs were quick to recognise that, in a free India, the favours enjoyed by their British competitors would come to an end. Some of these entrepreneurs, such as G.D. Birla, supported the national movement openly; others did so tacitly. Thus, among Gandhiji’s admirers were both poor peasants and rich industrialists, although the reasons why peasants followed Gandhiji were somewhat different from, and perhaps opposed to, the reasons of the industrialists. While Mahatma Gandhi’s own role was vital, the growth of what we might call “Gandhian nationalism” also depended to a very substantial extent on his followers. Between 1917 and 1922, a group of highly talented Indians attached themselves to Gandhiji. They included Mahadev Desai, Vallabh Bhai Patel, J.B. Kripalani, Subhas Chandra Bose, Abul Kalam Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Govind Ballabh Pant and C. Rajagopalachari. Notably, these close associates of Gandhiji came from different regions as well as different religious traditions. In turn, they inspired countless other Indians to join the Congress and work for it. Mahatma Gandhi was released from prison in February 1924, and now chose to devote his attention to the promotion of home-spun cloth (khadi), and the abolition of untouchability. For, Gandhiji was as much a social reformer as he was a politician. He believed that in order to be worthy of freedom, Indians had to get rid of social evils such as child marriage and untouchability. Indians of one faith had also to cultivate a genuine tolerance for Indians of another – hence his emphasis on Hindu-Muslim harmony. Meanwhile, on the economic front Indians had to learn to become self-reliant – hence his stress on the significance of wearing khadi rather than mill-made cloth imported from overseas. 3.The Salt Satyagraha A Case Study For several years after the Non-cooperation Movement ended, Mahatma Gandhi focused on his social reform work. In 1928, however, he began to think of re-entering politics. That year there was an all-India campaign in opposition to the all-White Simon Commission, sent from England to enquire into conditions in the colony. Gandhiji did not himself participate in this movement, although he gave it his blessings, as he also did to a peasant satyagraha in Bardoli in the same year. In the end of December 1929, the Congress held its annual session in the city of Lahore. The meeting was significant for two things: the election of Jawaharlal Nehru as President, signifying the passing of the baton of leadership to the younger generation; and the proclamation of commitment to “Purna Swaraj”, or complete independence. Now the pace of politics picked up once more. On 26 January 1930, “Independence Day” was observed, with the national flag being hoisted in different venues, and patriotic songs being sung. Gandhiji himself issued precise instructions as to how the day should be observed. “It would be good,” he said, “if the declaration [of Independence] is made by whole villages, whole cities even ... It would be well if all the meetings were held at the identical minute in all the places.” Gandhiji suggested that the time of the meeting be advertised in the traditional way, by the beating of drums. The celebrations would begin with the hoisting of the national flag. The rest of the day would be spent “in doing some constructive work, whether it is spinning, or service of ‘untouchables’, or reunion of Hindus and Mussalmans, or prohibition work, or even all these  Discuss... What was Non-cooperation? Find out about the variety of ways in which different social groups participated in the movement. Fig. 13.6 On the Dandi March, March 1930 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III together, which is not impossible”. Participants would take a pledge affirming that it was “the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil”, and that “if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have a further right to alter it or abolish it”. 3.1 Dandi Soon after the observance of this “Independence Day”, Mahatma Gandhi announced that he would lead a march to break one of the most widely disliked laws in British India, which gave the state a monopoly in the manufacture and sale of salt. His picking on the salt monopoly was another illustration of Gandhiji’s tactical wisdom. For in every Indian household, salt was indispensable; yet people were forbidden from making salt even for domestic use, compelling them to buy it from shops at a high price. The state monopoly over salt was deeply unpopular; by making it his target, Gandhiji hoped to mobilise a wider discontent against British rule. Where most Indians understood the significance of Gandhiji’s challenge, the British Raj apparently did not. Although Gandhiji had given advance notice of his “Salt March” to the Viceroy Lord Irwin, Irwin failed to grasp the significance of the action. On 12 March 1930, Gandhiji began walking from his ashram at Sabarmati towards the ocean. He reached his destination three weeks later, making a fistful of salt as he did and thereby making himself a criminal in the eyes of the law. Meanwhile, parallel salt marches were being conducted in other parts of the country. Source 3 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III Source 4 and in the rest of the country are arrested? This movement is based on the faith that when a whole nation is roused and on the march no leader is necessary. CWMG,VOL. 49 As with Non-cooperation, apart from the officially sanctioned nationalist campaign, there were numerous other streams of protest. Across large parts of India, peasants breached the hated colonial forest laws that kept them and their cattle out of the woods in which they had once roamed freely. In some towns, factory workers went on strike while lawyers boycotted British courts and students refused to attend government-run educational institutions. As in 1920-22, now too Gandhiji’s call had encouraged Indians of all classes to make manifest their own discontent with colonial rule. The rulers responded by detaining the dissenters. In the wake of the Salt March, nearly 60,000 Indians were arrested, among them, of course, Gandhiji himself. The progress of Gandhiji’s march to the seashore can be traced from the secret reports filed by the police officials deputed to monitor his movements. These reproduce the speeches he gave at the villages en route, in which he called upon local officials to renounce government employment and join the freedom struggle. In one village, Wasna, Gandhiji told the upper castes that “if you are out for Swaraj you must serve untouchables. You won’t get Swaraj merely by the repeal of the salt taxes or other taxes. For Swaraj you must make amends for the wrongs which you did to the untouchables. For Swaraj, Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and Sikhs will have to unite. These are the steps towards Swaraj.” The police spies reported that Gandhiji’s meetings were very well attended, by villagers of all castes, and by women as well as men. They observed that thousands of volunteers were flocking to the nationalist cause. Among them were many officials, who had resigned from their posts with the colonial government. Writing to the government, the District Superintendent of Police remarked, “Mr Gandhi appeared calm and collected. He is gathering more strength as he proceeds.” The progress of the Salt March can also be traced from another source: the American newsmagazine, Time. This, to begin with, scorned at Gandhiji’s looks, writing with disdain of his “spindly frame” and his “spidery loins”. Thus in its first report on the march, Time was deeply sceptical of the Salt March reaching Fig. 13.8 After Mahatma Gandhi’s release from prison in January 1931, Congress leaders met at Allahabad to plan the future course of action. You can see (from right to left) Jawaharlal Nehru, Jamnalal Bajaj, Subhas Chandra Bose, Gandhiji, Mahadev Desai (in front), Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. Source 5 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III its destination. It claimed that Gandhiji “sank to the ground” at the end of the second day’s walking; the magazine did not believe that “the emaciated saint would be physically able to go much further”. But within a week it had changed its mind. The massive popular following that the march had garnered, wrote Time, had made the British rulers “desperately anxious”. Gandhiji himself they now saluted as a “Saint” and “Statesman”, who was using “Christian acts as a weapon against men with Christian beliefs”. 3.2 Dialogues The Salt March was notable for at least three reasons. First, it was this event that first brought Mahatma Gandhi to world attention. The march was widely covered by the European and American press. Second, it was the first nationalist activity in which women participated in large numbers. The socialist activist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay had persuaded Gandhiji not to restrict the protests to men alone. Kamaladevi was herself one of numerous women who courted arrest by breaking the salt or liquor laws. Third, and perhaps most significant, it was the Salt March which forced upon the British the realisation that their Raj would not last forever, and that they would have to devolve some power to the Indians. To that end, the British government convened a series of “Round Table Conferences” in London. The first meeting was held in November 1930, but without the pre-eminent political leader in India, thus rendering it an exercise in futility. Gandhiji was released from jail in January 1931 and the following month had several long meetings with the Viceroy. These culminated in what was called the “Gandhi-Irwin Pact’, by the terms of which civil disobedience would be called off, all prisoners released, and salt manufacture allowed along the coast. The pact was criticised by radical nationalists, for Gandhiji was unable to obtain from the Viceroy a commitment to political independence for Indians; he could obtain merely an assurance of talks towards that possible end. A second Round Table Conference was held in London in the latter part of 1931. Here, Gandhiji represented the Congress. However, his claims that his party represented all of India came under challenge from three parties: from the Muslim League, which claimed to stand for the interests of the Muslim minority; from the Princes, who claimed that the Congress had no stake in their territories; Source 6 and from the brilliant lawyer and thinker B.R. Ambedkar, who argued that Gandhiji and the Congress did not really represent the lowest castes. The Conference in London was inconclusive, so Gandhiji returned to India and resumed civil disobedience. The new Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, was deeply unsympathetic to the Indian leader. In a private letter to his sister, Willingdon wrote: “It’s a beautiful world if it wasn’t for Gandhi ... At the bottom of every move he makes which he always says is inspired by God, one discovers the political manouevre. I see the American Press is saying what a wonderful man he is ... But the fact is that we live in the midst of very unpractical, mystical, and superstitious folk who look upon Gandhi as something holy, ...” In 1935, however, a new Government of India Act promised some form of representative government. Two years later, in an election held on the basis of a restricted franchise, the Congress won a comprehensive victory. Now eight out of 11 provinces had a Congress “Prime Minister”, working under the supervision of a British Governor. THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III In the meeting the nature of India’s involvement in the War was discussed. When negotiations with the Viceroy broke down, the Congress ministries resigned. The offer was refused. In protest, the Congress ministries resigned in October 1939. Through 1940 and 1941, the Congress organised a series of individual satyagrahas to pressure the rulers to promise freedom once the war had ended. Fig. 13.11 Meanwhile, in March 1940, the Muslim League Mahatma Gandhi with Stafford passed a resolution demanding a measure of Cripps, March 1942 autonomy for the Muslim-majority areas of the subcontinent. The political landscape was now becoming complicated: it was no longer Indians versus the British; rather, it had become a three-way struggle between the Congress, the Muslim League, and the British. At this time Britain had an all-party government, whose Labour members were sympathetic to Indian aspirations, but whose Conservative Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was a diehard imperialist who insisted that he had not been appointed the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. In the spring of 1942, Churchill was persuaded to send one of his ministers, Sir Stafford Cripps, to India to try and forge a compromise with Gandhiji and the Congress. Talks broke down, however, after the Congress insisted that if it was to help the British defend India from the Axis powers, then the Viceroy had first to appoint an Indian as the Defence Member of his Executive Council.  Discuss... Read Sources 5 and 6. Write an imaginary dialogue between Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi on the issue of separate electorates for the Depressed Classes. In September 1939, two years after the Congress ministries assumed office, the Second World War broke out. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru had both been strongly critical of Hitler and the Nazis. Accordingly, they promised Congress support to the war effort if the British, in return, promised to grant India independence once hostilities ended. 4. Quit India After the failure of the Cripps Mission, Mahatma Gandhi decided to launch his third major movement against British rule. This was the “Quit India” campaign, which began in August 1942. Although Gandhiji was jailed at once, younger activists organised strikes and acts of sabotage all over the country. Particularly active in the underground resistance were socialist members of the Congress, such as Jayaprakash Narayan. In several districts, such as Satara in the west and Medinipur in the east, “independent” governments were proclaimed. The British responded with much force, yet it took more than a year to suppress the rebellion. “Quit India” was genuinely a mass movement, bringing into its ambit hundreds of thousands of ordinary Indians. It especially energised the young who, in very large numbers, left their colleges to go to jail. However, while the Congress leaders languished in jail, Jinnah and his colleagues in the THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III Muslim League worked patiently at expanding their influence. It was in these years that the League began to make a mark in the Punjab and Sind, provinces where it had previously had scarcely any presence. In June 1944, with the end of the war in sight, Gandhiji was released from prison. Later that year he held a series of meetings with Jinnah, seeking to bridge the gap between the Congress and the League. In 1945, a Labour government came to power in Britain and committed itself to granting independence to India. Meanwhile, back in India, the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, brought the Congress and the League together for a series of talks. Early in 1946 fresh elections were held to the provincial legislatures. The Congress swept the “General” category, but in the seats specifically reserved for Muslims the League won an overwhelming majority. The political polarisation Fig. 13.13 was complete. A Cabinet Mission sent in the summer Mahatma Gandhi conferring with of 1946 failed to get the Congress and the League to Jawaharlal Nehru (on his right) and agree on a federal system that would keep India Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel (on his left) together while allowing the provinces a degree of Nehru and Patel represented two autonomy. After the talks broke down, Jinnah distinct political tendencies within the Congress – the socialist and called for a “Direct Action Day” to press the League’s the conservative. Mahatma demand for Pakistan. On the designated day, Gandhi had to often mediate 16 August 1946, bloody riots broke out in Calcutta. between these groups. The violence spread to rural Bengal, then to Bihar, and then across the country to the United Provinces and the Punjab. In some places, Muslims were the main sufferers, in other places, Hindus. In February 1947, Wavell was replaced as Viceroy by Lord Mountbatten. Mountbatten called onelast round of talks, but when these too proved inconclusive he announced that British India would be freed, but also divided. The formal transfer of power was fixed for 15 August. When that day came, it was celebrated with gusto in different parts of India. In Delhi, there was “prolonged applause” when the President of the Constituent Assembly began the meeting by invoking the Father of the Nation – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Outside the Assembly, the crowds shouted “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai”. 5.The Last Heroic Days As it happened, Mahatma Gandhi was not present at the festivities in the capital on 15 August 1947. He was in Calcutta, but he did not attend any function or hoist a flag there either. Gandhiji marked the day with a 24-hour fast. The freedom he had struggled so long for had come at an unacceptable price, with a nation divided and Hindus and Muslims at each other’s throats. Through September and October, writes his biographer D.G. Tendulkar, Gandhiji “went round hospitals and refugee camps giving consolation to distressed people”. He “appealed to the Sikhs, the Hindus and the Muslims to forget the past and not to dwell on their sufferings but to extend the right hand of fellowship to each other, and to determine to live in peace ...” At the initiative of Gandhiji and Nehru, the Congress now passed a resolution on “the rights of minorities”. The party had never accepted the “two-nation theory”: forced against its will to accept Partition, it still believed that “India is a land of many religions and many races, and must remain so”. Whatever be the situation in Pakistan, India would be “a democratic secular State where all citizens enjoy full rights and are equally entitled to the protection of the State, irrespective of the religion to which they belong”. The Congress wished to “assure the minorities in India that it will continue to protect, to the best of its ability, their citizen rights against aggression”. Many scholars have written of the months after Independence as being Gandhiji’s “finest hour”. After working to bring peace to Bengal, Gandhiji now shifted to Delhi, from where he hoped to move on to the riot-torn districts of Punjab. While in the capital, his meetings were disrupted THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III by refugees who objected to readings from the Koran, or shouted slogans asking why he did not speak of the sufferings of those Hindus and Sikhs still living in Pakistan. In fact, as D.G. Tendulkar writes, Gandhiji “was equally concerned with the sufferings of the minority community in Pakistan. He would have liked to be able to go to their succour. But with what face could he now go there, when he could not guarantee full redress to the Muslims in Delhi?” There was an attempt on Gandhiji’s life on 20 January 1948, but he carried on undaunted. On 26 January, he spoke at his prayer meeting of how that day had been celebrated in the past as Independence Day. Now freedom had come, but its first few months had been deeply disillusioning. However, he trusted that “the worst is over”, that Indians would henceforth work collectively for the “equality of all classes and creeds, never the domination and superiority of the major community Fig. 13.15 over a minor, however insignificant it may be in The death of the Mahatma, numbers or influence”. He also permitted himself a popular print the hope “that though geographically and politically In popular representations, Mahatma Gandhi was deified, India is divided into two, at heart we shall ever be and shown as the unifying force friends and brothers helping and respecting one within the national movement. another and be one for the outside world”. Here you can see Jawaharlal Gandhiji had fought a lifelong battle for a free Nehru and Sardar Patel, and united India; and yet, when the country was representing two strands within divided, he urged that the two parts respect and the Congress, standing on two sides of Gandhiji’s pyre. Blessing befriend one another. them both from a heavenly realm, Other Indians were less forgiving. At his daily is Mahatma Gandhi, at the centre. prayer meeting on the evening of 30 January, Gandhiji was shot dead by a young man. The assassin, who surrendered afterwards, was a Brahmin from Pune named Nathuram Godse, the editor of an extremist Hindu newspaper who had denounced Gandhiji as “an appeaser of Muslims”. Gandhiji’s death led to an extraordinary outpouring of grief, with rich tributes being paid to him from across the political spectrum in India, and moving appreciations coming from such international figures as George Orwell and Albert Einstein. Time magazine, which had once mocked Gandhiji’s physical size and seemingly non-rational ideas, now compared his martyrdom to that of Abraham Lincoln: it was a bigoted American who had killed Lincoln for believing that human beings were equal regardless of their race or skin colour; and it was a bigoted Hindu who had killed Gandhiji for believing that friendship was possible, indeed necessary, between Indians of different faiths. In this respect, as Time wrote, “The world knew that it had, in a sense too deep, too simple for the world to understand, connived at his (Gandhiji’s) death as it had connived at Lincoln’s.” 6.Knowing Gandhi There are many different kinds of sources from which we can reconstruct the political career of Gandhiji and the history of the nationalist movement. 6.1 Public voice and private scripts One important source is the writings and speeches of Mahatma Gandhi and his contemporaries, including both his associates and his political adversaries. Within these writings we need to distinguish between those that were meant for the public and those that were not. Speeches, for instance, allow us to hear the public voice of an individual, while private letters give us a glimpse of his or her private thoughts. In letters we see people expressing their anger and pain, their dismay and anxiety, their hopes and frustrations in ways in which they may not express themselves in public statements. But we must remember that this private-public distinction often breaks down. Many letters are written to individuals, and are therefore personal, but they are also meant for the public. The language of the letters is often shaped by the awareness that they may one day be published. Conversely, the fear that a letter may get into print often prevents people from expressing their opinion freely in personal letters. Mahatma Source 7 In A Bunch of Old Letters, 1958, Nehru reprinted many of the letters that were exchanged at the time. Read the extracts in the following pages. THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III Source 7 (contd) Source 7 (contd) Segaon, July 15, 1936 Dear Jawaharlal, Your letter is touching. You feel the most injured party. The fact is that your colleagues have lacked your courage and frankness. The result has been disastrous. I have always pleaded with them to speak to you freely and fearlessly. But having lacked the courage, whenever they have spoken they have done it clumsily and you have felt irritated. I tell you they have dreaded you, because of your irritability and impatience with them. They have chafed under your rebukes and magisterial manner and above all your arrogation of what has appeared to them your infallibility and superior knowledge. They feel you have treated them with scant courtesy and never defended them from socialist ridicule and even misrepresentation. I have looked at the whole affair as a tragi-comedy. I would therefore like you to look at the whole thing in a lighter vein. I suggested your name for the crown of thorns (Presidentship of the Congress). Keep it on, though the head be bruised. Resume your humour at the committee meetings. That is your most usual role, not that of care-worn, irritable man ready to burst on the slightest occasion. How I wish you could telegraph me that on finishing my letter you felt as merry as you were on that new year’s day in Lahore when you were reported to have danced around the tricolour flag. You must give your throat a chance. Love Bapu • (a) What do the letters tell us about the way Congress ideals developed over time? (b) What do they reveal about the role of Mahatma Gandhi within the national movement? (c) Do such letters give us any special insight into the working of the Congress, and into the nature of the national movement? THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III 6.2 Framing a picture Autobiographies similarly give us an account of the past that is often rich in human detail. But here again we have to be careful of the way we read and interpret autobiographies. We need to remember that they are retrospective accounts written very often from memory. They tell us what the author could recollect, what he or she saw as important, or was keen on recounting, or how a person wanted his or her life to be viewed by others. Writing an autobiography is a way of framing a picture of yourself. So in reading these accounts we have to try and see what the author does not tell us; we need to understand the reasons for that silence – those wilful or unwitting acts of forgetting. 6.3 Through police eyes Another vital source is government records, for the colonial rulers kept close tabs on those they regarded as critical of the government. The letters and reports written by policemen and other officials were secret at the time; but now can be accessed in archives. Police clash with Congress Let us look at one such source: the fortnightly volunteers in Bombay during the reports that were prepared by the Home Department Civil Disobedience Movement. Fig. 13.16 from the early twentieth century. These reports were based on police information from the localities, Can you see any conflict but often expressed what the higher officials saw,between this image and what or wanted to believe. While noticing the possibilitywas reported in the Fortnightly of sedition and rebellion, they liked to assureReports of the police? themselves that these fears were unwarranted. If you see the Fortnightly Reports for the period of the Salt March you will notice that the Home Department was unwilling to accept that Mahatma Gandhi’s actions had evoked any enthusiastic response from the masses. The march was seen as a drama, an antic, a desperate effort to mobilise people who were unwilling to rise against the British and were busy with their daily schedules, happy under the Raj. Source 8 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III Source 8 (contd) FOR THE SECOND HALF OF MARCH 1930 the salt laws on receipt of Mr. Gandhi’s orders are reported from a number of districts. Bengal FOR THE FIRST HALF OFAPRIL 1930 Interest has continued to centre round Gandhi’s march to the sea and the arrangements which he is making to initiate a campaign of civil United Provinces disobedience. The extremist papers report his Events have moved rapidly during the fortnight. doings and speeches at great length and make a Apart from political meetings, processions andgreat display of the various meetings that are the enrolment of volunteers, the Salt Act has being held throughout Bengal and the resolutions been openly defied at Agra, Cawnpore, Benaras, passed thereat. But there is little enthusiasm Allahabad, Lucknow, Meerut, Rae Bareli, for the form of civil disobedience favoured by Farukhabad, Etawah, Ballia and Mainpuri.Gandhi … Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru was arrested at Cheoki railwayGenerally people are waiting to see what station early on the morning of April 14 as he was happens to Gandhi and the probability is that if proceeding to the Central Provinces to attend aany action is taken against him, a spark will be meeting of Youth League. He was at once taken set to much inflammable material in Bengal. But direct to Naini Central Jail, where he was tried the prospect of any serious conflagration is at and sentenced to six months simple imprisonment. present slight. Bihar and Orissa Central Provinces and Berar There have been, or are now materialising,In Nagpur these meetings were well attended spectacular, but small-scale, attempts at illicit and most of the schools and colleges were salt manufacture in a few places …deserted on the 12th March to mark the inauguration of Gandhi’s march. Central Provinces In Jubbalpore Seth Govinddass has attemptedThe boycott of liquor shops and the to manufacture chemical salt at a cost many times infringement of forest laws appear to be the in excess of the market price of clean salt. most probable line of attack. MadrasPunjab Considerable opposition was shown atIt seems not improbable that organised attempts Vizagapatam to the Police when they attempted will be made to break the Salt Law in the to seize salt made by boiling sea water, but Jhelum district; that the agitation relating to the elsewhere resistance to the seizure of illicit saltnon-payment of the water-tax in Multan will has been half hearted. be revived; and that some movement in connection with the National Flag will be started Bengal probably at Gujranwala. In the mufassal efforts have been made to United Provinces manufacture illicit salt, the main operation areas being the districts of 24-Parganas andPolitical activity has undoubtedly intensified Midnapore. during the last fortnight. The Congress party feels that it must do something spectacular to sustain Very little salt has actually been manufactured public interest. Enrolment of volunteers, and most of it has been confiscated and the propaganda in villages, preparations for breaking utensils in which it was manufactured destroyed. Read the Fortnightly Reports carefully. Remember they are extracts from confidential reports of the colonial Home Department. These reports did not always accept what the police reported from different localities. (1) How do you think the nature of the source affects what is being said in these reports? Write a short note illustrating your argument with quotations from the above text. (2) Why do you think the Home Department was continuously reporting on what people thought about the possibility of Mahatma Gandhi’s arrest? Reread what Gandhiji said about the question of arrests in his speech on 5 April 1930 at Dandi. (3) Why do you think Mahatma Gandhi was not arrested? (4) Why do you think the Home Department continued to say that the march was not evoking any response? 6.4 From newspapers One more important source is contemporary newspapers, published in English as well as in the different Indian languages, which tracked Mahatma Gandhi’s movements and reported on his activities, and also represented what ordinary Indians thought of him. Newspaper accounts, however, should not be seen as unprejudiced. They were published by people who had their own political opinions and world views. These ideas shaped what was published and the way events were reported. The accounts that were published in a London newspaper would be different from the report in an Indian nationalist paper. We need to look at these reports but should be careful while interpreting them. Every statement made in these cannot be accepted literally as representing what was happening on the ground. They often reflect the fears and anxieties of officials who were unable to control a movement and were anxious about its spread. They did not know whether to arrest Mahatma Gandhi or what an arrest would mean. The more the colonial state kept a watch on the public and its activities, the more it worried about the basis of its rule. Within the tree of nationalism, Mahatma Gandhi appears as the looming central figure surrounded by small images of other leaders and sages. THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY – PART III 1. How did Mahatma Gandhi seek to identify with the common people? 2. How was Mahatma Gandhi perceived by the peasants? 3. Why did the salt laws become an important issue of struggle? 4. Why are newspapers an important source for the study of the national movement? 5. Why was the charkha chosen as a symbol of nationalism? 6. How was non-cooperation a form of protest? 7. Why were the dialogues at the Round Table Conference inconclusive? 8. In what way did Mahatma Gandhi transform the nature of the national movement? 9. What do private letters and autobiographies tell us about an individual? How are these sources different from official accounts? 10. Find out about the route of the Dandi March. On a map of Gujarat plot the line of the march and mark the major towns and villages that it passed along the route. 11. Read any two autobiographies of nationalist leaders. Look at the different ways in which the authors represent their own life and times, and interpret the national movement. See how their views differ. Write an account based on your studies. 12. Choose any event that took place during the national movement. Try and read the letters and speeches of the leaders of the time. Some of these are now published. He could be a local leader from the region where you live. Try and see how the local leaders viewed the activities of the national leadership at the top. Write about the movement based on your reading.

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