In the critical closing year of the war, the repressive policy of the British Government was becoming worse and worse. The Press Act was severely enforced. There were restrictions on Tilak and Mrs. Besant. In Bengal the number of youngmen interned ran upto nearly three thousand. There was great hardship and discontent, specially in the Punjab on account of recruiting and war fund activities of the Government.
The war had come to a close already when the Congress met at Delhi in 1918 under the Presidentship of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. The allies had been successful and the principle of self-determination had been declared by President Wilson, Llyod George and other statesmen. In the light of this situation, the Delhi Congress re-examined the position with regard to the Montague Chelmsford scheme, demanding 'Dominion Status' and representation on Peace Conference, and nominating Lokmanya, Gandhiji and Hussan Imam as its representatives. The Congress also urged the withdrawal of all repressive laws.
But the demands of the Delhi Congress were not only unheeded but as 1919 showed-the Government having won the war, felt itself free now, to deal with the agitation and rebellion in India, in its own way. The Rowlatt Bills were introduced in February 1919 in the Supreme Legislative Council which provided for severe curtailment of civil liberties.
Gandhi Enters Active Politics
It was at this time that Gandhiji entered the field of Indian politics actively. He took the historic decision to begin for the first time, a satyagraha movement in the country to protest against the Rowlatt Act.
On the 18th March he published the pledge: "Being-conscientiously of opinion that the Bill known as the Indian Criminal law Emergency Powers Bill, No 2 of 1919, are unjust, subversive of the principles of liberty and justice and destructive of the elementary rights of an individual on which the safety of India as a whole and the State itself is based, we solemnly affirm that in the event of these Bills becoming law and until they are withdrawn, we shall refuse civily to obey these law and such other laws as the Committee, hereafter to be appointed, may think fit, and we further affirm that in the struggle we will faithfully follow truth and refrain from violence to life, person or property."
The 30th of March 1919 was fixed for a hartal, a day of fasting, penance and prayer, but was changed to 6th April which can be called a red letter day in Indian history. The response of the people startled the Government, which flushed with victory, lost its head. There was firing at place. At Delhi, Swami Sharadhananda when threatened with shooting by British soldiers, bared his chest for the bullets. There were glorious scenes of Hindu-Muslim fraternisation. Swami Shradhananda was allowed to preach from the pulpit of Jamma Masjid. The country took to this new idea, as if they had been waiting for it, all along. A new chapter in the national struggle had begun. The happenings in the Punjab soon provided the immediate source of a deep and torrential flood of national awakening.
The story of the Punjab is too well-known and remembered to be repeated in any detail. The Punjab has been the citadel of British Imperialism, recruiting ground of the army of occupation; and reaction and ruthlessness has distinguished the Punjab Government policy ever since the beginning uptil the last days of British departure. The legacy of that policy still overclouds our outlook and the situation in the Punjab is still the tragedy and menace of our country. In 1919, the Punjab was ruled by a more forthright imperialist in the person of Sir Michael O'Dwyer who was determined to save the Punjab from contamination of political agitation elsewhere.
The Congress was to be held in Amritsar in 1919 and Sir Michael O'Dwyer sent for the local Congress leaders, Dr Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal to his house and they were spirited away to unknown places. This was on the 10th April 1919. Crowds of people gathered and wanted to meet the District Magistrate to ask the where about of these popular leaders. There was firing and brickbats and the casualties made the people very agitated and the mob killed five Englishmen and burnt a bank and some other buildings. There were similar incidents at Gujeranwalla and Kasur and minor outbreaks elsewhere. Martial law was declared in the Punjab and same day.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
On 12 April 1919, a proclamation was issued by General Dyer, who had taken charge of the troops the day before, that no meetings or gatherings of the people were to be held. However, no steps were taken to see that the proclamation was brought to the notice of the people living in the various localities of the city. The result was that it was announced on 12 April evening that there would be a public meeting on 13 April 1919 at 4.30 p.m. in the Jallianwala Bagh. Neither General Dyer nor other authorities took any action to stop the meeting. The meeting started at the right time and there were about 6,000 to 10,000 people present in the meeting. All of them were practically unarmed and defenceless. The Jallianwala Bagh was closed practically on all sides by walls except one entrance. General Dyer entered the Jallianwala Bagh with armoured cars and troops. Without giving any warning to the people to disperse, he ordered the troops to fire and he continued to do so till the whole of the ammunition at his disposal was exhausted. At least one thousand persons were killed. The contention of General Dyer was that he wanted to teach the people a lesson so that they might not laugh at him. He would have fired and fired longer, he said, if he had the required ammunition. He had only fired 1,600 rounds because his ammunition had run out. The regime of Dyer imposed some unthinkable punishments. The water and electric supply of Amritsar were cut off. Public flogging was common. However, the "Crawling Order" was the worst of all.
The news of events in the Punjab, suppressed at first soon sent a wave of horror and fury throughout the length and breadth of the country. This massacre proved to be a turning point in the history of the freedom movement.
For eight months the Government tried to draw a veil over the Punjab massacre. After the Congress had conducted and published an enquiry into the facts by a committee consisting of Gandhiji, Motilal Nehru, C. R. Das, Abbas Tyabji and Jaykar, and in face of widespread agitation the Government set up a committee under Lord Hunter. Inspite of the ugliest findings, this committee tried to whitewash and justify the perpetrators of the crimes, with mild regret. The House of Commons did not fail to glorify General Dyer and public subscriptions were raised in England to honour him.
Mahatma Gandhi had so far believed in the justice and fairplay of the British Government. He had given his full co-operation to the Government during the First World War, inspite of opposition from men like Tilak. But the tragedy at Jallianwala Bagh, the imposition of Martial Law in the Punjab and the findings of the Hunter Committee in 1920 on the tragic events of the Punjab, completely shattered the faith of Mahatma Gandhi in the good sense of the Britishers. He, therefore, decided to start Non-cooperation Movement. He felt that the old methods must be given up.
A special session of the Congress met at Calcutta from 4th to 9th September, 1920. Here Gandhiji himself moved the resolution on non-cooperation. He was opposed not only by the President elect, Lala Lajpatrai and by other stalwarts like Chittaranjan Das, but ultimately he carried the day, Pandit Motilal Nehru joined Gandhiji at once and gave up his practice. The resolution was carried by a majority of 1855 votes as against 873.
The country had now found a way to express its intese desire for freedom and a new atmosphere soon began to pervade it. The non-cooperation programme was to be finally discussed and ratified at Nagpur. An unprecedented number of delegates attended the Nagpur session. The Nagpur Congress really marked the new era in the Freedom movement. The old feeling of impotent range and importunate requests gave place to a new sense of responsibility and a self reliance. Lalaji and Deshbandhu came to oppose the proposals but stayed to be converted.
The Nagpur Congress made Gandhiji the indisputedly supreme authority in the Congress and outside. Seasoned leaders like B. C. Pal and Malaviyaji, Jinnah and Khaparde, and stalwarts like C. R. Das and Lalaji were all won over. The Nagpur Congress also changed the creed of the Congress, "in such a fashion as to eliminate the declared adherence of that body to the British connection and to constitutional methods of agitation."
The programme of the Non-Cooperation Movement was clearly stated in the non-cooperation resolution. It involved the surrender of titles and honorary offices and resignation from nominated posts in the local bodies. The non-cooperators were not to attend, Darbars and other official and semi-official functions held by the Government officials or in their honour. They were to withdraw their children gradually from schools and colleges and establish national schools and colleges. They were to boycott gradually the British courts and establish private arbitration courts. They were not to join the army as recruits for service in Mesopotamia. They were not to stand for election to the Legislatures and they were also not to vote. They were to use Swadeshi cloth. Handi-spining and hand-weaving were to be encouraged. Untouchability was to be removed as there could be no Swaraj without this reform. Mahatma Gandhi promised Swaraj within one year if people followed his programme sincerely and whole-heartedly. Ahimsa or non-violence was to be strictly observed by the non-co-operators. They were not to give up Satya or truth under any circumstances.
The Non-Cooperation Movement captured the imagination of the people. Both the Hindus and Muslims participated in it. There was wholesale burning of foreign goods. Many students left schools and colleges and the Congress set up such national educational institutions as the Kashi Vidyapeeth, Benares Vidyapeeth, Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Bihar Vidyapeeth, Bengal National University, National College of Lahore, Jamia Millia in Delhi and the National Muslim University of Aligarh. Seth Jamma Lal Bajaj declared that he would give Rs. one lakh a year for the maintenance of non-practising lawyers. Forty lakh volunteers were enrolled by the Congress. Twenty thousand Charkhas were manufactured. The people started deciding their disputes by means of arbitration.
The non-cooperation movement had both a positive and a negative aspect. The positive aspect included the revival of hand-spinning and weaving, removal of untouchability, promotion of Hindu-Muslim unity and prohibition. The negative aspect fell into three parts: boycott of legislatures, courts, and government educational institutions. This boycott movement spread like wild fire. The Government tried to crush the movement by large-scale arrests, but this only helped to strengthen the movement.
In July 1921 the All India Congress Committee decided to counter the government policy of repression by not participating in the welcome to the Prince of Wales who was to visit India in November-December 1921. When the Prince of Wales came to India, he was "greeted" with hartals throughout the country. The Government persisted in the policy of repression; the Congress and the Khilafat Volunteers' Organisation were declared illegal and large numbers of Congress workers were put behind prison bars.
Mahatma Gandhi was convinced that the only way 10 make the Government see reason was to start the civil disobedience movement and he decided to start the same in Bardoli in Gujarat. The Congress Working Committee called upon the people of India to cooperate with the people of Bardoli "by refraining from mass or individual civil disobedience of an aggressive character, except upon the express consent of Mahatma Gandhi previously obtained." Mahatma Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy and gave 7 days to accept his demands. The Viceroy held the Congress responsible for all the lawlessness in the country. Mahatma Gandhi was left with no alternative but to launch the civil disobedience movement.
Unfortunately, at this time, the tragedy of Chauri Chaura occurred which changed the course of Indian history. What actually happened was that it mob of 3,000 persons killed 25 policemen and one inspector on 5 February, 1922. Similar tragic events had already occurred on 17 November, 1921 in Bombay and on 13 January 1922 in Madras. This was too much for Mahatma Gandhi who stood for complete non-violence. The result was that Mahatma Gandhi gave orders for the suspension of the Non-cooperation Movement at once. The Government was not satisfied with this action of Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress. It was feared that Mahatma Gandhi was out for a bigger trouble and consequently he was arrested on 13 March, 1922. His trial began in Ahmedabad and he pleaded guilty. He took upon himself full responsibility for the occurrences in Madras, Bombay and Chauri Chaura and told Mr. Broomfield, the British judge, that be would "do the same again" if he was set free. He was sentenced to 6 year imprisonment.
The action of Mahatma Gandhi in suspending the movement was severely criticised from many quarters. According to Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, "Long letters were written from behind the bars by Pt. Motilal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai. They took Gandhi to task for punishing the whole country for the sins of a place."
Dr. R. C. Majumdar says that the most outstanding feature of the Non-cooperation Movement was the willingness and ability of the people in general to endure hardships and punishments inflicted by the Government. It is true that the movement collapsed but the memory of its greatness survived and was destined to inspire the nation to launch a more arduous campaign. The movement served as a baptism of fire which initiated the people to a new faith and new hope and inspired them with a new confidence in their power to fight for freedom. As a result of this movement, the Congress movement for the first time became a really mass movement. The national awakening not only penetrated to the people at large but also made them active participants in the struggle for freedom. Moreover, the Indian National Congress was turned into a genuine revolutionary organisation. It was no longer a deliberative assembly but an organised fighting party pledged to revolution.
The Swarajist Party
When C. R. Das and the other Bengal leaders were in Alipore Central Jail, they evolved a new programme of non-cooperation with the Government through legislatures. Their idea was to enter the legislatures in large numbers and "carry on a policy of uniform, continuous and consistent opposition to the Government." Motilal Nehru also shared the views of C. R. Das. In July 1922, C. R. Das came out of jail and began to carry on propaganda in favour of Council-entry.
When a meeting of the All-India Congress Committee was held at Calcutta in November 1922, there were differences of opinion among the Congress leaders on the question of Council-entry. While C. R. Das, Motilal Nehru and Hakim Ajmal Khan were in favour of it, C. Rajagopalachari, Dr. Ansari, etc., were opposed to it. In spite of lengthy debates, no decision was arrived at. At the annual session of the Congress held at Gaya in December 1922, the "No-changers" won a victory and the programme of Council-entry was rejected. C. R. Das who presided over the session resigned from the Congress and announced his decision to form the Swarajist Party. The object of the new party was to wreck the Government of India Act, 1919 from within the Councils. In March 1923, the first Conference of the Swarajist Party was held at the residence of Motilal Nehru at Allahabad and the future programme of the Party was decided. The keynote of the programme of the Party was obstructionism. Its members were to contest elections on the issue of the redress of the wrongs done by the British bureaucracy, to oppose every measure of the Government and to throw out all legislative enactments proposed by the British Government. This view of the Swarajists was that the seats in the legislatures must be captured so that they did not fall, into the hands of undesirable persons who were tools in the hands of the bureaucracy in India. The leaders of the Swarajist Party declared that outside the Councils, they would cooperate with the constructive programme of the Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and in case their methods failed, they would, without any hesitation, join Mahatma Gandhi's civil disobedience movement if and when launched by him.
The Swarajist Party fought the elections in 1923 and refused to come to any understanding with the Liberal Federation. The Swarajist Party won a majority in the Legislative Council of the Central Provinces. It was the dominant Party in Bengal. It also won good support in D. P. and Bombay. However, the Swarajist party was at its best in the Central Assembly under the leadership of Motilal Nehru. By winning over the support of the Nationalist Party and a few other members, the Swarajist Party was able to command a working majority and was thus able to accomplish a lot. On 18 February, 1924, the Swarajist Party was able to get a resolution passed by which the Government was requested to establish full responsible Government in India. A demand was also made that a Round Table' Conference consisting of the representatives of India should be called at an early date to frame a Constitution for India. The appointment of the Muddiman Committee was the result of a resolution of the Swarajist Party. Motilal Nehru was requested to become a member of this Committee but he refused. Some of the demands in the budget of 1924-25 were rejected by the Central Assembly as a result of the effort's of the Swarajist Party. The Assembly also refused to allow the Government to introduce the entire Finance Bill. In February 1925, V. J. Patel introduced a Bill asking for the repeal of certain laws and with the exception of one, the Bill was passed. A resolution was passed with the help of the Swarajist Party demanding the release of certain political prisoners. The Swarajists resorted to walkouts as a mark of protest against the policy of the Government. They boycotted all receptions, parties or functions organised by the Government. What was done in the Central Assembly was also done in those provincial legislatures where the Swarajists had some influence.
According to R. C. Majumdar, the Swarajist Party rendered a signal service to the country. For the first time, the Legislative Assembly wore the appearance of a truly National Assembly where national grievances were fully voiced, national aims and aspirations expressed without any reservation and real character of the British rule exposed. The British autocracy and Indian bureaucracy stood exposed to the whole world.
Simon Commission and Nehru Report
The Government of India Act, 1919, had provided that a review of the constitutional position would be made after ten years. However, the British Government appointed Royal Commission headed by Sir John Simon in 1927, two years ahead of time, to go into the question of constitutional reforms. This Commission did not contain any Indian members; its all-white composition was treated by the people of India as an affront to national dignity. When Simon landed in Bombay, he was treated with black flags and shouts of "Simon, go back", and there was a countrywide hartal. Anti-Simon, demonstration took place all over the country and Lala Lajpat Rai, the "Lion of Punjab", was struck with lathi blows of the police, and he died soon afterwards.
The Congress, on the other hand, appointed an all-parties Committee to draft a new Constitution for India. As a result, there emerged a report which, drafted under the chairmanship of Motilal Nehru, was called the Nehru Report. The Nehru Report marked a watershed in the constitutional thinking of Indian nationalists. The Nehru report came up before the Calcutta Congress for approval. At the Calcutta Session of the Congress held in 1928, it was intended to pass a resolution declaring complete independence as the goal of India. However, Mahatma Gandhi intervened and Dominion Status was declared to be the goal of India. Mahatma Gandhi gave the assurance that he himself would lead the movement for independence if by the end of 1929 the British Government did not confer Dominion Status on India. The year 1929 had been a year of waiting.
When the Congress leaders met on the banks of the river Ravi, near Lahore, in 1929 they were disappointed over the attitude of the British Government. Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and Srinivas Iyengar asked for bold action against the Government. In his presidential address, Jawaharlal Nehru condemned British imperialism, Kings and Princes and declared himself to be a socialist and a republican. He called upon the leaders assembled there to take strong action in these words: "Talking of high stakes and going through great dangers were the only way to achieve great things." He declared that complete independence should be the goal of the Congress. Mahatma Gandhi also approved of that goal but he did not like to precipitate matters. A resolution was passed that the word Swaraj in the Congress Constitution means "complete independence." All Congressmen taking part in the National Movement were asked not to take part, directly or indirectly, in future elections and the sitting members were asked to resign their seats. The All India Congress Committee was authorised to launch a programme of civil disobedience including the non-payment of taxes. On midnight of 31 December 1929, as the new year was ushered in the Tricolor Flag of Purna Swaraj was hoisted on the banks of the river Ravi by the Congress President, Jawaharlal Nehru.
26 January 1930 was declared Independence Day and a pledge was taken by the people of India on that date and the same independence pledge was repeated year after year. The Independence pledge began with the words: "We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life so that they may have full opportunity for growth. We believe also that if any Government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have further right to alter it or abolish it. The British Government of India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually".