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Mahatma Gandhi and the national movement Essay

Lord Birkenhead, the secretary of State for India, justified the exclusion of Indians in the Simon commission. He said that the Indians were not united and could not arrive at an ‘agreed scheme of reforms’. To refute this charge, an All Parties Conference was convened in 1928 to take up the challenge posed by Lord Birkenhead. Liberals and Radicals, leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim league and the depressed classes came together. Motilal Nehru was made chairman of the committee with sir tej bahadur sapru and sir N.C. kelkar as his principal associates. The report submitted by the all parties conference is known as the Nehru report .

Recommendations of Nehru report
1. Attainment of dominion status for india at a early date.
2. A federal set-up (i.e., the linking up of the princely states with the british india)built on the provisions of provincial autonomy.
3. Abolishing separate electorates and providing for protection of minorities.
4. Proposal of joint electorates with reservation of seats for minorities in the legislatures.
5. Linguistic reorganization of the Indian british provinces
6. The governors of the provinces to act on the advice of the provincial executive council
7. Emphasis on fundamental rights, such as right to vote, freedom of conscience and freedom from arbitrary arrest, searches and seizure.
8. Parliamentary democracy for india with the Indian parliament having the following features: a) The Prime Minister was to be appointed by the Governer-General and other ministers were to be appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister. b) Executive to be made collectively responsible to  the legislature. c) The Senate to be elected for seven years, having 200 members elected by the provincial council. d) The house of representatives with 500 members elected for 5 years through adult franchise. e) The Governer-General to be appointed by the British Government but paid from Indian revenues. He was to act on the advise of the executive council which was to be collectively responsible to the Parliament. f) The Provincial councils to be elected on the basis of adult franchise for five years.

Jinnah earlier a congressman now a leader of the Muslim league did not accept the Nehru report and demanded more representation for the Muslims. Jinnah thereafter drew up a list of demands the so called fourteen points which represented the minimum demands of the Muslims. His points were rejected by the all parties convention held at Kolkata in December 1928. The Congress at it’s Calcutta session(1928) resolved to launch a campaign of non co-opreation with non payment of taxes(civil disobedience), if the Nehru report was not accepted by the end of 1929. Since the British Government did not accept the Nehru report the congress passed the purna swaraj resolution at this Lahore session in 1929.

Declaration of Ramsay MacDonald
The new British labour Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald, in consultation with Viceroy Lord Irwin, declared on October 31, 1929, that the Government would consider the proposal of granting dominion status to India On December 23, 1929 when the national leaders met the Viceroy, he was vague and non-committal in his reply. Thus the stage was set for a confrontation. Lahore Session:

Demand for complete independence (Purna Swaraj)
The Calcutta session of the congress had served an ultimatum to the British Government to accept the Nehru report by the end of 1929 or to face a mass movement. Jawaharlal Nehru was made the president of the congress at the historic Lahore session of 1929. It passed a resolution declaring Purna Swaraj (complete Independence) to be the Congress objective. On the midnight of December 31st, 1929 Jawaharlal Nehru lead a procession to the banks of the river Ravi at Lahore and hoisted the tricolor flag. The Congress working committee met in January 1930 and decided the following programme: i. Preparation for civil disobedience.

ii. As per the Purna Swaraj resolution the word swaraj in the Congress constitution would thenceforth mean complete independence or purna swaraj which was set forth as the goal of the national movement. iii. Observance of 26th of January as the purna swaraj day all over the country with the hoisting of the tricolor flag. iv. Resignations by members of the legislature.

v. Withdrawal from all possible association with the British Government.

It was decided to observe January 26 as the day of independence every year a pledge was drawn up which was to be read and solemnly taken while celebrating the day. Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-1934)

The Congress working committee met from February 14 to 16, 1930 at Sabarmati ashram and vested in Gandhiji’s powers to launch the civil disobedience movement. Before starting the movement Gandhiji served on the British Government a ‘Eleven Point Ultimatum’. After waiting in vain for the Government response to his ultimatum, Gandhiji started the movement with his famous Dandi march (March 12- April 6, 1930) from the Sabarmati ashram to Dandi on the Gujarat coast.

Dandi March:
On 12th March, Mahatma Gandhi began the historic march from Sabarmati ashram to Dandi, a village on the Gujarat seacoast. A number of people followed him. On the morning of 6th April, Gandhiji violated the salt laws at Dandi by picking up some salt left by the sea-waves. He had selected to attack the salt laws because the salt-tax effected all sections of society, especially the poor. Gandhiji’s breaking of the salt laws marked the beginning of the civil disobedience movement.

The programme of civil disobedience movement involved:
i. Defiance of salt laws.
ii. Boycott of liquor.
iii. Boycott of foreign cloth and British goods of all kinds.
iv. Non payment of taxes and revenues.

The progress of the movement:
Violation of salt laws all over the country was soon followed by defiance of forest laws in Maharashtra, Karnataka and the central provinces and refusal to pay the rural chaukidari tax in eastern India. Lakhs of Indians offered Satyagraha.

Under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as the frontier Gandhi, the Pathans organized the society of Khudai Khidmatgaris (or servants of God), known popularly as Red shirts. Manipuris joined the movement with great enthusiasm in Nagaland, Rani Gaidilieu, at the age of 13 responded to Gandhiji’s call and raised the banner of revolt against the British rule. Civil disobedience movement resulted in mass strikes and setting up of parallel Governments in several places. Repression by the Government

The Government resorted to firing, lathi charges and large scale imprisonment. Over 90,000 satyagrahis including Congress leaders and Gandhiji were imprisoned. The Congress was declared illegal and severe restrictions were imposed on the nationalist press. On April 23, there were demonstrations at Peshawar to protest against the arrest of Ghaffar Khan. A platoon of Gharwal troops refused to open fire on the demonstrators. The commander of the platoon, Thakur Chandrasingh and others were severely punished. Protest meetings were held everywhere. The textile and railway workers of Mumbai went on strike . There were instances of firing at Delhi and Kolkatta. Round table conference

The Indian round table conference held three sessions which are sometimes referred to as the first, second and the third round table conferences.

First Session (November 12, 1930- January 19, 1931):
The first session of the round table conference was held in London. The Congress, which was unhappy with the report of Simon commission, boycotted the conference but other political parties and interest groups were well represented. The British realized the futility of holding a conference on the question of constitutional reforms for India without the representatives of the Congress.

Gandhi-Irwin Pact:
Since the satyagraha could not be suppressed, the Government, through Tej Bahadur Sapru and Jayakar, started negotiations with Gandhiji in jail. This resulted in the signing of a pact by Gandhiji and Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, in March 1931. This is known as the Gandhi-Irwin pact. The Government agreed to:

i. Withdraw all ordinances and end prosecutions.
ii. Release all political prisoners, except those guilty of violence.
iii. Permit peaceful ticketing of liquor and foreign cloth shops. iv. Restore the confistaced properties of the satyagrahis.
v. Permit the free collection or manufacture of salt by persons near the sea coast.

The Congress, in its turn consented to the following:
i. To suspend the civil disobedience movement.
ii. To participate in the second session of the round table conference.
iii. Not to press for investigation into police excesses.

Second Session (September 7 to December 1, 1931):
It was attended by Gandhiji as a sole representative of the congress, according to the terms of the Gandhi-Irwin pact of 1931. The British Government refused to concede the immediate grant of dominion status. Gandhiji returned to India disappointed

Renewal of civil disobedience movement:
After the failure of the talks at the second session of the round table conference, Gandhiji came back to India. The great depression of 1930’s in the world had hit the farmers of India. Gandhiji sought an interview with Viceroy Willington. The interview was refused. The Congress passed a resolution for the renewal of civil disobedience movement. The Congress was declared illegal. Congress leaders were arrested and their properties were ceased. Communalism was fanned. Gandhiji withdrew himself from active politics for a year.

Communal Award:

Ramsay MacDonald, the then Prime Minister of England, gave his communal award in 1932 through which he extended the system of separate electorates to depressed classes as well. The depressed classes were assigned a number of seats, to be filled in by elections from special constituencies in which voters belonging to the depressed classes could only vote. A compromise formula put forward by Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the leader of the depressed classes, save the situation. The outcome was the Poona pact. By this pact, the system of separate electorates for Harijans was replaced by reservation of seats for them. The British Government accepted the pact and Gandhiji ended his fast. Gandhiji was released from jail in May 1933. Third session of the round table conference:

The third session of the round table conference was held at London from November 17 to December 24, 1932, The Congress boycotted it.

End of the movement

The civil disobedience movement was suspended temporarily because of the brutal repression of the satyagrahis and the atrocities against Harijans by some sections of the Indians. In October 1934, Gandhiji decided to withdraw himself from active politics to devote all his time to the cause of Harijans.

Importance of the civil disobedience movement
The civil disobedience did not succeed immediately in winning freedom. But it played a significant role by deepening the social roots of the freedom struggle. The importance of the movement can be summed up as follows: i. The Government withdrew the ban on the Congress in June 1934. The suspension of the movement did not mean that people had abandoned their struggle for freedom. ii. A large number of social groups like merchants and shopkeepers, peasants, tribals and workers in different parts of the country were mobilized for the Indian national movement. iii. It made people understand the significance of the principles of non violence iv. The movement also popularized new methods of propaganda. Prabhat Pheris, in which hundreds of men and women went around singing patriotic songs in the early morning became popular in towns and villages.

Hand written patrikas or news sheets were issued in large numbers. Even children were organized into Vanara sena and girls had their own separate Manjari sena or cat army. v. The depressed classes were given entry into temples and access to wells, which was earlier denied to them. vi. It brought women out of their homes to participate in politics and to make them equal partners in the freedom struggle. vii. The Government of India act, 1935, introduced the principle of a federation and the principle of provincial autonomy; i.e., responsible Government in the provinces. viii. In 1937, the Congress took part in the elections to the Central legislative assembly and achieved positive results. It was also successful in the elections to the provincial legislative assemblies except in Punjab. Gandhiji’s contribution to the freedom movement:

Mahatma Gandhi entered the Indian political life in 1919. He led the country to swarajya by non violent means. His contribution to India’s freedom can be understood through various movements and programmes he launched. These include the following: i. Champaran, Kheda and Ahmedabad: It was through involvement in three local disputes- in Champaran (in North Bihar), in Kheda & Ahmedabad (in Gujarat)- In 1917-18 that Mahatma Gandhi emerged as an influential political leader. In Champaran he took up the cause of peasants against landlords, in Kheda he worked for the farmers against revenue officials and in Ahmedabad fought for mill workers against mill owners. ii. The non co-operation movement: The anti Rowlatt satyagraha was a country wide movement launched by Gandhiji.

He started the non co-operation movement and along with the issues of Rowlatt act and Jalianwala bagh tragedy, he also combined the issue of Khilafat. iii. Gandhiji’s constructive programmes: From 1924 to 1929 Gandhiji devoted hjmself to the constructive programmes of spinning and encouraging Khadi, Hindu-Muslim unity, prohibition and village upliftment. iv. Hindu-Muslim unity: In 1920 he combined the Khilafat issue with the non co-operation movement and succeeded in getting the non co-operation movement accepted first by the Muslims and then by the whole country. Gandhiji started his peace mission to Noakhali in October 1946 during the communal riots. Similarly, he undertook indefinite period of fast after the communal riots which broke out in the wake of the partition of India. v. Harijan Uplift: Gandhiji dedicated his life for the uplift of the untouchables, whom he called Harijans (children of God). He organized the ‘Harijan Sewak Sangh’ with the objective of eradicating the evil of untouchability.

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