Updated July 31, 2022
Voices enriching Nationalist Movement in Gandhian Phase is a crucial study for understanding history of Modern India. Marxism, socialism, khilafat, Sawarajits, Women voices all seem to be Strengthening the Nationalist Movement in that sense.
Gandhian phase in Indian history is an important period. During the period of 1917 to 1947, Gandhiji was the dominant figure on the political stage, commanding an influence never before attained by any political leader in India or perhaps in any other country.
Gandhiji aligned a mass organization with its roots in small towns and villages with the means of truth and non-violence. He used the people as an effective political instrument in the Indian nationalist movements to counter the British Policies and officials.
The campaign and program of Gandhiji like non-violent non-cooperation movement, civil disobedience movement, salt March, Quit India movement etc. electrified the country and broke the spell of the foreign rule. According to Gandhiji- it was not British guns but imperfections of Indians themselves that kept their country in bondage.
The Voices Enriching Nationalist Movement
There were a host of schools of thought and ideologies that played role in enriching nationalist movement. Some prominent ones we are listing here.
Khilafat Movement (1919-22)
It was launched by the Indian Muslims. This was employed to pressurise the British government to preserve the authority of Ottoman Sultan as Caliph of Islam. It was started because Turkey was defeated in the First World War and the harsh terms of the Treaty of Sevres (1920) were felt by the Muslims as a great insult to them. It was seemed as an opportunity by the Gandhi and Congress leaders for cementing Hindu-Muslim unity and bringing the Muslims in the National Movement and strengthened the nationalist movements against the British Raj.
The whole movement was based on the Muslim belief that the Caliph (the Sultan of Turkey) was the religious head of the Muslims all over the world. The Khilafat movement was launched to force the British government to change its attitude towards Turkey and restore the Khalifa to his former position. The Khilafat movement was jointly led by the Khilafat leaders and Congress.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, M.A. Ansari, Saifuddin Kitchlew and the Ali brothers were the prominent leaders of this movement. A Khilafat Committee was formed and on 19th October 1919, the whole country observed the Khilafat day. On 23 November 1919, a joint conference of the Hindus and the Muslims held under the chairmanship of Mahatma Gandhi.
The main objective of Mahatma Gandhi was to bring the Hindus and the Muslims together to strengthen the nationalist movement against the Britishers. In February 1920, the Khilafat Committee was suggested by the Mahatma Gandhi to adopt a programme of nonviolent non-cooperation to protest the Government’s behaviour. On 9 June 1920, the Khilafat Committee at Allahabad unanimously accepted the suggestion of non-cooperation and asked Gandhiji to lead the movement.
Four stages of non-cooperation were the surrender of titles and honorary positions, resignation from civil services under the Government, resignation from Police and Army services and non-payment of taxes. Gandhiji pressed the Congress to adopt a similar plan of action, although it was initially opposed by C.R. Das, but was later accepted by all.
Meanwhile, the Khilafat movement lost its relevance because Mustafa Kamal Pasha abolished caliphate and made Turkey a secular state. Subsequently, the Khilafat Movement merged with the Non-Cooperation Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920.
Pro- changers (Swarajists) and No- Changers
The main motive of pro-changer and no- changer was to end the colonial power. They had strengthened and enriched the nationalist movement to tackle with the Britishers. Swarajists and no-changer were the part of the Congress party. But, the ideological differences between the Swarajists and the No-Changers within the congress led to serious changes.
After the call off of non-cooperation movement and arrest of Gandhiji in March, 1922, there was disintegration, disorganization and demoralization on the nationalist ranks. There was a split of congress into Swarajist (Pro-changer) and No- Changer. Swarajist was led by C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru (father of Jawaharlal Nehru) where Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel etc. were the orthodox Gandhians or no-changer. Pro-changer put the idea of council-entry to wreck the reforms from within but it was stoutly opposed by the no-changer.
The Swarajist claimed that Council-Entry would not negate the non- cooperation movement. They said that work in the councils was necessary to fill in the temporary political void. This would keep up the morale of the politicized Indians and enthuse the people. By joining the councils, Congress could prevent the government from stuffing the council with undesirable elements and getting legitimacy for their laws. The Swarajists claimed that they would transform the legislatures into arenas of political struggle.
While the no-changers opposed council-entry mainly on the ground that parliamentary work would lead to the neglect of constructive and other work among the masses. Accordingly, it would lead to loss of revolutionary zeal and political corruption. The person in council would gradually give up the aim of wrecking the reforms due to politics obstruction. They would get sucked into the imperial constitutional framework, and start cooperating with the Government on petty reforms and piecemeal legislation. They were engaged in the fierce controversy.
Later, the need for unity was felt very strongly by all the Congressmen. Both sides realized the importance of mass movements outside the legislature to compel the government to meet the nationalist demand. Both groups of leaders fully accepted the essentiality of Gandhiji’s leadership. Keeping these factors in mind, a compromise was reached in a special session of the Congress held at Delhi in September 1923. The Swarajists were allowed to contest upcoming elections as a group within Congress
No-changers continued their constructive programme of spinning, temperance, Hindu-Muslim unity, removal of untouchability etc whereas Swarajists won the election of Central Legislative Assembly in November 1923 filling the political void while the national movement was regaining its strength.
Socialist Ideas- Voices Enriching Nationalist Movement
The idea of socialist had strengthened the voices of the marginalised and poor of the country and connected them to the nationalist movements. The decade of the 1930’s witnessed the rapid growth of socialists ideas within and outside the congress. The idea of socialist grows more under the leadership of the Jawahar Lal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose.
There was a great economic slump in the United States in 1929 which later spread to the rest of the world resulting in economic distress and unemployment on a large scale. The world depression, thus, brought the capitalist system into disrepute and drew attention towards Marxism, socialism, and economic planning. This economic depression also worsened the conditions of the peasants and workers in India and the prices of agricultural products dropped by over 50 per cent by the end of 1932, an organization the All-India Kisan Sabha was formed in 1936 to tackle with imperialism.
The peasants of India also began to take a more active part in the national movement. In his presidential address to the Lucknow Congress in 1936, Nehru urged the Congress to accept socialism as its goal and to bring itself closer to the peasantry and the working class. Consequently, socialist ideas began to attract more and more people, especially the young, the workers, and the peasants.
The Revolutionaries Enriching Nationalist Movement
Revolutionaries like R.P. Bismil, C.S. Azad and Bhagat Singh among others took the responsibilities of informing people about a necessary revolution to uproot British Empire. The Terrorist Movement in Bengal led by Surya Sen is notable because of the role of revolutionary women who participated.
Trade Union Enriching Nationalist Movement
The first effort to organize labour was made by the M.S.S. Bengali. and then many others came in front to reform the deplorable conditions. Their movement gave new energy to the nationalist movement against the British Raj. They made a significant effort to reform the deplorable conditions prevailing among the Indian labourers before 1948.
After World War I, a chain of events encouraged the formation of an organized trade union. The most important among them was the economic one. Grave economic miseries experienced by the Indian working class by way of price rise, low wages, long hours of work, and other exploitative measures. This led to unrest and agitation in the Industries and the agitation and protest born the trade union movement in India and connected them to the nationalist movements.
Secondly, the explosive political situation of the country against the British imperialists following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Rowlett Act, imprisonment of national leaders brought a political awakening of the working classes.
Thirdly, the trade union movement in India was visibly influenced by the Russian November Revolution. The Marxian revolutionary theory and the messages of Lenin electrified the working classes all over the world who realised that a workers’ and peasants’ State was a goal within their reach. Such a world-shaking event and Marxian doctrines gave new energy to the Indian working classes to launch movement afresh.
The starting point of the Indian trade union movement is traced to the foundation of Madras Labour Union in 1918 among the textile workers of Madras led by B. P. Wadia. The Madras Labour Union acted both as a social welfare centre and as a military organisation of industrial workers, of course, a relatively weaker centre of the Indian labour movement.
During 1918-1921, several organised labour unions sprouted throughout the country’s industrial centres. Robust unions were formed in shipping, railways, communications, textile and engineering. The discussion on Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association founded in 1918 by Gandhiji deserves special attention as it reflected the Gandhian thought on labour problems. There was a rapid growth of trade unionism under the leadership of All India Trade Union Congress and many strikes took place during 1928 like Kharagpur, Jamshedpur and Bombay Textile Mill strike is the most important. The traders and workers contributed to the struggle for independence.
It has been estimated that there existed 125 unions with a total membership of 25,000. These unions were more active in the industrially advanced provinces of Bengal, Bombay, and Madras as membership in these provinces was roughly 80 p.c. This reinvigorated trade union activity sounded alarm bell to the imperialist government who deemed it as sedition.
The Women Power & Voices Enriching Nationalist Movement
They came forward and equally contributed to the national movement. Kasturba Gandhi, Vijay Laxmi Pandit, Aruna Asaf Ali, Bhikaji Cama are some of the most prominent who assumed leadership at different fronts. They gave the national movement new energy and strength to counter the British Raj.
Every class, section, age group, political ideology emerged, came forward and connected to the national movement. They reinvigorated the nationalist movement at a high level. With the inclusion of many voices and different perspective made the movement stronger. This multidimensional nature of the movement is one of the reasons for its success in 1947 when finally all the unheard voices till then were heard.
Gandhian Phase & Augmenting Voices to Conclude
Gandhian Phase in the nationalist movements is undoubtedly remarkable because of his views and opinions Gandhiji provided to the masses and the way he guided the freedom fighters with the means of truth and non-violence. But there were numerous other simultaneous factors which further strengthened Gandhi’s efforts and contributed to the nationalist movement.
Be it Khilafat, Marxism, socialism, Sawarajits, revolutionaries or Women every ideology has influenced the Nationalist movement positively. It seems the movement under aegis of Gandhi transcended class, section, age group, political inclination. Everyone came forward and connected to the national movement. This way, there were many voices Enriching Nationalist Movement of Gandhian Era.
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