Chapters :
  • SURGE TOWARDS FREEDOM – 01
  • HUMILIATION – SATYAGRAHA
  • CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS

SURGE TOWARDS FREEDOM – 01

HUMILIATION – SATYAGRAHA

The year 1916 is an important landmark in the history of the national movement in India for two other reasons. From 1908 onwards the Indian National Congress was under the influence of the moderates. Two great moderate leaders, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehta, passed away in February and November, 1905 respectively. In 1916, however, the moderates and the extremists reunited to work together under the Indian National Congress. Further, Mrs. Annie Besant (1847-1933), who had been working for some years for the moral and cultural regeneration of India which she had adopted as the motherland, joined the Indian national movement in 1914.

She started a daily New India, and later a weekly, Commonweal and organized a Home Rule League at Madras in Septmber 1906. After his release from Mandalay prison in June 1914, Lokamanya Tilak started another Home Rule League at Poona in April 1916, and carried on vigorous propaganda through his two journals – the daily. Kesari and the weekly Mahratta. The Lucknow session of the Congress in 1916 brought both the Home Rule Leagues together and they co-operated vigorously to push forward the Congress League scheme, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) later wrote : “The atmosphere became electric and most of us young men felt exhilarated and expected big things in the near future.”

The Government’s repressive measures to restrict the activities of Lokamanya Tilak and Mrs. Annie Besant served to intensify the national discontent. There was a strong demand throughout the country for the release of Mrs. Annie Besant, G.S. Arundale and B. P. Wadia. Mrs. Besant was released in September 1917 and presided over the next session of the Indian National Congress held at Calcutta in December 1917.

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS

The British war effort received from India a large and generous contribution in men, money and munitions. Acknowledging this hope. Lore Birkenhead (later Secretary of State for India) observed. “….Without India, the War would have been immensely prolonged if indeed without her help it could have been brought to a victorious conclusion…” India is an incalculable asset to the mother country”. At the same time, the War hastened the growth of national consciousness among the people. In a speech, delivered at Karachi on February 29, 1916,  Mahatma Gandhi said, “…A new hope has filled the hearts of the people, a hope that something is going to happen which will raise the Motherland to a higher status…” The British Government realized the  need for rallying further support of India at that moment of grave peril and E.S. Montagu. Secretary of State for India, made the following significant announcement on August 20, 1907. “….The policy of His Majesty’s Government, with which the Government of India are in complete accord, is that of the increasing association of Indians in every branch of administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of Responsible Government in India as an integral part of the British Empire…..” In response to the appeal of the riots of Champaran, who had been groaning under the oppression of the indigo planters, Mahatma Gandhi went there in 1917. With the assistance of some leaders of Bihar and by his selfless and undaunted crusade on behalf of the ryots, Gandhiji succeeded in persuading the Government to pass the Champaran was also marked by some noble experiments in the social and educational fields. At the same time, it fostered the cause of nationalism by infusing into the minds of the common people of Champaran a spirit of awakening, which is an indispensable prerequisite for a successful national struggle. “…The Champaran struggle was a proof of the fact”, wrote Mahathma Gandhi, “that disinterested service of the people in any sphere ultimately helps the country politically….” There were agrarian troubles in other parts of India also, particularly at Kaira in Gujarat where the ryots organized satyagraha under the advice of Mahatma Gandhi. In return for her sacrifices during the war, India had naturally high expectations for the British Government, particularly after The Montagu Declaration Of August 1917. Montagu had also announced that he would proceed to India in order to consult the Viceroy and to give a hearing to all the interests concerned in India’s advance towards self government. The Montagu Mission reached India on November 10, 1917. It formulated a joint scheme of reforms, which was published on July 8, 1918 and embodied in The Government Of India Act, 1919. The publication of the Montagu-Chelmsford Report raised an angry outcry from the extremist organs. Lokamanya Tilak and Mrs. Annie Besant denounced it strongly.

A Special session of the Congress, held at Bombay in 1918 under the president ship of Hasan Imam, condemned the proposals as disappointing to constitute a substantive step towards responsible government. It also decided to send a deputation to England ‘to press the Congress views on the British democracy.’

Gandhiji was at first in favour of making these reforms work and the Congress decided accordingly in 1919, but certain factors soon caused considerable excitement in India. Economic troubles, due to additional taxation and rise in prices of articles of prime necessity, produced extreme hardships for the people and accentuated discontent against the rulers. Muslim sentiment in India was deeply stirred by the Khilafat Movement on the question of the dismemberment to Turkey after here defeat in World War I.
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