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  • SURGE TOWARDS FREEDOM – 04

SURGE TOWARDS FREEDOM - 04

THE ROUND TABLE CONFERENCE

The Congress soon took a bolder step. At its Lahore session, held on December 29 and 31, 1929, with Jawaharlal Nehru as its President it reiterated complete independence to be its goal. it resolved upon a complete boycott of the Central and Provincial Legislatures and the Round Table Conference and authorized the All India Congress Committee whenever it deemed fit to launch upon a programme of civil disobedience including non-payment of taxes, whether in selected areas or otherwise, and under such safeguards as it may consider necessary’. At midnight on December 31, Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the ‘Tricolour’ the flag of Indian independence, amidst shouts of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Long Live Revolution). January 26, 1930, was celebrated as the ‘Independence Day’, and this solemn ceremony was repeated year after year.

Prior to launching satyagraha or civil disobedience, Mahatma Gandhi explained in a letter written to LORD IRWIN on March 2, 1930, how the evils of British imperialism had ruined this country and expounded the real meaning of freedom for her teeming millions. he started THE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE MOVEMENT by his historic march to Dandi a village on the sea-coast about 322 km. form the Sabarmati Asrama to make salt there on the sea-shore in defiance of Government’s salt laws. 

A mass movement on a large scale, with active participation of women, started in all pats of the country. There were strikes, hartals, boycott of British goods and liquor shops and even violent actions, such as the Chittagong armoury raid, on April 18, 1930, under the leadership of Surya Sen. During this raid, the revolutionaries captured the police and auxiliary force armoury. They even set up a ‘Provisional Independent Government of India’ at Chittangong. The raid was followed by a long trail of revolutionary incidents in the district of Chittagong and outside.

The Government promulgated various ordinances prohibiting a number of activities and imposing restrictions on the press.

Mahatma Gandhi was arrested on May 5, and all the other leaders of the movement were thrown into prison. Policy brutality rose high and assumed various forms. Men and women were lathi-charged and mercilessly beaten. Even in the face of these atrocities, the people continued the movement with unabated vigour. Efforts of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jaykar to bring about a compromise produced no result.

While using all methods of repression against the Civil Disobedience Movement, the British Government convened THE FIRST ROUND TABLE CONFERENCE ON NOVEMBER 12, 1930, without any representative of the Congress, but it was adjourned sine die on January 19, 1931, though its work was not completed. 

In an announcement on that date, the British Prime Minister, Ramsay Macdonald, observed: “…His Majesty’s Government will strive to secure such an amount of agreement as will enable the new constitution to the passed through the British parliament and to be put into operation with the active good will of the people of both countries….” This was followed by a change of Government policy on India. On January 25, 1931, the Viceroy, Lord Irwin released Mahatma Gandhi unconditionally and also the members of the Congress Working Committee in order ‘to give an opportunity for them to consider the Premier’s statement at the Round Table Conference.’ This was followed by the signing of an agreement between Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Irwin on march 4, 1931. The Congress agreed to discontinue Civil Disobedience and the Government withdrew all its repressive ordinances. All the political prisoners excepting those who were guilty of acts of violence, were released. provision was made for the restoration of confiscated, forfeited or attached properties, except in certain circumstances and administrative concession was to be given to prepare salt in some areas.

The Congress endorsed this ‘provisional settlement’ at its next annual session held at karachi in March 1931. It appointed Mahatma Gandhi as its sole representative at the Second Round Table Conference which sat from September 7 to December 1, 1931. After prolonged discussions the Round Table Conference formulated a draft constitution for India. Its work was not on the whole, satisfactory from the point of view of Indian national demand as it evaded consideration of the fundamental questions.

Mahatma Gandhi returned to India on December 28, 1931, to find that the country was again under stringent repressive measures, such as arrests, ordinances and proscriptions. Lord Willingdon had succeeded Lord Irwin as the Viceroy in April 1931, and the Gandhi-Irwin Pact had come to an end. On January 1, 1932 the Congress Working Committee passed a resolution for resuming the Civil Disobedience Movement and the boycott of British goods. The country was again astir, particularly after the arrest of mahatma Gandhi on January 4, 1932. The Congress and its committees and other allied or sympathetic bodies such as the Kisan Sabhas or peasant unions, youth leagues, students associations seva dals and national educational institutions, were declared unlawful. In their zeal, people had no fear of jail and many even courted arrest so that new camp jails had to be erected by the Government. Numerous coercive measures and ordinances followed.

The question of the so-called ‘Depressed Classes’ had complicated the situation. The publication of Ramsay Macdonald’s communal Award in August 1932, establishing separate electorates for those called the ‘Depressed Classes’ greatly shocked Mahatma Gandhi who began a ‘fast unto death’ from September 20, in disapproval of it. This caused a good deal of agony throughout the country. On September 24, the Poona Pact was signed and it almost doubled the number of seats reserved for the ‘Depressed Classes’. These seats were to be filled by joint electorates out of the panel of names originally chosen by them alone. On acceptance of this pact by the British Prime Minister, Mahatma Gandhi’s fast was broken. One remarkable effect of this fast was to create a new consciousness in the country about the removal of untouchability and uplift of the harijans.

For certain reasons, the Civil Disobedience Movement slowly declined and it was formally suspended in May 1934. Meanwhile, complex economic factors and agrarian troubles in India had given a new outlook to the Congress. A clear expression of this fact was the resolution on ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Programme’ moved at the Karachi session of the Congress in March 1931. These factors were also responsible for the rise of the Kisan Movement and gave an impetus to the creed of socialism. In May 1934 the socialists formed a separate party within the fold of the Congress, known as the Congress Socialist Party.

In May 1934, the Congress parliamentary Board had been formed at patna with Dr. Ansari as its president and Bhulabhai Desai as Secretary. The Congress swept the polls for the general or predominantly Hindu seats. After a deadlock ower the question of the exercise of the special powers of interference by the Governor of a province and clarification of the position by the Viceroy in a statement of June 21, 1937, that ‘Congressmen be permitted to accept office where they may be invited thereto.’

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