National Movement

The happenings of 1922-1929

Chauri Chauta: In February 1922, a police station in Chauri Chaura was set on fire by a crowd. The peasants were retaliating against police firing on peaceful demonstration. Twenty two policemen were killed in the Chauri Chaura incident. Saddened by this incident, Mahatma Gandhi called off the Non-Cooperation Movement.

After that, Gandhiji’s followers wanted to take on constructive work in the rural areas to increase the base for the Congress. On the other hand, some leaders wanted to fight elections to the councils. They wanted to enter the government so that they could influence certain policies. The Gandhians worked in villages during the mid-1920s and could be able to extend their support base. This proved very useful during the Civil Disobedience movement.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Communist Party of India were formed during the mid-1920s. The revolutionary leader Bahgat Singh was also active in this period.

Simon Commission: The British government decided to send a commission in 1927 to decide on India’s political future. This was headed by Lord Simon but it had no Indian representative. Absence of an Indian in the Commission infuriated the political groups in India.

The March to Dandi

The salt law gave a monopoly right to the state on the manufacture and sale of salt. Mahatma Gandhi and other nationalist leaders argued that salt was an essential item of our food and hence it was wrong to impose a tax on salt. Moreover, the issue of salt affected all; the rich and poor; alike. Gandhiji declared that he would lead a march to break the salt law. Gandhiji and his followers marched from Sabarmati to Dandi to break the salt law. Gandhiji picked up a handful of salt to symbolically protest the salt tax.

The salt movement attracted supporters from all walks of life; including the peasants, tribals and women. The government tried to crush the movement by taking brutal actions. Thousands were sent to jail. Most of the eminent leaders were arrested.

The Government of India Act of 1935 prescribed provincial autonomy. Elections to provincial legislatures were held in 1937. The Congress formed governments in 7 out of 11 provinces.

The Second World War broke out in 1939. The Congress leaders were critical of Hitler and hence they decided to support the British in the war. But they wanted independence of India after the war; in return of this gesture. However, the British did not agree with this demand. The Congress ministries resigned in protest.

Quit India and Later

Mahatma Gandhi decided to begin a new phase of movement against the British; while the Second World War was going on. Gandhiji urged the people to “DO OR DIE”. Gandhiji and several other leaders were arrested. Nevertheless, the movement spread. Peasants and youths participated in the movement in large numbers. Symbols of state authority were attacked all over the country. Telephone lines were cut off. People set up their own governments in many areas.

The British responded with severe repression. By the end of 1943, over 90,000 people were arrested and around 1,000 were killed in police firing. But the Raj had to finally concede the ground.

Towards Independence and Partition

Demand for Separate Nation: In the 1940, the Muslim League moved a resolution to demand “Independent States” for the Muslims in the north-western and eastern areas of the country. From the late 1930s, the League began to visualize the Muslims as a separate nation from the Hindus. This notion escalated the tension between some Hindu and Muslim groups in the 1920s and 1930s. Furthermore, the results of the provincial elections of 1937 apparently convinced the League that Muslims were a minority. The League feared the Muslims would have play second fiddle in any democratic structure in the future. The Congress’ rejection to form a joint Congress-League government in the United Provinces in 1937 further annoyed the League.

The Congress somehow failed in mobilizing the Muslims in the 1930s. This allowed the League to widen its support base. At the end of the war in 1945, the British facilitated negotiations between the Congress, the League and themselves for the independence of India. The League persisted with its demand for Pakistan.

Cabinet Mission: In March 1946, a three-member Cabinet Mission was sent to Delhi to suggest suitable framework for independent India. The Mission suggested a loose confederation; with some autonomy for Muslim-majority areas. But the Congress and the Muslim League could not agree to specific details of the proposal.

After the failure of the Cabinet Mission, the Muslim League decided on mass agitation for winning its Pakistan demand. It announced 16 August 1946 as “Direct Action Day”. Riots broke out in Calcutta on this day. The riot lasted for several days in which thousands of people were killed. The violence spread to different parts of north India; by March 1947.

Finally, partition turned into a reality and two new nations; India and Pakistan were born.

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