The Gandhian era refers to the time when Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian independence leader, and civil rights activist, played a leading role in India’s struggle for freedom from British colonial rule. Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance or civil disobedience was a key tenet of the Indian independence movement. He inspired millions of people to participate in peaceful protests, boycotts, and strikes, leading to India’s eventual independence in 1947.
Gandhi’s principles of simplicity, truth, and nonviolence continue to influence people around the world today. His ideas have influenced many struggles for social justice, human rights, and political change in later years. The Gandhian era is recognized as one of the most significant periods in Indian history, marking a turning point in the fight for independence and setting an example for peaceful activism worldwide.
Gandhi in South Africa
Moderate Phase of Struggle (1894-1906): He relied on sending petitions and memorials to authorities in South Africa and the British. He set up the “Natal Indian Congress” and started “Indian Opinion”, to unite different sections of the population.
The four primary ashrams founded by Gandhi in their chronological order:
- Phoenix Settlement (est. 1904 in Natal),
- Tolstoy Farm (est. 1910 outside Johannesburg),
- Sabarmati Ashram (est. 1915 outside Ahmedabad), and
- Sevagram Ashram (est. 1936 in Wardha).
The phase of Passive Resistance or Satyagraha (1906- 1914): Indians under Gandhi started satyagraha for the following:
In 1915, Gandhi returned to India. During his initial days, he spent his time at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad and Gopal Krishna Gokhale became his political guru.
Gandhiji dominated the Indian freedom struggle from 1919 to 1948. That is why this period is known as the Gandhian era in Indian history.
Gandhian Era in Indian
The arrival of Mahatma Gandhi on the national scene changed the dynamics of the Indian National Movement. Gandhiji arrived in India in 1915 and on the advice of his political guru Gopal Krishna Gokhale, he traveled throughout the country. His first significant appearance on the national scene was during the Champaran Satyagraha (1917). It was followed by the Ahmedabad Mill Strike and Kheda Satyagraha. Subsequently, he organized his first nationwide Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act. He then led movements like Non-Cooperation Movement and Civil Disobedience Movement. Several other important developments took place during this phase. In this article, we would be discussing the developments in the Indian National Movement in the period between 1919 and 1934.
Champaran Satyagraha 1917
- Gandhiji’s first satyagraha came in 1917 in Champaran, a district in Bihar.
- The peasants on the indigo plantations in the district were exploited by the European planters and were compelled to grow indigo on at least 3/20th of their land and also sell it at prices fixed by the planters.
- This system was popularly known as the ‘Tin-Kathia System’.
- Peasants of Champaran invited Gandhi to come and help them.
- On his visit to Champaran, Gandhiji was accompanied by Babu Rajendra Prasad, Mazhar-ul-Huq, J.B. Kripalani, Narhari Parekh, and Mahadev Desai.
- His efforts led to the resolution of the problems which were being faced by the peasants.
Ahmedabad Mill Strike (1918)
After Champaran Gandhiji’s second experiment was at Ahmedabad in 1918 when he mediated a dispute between the workers and the mill owners.
- He advised the workers to go on strike and demand a 35 percent increase in wages. Initially, workers were asking for a 50 percent hike and mill owners were willing to give a 20 percent hike.
- He insisted that the workers should not use violence against the employers during the strike.
- He undertook a fast unto death to strengthen the workers’ resolve to continue the strike.
Anusuya Sarabhai was a social worker who invited Gandhi to fight for workers. She was the president of the Ahmedabad Mill Owners Association- founded in 1891.
This put pressure on the mill owners who relented on the fourth day and agreed to give the workers a 35 percent increase in wages.
Kheda Satyagraha (1918)
- The farmers of Kheda in Gujarat were distressed because of the failure of crops.
- The government refused to remit land revenue and insisted on its full collection.
- Mahatma Gandhi advised the peasants to withhold payment of revenue till their demand for its remission was met.
- The struggle was withdrawn when it was learned that the government had issued instructions that revenue should be recovered only from those peasants who could afford to pay.
- Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel became a follower of Gandhiji during this movement.
- Leaders: Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Narhari Parekh, Mohanlal Pandya etc.
The Government of India Act, 1919
- In order to give effect to the August Declaration of 1917, Montague along with the viceroy, Lord Chelmsford prepared a scheme of constitutional reforms, which came to be known as Montague Chelmsford Reforms.
- On the basis of the Montague Chelmsford Reforms, the British Parliament passed the Government of India Act, of 1919.
- Its major provisions were: –
- Dyarchy was introduced in the provinces.
- The Provincial subjects of administration were divided into two categories: Transferred and Reserved. The Transferred subjects were to be administered by the Governor with the aid of ministers responsible to the Legislative Council.
- The reserved subjects were to be administered by the Governor and the Executive Council without any responsibility to the legislature.
- Subjects of administration were divided into two categories, Central and Provincial. Important subjects (like railways and finance) were brought under the center, while matters relating to the administration of the provinces were classified as Provincial.
- The Provincial Legislature was to consist of one House only (Legislative Council). However, bicameralism was introduced at the center.
- The number of Indians in the Governor General’s Executive Council was increased to three in a Council of eight.
- The Indian members were entrusted with departments such as Law, Education, Labour, Health, and Industries.
- Communal representation was extended to Sikhs, Christians, Anglo – Indians, etc. The Secretary of State was to be paid a salary from the British revenue.
Rowlatt Act (1919)
- In 1917, a committee was made under the leadership of Sir Sydney Rowlatt to look into militant Nationalist activities.
- Rowlatt Act came into effect in March 1919 by the Central Legislative Council
- It is due to this Act, that any person could be arrested on the basis of suspicion.
- No appeal or petition could be applied against such kinds of arrests.
- This Act was known by the name the Black Act and it was largely contrasted.
- An All-India hartal was arranged on 6th April 1919.
- Several meetings were held around the whole country.
- M.K. Gandhi was detained near Delhi.
- Two important leaders of Punjab, Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr. Satya Pal were detained in Amritsar (in Punjab).
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (13th April 1919)
- The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre took place on 13th April 1919 and it remained a major point in the history of the freedom movement of India.
- In Punjab, there was unparalleled support for the Rowlatt Satyagraha.
- Facing an extreme situation, the Punjab government handed over the administration to the military officials under General Dyer.
- He banned entire public meetings and detained political leaders.
- On 13th April, the Baisakhi day, i.e., the harvest festival, a public meeting was organized at the Jallianwala Bagh (garden).
- Dyer marched in and without any warning opened fire on the crowd. The firing continued for about 10-15 minutes and it stopped only after the ammunition was exhausted.
- According to the official Report, 379 people were killed and 1137 wounded in the incident.
- Rabindranath Tagore rejected his knighthood as a sign of protest.
- The Jallianwala Bagh massacre gave an immense impetus to the freedom struggle.
During the period of 1919-22, the British were opposed through 2 mass movements. They were Khilafat & Non-Cooperation Movement. Though these two movements emerged from separate issues, they adopted a common program of action – that of non-violent non-cooperation. The Khilafat issue was not directly linked to Indian political issues, but it provided the immediate background to the Movement and gave an added advantage of cementing Hindu-Muslim unity against the British. In 1919, in this, particularly all sections of Indians saw a strong feeling of discontent for several reasons:
- The economic situation of the country in the post-war years had become alarming with the increase in prices of commodities, a decrease in the production of Indian industries, a rise in the burden of taxes and rents, etc.
- The Rowlatt Act, the imposition of martial law in Punjab, and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre exposed the brutal and uncivilized face of foreign rule.
- The Hunter Committee on the Punjab atrocities proved to be an eyewash. The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms with their ill-conceived scheme of diarchy failed to fulfill the increasing demand of Indians for self-government/individual government.
Khilafat Movement (1920)
- The chief impact of the Khilafat Movement was the loss of Turkey in the 1st World War.
- The severe terms of the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 were felt by the Muslims as a great offense to them.
- The entire Movement was aimed at the Muslim belief that the Caliph,i.e. the Sultan of Turkey was the religious head of the Muslims over the entire world.
- M.A. Ansari, Saifuddin Kitchlew, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and the Ali brothers were the prominent leaders of this Movement.
- M.K. Gandhi was particularly focused on bringing the Hindus and the Muslims together to achieve the country’s independence.
- The Khilafat Movement combined with the Non-Cooperation Movement, began by M.K. Gandhi in the year 1920.
Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922)
- The Non-Cooperation Movement was the follow-up of the Rowlatt Act, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and the Khilafat Movement.
- It was passed by the INC at the session held at Nagpur in December 1920.
- The programs of the Non-Cooperation Movement were:
- Surrender of titles and respectable honorary positionsForbearance of membership from the local bodiesBoycott of elections which were conducted under the 1919 Act provisions
- Boycott of functions conducted by the Government
- Boycott of government schools, colleges, and courts
- Boycott of foreign goods
- Establishment of colleges, national schools, and private panchayat courts
- Popularizing Swadeshi goods and Khadi
- National schools, such as the Bihar Vidyapeeth, Kashi Vidyapeeth, and the Jamia Millia Islamia, were set up.
- None of the leaders of Congress came in front to fight for the elections for the seat of the legislature.
- In 1921, mass demonstrations were conducted against the Prince of Wales during his tour of India.
- Many households took to weaving clothes with the assistance of the charkhas
- But the entire Movement was gradually called off on 11th February 1922 by Gandhi followed up by the Chauri-Chaura incident
- In the Gorakhpur district of U.P. Earlier on 5th, February an annoyed mob set fire to the police station at Chauri-Chaura, and 22 policemen were burnt to death.
Significance of the Non-Cooperation Movement
- It was the actual mass movement with the engagement of many sections of Indian society. The movement was led by people from the middle classes initially but later they showed a lot of reservations.
- Many sections such as peasants, students, workers, teachers, and women.
- It observed the spread of nationalism to the remote corners of India.
- It also marked the height of Hindu & Muslim unity as an outcome of the merger of the Khilafat Movement.
- It demonstrated the ability and willingness of the masses to endure hardships & make many sacrifices.
Along with Non-Cooperation, other Gandhian social reform movements like the anti-liquor campaign achieved some success.
Why Gandhiji Withdrew the Movement
- Gandhiji realized that people had not fully understood the method of Non-violence. Incidents like Chauri-Chaura could lead to a kind of excitement and passion that would turn the Movement to become generally violent. A violent movement could be easily suppressed by the colonial regime which would make the incidents of violence an excuse for using the armed might of the State against the protestors.
- The Movement was also representing the signs of fatigue. This was natural as it is not possible to sustain any movement at a high pitch for very long. The government seemed to be in no mood for negotiations.
- The central theme of the agitation—the Khilafat question—also dissipated soon. In November 1922, the people of Turkey rose under Mustafa Kamal Pasha and deprived the sultan of political power. Turkey was also made a secular state. Thus, the Khilafat question lost its relevance/objectives. A European style of the legal system was established in Turkey and extensive rights were granted to women. Education was nationalized, and modern agriculture and industries were developed. In the year 1924, the caliphate was abolished.
- The adjournment of the Non-Cooperation Movement resulted in a split inside the Congress in its Gaya session held in December 1922.
- Leaders like Motilal Nehru and Chittaranjan Das formed individual groups within the Congress. They came to be known as the Swaraj Party on 1st January 1923.
- The Swarajists wanted to conduct the council elections and the sinking of the Government from the inside.
- The Swaraj Party acquired impressive success.
- In the Central Legislative Council, M.L. Nehru became the leader of the party. At the same time in Bengal, the party was presided over by C.R. Das.
- It demanded the creation of a responsible and accountable Government in the country.
- The party could pass significant resolutions against the repressive laws of the Government.
- In June 1925, C. R. after the death of Das, the Swaraj Party began to weaken.
- In Nov. 1927 the British Government scheduled the Simon Commission to look into the ongoing workings of the Government of India Act of 1919 and to suggest essential changes.
- The Commission was composed of Englishmen in which not a single Indian representative was there.
- The Commission came about in India in February 1928 and then was met with pan-India protests.
- Even the majority of the members of the Central Legislative Assembly boycotted the Commission.
- Anti-Simon Committees were formed all over the country to organize demonstrations and hartals wherever the Commission went.
- Peaceful demonstrators were beaten by the police in many places. Lala Lajpat Rai was assaulted and soon after died.
- In the meanwhile, the SoS, i.e. Secretary of State, Lord Birkenhead, challenged the Indians to produce a Constitution.
- The challenge was welcomed by Congress, which convened an all-party meeting on 28 February 1928.
- A committee of 8 was constituted to draw up a blueprint for the future Constitution of India.
- It was presided over by Motilal Nehru.
- Dominion Status as the next immediate step
- A Fully responsible and accountable Government must be made at the center level
- Autonomy should be given to the provinces
- Separation of power between the center and the provinces
- A bicameral legislature at the center
- Mohammad Ali Jinnah regarded it as harmful to the Muslim interests
- Jinnah summoned an All India Conference of the Muslims where he drew up a list of 14 points as a Muslim League demand.