Modern Indian History
European Influence Over
The period from 1707AD, the year when Aurangzeb died, to 1857, the year of the
Indian Uprising, saw the gradual increase of the European influence in India.
The Europeans had been filtering into India for a long time before they actually
decided to set up shop here. Even though the British got away with the jackpot,
the real pioneers to reach India were the Portuguese.
Full of crusading and
commercial zeal, Vasco da Gama was the first known European to reach India in
1498, even before the Mughals arrived here. When Vasco da Gama docked his ship
in Calicut, he announced that he came in search of "Christians and
spices" and the very first people he met here were Christians, who were
descendants of those who had settled in India way back in the 4th
Religious fervor forgotten, the Portuguese
eventually settled down to a very prosperous trade in spices with India. The
Muslim rulers in Delhi and then the Mughals never really warmed up to the idea
of a foreign power continuing trade on the seas under their imperial noses.
What's more, they were not exactly very honest traders too, since they thought
that no word that was given to an infidel need be kept. So much so that the word
phirangi, or foreigner in colloquial, came to be a hissing and a byword among
locals. In fact in Goa, where the Portuguese ruled, intolerance levels ran high
and even the building of Hindu temples was banned.
Advent of Dutch
Alberquerque (1509-1515), who was the second Portugese viceroy in India,
encouraged mixed marriages with the sole object of creating a mixed race who
were Portuguese Catholics, and who would be bound by race and culture to the
Portuguese. They were known as Luso-Indians at one time and now simply as Goans.
One of main reasons why Portugal was never able to go anywhere further than Goa
was that Spain took over the country in 1580AD.
The Dutch came shipping in the East for the first time in 1595. However, they
did not come to India initially, and established themselves at the helm of
things in the spice trade in Jakarta. India came into the picture for them
purely as a route to Europe, as part of a great Asian trade route that they
developed which went through Ceylon and Cape Town.
Although the Dutch had their factories dotting all over (in Cochin, Nagapatam
and even up in Agra) they did not attempt to gain military power, being quite
content to gain in cash.
Although the French King Loius XII had granted letters of monopoly to French
traders in 1611, it wasn’t until December 1667 that a French company was
actually set up in India. This was at Surat (in Gujrat) with Francis Caron as
its Director-General. Soon, in 1669, another French company came up in
Masulipatnam, thanks to a grant by the king of Golconda which exempted the
French from paying import and export duty. In 1672, Caron's place was taken by
Francis Martin, who is regarded as the real founder of the French.
English Formed East
The English formed their East India Company on the last day of 1600 and entered
the East Indies hand in hand with the Dutch. Their foes were common – the
Portuguese and Catholic Spain – and this brought them closer. However,
familiarity breeds contempt, and soon the English realized that the Dutch were
not willing to share their space in Spice Islands (East Indies) with them.
Things became grim enough for the British to finally run away and find refuge in
India. It was this success of the Dutch to hang on, with characteristic
tenaciousness to the Spice Islands that finally made the British to settle on
India as the second-best; because spices in India were essentially only in the
south where the local rulers and other Europeans already had a monopoly.
of course, they ran into
trouble in their very first step, so to speak, with the Portuguese. However,
here the British luck turned; perhaps the Raj was destined, after all. As said
earlier, the Portuguese were not winning any popularity contests in India, and
then with Spain coming into the scene they were hard pressed for resources.
Finally what won the east was that old trump card of the British, their naval
In 1612 the Mughal emperor
Jahangir received Sir Thomas Roe, the first ambassador of the British to Indian
aristocracy. Roe’s diplomacy with the Mughals was so successful that by a
treaty in 1618 the East India Company became their unspoken, unsaid, naval aide.
By 1674 Bombay came to the British as part of the dowry of Charles II's
Portuguese queen Catherine, and from here they never looked back. 1708 or the
dawn of the Modern Indian Era found them quite comfortably placed in India,
commercially that is.
Declining of Mughal
Post Aurangzeb the decline of the Mughals was shockingly swift. A confused state
of affairs reigned supreme in India before the British finally took control. It
is hardly surprising that the more insular Brits thought it was their divine
right or the Whiteman's burden to set the house in order for the natives who
seemed to be their own worst enemies.
Powerful nobility was ruling
the day at the Mughal court whose grandiose and power had fallen into disarray
and disgrace. Nautch girls, poetry and wine flowed; unfortunately so did the
gold from the coffers of the treasury. Clearly it was that twilight zone; when
dynasties just linger on for want of anything or anyone better.
Invasion of Nadir Shah
Then there were the inevitable, though
disastrous, invasions. The first of these was led by the famous Persian king
Nadir Shah in 1739. At this time the court in Delhi was busy fighting the
Marathas and one of their best generals, Nizam-ul-Mulk was in war against them.
Afghans Invaded Delhi
With Ahmad Shah Abdali
Nizam met Nadir when the latter arrived near Delhi and succeeded in changing his
mind about sacking Delhi by offering him a booty of Rs 50,00,000. However, here
again court politics had the upper hand; one of Nizam's rival generals convinced
Nadir he was settling for too little and the fabulous riches of Delhi were to be
seen to be believed. So Nadir marched over to Delhi in time to have a khutba
read in his name. Unfortunately, around this time a rumour started doing the
rounds that Nadir was dead, which was not only celebrated by the inhabitants of
Delhi, but everyone got bold enough to actually attack a few Iranian soldiers.
The result was that on March 11, 1739 an order went forth from Nadir Shah, and
yet another one of those terrible massacres that Delhi was a regular witness to
took place. The areas of Chandini Chowk, the fruit market, the Dariba bazaar and
the buildings around Jama Masjid were burnt to cinders. Each and every
inhabitant of the area was killed as an example. The people of Delhi will still
point at the Khooni Darwaza (Blood Gate) in the old city and tell you about the
massacre which happened here as if it were only yesterday. The royal treasury
was sacked and its contents seized. When Nadir Shah left Delhi after 57 days of
staying here, he also took along the fabulous Peacock Throne of the Mughals with
him. and along with it also the final vestiges of the Mughal pride.
The next invasion that rocked Delhi was led by the Afghans, with Ahmad Shah
Abdali, an ex-general of the same Nadir Shah, as their commander. Abdali led as
many as seven invasions into India between 1748-1767.
After the plundering that Delhi
received by Nadir Shah, the Mughals seemed to have just given up. Abdali was all
over the place ransacking Lahore, Punjab and so on, but it seemed like the Delhi
court couldn't care less. It was left to the powers-that-be, the Marathas, to
face the Abdali challenge. He promptly reduced the Marathas to the
powers-that-had-been in the third and final battle of Panipat on January 13,
That was one of the reasons why
the British found India completely at a loose end when they came here – most
of the rising powers had been ground to dust by invading armies before they
could amount to anything.
Abdali Captured Delhi
In January 1757 a carnage of the Nadir Shah vintage was repeated. After
pillaging Delhi the Afghans marched on to overrun most of Northern India. It is
said that following the ransacking of the cities of Mathura, Brindaban and Gokul,
for `seven days the waters of the Jamuna flowed of a blood-red colour.’
An outbreak of cholera in his
army forced Adbali to withdraw; but not before he had made the Delhi court cough
up around 120,000,000 rupees (that the Delhi court still had that kind of money
speaks for the unbelievable riches which the Mughals once commanded). Also he
demanded, and got, Kashmir, Lahore, Sirhind and Multan. This was unfortunately
not the last time that Abdali invaded India.
It was left to the
powers-that-be, the Marathas, to face the next Abdali challenge. Seeing the
ruins of a powerful kingdom and the immense riches that Hindustan had in its
womb in Delhi, Abdali thundered in again. On January 13, 1761, he took on the
Maratha confederation under Bhao Rao, promptly reducing them to the
powers-that-had-been in the third and final battle of Panipat. This was the end
of the Maratha power in the north, for they stayed away for the next 10 years.
Abdali returned in 1764, driven
once again by a hunger not for power but for gold. His sixth invasion had the
Sikhs (who had by then carved out a kingdom under the famous Maharaja Ranjit
Singh) up in arms. The determined Sikh power had put up a stiff challenge not
only for Abdali, but were the main reason why the Marathas were never able to be
very successful up north. When Abdali invaded India for the last time in 1767,
they managed to inflict defeat on him and the Sikhs took Lahore and Central
Punjab. However the areas from Peshwar up remained with Abdali.
It was an India exhausted with
war and battle; an India badly in need, and indeed glad, of someone who could
take charge. She had gone around a circle in the cycle of history. It was a
great leap too – from the cultured, sophisticated and erudite civilisation
under the Mughals to the power hungry and superstitious dark ages of the late 18th
and 19th century. The status of women in society fell like never
before: Huge weddings which were a drain to the bride's family took place;
oppression reared its nasty head in the form of a rigid caste system (even with
the Muslims); and Sati, the Rajput ritual of a widow being cremated with her
dead husband, and so on which were never a part of Indian 'culture' became so
No, we were not putting on out
best faces for the phirangis.
British Rises To Power
Against this troubled backdrop the British rise to power was slow, but
remarkably steady. Slow because the path was far from smooth; first there were
the French to deal with. The commercial rivalry that cropped up with such a
vengeance amongst the British and the French had roots in the prevailing
political situation in Europe, and even then as long as the French carried on
business in a small way in India the British left them to themselves.
The real trouble started between 1720 and 1740, when the French company's trade
with India increased by about ten-fold to come up to half the volume that the
English company was generating at that time. Now the stakes were just too much
for each to ignore the other – especially taking in the factor that this
Indian trade amounted for more than ten percent of Mother England's revenue.
This was the time when the War
of Austrian Succession (1740-48) had broken out in Europe, following Fredrick
the Great of Prussia's seizure of Silesia in 1740. The French and British found
themselves in opposing camps in this war. Later, during the Seven Years War too
(1756-63) both were at loggerheads with each other, supporting rival camps.
These two wars of Europe, by Europe and for Europe in the end totally changed
the balance of power as India knew it.
The War Between French
and English Arose
Between 1746-48 the French and English finally came to blows in the first
Carnatic War (1746-48) in the Deccan. There were two more of these skirmishes
and they were to seal the fate of the French company as far as India was
concerned. The first Carnatic War was merely an echo of the Austrian War of
Succession as said earlier. The fight was over Madras and though the French
captured it, it was given back to the English as part of the Treaty of
Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748.
What had happened in the meanwhile was that the British and the French had got
their fleets upto the Indian mainland, an important development as the balance
of power was now shifting fast in the favor of the Europeans. and Dupleix, the
French governor of the time, decided that this power could be used to gain a
support base within the country.
Dupleix The French
Dupleix was a very shrewd and resourceful character, with great diplomatic
skills, and his understanding of local politics was formidable, though flawed by
a hyper temperament which made him extremely difficult to work with. The perfect
opportunity came in 1748 when the Nawab of Arcot (in present Tamil Nadu) died
and the question of who would succeed him arose.
Dupleix was so successful in his intrigue that he succeeded in enthroning a
Nizam of his choice, Chanda Sahib. The new Nizam was supported by the old
Nawab's grandson Muzzafar Jung and backed up by French troops under the able
command of De Bussy.
The idea was to close in on Madras by surrounding it with French territory. The
plan would have developed pretty neatly but for Robert Clive, sent away to
Madras by his family to become a clerk, who turned out to be a brilliant
His seizure of Arcot in 1751 with a mere 210 men upset all of Dupleix's subtle
strategies. Chanda Sahib was killed and a British nominee was put on the Arcot
throne. Two years later Dupleix was recalled to France.
Dupleix was succeeded by
Godeheu, who sued for peace with the British. By the new treaty both the French
and the British agreed not to interfere in Indian internal matters and went back
to their old positions. But though the British got a town the French agreed to
give up everything they had taken so far. Godeheu was denounced for having
"signed the ruin of the country and the dishonor of the nation," but
the damage was done. The British emerged much stronger after the second Carnatic
The third and final phase of
this Anglo-French war for supremacy was brought on by the Seven Years War in the
shape of the third Carnatic War (1756-63). However, despite some heroics by
French generals like De Bussy and Lally, the British were able to decisively
beat the French who eventually lost practically everything they had in India.
With the close of the third Carnatic War, the French were finished as far as
India was concerned. Thanks to their superior sea-power, greater resources and
steadier support from Europe, the English were able to vanquish the dream of
dominion de l'empire de la France in India forever.
The Revolt of 1857
Since then the story of the British rise to power in India became sort of
predictable. Except for one small hiccup in 1857 during the Indian Uprising.
Debate has continued and will always go on about whether 1857 was actually the
first Indian War of Independence or simply a mutiny. Well, a little of both, we
conclude. It was far too limited in its scope and aims to be dignified as the
first Indian War of Independence; but nor was it that restricted that one can
dismiss it as just a mutiny.
There is enough evidence to
support the fact that the Uprising had been planned for months before the actual
outbreak. What the revolutionaries did, apart from the fact that they failed to
spread the word beyond Central India and Delhi, was that the Uprising did not go
according to plan. It broke out before the appointed date; if D-day had gone
according to schedule the Uprising would have broken out in many areas
simultaneously, and then it would have been very difficult for the British to
control it. However, as things were, trouble broke out sporadically in various
places in May 1857 and there was little, if any, co-ordination about the whole
thing. So, the British were able to curb it with relative ease.
Tales of 1857 Revolt
There are stories and stories about the British and Indian confrontation in
Delhi in 1857. There are tales of valour and bravery from both sides; and also
accounts of unimaginable horror and barbarity.
While books are full of vivid reports of the horror and humiliation that the
British had to face and the courage they displayed, very little has been written
about what innocent Indians were put through by vindictive British on the
teach-the-natives-a-lesson path. What made the Indians rebel in the first place
hasn’t been written about much either.
It is true that the old poet-king in Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar and his cohorts,
Tatia Tope of Gwalior (Gwalior
itself did not rebel, Tope was merely a general), the Rani of Jhansi and so on
had very narrow and selfish aims to achieve – their petty kingdoms, money and
power.None of them would have rebelled if the British had not snapped their
purse-strings, the ‘compensation’ they were paid by the British in return
for a share in government.
The common people - of Delhi,
Lucknow, Gwalior and so on - however had nothing to gain. Except independence. A
place to call their own. Their war was not for a small kingdom, they were
fighting for freedom. Which is why, while admitting that 1857 was limited in its
scope, one cannot just dismiss it as a mutiny. Far too many emotions and
resentments were involved which the British had long ignored.
1857 convinced the British that they could no longer just sponge off India,
getting rich at its expense without giving anything back. That was what led the
Crown to formally relieve the East India Company of its charge and take over
Revolution In Progress
For a long time before 1857, a cultural revolution had been in progress in
Indian society. As a result of this Sati was banned, new religions like the Arya
Samaj were formed, education for women was encouraged and a whole new breed of
intellectuals – mostly from Bengal – came to the forefront.
This new breed of rich Indian was well-read and
also well-travelled; of course, this meant that a new age of political awareness
was rising out of the mists of the turmoil that had immediately preceded. As a
result the British, or rather an administrator called A O Hume, convinced the
then Governor General of India Lord Dufferin that it might be profitable to have
roughly a sort of His Majesty's opposition comprising of Indian politicians in
India who would advice the government.
Though Dufferin was not exactly convinced of
what good the idea would do, he okayed it and so in December 1885 the Indian
National Union (which would soon be renamed Indian National Congress) met in
Bombay. Seventy-two delegates came from different parts of India, and presiding
them was Dadabhai Naoroji, an eminent lawyer and political leader.
Indian National Congress
So was born the party that must surely have given the British government much
cause to regret that they had ever thought it up at all. For, much to the
British government's chagrin, the Indian National Congress took its job
seriously. In its early phase, which is called the phase of the Moderates
(1885-1905), the Congress was thoroughly loyal to the British.
Its members were British in all aspects except
where it mattered the most, in colour. They were a class of elite erudite men
who were into philosophy and intellectual discussions; the much more popular
`peoples’ leaders’ were to follow. Dadabhai Naoroji, the most prominent
among their leaders observed: "Let us speak out like men and proclaim that
we are loyal to the backbone; that we understand the benefits the English rule
has conferred upon us."
Understandably, the man on the
road was hardly aware they were alive. and nor, if their attitude is anything to
go by, was the British government.
The Policies of British
Government Leads To Dissatisfactions
In 1907 there was split in the Congress as those members who were unsatisfied
with the scheme of affairs under the Moderates, including popular leaders like
Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, parted company with them. This hardly
helped their cause because for the next eight years the Congress, for all
contents and purposes, went into hibernation.
This was the time when extreme
nationalists came into the scene, especially after the controversial partition
of Bengal into west and east Bengal in 1905 by the highly unpopular and
obnoxiously highhanded Lord Curzon. The decision evoked sharp reactions from all
over India and there was violent agitation against it.
October 16, 1905, the day on
which the partition came into effect, was observed as a day of mourning and
fasting throughout Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore, the famous Nobel-laureate and
writer, spoke out against it through a passionate poem. This was the time when
the Swadeshi movement was first launched; that is, Indians burnt foreign
clothes, cigarettes, soap and anything made across the seas in huge bonfires and
turned to Indian made articles instead. Many factories manufacturing indigenous
clothes, textiles and whatever else was required were set up. Lots of earnest
young leaders of Bengal took up the task of educating people. On August 15,
1906, a national council of education was introduced under the educationist
The government came down
heavily on the demonstrations, choosing to break up meetings, insult leaders and
beat up peaceful protestors. In 1907, leaders Lala Lajpat Rai and Sardar Ajit
Singh were deported from the Punjab. In 1908, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was arrested
and sentenced to six years imprisonment. Aurobindo Ghose was arrested,
prosecuted and though acquitted, chose to retire to Pondicherry.
The agitation to oppose the
partition of Bengal (although the partition was reverted in 1911) saw the coming
of age of Indian nationalism. India was together like never before and the
country was bristling with nationalistic fervor. However, the idea of
independence from the British was still not an option that nationalists were
Home Rule Movement
When Great Britain was deeply enmeshed in the World War I, India's national
movement though intermittent continued to throw up surprises. One of them was
the Home Rule Movement. In December 1915, Tilak, who was one of the first
nationalist leaders with a following and deep understanding of the grassroots of
India, voiced the thought of Home Rule (instead of `swadeshi’, that being a
word the British were wary about). It was for the first time that someone had
mentioned the word Home Rule as being the goal for the Indian National Movement.
On April 28, 1916, the Home Rule League was set up with its headquarters in
Poona (Pune). Tilak went on a whirlwind tour of the country, appealing to
everybody to unite under the banner of Home Rule League. Anne Besant of the
Theosophical Society fame also assisted him in this task.
Under face of this attack, the
government fell back to that old reliable – stricter laws. Laws were
formulated to prevent agitations, to prevent `undesirable aliens’ from
entering India, propaganda came under government control, and so on.
The importance of the Home Rule
movement was that for the first time the independence of India came to be
clearly the goal of the Indian national movement. The public at large was first
an audience and then terrorist nationalists who bombed parliaments and blew up
railways, and they must have further scared the middle class away from the
movement. and history will tell you no movement for independence was ever a
success without the involvement of the bourgeoisie. So, while the idea of
freedom was gaining ground, the populace at large was not really involved.
And then, as Jawaharlal Nehru
would later say, Gandhiji came.
Suddenly everything changed. The man dressed in a dhoti, kurta and pugri with a
lathi in hand (initially) and mingled with elegantly dressed British-Indian
moderates. He was not a rabble-rouser; he would have been loath to do a
Demosthenes. Nor was he anyone's idea of a charismatic leader. Just a short,
thin, shrivelled man, with what Sarojini Naidu called `Mickey Mouse ears’ and
a twinkle in his eyes. He talked of peace. of loving his enemies, not of bombs
or murders. of non-violence, ahimsa. That was his only weapon; and, as the
British were to find out to their expense, boy did it work!
When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
came back to India from South Africa at the age of 49, he had already built a
tremendous reputation for himself as a political leader. Almost immediately upon
docking in Bombay, he was offered to lead the national Movement.
Gandhi, however, begged out,
opting to travel and know the country thoroughly first. The first causes he
chose to associate with were minor local affairs and it would almost seem that
the nationalist leaders of the time did not know what to think of this almost
too-mild, too-moral and too-impractical maverick.
During 1917-18, hectic
political moves were being made by a worried British government. One of the
results of this was the Rowlatt Act proposed by Justice Rowlatt. Among other
things this act gave the courts the right to try political cases without a jury
and provincial governments, apart from the centre, the power of internment
without trial. Gandhi, in his typical style, said that the Rowlatt Act raised
issues of trust and self-respect, and hence should be met by a moral response in
shape of a hartal, or a traditional Indian way of protest involving cessation of
activities for a day.
The Massacre At
The flash-point came in Punjab. On April 12, 1919, General Dyer, who had taken
over the troops in Punjab the day before, prohibited all meetings or gatherings.
So of course a public meeting was announced to be held the very next day, April
13, in Jallianwallah Bagh (a park enclosed on all sides with only a single
narrow entrance) at 4.30pm. We all know what happened that day.
It has been repeated in emotion-charged words in books and in poignant scenes in
movies. That day 6000 to 10,000 people, including women and children, were shot
dead in that park as an example of what happened to people who disobeyed the
orders of the British Raj. In the court martial which followed later, General
Dyer coldly observed that he had fired only 1600 rounds of ammunition on the
crowd; that was because that was all he had. He added that he would fired more
if he had so seen fit.
The brutality of the
Jallianwallah Bagh tragedy shocked the country. It also woke up the moderates.
What was more important was
that it brought Gandhi out in the open.
The Beginning of Non
In 1920, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian National Congress
launched the first of his innovative movements of protest, the Non Co-operation
Movement. It involved surrender of all titles, honorary offices and nominated
posts in local bodies.
People stopped attending government functions and darbars. Parents were
requested to withdraw their children from government schools and colleges.
British courts and the army was boycotted. Indians were to stand for elections
to any government body or legislature. Ahimsa or non-violence was to be observed
The hugeness of the idea of Non
Co-operation amazed every political leader in India, who started realising that
Gandhi was not so meek after all. The idea captured popular imagination and
suddenly, in one sweep, the National Movement was taken to every man on the
People came out in their thousands to support Gandhi and his movement. The
government machinery did not actually break down, but came under visible strain.
Unfortunately, in the time when the movement was showing signs of real success,
an incident occurred in Chauri Chaura, in which a mob of 3000 people killed 25
policemen and one officer. Similar tragic events had happened earlier on
November 17, 1921, in Bombay and on January 13, 1922, in Madras. Gandhi, who was
the last of the ethical political leaders, immediately withdrew his movement.
and got arrested in the bargain, on March 13, 1922. However, the Mahatma did get
his way, the Rowlatt Act was repealed.
Gandhi was severely criticised
almost everywhere for disassociating himself from the Non Co-operation Movement;
for certainly the moment he went, so did the masses. This was not the first
difference of opinion that was to happen in the Congress about Gandhi's actions.
Many more such occasions were to crop up, though everyone invariably gave in to
the Mahatma. Gandhi was already the invisible ruler of the country.
A committee was set up in 1927
to review the status of Indian affairs by the British government, under Sir John
Simon. So far, so good. However, the committee did not include even a single
Indian, a situation which convinced the Congress that action was called for.
This was time when young
radicals like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose were insisting on total
independence being the goal for the Congress. The new Viceroy Lord Irwin had got
the Labour government in London to agree to a declaration that dominion status
was the goal of British policy and a round table conference was called to
consider the next step. After coming out one of his famous thinking breaks,
Gandhi was for the offer. But the mood in the country was totally contrary to
this. So rather than let the radical element take over, Gandhi decided to
control the situation by leading a non-violent movement himself.
The Demand of Complete
Independence - Purna Swaraj
At midnight, on December 31, 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the Tricolor on the
banks of the river Ravi in Punjab and the Congress called for complete
Independence, purna swaraj. January 26, 1930, was declared as Independence Day.
From February 14 to 16, 1930, the Congress Working Committee met at Gandhi's
famous ashram in Sabarmati and vested Mahatma Gandhi with launching his Civil
Disobedience movement "at a time and place of his choice."
On February 27, the plan of
agitation was announced. The entire nation was in ferment. Everyone was waiting
in eager suspense about what would the Mahatma do next; none more than the
British government, though not so eagerly, one presumes.
On March 12, 1930, accompanied
with 78 colleagues of the Sabarmati Ashram, Mahatma Gandhi embarked on a 60-mile
march to the sea coast of Dandi. He intended to defy the Salt tax, paid
indirectly by every peasant. The first instinct of the government was to let him
walk as much as he wanted, and ignore him. However, the Gandhi magic worked.
Soon protests, hartals, processions were taking place all over India. Gandhi was
arrested on May 5, 1930, and his place was taken by Abbas Tyabji as the leader
of the movement. When Tyabji was arrested, Sarojini Naidu, the famous
nightingale of India, replaced him. All over India, the mood was ablaze, the
atmosphere tense and the people were on the streets. Louis Fischer wrote about
the Civil Disobedience: "The British beat the Indians with batons and rifle
butts. The Indians neither cringed nor complained nor retreated. That made
England powerless and India invincible."
First Round Table Conference
When the first Round Table Conference was held
in London from November 12, 1930 to January 19, 1931, it turned into a failure
for not a single Congressman attended. The British now appealed to the Congress
to work with them. Lord Irwin also declared that Mahatma Gandhi and the other
members of the Congress Working Committee would be freed soon to consider the
matter "freely and fearlessly."
The Mahatma was persuaded to
meet Irwin and the result was the Irwin-Gandhi pact under which the Civil
Disobedience Movement was withdrawn and a second Round Table Conference with
Congress participation was agreed upon. This peace did not last long. Gandhi
attended the Second Round Table conference in London in 1931 as the sole
representative of the Congress. He demanded control foreign and defence affairs,
and there was complete deadlock over the matter of minorities, thanks to
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, His Highness the Aga Khan and Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar. Gandhi
returned to India on December 28, 1931 empty handed.
By May 1934, the Civil
Disobedience Movement was completely withdrawn.
During the second World War the
Congress decided that India should co-operate with Britain on the understanding
that complete independence be granted to India after that. The British, however,
stuck to the policy of `no change during war and whatever you want will be
discussed after that’. This attitude did not exactly ease the minds of the
Congress members as to the intentions of the government. Now also was visible a
wide open split between Jinnah's Muslim League and the Congress' aims and
demands. Early in 1940 Jinah declared Pakistan as the goal of the league.
After the fall of France in
1940, Gandhi declared, "We do not seek independence out of Britain's
ruin." The British reply to this was an offer that an Indian constituent
assembly as well as Dominion status would be discussed `after the war’. The
offer was spurned. The result? A deadlock which was not to unlock till 1947.
Gandhi, with his usual skill
for the innovative, now rallied the country and Congress behind him with his
Quit India movement. The threat was the launch of a Civil Disobedience movement
which could have coincided with the Japanese advances from the far-east towards
India. "After all," he said, "this is open rebellion."
The movement was launched on
August 8, 1942 in Bombay. Gandhi declared: "I want freedom immediately,
this very night, before dawn, if it can be had. You may take it from me that I
am not going to strike a bargain with the Viceroy for ministers and the like…
Here is the mantra, a short one, that I give you… Do or die. We shall either
free India or die in the attempt."
Independence Was Just
From 1942 onwards it was quite clear that independence of India was only a
matter of time now.
New Delhi, the new capital of India, was
hardly seven years old then. The British did not live long in the beautiful New
Delhi they created. Thus, again fulfilling the age-old prophecy about those who
build Delhi don’t live in it for long.
Partition of India
In 1946, Lord Mountbatten arrived in Delhi amid a buzz of political activity.
The British, following their World War II concerns, wanted to basically wash
their hands off India. Also, the Indians wanted to get back what was rightfully
theirs. However, there were too many emotional ties – the British and the
Indians went too far back together for the British to just pack up and leave.
They had a responsibility. Unfortunately Mountbatten, although a favorite with
the Indians because of his youthful good looks, was the wrong man for the job.
He was in such a hurry to get back to England that he seemed to just go along
with the first proposal that found favor with both the Congress and the Muslim
League without taking into account what the people really wanted.
The rest is history. Partition, one of the worst mass movements of people in
recent history after that of the Jews in the World War II, happened. Two
republics were born from one nation on August 15, 1947 – Pakistan and India.
Gandhi, the father of the
nation, did not join the celebration that followed. He was in Bihar working in
riot torn areas, praying for peace. For him independence, in the shape that it
came, meant failure. With this in mind, Gandhi withdrew from active politics.
Accusations by Hindu
fundamentalists that he had sided with the Muslims in giving away Pakistan too
easily dogged Gandhi since the day the state of Pakistan was declared. On
January 30, 1948, a Hindu fundamentalist called Nathu Ram Godse shot and killed
the man who was the Mahatma.