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CBSE Notes | Class 12 | History | Chapter 10 - Mahatma Gandhi And The Nationalist Movement

The chapter introduces students to the life of one of the great leaders of India, the father of the nation' Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The chapter describes all the events that led to the making and unmaking of the non-cooperation movement against the British raj. We also highlight all the satyagraha performed by Gandhi Ji and their causes and the consequences.

Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi


Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in January 1915, after a two-decade absence. He worked as a lawyer in South Africa and was also a prominent member of the Indian community there.


The Indian National Congress had diverse branches in many major cities and towns in 1915 when Gandhi observed the British colony become increasingly politically active. In 1905-1907, the Swadeshi movement aided in instilling a sense of nationalism.


Many powerful figures arose from the movement, including Maharashtra's Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bengal's Bipin Chandra Pal, and Punjab's Lala Lajpat Rai. These were the figures who called for armed resistance to colonial control.


Mahatma Gandhi developed the nonviolent protest techniques known as satyagraha in South Africa, where he also advocated religious unity and awakened upper-caste Indians to their discriminating treatment of lower castes and women.



The Moderates


Moderate is an ideological category that designates a rejection of radical or extreme views. They preferred a more gradual and persuasive approach. Gandhi Ji was a political mentor among the moderates along with Gopal Krishna Gokhale & Mohammad Ali Jinnah.



Banaras Hindu University


Gandhiji travelled around British India for a year, seeking to know the land and its people. In February 1916, he made his first significant public appearance at the founding of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU).


The disparity between the Indian elites and the labouring poor was a key source of concern for Mahatama Gandhi.


The BHU's launch was cause for joy since it marked the beginning of a nationalist institution supported by Indian money and initiative. Gandhi claimed that Indian nationalism was a product of the upper crust, a product of lawyers, doctors, and landowners. Gandhiji was given an opportunity to put his teachings into reality a few months later.


He was contacted by a farmer from Champaran in Bihar, who told him about the terrible treatment of peasants by British indigo planters, at the annual Congress in Lucknow in December 1916.



The Making & Unmaking Of Non-Cooperation


Mahatma Gandhi was a famous nationalist leader who began his fight for peasant security of tenure and the freedom to produce the crop of their choosing in the Champaran. In 1917, Gandhi Ji began the “Champaran Satyagrah.”


Gandhiji also employed satyagraha and went on a hunger strike in 1918 to protest the ongoing disagreement between the cotton mill employees and the owners in Ahemdabad. He demanded that mill workers be given improved working conditions.


The “Kheda Satayagrah” in 1918 was the second satyagraha campaign after the Champaran satyagraha, requesting the state for tax remission after their harvest failed. Gandhiji's activities in Champaran, Ahmedabad, and Kheda established him as a nationalist who cared deeply about the underprivileged.



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The Rowlatt Act



During World War I, the British government imposed press censorship and permitted indefinite detention without charge or trial. Sir Sidney Rowlatt's committee recommended that the harsh regulations be kept in place.


The "Rowlatt Act" campaign was called off by Gandhi Ji in response. Stores and schools across North and West India closed as a result of the bandh call, bringing life to a grinding halt.


In the Punjab, where many men had fought for the British during World War II and expected to be recognised for their service, the protests were particularly vehement. The Rowlatt Act, on the other hand, was passed.


In the course of his journey to Punjab, Gandhi Ji was arrested.


When British troops opened fire on a nationalist rally in Amritsar in April 1919, the mood became increasingly tense, culminating in the Jallianwala Bagh bloodbath, which killed 400 people.


The Rowlatt Satyagraha elevated Gandhiji to the status of a national leader. In the wake of his victory, Gandhiji vowed to wage a "non-cooperation" campaign against the British rulers.


They were told they couldn't pay taxes or go to school, colleges, or the courts if they wanted colonialism to end.


Noncooperation, according to Gandhi Ji, could get India to swaraj in one year if done effectively.


A few years earlier, Turkish ruler Kemal Attaturk had re-established the Caliphate with the help of Mahatama Gandhi and the Khilafat Movement.



What was Khilafat Movement?



The Khilafat Movement, (1919-1920) was a movement of Indian Muslims, led by Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, that demanded the following:


The Turkish Sultan or Khalifa must retain control over the Muslim sacred places in the erstwhile Ottoman empire; the jazirat-ul-Arab (Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Palestine) must remain under Muslim sovereignty; and the Khalifa must be left with sufficient territory to enable him to defend the Islamic faith.


The Congress supported the movement and Mahatma Gandhi sought to conjoin it to the Non-cooperation Movement.


All India Khilafat Committee was set up in 1919, Mahatama Gandhi was the first president of this committee.



Knitting is a popular movement


Non-cooperation


During World War I, the British government imposed press censorship and permitted indefinite detention without charge or trial. Sir Sidney Rowlatt's committee recommended that the harsh regulations be kept in place.


The "Rowlatt Act" campaign was called off by Gandhi Ji in response. Stores and schools across North and West India closed as a result of the bandh call, bringing life to a grinding halt.


In the Punjab, where many men had fought for the British during World War II and expected to be recognised for their service, the protests were particularly vehement. The Rowlatt Act, on the other hand, was passed.


In the course of his journey to Punjab, Gandhi Ji was arrested.


When British troops opened fire on a nationalist rally in Amritsar in April 1919, the mood became increasingly tense, culminating in the Jallianwala Bagh bloodbath, which killed 400 people.


The Rowlatt Satyagraha elevated Gandhiji to the status of a national leader. In the wake of his victory, Gandhiji vowed to wage a "non-cooperation" campaign against the British rulers.


They were told they couldn't pay taxes or go to school, colleges, or the courts if they wanted colonialism to end.


Noncooperation, according to Gandhi Ji, could get India to swaraj in one year if done effectively.


A few years earlier, Turkish ruler Kemal Attaturk had re-established the Caliphate with the help of Mahatama Gandhi and the Khilafat Movement.



What were the consequences?


In February 1922, a group of peasants attacked and torched a police station in the hamlet of Chauri Chaura, in the United Provinces (now, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal).


During the Non-Cooperation Movement thousands of Indians were put in jail. Gandhi Ji himself was arrested in March 1922, and charged with sedition.


The judge who presided over his trial, Justice C.N. Broomfield who sentenced Gandhi Ji to 6 years imprisonment.


A Peoples leader


By 1922, Hundreds of thousands of peasants, workers and artisans participated in the movement with the professionals and intellectuals. Indian nationalism was now transformed as per the visions of Mahatma Gandhi.


People appreciated the fact that Gandhi dressed like them, lived like them, and spoke their language. Unlike other leaders, he did not stand apart from the common folk but empathised and even identified with them.


He spent part of each day working on the charkha (spinning wheel) and encouraged other nationalists to do likewise. The act of spinning allowed Gandhiji to break the boundaries that prevailed within the traditional caste system, between mental labour and manual labour.


Many rumours were spread about Mahatma Gandhi and his miraculous powers. In some places, it was said that he had been sent by the King to redress the grievances of the farmers and that he had the power to overrule all local officials.


He was known variously as “Gandhi baba”, “Gandhi Maharaj”, or simply as “Mahatma”, Gandhiji appeared to the Indian peasant as a saviour, who would rescue them from high taxes and oppressive officials and restore dignity and autonomy to their lives.


Gandhiji’s appeal among the poor, and peasants, in particular, was enhanced by his ascetic lifestyle, and by his shrewd use of dhoti and the charkha.



Congress Expansion


In several places of India, Congress formed branches. Throughout the princely territories, many "Praja Mandals" were formed to advocate the nationalist cause. Gandhi Ji also spoke in nationalist or mother tongue languages, refusing to speak in the rulers' languages.


The Congress established provincial committees based on linguistic regions.


Some very successful business people and manufacturers are among Congress's supporters. The benefits enjoyed by their British competition would end in a free India, Indian entrepreneurs quickly realised.


Some of these business leaders, such as G.D. Birla, were outspoken supporters of the national cause, while others remained silent.


Thus, both poor peasants and wealthy industrialists were among Gandhiji's supporters, while the reasons for peasants' support differed from, and in some cases were antagonistic to, those of the industrialists.


His followers played a large role in the development of what we can call "Gandhian nationalism." Between 1917 and 1922, Gandhiji was surrounded by a group of exceptionally talented Indians.


Mahadev Desai, Vallabh Bhai Patel, J.B. Kripalani, Subhas Chandra Bose, Abul Kalam Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Govind Ballabh Pant, and C. Rajagopalachari were among those who participated.


Gandhiji's close associates came from a variety of religious backgrounds and geographies. They also motivated a large number of other Indians to join and work for the Congress.


In February 1924, Mahatma Gandhi was freed from prison and decided to focus his efforts on promoting home-spun fabric (khadi) and ending untouchability.


He believed that in order for Indians to be deserving of freedom, societal problems such as child marriage and untouchability had to be eradicated.


He placed a strong focus on the unity between Hindus and Muslims. India had to be self-sufficient in economic terms. As a result, Gandhi emphasised the importance of wearing Khadi rather than mill-made fabrics.

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The Salt Satyagraha


As in 1928, Gandhi did not participate in the campaign against the ‘Simon Commission’, sent from England to enquire about the conditions of the Colony. He instead did a Satyagrah at Bardoli.


In December 1929, the annual session of the congress was held in Lahore. The meeting was significant of two things: the election of Jawahar Lal Nehru as President. & the proclamation of commitment to “Purna Swaraj”.



Independence Day


Earlier, “Independence Day” was observed on 26 January 1930, with the national flag being hoisted in different venues, and patriotic songs being sung.


Gandhi Ji himself issued precise instructions as to how the day should be observed. He suggested that the time of the meeting be advertised in the traditional way, by the beating of drums.


The celebrations would begin with the hoisting of the national flag. The rest of the day would be spent “in doing some constructive work, whether it is spinning, or service of ‘untouchables’,

Participants would take a pledge affirming that it was “the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil”, and that “if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have a further right to alter it or abolish it”.


Dandi March


In March 1930, Mahatma Gandhi announced that he would lead a march to break one of the most widely disliked laws in British India, which gave the state a monopoly in the manufacture and sale of salt.


Salt was indispensable yet people were forbidden from making salt even for domestic use, instead, they were compelled to buy it from shops at a high price. Advance notice of the march was given to the Viceroy Lord Irwin but he failed to grasp the significance of the action.


On 12 March 1930, Gandhiji began walking from his ashram at Sabarmati towards the ocean. He reached his destination three weeks later, making a fistful of salt as he did and thereby making himself a criminal in the eyes of the law.


Several other parallel salt marches were being conducted in other parts of the country. Across large parts of India, peasants breached the colonial forest laws that kept them and their cattle out of the woods in which they had once roamed freely.


In some towns, factory workers went on strike while lawyers boycotted British courts and students refused to attend government-run educational institutions. Gandhiji’s call had encouraged Indians of all classes to make manifest their own discontent with colonial rule.


The rulers responded by detaining the dissenters. In the wake of the Salt March, nearly 60,000 Indians were arrested, among them, of course, Gandhiji himself.


Gandhiji said Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and Sikhs will have to unite and you must make amends for the wrongs which you did to the untouchables. It was observed that thousands of volunteers were flocking to the nationalist cause. Among them were many officials, who had resigned from their posts with the colonial government.


These massive developments made the British rulers anxious; Gandhi Ji was being saluted by the Britishers as a “Saint” and “Statesman” who was using “Christian acts as a weapon against men with Christian beliefs”.



What were the reasons behind the success of the Salt March?


The salt march was notable for three reasons:


  • First, the march was widely covered by the European and American press.


  • Second, it was the first nationalist activity in which women participated in large numbers. Gandhiji had been persuaded by socialist activist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay not to limit the protests to males only. Kamaladevi was one of several ladies who drew the wrath of the law by breaching the salt or liquor regulations.


  • Third, it was the Salt March which forced upon the British the realisation that their Raj would not last forever, and that they would have to devolve some power to the Indians.



Round Table Conference


A series of round table conferences were held in London, The first meeting was held in November 1930, but without the pre-eminent political leader in India, thus rendering it an exercise in futility.

Gandhiji was released from jail in January 1931 and had several long meetings with the Viceroy. Those meetings were culminated in, ‘Gandhi-Irwin Pact’. It was just a mere truce between the two.


At the second Round Table conference held in late 1931, Gandhi Ji represented the congress.

He claimed that the Congress represented all of India which came under challenge from three parties: from the Muslim League, which claimed to stand for the interests of the Muslim minority; from the Princes, who claimed that the Congress had no stake in their territories; and from the brilliant lawyer and thinker B.R. Ambedkar, who argued that Gandhiji and the Congress did not really represent the lowest castes.


The conference proved to be inconclusive that made Gandhi Ji resume the Civil disobedience movement.


In 1935, “Government of India Act” promised some form of representative government. Congress also won the elections held on the basis of a restricted franchise. Now eight out of 11 provinces had a Congress “Prime Minister”, working under the supervision of a British Governor.

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Second World War


In September 1939, only two years after the Congress ministers gained power, the Second World War broke out.


In exchange for the British promise to offer India independence when the war finished, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru promised Congress' support for the war effort. As a result, this proposal was rejected.


The Congress ministries resigned in protest in October 1939.


Congress organised a series of individual satyagrahas in 1940 and 1941 to put pressure on the rulers to promise independence after the war.


In March 1940, the Muslim League passed a resolution pledging itself to the establishment of a separate nation known as "Pakistan."


The political situation became more complicated: it was no longer a fight between Indians and the British; instead, it was a fight between the Congress, the Muslim League, and the British.


An all-party government in the United Kingdom was sympathetic to Indian aspirations. Winston Churchill, the Conservative Prime Minister, was a fervent imperialist who maintained that he was not appointed King's First Minister to supervise the fall of the British Empire.


Sir Stafford Cripps, one of Churchill's ministers, was deployed to India in the spring of 1942 to try to strike a deal with Gandhi Ji and the Congress. In the event that the British required aid, the Congress insisted on an Indian being appointed to the Viceroy's executive council as a defence member.


Quit India


The Quit India campaign began in August 1942, following the failure of the Cripps Mission. Gandhi Ji was promptly imprisoned, and younger revolutionaries organised strikes and acts of sabotage around the country.


Socialist members of the Congress, such as Jayaprakash Narayan, were particularly active in the underground movement. In areas like Satara and Medinipur, independent governments were founded.


The British retaliated vehemently; “Quit India” became a genuine public campaign involving thousands of ordinary Indians. It re-energized young individuals who had dropped out of college to serve time in prison.


Md. Ali Jinnah and his Muslim League colleagues worked hard to consolidate their position. The League began to acquire traction in Punjab and Sind during these years.


In June 1944, Gandhiji was released from prison. A series of meetings between Jinnah and Gandhi Ji helped to heal the schisms and bring the congress and the league closer together.


In 1945, a Labour government in Britain came to power and promised to give India independence. Meanwhile, Viceroy Lord Wavell called a series of meetings between the Congress and the League back in India.


New elections for provincial legislatures were held in 1946. The Congress won the “General” category, while the League achieved a landslide victory in seats reserved for Muslims.


A Cabinet Mission failed to persuade Congress and the League to agree on a federal system that would keep India unified while providing provinces with considerable autonomy in the summer of 1946.


When the talks broke down, Jinnah called for a "Direct Action Day" to emphasise the League's demand for Pakistan. On the designated day, August 16, 1946, bloody riots erupted in Calcutta. First to rural Bengal, then to Bihar, and last to the United Provinces and Punjab, the violence spread across the country.


The main victims were Muslims, as well as Hindus in some areas.


In February 1947, Lord Mountbatten succeeded Wavell as Viceroy. Mountbatten called a final round of talks, but when these failed to yield solutions, he declared that British India would be freed but divided.


The date for the formal transfer of power has been scheduled for August 15th.

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The Last Heroic Days


On August 15, 1947, Mahatma Gandhi was not present at the festivities in the capital. He was in Calcutta, but he didn't go to any functions or raise any flags. Gandhi Ji observed the day by fasting for 24 hours.


With a society divided by Hindus and Muslims, the freedom he had fought for so long had come at an unbeatable price.


DG Tendulkar, Gandhi Ji's biographer, wrote. Gandhi Ji visited hospitals and refugee camps, offering comfort to the bereaved.”


“I urged to the Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims to forget the past and not dwell on their sufferings, but to extend the right hand of fellowship to one another and to resolve to live in peace,” he said. Following his efforts to bring peace to Bengal, Gandhiji relocated to Delhi, from whence he wanted to travel to Punjab's riot-torn areas.


On January 20, 1948, Gandhiji was the target of an assassination attempt. On the 30th of January, Gandhi Ji was assassinated by a young man named ‘Nathuram Godse,' the publisher of an orthodox Hindu publication who had condemned Gandhiji as a “Muslim appeaser.”


His passing sparked an outpouring of mourning around the country.



Knowing Gandhi


Gandhiji's political career and the history of the nationalist struggle can be pieced together using a number of sources.


Mahatma Gandhi's writings and speeches, as well as those of his contemporaries, including both supporters and opponents, are crucial sources. There were two kinds of writings: public and private.


In his journal, Harijan, Mahatma Gandhi often published letters from the public. A Bunch of Old Letters, a collection of letters written to Nehru throughout the national movement, was collected and published by Nehru.



Framing a Picture


Autobiographies, on the other hand, provide us with a detailed account of the past.


They are generally written from recollection and are retroactive accounts. They reveal what the author remembered, what he or she considered essential or desired to recall, or how a person wished for others to view his or her life.



Through Police Eyes


Government records are another important source, as the colonial rulers kept a tight eye on people they deemed to be critical of the government. At the time, the letters and reports produced by police officers and other officials were kept secret, but they can now be found in archives.


The Home Department has been producing fortnightly reports since the early twentieth century.


These reports were based on local police data, but they frequently expressed what higher officials saw or wanted to think. They liked to reassure themselves that while they were aware of the possibilities of dissent and insurrection, their fears were unfounded.


The Home Department refused to recognise that Mahatma Gandhi's efforts had elicited any enthusiastic response from the populace, according to the Fortnightly Reports for the period of the Salt March.


The march was viewed as a performance, an act, a desperate attempt to mobilise people who were hesitant to rise up against the British and were content with their lives under the Raj.



From Newspapers


One more important source is contemporary newspapers, published in English as well as in the different Indian languages, which tracked Mahatma Gandhi’s movements and reported on his activities, and also represented what ordinary Indians thought of him.


Newspaper accounts, however, should not be seen as unprejudiced. They were published by people who had their own political opinions and world views.


These ideas shaped what was published and the way events were reported. The accounts that were published in a London newspaper would be different from the report in an Indian nationalist paper.



TIMELINE


1915: Mahatma Gandhi returns from South Africa


1917: Champaran movement


1918: Peasant movements in Kheda (Gujarat), and workers’ movement in Ahmedabad


1919: Rowlatt Satyagraha (March-April)


1919: Jallianwala Bagh massacre (April)


1921: Non-cooperation and Khilafat Movements


1928: Peasant movement in Bardoli


1929: “Purna Swaraj” accepted as Congress goal at the Lahore Congress (December)


1930: Civil Disobedience Movement begins; Dandi March (March-April)


1931: Gandhi-Irwin Pact (March); Second Round Table Conference (December)


1935: The government of India Act promises some form of representative government


1939: Congress ministries resign


1942: Quit India Movement begins (August)


1946: Mahatma Gandhi visits Noakhali and other riot-torn areas to stop communal violence