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Nationalism in India Notes | Class 10 History

Nationalism as a concept is associated with the formation of modern states. A nation-state is a place where a great majority of people share the same culture and are conscious of it.

The treaty of Westphalia in 1648 brought an end to the religious wars in Europe and laid the foundation for the modern nation system.

Nationalism and Colonialism

Nationalism in most countries is associated with anticolonialism. The combined concerns, actions and identity of people of a nation resulted in nationalist feelings to free themselves of foreign rule.

People began discovering their unity in the process of their struggle with colonialism. The sense of being oppressed under colonialism provided a shared bond that tied many different groups together.

But each class and group felt the effects of colonialism differently, their experiences were varied, and their notions of freedom were not always the same.

The end of the First World War created a new political and economic situation in which the Central Powers lost. Their territories were divided among the allied powers and a new system of governance was set up.

Germany was also treated unfairly which led to rise of Nazi Party and Hitler ultimately resulting in World War 2.

World War 1 and India

  • At the time of World War 1, India was under the control of Britishers and had to fight the British side.

  • There was an increase in the defense expenditure. This expenditure was met by war loans and increased taxes.

  • Import duties were increased and income tax was also introduced.

  • Prices of goods increased during the war period causing hardship for common people.

  • Forced recruitment of soldiers was done from the Indian rural areas which caused anger among the rural areas.

  • War expenditure increased which was majorly financed by the Indian economy. The period of war and after (1918 -1921) also saw a lot of crop failure in India resulting in food shortages and famine.

  • The country was also hit by an influenza epidemic which caused the death of a lot of people. (Approximately : 12 to 13 million)

India’s War Efforts Have Been Recognized by the Allied Powers and in 2018 a lot of war memorials have been erected and honored on the Remembrance Day/Armistice Day

Arrival of Gandhi and Satyagraha

Mahatma Gandhi returned to India in 1915 from South Africa. He successfully fought the racial regime in South Africa through a method of mass agitation he called Satyagraha.

Satyagraha emphasized the power of truth and the need to search for truth. It said that if the cause was true, physical force was unnecessary to fight the oppressor.

This could be achieved by appealing to the conscience of the oppressor without using violence. Gandhi believed that non-violence (Ahimsa) and Satyagraha could unite all Indians against the Britishers.

Gandhi thought of Satyagraha as 'Active Resistance' rather than 'Passive' because he believed that this methods could only be used by the strong and that it is an intensive activity.

He successfully used Satyagraha at 3 places in India immediately after his arrival in India.

  1. 1916 - Champaran in Bihar - Inspired Peasants Against the Oppressive Plantation System

  1. 1917 - Kheda in Gujarat - Supported peasants affected by crop failure and plague against high revenue

  1. 1918 - Ahmedabad Mill Strike - Supported Cotton Mill Workers on question of plague bonus and wage hike.

What was the Rowlatt Act of 1919?

This act was passed hurriedly by the Imperial Legislative Council despite the opposition by Indian members. It gave the government a lot of power to repress political activities and even allowed detention/arrest of political activists without trial for two years.

This was meant to control the rise of political unity amongst Indians.

Gandhi wanted to fight this unjust law by using the concept of Satyagraha and started the Rowlatt Satyagraha in 1919 with a 'hartal' (strike) on April 6th.

How did the People Protest against the Rowlatt Act?

1. Rallies were organized in various cities.

2. Workers went on strike in railway workshops and shops also closed down.

How did the Britishers try to stop the movement from spreading?

The Britishers were scared that the protestors would disrupt the lines of communication and transport such as telegraph and railways.

They did not want the movement to spread and thus they clamped down the nationalists. They barred Gandhi from entering Delhi and arrested a lot of local leaders who were active in the movement especially from Amritsar.

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

In Amritsar, people had gathered on the eve of Baisakhi at Jallianwala Bagh to attend the fair. Some people had also gathered to protest against the arrest of the local leaders.

At this time, the British government had imposed ‘Martial Law’ (Military Rule) in Amritsar and many people who had come to attend the fair were unaware of the imposition of Martial Law.

The provisions of the law did not allow more than 4 people to gather together and thus the unarmed gathering in Jalianwalan Bagh was fired upon by General Dyer.

He blocked the only exit and killed hundreds of innocent civilians. He did this to ‘produce a moral effect’ and instill fear in mind of Satyagrahis.

This created a lot of unrest and there were clashes among people striking and the police. The police used force and humiliated the satyagrahis by forcing them to rub their noses on the ground and forcing them to salute.

They even bombed small towns around Gujranwala Town which is now in Pakistan and and created a sense of terror among the Satyagrahis

Seeing the spread of violence, Gandhi called off the Rowlatt Satyagraha.

Need for a Broad-Based Movement

While the Rowlatt Satyagraha was a widespread movement, it was still limited to towns and cities. The movement also had limited participation from Muslims.

Gandhiji thought of organizing a broad based movement that can have participation from all sections of the society.

He thought that this could be done by bringing Muslims and Hindus togethers and therefore he decided to take the issue of Khilafat.

Non-Cooperation + Khilafat

At the end of World War I, the defeated Ottoman Empire was dealt with harshly and the emperor of the Ottoman Empire who was also the spiritual head of the Islamic World (Khalifa)was to be stripped of his temporal powers.

This was a cause of concern for Muslims around the world. In India also, a Khilafat Committee was formed in 1919 in Bombay to defend the temporal powers of the Khalifa

Taking the Khilafat issue, Mahatma Gandhi wanted to bring Hindus and Muslims together to create a broad-based movement in India and thought the Khilafat issue and Swaraj movement could bring Muslims under a unified national movement.

Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali were brothers who led the Khilafat Movement and also began to discuss the idea of united mass action with Mahatma Gandhi. They toured India extensively to garner support for the movement.

In September 1920 Calcutta session of Congress, Mahatma Gandhi tried to convince other leaders of congress to start the Non-Cooperation movement in support of Khilafat as well as Swaraj.

Why Non-Cooperation?

Gandhi in his book 'Hind Swaraj' written in 1909 declared that British rule in India had survived only due to cooperation of Indians. He believed that if Indians did not cooperate the British Raj would collapse.

Methods of Non-Cooperation

  • Surrender of Titles awarded by the Government.

  • Boycott of civil services, army, police, courts and other government jobs and institutions.

  • Boycott of schools and universities - Boycott fo foreign goods

  • Boycott of legislative elections which were due in November of 1920.

Some leaders did not want to boycott the elections and thought it was a way to enter mainstream politics and bring change from within the system.

The Nagpur session of congress in December 1920 adopted the resolution to support the Non-Cooperation movement with the cause of Khilafat and Swaraj.

Note : There were two sessions in 1920: One in Calcutta and One in Nagpur.

The resolution was adopted in the Nagpur session whereas the convincing happened in the Calcutta session.

After the adoption of the Resolution in December 1920 session, the Non-Cooperation movement was started in January 1921

Different Strands of Non-Cooperation Movement

In Towns and Urban Areas

  • Middle Class Participation : Traders, businessmen, students etc.

  • Students and Teachers left government schools, colleges

  • Lawyers gave up their practice

  • Council Elections were Boycotted, except by the Justice Party(of Non-Brahmins) in Madras which thought of fighting elections and gaining some power.

  • Foreign goods were boycotted and foreign cloth was burned as a result import of cloth halved.

  • Merchants refused to trade in foreign goods

  • Liquor shops were picketed - Production of Indian goods such as cloth (Khadi) went up.

The movement could not be carried for long as Khadi was expensive and there were no alternate institutions to take the place of British ones.

As a result students started going back to government schools and lawyers started practicing again.

In Countryside /Rural Areas

Movement in Awadh

It was a peasant movement led by Baba Ramchandra (a Sanyasi) against landlords and taluqdars.

Why against landlords and taluqdars?

They cooperated with the British and also asked for high rent and taxes. The peasants were also asked to do Begar (work without payment)

In many places nai-dhobi bandhs were organized - Refused services of barber and washermen.

In 1920, Oudh (Awadh) Kisan Sabha was formed headed by JL Nehru and Baba Ramchandra. It soon spread across 300 locations and could have been used to strengthen the movement.

The peasant movement grew in a manner that was not liked by the congress. It turned violent and houses of landlords and taluqdars were attacked and shops were looted.

The name of Gandhi was used as a sanction for actions of peasants.

Movement in Andhra

Guerrilla warfare in Gudem Hills led by Alluri Sitaram Raju in the 1920s. This too was violent and against the principles of Non-Violence that Gandhi wanted the movement to have.

Why? - The government had refused traditional rights to Tribals and closed access to forest and its resources. They could not graze cattle or collect forest resources such as fruits and firewood. They were also forced to do Begar.

Alluri Sitaram Raju - He claimed that he could make accurate predictions and was thought to be an incarnation of God. He also claimed to heal people and that he could survive even bullet shots.

He said he was influenced by Gandhi and persuaded people to wear Khadi and give up drinking alcohol but at the same time believed that India could achieve freedom only by force and not nonviolence.

He was captured and executed in 1924 and became a figure in folklore.

Swaraj in Plantations

Under the Inland Regulation Act 1859, plantation workers in Assam were confined to limited spaces and could not move freely without the permission of Britishers. They could not travel back to their villages.

When they heard about the Non-Cooperation movement they defied the rules and started to move towards their homes in hope that the lands would be redistributed. They referred to it as Gandhi Raj

They however were captured by police because they were stranded due to railway and streamer strikes and were beaten up.

The vision of these movements in Urban and Rural areas was not defined by Congress but was interpreted by various sections of society independently. They imagined Swaraj as a time when all their suffering would be over.

Through this movement they acted in the name of Gandhi and chanted slogans of 'Swatantra Bharat And identified with a movement which was national and went beyond their local areas.

The NCM had to be withdrawn after the Chauri Chaura incident in 1922 when the participants of the movement burnt down a police station and killed several policemen.

After Non-Cooperation Movement

Gandhi believed that the satyagrahis had to be trained in the method of protest and mass struggles. Moreover, many leaders thought they needed to fight elections for the provincial councils which were setup after the Government of India Act of 1919 (Also referred to as Montagu Chelmsford Reforms)

They sought to fight the British system from within the council by arguing for reforms. It would also help show that the council was undemocratic.

Motilal Nehru (JL Nehru’s father) and CR Das formed the Swaraj Party within congress to argue in favor for fighting the elections while young leaders at that time like JL Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose wanted more radical mass movement to gain complete independence.

Economic Condition during the Time

The Great Depression of 1929 also impacted the peasants and their prices began to fall and they could no longer sell their produce profitably and pay their revenues.

In 1927, the new 'Tory' (Conservative) British government set up a statutory (by law) commission led by John Simon to look into the constitutional reforms in India and suggest changes.

The Simon Commission had no Indian member and hence it was opposed by leaders of congress and muslim league both. It was met with slogans of ‘Simon Go Back’.

Lala Lajpat Rai was attacked in such protests and died due to injuries.

In order to ease the tensions and win over the Indians, Lord Irwin offered to give India a dominion status (Semi-Independent Rule under British Crown) and proposed Round Table Conferences (RTCs) to discuss the future constitution.

There were 3 RTCs of which 2 were boycotted by Congress with the 2nd one attended by Gandhi and other representatives after the Gandhi-Irwin Pact.

The radicals in congress did not want dominion status and thus in 1929 in the Lahore session of congress under the presidentship of JL Nehru, congress passed a resolution demanding ‘Poorna Swaraj’ or complete independence.

It was decided to celebrate 26th January 1930 as the Independence Day from henceforth.

The Civil Disobedience Movement

In order to spread the idea of complete independence, Gandhi wrote a letter to Lord Irwin starting 11 demands. Some of these demands were very general while others showed specific demands of various classes from industrialists to peasants.

One of the demands in the letter was the abolition of Salt Tax. Salt is a powerful symbol and is used by rich and poor alike and is one of the most essential items of food. By this Mahatma Gandhi brought to notice the oppressive face of British rule.

He declared that if his demands are not met, he will start a civil disobedience movement.

When Irwin did not meet these demands, Gandhi started on salt March from his ashram in Sabarmati to a coastal town Dandi. It took 24 days for him to travel 240 miles accompanied by 78 of his trusted followers.

Upon reaching Dandi, he broke the salt law by boiling the sea water and procuring salt. This marked the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement.

How was CDM different from NCM?

People were not only asked to refuse corporations but also asked to break colonial laws.

Just as during the NCM, people started to boycott foreign products, they picketed liquor shops.

The tribals broke forest laws and peasants refused to pay taxes and rents. Officials also resigned.

To curb the movement, the government started arresting congress leaders one by one. One such leader was Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who was a follower of Gandhi and led the movement in north western India in areas of Peshawar.

Later Gandhi was also arrested and the movement started to become violent when people started attacking the government buildings and officials.

Fearful of this, the government started using violent measures to suppress the movement and many satyagrahis were injured and killed in the process.

The Second RTC and Calling Off of CDM

The congress had refused to attend the RTCs but when the movement turned violent, Gandhi called off the movement and agreed to attend the second RTC on certain conditions.

He entered into a pact with Irwin on 5th March 1931 and decided to participate in the 2nd RTC on behalf of congress

He asked Irwin to release political prisoners and meet certain demands and the British government agreed to release the political prisoners.

The negotiations of a second RTC were however not favorable to Indians and the conference was a failure.

When Gandhi returned from London after attending the conference, the Britishers had already started clamping down the nationalists and arrested many leaders such as Abdul Ghaffar Khan and JL Nehru.

As a response to this, Gandhi relaunched the CDM but this time it lost the momentum by 1934 and could not be carried with the same enthusiasm.

How Participants Saw the Movement?

Rich Peasants

Rich peasant communities – like the Patidars of Gujarat and the Jats of Uttar Pradesh – were active in the movement initially. But being producers of commercial crops they were hit hard by trade and falling prices which resulted in reduction of their incomes.

They organized their communities and even forced reluctant members to participate in the movement.

They expected the taxes to be reduced but the Britishers did not meet their demands.

When the movement was relaunched without reduction in taxes, they had lost interest and did not want to join the movement.

Poor Peasants

The poor peasants wanted their rents to be remitted. They did not want to pay the rent to the landlords and wanted that they cancel their dues. They even joined many movements led by Communist and Socialists

Congress did not want to upset the rich peasants and landlords and hence did not support the ‘no rent’ campaign of poor peasants.


After the war the profits of the industrialists had reduced and they wanted protection from the increasing imports from Britain that was hampering their business.

They formed pressure groups such as FICCI and Indian Industrial and Commercial Congress in 1920 to pressurize the government to change its policies.

Some industrialists such as Purshottamdas Thakurdas and GD Birla also supported the movement by providing financial resources and setting up alternate institutions.

But after the failure of the RTCs, the business community was not uniformly enthusiastic. Many did not like the militant activities growing influence of socialism and violence as it affected their business and hence did not support the CDM.


Workers did not actively participate but used methods of disobedience to protest for raising their wages and improving the working conditions except in the Nagpur region.

In 1930 thousands of workers in Chotanagpur tin mines wore Gandhi caps and participated in protest rallies and boycott campaigns.

Congress did not support the labor class because it did not want to upset the business class.


Women also participated in protest marches, picketed liquor shops and manufactured salt.

Their role in Congress was however limited as Gandhi thought that it is the duty of a woman to look after her home and take care of the family by being a good wife and good mother.

Congress was interested in having symbolic women presence in the movement but did not want women to have leadership roles.

Limitations of CDM

Limited Participation of Dalits : The depressed classes or Dalits did not actively participate in the CDM and they wanted separate electorates for themselves.

Moreover congress had ignored the Dalits because they did not want to offend the upper caste conservative hindus called Sanatanis

Gandhi supported the Dalits and called them Harijans and even cleaned their toilets to show his support. He even fought their entry into temples and use of public water resources such as wells and tanks. But he did not want separate electorates as it could lead to disunity.

They were strongly organized in the region of Maharashtra in Nagpur and Pune and were led by the lawyer BR. Ambedkar who fought for their rights. He formed an association called the Depressed Classes Association in 1930.

He even clashed with Gandhi during the second RTC on the question of separate electorates for Dalits. Gandhi in response took a fast unto death and an agreement was reached between Gandhi and BR Ambedkar on providing reservation to Dalits instead of separate electorates . This was called the POONA PACT of 1932.

Limited Participation of Muslims

After the Khilafat movement many muslims felt alienated from Congress and did not see congress as a party that would work in their favor.

Moreover congress was considered a party of upper caste hindus and hence failed to attract depressed classes and muslims in its fold.

Riots and communal clashes also increased the distance between the two communities.

Muslims also wanted reservation of seats in the central assembly in areas with muslim majority (Punjab and Bengal) and were organized as Muslim League under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Jinnah was willing to give up the demand for separate electorates if the muslims were assured reserved seats in the Central Assembly and representation in proportion to population in the Muslim-dominated provinces (Bengal and Punjab).

The hope for a resolution over the question of representation disappeared when M.R. Jayakar of the Hindu Mahasabha strongly opposed efforts at compromise at the All Parties Conference in 1928

There was an atmosphere of distrust among the Muslims and Hindus and they could not respond to a united struggle at this time.

They did not trust congress and thought that their identity and culture would be submerged by the majority.

The Sense of Collective Belonging

Nationalism spreads when people think they are all a part of the same culture. This sense of collective belonging came partly through the experience of united struggles.

History and fiction, folklore and songs, popular prints and symbols, all played a part in the making of nationalism.

Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay : India or Bharat was symbolized as Bharat Mata. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay first created the image of Bharat Mata.

He also wrote Vande Matram which became very popular and was sung by nationalists during the Swadeshi struggle and was later included in his books Anandmath.

Abanindranath Tagore depicted Bharat Mata as an ascetic figure who was calm, composed, divine and spiritual.

Changes in Image of Bharat Mata: The image of Bharat Mata acquired many different forms, as it circulated in popular prints, and was painted by different artists

Nationalists began recording folktales and toured villages to spread the feeling of nationalism.

Rabindranath Tagore collected songs and ballads and led the movement of folk revival.

In Tamil Nadu, Natesa Sastri published the Folklore of Southern India. He thought folklore was a national literature and must be a trustworthy manifestation of people's thoughts.

  • Design of Flags: During the Swadeshi movement and later many Indian flags were designed.

  • Swadeshi Flag: with 8 lotuses signifying 8 provinces and was a tricolor. The sun and the moon represented the unity of Muslims and Hindus.

  • Flag by Mahatma Gandhi - Khadi Spring wheel in center.

Intellectuals started reinterpretation of Indian history and Indians started taking pride in India's glorious past. They realized that India was great and its decline was due to colonial rule


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