This article throws light on the role of Gandhiji in non-co-operation and khilafat movement.
Role of Gandhiji in the National Movements:
On his return from South Africa, M. K. Gandhi had persuaded the Indians to support the war efforts of the British during the First World War.
But the British government instead of showing their gratitude to the Indians began to take strong measures to suppress the demand for constitutional reforms.
For this purpose Rowlatt Acts were passed. Gandhi requested the governor general and viceroy not to give his assent to the bills, but to no purpose. Gandhiji asked the people to sign the Satyagraha pledge and to refuse to obey the Rowlatt Acts ‘civilly’ and to refrain from violence to life and property. Gandhiji gave call for an all-India hartal which was eminently successful all over India but not peaceful everywhere.
In Bombay it took the character of civil disobedience movement as two books written by Gandhiji which had been proscribed by the government were sold openly; and these sold like hot cakes. In Delhi it led to clashes between the police and the people. There were incidents of violence in other parts of the country. As Rowlatt Acts came into force, protest meetings were being held all over India, and in Punjab when unarmed people assembled in Jalianwalla Bagh were fired upon under the orders of General Dyer which left 379 killed and 1200 wounded.
This sent a wave of condemnation of the British all over India. Rabindranath Tagore, as a protest to this barbarity relinquished the title of knighthood conferred on him earlier by the British. In the meantime the Reform Act of 1919 had been passed. Gandhiji was at first in favour of giving it a trial but changed his mind later.
In 1920 special session of the Congress Gandhiji decided to launch a non-violent, non-co-operation movement which recommended renunciation of government titles, boycotting of the legislatures, law courts and government educational institutions as also non-payment of taxes. Further, the object of the Indian National Congress was now declared to be attainment of self-rule—Swarajya by legitimate and peaceful means. Swarajya was taken to mean “self-rule within the Empire if possible, without, if necessary”.
In the First World War Britain fought against Turkey and the part played by her in the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire of the Sultan who was looked upon as the Caliph, wounded the religious sentiments of the Muslims and made them adopt an aggressive anti- British attitude.
The Jalianwalla Bagh incident had stirred the entire country to its depth and now the Muslims under two brothers Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, and Maulana Azad, organized a mass movement of the Indian Muslims known as the Khilafat movement. Gandhiji saw his opportunity and in a manifesto issued on March 10, 1920 recommended that the only course to be followed by the Khilafatists, if their demands were not fulfilled, was non-cooperation with the British government. Gandhiji’s ideas were adopted by the Khilafat Conference on April 17, 1920 and recommended renunciation of posts and titles and membership of Councils, giving up of posts under the government giving up of appointments in the police and the military and non-payment of taxes. The Khilafat movement brought before Gandhiji an opportunity to unite the Hindus and the Muslims “as would not arise in a hundred years”.
He whole heartedly espoused the Khilafat cause and there was an unprecedented fraternisation between the Hindus and the Muslims. He canalised the powerful currents which took the shape of united non-violent non-co-operation movement. The Congress held at Calcutta in 1920 endorsed Gandhiji’s policy subsequently reaffirmed by the annual session of the Congress at Nagpur.
The movement evoked a hearty response all throughout the country. A large number of students left schools and colleges, among many lawyers who had left the court C. R. Das was the most prominent. Government imprisoned 30,000 participants in the movement and imprisonment by the British government became a badge of honour. In 1921 the Prince of Wales came to visit India with a view to rousing the traditional feeling of loyalty to the British, but there was a general hartal as the Prince landed in Bombay (Nov. 21, 1921).
In the same year (1921) the Congress went one step forward and in its Allahabad session decided not only to continue the non-violent non-co-operation with all its might but also to start civil disobedience. Mahatma Gandhi by common consent was appointed the sole leader to lead national movement. Popular enthusiasm reached a feverish heat and there was outbreak of mob violence at Chauri Chaura where the mob set the local police station ablaze which caused the death of 22 police men. Gandhiji finding that the movement had gone violent called it off.
This sudden cessation of the movement came as a great, disappointment to the people of the country. Subhas Chandra Basu, Jawaharlal Nehru etc, were very much resentful of the step taken by Gandhiji. Gandhiji’s action was also severely criticized by many. Their argument was that at a time when the people of the country had plunged headlong into the movement and the British government was feeling shaky and unnerved, crying a halt to the movement meant only to push back the national movement by several years, and to damp the enthusiasm of the people.
But Gandhiji’s argument was based on moral grounds and the future of the movement. He sincerely believed that if the national movement would fall off from its moral principles and ideals, and it the unarmed Indians would take to violent means then it would be impossible to carry the movement too far against the militarily powerful British government. Once the movement would start following violent methods, it would go out of control. However, the stoppage of the movement was taken advantage of by the British government. They arrested Mahatma Gandhi and sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment.
The non-co-operation (also civil disobedience into which it was turned) apparently proved a failure, but on its credit side were:
(i) The mass consciousness about political rights,
(ii) Realisation of the fact that the Indians had to rely on their own strength for the redress of their political and other grievances,
(iii) Growth of an anti- British feeling among the Indians,
(iv) The Congress was the only organisation through which self-government could be realised,
(v) The courage of the people to brave the oppression of the British government. Naturally it cannot be said that the non-co-operation movement was without any beneficial results. In the meantime Kemal Ataturk of Turkey, with the help of the Young Turks deposed the Sultan of Turkey which made the Khilafat movement purposeless. It died a natural death.
Division in the Congress: Rise of Swarajya Party:
While in jail due to participation in the non-co-operation movement C. R. Das was advocating participation in the election in terms of the Reform Act of 1919 in order to oppose the British from within. Mahatma Gandhi was, however, against it, for, according to him there was no chance of Congress getting majority in the Legislatures, arid even if majority would be there, the governor general or the governors would be in a position to remove the objection of the majority of the legislature.
This would make it impossible to oppose the government from within, far less to paralyse it. Further, if Congress would enter the legislature it would be an open admission that the non- co-operation movement had proved a failure. The prominent Congress men were all imprisoned by the government as such they would not be legally permitted to stand for election. C. R. Das contended that although it was the declared policy of the Congress to give up .membership of the Councils, the moderates of the Congress did not resign.
Thus to paralyse the Councils through resignations did not succeed. Further, in the boycott movement the Indians were no longer much interested and as such they would be prepared to cast their votes in election. On the contrary as members of the legislatures they could criticise the actions of the government and put pressure on them to stop the policy of repression.
Mahatma Gandhi and his close followers like Chakraverty Raja-gopal Acharia etc. remained unconvinced. Chitta Ranjan Das, Motilal Nehru, Satya Murti, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Vitalbhai Patel, N. C. Kelkar, Jayakar and many others who were in favour of entering into the legislature formed a party called Swarajya Party within the Congress. The leader of the party was C. R. Das. In Bombay Vitalbhai Patel, in northern India Motilal Nehru, in Bengal and South India C. R. Das made the Swarajya party a very strong force.
In 1923 Maulana Abul Kalam Azad tried to bring conciliation between the Congress and the Swarajya Party but his efforts failed. But in the same year in the Delhi Congress he as the President argued in favour of Council (i.e. legislature) entry. Ultimately the Congress agreed not to carry on any propaganda against Council entry. Thus in fact, the prohibition against Cotmcil entry was withdrawn for all practical purposes. This was, doubtlessly the result of the powerful leadership of C. R. Das and Motilal Nehru.
General elections were held in 1923 November. In Bengal Swarajya Party obtained single majority and in Central Province it obtained absolute majority. In Bombay, United Provinces, Assam etc. the Swarajya Party although did not obtain absolute majority or single majority had done extremely well. In other provinces their number was very small.
In the Central Legislature out of 105 elected seats as many as 48 seats were obtained by Swarajya Party. 24 seats were obtained by Muslim League under the leadership of Jinnah. These 24 representatives agreed to work jointly with the Swarajya Party for bringing pressure on the government for granting national demands.
In the Central legislature the leadership of the Swarajya Party was given by Motilal Nehru. In the Central Legislature the combined members of the Swarajya Party and the independents succeeded in throwing out May proposals even the budget of the government. In the Central Provinces the same situation arose. In Bengal C. R. Das succeeded in throwing out many proposals of the government.
In 1925 Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his independent party gave up their former alliance with the Swarajya Party and declared that their policy would be one of selective support to any party considering the matter before the house. In December, 1925 the Congress decided that Congress men would boycott the legislature. Pursuant to the decision the members of the Swarajya Party resigned from the Central Legislature.
In the meantime C. R. Das died and the government was not willing to pass any reform measure. In the circumstances the differences between the Congress and the Swarajya Party were removed and many of the Swarajya Party returned to the non-co-operation policy of Gandhiji. A small section of the Swarajya
Party remained members of the legislature with the principle of rendering co-operation with the government wherever needed. Thus Swarajya Party was disrupted. The Swarajya Party did not succeed in pressurising the government to undertake reform measures, but it had left the example of opposing the government by remaining as a part of the administration. In the democratic training of the Indians the example of the Swarajya party was certainly of much importance.
Reappearance of Revolutionary Terrorism:
After Alipore Bomb case in which 47 revolutionaries were arrested along with Aurovinda were tried, some sentenced to transportation for life, some hanged, and Aurovinda Ghosh acquitted, the revolutionaries of Bengal were all dispersed. The government repression could not end the revolutionary activities which were silently and secretly going on. Revolutionary movement gradually spread to United Provinces, Punjab, Maharashtra and other parts of India.
In London Madanlal Dhingra shot and killed Curzon Wyllie, for, he had while serving in India sentenced some of the Indian young men to death for their participation in national movement. This naturally created a panick among the British public. The British government therefore, enhanced the intensity of their oppression of the Indians who participated in national movement. Public meetings, news papers etc. nothing was spared of the policy of repression. Anusilan Samiti was declared illegal.
The pressure of the Congress movement and of the revolutionary terrorism compelled the British government to pass the Morley-Minto Reforms in 1909 and to annual the Bengal Partition of 1905 in 1911. Aurovinda had left Bengal for Pondicherry after his acquittal in the Alipore Bomb case. But all this did not stop the secret revolutionary preparations of the revolutionary young men in Bengal. Under the leadership of Rashbehari Basu, Jatindranath Mukherjee, Narendranath Bhattacherjee (Manabendranath Roy) the revolutionary preparations were going on secretly.
Rashbehari Basu spread his activities outside Bengal. In 1911 the Partition of Bengal was annulled, but the Capital of India was transferred from Calcutta to Delhi. In 1912 when Lord Hardinge, the governor general and viceroy was making a ceremonial entry into Delhi in a procession Rashbehari Basu threw a bomb on him. Hardinge was injured but his life was saved, but one of his followers was killed. One lac of rupees had been declared as a reward on the head of Rashbehari Basu, but he had made good his escape in the meantime.
He went to Punjab where he collected a group of revolutionaries around him and planned an armed revolt in whole of northern India on February 21, 1915. Support of the armed forces was also secured. But the plan was divulged by one of Rashbehari Basu’s followers. Almost all the revolutionaries of northern India were arrested. Rashbehari Basu left for Japan in disguise and under a false name.
Among the revolutionaries of Bengal the most intrepid was Jatindranath Mukherjee. In the Howrah conspiracy case he was arrested but was acquitted. He then joined the all-India revolutionary society. During the First World War the revolutionaries of Bengal got into touch with the National Party of Germany and arranged to get supply of arms and ammunitions from Germany. Two ship-loads of arms and ammunitions started for India, one was to reach Rai imangal in the Sundarbans and another was to reach Orissa.
A third ship was to come to Hatia. It was the plan of the revolutionaries to occupy the Belasore railways and thereby cut off the place of the landing of the ship in Orissa from the British. Jatindranath Mukherjee, commonly known as Bagha Jatin along with his comrades Chitta- priya Raychaudhuri, Jyotish Pal, Niren Dasgupta and Manoranjan Sengupta started for Belasore. Jatin Ghosal and Harikumar Chakraverty started for the Sundarbans. Narendranath, under instruction of Bagha Jatin started for Batavia under the assumed name of Father Martin. The British government intelligence department got the news of the coming of the ships with arms and ammunitions and naturally the ships did not arrive at their specified destinations.
The Police Commissioner Charles Tegart of Calcutta started for Belasore to apprehend Bagha Jatin and his comrades. Bagha Jatin and his comrades avoided arrest for some time but when it became impossible to elude the police any more they encamped on the bank of the river Buribalam and got ready for a face to face fight with the police.
There was a regular shooting war between the two sides. Chittapriya died on the spot. Jyotish and Bagha Jatin were arrested after they were seriously wounded. Bagha Jatin died in hospital of his wounds. Jyotish was sentenced to transportation for life. Niren and Manoranjan were hanged.
Narendranath Bhattacherjee despairing of the situation left for Malaya, Japan, Korea, China, America, Germany etc. under the assumed name of Manabendranath Roy for obtaining foreign help. But his efforts were not crowned with success. He, however, remained all his life a revolutionary. True that Bagha Jatin, Narendranath etc. wanted to stage a revolution with foreign help but failed, yet they succeeded in driving revolutionary urge into the depth of the minds of the young men of Bengal. At that time revolutionary activities were for the time being stopped under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, but revolutionary training secretly went on.
At the end of the First World War the revolutionaries were set free. Apparently there was no sign of revolutionary activities, but revolutionary training and preparation were silently and secretly going on. The revolutionaries of Bengal were keeping their eyes on the progress of the national movement. The ruthless repression of the participants in the non-co-operation movement was a matter of great sorrow and resentment among the revolutionaries.
When Mahatma Gandhi had stopped the non-co-operation movement after the Chauri Chaura incident the revolutionaries of Bengal secretly met at Chittagong and prepared a plan for revolutionary terrorism. From 1923 revolutionary terrorism reappeared in Bengal.
In July that year Red Bengal leaflets were distributed all over Bengal, in which the programme of killing the police officers was announced. In the second leaflet the need for revolutionary terrorism was explained to the political leaders. The Anwilan Samiti and Jugantar Party were reorganised with renewed strength.
In Chittagong a revolutionary Association was established under the leadership of Surya Sen and its branches were set up in different parts of the district. The revolutionaries then began to collect money by decoity. In Calcutta attempts on the life of Police Commissioner Charles Tegart were being made. In 1924 Gopinath Saha killed Mr. Day mistaking him to be Charles Tegart. Gopinath was sentenced to death by hanging.
When the sentence of death was read out Gopinath remarked that his blood cells will spread the fire of revolution in every house of Bengal. In the same year (1924) a secret factory for bomb making was discovered at Dakshineswar which was followed by the discovery of another factory of bomb making.
The British government arrested 187 persons including Subhas Chandra Bose in this connection. A policy of ruthless suppression of all persons suspected to be connected with revolutionary movement was followed by the government. A large number of informers and detectives were employed to collect information about the revolutionaries.
The revolutionaries on the other hand planned to kill as marry of the detectives as possible. Their attempts were mostly unsuccessful, but the Alipore Jail Superintendent was killed by Pramode Chaudhuri within in the prison when the former went to inspect the revolutionaries kept in Alipore jail by striking him with an iron rod.
In the United Provinces (present Uttar Pradesh) Sachindra Sanyal, Joges Chatterjee, Rajendrartath Lahiri, Satish Chandra Singh and other Bengalees organised a revolutionary society and set up its branches all over the province. The name of the organisation was Hindustan Republican Association (1924).
The aim of this organisation was to establish a Republican Federation in India through revolution. The branches of this organisation were also established in Madras, Bihar, Punjab and Delhi. Political dacoity, looting government money, killing of English servants of the government were the activities, with which the organisation started. In an attempt to rob government money from the train, many of the revolutionaries were arrested. There was a prolonged trial of these arrested persons.
This case is known as Kakori conspiracy case. Four of the revolutionaries were sentenced to death and many were transported for life. Ramprasad, Roshanlal, Ashfak Ullah declared from the gallows that they were laying their lives for the independence of the country and the British government would not be in a position to stop the movement for national independence by hanging them.
From 1927, the revolutionary movement seemingly died oat. The government therefore release all the revolutionaries who received right royal reception from the people as they emerged from the jail. They now came nearer to the Congress although they did not believe in the Congress ideal of self-government under the British.
They were in favour of full independence and Jawaharlal and Subhas Chandra became their mouthpiece within the Congress. It may, however, be noted that revolutionary preparations were very secretly still going on.
In 1929 when the Central Legislature was discussing the Commercial Bill which was positively detrimental to the interest of India, Bhagat Singh and Batukeswar Datta threw bombs inside the legislature. In Lahore also revolutionary activities were going on in full swing. But the government got secret information about the revolutionaries and arrested them.
In the famous Lahore Conspiracy case a large number of revolutionaries were punished. In the same years (1929) in a secret meeting of the revolutionaries of Bengal, plans for looting the armoury at Chittagong, Mymensingh, and Barisal was prepared. Surya Sen, known to the revolutionaries as Masterda gave the necessary training to the revolutionaries and organised an army called Indian Republican Army.
In a declaration published in the name of the Indian Republican Army open war was declared against the British and every Indian was called upon to assist the Indian Republican Army in driving the British out of India. On April 18, 1930, according to the plan prepared earlier the Chittagong armoury was raided and arms looted under the leadership of Ananta Singh and Ganesh Ghosh.
The town of Chittagong was cut off from the rest of India by snapping the telephone and telegraph lines and a Provisional Independent Government was set up there. Surya Sen was made the President of the government. The government requisitioned armed forces from outside to recapture Chittagong.
In the circumstances, the revolutionaries took position on the Jalalabad hill and fought with the British forces a regular battle and compelled them to fall back (April 22, 1930). In this battle eleven revolutionaries lost their lives while on the government side the number of the dead was sixty four. Apprehending that a massive attack would be made by the British forces next morning the revolutionaries divided themselves into small groups and left Jalalabad hill.
One of such groups was intercepted by the armed police on the bank of the river Karnaphuli and there was an armed clash between the revolutionaries and the armed police in which six of the revolutionaries died and two were taken prisoners. Similarly there was an armed clash with another group near Chandernagore and one of the revolutionaries died and the rest had been taken prisoners. Surya Sen was eluding the police till then, but he was later arrested and was sentenced to death. Loknath Bal, Ananta Singh, Upendra Bhattacharya were transported for life.
The Chittagong armoury raid sent a thrill all over Bengal and created a revolutionary enthusiasm of an unprecedented kind among the youth of Bengal. The revolutionaries were now bent on taking life for life, blood for blood. The more the government followed the policy of repression, the more was the revolutionaries driven to desperation. It was at that time the Bengalee young girls also came forward to join the revolutionary party.
Now began the attempt at raiding the Writers’ Building, the centre of British administration in Bengal. Benoy Basu was student of Dacca medical school. When the Dacca police top brass Lowman and Hudson launched a policy of extirpation of the revolutionaries and were arresting innocent students simply on unfounded suspicion and torturing them, Benoy Basu determined to take revenge against the police. Opportunity offered itself by the way that Lowman and Hudson came to visit a high ranking police officer who was admitted into Dacca Medical School.
Benoy shot both of them. Lowman died, but Hudson who was severely wounded survived. The police failed to arrest Benoy who made good his escape and came over to Calcutta. When the plan to raid the Writers’ Building was prepared Benoy Basu, Badal (Sudhir) Gupta and Dinesh Gupta were selected for the job. On December 8, 1930 Benoy, Badal and Dinesh in European dress entered the Writers’ Building unsuspected.
They shot Simpson, the Inspector General of Prisons who collapsed in his chair. Mr, Nelson who came out on hearing the sound of the shot was himself shot at. In the meantime the Police Commissioner Tegart surrounded the Writers’ Building with armed police. Benoy, Badal and Dinesh entered a room in the Writers’ Building for committing suicide. Benoy and Dinesh shot themselves from their revolvers, but as Badal had no more bullets with him he committed suicide by taking poison. Benoy and Dinesh were removed to Medical College where Benoy died but Dinesh gradually came round. He was tried and sentenced to death by hanging. The courage and poise with which Dinesh faced his execution became a legend, and forced the admiration of even the British.
One of the important centres of activities of the revolutionaries was Midnapore where, naturally, British oppression was also limitless. The District Magistrate Peddy was a symbol of ruthlessness and oppression of the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries planned to take his life and Bimal Dasgupta shot him dead.
The sentence of hanging of Dinesh Gupta was passed by Judge Garlic. Kanai Bhattacharjee took revenge by shooting him down in his court room. In 1931, the revolutionaries in Hijli Jail were fired upon as a result two died and many sustained injuries. For this Bimal Dasgupta who had killed Peddy shot Villiers, the President of the European Association. In the same year Santi and Suniti two young girls shot the District Magistrate of Comilla Mr Stevension dead.
In the Convocation of the Calcutta University in 1932 Governor Stanley Jackson was shot at by Bina Das but as her shot missed the aim, Jackson was saved. In the same year Prabhansu Pal and Pradyut Bhattacharjee killed the District Magistrate of Midnapore Mr. Doglaus. The next District Magistrate Burge was likewise killed by Anathbandhu Panja and Mrigen Datta (1933). Both Anathbandhu and Mrigen were shot dead by the security guard of the District Magistrate.
In his way between 1930 and 1934 the revolutionaries of Bengal put many of the British officers to death and laid their own lives down. The lessons that the revolutionaries wanted to teach the people was that independence of the country was more precious than life. They knew well the danger that their revolutionary activities were fraught with. But by laying their lives down they wanted to rouse the drooping spirit and the national consciousness of the people.