The Gandhian Era

The period 1920-48 has been termed as the Gandhian ear in the history of modern India . This was due to the overwhelming influence of Gandhiji on Indian politics and society. The first major agitation launched under his leadership was the Non-Cooperation Movement with the triple purpose of winning Swaraj, rectification of Punjab wrongs and the rehabilitation of the of the Khilafat.

The Khilafat Movement was purely a religious movement organized by the Indian Muslims, whose main plank was the conservation of the Turkish Empire and its Sultan, whom they acknowledged as their Caliph (spiritual head). The Indian Muslims feared that Great Britain would deal severely with Turkey for having sided with Germany in the World War I and strip her of her hold over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina . Gandhiji with a desire to secure a permanent Hindu-Muslim unity included the Khilafat issue in his agenda.

Non-Cooperation Movement: The campaign had two kinds of object: constructive and destructive. In the pursuance of the former, it was decided to raise a fund of one crore of rupees in the name of Tilak to finance the non-cooperation activities; to enroll a volunteer corps of one crore members to help in the promotion of various boycotts- social, educational, legal and economic and to distribute twenty lakh spinning wheels to provide work of the unemployed or underemployed and to replace foreign cloth by hand-made Indian cloth.

With regards to the latter, the important items were- 1. The surrender of titles, honours, etc. and the boycott of official functions. 2. The boycott of schools and colleges owned or aided by the government and the establishment of national educational institutions.3.The boycott of elections to the Central Assembly and Provincial Councils, 4. The boycott of British goods and encouragement to Swadeshi. 5. The boycott of the law courts by the lawyers who would set up popular tribunals for administering justice and 6. Not to enlist in the army and to give up government service.

Eminent lawyers like Motilal Nehru, C.R.Das, Rajendra Prasad and Rajagopalachari gave up their practice. Students came out of colleges and schools and many national institutions were founded where teachers worked for a pittance. A number of students of the Aligarh University left their studies at the bidding of Mohammad Ali and founded the Jamia Millia Islamia, which later shifted to Delhi . Subhas Chandra Bose resigned his post in the Indian Civil Service and worked as a principal of the National College at Calcutta .  The effect of the boycott of foreign cloth was felt throughout India and attained considerable success in Bengal, Bombay , Madras and the United Province (Uttar Pradesh). Similarly excise revenue fell due to boycott of liquor. In September 1921 Mohammed Ali was arrested for giving a call to Muslim soldiers in the Indian army to abandon their service, as it was religiously unlawful. Meanwhile the Khilafat meetings where the wrongs of Islam were described intensified religious feeling of the Moplahs in Kerala. The Moplahs were the descendants of the Arabs who had settled in Kerala. Under the influence of their qazis and moulvis they rebelled and committed atrocities on their Hindu neighbours. On refusal to embrace Islam, people were tortured, flayed and burnt alive.  Women were dishonoured and even pregnant women were cut to pieces and left on the roadside in the jungles, with the unborn babe protruding from its mother’s womb. In one instance a six-month old baby was snatched away from the breast of the mother and cut into two pieces. Hindu places of worship were desecrated and the wealth of the people looted. The terrible atrocities resulted in wells and tanks at various places in Malbar filled with mutilated and half dead bodies of the people.

The Chauri Chaura incident: When the Prince of Wales landed in Bombay on 17th November 1921, the Congress called for a boycott and he was greeted with black flags wherever he went. In the riots that followed, 53 people died and 400 were wounded. Between December 1921 and January 1922, about 30,000 agitators were arrested. As the situation was deteriorating, efforts to bring out a settlement was made by some leaders like Malaviya. Gandhiji demanded the release of all sathyagrahis for which the Viceroy refused. In Febuary 1922 addressed a letter to the viceroy giving notice of his intention to start a civil disobedience at Bardoli in case the government failed to settle the Khilafat question and undo the Punjab wrongs. On 5th February 1922 a police station was burnt by a mob and a number of policemen were killed at Chauri Chaura in United Province . This resulted in Gandhiji to suspend the non-cooperation movement. Gandhiji was arrested and sentenced to six-year imprisonment.

The Swaraj Party: In the absence of Gandhiji, the Congress Working Committee spent a great deal of time in taking stock of the affairs and discussing the future line of action. The Civil Disobedience Enquiry Committee constituted by the Congress in its report said that the country was not yet prepared for a non-violent agitation and recommended the party to contest elections and enter the legislative councils.

In December the Congress session held at Gaya was presided over by C.R.Das, who was a strong protagonist of Council entry. But the followers of Gandhiji and the Khilafatists defeated the proposal of Das. This led C.R.Das and Motilal Nehru to form the Swaraj party on January 1st 1923. The manifesto of the Swaraj party declared that while the goal of the party was attainment of Swaraj, the immediate objective of the party is the speedy attainment of full dominion status. It described itself as a ‘party within the Congress’ and not a rival organization. In the election, which took place in November 1923, the candidates of Swaraj party won from different provinces in considerable strength. In Central Province the party won majority of seats while in Bengal, United Province, Bombay and Assam, it won sizeable number of seats. It secured 48 seats in the Central Legislative Assembly.

In the Legislative Assemblies, the Swarajists launched severe attack on the government’s policies, exposing its various acts of omission and commission and demanded the repeal of repressive laws. They urged for increasing the number of Indians recruited into the Indian Civil Services and in the Defence service and for the release of political prisoners. In the Central Assembly the Swarajists resorted to frequent walkouts to register their protest against government highhandedness. They boycotted all receptions, parties and functions organized by the Viceroy. In Provincial Legislatures also the Swarajists created obstacles and made the job of governance difficult.

Formation of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee: Though Tilak had aroused the spirit of patriotism of the people of Karnataka the Kannadigas had no separate political entity, which would have been a spur to concerted action. This was realized and keenly felt by leaders from the early years of the century. In 1915 the Kannada Sahithya Parishad had been established at Bangalore with the object of bringing together all Kannada-speaking people in order to create a sense of political and cultural community among them. In 1916 Alur Venkataka Rao and Kadapa Raghavendra Rao founded the Karnataka Ekikarana Sabha with the avowed object of achieving a united Karnataka. It was felt that the fight for freedom would be strengthened and sanctified if there were the consciousness of kinship among the people of Karnataka. Kadapa Raghavendra Rao toured all over Karnataka and roused the people into enthusiasm for Karnataka unity. Memorials were submitted to the Secretary of State for India, Montagu demanding a separate province for Kannada speaking people. In 1920, the All-Karnataka Political Conference was held at Dharwad under the president-ship of V.P.Madhava Rao, a former Diwan of Mysore. Here delegates from all parts of the state participated and it was decided to send maximum number of delegates from Karnataka to the Nagpur Congress session to plea for a separate Congress province, which should include all Kannada-speaking areas. The Nagpur Congress session presided by C.Vijiaraghavachariar permitted Karnataka to have a separate Pradesh Congress Committee (P.C.C.) and Gangadharrao Deshpande became the first K.P.C.C. president. A District Congress Committee was founded for Mysore state with Justice Setlur as president and local committees were started at Tumkur, Bangalore, Mysore and other places in the state.

Non-Cooperation Movement in Karnataka: In order to prop up support for the Non-Cooperation Movement, Gandhiji toured Karnataka during the 1920s. There was favourable response to his call of boycott of courts, schools and colleges and offices in places like Belgaum, Bijapur, Dharwad, etc. Men like Dattopant Majali, Jayarao Deshapande, Srinivasrao Kaujalgi, Hanumantharao Kaujalgi, Alur Venkatarao, Karnad Sadashiva Rao, K.R.Karanth and other gave up their law practice. In a number of places bonfire of foreign goods were organized. On 1st July 1921 three people were killed at Dharwad when police fired on a mob picketing a liquor shop. Many leaders were arrested for their ‘seditious’ speeches and writings and for breaking prohibitory orders. This included Gangadharrao Deshpande, Hanumantharao Mohare, Jayarao Deshapande and Hanumantharao Kaujalgi. When the Prince of Wales visited India on November 17th, 1921 there was hartal in many important places in Karnataka including Bangalore. Two Khilafat workers died of police atrocities at Bangalore Cantonment on 18th.

The constructive programme of the Congress was taken up all over Karnataka. National schools were established in Mangalore, Dharwad, Hubli, Hangal, Bagalkot, Bijapur, Gadag, Belgaum, Sirsi, Hospet, Siddapur and other places. In the National school run by Alur Venkata Rao at Dharwad, Dr. Bendre and R.R.Diwakar worked as teachers. Propagation of Khadi, the abolition of untouchability, the anti-drink campaign, village uplift, the encouragement to village industries were among the chief items of the constructive programme. They helped to awaken the spirit on national service and prepare the people for the bitter fight of the coming days.(to be continued)

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