HISTORY OF FREEDOM MOVEMENT-5

Gandhiji and the Belgaum Congress session

On February 5th 1924, Gandhiji was released from prison following an operation for appendicitis. The Hindu-Muslim cooperation for which he had striven so zealously had nearly vanished. With the abolition of Khilafat in Turkey, no inducement was left for majority of the Indian Muslims to cooperate with the Hindus. The Muslim League eclipsed during the Khilafat agitation found a breathing space once again. Thus with the passage of time the discord between the Hindus and the Muslims began to appear and communal riots occurred at regular intervals. To expiate for the sins of his erring countrymen, Gandhiji undertook a fast of 21 days from September 18 to October 8. This was his desperate effort to solve the communal tangle. The Council entry programme of the Swarajists was not to the liking of Gandhiji. But the circumstances as they were, it was impossible for anybody to bring back the masses to an active non-cooperation and therefore as sort of compromise was reached. The Congressmen were given freedom to decide for themselves either to work for the Council entry or to carry on the constructive work outside the Council. It was in this background that Gandhiji presided over the Belgaum session in December 1924 with the objective of restoring unity between Congressmen who were for Council entry and those against it and between Hindus and Muslims. Removal of untouchability and spread of Chakra and Khadi were the other objectives.

A Historic session: The Belgaum Congress session was a momentous event and the enthusiasm of the Kannadigas knew no bounds, as it was the only Congress session in which Gandhiji presided. The venue where the session was held, named Vijayanagara and the entrance gate was designed like the Gopura of the Virupaksha temple at Hampi. The huts for visitors and the delegates were built with Khadi and had bamboo roofs. For the supply of water round the clock a tank, Pampa Sarovara was constructed. To feed the participants, a huge kitchen was set up and thousands of lanterns and petromax light were brought from Bombay for lighting purpose. Volunteers of Hindustan Seva Dal, trained by N.S.Hardikar were looking after the arrangements and attending the comforts of the visitors.

When Gandhiji along with the Ali brothers, Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and a host of leaders arrived at Belgaum, they were welcomed by a mammoth crowd led by Gangadharrao Deshpande, the Chairman of the Reception Committee. Gandhiji was taken in a procession to the Congress camp. All efforts were made to represent the culture and history of Karnataka at the session. Great stalwarts of music like Veene Seshanna gave their recital and Huyilagola Narayana Rao sung the Kannada anthem ‘Udayavagali namma cheluva Kannadanadu‘ at the session. In his presidential address Gandhiji spoke on the necessity of Hindu-Muslim unity, boycott of foreign goods, encouraging spinning and weaving of Khadi, working towards eradication of untouchability and other issues. A number of session were also held at Belgaum on the occasion like the All-India Khilafat Conference, All-India Hindu Mahasabha Conference, All-India Non-Brahmin Conference, All-India Social Conference and also the first Karnataka Unification Conference, presided by Sir Siddappa Kambli.

Karnataka responded positively to the call given by Gandhiji for constructive programmes. The spread of Khadi and village industries was taken up all over Karnataka and organizations for Harijan welfare were set up in many places of the state. Between 1922 and 1925 national leaders like C.Rajagopalachari, C.R.Das, Lala Lajpat Rai, S.Srinivasa Iyengar, Pattabhi Seetharamiah, Jamnadas Mehta, Konda Venkatappiah and others toured all over Karnataka and kept the national spirit alive. The flame of freedom struggle was also kept alive by a host of Congressmen of Karnataka like N.S.Hardikar, Srinivas Rao Kaujalgi, Gangadharrao Deshpande, Kadapa Raghavendra Rao, R.R.Diwakar, Krishna Rao Mudvedkar and others. The authorities in Princely state of Mysore understood the value of spinning and weaving Khadi in the scheme of rural development and often cooperated with the Congress workers in the extension of Khadi industries and other village industries sponsored by the Congress. The Diwan of Mysore, Albion Banerjee not only permitted the Department of Industries to send exhibits to the Congress exhibition at Belgaum in 1924, but also gave a donation for the expenses.

Anti-Simon Commission agitation: For the purpose of enquiring into the working of the system of Government and the development of representative institutions in India, with a view to extend, modify or restrict the degree of responsible Government then existing in India, a statutory commission was appointed by the Government in 1927. The Commission headed by John Simon had no Indian representatives. The Commission was appointed two year earlier than the prescribed date as the ruling Conservative Party in Britain was doubtful of its victory in the next general elections and did not wanted the Labour Party, which was somewhat sympathetic to Indian aspirations should get a chance to determine the composition of the Commission.

Congressmen felt insulted by the exclusion of Indians from the Commission and the arrival of the Commission was greeted with hartal and there was wide spread demonstrations all over India. When the members of the Commission arrived at Bombay on 3rd February 1928, K.F.Nariman led the demonstration who held placard inscribed “Swaraj is our birthright” and “No representation, no Commission”. Lucknow experienced unprovoked police charges on an unarmed and peaceful protest on the occasion of the visit of the Commission. Police entered houses and beat respected people for daring to call “Simon go back”. During a party given by some Taluqdars to the members of the Commission in Lucknow, the police had barricaded the place. Still, the harmony of the party was marred by the arrival from the skies of numerous black kites and balloons bearing “Simon, go back”, “India for Indians”, etc. In Patna, a gathering of 50,000 people demonstrated against the Commission, while only a few Chaprasis and government servants gave it a welcome. Lorries of hired people, whom the government had brought from the neighbourhood, walked into the boycott camp and not the welcome camp.

Lala Lajpat Rai bereaved: At Lahore, when Lajpat Rai and others led the protest against the Commission on 30th October 1928, the police used force on the perfectly non- violent demonstration and Lajpat Rai who was in the first row received lathi blows over his chest, which proved fatal. He died on 17th November. To avenge his death, Bhagat Singh and his associates decided to assassinate J.A.Scott, the police officer under whose order the police had resorted to lathi-charge. But due to mistaken identity, instead of Scott, a probationary officer, J.P.Saunders became the victim.

In reply to the Indians protest against the non inclusive of Indians in the Simon Commission, the Secretary of State for India, Birkenhead said that the Indians had been excluded from the Commission due to their divided opinion and if they could overcome their differences and frame a draft reform proposal, due consideration would be given during the preparation of the official reform scheme.

The Nehru report: The challenge was accepted by the Congress, which constituted a committee under the president ship of Motilal Nehru. The result was a draft report, which recommended Dominion Status as the basis for the new Constitution. But as there was no provision for separate electorates, the Muslims refused to adhere to the report. Even Jawaharlal Nehru condemned the report as a timid ideal and only after a long discussion with Gandhiji accepted a compromise formula, by which Dominion Status was accepted as the basis of the new Constitution, provided the British government conceded it before the end of 1929. The failure of the government to accept the recommendations made in the Nehru report led the Congress in its session at Lahore in 1930 to declare its commitment towards realization of Swaraj. On 31st December 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the national flag on the banks of river Ravi and the working committee of the Congress, which met on 2nd January 1930, decided to observe the 26th of January as Independence or Poorna Swaraj Day. Various towns of Karnataka observed the Independence Day with appropriate solemnity and discipline.

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