The National Movement For Independence

The doomed uprising of 1857, leaderless and incohesive, set in motion a truly national movement, drawing in disparage ideologies and unlikely personalities, heroes and villains, that finally wrested independence from the most formidable empire of modern times. It all began slowly as small rills and streams and in different theatres, both in India and England, and its course was long, sometime lazy, at times vehement and riotous and finally a painful but peaceful resistance to the cruel deeds of suppression, in which the whole nation took part under the banner of Mahatma Gandhi and his colleagues. Let us have a retrospective idea of those days:

After the suppression of what was termed by the British as the 'Sepoy Mutiny' (1857), a new crop of leaders came up in different parts of India and, under their leadership, a new spirit of nationalism sprang up. Most prominent of these leaders were Dadabhai Naoroji who formed East India Association as early as 1867, and Surendranath Banerjee who formed Indian National Association in 1876. Something more significant, lasting and historic was the formation of the Indian National Congress, which was to become the main wagon for the freedom fighters of India, in 1885. It was founded on a proposal from Allen Octavian Hume, a former British civil servant. In the beginning it was a forum for debates in which the highly educated urban elite of India like the lawyers, teachers and journalists were the members. They also endorsed resolutions expressing their loyalty to the British Raj. But the Congress grew in prestige and strength and was getting ready to receive the role it was assigned in history, and the feeling of nationalism started growing in the minds of the people.

The emergence of socio-religious groups like Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj were another significant development towards India's nationalist movement. The Arya Samaj was founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati and the Brahmo Samaj by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. The works of Swami Vivekananda and his master Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, Sri Aurobindo, poet Subramanya Bharati, writer Bankim Chander Chatterjee, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, poet Rabindranath Tagore and politician Dadabhai Naoroji contributed tremendously to the feelings of patriotism, the traditions and cultural oneness of India. Of these, Dadabhai Naoroji went to London and lived there, worked for the rights of the Indians by contesting an election to the British House of Commons, and became its first member from India.

"Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it"-declared Balagangadhara Tilak, the first Indian nationalist to declare that swaraj is the destiny of the nation. He upheld the cultural values of India and therefore did not want the British system of education to make inroads into the Indian ways. His arguments and slogans attracted the people and inspired them. He was for drastic and violent action against the British Raj, and some other leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai supported him. But Gopal Krishna Gokhale, another influential leader, would not go with the view. This led to a split in the Congress in 1907.

R. C. Majumdar, noted historian, points out a failure on the part of the Congress during the early years of its history thus: "By 1900, although the Congress had emerged as an all-India political organization, its achievement was undermined by its singular failure to attract Muslims, who felt that their representation in government service was inadequate. Attacks by Hindu reformers against religious conversion, cow slaughter, and the preservation of Urdu in Arabic script deepened their concerns of minority status and denial of rights if the Congress alone were to represent the people of India. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan launched a movement for Muslim regeneration that culminated in the founding in 1875 of the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh (renamed Aligarh Muslim University in 1921). Its objective was to educate wealthy students by emphasizing the compatibility of Islam with modern western knowledge. The diversity among India's Muslims, however, made it impossible to bring about uniform cultural and intellectual regeneration."

In 1905 the large and populous state of Bengal was divided into two by Curzon, the governor general and viceroy, without consulting the people. The capital of the country was mooted to be transferred to Delhi. This caused widespread displeasure and anger towards the British Raj, and agitations became rampant. British products were boycotted. The swadeshi feeling became stronger. Violence broke out in some parts of the country. Certain constitutional reforms were introduced by the government in order to appease the people. The King himself visited India in 1911, and announced the reversal of the partition and the transfer of the capital. But an attempt was made to assassinate the new Viceroy. Historians have noted that it was due to the increase of extremist tendencies among many Congress members. More and more attacks were launched against the British power, which in turn used this opportunity to divide the nationalist movement. This resulted in the rise of Muslim League. The British used the Muslim League to sideline the demands of the Indian National Congress.