The foundations of the Indian National Movement were laid by Surendranath Banerjee with the formation of Indian Association at Calcutta in 1876. The aim of the Association was to represent the views of the educated middle class, inspire the Indian community to take the value of united action. The Indian Association was, in a way, the forerunner of the Indian National Congress, which was founded, with the help of A.O. Hume, a retired British official. The birth of Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885 marked the entry of new educated middle-class into politics and transformed the Indian political horizon. The first session of the Indian National Congress was held in Bombay in December 1885 under the president ship of Womesh Chandra Banerjee and was attended among others by and Badr-uddin-Tyabji.
At the turn of the century, the freedom movement reached out to the common unlettered man through the launching of the “Swadeshi Movement” by leaders such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghose. The Congress session at Calcutta in 1906, presided by Dadabhai Naoroji, gave a call for attainment of ‘Swaraj’ a type of self-government elected by the people within the British Dominion, as it prevailed in Canada and Australia, which were also the parts of the British Empire.
Meanwhile, in 1909, the British Government announced certain reforms in the structure of Government in India which are known as Morley-Minto Reforms. But these reforms came as a disappointment as they did not mark any advance towards the establishment of a representative Government. The provision of special representation of the Muslim was seen as a threat to the Hindu-Muslim unity on which the strength of the National Movement rested. So, these reforms were vehemently opposed by all the leaders, including the Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Subsequently, King George V made two announcements in Delhi: firstly, the partition of Bengal, which had been effected in 1905, was annulled and, secondly, it was announced that the capital of India was to be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.
The disgust with the reforms announced in 1909 led to the intensification of the struggle for Swaraj. While, on one side, the activists led by the great leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal waged a virtual war against the British, on the other side, the revolutionaries stepped up their violent activities There was a widespread unrest in the country. To add to the already growing discontent among the people, Rowlatt Act was passed in 1919, which empowered the Government to put people in jail without trial.
This caused widespread indignation, led to massive demonstration and hartals, which the Government repressed with brutal measures like the Jaliawalla Bagh massacre, where thousand of unarmed peaceful people were gunned down on the order of General Dyer.
Reformers as guides of Freedom Movement
The leadership of the freedom movement passed into the hands of reformists like Raja Rammohan Roy, Bankim Chandra and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. During this time, the binding psychological concept of National Unity was also forged in the fire of the struggle against a common foreign oppressor.
Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833) founded the Brahmo Samaj in 1828 which aimed at purging the society of all its evil practices. He worked for eradicating evils like sati, child marriage and purdah system, championed widow marriage and women’s education and favoured English system of education in India. It was through his effort that sati was declared a legal offence by the British.
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) the disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, established the Ramkrishna Mission at Belur in 1897. He championed the supremacy of Vedantic philosophy. His talk at the Chicago (USA) Conference of World Religions in 1893 made the westerners realize the greatness of Hinduism for the first time.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
Jalianwala Bagh massacre of April 13, 1919 was one of the most inhuman acts of the British rulers in India. The people of Punjab gathered on the auspicious day of Baisakhi at Jalianwala Bagh, adjacent to Golden Temple (Amritsar), to lodge their protest peacefully against persecution by the British Indian Government. General Dyer appeared suddenly with his armed police force and fired indiscriminately at innocent empty handed people leaving hundreds of people dead, including women and children.
After the First World War (1914-1918), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi became the undisputed leader of the Congress. During this struggle, Mahatma Gandhi had developed the novel technique of non-violent agitation, which he called ‘Satyagraha’, loosely translated as ‘moral domination’. Gandhi, himself a devout Hindu, also espoused a total moral philosophy of tolerance, brotherhood of all religions, non-violence (ahimsa) and of simple living. With this, new leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose also emerged on the scene and advocated the adoption of complete independence as the goal of the National Movement.