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Spectrum Summary: Emergence of Gandhi - Notes | Study History for UPSC CSE - UPSC

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Towards the end of the First World War, various forces were at work in India and on the international scene. After the end of the war, there was a resurgence of nationalist activity in India and in many other colonies in Asia and Africa.

The Indian struggle against imperialism took a decisive turn towards a broad-based popular struggle with the emergence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the Indian political scene.

Why Nationalist Resurgence Now - After the war, the conditions in India and influences from abroad created a situation that was ready for a national upsurge against foreign rule.

Post-War Economic Hardships

(i) Industry- First, an increase in prices, then a recession coupled with increased foreign investment brought many industries to the brink of closure and loss.
(ii) Workers and Artisans- This section of the populace faced unemployment and bore the brunt of high prices.
(iii) Peasantry- Faced with high taxation and poverty, the peasants waited for a lead to protest.
(iv) Soldiers- Soldiers who returned from battlefields abroad gave an idea of their experience to the rural folk.
(v) Educated Urban Classes- This section was facing unemployment as well as suffering from an acute awareness of racism in the attitude of the British.

Expectations of Political Gains for Cooperation in the War

After the war, there were high expectations of political gains from the British government and this too contributed towards the charged atmosphere in the country.

Nationalist Disillusionment with Imperialism Worldwide

The Paris Peace Conference and other peace treaties that the imperialist powers had no intention of loosening their hold over the colonies; in fact they went on to divide the colonies of the vanquished powers among themselves.

Impact of Russian Revolution (November 7,1917)

  • The Bolshevik Party of workers overthrew the Czarist regime and founded the first socialist state, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov or Lenin.
  • The Soviet Union unilaterally renounced the Czarist imperialist rights in China and the rest of Asia, gave rights of self determination to former Czarist colonies in Asia and gave equal status to the Asian nationalities within its borders.

Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms and Government of India Act, 1919

  • The carrot was represented by the insubstantial Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, while measures such as the Rowlatt Act represented the stick.
  • In line with the government policy contained in Montagu's statement of August 1917, the government announced further constitutional reforms in July 1918, known as Montagu- Chelmsford or Montford Reforms. Based on these, the Government of India Act, 1919 was enacted.

Main Features

Provincial Government—Introduction of Dyarchy

I. Executive

  • Dyarchy, i.e., rule of two—executive councillors and popular ministers— was introduced. The governor was to be the executive head in the province.
  • Subjects were divided into two lists: ‘reserved' and ‘transferred' subjects.
  • The reserved subjects were to be administered by the governor through his executive council of bureaucrats, and the transferred subjects were to be administered by ministers nominated from among the elected members of the legislative council.
  • The ministers were to be responsible to the legislature and had to resign if a no- confidence motion was passed against them by the legislature, while the executive councillors were not to be responsible to the legislature. 
  • In case of failure of constitutional machinery in the province the governor could take over the administration of transferred subjects also.
  • The secretary of state for India and the governor general could interfere in respect of reserved subjects while in respect of the transferred subjects, the scope for their interference was restricted.

II. Legislature

  • Provincial legislative councils were further expanded and 70 per cent of the members were to be elected.
  • The system of communal and class electorates was further consolidated.
  • Women were also given the right to vote.
  • The legislative councils could initiate legislation but the governor’s assent was required. The governor could veto bills and issue ordinances.
  • The legislative councils could reject the budget but the governor could restore it, if necessary.
  • The legislators enjoyed freedom of speech.

Central Government—Still Without Responsible Government

I. Executive

  • The governor-general was to be the chief executive authority.
  • There were to be two lists for administration— central and provincial.
  • In the viceroy’s executive council of eight, three were to be Indians.The governor-general retained full control over the reserved subjects in the provinces.
  • The governor-general could restore cuts in grants, certify bills rejected by the central legislature and issue ordinances.

II. Legislature

  • A bicameral arrangement was introduced. The lower house or Central Legislative Assembly would consist of 145 members and the upper house or Council of State would have 60 members.
  • The Council of State had a tenure of 5 years and had only male members, while the Central Legislative Assembly had a tenure of 3 years.
  • The legislators could ask questions and supplementaries, pass adjournment motions and vote a part of the budget, but 75 per cent of the budget was still notvotable.
  • On the home government (in Britain) front, the Government of India Act, 1919 made an important change— the Secretary of State for India was henceforth to be paid out of the British exchequer.


  • Franchise was very limited. The electorate was extended to some one-and-a-half million for the central legislature, while the population of India was around 260 million, as per one estimate.
  • At the centre, the legislature had no control over the viceroy and his executive council.
  • Division of subjects was not satisfactory at the centre.
  • Allocation of seats for central legislature to the provinces was based on importance of provinces— for instance, Punjab’s military importance and Bombay’s commercial importance.
  • At the level of provinces, division of subjects and parallel administration of two parts was irrational and, hence, unworkable. Subjects like irrigation, finance, police, press and justice were 'reserved’.
  • The provincial ministers had no control over finances and over the bureaucrats; this would lead to constant friction between the two. Ministers were often not consulted on important matters too; in fact, they could be overruled by the governor on any matter that the latter considered special.

Congress’s Reaction

  • The Congress met in a special session in August 1918 at Bombay under Hasan Imam's presidency and declared the reforms to be "disappointing" and “unsatisfactory”
  • The Montford reforms were termed “unworthy and disappointing—a sunless dawn by Tilak, even as Annie Besant found them “unworthy of England to offer and India to accept'' 

Making of Gandhi

Early Career and Experiments with Truth in South Africa

  • Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 in Porbandar in the princely state of Kathiawar in Gujarat. Having studied law in England, Gandhi, in 1898, went to South Africa. He stayed there till 1914 after which he returned to India.
  • The Indians in South Africa consisted of three categories—one, the indentured Indian labour; two, the merchants; and three,the ex-indentured labourers.
  • Moderate Phase of Struggle (1894-1906)-To unite different sections of Indians, Gandhiset up the Natal Indian Congress and started a paper Indian Opinion.
  • Phase of Passive Resistance or Satyagraha (1906-1914)-The second phase, which began in 1906, was characterized by the use of the method of passive resistance or civil disobedience, which Gandhi named satyagraha.
  • Satyagraha against Registration Certificates (1906)- Gandhi formed the Passive Resistance Association to conduct the campaign of defying the law and suffering all the penalties. Thus was born satyagraha or devotion to truth, the technique of resisting adversaries without violence.
  • Campaign against Restrictions on Indian Migration-The earlier campaign was widened to include protest against a new legislation imposing restrictions on Indian migration.
  • Campaign against Poll Tax and Invalidation of Indian Marriages
  • Protest against Transvaal Immigration Act-The Indians protested the Transvaal Immigration Act, by illegally migrating from Natal into Transvaal. Even the viceroy, Lord Hardinge, condemned the repression and called for an impartial enquiry.
  • Compromise Solution

Gandhi's Experience in South Africa

  • Gandhi found that the masses had immense capacity to participate in and sacrifice for a cause that moved them.
  • He was able to unite Indians belonging to different religions and classes, and men and women alike under his leadership.
  • He also came to realise that at times the leaders have to take decisions unpopular with their enthusiastic supporters.
  • He was able to evolve his own style of leadership and politics and new techniques of struggle on a limited scale, untrammelled by the opposition of contending political currents.

Gandhi's Technique of Satyagraha - Gandhi evolved the technique of Satyagraha during his stay in South Africa. It was based on truth and non- violence.

  • A satyagrahi was not to submit to what he considered as wrong, but was to always remain truthful, non-violent and fearless.
  • A satyagrahi works on the principles of withdrawal of cooperation and boycott. Methods of satyagraha include non-payment of taxes, and declining honours and positions of authority.
  • A satyagrahi should be ready to accept suffering in his struggle against the wrongdoer. This suffering was to be a part of his love for truth.
  • While carrying out his struggle against the wrong-doer, a true satyagrahi would have no ill feeling for the wrong-doer; hatred would be alien to his nature.
  • A true satyagrahi would never bow before the evil, whatever the consequence.
  • Only the brave and strong could practise satyagraha;

Gandhi in India- Gandhi returned to India in January 1915. During 1917 and 1918, Gandhi was involved in three struggles—in Champaran, Ahmedabad and Kheda—before he launched the Rowlatt Satyagraha.

Champaran Satyagraha (1917)—First Civil Disobedience

  • The European planters had been forcing the peasants to grow indigo on 3/20 part of the total land (called tinkathia system). The peasants were forced to sell the produce at prices fixed by the Europeans.
  • When Gandhi, joined now by Rajendra Prasad, Mazharul- Haq, Mahadeo Desai, Narhari Parekh, and
  • J.B. Kripalani, reached Champaran to probe into the matter, the authorities ordered him to leave the area at once.
  • This passive resistance or civil disobedience of an unjust order was a novel method at that time. The government appointed a committee to go into the matter and nominated Gandhi as a member.
  • Gandhi was able to convince the authorities that the tinkathia system should be abolished and that the peasants should be compensated for the illegal dues extracted from them.
  • As a compromise with the planters, he agreed that only 25 per cent of the money taken should be compensated.

Ahmedabad Mill Strike (1918)— First Hunger Strike

  • In March 1918, Gandhi intervened in a dispute between cotton mill owners of Ahmedabad and the workers over the issue of discontinuation of the plague bonus.
  • The workers of the mill turned to Anusuya Sarabhai for help in fighting for justice. Anusuya Sarabhai was a social worker who was also the sister of Ambalal Sarabhai, one of the mill owners and the president of the Ahmedabad Mill Owners Association (founded in 1891 to develop the textile industry in Ahmedabad).
  • Gandhi asked the workers to go on a strike and demand a 35 per cent increase in wages instead of 50 per cent.

Kheda Satyagraha (1918)—First Non- Cooperation

  • Because of drought in 1918, the crops failed in Kheda district of Gujarat. According to the Revenue Code, if the yield was less than one-fourth the normal produce, the farmers were entitled to remission.
  • Gandhi asked the farmers not to pay the taxes. Patel along with his colleagues organized the tax revolt which the different ethnic and caste communities of Kheda supported.

Gains from Champaran, Ahmedabad and Kheda

  • Gandhi demonstrated to the people the efficacy of his technique of satyagraha.
  • He found his feet among the masses and came to have a surer understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the masses.
  • He acquired respect and commitment of many.

Rowlatt Act, Satyagraha, Jaliianwala Bagh Massacre

The Rowlatt Act

  • Two bills were introduced in the Imperial Legislative Council. One of them was dropped, but the other— an extension to the Defence of India Regulations Act 1915—was passed in March 1919.
  • It was what was officially called the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, but popularly known as the Rowlatt Act. It was based on the recommendations made by the Rowlatt Commission, headed by the British judge, Sir Sidney Rowlatt, to investigate the 'seditious conspiracy' of the Indian people.
  • The act allowed political activists to be tried without juries or even imprisoned without trial. It allowed arrest of Indians without warrant on the mere suspicion of ‘treason’.
  • The law of habeas corpus, the basis of civil liberty, was sought to be suspended. The object of the government was to replace the repressive provisions of the wartime Defence of India Act (1915) by a permanent law.

Satyagraha Against the Rowlatt Act— First Mass Strike - Gandhi called the Rowlatt Act the “Black Act'’. There was a radical change in the situation by now.

  • The masses had found a direction; now they could act’ instead of just giving verbal expression to their grievances.
  • From now onwards, peasants, artisans and the urban poor were to play an increasingly important part in the struggle.
  • Orientation of the national movement turned to the masses permanently.
  • Satyagraha was to be launched on April 6, 1919 but before it could be launched, there were large-scale violent, anti-British demonstrations.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (April 13,1919)

  • On April 9, two nationalist leaders, Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal, were arrested by the British officials without any provocation except that they had addressed protest meetings, and taken to some unknown destination.
  • This caused resentment among the Indian protestors who came out in thousands on April 10 to show their solidarity with their leaders. Soon the protests turned violent because the police resorted to firing in which some of the protestors were killed.
  • By then the city had returned to calm and the protests that were being held were peaceful. Dyer, however, issued a proclamation on April 13 (which was also Baisakhi) forbidding people from leaving the city without a pass and from organising demonstrations or processions, or assembling in groups oi more than three.
  • On Baisakhi day, a large crowd of people mostly from neighbouring villages, unaware of the prohibitory orders in the city, gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh, a popular place for public events, to celebrate the Baisakhi festival.
  • The troops surrounded the gathering under orders from General Dyer and blocked the only exit point and opened fire on the unarmed crowd.
  • According to official British Indian sources, 379 were identified dead, and approximately 1,100 were wounded. Indian National Congress, on the other hand, estimated more than 1,500 were injured, and approximately 1,000 were killed. But it is precisely known that 1650 bullets were fired into the crowd.
  • Gandhi gave up the title of Kaiser-i-Hind, bestowed by the British for his work during the Boer War. Gandhi was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of total violence and withdrew the movement on April 18, 1919.
  • According to the historian, A.P.J Taylor, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre was the “decisive moment when Indians were alienated from British rule*’.

The Hunter Committee of Inquiry

  • On October 14, 1919, the Government of India announced the formation of the Disorders Inquiry Committee, which came to be more widely and variously known as the Hunter Committee/Commission
  • The purpose of the commission was to “investigate the recent disturbances in Bombay, Delhi and Punjab, about their causes, and the measures taken to cope with them’.
  • There were three Indians among the members, namely, Sir Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad, Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University and advocate of the Bombay High Court; Pandit Jagat Narayan, lawyer and Member of the Legislative Council of the United Provinces; and Sardar Sahibzada Sultan Ahmad Khan, lawyer from Gwalior State.
  • Dyer is reported to have explained his sense of honour by saying, “I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself.”
  • The government had passed an Indemnity Act for the protection of its officers. The “white washing bill" as the Indemnity Act was called, was severely criticised by Motilal Nehru and others.
  • In the House of Commons, Churchill (no lover of Indians) condemned what had happened at Amritsar. He called it “monstrous”.
  • A former prime minister of Britain, H.H. Asquith called it “one of the worst outrages in the whole of our history”.
  • The honouring of Dyer by the priests of Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar, was one of the reasons behind the intensification of the demand.
  • Congress View-The Indian National Congress appointed its own non-official Committee and put forward its own view.
The document Spectrum Summary: Emergence of Gandhi - Notes | Study History for UPSC CSE - UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course History for UPSC CSE.
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