Rowlatt Act, 1919
In 1919, a new Act was passed by the British Government to give themselves greater power over the people. This Act was called the Rowlatt Act and was named after the Rowlatt Commission who had sent recommendations to the Imperial Legislative Council. This law was strongly opposed by the people of India because it gave the British government even more authority over them.
This new Act allowed the British to arrest and jail anyone they wished without trial, if they were thought to be plotting against the British. The Viceroy Government also had the power to silence the press.
Along with the other leaders of the Indian Revolution, Mahatma Gandhi was largely against this Act.
The Rowlatt Act sparked a large amount of anger with the leaders and common people of India. This however did not greatly affect the British as they were still able to keep control over the people.
To try and put an end to this, Gandhi and the other leaders called for a Hartal ( a time of fasting and suspension of work) to show the British the Indians’ discontent with their rule.
The Hartal was quickly called to an end by Gandhi when riots and violence broke out which went against Satyagraha, one of Gandhi’s major principals.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
The 1919 Amritsar massacre, known alternatively as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre after the Jallianwala Bagh (Garden) in the northern Indian city of Amritsar, was ordered by General R.E.H. Dyer.
On Sunday April 13, 1919, which happened to be ‘Baisakhi’, one of Punjab’s largest religious festivals, fifty British Indian Army soldiers, commanded by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, began shooting at an unarmed gathering of men, women, and children without warning.
Dyer marched his fifty riflemen to a raised bank and ordered them to kneel and fire. Dyer ordered soldiers to reload their rifles several times and they were ordered to shoot to kill. Official British Raj sources estimated the fatalities at 379, and with 1,100 wounded. Civil Surgeon Dr Williams DeeMeddy indicated that there were 1,526 casualties. However, the casualty number quoted by the Indian National Congress was more than 1,500, with roughly 1,000 killed.
During the First World War, Turkey fought against Britain as an ally of Germany. So, after Turkey’s defeat, the abolition of Khilafat was proposed. The proposal wounded the feelings of Indian Muslims. They organized a protest movement under the leadership of Khilafat leaders.
A deputation was given by the Khilafatists to the Viceroy whose reply was disappointing. Another deputation met Lloyd George in London experienced the same disappointment. ‘Khilafat Day’ was observed on 17 October 1919.
Soon, the movement was launched on an imposing scale. The Central Khilafat Committee organized an all-India general strike on 1 August 1920. The movement gathered momentum as many Pirs and Mullahs supported it. Gandhiji returned to the Viceroy the award of Kaisar-e-Hind which had been awarded by the British government for his war service. At the special session of the Congress held in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in September 1920, a resolution in favor of non-cooperation was passed.
In September 1921, the Ali brothers were arrested. Gandhiji suspended the non-cooperation movement after the Chauri Chaura incident. He was arrested in 1922. A few months after his arrest, the Caliph or the Sultan of Turkey was deposed of his power due to a revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha.
Non Cooperation Movement
The programme of “Non-violent Non-cooperation” included the boycott of councils, courts and schools, set up by the British and of all foreign cloth.
The British saw that the success of “non-cooperation” would paralyse their administration. Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy, tried to kill with ridicule “the most foolish of all foolish schemes”, which would “bring ruin to those who had any stake in the country”.
A number of eminent “moderate” politicians joined official critics in underlining the risks of mass non-cooperation as proposed by Gandhi.
That a political programme had no chance of success without an adequate organization to implement it, Gandhi had realized at the age of twenty-five, when he had founded the Natal Indian Congress to fight for the rights of Indians in Natal. The Indian National Congress, had, therefore, to be refashioned, if it was to prove an efficient instrument of non-violent non-cooperation.
Gandhi was swept to the top of Indian politics in 1919-20 because he had caught the imagination of the people. Among those who gave up their lucrative careers and queued up for prison under Gandhi’s leadership were Motilal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, C.R. Das, Vallabhbhai Patel, and C. Rajagopalachari.
From the autumn of 1920, the non-cooperation movement gathered momentum. The attitude of the Government at first was one of caution. It was reluctant to launch a drastic repression, as it did not want to alienate moderate Indian opinion. Soon after his arrival in India in April, 1921, Lord Reading, the new Viceroy, met Gandhi.
Gandhi was under increasing pressure from his adherents to launch a civil disobedience campaign. He proposed to proceed cautiously. His plan was to launch civil disobedience in one district; if it succeeded he proposed to extend it to the adjacent districts, and so on, until the whole of India was liberated.
But he gave a clear warning that if violence broke out in any form in any part of the country, the movement would lose its character as a movement of peace, “even as a lute would begin to emit notes of discord the moment a single string snaps.”
Chauri Chaura incident
Chauri Chaura came into prominence in 1922 when its inhabitants whole-heartedly participated in the Non-co-operation movement started by Gandhiji.
In February 1922 on hearing that the sub inspector of Chauri Chaura police-station had assaulted some of the Congress volunteers at Mundera Bazar, an infuriated mob assembled before the police-station, demanding an explanation from the guilty official. It ultimately resulted in a police firing killing 3 persons from the crowd and leaving several injured.
After the police had exhausted their ammunition and went inside the police-station, the enraged crowd challenged the policemen to come out of their den and on their paying no heed, it set fire to the police station in which 23 policemen including the station officer were burnt alive. Consequently, Gandhiji suspended the Non-co-operation movement.
Motilal Nehru and Chittaranjan Das were the founders of Swaraj Party. It was named as “Congress-Khilafat Swarajaya Party” in 1922.
The Swaraj Party (also Swarajya Party) claimed to be an integral part of the Congress. But it set up a separate organization under separate leadership of Chittaranjan Das (C.R. Das) and Motilal Nehru. The Swaraj Party accepted almost entire programme of the Congress.
- It decided to take part in the elections.
- The Swaraj Party declared that the national demand for self-government would be presented in councils.
- In case of the rejection of the demand of its elected members, their policy would be to uniformly and consistently obstruct within the councils.
- Gandhiji recognized the right of the Swarajists to pursue their ‘project’ of obstruction
The members of Swaraj Party did valuable work towards India’s struggle for Freedom. When the non-cooperation movement ended, the Swaraj Party kept the enthusiasm for the freedom struggle alive. They made diarchy unworkable.
Having entered into the legislature, the Swaraj Party created eagerness for parliamentary democracy among the people. They could establish Hindu-Muslim unity during the period. The obstruction put by the party in councils forced the government to appoint Simon Commission