Indian National Congress-INC

Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation

 Civil Disobedience and After
Gandhiji started the civil disobedience movement on 12 March 1930 with the Dandi March. Along with 78 followers, he walked from Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi, a village near the sea coast in Gujarat, a distance of 375 kilometres. Hundreds of government officials resigned in the villages through which he passed. Reaching Dandi, on 6 April, he picked up a handful of salt—a symbolic act of defying the government monopoly on salt and therefore, an act of protest against British authority. He declared, “I regard this rule as a curse. 
I am out to destroy this system of Government. …Sedition has become my religion. Ours is a non-violent battle. We are not to kill anybody but it is our dharma to see that the curse of this Government is blotted out.” Spreading swiftly, the movement saw  people defying the salt laws all across the country. 
Forest laws were defied in Maharashtra, Karnataka, and the Central Provinces, and people refused to pay the chaukidari tax in eastern India. Hartals and demonstrations were organized and people boycotted foreign goods. People refused to pay taxes, rent or  land revenue and offered satyagraha. A notable feature of this movement was that a large number of women participated in it. They offered satyagraha, picketed shops selling foreign goods or liquor and actively participated in demonstrations and processions.

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 In the North-West Frontier Province, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan organized the Pathans into Khudai Khidmatgars, popularly called Red Shirts, a non-violent body for fighting colonial rule. 
In Peshawar, two platoons of soldiers disobeyed orders by refusing to open fire on the non-violent demonstrators. This proved that nationalism had spread into the Indian army which was one of the main pillars of the colonial rule in India. In Nagaland, Rani Gaidilieu led an anti-colonial rebellion. She was captured in 1932 and sentenced to  imprisonment for life. She was released only in 1947 when India achieved independence. 
The government responded with its usual repressive measures—lathi charges, firing on unarmed demonstrators, arrests of leaders and satyagrahis. The Congress was declared illegal and strict controls imposed on the press. Official estimates gave 110 persons as killed and over 300 wounded in police firings. South India witnessed a wave of repression where men were beaten up by the police just for wearing Gandhi caps. 
Gandhi-Irwin Pact
Meanwhile, in 1930, the first Round Table Conference was organized in London to discuss the report of the Simon Commission but the Congress boycotted it. This brought the government to negotiations with the Congress in order to persuade it to attend it.

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 In March 1931, Gandhiji, negotiated on behalf of the Congress, and Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, came to a settlement known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact by which the government agreed to release non-violent political prisoners, allowed the people to make salt for domestic usage and  to peacefully picket the shops selling foreign cloth and liquor. With this, the Congress suspended the civil disobedience movement and participated in the Second Round Table Conference. 
The Congress met soon thereafter at Karachi. The left-leaning younger leaders of the Congress were not too happy with the Gandhi-Irwin pact as it meant suspension of the movement. There was also a grave disappointment that the death sentence for Bhagat Singh had been carried out despite Gandhiji’s appeal to the Viceroy for its commutation to life imprisonment. 
A resolution was passed at the Karachi session of the Congress in March 1931 stating that, “while dissociating itself from and disapproving of political violence in any shape or form” it admired “the bravery and sacrifice” of the three martyrs.  Gandhiji’s concept of satyagraha involved giving opportunities to the opponent for honest change of heart. He also believed that a mass movement demanded sacrifices from the people and that it could not continue endlessly.  Thus, it was imperative that a phase of mass struggle be followed by a phase of negotiations. The Congress approved this pact under Gandhiji’s persuasion.

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 The Viceroy having to negotiate with Gandhiji as an equal was seen as a major advance for the Congress whereby the colonial government was forced to accept the Congress as a legitimate representative of the Indian people. 
As agreed in the pact Gandhiji went to England in September 1931 to attend the Second Round Table Conference but he could not persuade the government to grant freedom on the basis of immediate Dominion Status to India. 
Civil Disobedience Movement: The Second Phase
In the meantime, the Great Depression of the 1930s had hit Indian agriculture also severely. Peasants found that the revenue and rent demands were becoming tougher to cope with because of the falling agricultural prices. When Gandhiji returned from England, he gave a call for resuming the civil disobedience movement. In UP, the Congress agitated for rent reduction and preventing eviction of peasants from their lands. In December 1931, Congress started a no-rent, no-tax campaign and Jawaharlal Nehru was soon arrested. In NWFP, Khudai Khidmatgars led the peasants against the high land revenue demands leading to the arrest of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Peasant movements were initiated in other states like Bihar, Andhra, Bengal and Punjab. 
The government, working under the new Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, now unleashed a wave of repression in order to completely crush the Congress. On 4 January 1932, Gandhiji was arrested along with other leaders of the Congress.

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 The Viceroy having to negotiate with Gandhiji as an equal was seen as a major advance for the Congress whereby the colonial government was forced to accept the Congress as a legitimate representative of the Indian people. 
As agreed in the pact Gandhiji went to England in September 1931 to attend the Second Round Table Conference but he could not persuade the government to grant freedom on the basis of immediate Dominion Status to India. 
Civil Disobedience Movement: The Second Phase
In the meantime, the Great Depression of the 1930s had hit Indian agriculture also severely. Peasants found that the revenue and rent demands were becoming tougher to cope with because of the falling agricultural prices. When Gandhiji returned from England, he gave a call for resuming the civil disobedience movement. In UP, the Congress agitated for rent reduction and preventing eviction of peasants from their lands.
In December 1931, Congress started a no-rent, no-tax campaign and Jawaharlal Nehru was soon arrested. In NWFP, Khudai Khidmatgars led the peasants against the high land revenue demands leading to the arrest of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Peasant movements were initiated in other states like Bihar, Andhra, Bengal and Punjab.

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 The government, working under the new Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, now unleashed a wave of repression in order to completely crush the Congress. On 4 January 1932, Gandhiji was arrested along with other leaders of the Congress. Ordinances were issued to govern the country and normal administration suspended. Police atrocities reached a new high: over a lakh of satyagrahis were arrested, lands and properties of many other were confiscated, nationalist literature was banned and the nationalist press was again gagged.
Elections and Formation of Ministries 
under the Government of India Act, 1935
While the movement had been going on, the Third Round Table Conference met in England in 1932 in the absence of Congress leaders. However, the Muslim League participated in this as it had done in the earlier Conferences. The political developments of the preceding years led to the introduction of the Government of India Act of 1935. This act established a new federation in India based on the union of British Indian provinces and the Princely States. Provinces were to be governed through provincial autonomy. A federal legislature was to be set up in which the States had representation through nomination by the rulers.

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 Merely 14 per cent of the people of India were given the right to vote. Moreover, the legislature did not have any power over defence and foreign affairs and the Governor-General had special authority over other subjects. In the provinces, popularly elected ministers would control all departments of governance but the Governor had special powers over them as well as the police and civil services. The nationalist leaders were dissatisfied with these limited reforms since the power would still be concentrated in the hands of British governors. 
The provincial part of the Act was put into practice and elections were announced. The Congress, after a lot of debate, decided to contest these elections with the stated objective of showing the inadequacy of the Act. The Congress election campaign was successful in most of the provinces. Out of a total of 11 provinces, Congress ministries were formed in 7 and the Congress formed coalition ministries in 2 more provinces later. Only Bengal and Punjab had non-Congress ministries: the Muslim League formed a coalition with the Krishak Praja Party in Bengal and the Unionist Party governed in Punjab. 
The Congress ministries in provinces worked hard for the betterment of the people. They passed many laws in their provinces which benefited the masses. Civil liberties of the people were safeguarded, restrictions on the press were revoked and the other radical organisations of peasants, workers and students.

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 Many political prisoners were released and the powers of the police restrained. For peasants, they reduced rent, prevented eviction by law and gave protection to peasants in debt. Trade unions functioned freely and were able to secure better conditions for workers. They promoted public health, education, khadi and village industries and the people gained a new confidence in the Congress. 
Muslim Mass Contact Programme
The Congress decided to initiate a Muslim mass contact programme in the CWC meeting held in February 1937. It was initiated by Nehru in order to reach out to the Muslim masses as the election results of 1937 had shown that the influence of the Congress on them had become weak. Many Mass Contact Committees were formed and their main work was to enrol Muslims as members of the Congress. Prominent Muslim Congressmen like Maulana Madani, K.M. Ashraf and Sajjad Zaheer addressed meetings in Muslim-majority areas.
Congress pamphlets were brought out in Urdu. In western UP, the programme was successful in increasing Muslim membership of the Congress. The Muslim League felt threatened by this programme and started a counter-campaign accusing the Congress of oppressing the Muslims.

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 Socialism and Congress
The period from the late 1920s to the mid-1930s saw the resurgence of socialism in India. The economic slump had exposed the weaknesses of the capitalist world. However, during these years, the socialist Soviet Union continued its industrial growth. As such, many young leaders, peasants and workers in India were attracted more and more towards socialism. Jawaharlal Nehru popularized the vision of a socialist India where, along with political freedom, economic and social emancipation would bring about equality in all the spheres of life. 
The Congress demonstrated its faith in his vision by electing him president in 1929, 1936 and 1937, and Subhas Bose in 1938 and 1939. At the Lucknow Congress in 1936, Nehru asked the Congress to accept socialism as its goal and through its agenda of economic emancipation, win over the Muslim masses from the communal leadership of the Muslim League.
 At the Karachi session of the Congress in 1931, a resolution ensuring the economic upliftment of the masses from exploitation along with fundamental right of freedom and other civic rights had already been  passed. The resolution guaranteed equality before the law, elections based on universal adult franchize, free and compulsory primary education, rent reduction and relief from debts for peasants. 

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 For the workers, it ensured minimum wages, limited hours of work, protection of women workers, right to organize unions and state ownership of main industries. The Faizpur session of the Congress in 1936 passed some more radical resolutions. The Election Manifesto of 1936 also ensured similar measures to reduce rent and revenue demands. 
In 1938, the Congress set up a Planning Committee under the chairmanship of Jawaharlal Nehru. Other leaders including Gandhiji also argued for the intervention of public sector in running certain industries. In 1945, the Congress Working Committee adopted a resolution for the abolition of landlordism and the granting of land to the tiller.
This was also the time for the consolidation of the Indian capitalist class within the national movement. They became more active to counter the growing leftist orientation of the Congress, but they did not go over to the side of imperialism. Nor did they attempt to form a political party of their own. Some individual members of this group like Jamnalal Bajaj, Lala Shankar Lal, Vadilal Mehta et al., were members of the Congress. Others gave financial help to the Congress movement like Ambalal Sarabhai, G.D. Birla and Walchand Hirachand.

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 The Communist Party also grew under the leadership of P.C. Joshi after 1935. This was the period when the policy of Communists was changed to that of the United Front with socialists, anti-fascists and ‘bourgeois’ led nationalist movements. Thus, Communist Party members now joined the Congress and accepted it as the main nationalist party. They occupied official positions within the Congress with 20 of them being in the All-India Congress Committee. In 1934, the Congress Socialist Party was founded by Narendra Deva and Jayaprakash Narayan. 
The Peasants and workers had been mobilized by the non-cooperation and civil disobedience movements. The economic depression had worsened their conditions because of a fall in agricultural prices and wages. As such, peasants and workers all over the country were demanding reduction in rents, revenues and relief from indebtedness.
Workers demanded better living conditions and higher wages and recognition of their trade unions. Many trade unions and Kisan Sabhas came up in different parts of the country like UP, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Kerala, Punjab, and Andhra Pradesh. The All-India Kisan Sabha was founded in 1936 with Sahajanand Saraswati as its president.

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 In 1939, at the Tripuri session of the Congress, Subhas Bose was elected president despite Gandhiji supporting the candidature of P. Sitaramayya. Bose wanted the Congress to move towards a mass struggle whereas Gandhiji and others were not convinced that the time was ripe.
Eventually, he resigned from this office and founded a new party within the Congress called Forward Bloc along with other left-wing followers in April 1939. During the 1930s, the influence of left-wing politics increased amongst students and the All India Students’ Federation and the All India Progressive Writers’ Association were also founded. By 1939, leftist influence was substantial within the Congress as well.
International Affairs 
Another significant development of the 1930s was Congress’s interest in international questions. Based on its opposition to the deployment of Indian troops in the extension of imperial control abroad, Congress foreign policy by now was firmly founded upon anti-imperialism. In February 1927, a Congress of Oppressed Nationalities was held in Brussels where political exiles and revolutionaries from colonies of Asia, Africa and Latin America met. The Congress was asked to plan their common struggle against imperialism. Nehru attended the Congress and was elected to the Executive Council of the League Against Imperialism that was founded at this Congress.

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 The Madras session of the Congress in 1927 had warned the British government that Indian people would not support any of its imperialist wars. During 1930s, the Congress opposed imperialism in all parts of the world. It also declared its opposition to fascism and nazism in Germany, Italy and Japan. The Congress declared that its sympathy lay with the countries such as Spain, Ethiopia and China which were victimized by the fascist nations. 
Communal Award
While Gandhiji was imprisoned in 1932, the British government announced the Communal Award which extended separate electorates to Depressed Classes who were also seen as a minority. Gandhiji reacted very strongly to this treatment of Depressed Classes as separate from Hindus. He said that grant of separate electorates would perpetuate untouchability. 
He was in favour of joint electorates and universal franchize. To protest against this divisive move, he undertook a fast unto death in prison. This garnered political support all over the country and led to the Poona Pact. According to this agreement, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar agreed to abandon separate electorates for Depressed Classes. However, the number of reserved seats for them in the provinces increased from 71 to 147 and to 18 per cent of the total at the Centre.

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 Dr. Ambedkar was a lawyer belonging to the Mahar caste of Maharashtra. He was educated in the US on a scholarship from the Maharaja of Baroda. By the late 1920s, he had emerged as a leader of the Depressed Classes. After the Poona Pact of 1932, he formed the Independent Labour Party in 1936 which sought to mobilize peasants and workers and contested the 1937 elections in Bombay and won a few seats. In 1942, he set up the All-India Scheduled Castes Federation. He was appointed to the Viceroy’s Executive Council in the 1940s. 
Other organisations working for the promotion of the interests of the Depressed Classes also emerged in Punjab, Bengal, UP and Bihar. In Punjab, the Ad-Dharmis allied with the pro-British Unionist Party; in Bengal, Namasudras too allied with the pro-British Krishak Praja Party. In UP, an organisation for Adi-Hindus was set up and in Bihar, Jagjivan Ram emerged as the most prominent Harijan leader associated with the Congress. 
He set up the Khetmazdoor Sabha and the Depressed Classes League. The main demands of these organizations were abolition of begar or forced labour, grant of rights to forest land, removal of legal provisions disallowing Depressed Classes from owning land. Gandhiji launched an anti-untouchability campaign after the Poona Pact which lasted for the next two years. Working from Satyagraha Ashram at Wardha, he devoted all his energies to opposing untouchability in all forms and practices. 

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 His famous Harijan Tour in the nine months from November 1933 to July 1934 covered 20,000 kilometres during which he collected money for the Harijan Sevak Sangh and campaigned against untouchability. During this campaign, he made speeches criticizing the malpractices in Hindu society. He argued that high-caste Hindus needed to do penance for the untold oppression of Harijans. 
Communal Politics
However, despite the Poona Pact, separate electorates for Muslims, which meant that Muslims voted separately for Muslim candidates, instituted by the Morley-Minto reforms in 1909, continued to be in force. The elections held in 1937 had been based on separate electorates for Muslims. This had fuelled tendencies towards political separatism. As far as election results were concerned, the Congress did not do very well in the seats reserved for minorities—Congress candidates won in 26 out of 482 Muslim seats and out of these 26 too, 15 were won in NWFP. 
The Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha also did not fare well. However, since the programme of the Congress had been radicalized in favour of peasants and workers, many of the landlords shifted allegiance to communal parties in order to promote their own interests and thus strengthened them. 

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 It was now that the Muslim League began to propagate the two-nation theory according to which Hindus and Muslims were seen to be two distinct nations within India who could never live together. They argued that the Muslims would constantly be dominated by the numerical majority of Hindus and any democratic electoral representative structure would be inherently biased against them.
 The presence of the right-wing Hindu communal parties like the Hindu Mahasabha who saw India as a Hindu country and denigrated Muslims as well as their past history in India also fuelled communal tendencies. They declared that Hindus were a separate nation and India was their country—an acceptance of the two-nation theory. Sangathan and Shuddhi movements came up among Hindus countered by Tanzim and Tabhligh movements among Muslims. The Hindu communal movements worked to prevent conversion to Islam whereas the Muslim movements tried to facilitate this. 
This led to the strengthening of minority fears about political and cultural domination by the majority. Since these sentiments were stronger in provinces where Muslims were in a minority like UP and Bihar, the Muslim League was also strong there. In Muslim-majority provinces like Punjab, Bengal and NWFP, Muslims felt more secure about themselves and here, ironically, the League remained weak. Also, these groups tended to support the British government politically and did not participate in the mass movements of the freedom struggle.

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 The nationalists opposed communal parties but were unable to contain their spread, eventually leading upto the partition of the country in 1947. Negotiations with Jinnah failed during the late 1940s since he demanded Congress acceptance of its being a Hindu party. This was impossible since Congress nationalists were committed to secularism and the notion that the Congress represented the entire people of India, irrespective of their religion, caste or language. 
Many Muslim leaders like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Abul Kalam Azad had been unwavering in their secularism and support to nationalist demands. After 1947, India was able to establish a secular polity but communalism in various forms continued to be a major concern for the country.

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