I think we all read our histories in school. And some of us, who showed more interest in history than others, have read up from various other sou
First War of Independence?
We usually term 1857 revolt as First War of Independence. In the beginning it was called Sepoy Mutiny- that’s how British termed it. However, Indians wanted to see it in a different light and called it War of Independence. Was it really a war of
Not really. It was not even close to one actually. The way it started has nothing to do with
However, once the mutiny picked up, there was a widespread participation from many other soldiers and also from local rajahs and landlords. These rajahs and landlords were keen on bringing back their rule by throwing off British. They were neither keen on bringing
This movement was then taken up by Mughal-Empire-revivalists. These were those petty kings who wanted to bring back Mughal Empire so that they can have their share of the pie in ruling. This was more of a war where Indian feudals wanted to restore their power. It had no element of
The fact that India did not get Independence in 1857 was actually good for its people, in retrospect. If we had thrown off British right then, we would have gone back to having many kings and rajahs with independent kingdoms, and we wouldn’t have had opportunity to bring in a national movement that gave its people rights as citizens and modern institutions that safeguard their rights as citizens.
Indian National Congress
Few years later, Indian National Congress (INC) was formed with great support and help from some British people. During these initial days, Indian National Congress was completely an elite pastime. The members were intellectuals, coming from well-to-do families. INC was not a movement either; it was an organization that met once a year where intellectuals discussed issues from a podium. It was not a people’s movement nor did it involve the masses. If
Moreover, it did not include Muslims in those days. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had his own ideas about the role of Muslims in India (vis-a-vis British). He wanted to be friendly with British, because he saw them as somewhat equals, both being from ruler clan (first the Mughals, now the British). He expected special treatment for Muslims from British because of their earlier record of ruling
Entry of Gandhi
Only when Gandhi came onto the picture, did we see the actual people’s movement. What is so significant about Gandhi’s role is that he wanted to bring in revolution in India on many fronts, not just kicking out British, but bring untouchables into the mainstream, to bring women into the mainstream, to bring Muslims into the fight, to bring in self-respect in a common man, and teach him the duties of a citizen. [For example, he spent a great amount of time to teach Indians to clean up streets, to bring accountability and responsibility to its people and leaders, form a nation based on peace not based in hatred and violence, etc]
He wanted to see Indians capable of ruling ourselves fair and just when British were gone. He had strong suspicions on whether we were ready to rule ourselves.
The intervening years are quite important because he brought Muslims into the fold. Khilafat Movement which sounds so ridiculous now, was his way of bringing in Muslims into the people’s movement. If in the subsequent years, the talks with British failed, it was because Gandhi did not want to concede on the differences between Muslims and Hindus. He was against separate electorates, because he saw roots for division in it. He was bent on giving sops to Muslims so that they come together and fight. His fear, that Muslims having a separate agenda would dilute the cause and would also break up India, was clearly seen from many of his actions.
First Taste of Power
The fact that INC participated in one of the governing elections (during British rule) and had actually held power is significant because that allowed some of its leaders the taste of governance before
Nationalism and Non-violence
Another significant aspect of this movement is Gandhi’s insistence on non-violence. According to him, this country could not have been borne out of blood and iron. He saw too many cultures, too many languages, too many religions, too many castes, too many classes- too many differences in this country, and he couldn’t find a unique slogan for all them, except nationalism and non-violence, which could be applied to different kinds of people irrespective of their allegiance to a local identity. The first one (nationalism) gave a sense of reason to fight British and to stay united; the second one (non-violence) gave a sense of self-restraint to become more mature and responsible to be able to serve and govern
During 1920s, when some young nationalists, who got fed up with Gandhi’s delaying tactics, took to violent forms of protest, Gandhi felt the time was not ripe. Much to the dismay of so many ardent nationalists, he called off the movement designed to dislodge the British and secure the independence. Time and again Gandhi disappointed many leaders who wanted a quick route to
Rejection of other ideologies
Also, during this time,
Mature parting with British
Whether we like it or not, the decision to part with British on friendly terms was hallmark of that maturity, which Gandhi championed, wherein we accepted what happened in the past as consequence of those times, and looked towards future without rejecting the legacy and the past. We did not have to resort to breaking up their statues, their buildings and their idols; we did not have to reinvent our identity through breaking up idols or hating our masters. We smoothly transitioned into a mature young adult having been a rebel in its teens, eventually accepting the independence without having to hate the parents or the fathers.
This is what Gandhi envisioned and that’s what happened. Gandhi had high expectations from British. He did not hate them or found them repugnant. Instead he brought out that gentleman in British and negotiated with him, as man to man. To him, history was not a snapshot of few years, but a continuum in which we had different masters at different times. British happened to be those masters now. What was important to him was not overthrowing of British, but that we learn to rule ourselves, to know how diverse
If Gandhi failed, he failed when
Right set of leaders for new nation
Sardar Patel did not live long enough. Nehru, having gone through the troubled times that preceded Indian Independence, had a grand vision for
I see the period between 1857 and 1947 as a class struggle- a movement of its people, emancipation of the untouchables, lower caste and women, a struggle to deal with multiple identities in the modern world which put us in conflict with each other more often than in the past, a process of maturing where we didn’t have to settle the scores on the killing fields.
The Independence Movement is the story of our fight within- an inner struggle, maturing of a teen into an adult.