Mass mobilization of public and direct action

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The Indian Independence movement is one of the large scale nationalist movements that the history has ever seen. Of all the leaders of the Indian national movement, Gandhi and Bose had enormously contributed to the causes of and probably helped in making it a big success. The strategies used by both the leaders varied consistently. While Gandhi advocated peace and non-violence, Bose resorted to militant nationalism. Each followed their own path, but their goal was singular. Gandhi was a leader of the Indian National Congress rising in ranks to become a revered leader of the whole nation. Gandhi’s experience in South Africa as a lawyer helped him when he got back to India and decided to participate in the freedom movement. Bose initially worked with Gandhi in the Congress. He was the leader of the Bengal Congress twice and due to conflicts within the ranks, he had to quit and later began his resistance by forming an army of men and women to fight against the British. His army was initially called the Forward Bloc and later renamed as the Indian National Army. Their relentless struggle finally led to Indian Independence and Gandhi desired to establish a self-rule the nation without depending on anybody and he preferred the traditional form of rule. Bose envisioned India as an independent and industrious nation replete with all the technological advances, which Gandhi detested. Both leaders did not live long enough to breathe the air of freedom. Both leaders had their own vision of single and Independent India, but due to circumstances India was actually divided into two nations and thus Pakistan was born. The legacy of Congress and Gandhi exists even today and has a considerable influence on the present day Indian politics. Bose still lives forever in the minds of countless Indian men and women.


I declare that no portion of the work referred to in the dissertation has been submitted in support of an application for another degree or qualification of this or any other university or other institute of learning.


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Indian independence movement is one of the biggest mass movements that the history has ever witnessed and it made the mighty British empire to re-evaluate their decision of colonizing the nations of the world. The nationalist movement has been an important force during the early nineteenth and twentieth century. When speaking about Indian nationalism Dietmar Rothermund writes: “It originated in the vision of those Indians who had learnt to look at India from a new point of view after experiencing the political, educational and missionary impact of the West. It was nurtured by the increasing opposition to the autocratic rule of the alien colonial power.”1 It is easy to observe that the feeling of nationalism was precipitated by the fact that Indians felt that their religion, culture and tradition had been deeply penetrated and threatened by the British and this coupled with various political tensions prompted the people of Indian sub-continent to mass movement and direct action against the Raj. The national movement brought the various groups of people from different parts of India who were either disagreeing among themselves or fighting against each other into organizing a co-ordinated movement, which in turn made the British to leave India.
Thus, the Indian national movement began and slowly started challenging the British empire in one mode after another until it culminated with an independence and a partition. Of all the leaders who had contributed to the Indian national movement, there were some who are so famous than the rest. In my dissertation, I would like to focus upon two different leaders of the nationalist movement who took different paths and yet their goal was similar. One is Gandhi who is popularly known as Mahatma (a great soul) and the other one is Subhas Chandra Bose who is popularly called as Netaji (great leader). My key research question would be to explore their contribution to the Indian national movement and what significance does it have in the modern Indian politics. I shall approach the two key questions posed by adopting the following methods:

  1. Contextualizing the political scenario in the nineteenth and twentieth century when Gandhi and Bose made entry into politics.

  2. Comparing and contrasting the political ideologies of both men.

  3. Analyzing the mass-mobilization of the public and direct action strategies used by Gandhi and Netaji.

  4. Examining the culmination of the Indian Independence struggle and its aftermath (also examining the influence of these two men in today’s politics).

In the introduction part, I would like to analyze the different ‘phases’ of nationalism as suggested by Dietmar Rothermund. As the feelings of nationalism and the nationalist movement itself was a gradual process, I humbly state that this analysis is necessary to understand the implications of the mighty Indian Independence struggle. The Independence movement itself is large and many have laid down their lives valiantly to achieve what they desired. Their aims were one and the same, but the technique adopted by each and every one of them is different. Gandhi and Bose who hailed from two different areas in India fought for one reason – Independence. I shall now move on to introduce the political climate in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to get a better view of the national movement.

Different stages of the Indian national movement
Deietmar suggests that the Indian nationalist movement2 could be classified into different stages or phases. The first phase of the nationalism began in those areas where they had more access to British education than any other parts of India. Those areas were Calcutta and Bombay. The elite classes of Bengal or the Bhadralok (respectable people) often worked as the East India Company’s advisors and those who were shrewd enough to adapt to the rule of the Raj found that it was more profitable than the Muslim rule3. There was however, one major problem. They accepted the rule but they faced trouble with the missionary activities of the Raj. They had limited options available. They either voiced their views vehemently against the Raj like Radhakanta Deb who went on to support the cause of Hinduism or like Derozio and his followers who believed in ‘patriotic liberalism.’4 Early nationalists like Raja Ram Mohan Roy believed in a radical change of the society which made the later nationalists think and even acted as a catalyst towards the change. Even though the land of Bengal had many great thinkers it was still a land undivided then – a volatile mixture of government servants and European businessmen. When considering Bomaby, it was totally a different case as it had come under the dominance of the British rule much earlier than the area of Maharashtra itself, as it served as a major port for the Raj. The land of Maharashtra held Marathi as their official language and they voiced their views even more forcefully than the Bhadraloks of Bengal. This area was dominated by a minority, but powerful group of people known as the Chitpavan Brahmins who neither thought that it was a respite from the Muslim rule, nor were they friendly towards the Raj. The Maharashtrian hinterland had Parsis as well who thrived as either working as collaborators with the British or engaging in profitable businesses. They matched the Bhadraloks of Bengal in their ingenuity. Though Bombay could not match the elite classes of Bengal they proved to be equals with them because of there terse criticisms and ferocity. In the year 1849, Gopal Hari Deshmukh who wrote under the pen name Lokhitwadi wrote in his journal about American democratic movement and went on to say that India should follow the footsteps of America5 in expelling the British. Surprisingly, these statements were taken lightly, ignored or looked upon with mild curiosity by the British and there were no stronger reactions from their side. If it had been the case in the later years, it would tantamount to sedition. But the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 changed the whole scenario and made the British Raj to observe and consider every single activity closely only to realize that the Indian society is undergoing a major change.
Gradually, the feelings of nationalism began to show up and it so happened that during 1870’s there was a great famine in India. There were strife among the landlords and their tenants due to the money owed to peasants, angry protests for the civil service jobs, and huge criticisms for the British revenue policy in India. Adding up to all these problems there was an outcry of the British exploitation of funds and wasteful expenditure towards railways and frontier wars. This could be termed as the second outburst (phase) of nationalist feelings when there was a huge competition for land among the landowners and this increased the tension even more. The landlords took advantage of the existing law and started to exploit peasants who could not understand the law clearly. They either became bankrupt or permanently indebted to their landlords. The British Raj had to make a quick decision to control the civil unrest by dropping down the laissez-faire policy, which made those who had prospered earlier unhappy. The acting of British Raj as an arbitrator towards the landowner and peasants made them to gain more control over the public. Another important issue was the growing controversies among the appointment of Indians in civil services as more and more educated people were qualified and awaited placement. All these issues acted as a central point for criticisms and it slowly started spreading throughout India. The people who protested against the British in the second phase were those who were born during 1840’s and received a good quality education as per the standards set by Macaulay and the Sepoy Mutiny served as a boyhood reminder for them. They were elite and many of them were employed in the municipal councils or were either skilful journalists, participated in the political meetings, held campaigns in London and even founded the Indian National Congress. The groups which operated in the second phase are similar to that of the first phase like the Bhadraloks, Chitpavans and the Parsis. The second phase saw more activity in other parts of the area as well. Tamil Brahmins from Madras were more dominant now and in the Northern India Brahmins from Kashmir emerged as powerful spokesmen for Indian nationalism. There were protests against the dominant Urdu language over Hindi and the founder of Arya Samaj, Dayanand Saraswati took the protests to the region of Punjab itself by advocating cultural values with a mix of certain Western philosophies. All these activities culminated with the councils reform act of 1892 which admitted several members into the Governor General’s legislative council. As Dietmar puts it, though some of them were deeply absorbed with the activities of the council, some saw it as a clear demarcation towards the impending nationalist movement against the Raj.
The next phase (third) of nationalists was the ‘rough type’ who believed that the former generation were either too soft or acted as a stooge for the British Raj. They were young and were born during the 1870’s who thought of bringing a cultural revivalism of the Hindu tradition. Some of the “young revolutionaries roamed through rural India in the garb of holy men they did not make much headway with the common people, but they managed to establish conspiratorial links with others of their kind.”6 The implied meaning shall now be obvious. Though the nationalists were young and made no further progress with others, they somehow found ways to establish connections with their own kind in order to revolt against the British. This short phase ended with the assassination of two British officers during 1897 in Poona. The literary castes from the regions of Bengal, Maharashtra and Punjab were more active during the phase. The Bhadraloks of Bengal protested during the partition of Bengal in 1905. They were genuinely disturbed and voiced their views aggressively. The Land Alienation Act of Punjab made the situation even worse. The elite communities of Lahore felt that the assertion of ownership of their land should be made now more than ever, as they believed that this act deprived them of their status as landowners. They agitated violently when the Canal Colonies Bill was introduced in the year 1907. Unable to face the challenge posed by the Indians some of the leading nationalist leaders were deported. One of them was Lala Lajpat Rai. The partition of Punjab and Bengal saw the rise of Muslims eventually gaining more power and there were communal tensions in these two areas. Lala Lajpat Rai suggested that Punjab be partitioned to Hindu and Muslim provinces to ease the tension as early as 1924. Communal tensions were seen on other areas as well, especially in Maharashtra where eventually lower caste groups began dominating and there was a dissent among the prominent Chitpavan Brahmins. The dominance of the Raj and the continuing dissent among the Hindus and Muslims and the ideas of liberation among the minds of the elites marked this phase of nationalism and the road was set for major political action.
The final phase of nationalism saw a rise of very different kinds of nationalist leaders who had different approaches. The most popular among the leaders is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who was a Gujarati and was born into a strict family of Vaishnava (followers of Vishnu) tradition. He was a contemporary of the early nationalist leaders but the political experience he gained in South Africa made him experiment the same strategy in India, which he had employed in South Africa. The policy is called the non-cooperation or passive resistance. He made an announcement to the public that he will help gaining Swaraj (self-ruling) within a year and his campaign after the end of the first world war was not very successful. There were some mistakes in his campaign and one of the major issues was an attempt to establish Hindu-Muslim unity and the Khilafat (the rulership of Islam) movement made his campaign not so successful.7 The repercussions of the campaign had a striking effect upon many. Those who had participated in the campaign felt that they had been religiously transformed and even had a change in their style of dress, speech and action. Apart from his Home region, many new regions now started supporting Gandhi including Untied Provinces, Bihar, the Hindi hinterland and even Madras. Punjab, Maharashtra and Bengal continued to support only reluctantly as they had no choice after having decided to protest the new constitutional reforms and to boycott the upcoming elections. When the campaign ended in 1922, Gandhi was regarded with respect by most of the people. He was regarded as one of the successful fundraisers of Congress which elevated him even higher among the ranks. The rise of new leaders made Gandhi less popular and with the famous civil disobedience campaign of 1930-32, he became more famous again. In his famed Salt March he recruited lots of young Indians who had not previously a part of the campaign and also recruited some non-Brahmins as a part of the campaign. He tried to showcase the social issues prevalent in the society, especially untouchability. While some of his former Muslim allies of the Khilafat movement openly resented his acts because the Muslims were allegedly trying to find someone from the lower caste to highlight the discriminatory acts of the upper caste Hindus. By employing the non-Brahmins he never gave a chance to them in the first place to cry murder.8
Another leader who was gaining popularity in Bengal was Subhas Chandra Bose. He was born in 1897 when the British were at their peak and it was also an important year for them because of the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Subhas was born in an elite family of the Boses’ who held top posts in pre-British India during the Muslim rule.9 Bose was an ardent follower of Vivekananda and during his school time he allegedly attacked one of his teachers for passing indecent comments upon Indians. Bose completed his education in India and came to England for the ICS examination. He came fourth and was in a dilemma as to rebel against the Raj or not. He chose to be a freedom fighter. He started to work with C.R. Das by resigning from the ICS. The increased differences between Gandhi and Bose regarding the non-coperation movement and his strategies made Das to quit later and start Swaraj party in Bengal with Bose as one of his aides. In the Calcutta Corporation elections of 1924, Subhas and Sarat Bose won two-thirds of the seats and Das became the Mayor and Subhas, Chief Executive Officer. He worked in the office for some time and after Das’s untimely death in 1925, his most revered Guru, he became desolate. Gandhi, by now, had selected Nehru as his successor in politics and desired that he take over Congress after him. Bose had only a little time to react as he was still recuperating from the death of Das. It all started in 1926 when the authorities’ refused to provide money for Bose and his friends to celebrate Saraswathi Puja. His religious nationalism began to show and he started protesting against it. He was jailed and began his protest inside the jail by fasting with his fellow inmates. When his hunger strike turned serious the authorities were forced to release him from jail due to his serious health condition. After he regained his health he entered politics only to see that there was a huge schism in politics and marked differences in Bengal which was not as the one envisioned by Das. He was in loggerheads with Gandhi regarding his approaches in politics. For instance, in 1928 when Birkenhead taunted that Indian’s are not capable of making their own constitution, Gandhi and other political leaders started making their political reports. It came to be known as the (Motilal) Nehru report. It stated that the electorates for all communities remained common and the ultimate authority vested with Congress. Bose and the younger Nehru were against it and decided to voice their views. Bose desired for an independent state and political action. But finally the proposal was unanimously accepted with the threatening of Gandhi to retire from politics if this proposal was not accepted.10 This made Bose to change his mode of approach, quit from Congress, start INA also known as the Indian National Army and organize an armed conflict against the British.

Chapter – 1
Part – I
Introduction to the nationalist movement in Bengal
Any nationalist movement has a beginning. Indian national movement is a by-product of sustained and organized (sometimes dis-organized) efforts of the political leaders. Leonard Gordon observes that two generations have at least passed before the rise of Gandhi, Chittaranjan Das and Bose. Early nationalists, he writes, were active during the period from 1876-1904 and the most notable Bengalis of this period were Romesh Chandra Dutt, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Syed Ameer Ali. They are the first generation nationalists and they set a stage for the later Bengali nationalists. The second generation nationalists were noted extremists and they were active during the period from 1905-1917. The most famous among them were Aurobindo Ghose (who later became an ascetic in Pondicherry) and Narendraneth Bhattacharya also known as M.N. Roy. The third generation nationalism began with the rise of Mahatma Gandhi as one of the top members of the Indian National Congress. Before I move on to the political strategies, mass mobilization and political action of Gandhi and Bose, I would like to sketch how the feelings of nationalism had their roots in Bengal during the early nineteenth century and how it snowballed into a mighty national movement in the later part of the twentieth century. Since Calcutta was an important province during the British regime, I shall focus on the same.
From the years 1773 to 1912, Calcutta served as the capital of British India and it became an important industrial and commercial centre. Export goods came into Calcutta from northern and eastern parts of India and goods from USA, Europe and other Asian states were carried to Calcutta and then to other parts of Bengal. “The European inhabitants of the city, ignoring Kipling’s gloomy caricature, took great pride in their metropolis as the second city of the British Empire.”11 Western education became more common in these areas and indignation grew among Bengalis during the British rule. Bruce McCully describes: “The employment difficulties of the small educated class of Upper India led them to resent the competition of domiciled Bengalis who were stigmatized as foreigners. The ensuing struggle for positions in public service provoked considerable ill-will and jealousy between the two classes. Bengalis, in turn, protested that competition within their own province had driven them to seek employment in other provinces and regions.”12 It could clearly be clearly seen that there were in fact more people from outside the province of Bengal and it lead to dissent among the people. Bengalis were also responsible for founding the organizations like Brahmo Samaj which united all the Bengalis who lived in different parts of India. Agra and Assam was separated from the constituency of Bengal during 1836 and 1874 respectively. Because Bengal was at its height of its Imperial power, the government was kept weak. Governmental operations carried on elsewhere in India like Bombay and Madras were only slowly handed over to the Bengal government and thus making the functioning slower and weaker in its ability to gain information through the nineteenth century.
An interesting fact to be noted is that there was a belief that many Englishmen had Bengali characteristics. Leonard Gordon says that “Englishmen found resemblances or contrasts to themselves in the Indians they encountered, and also, in the course of time, formulated categories to classify the Indians they had to deal with. Eventually these categories came to serve certain practical functions, such as aiding in the selection of Indians to serve in the army. One general typology which the English commonly used in the nineteenth century was a dichotomy between the martial and the nonmartial races. The British reserved admiration for the fiercer fighters and abler soldiers among the Indians.”13 It could be observed that the British likened themselves to Bengalis’ just because they happened to find that Bengalis had a character of their own. The English never spared the non-martial race. They treated them with contempt and never minced words. For instance, Luke Scrafton, an eighteenth century official of the East India Company in Bengal wrote: “The Gentoos of the lower provinces are a slight made people. Rice is their chief food. It seems to afford but poor nourishment; for strong robust men are seldom seen among them…..Thus the spring of life is but of short duration, and the organs decay before the faculties of the mind can attain to any perfection. Is nature then deficient? .....We must rather look for it in that early indulgence in venereal pleasures, their excessive abstemiousness, their sedentary way of life, and in Bengal and the conquered provinces, in the dejected state of their minds, oppressed with the tyranny of their conquerors. No wonder then, that with such customs, such bodies, and such minds, they fall an easy prey to every invader.”14
Thomas Macaulay who came to Bengal in the later part of the eighteenth century to serve in the governor-general’s council and later became a Law Member and member of the Committee on Public Instruction writes, “The physical organization of the Bengalee is feeble even to effeminacy. He lives in constant vapour bath. His pursuits are sedentary, his limbs delicate, his movements languid. During many ages he has been trampled upon by men of bolder and more hardy breeds. Courage, independence, veracity, are qualities to which his constitution and his situation are equally unfavourable. His mind bears a singular analogy to his body. It is weak even to helplessness for purposes of manly resistance; but its suppleness and its tact move the children of sterner climates to admiration not unmingled with contempt…..What the horns are to the buffalo, what the paw is to the tiger, what the sting is to the bee, what beauty, according to the old Greek song, is to woman, deceit is to the Bengalee. Large promises, smooth excuses, elaborate tissues of circumstantial falsehood, chicanery, perjury, forgery, are the weapons, offensive and defensive, of the people of the Lower Ganges.”15 Thus, according to the Company’s view, Bengalis’ were weak, effeminate, and morally corrupt and ineffectual individuals until the elite class of English-educated Bengalis’ emerged at the later part of the nineteenth century. According to the report by Hunter Commission documenting the professions of the University of Calcutta graduates:
“By 1882 western education, with the affiliating university as its guardian, had fully taken root in India, the most completely in Bengal. The university degree had become the accepted object of ambition, the passport to distinction in the public services and in the learned professions. Of the 1,589 students who obtained arts degrees in the University of Calcutta between 1857 and 1882, 526 had in 1882 entered the public service, 581 the legal profession, and 12 had become doctors; the 407 who remained were, no doubt, largely employed as teachers in the colleges and the high schools…..A university career had obviously become the best career for the sons of the bhadralok to follow; and already the social value of western education was reflected in the fact that a man who had taken his degree, or even only passed the entrance examination of the University, had a definitely improved value in the marriage-market. Western education had made its way into the social system.”16
We could observe that the standard of Bengalis’ have become significantly higher as far as their social status is concerned, by the nineteenth century especially after the introduction of English education. There was a widespread notion among the writers of the nineteenth century that Muslims were lagging behind in their educational level than Hindus since the former were traditionally educated in Persian, Arabic and Urdu as laid down by their scriptures. Only a few Muslims went on to study Arts and Sciences of the West. Aristocratic Muslims looked down at the Bengali language even though the common language of interaction was Bengali among the people of the region, whether the person is a Hindu or a Muslim. In the year 1871, “Muslims constituted 32.2 percent of Bengal’s population, but only 14.4 percent of the enrollment in schools and 4 percent in the colleges.”17 Muslim education was still backward when compared to Hindu education when the report was presented by the Calcutta University Commission. It states:
“While the Bengali Muhamadan is generally anxious that his community should reap the full benefits of secular education, he is not prepared to take the benefits at the price of any real sacrifice of Islamic tradition or custom…..The feeling of the Mussalman is tinged with a not unnatural pride. His traditional culture is the culture which was evolved during the great days of Islam…..It is something for a boy in a remote village in Eastern Bengal to find that he is following the same line of study as that taught in the Azhar Mosque in Cairo.”18
This dilemma regarding Muslims could be observed in the context of the activity of Hindus of Bengal and their contribution in politics during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as there were prominent numbers of Hindus than Muslims. They were a minority present among the elite classes of Bengal. The establishment of Calcutta University in the late 1850’s and the permission to allow Indians to appear for the Bar exams and the ICS changed the scenario altogether. After the proclamation of Queen Victoria in 1858 to allow people of all races to appear (equal opportunity) for the ICS examinations, many of the Indians started entering the ICS and secured top grades and competed with Europeans. Many of them started their own law firms and some even sat as judges of the Calcutta High Court. Despite all these prevalent social situations, the feelings of nationalism slowly began to emerge in the nineteenth century Bengal. Prominent men like Rabindranath Tagore wrote that, “We have no word for ‘Nation’ in our language. When we borrow this word from other people, it never fits us.”19 Words such as ‘rashtra’ or ‘desh’ were used by the people towards the end of the nineteenth century and going to one’s desh would mean that the person is going back to his own town, village or district. Tagore often used the word ‘deshnayak’ in his essays. Bengalis slowly started to boycott foreign goods and finally the stage was set for an impending political action.

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