Nationalist Movements of India are a series of organized movements of the people of India against the oppressions of the British Empire. These movements were mass movements in which the members of the public themselves participated to raise questions against the tyranny of the British Empire. The Nationalist movements were also a part of the Indian Independence Movement. Though the movements failed in their larger objective of securing freedom for India, they sure played a vital role in uniting India across its length and breadth and fuelling the Indian National Movement. The movements were successful in inculcating Nationalism and Patriotism in Indian masses.
Before the Nationalist Movements
The only prominent Indian struggle against the foreign invaders before the advent of so-called nationalism was the Revolt of 1857. It was the first largest revolt for the independence of India; however, it was only confined to central and northern India.
There was a long-brewing resentment among the Indian origin soldiers of East India Company, due to their lower wages, discrimination in promotion and other factors.
This anger that was brewing since quiet a time got fuelled by the rumors that the cover of the new cartridges that the soldiers are supposed to bite from their teeth in order to load them, was made from cow fat. This was unacceptable by the upper caste soldiers in East India Company and they considered it a well-charted out plan to destroy their religion.
The Revolt of 1857 was initiated by a revolting sepoy (Indian foot soldier) in a military establishment at Barrackpore, West Bengal. A sepoy named Mangal Pandey attacked a British sergeant and also wounded latter’s assistant. Apparently Mangal Pandey was apprehended and was hanged for treason. Though the revolt at Meerut was immediately suppressed, it successfully fuelled a nationwide revolt.
Following the events at Barrackpore, Indian soldiers in Meerut in United Province revolted; breaking their ranks and marching towards Delhi on 10th May 1857. On the way they were joined by several Indian revolutionaries, swelling up in numbers.
In Delhi, they asked the then ruler Bahadur Shah II to lead the revolution, who agreed, though half-heartedly. Quickly the revolt gained the support of royal families and leaders like Tatia Tope, Nana Saheb, Maharani Lakshmi Bai, etc and spread to the whole of North India.
Up to a certain extent, the revolt was successful in uniting Indian masses and rulers against the British East India Company; however, unfortunately, the latter manages to successfully suppress the revolution by use of force.
Lack of leadership and no definite plan of action also were some of the shortcomings of revolutionary forces that led to their fast suppression. Nevertheless, the Revolt of 1857 was successful in inculcating nationalism into the large populace of central and northern India, which further sowed the seeds of nationalist movements a decade later.
Factors Aiding the Nationalist Movement
The Great Indian Revolution of 1857 played a significant role in laying the foundation of modern India. Several political and social events following the Revolt, further ingrained nationalism into Indian masses, initiating a series of nationalist movements. Some of the significant social and political changes that led to nationalist movements are discussed below.
1) Fall of the East India Company
Following the Revolt of 1857, the British Parliament took all the powers of East India Company to rule India in November 1858. With the end of East India Company and its rule, India was all set for a new era of social and political developments.
2) More Rights to Indian Masses
With the fall of East India Company, India came under the rule of the British Parliament. The United Kingdom had established Governor-General in India as its representative to rule directly over India. Further, rulers and people of India were promised equal treatment and rights under British rule.
3) More Representation in Government
Following establishing its rule over India, the British Government started recruiting more Indians into the government services in India. Indians start getting selected for prestigious civil services; though, for lower ranks.
4) Land Rights
The British stopped indiscriminate confiscation of land from rulers and Indian masses. This gave the people of India a new lease of life, as India is an agriculture-based economy, many depended on the land for their livelihood.
5) Religious Freedom
The British Government also stopped interfering in the religious matters of Indians and did nothing which could hurt their religious sentiments. British learned quickly from their past mistakes and took care to leave the religion aside.
6) Rise of India Middle Class
With more rights under the British government than in the East India Company, the Indian middle class saw a consistent growth period. The middle class now had better opportunities for education and job.
7) Growing Political Awareness
With more rights granted to them by the British Government, the people of India became more politically aware, this was a major factor behind the rise of nationalist movements in India.
8) Rise of Social and Religious Groups
The rise of several social and religious groups; further aided in uniting Indians and framing a nationalistic approach throughout the nation. Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, and Swami Vivekananda are some of the prominent religious and social gurus of that time.
Seeds of Indian Nationalist Movements
In the decades following the Revolt of 1857, the above-mentioned privileges/rights were granted to the people of India by the British Parliament. General masses of India became more politically aware and started citing their opinions on several issues.
These political and social changes eventually sowed the seeds of new leadership in India at the national as well as regional level.
It all began with the formation of the East India Association in 1867 and the Indian National Association in 1876, by Dadabhai Naoroji and Surebdranath Banerjee respectively.
A retired British civil servant named A.O. Hume, who had worked in British India, suggested the formation of an Indian union to subside the unrest among Indian masses and political class. He was of the opinion that such an organization will be beneficial in curtailing any future rebellion and at large will be beneficial for the British Empire.
In 1883, a year after his retirement, Hume reportedly wrote a letter to the Graduates of Calcutta University, asking them to form a national political movement, on their own. Following the suggestions made by Hume, the first delegation of 72 Indians met at Bombay in 1885 and formed Indian National Congress.
At the time of its formation, the Indian National Congress consisted of educated and elite Indian class, which was involved in professions like a teacher, lawyers, etc. During the initial years; the INC lacked a political agenda and the connection with masses.
It was only limited to annual meetings where the Congress’s loyalty to British was expressed and resolutions were passed; though on less controversial issues of representation in Civil Services and Civil Rights etc.
Though, Indian National Congress by and large represented only elite Indian class and failed to gather the support of the majority of poor and middle-class Indians; nevertheless, it was successful to some extent in uniting India, bringing it under one umbrella. For the first time, the people of India started considering India as one nation rather than a union of small kingdoms.
Rise of Nationalist Sentiments
By the beginning of 1900, the Indian National Congress became more and more vocal in exerting their rights in government and administration; though, it considerably lacked in gaining the support of the Indian Muslim community.
Congress leaders started a Nationalist Movement, demanding better representation in the government and administration; though, they still affirmed their loyalty to the British government and demanded more powers only under the subjugation of the British Empire.
The true harbinger of Nationalist sentiments and Nationalist Movements in India was Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was the first to demand “Swaraj” or Self Rule for India.
Certain national events in 1900 further escalated Nationalist sentiments in India masses. Some of such events of the early 20th century are given below.
1) Partition of Bengal
Lord Curzon, who served as the Viceroy and Governor-General of India from 1899 to 1905 ordered the partition of Bengal Province into two. The move was done in order to make the administrative affairs manageable as Bengal was a hugely populated and immensely large state.
Indians saw it as propagation of British philosophy of “divide and rule” and the move was opposed by both Hindus and Muslims. Bengal Partition also revealed a new revolutionary side of the Indian National Congress, which was otherwise seen only as of the silent voice of the elites. The Bengal partition started a series of Nationalist Movements in the streets of Bengal and by and large was the beginning of Nationalism in India.
2) Formation of All India Muslim League
The All India Muslim League was formed in 1906, by the All India Muhammadan Educational Conference held at Dhaka (present capital of Bangladesh). Though the formation of the Muslim League was based on protecting the rights of Muslims in British India, it played a crucial role in the freedom struggle, though briefly, by supporting Indian National Congress on some nationalistic issues.
3) First World War
First World War led to the rise of Nationalist activities in India. The Britishers had the support of Indian leadership in World War I. Huge money and ammunition for the war was provided by the Indian princely states and the government. This irked the common Indian populace which was opposed to the Indian involvement in the war. This resentment further escalated nationalistic movements in several parts of India.
4) The arrival of Mahatma Gandhi
Before Mahatma Gandhi arrived in India on 9th January 1914, he had been actively leading the Indian Nationalistic Movements in South Africa. In Africa Gandhi was instrumental in fighting for the rights of Indian laborers as well as the blacks. It was during these protests that he conceptualized “Satyagraha”, a peaceful method of protest which he later implemented on Nationalist Movements in India.
Significant Nationalist Movements in India
The Nationalistic sentiments that had been brewing silently in Indian masses eventually gained more momentum under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Under his leadership, a series of Nationalistic Movements of India was organized, infusing nationalism and patriotism throughout the length and breadth of the country. A few of such Nationalistic Movements which changed the course of Indian Independence struggle are given below-
1) Non-cooperation Movement (1920-1922)
The announcement of the first Indian non-cooperation movement was made by Mahatma Gandhi in the 1920 Kolkata session of the Indian National Congress. The proposal was made by Gandhi, to support the ongoing Khilafat Movement (1919-1924) and to demand dominion status for India.
The basic principle of the non-cooperation movement was to boycott everything British that is, people were asked to burn clothes made in a foreign land or by foreign manufacturers, boycott foreign goods, resign from government offices, return British honors and titles, boycott British educational institutions among others.
The movement had widespread support from the Indian populace; however, it was unfortunately called off by Mahatma Gandhi in wake of Chauri Chaura incident where public outrage on a police station resulted in the murder of twenty-two policemen.
2) Purna Swaraj Movement
A commission (Simon commission) was formed by the British Government in 1928, to recommend constitutional reforms in India. The commission was opposed by prominent Indian politicians like Nehru and Gandhi as all the seven members of the commission were British and there was not a single Indian in it.
In wake of the Simon commission, a conference was held in Mumbai in 1928 to instill a sense of freedom among Indian masses. A constitution drafting committee was also appointed with Motilal Nehru as its head.
Further demands of dominion status for India were raised in the Kolkata session of the Indian National Congress, threatening a nationwide civil disobedience movement.
In the historic December 1929 session of Indian National Congress at Lahore, presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru, it was decided that demand for total independence i.e. Purna Swaraj be made and henceforth 26th January will be observed as Purna Swaraj Day throughout India.
This Purna Swaraj was highly successful in promoting nationalism and was supported by all political parties and people from different religious and cultural backgrounds.
2) Salt March (12th March 1930 – 6th April 1930)
Salt march also popularly known as “Dandi March” or “Namak Satyagraha” is among one the most popular Nationalist Movements in India. It was also a civil disobedience movement led by Mahatma Gandhi.
The march was in protest of the 1882 Salt Act which gave Britishers the monopoly of salt trade in India. Britishers had the right to collect salt through government depots and impose a tax as per their own will. This badly affected the Indian salt manufacturers, who were forced to the brim.
Gandhi started the march with nearly 70-80 trusted disciples from his ashram at Sabarmati and walked, through villages, covering nearly 10 miles per day. His destination was the coastal town of Dandi, also in Gujarat, where he would produce and taste salt as symbolic to defying the Salt Laws by the British Government.
As Gandhi marched every day zeroing in on the destination, more followers joined him, along with some prominent leaders like Sarojini Naidu. Gandhi arrived at Dandi on 5th April, followed by thousands of followers from different religious backgrounds.
3) Quit India Movement (8th August 1942 to Early 1944)
The Quit India Movement was launched by Mahatma Gandhi in the 1942 Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee. The movement was launched coinciding with the Second World War, to put more pressure on the British Government.
Gandhi made a “Quit India Speech” at the conference, which was immediately followed by nationwide protests by the Indian National Congress in support of the Nationalist Movement.
Despite being in a war, the British were swift to act. Following the speech of Gandhi, all the senior leaders of Congress were arrested within hours, without the privilege of trial.
British were successful in curtailing the movement by putting the leadership under arrest for the almost complete duration of the war. Moreover, they also had the support of All Indian Muslim League, Indian Civil Services and Indian businessmen who profited from their alliance to the British and also from the war.