Mahatma Gandhi's Movements during Freedom Struggle


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Modern History

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Prelims: History of India and Indian National Movement.

Mains: Modern Indian History from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues

Mahatma Gandhi Movements: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, Gujarat. He earned a degree in law from England in 1891. Before entering Indian politics in 1915, he was in South Africa from 1893 to 1914. In the course of his struggle in South Africa, he developed his political philosophy based on non-violence and Satyagraha to give a new direction to the mass movement.

The emergence of Mahatma Gandhi in Indian politics marked the beginning of a new phase in the Indian national movement, the phase of mass movements. This made Gandhi become the most important figure in the history of the Indian freedom struggle.

Arrival of Gandhi in India

Gandhi returned to India in January 1915. His efforts were well known in South Africa, not just among the educated but also among the common people.

  • Gandhiji spent a year travelling around British India, getting to know the land and its people on the advice of Gopal Krishna Gokhale. In February 1916, he made his first major public appearance at the inauguration of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU).
  • Gandhiji’s speech at Banaras revealed that Indian nationalism was an elite phenomenon, and he wished tomake Indian nationalism more properly representative of the Indian people as a whole.

Champaran Satyagraha (1917)

Champaran Satyagraha was the first attempt at mobilising the Indian masses by Gandhi on an invitation by Rajkumar Shukla in the context of indigo peasants of Champaran. This Gandhian Movement was the First Civil Disobedience in India.

  • It was mainly due to the tinkathia system of indigo farmers, where peasants were forced to grow indigo on 3/20 part of their total land. 
  • Gandhi intervened in the matter but was asked to leave the place by authorities. However, Gandhi refused to leave, thus disobeying the order. Eventually, Gandhi was able to convince the government about the illness of the tinkathia system and look into the matter. 
  • The government appointed a committee to go into the matter and nominated Gandhi as a member. As a result, the tinkathia system was abolished, and in a compromise settlement, only 25 % of the money taken by peasants was compensated.
  • Participants: Rajendra Prasad, Narhari Parekh, and J.B. Kripalani 

Ahmedabad Mill Strike (1918)

Following the Champaran Satyagraha, the next step in mobilising the masses was the workers of Ahmedabad's urban centre. Ahmedabad Mill Strike was the result of the disagreement between the textile workers and the mill owners arose in March 1918 regarding the end of the plague bonus. 

  • Mill owners paid bonuses of 75% of their salary to retain the workers during the outbreak of the plague in 1917. But, after the end of the plague, workers were demanding an increase of 50 % in wages while mill owners were advocating discontinuance of the bonus. As a result, a deadlock was created. 
  • Gandhi intervened at the request of Anusuya Sarabhai and undertook a fast unto death. As a result, owners agreed to the 35% wage hike.
  • This was the first movement where fasting, a means of self-suffering to create moral pressure, was used by Gandhi as a political weapon in India.

Kheda Satyagraha (1918)

Due to the failure of the monsoon, the peasants of the Kheda district were in distress. In 1918, they mobilised themselves, demanding revenue relief from the government due to the crop failure and rise in prices. Kheda Satyagraha was the First Non-Cooperation by Gandhi in the Indian National Movement.

  • According to the government's famine code, cultivators were entitled to total remission if crop yield fell below 25% of the average. But the authorities rejected it. As a result, peasants turned to Gandhi.
  • Gandhi intervened on behalf of the poor peasants, advising them to withhold payment and 'fight unto death against such a spirit of vindictiveness and tyranny.'
  • The government ordered it to be restrained in the collection of revenues (collected only from those ryots who could afford to pay) and not to confiscate lands. Gandhi decided to withdraw from the struggle.
  • Participants: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Narahari Parikh, and Indulal Yagnik.

Satyagraha Against the Rowlatt Act (1919)

In 1917, a sedition committee was formed under Justice Sidney Rowlatt to curb revolutionary activities and investigate the ‘seditious conspiracy’. It recommended the Rowlatt Act (Anarchic and Revolutionary Offenses Act of 1919) ought to limit the liberty of the people passed by the Imperial Legislative Council. Gandhi launched the Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act

  • The Rowlatt Act allowed political and revolutionary activists to be tried without judicial proceedings or even imprisoned without trial for two years. It also suspended the right to habeas corpus and the right to appeal. 
  • Gandhiji called it the “Black Act '' and launched the satyagraha against the Act. It involved fasting, praying, disobeying laws, and risking arrest and imprisonment. The satyagraha brought Gandhi to the centre of the Indian national movement. 
  • Gandhi also organised Satyagraha Sabha, his own organisation, to carry out the movement. However, due to the violence in some parts of India, Gandhi had to call off the Satyagraha. 
  • Gandhi's ability to connect with the masses was demonstrated during this Satyagraha. Gandhian ideology and methods for the freedom struggle (Non-violence and Satyagraha) were introduced to the Indian masses. 

Non-Cooperation Movement (1921-22)

The horrific massacre at Jallianwala Bagh took place in the backdrop of protests against the Rowlatt Act. As a result, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920.

  • In September 1920, the Congress held a special session in Calcutta and resolved to accept Gandhi's proposal of non-cooperation with the British government until Khilafat and Punjab grievances were addressed and self-government was established.
  • This Gandhian movement was merged with the Khilafat movement, which demanded that the Turkish Sultan or Khalifa retain control over the Muslim sacred places in the erstwhile Ottoman empire. 
  • Methods: Non-cooperation movement included the boycott of schools, colleges, courts, government offices, legislatures, and foreign goods and the return of government-conferred titles and awards.
  • Withdrawal: Mahatma Gandhi withdrew the non-cooperation movement following the Chauri Chaura violent incident on 5 February 1922, in which 23 police officers were killed. After the withdrawal, he focussed on the constructive programme of social reforms. 

Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-34)

After the Non-Cooperation Movement, the Civil Disobedience Movement (also known as Salt Satyagraha) is regarded as the second major mass movement and a significant advancement in broadening the social reach of India's freedom struggle. 

  • Gandhi declared at the Calcutta Congress in 1928 that the British must grant India dominion status, or the country would erupt in a revolution for complete independence. The British paid no attention to this. As a result, INC in its Lahore session (1929) demanded ‘Punra Swaraj’, and decided to celebrate 26th January as ‘Independence Day’. It also declared that a civil disobedience movement would be started under the leadership of Gandhi.
  • Gandhi announced the 'Dandi March' against the unjust tax on salt as part of the movement. On April 6 1930, he violated the salt regulations, thereby launching the Civil Disobedience Movement.
  • Induced by Gandhi's extraordinary endeavours at Dandi, defiance of the salt laws spread throughout the country. However, it was halted for a period after the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. 
  • When the movement was resumed after the failure of the Second Round Table conference, it began to dwindle towards the end of 1932. It was officially withdrawn in May 1934.

Quit India Movement (1942)

The Quit India Movement (August Kranti Movement) was the ‘third great wave’ of India’s struggle for freedom, launched on August 8, 1942, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. This Gandhian Movement was more of a rejection of British rule than a traditional Satyagraha, and it influenced the unprecedented and tumultuous events that occurred in Indian history over the next five years.

  • It was the result of Indian disillusionment with British rule, with the immediate causes being the failure of the Cripps mission and the hardships caused by World War II
  • On August 8, 1942, the All India Congress Committee met at Gowalia Tank in Bombay and passed the famous Quit India Resolution. On the same day, Gandhi issued his 'Do or Die' call. It demanded an end to British rule in India with immediate effect, the formation of a provisional government after the war and the declaration of free India.
  • As a result, major leaders of the Indian National Congress were arrested and imprisoned without trial by British officials. However, the protests continued across the country with huge mass participation. 
  • Although it did not immediately achieve its goals, it contributed to the weakening of British rule and paved the way for the independence of India

PYQs on Gandhian Movements 

Q) Many voices had strengthened and enriched the nationalist movement during the Gandhian phase. Elaborate (UPSC Mains 2019)

Q) Throw light on the significance of the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi in the present times. (UPSC Mains 2018)

Q) With reference to the British colonial rule in India, consider the following statements: (UPSC Prelims 2019)

  1. Mahatma Gandhi was instrumental in the abolition of the system of ‘indentured labour’.
  2. In Lord Chelmsford’s ‘War Conference’, Mahatma Gandhi did not support the resolution on recruiting Indians for World War.
  3. Consequent upon the breaking of the Salt Law by the Indian people, the Indian National Congress was declared illegal by the colonial rulers.

Which of the statements given above are correct?

a) 1 and 2 only

b) 1 and 3 only

c) 2 and 3 only

d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer: (b)

Q) Which one of the following is a very significant aspect of the Champaran Satyagraha? (UPSC Prelims 2018)

a) Active all-India participation of lawyers, students and women in the National Movement.

b) Active involvement of Dalit and Tribal communities of India in the National Movement.

c) Joining of peasant unrest to India’s National Movement.

d) Drastic decrease in the cultivation of plantation crops and commercial crops

Answer: (c)

Question 5: Quit India Movement was launched in response to (UPSC Prelims 2013)

a) Cabinet Mission Plan

b) Cripps Proposals

c) Simon Commission Report

d) Wavell Plan

Answer: (b)

FAQs on Gandhian Movements

What are the 7 major movements of Gandhiji?

The seven major movements of Mahatma Gandhi included the Champaran Movement, the Ahmedabad Mill Strike, the Kheda Movement, the Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act, the Non-cooperation Movement, the Civil Disobedience Movement, and the Quit India Movement.

What was Gandhi's first movement in India?

The Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 was Gandhi's first Satyagraha movement in India and is regarded as a historically significant revolt in the Indian Independence Movement. During the British colonial period, a farmer's uprising occurred in the Champaran district of Bihar, India.

What are some of the challenges that Gandhian movements faced?

Gandhian movements faced challenges such as resistance from colonial authorities, lack of widespread support, internal divisions, and the difficulty of maintaining nonviolent discipline among participants. Additionally, economic and social realities often clashed with the idealistic principles of Gandhi's philosophy, making it challenging to achieve lasting change.

What was the impact of the Gandhian movements on the Indian independence struggle?

The Gandhian movements had a profound impact on the Indian independence struggle. Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance (Satyagraha) and civil disobedience mobilised millions of Indians, uniting them in a peaceful but determined quest for freedom. His leadership inspired the Quit India Movement and other campaigns that eventually led to India gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1947, marking a historic achievement in the nation's history.

Where and when did Mahatma Gandhi make his first public appearance in India upon coming back from South Africa?

On February 4, 1916, in BHU, Gandhiji made his first public appearance since his return from South Africa. He spoke to the crowd in BHU, which was primarily made up of impressionable youngsters, princes, well-dressed individuals, etc.