Freedom Movement turns retrograde
by Radha Rajan on 13 Jul 2009 0 Comment

[Chapter 5 examines some of the important landmarks of the freedom struggle and proves how the Gandhi-led freedom struggle turned retrograde, and in 1942 until the British were compelled to take the decision to quit India by Bose’s advancing INA and the Naval mutiny, the INC had not carried the nation even a step farther from where it was in 1910. The chapter proves that the Nagpur Congress of 1920 with its clarion call for swaraj within a year and the Lahore Congress of 1929 with its clarion call for purna swaraj made a mockery of Tilak's and Aurobindo's battle-cry for swaraj and swadeshi. The freedom struggle had made no impact on the British and the movement was at a standstill even in 1942 - Author]


Gandhi swaraj, as we saw in the previous chapter, was a radical departure from the political independence of Tilak and Aurobindo. Gandhi described his swaraj as the inner state that obtains after self-transformation; in effect his swaraj was equal to self-liberation which he called self-rule. Gandhi’s articulation of self-rule meant the inner transformation of an individual, which is conceptually different from the INC Self Rule/Home Rule, which was a political exercise and meant limited self-governance by Indians even as India remained within the British Empire. A core premise of Gandhi’s political career in India was that even Home Rule of the type he envisaged was possible only after every individual had realised self-rule within himself.


The Gujarati text of Hind Swaraj uses 'swaraj' to define both self-rule and Home Rule, causing great confusion among ordinary people and even English-educated Indians who chose to follow Gandhi, about the real nature and objective of Gandhi swaraj. Was it a religious / spiritual journey of individuals towards self-liberation, or a dharmic responsibility of the praja undertaking a political movement leading the nation towards political independence from vairajya or alien rule?


Contrary to Aurobindo’s assertion that passive resistance was a necessary tactical move to invoke and strengthen in citizens the much-needed qualities of endurance, capacity for suffering pain and punishment, unflinching courage and the moral strength to ultimately launch if need be, a full-scale war against foreign rulers, Gandhi’s passive resistance became a goal in itself for ordinary ‘Gandhian’ Indians to practise and achieve successfully. But the unanswered question remains - what did Gandhi really desire for the Indians who followed him on the streets? Self-Rule as inner liberation, Home-Rule as the Home Rule League wanted or small victories with passive resistance in local issues? What goal did he explicitly set for the INC?


Gandhi's passive resistance only delayed political independence and facilitated the exit of the British on their terms and at a time of their choosing. Thus:             

Because Gandhi's resistance to British rule was 'passive', it was essentially non-violent.
Passive resistance by Gandhi's own admission could not be employed for a general objective, but only locally for a limited purpose.
Passive resistance was therefore not intended to end British rule in India or for India's political independence.
Passive resistance was meant only to resist specific, unfair and repressive laws in India.
Gandhi's political career in India was only a continuation of his career in South Africa, both in terms of the methods he employed and his objectives. 


Gandhi’s nation-wide Satyagraha in support of Khilafat and against the Rowlatt Act was a re-play of his last Satyagraha in South Africa; however with one radical departure. The people of India who were inspired by contemporary warrior-nationalists and their acts of extreme courage and self-sacrifice saw in Gandhi’s Satyagraha an opportunity to wage their own war against colonial occupation. There were fierce riots in Delhi, Amritsar, Ahmedabad and Lahore accompanied by attacks against Englishmen.


- Rowlatt Act receives Governor-General’s assent – March 21, 1919 
- Riots in Delhi, police fire against protestors – March 30, 1919 
- Military control over city – March 31, 1919
- Srirama Navami celebrations, peaceful processions in Amritsar – April 9, 1919
- Gandhi arrested, moved to Bombay and released – April 9-11, 1919
- All-India hartal to protest Gandhi’s arrest – April 10, 1919
- Deportation of Doctors Satyapal and Kitchlew, violent protests, several Europeans killed, police firing in Amritsar – April 10, 1919
- Police firing in Lahore – April 10, 1919
- Arrests in Bombay, violent protests in Ahmedabad, telegraph office and Collector’s office burnt down in Ahmedabad – April 11, 1919
- Meeting at Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, firing by troops, derailment and burning of train – April 12, 1919
- Protests in Bombay, Viramgram, Nadiad and Amritsar – April 12, 1919
- Riots and blood-shed in Calcutta – April 12, 1919
- Jallianwala Bagh massacre – April 13, 1919
- Violent protests in Gujranwala, telegraph wires cut in Lahore, Amritsar and several places – April 14, 1919
- Martial Law in the Punjab – April 14, 1919
- Gandhi upbraided people for violence and announced three-day penitential fast – April 14, 1919
- Protests and arrests in Gujranwala, continuing cutting of telegraph wires – April 16, 1919
- Police firing in Delhi – April 17, 1919
- Deportation of leaders in the Punjab – April 17, 1919
- Gandhi announces “temporary suspension” of civil disobedience – April 18, 1919
- “Crawling Order” issued by Brigadier-General Dyer – April 20, 1919 


Amritsar Congress – December 27-January 1, 1919

This would be long remembered for the Gandhi-Tilak face off at what would actually turn out to be Tilak’s last Congress; Tilak would pass away on 31st July, 1920. Tilak and C.R.  Das placed before Congress a resolution expressing their stern dissatisfaction with the reforms report and the subsequent GoI Act 1919. Tilak and Das described the report as “inadequate, unsatisfactory and disappointing”. The resolution was supported by S.  Satyamurti, Hasrat Mohani, Rambhuj Dutt Choudry and Chandra Bansi Sahai. 

Gandhi took exception to the word ‘disappointing’ and presented an amendment to Tilak’s resolution, supported by Jinnah and Madanmohan Malaviya, in which he insisted on re-wording the entire resolution to the effect that Congress must place on record its gratitude to Montague. With the same peculiar sense of proportion by which Gandhi equated the salt tax with the partition of Bengal in Hind Swaraj, Gandhi advises Tilak to accept the amendment by appealing to Tilak in the name of religion, culture and civilization. Gandhi also threatened to travel extensively across the country to explain to the people why he opposed Tilak’s resolution, why he thought the country must welcome the reforms report, must thank Montague and extend the hand of fellowship to him!  


The same sense of seething disbelief grips us when we read Gandhi’s speech at the Congress making much ado about a trivial issue. However, Gandhi knew exactly what he was doing. It was a trial of strength and Gandhi was flexing his muscles, all the while signalling his intention to stonewall any move by the nationalists to set the agenda, even as his language remained profusely respectful of Tilak at the Amritsar Congress. Gandhi was just as profuse and fulsome in his praise for Tilak after his death. It is with the same intriguing and characteristic sense of proportion that Gandhi insisted, despite resolute opposition by several members, on passing a self-defeating, self-deprecating resolution at Amritsar, condemning our people for the violent protests which spread across North India in April 1919, after his arrest.


The most important resolution, however, was the one in which we admitted and condemned our lapses. It was a little difficult to understand the unwillingness to pass this. That in Ahmedabad, Viramgam, Amritsar, Gujranwala and Kasur, our own people set fire to buildings, killed people, burnt down bridges, removed rail tracks and cut wires needs no proof. Maybe there is truth in what some people say, that the C.I.D. instigated the mobs, that it had a hand in it; even then, the fact remains that some of us played into their hands and did unforgivable things. We must denounce these. The individual or nation that refuses to see his or its lapses or fears to admit them can never progress. So long as we refuse to see the evil around us, we do not acquire the strength to fight it and the evil goes deep. Moreover, we have no right whatsoever either to notice or condemn other peoples faults so long as we do not roundly denounce our own. We cannot be purified unless we feel sorry for having set Government buildings on fire and atone for it; until then we have no right to condemn General Dyer’s terrible crime and, if we fail to admit our faults, we dare not demand the dismissal of Sir Michael O’Dwyer and the recall of Lord Chelmsford. It is also asked whether we should not take into account the nature of the provocation to the people. The answer to this is that, even so, we are bound to denounce our misdeeds such as setting fire to buildings and killing innocent people. That man alone wins who, whatever the cause, refuses to be provoked and such a one alone may be said to be a law-abiding man. The nation which does not know how to obey laws has no right to protest against injustice.


Which laws and whose laws? Decades later it would be in similar Gandhian vein that important Hindu political leaders would term December 6, 1992 as the saddest day of their lives and would subsequently repeatedly and profusely apologize for the Gujarat riots of 2002. 



1] For the complete text of Gandhi’s speech against Tilak, see end of chapter

2] ‘The Congress’ , Navjivan, 11-1-1920, CWMG Vol. 19, page 304


Excerpted from

Eclipse of the Hindu Nation: Gandhi and his freedom struggle
Radha Rajan
New Age Publishers (P) Ltd., Delhi, 2009
Price: Rs 495/-
ISBN 81- 7819 - 068- 0

The book may be ordered from the publishers at
or at 011-2649 3326/ 27/ 28 

The author is editor,

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