India’s movement towards independence took place in stages inspired by the inflexibility of the British and, in many instances, their violent reactions to peaceful protests. Many see the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (known as the British Sepoy Mutiny) as the first battle in the struggle for Indian independence.
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 exposed the British’s miscalculations in understanding social and cultural issues important to Indians. Indian soldiers, called sepoys (from Hindi sepoy), became uneasy with British encroachment on India’s states and provinces as the English East India Company expanded its influence in the region. In addition, poor wages and harsh policies made citizens tired of the British presence in India.
In addition, many of the rules of the army were perceived by Indians as attempts to Christianize Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim sepoys. Tensions escalated when the British began using animal fat (from pigs and cows) to coat cartridge shells. Although steps were taken to rectify the situation, mistrust grew among the sepoys, who were vegetarian by religion, and among the British, culminating in the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857.
In 1885, the Indian National Union was formed, which became the Indian National Congress and had as a goal the liberal position of seeing more local people in political representation. The Indian National Congress (INC) was created to help ease tensions in British relations with Indians after the Sepoy Mutiny. Initially, the Congress did not denounce British rule, but in the face of increasingly aggressive acts by the government, the INC gained the identity of the independence movement.
The INC would dominate Indian politics and house many early leaders of the independence movement, including Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who favored Dominion Status, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who saw self-governance as the only option. During the impending movement, leaders emerged from the membership of the Congress, including Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the non-violence movement, as well as Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of the new nation.
INC is the oldest political party in India. Originally the organization was composed of upper-middle-class, often Western-educated men, who represented a political class of Indian civil servants invested in India’s interests. Although India’s first female prime minister, Indira Gandhi (1917–1984), came from the Congress party, women’s participation in the independence movement was not in formal party membership, but with the support of party-led campaigns such as the move imported Making and wearing homespun cloth instead of buying clothes.
The Indian National Congress began to riot against British economic policies and demanded independence in return for British support during both world wars. Before entering World War II (1939–1945), Congress attempted to negotiate post-war independence as a precursor to Indian participation. They were rejected, the party was outlawed, and its members were imprisoned. The demand for self-government became particularly strong after World War II as the prospect of Dominion Status no longer appealed to those who thought that India had earned the right to self-rule from military support in both international wars.
Two factions developed within the Congress that were defined by their stance on British rule in India: a liberal one who hoped to gain authority through dialogue and negotiation, and a revolutionary one who sought a physical and, if necessary, armed Was in favor of agitating for rights through resistance, The division deepened over time as the revolutionary faction led by Subhas Chandra Bose (1897–1945), one of the leaders of the left-wing of the Congress Party and president of the Congress from 1938–1939, argued that military action was the only way out. to ensure independence.
The second faction, led by the future Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964), felt that socialism was an essential element in the further movement of national identity. Bose wanted the INC to insist on an immediate British withdrawal from India, an idea opposed by moderates within the organization. His insistence on extreme measures resulted in his resignation and a ban on his further election. Bose later organized a counter-movement in the Indian Army when, without consulting Indian leaders, the British declared India a warring state during World War II.
The INC served as a clearinghouse for all those who supported independence from Britain prior to the formation of various separate groups and factions. Although the INC was established to include all Indians, the organization came to be seen as representative of Hindu rights, and Muslim Indians split to establish a new political organization, the All India Muslim League, in 1906. . In post-independence discussions, fears were argued to protect Muslim rights and eventually create the nation of Pakistan due to under-representation by Muslims.
The split in the INC was reduced in 1920 under the influence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948) when he became the leader of the party. Gandhi, a lawyer by training, was educated in London and worked in South Africa, where he used non-violence and non-cooperation strategies to oppose British rule. The British refused to accept him as a full citizen in South Africa, contributing to the development of an anti-colonial identity in Gandhi before returning to India in 1914. In a climate steeped in tradition, spirituality, and symbolism, Gandhi was the ideal person around whom the political campaign for independence could be grounded.
In the Indian National Congress, Gandhi turned to his previous experience in South Africa to set the ground rules for the movement toward Indian independence. Other important INC figures included Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first Prime Minister of India in 1947 and served in that office for eighteen years. Nehru’s father, Motilal Nehru (1861–1931), also became a leader in the INC and the independence movement, when he was educated in England and returned to India to practice law.
The push for independence took place in three interconnected phases: the non-cooperation movement, the civil disobedience movement, and finally the “Quit India” movement. Neither of these phases was strictly defined; They naturally flowed into each other as a result of contemporary events. The basic tenets of the non-cooperation movement included opposing the British by not buying imported goods, refusing to pay taxes, and not working for the British, instead of using violence as a means of achieving freedom.
A major turning point came with the Dandi March in March 1930, which gave rise to the Civil Disobedience Movement. Considered by many as a political savvy stroke, Gandhi chose British taxes and regulations on salt as an issue around which to protest. Every Indian, whether aristocrat or farmer, knew the value of salt, which was used as a preservative. Gandhi’s exposure to the British monopoly on salt production helped to demonstrate the issue of native choice in daily life.
In a strategic move, Gandhi and seventy-eight supporters marched on foot to Dandi, a coastal region where salt was abundant. Upon his arrival, Gandhi made natural salt, thus violating British law that only imported salt could be used or purchased. Illegal salt was being made all over the country and many Indians including Gandhi were being jailed for doing so. Thus salt became a symbol of the injustice and oppression of the British Empire. After the Dandi March, the whole country became more aware of the fight for sovereignty from British rule.
In 1942, Gandhi announced the “Quit India” campaign. Backed by the INC, all ideas turned towards ending the British presence in India and establishing self-government. The issuance of the declaration resulted in the British government outlawing the Indian National Congress and subsequent arrests of Congress leaders, including Gandhi. Public fighting between the Congress and the British brought the Quit India campaign to prominence across the country, and resistance grew.
When the British granted India independence, it came so swiftly that many unresolved tensions went away, only to erupt later. Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900–1979), the last Viceroy of British India, who was in good standing with Nehru, urged the Muslim League to create a separate state for the Muslims, Pakistan. Further uneasy in Hindu-dominated India, the formation of a separate Muslim state was agitated by many in the Muslim League.
At the time of his assassination in 1948, Gandhi opposed the partition of India, but the pace of independence overshadowed such concerns. The violence began when Hindus attempted to cross the newly created borders into India, while Muslims fled to Pakistan, resulting in many deaths and clouding India’s long-awaited independence from the British Raj.