Not only Mahatma Gandhi

India acquired its independence from the British in 1947. The most renowned political figure of India's independence is Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948). He is sometimes referred to as the 'father of modern India' or as 'father of Indian nationalism'. But the modern Indian nationalism did not begin with Mahatma Gandhi but much before his appearance on the Indian political arena.

In 1828, a man named Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) founded an organization called 'Brahmo Samaj'. Indian historians consider this organization forerunner which paved the way for reformation in India and its establisher as the 'father of modern India'. Raja Ram and his organization 'Brahmo Samaj' tried to change the social order of India. But during that period there wasn't yet an Indian ethos among the Indians. Indians were never one nation but always a collection of different entities. They were used to different rulers including non- Indians. From their point of view the British were just another ruler over them.

In 1857 the 'Indian Mutiny' took place almost all over India. In this Mutiny, different rulers of different kingdoms in the Indian sub-continent joined forces to defeat the British. The mutiny failed miserably to achieve its goal to defeat the British. After this mutiny a common feeling of an occupied and oppressed nation by a foreign power developed among the Indians all over the Indian sub-continent. One of the famous figures of this 'Mutiny' was Queen Laxmibai of Jhansi, popularly known as 'Jhansi ki Rani'. Later on many women freedom fighters who fought for India's independence had the 'spirit' of Jhansi ki Rani in their mind.

In 1885 the 'Indian National Congress' was established. Among its founders were Justice M. G. Ranade, Surendranath Benarjee, Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozshah Mehta and others. This organization, which was the main voice of the Indian nationalism under British rule, was established with British permission. The real purpose of the British in establishing this organization was to continue ruling India with the help of liberal and pro-British Indians. But within a short period of time a militant nationalist opposition was established within the Congress who demanded an independent India. This militant group tried to dispose of the liberal leadership of the Congress.

In the last decade of the 19th century the salient leader of the Congress was Gopal Gokhale. The militant Left group within the Congress tried to dispose of Gokhale as the leader of the Congress. The leader of this militant group was Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Two of his main associates were Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal. This trio was called in short Lal-Bal-Pal. These three men originated from three different parts of India. Rai was from Punjab in North India, Tilak was from Maharashtra in West India and Pal from Bengal in East India. Another important militant leader was Aurbindo Ghosh.

Bal Gandadhar Tilak is considered by many to be the first Indian leader who moved the Indian independence cause from the closed rooms of the intellectuals to the ordinary people of India. Some of the main nationalist slogans used by Indians during their struggle for independence were slogans coined by him. One of his famous sentences was "Swaraj (self rule) is my birthright and I shall have it". Other of his important concepts utilized later on by Mahatma Gandhi were boycott of foreign goods and use of the term 'Swadeshi', meaning 'of our country' or 'self reliance'. Tilak tried different ways to gather the different Indian communities together and start unifying them. He succeeded in causing major uprisings against the British and was titled by the western press in 1907 as the ‘father of Indian uprising’.

Tilak and his associates were considered by the British as the main cause for the violence against them and therefore they arrested and deported them. Tilak returned from his deportation in 1915 and became the leader of the Indian nationalism. In 1920, Tilak died and Mahatma Gandhi became the leader of Indian National Congress.

Mahatma Gandhi, more than any other Indian is identified with India's freedom struggle. Gandhi succeeded in sweeping the Indian people after him like no other Indian leader ever did before him. Gandhi's philosophy of struggle against the British was non-violent non-cooperation. He demanded from the Indians to restrain even if the British forces physically attacked them. But not all Indians admired Gandhi and his ideas of non-violent struggle. There were many who used violence and terrorism to fight for independence. These terrorism acts were of two kinds. There were general terrorist acts against British government interests, like blowing bridges, buildings or railway tracks. The other kind of terrorist acts were against specific British officials who were spotted by Indians as responsible for actions, which caused damage or death to Indians. Two famous martyrs of India's independence history are Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekher, who renamed himself 'Azad' meaning liberty.

Even within the Indian National Congress there were members who did not accept Gandhi's ideas. His opponents even established movements within the Indian National Congress, who had other ideas about India. Among his rivals within the Congress were C. R. Das, Motilal Nehru (father of Jawarharlal Nehru), Vitthalbhai Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose and others. Because of the growing criticism over his leadership, Mahatma Gandhi resigned as the leader of the Congress in 1933. Since then and until India's independence Gandhi was the father figure of the Congress, even though he was not the official leader of the Congress.

Among Gandhi's strong supporters or followers who were also national figures were C. Rajagopalachari, Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, Jawarharlal Nehru, Vallabbhai Patel and others. When Mahatma Gandhi arrived in India from South Africa in 1915, Vallabbhai Patel mocked at Gandhi's philosophy. Later on he became a great admirer of Gandhi.

Along with the Congress there were other organizations, which were established outside the Congress and fought for Indian's right for self-definition. Among them were Home Rule League which was established by an Englishwomen, Mrs. Annie Besant. Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which, were Hindu nationalist organizations. And there were other organizations.

Some regions and communities of India had more respect and honor for certain heroes and leaders who originated from their community or region. For example the untouchables, especially the Mahars had lot of respect for a senior Congress member, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. The Muslims respected Muslim League leaders Muhammad Jinnah and Dr. Muhammad Iqbal who demanded a separate state for the Muslims and eventually achieved it. The people of Tamil respected C. R. Periyyar whose main ideology was Tamili pride. There were also two nation wide leaders who were more respected within their region. The Bengalis adored Subhas Chandra Bose and the Maharashtrians adored Vinayek Savarkar.

Subhas Chandra Bose won the Congress leadership in 1939. He was very militant in his ideas, but he did not get Gandhi's support for him and therefore he resigned from the Congress leadership. In 1943 he arrived in Japan and with Japanese help established in Singapore 'Free India' government and the Indian National Army whose soldiers were Indians. During the Second World War this army penetrated east India and attacked British posts. Many in India respected Bose and they called him 'Netaji' meaning honored leader.

Another leader who had a lot of respect in India was Vinayek Savarkar. His stronghold was in Maharashtra. In some of its regions Savarkar had more followers than any other Indian leader. Savarkar was a Hindu nationalist and leader of the Hindu Mahasabha. He supported violent acts against the British. Many of his supporters claim that the main reason the British left India wasn't the struggle organized by the Indian National Congress but the violent terrorist acts organized by people like Savarkar. He was called by his followers 'Swatantraveer(independence hero) Savarkar'. His followers also claim that for his role in India's freedom struggle he has not been honored and given the due respect because of his anti-Gandhi slogans and because the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi was his close associate.

©Aharon Daniel


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