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Creating the Indian identity

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The main stage in Indian nationalism

In 1885 the 'Indian National Congress' was established. This organization was the main voice of Indian nationalism since its creation and up to India's independence in 1947. The Indian National Congress was not the first political organization of Indian orientation founded in British India. Other organizations preceded it.
In 1867 justice M. G. Ranade established in Bombay an organization based on the ideas of the 'Brahmo Samaj' with an aim of social and religious reforms in India. In 1876 Surendranath Benarjee established in Calcutta an organization with an aim to demand rights for Indians. Dadabhai Naoroji, who was the first Indian elected for the British parliament, established in Bombay some institutions with an aim of academic and social reforms in India. These three men along with other leaders were the founders of the Indian National Congress. Another organization established in India before the Indian National Congress was the 'Arya Samaj'. Some of the second-generation leaders in the Indian National Congress were inspired from the ideas of this organization.
In 1885 the 'Indian National Congress' was established. 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. The British who at first aimed at annexing all of Indian kingdoms through the agreements the ‘East India Company’ had with local rulers changed their policy after the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857. The British Crown took back the charter from the ‘East India Company’ and ruled India directly through a viceroy. They stopped annexing Indian kingdoms and involved more Indians in their rule over India. They permitted the establishing of the ‘Indian National Congress’, an organization where Indians could express their opinions. The Englishman who endeavored for this cause was Allen Hume. In its first stages the ‘Indian National Congress’ was not supportive of independent India and most of its leaders were considered liberals and pro-British. 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 Krishna Gokhale, a liberal and disciple of Ranade (one of the founders of the Congress). 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. Some Indians especially Hindus found an analogy between this trio and the trio of Hinduism, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. This militant group was strong supporter of Hindu nationalism. They spiced their nationalist philosophy with Hindu Gods and Goddesses. They were mainly inspired by the philosophies of Arya Samaj and RamaKrishna movement, which considered the Indian culture as the most humanistic and spiritual culture in the world.
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. 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. This left the Congress under the control of the Liberals. Gokhale remained the leader of the Congress until his death in 1915. Before his death he managed to be the political guru of someone who more than anyone else is identified with Indian independence, Mahatma Gandhi. After Gokhale’s death, Tilak, who returned from his deportation, became the leader othe Indian nationalism. He managed to bridge between the extremes and liberals in the Congress and also succeeded in signing a cooperation agreement with another nationalist organization in British India, Muslim League.
During World War I, the British promised to the Indians independence if they supported the British during the war. After the war the British did not keep their promise, instead they offered Indians more political rights. In 1919 the first Indian Parliament was established, but the turning point of that year in India’s independence movement was the Jallianwala Bagh massacre which occurred in Amritsar. In this event a British general arrived with his soldiers to Jallianwala Bagh, an open garden in Amritsar, and ordered his soldiers to shoot at the Indians who were having a peaceful political rally in the garden. In this massacre at least 800 Indians died. After this event, even liberal Indians, like Mahatma Gandhi, started demanding independence for India from the British.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948) was reverently known as Mahatma Gandhi. He was called by the people ‘Mahatma’ which means great soul. He arrived in India from South Africa in 1915. Gandhi became the leader of the Indian National Congress after Tilak's death in 1920.
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. He advised Indians to boycott anything British including British made garments, British universities, British courts and to refuse to follow British laws. He sometimes resorted to hunger strike. Gandhi succeeded in sweeping the Indian people after him like no other Indian leader before him.
Not all Indians admired Gandhi and his ideas. Even when he was the leader of Indian National Congress there were members of the Congress who did not accept his ideas. His opponents who had other ideas about India even established movements within the Indian National Congress. The Indian National Congress was always a roof organization and it included in it many factions. Besides the Indian National Congress, other political organizations and parties were established who fought for Indian's right for self-definition. Among these were communist and socialist parties and Hindu nationalist organizations, Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Some of the Congress rivals even claimed that some businessmen were supporting the national struggle organized by the Congress in exchange for financial gain. For example Mahatma Gandhi's call to boycott British textile caused Indians to buy Indian made textile. The Congress party's financial supporters owned these textile mills.
Along with organizations, some individual persons also contributed to the establishment of the Indian identity. People like Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh, who became martyrs while fighting the British forces, also strengthened Indian identity among the people of the sub-continent. Other people who helped strengthened the Indian identity were intellectuals like authors and poets. These intellectuals were mostly from the Bengal region in east India and their works were mostly in Bengali language. But they were recognized worldwide as Indian authors and poets and their works also had Indian nationalistic messages. One such famous Bengali intellectual was Rabindranath Tagore who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1919 and was then the first Indian to win this prestigious prize. Mahatma Gandhi who became the leader of the Indian National Congress in 1920 did not always lead the Congress. Sometimes he was arrested and was therefore completely disconnected from nationalist movement. At other times he severed from nationalist movement for other causes. In the early 1930s he resigned from the Congress leadership because of criticism from other Congress leaders. One of Gandhi's rivals within the Congress was Subhas Chandra Bose who won the Congress leadership in 1939 but resigned because he did not get Gandhi's political support. Subhas Chandra Bose was wanted by the British but escaped to Germany. 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 who lived in East Asia and also Indian defectors from the British army. And so he gave the Indians a feeling that they to were capable of creating their own army by themselves. During the Second World War this army penetrated east India and attacked British posts. But this army did not have major successes because of logistics reasons.
Another rival of Gandhi who had a lot of respect in India was Vinayek Savarkar. Savarkar 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. Many of his supporters claim that his role in India's freedom struggle has not been given the right respect because of his anti-Gandhi slogans and because the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi was his close associate.
In 1939 the Second World War began which lasted until 1945. The British requested support from the Indian leadership. The Congress leaders demanded that against their support for the British, the British in return would give them independence. While at the same time the Muslim League gave clear supportive statements towards the British. The Congress did not only clearly not supported the British, they even started a new non-cooperative stage in their struggle for independence. This stage is called in Indian history as 'Quit India' movement. In this movement the Indians again used the technique of non-violent non-cooperation. Because of this movement all of the Congress leadership got arrested and remained behind bars until the end of the war. During the 'Quit India' movement Muslim League leaders advised the Muslims in India not to take part in this movement. Many believe that because of the Congress leaders and Muslim League leaders stand during the war the British became more supportive of the Muslim stands compared to the Congress stands.
In 1945 the war was over. The Allied forces, of which the British were part of, won in this war. In that year elections occurred in England.The Labour Party claimed it was time to end the British Empire. In these elections the Labour Party won and it became clear that the British would leave India. At this stage different communities in India began demanding from the British to establish in India a state or states according to their political philosophies. And so the final road towards the creation of India began.

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©Aharon Daniel


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