26 January 1930: 26 January was Declared as Purna Swaraj Day


 Most Indians recognise 26 January as Republic Day, but not many are aware that on 26 January 1930, exactly 20 years before India became a republic, the Indian National Congress in an electrifying resolution declared Purna Swaraj — complete freedom from the British Raj. From then on, it was a question of when — not if —India would become free.

By 1920 Indian nationalist leaders were convinced that contrary to what the British government had promised during World War 1, few, if any, of their demands would be met. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the disturbances in Punjab and the Rowlatt Act (which indefinitely extended ‘emergency measures’ enacted by the government during the war) added to the sense of gloom. The British failure to heed the grievances of the leaders of the Khilafat movement over the disintegration of the Turkish Empire alienated a large section of Indian Muslims. All this culminated in the non-cooperation movement that was launched on 1 August 1920. The Khilafat movement, which Mahatma Gandhi endorsed, ran parallel to the non-cooperation movement.

‘Non-cooperation’ was a call to Indians to surrender all titles and government posts, boycott functions of the British government and shun foreign articles. It also stressed on developing small scale industries, using swadeshi articles and maintaining communal harmony.

Gandhi called off the non-cooperation movement after a mob in Chauri Chaura set a police station on fire, killing 22 people. As the first mass movement of its kind in India, it led to tangible gains. In their book India’s Struggle for Independence Bipan Chandra and other historians write: “After non-cooperation, the charge of representing a ‘microscopic minority,’ made by the Viceroy, Dufferin, in 1888, could never again be hurled at the Indian National Congress. Its reach among many sections of Indian peasants, workers, artisans, shopkeepers, traders, professionals, white-collar employees, had been demonstrated…The capacity of the ‘poor dumb millions’ of India to take part in modern nationalist politics was also demonstrated.”

Gandhi was arrested in March 1922. He was released from jail in February 1924 on health grounds. Meanwhile, there was a split in the Congress ranks, with a section calling themselves ‘Swarajists’ in favour of working with the councils instead of boycotting them. The most important Swarajists were C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru. Gandhi intervened between the two sides and brought about a rapprochement, agreeing that the Swarajist Party would work in the legislatures on behalf of the Congress.

Motilal Nehru called for the framing of a new Constitution to transfer real power to India in the first session of the central legislative assembly. The demand was passed. There were other moral victories for the Swarajists. The government faced severe criticism for its repression of dissent. C.R. Das said: “Repression is a process in the consolidating of arbitrary power — and I condemn the violence of the government for repression is the most violent form of violence…”

However, as the 1920s progressed, the nationalist movement seemed a little confused and lacking in coherence. Ironically, it was the British who provided a spark which re-ignited a nationwide struggle. This was the infamous Simon Commission, which was set up ostensibly to discuss further reforms for India, but without a single Indian on board. The backlash was immediate. In January 1928 Gandhi wrote in Young India: “The act of appointment (of the Simon Commission) needs for an answer, not speeches, however heroic they may be, not declarations, however brave they may be, but corresponding action…”

As soon as the Commission arrived in Bombay on 3 February 1928, it was met by protestors carrying black flags. Protests spread to major Indian cities, with the Congress at the forefront of the opposition. In one such protest in Lahore, the senior Congress leader Lala Lajpat Rai was severely injured in a brutal police lathi-charge and later died on account of his injuries.

The Congress appointed its own commission, led by Motilal Nehru, to propose constitutional reforms for the country. The Nehru Report called for self-government for India under dominion status of the British Empire. However, a younger generation of Congress leaders such as Motilal’s son Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose felt the demand for dominion status was asking for too little. Eventually in its December 1928 session in Calcutta the Congress passed a resolution calling for the British to grant dominion status to India within one year: failure to do so would lead to a Congress call for complete independence.

With no concessions forthcoming from the government, the stage was set in December 1929 for the Congress to pass a historic resolution at its Lahore session.

The “Indian Declaration of Independence” of 26 December 1929 boldly stated: “We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives people of these rights and oppresses them; the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it. The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. We believe, therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj, or complete independence.”

The Congress declared 26 January 1930 as ‘Independence Day’, when the Declaration of Independence was officially promulgated. However, since 15 August became the official Independence Day in 1947, the new Indian Constitution took effect on 26 January 1950, to mark the 1930 declaration. That’s why 26 January is a special day in India’s history in more ways than one.

Also on this day:

1950 —India became a republic

1957 — Ashok Malhotra, Indian cricketer, was born

2010 — Gummadi, Telugu film actor, passed away

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