Gandhi and the Indian National Congress

Mahatma Gandhi's entry and meteoric rise in the Indian political scenario following his return from South Africa in 1918, has been variously equated with the emergence of a guiding light to a breath of fresh air. Indian national Congress was the single most popular party, spearheading India's war for independence when Gandhi returned, having led two successful revolutions in South Africa.
They were conducted on the lines of Satyagraha, Gandhi's personal mode of non-violent resistance. Indian National Congress (INC), at that point was dominated by the combative policies of the extremists. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal were the chief propagators of these extremist tendencies within the ranks of the INC. Gandhi's modes and ideologies were markedly different, and were slow to gain acceptance. However, he soon became a member of the Indian National Congress, and then embarked in a nationwide journey under the command and wish of Sri Gopal Krishna Gokhale, his political mentor. What he saw reaffirmed in his mind his already firm faith in the ideals of satyagraha. The Home Rule movement under Tilak and Annie Besant were far from successful, and Gandhi knew that no mode of armed revolution could make India free from the clutches of the British rule.

Satyagraha at Champaran and Kheda

Gandhi's political career took a head start when he went to lead satyagraha against the indigo merchants at Champaran in Bihar. He raised his voice against the unbearable exploitation of the indigo farmers of the region. His methods, as always, were based on non-violence, and he met with success. The British authorities were forced to accept to the demandes of the indigo workers. He repeated his success at Kheda in Gujarat against the increasing revenues and taxed imposed by the government on the farmers at rural Gujarat. Once again, the processes were non-violent. With these successes, Gandhi was hailed as the new light in the Indian political scenario. He gained the appellation of the Mahatma (the great soul) and Bapu (father). Soon Rowlatt Act and the subsequent massacre at Jalianwallah Bagh at Amritsar in Punjab considerably heated up the scenario of Indian politics. Gandhiji assumed the responsibilities of the president of Indian National Congress in 1921, and unleashed a series of reforms in the party ranks, thereby giving impetus to the non-cooperation movement, that by that time took the entire nation in its grip.

Mahatma Gandhi as the President of Indian National Congress

Mahatma Gandhi was elected as the president of the Indian National Congress in 1921. He immediately introduced a number of reforms within the party ranks. The first responsibility that Gandhi undertook as the president of the Indian National Congress was to increase the reach of the party among the masses who reside in the remote corners in order to eradicate its elitist status. Gandhi famously stated that rural India was the very backbone of the country, both in economic and in logistical terms. Therefore no movement can be truly successful unless whole-heartedly supported by the inhabitants of the Indian villages. The first step that he took was to considerably reduce the membership fee of the party. Then he restructured the entire party hierarchy, and opened new party branches at various provinces and princely states of India. Soon congress took a national dimension with membership multiplied manifold. Gandhi became the new guiding star of Indian politics, operating under the umbrella of the Indian National Congress.

As the president of the Indian National Congress, Mahatma Gandhi introduced the tenets and the ideals of Satyagraha, and the party saw the emergence of many new and charismatic leaders with great public appeals, who were loyal followers of Gandhi. By then, Lala Lajpat Rai also became an admirer of Gandhi in spite of former differences. With such great following, non-cooperation movement against the Rowlatt Act and the Amritsar tragedy naturally took massive national dimension.

Gandhi's Contribution towards Unification of the Congress

Gandhi called off the non-cooperation movement abruptly following the unfortunate violence at Chauri Chaura. It was even condemned by many of his most loyal followers as a historic blunder, with the likes of Sri CR Das among them. Gandhi's arrest in 1922 was the beginning of a stormy period for the Indian National Congress. Two factions under CR Das and Chakraborty Rajagopalachari gathered force, and the entire coherent fabric of the INC was on the point of breaking down, thereby bringing down the impetus of the Indian nationalist movement and also tarnishing the image of the Congress in the public eye. Gandhi tried hard to bridge the differences. He undertook a fast in a bid to unite the warring factions. However, success was limited and Gandhi had to come back and hold the reins in order to guide Congress in the proper direction.

Gandhi returned from a brief hibernation following his imprisonment and in the Calcutta Conference of 1928, announced his arrival with aplomb, daring the British government with a one year deadline to free India. He was influenced by the enthusiasm of younger Congressmen like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose. The government did not respond and the INC celebrated Indian independence on 26th January, 1930, following the proposals undertaken Lahore Congress the year before. The Civil Disobedience movement ensued with Gandhi at the helm, defying government orders.

Gandhi and the Indian National Congress through the Nineteen Thirties

The thirties were a particularly important and significant decade in the development of the Indian National Congress and Gandhi's role became central towards determining the course of action in these years. The Civil Disobedience movement was strong enough to lead the British authorities to cower down under pressure and take steps to initiate the first round table conference leading to the Gandhi - Irwin pact. Gandhi, on the terms laid down by the pact reached England in 1931 as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress to participate in the Second Round Table conference, where he delivered an invigorating speech, exposing the brutalities of the British rule in India. The conference predictably failed. The British government thereafter indulged in a divide and rule policy with the introduction of the Communal Award rule. Gandhi's innate belief in secularism was terribly hurt and he led Congress towards a full-fledged revolution. Gandhi's particular cause of pain was the breakdown within the Hindu community on lines of caste and creed, which was absolutely antagonistic to his satyagraha ideals. The highlight of the movement was the fast until death that he undertook on 20th September, 1932. His condition deteriorated and soon the warring factions were forced to come to terms of commonality. There would be a common election for the Hindus with the harijans and the other backward categories having seats reserved for them. The meeting with Ambedkar was successful, a great cessation was avoided at Gandhi's own initiative and the British policy of divide and rule suffered a setback. The elections proved a great success for Gandhi and the Indian National Congress that worked under his leadership.

The Second World War and Gandhi's Indian National Congress

The Second World War that took the entire Europe by storm placed a new dilemma for the Indian National Congress. The Congressmen were not very sure about which side to take. First, the Indian National Congress, much under the influence of Gandhi preferred to steer clear of what they thought was an exclusively European problem and a fight between imperialism and fascism. Both the sides were equally degrading to the authorities of Indian National Congress. However, there were divisions within the Congress, and it was gradually becoming difficult even for Gandhi to harness the contrasting ideologies under a single rein. The deadlock was broken when the British government promised to grant India self rule in return for their support of the British forces in the world war. Congress complied and India extended its support to the British. However, the British authorities were in no mood to keep its promise, leading Gandhi to give the clarion call for satyagraha. He attacked the British through an article in 'Harijan', and requested them to leave India. Finally, the Quit India Movement was formally launched in 1942, with Gandhi inviting the nationalists to embark in a program of 'do or die'. The revolution arrived at a fever pitch, as did the communal breakdown of the Indian social structure. It was a time of deep spiritual trauma for Gandhi. The goal of complete freedom of India was at the threshold, but at the cost of something that his secular ideology could never accept - partition.

Mahatma Gandhi's association with the Indian National Congress ushered in one of the most glorious periods of Indian nationalist movement. Throughout the troubled times, Gandhi, either in the capacity of the president or as a guiding force within the party structure successfully steered India towards its much cherished dream of freedom, that was ultimately realized in 1947.

Last Updated on 17/04/2013



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