The Indian Mutiny (1857-58) is regarded as being the first spark of the Indian people’s war for independence, a military mutiny, or even as a popular movement against innovations introduced by Britain. All of these can be found in varying intensities in this event. The Mutiny was a manifestation, an acting out, of the tension that had been building in Indian society for more than a decade.
Britain had a policy of neutral rule during these years which was intended to have little or no effect upon Hindu society, when, in fact, every law, every tax every innovation had varying degrees of influence on it. These effects were viewed by the Hindus as being basically evil. Neutral rule could have been accomplished had these changes merely existed alongside the old, rather than to have supplanted it. In practice, however, through political patronage, western civilization was imposed upon the people of India. If one wanted to become educated or get a job, one had to conform to the new order. Young Indians were affected by what they saw and grew to question Hindu teachings. Land settlements and displacement of landlords also caused serious tensions in Indian society.
So, in this period of great tension a man would be appointed governorgeneral, who was a firm believer in the superiority of western civilization, and was committed to bring it to India. This man was Lord Dalhousie. His term as governor-general endured for eight years, from 1848-56. Dalhousie was a virtual dynamo; constructing railways and roads, stringing telegraph lines, and establishing the first three Indian universities. All of these innovations, when viewed from a western perspective, appear to be great accomplishments, while Indians viewed them as threatening to their way of life. This contributed to the condition of unrest.
Determined to press on Dalhousie annexed lands of the Hindu princes, the Maratha states and other regions. He was of the opinion that the more territory that was directly under British rule, the better it was for all concerned. In his eight years as governor-general Dalhousie managed to create abrupt change and, upon his departure from India in 1856, appeared to have created tranquility. In fact, beneath this veneer of calm was the hot cauldron close to boiling over.
The Mutiny was this boiling over. From this incident grew a rude awakening for the Europeans in India. Their self confidence and their confidence in subordinates was thoroughly shaken. Their sense of mission in India needed to be examined and redefined. There was an awakening on the part of Indians, as well. Although there was a resistance to change in favor of traditional values, there was also a questioning of these values. There was a realization that western society may have some benefit for them.
The stage was now set for a reorganization and reorientation which would transform British India for the next sixty years. Out of this grew three general resolutions: 1) closer touch with Indian opinion, 2) classes with a stake in the country would be treated with consideration, and 3) caution would be exerted not to interfere with religious and social customs.
The first was a reorganization of the manner in which British rule of India was to be governed. From this, the East India Company became the scapegoat. Direct rule would be accomplished through a Viceroy, answerable to the Crown. Changes were also effected in the membership of executive councils.
The second was to bring rewards to the princes and landed classes who were generally viewed as having prevented the revolt from spreading. They were also viewed as being able to exercise some control over the masses. The Hindu princes were seen as props of imperialism, from whom pro-British attitudes would spread.
The third was the policy of westernization. Up until this period policies were such that attempted to promote quick changes in Indian society. The British now adopted an attitude that change was not going to occur rapidly or through force, and that they should sit back and wait patiently for change to take root. There is a particular irony here, in that Britain, with all of Her fervor to expand in India, too committed to withdraw from the sub-continent, must now reverse the course taken in the past and turn Her attention to change that would better suit these conditions.
The period which was to follow was one in which social and religious customs were not interfered with, at least not without popular support, i.e. thuggee, suttee, or infanticide. Britain’s attention would now turn to building India’s infrastructure. Intense programs were introduced which built bridges, roads, railways, canals, dams and telegraph facilities. Efforts were also made in education and science. The Indians, it was thought, would be left to do what they will with these changes. Percival Spear’s
History of India
calls this “the importation of the body of the West without its soul”.
The attitude on the part of Britain was that India was so conservative as to be practically unchangeable. Self rule was thought to be far into the future, and the apparent manipulation of the upper classes made Britain to feel comfortable. Therein lies the flaw in the collective thought of British officials; they failed to recognize the power and the importance of a class of Indians they, themselves, created, the new, English knowing class of Indians who occupied such positions as; teachers, lawyers, clerks and subordinate officials of the civil service.
The effect of the education of Indians, through an enlightened policy which established universities and private colleges, was not surprising. Having seen the innovations of western civilization and an improved quality of life, their desire was to make these their own, on their terms. Education opened the eyes of Indians of the new class. This class became the epicenter of a national awakening. How can one who has read the literature of democracy, or individual rights and revolution not be affected by these concepts? Many made the best of these principles a part of their own philosophies. These educated people, who wrote of transforming Indian society, were a potent force in Indian nationalism. Two men, Henry Derozio and Ram Mohun Roy, wrote of social and political change from two differ t perspectives. Derozio wrote of patriotism, Roy searched Hindu teachings, looking for consistencies, points of harmony, between them and western culture. Each man had his followers, but failed to win popular support.
The period from 1860-1890s was a time of relative civil peace in India. Six of these years are associated with the policies of the liberal government of Gladstone. Self-government for Indians was once more on the minds of officials in London. Gladstone wrote, “ . . . it would be our weakness and our calamity that we will have not been able to give India the blessings and benefits of free institutions.” In 1880 Gladstone appointed Lord Ripon as Viceroy. In four years Ripon managed to introduce a system of local self government for town and country, and establish more schools. Ripon, revered by many Indians, suffered a great setback when the Europeans, angered by the passage of the Ilbert Bill, demanded that it not be enforced. This bill enabled Indian judges to rise to higher levels and made it possible for them to hear trials of Europeans. Ripon compromised, and as with all compromises, neither side gets what it wants , both sides are disgruntled.
The Indian reaction to this was the first meeting of the Indian National Congress, December, 1885. Though this body was comprised of only seventy delegates, the Congress would become the platform from which the political opinions of the new class would be spoken. As the Congress grew so did the number of differing points of view within it. True to India’s affinity to paradox, two men whose ideas were at extreme ends of the spectrum, emerged as leaders of the main tendencies of the Congress. They were Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
Gokhale admired the West and sought conciliation between it and his culture. Tilak, a man whose pride and nationalist spirit grew from India’s past, advocated a complete break between India and Britain. Their groups of followers, however, would find enough common ground from which to work for the greater goal. By 1900 the broad issues were:
the increase of Indian representation on councils,
the principle of free elections,
Indianization of the higher services, and
redress of economic policies which are injurious to native industry.
With the arrival of Lord Curzon as the new Viceroy in the last years of the 19th century and the first of the 20th century came a renewal of British spirit to bring genuine improvement to the human condition in India. Lord Curzon believed in Britiain’s Divine destiny to lift India out of the poor conditions in which it existed. Curzon was a man who looked toward the future, and the future he saw for India was a bright one, but only with the guidance of Britain. Though his intentions were beneficent, they were not appropriate for the stage of political development now achieved by India. Curzon had a great respect for the culture of India, as evidenced by his projects to construct museums and monuments and the restoration of Indian antiquities.
The new educated class of Indians was beyond acceptance of this paternalistic attitude. What they sought was, at least, self government, and, at best, independence. Curzon had contempt for these people. His view was that this English knowing class was educated by western culture, given a political vocabulary with which to criticize British rule, yet managed not one bit to improve the lot of the masses.
An important challenge was made to Curzon by the President of the Congress, Romash Chandra Dutt. He charged that British land policies were responsible for the famine in India. Curzon welcomed the opportunity to rebutt this charge and defend British policies. Curzon had a greater interest in mustering public opinion at home than he was in satisfying his detractors in India. The resulting document was a remarkable reply, in which Curzon was able to refute the charges made against him (Papers Regarding The Land Revenue System of British India, 1902).
The winds of change were all about in India and at Home. Self determination would come to haunt Curzon in England and India. The working class in Britain was demanding a greater voice in government, sweeping into office its liberal government in 1906. The new Secretary of State, John Morley, and Viceroy Gilbert John Minto collaborated to win back the loyalty of the political classes in India through new policies, the Morley-Minto Reforms.
Generally, these reforms provided for greater consultation with Indians and improvements in electoral practices. These reforms provided an appearance of greater Indian participation within certain parameters. The Bengal province was reunited and the city of Delhi became the new capital under these reforms. The nationalists, at least the moderate strain,were for the time being, satisfied.
The outbreak of World War I resulted in a moratorium of nationalist agitation. Indeed, a pro-British attitude existed among Indians, as evidenced by the more than one million Indians who enlisted in the army. This was due to the belief that if they were to enthusiastically support British efforts in the war, a war which was to make the world safe for democratic institutions, there must surely be a stake in it for Indians. It is important to note that British troops were at their lowest levels at this time. As the war dragged on nationalist spirit surfaced once again. The war with Turkey aroused Muslim spirit, resulting in Tilak’s success in convincing the Muslim League to join the Congress.
This united front caused concern in the Home Government. Their troops in India, too few to bring about a military solution to the revived nationalist feelings, necessitated a political course of action. In December, 1916 under the liberal government of Prime Minister Lloyd George and Secretary of State Sir Edwin Montagu, Indians were promised a wider role in government. On August 20, 1917 Montagu declared in the House of Commons, “ . . . the policy of His Majesty’s government is that of increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire . . . that substantial steps should be taken as soon as possible.”
Montagu arrived in India in late 1917. His Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms was the first time that official policy displayed the faith that Indians could very well govern themselves. Broad changes in legislative councils and the electorate were brought about through the Montagu-Chelsford reforms. The British still remained in control, indeed, that control was exercised with the same character as that of a police state. At Home it appeared as if progress was being made toward the lofty ideals of Montagu’s report. In fact, British officials in Delhi were busy repressing the people.
Riots broke out in 1919 in Punjab. A crowd was protesting the arrest of two nationalist leaders. The protest was quickly broken up and all assemblies were declared illegal. A few days later, on April 13, a large gathering assembled at Jallianwalla Bagh, an enclosed square. General Dyer, hearing of the gathering, went there with ninety soldiers to disperse the crowd. Guns were leveled on the gathering and the order to fire was given, resulting in the death of nearly 400 and the wounding of more than 1,000 Indians. The very next day a mob was bombed and machine gunned from the air. Martial law was declared on April 15 and remained in force until June 9. The Hunter Commission was assembled to investigate these disturbances. General Dyer was mildly reprimanded and relieved of command.
The emergence of a great figure in Indian history began during this period. He was Mohandis K. Gandhi. Until now Gandhi supported cooperation with the British. He reversed this philosophy, calling for a campaign of non-cooperation with anything British. He stated, “ . . . cooperation in any shape or form with this satanic government is sinful.” Gandhi controlled the majority in the Congress by August, 1919, and began the “non-cooperation movement.” Indians resigned form civil service jobs, schools and colleges. The Muslims and Hindus managed a tenuous unity during this period. Lord Reading, Chelmsford’s successor, knew this unity was shaky and waited for the honeymoon to come to an end. It did in late 1921, but not without the realization by Indians of two important factors in the rise of Indian nationalism:.
Congress was a significant force, backed by popular support,
Indians became confident about their political leverage.