Indian National Movement

First War of Independence, 1857

The National Movement or the movement for Independence from the British Rule nearly started in 1857 which the British historians have called “Sepoy Mutiny” and the Indian historians, as the “First War of Independence”. Previously Indian soldiers have broken out in open mutiny against British Officers at Vellore in 1806, in 1842 in Bengal, in 1844 in Sind, then in Bihar and Punjab.

The immediate cause which precipitated the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 was due to the introduction of cartridges greased into cow’s and pig’s fat. The revolt started from Meerut and the first sepoy who refused to use the greased cartridge was Mangal Pandey. Mangal Pandey was killed by the British Army. The Indian soldiers have massacred the British personnel marched to Delhi in May 1857. The revolt of 1857 started from Meerut.

The Indian Soldiers proclaimed the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II as the Emperor of India. The heroine of this first war of Independence for India was Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, one of the most courageous and capable leaders of the mutiny. She fought the British forces strongly but fell. Among others who fell fighting were Nana Saheb and Tantya Tope, the brave commander of Nana Saheb’s forces. The leaders lost the war mainly because of lack of unity of purpose effective organisation, and a unified system of leadership.

One of the immediate results of the mutiny was that it led to the assumption of direct responsibility for administration of India by the British Crown. Queen Victoria’s Proclamation was issued in 1858. Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India and the Governor - General was designated the Viceroy and the Governor-General Lord Canning became the first Viceroy of India.

British Rule

The dissatisfaction with British rule intensified in the 1870s and 1880s. The Arms Act was passed in 1878, disallowing Indians from possessing arms. In the same year the Vernacular Press Act was also enacted in an effort to silence those who were critical of the government. The Act allowed the government to confiscate the assets of newspapers including their printing presses if the newspapers published anything that was found objectionable.

Ilbert Bill

In 1883, there was a furore over the attempt by the government to introduce the Ilbert Bill. The bill provided for the trial of British or European persons by Indians, and sought equality between British and Indian judges in the country. But when white opposition forced the government to withdraw the bill, Indians were enraged. The event highlighted the racial attitudes of the British in India.

The Indian National Congress was established when 72 delegates from all over the country met at Bombay in December 1885.

Birth of Indian National Congress, 1885

The birth of Indian National Congress was a great achievement for the unity of India. The Indian National Congress was founded by A.O.Hume in 1885, during the Governor-General of Lord Dufferin. The first session of the Indian National Congress was the training and organisation of public opinion in the country.


In early 1915, Mrs. Annie Besant launched a campaign through her two papers. New India organised public meetings and conferences to demand that India be granted self-government. In April 1916, Tilak set up the Home Rule League. Annie Besant announced the formation of her Home Rule League, with George Arundale, as the organising secretary. She also organised Theosophical Society at Adyar.

The two leagues worked in co-operation demarcating their area of activity, at belgaum meeting, Tilak declared “Swaraj is my birthright and I will have it”. At another meeting he told the people: “Do not ask for crumbs; ask for the whole bread”. Jawaharlal Nehru joined both the Home Rule Leagues, but worked mostly for Annie Besant's Home Rule League. Tilak joined the Lucknow Session of the Congress in 1916 and with the co-operation of Annie Besant and Bipin Chandra Paul secured control of the Congress.

Partition of Bengal, 1905

In July 1905, Lord Curzon, the Viceroy and Governor-General (1899-1905), ordered the partition of the province of Bengal supposedly for improvements in administrative efficiency in the huge and populous region. However, the Indians viewed the partition as an attempt by the British to disrupt the growing national movement in Bengal and divide the Hindus and Muslims of the region.

The government failed to consult Indian public opinion. The partition appeared to reflect the British resolve to divide and rule. Widespread agitation ensued in the streets and in the press, and the Congress advocated boycotting British products under the banner of Swadeshi. The Swadeshi movement sought to oppose British rule and encourage the ideas of self-help, swadeshi enterprise, national education, and use of Indian languages. To fight for swaraj, the radicals advocated mass mobilization and boycott of British institutions and goods.

All India Muslim League, 1906

The All India Muslim League was founded by the All India Muhammadan Educational Conference at Dhaka (now Bangladesh) in 1906, in the context of the circumstances that were generated over the partition of Bengal in 1905.  The League supported the partition of Bengal. It desired separate electorates for Muslims, a demand conceded by the government in 1909.

Being a political party to secure the interests of the Muslim diaspora in British India, the Muslim League played a decisive role during the 1940s in the Indian independence movement and developed into the driving force behind the creation of Pakistan.

Congress Split, 1907

The Moderates were opposed to the use of boycott. They felt that it involved the use of force. After the split the Congress came to be dominated by the Moderates with Tilak’s followers functioning from outside. The two groups reunited in December 1915.

Lucknow Pact, 1916

The Congress and the Muslim League signed the historic Lucknow Pact and decided to work together for representative government in the country.

First World War (1914-1919)

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 gave a new lease of life to the nationalist movement. On the outbreak of World War I, some of the Indian revolutionaries thought of alliance into Germany against England. A young Tamil named Champakraman Pillai, President of a body in Zurich, called the International Pro-India Committee, went to Berlin to work under the German Foreign Office. He started the Indian National Party which was attached to the German General Staff. 

The First World War altered the economic and political situation in India. It led to a huge rise in the defence expenditure of the Government of India. The government in turn increased taxes on individual incomes and business profits. Increased military expenditure and the demands for war supplies led to a sharp rise in prices which created great difficulties for the common people.

After 1919 the struggle against British rule gradually became a mass movement, involving peasants, tribals, students and women in large numbers and occasionally factory workers as well.

Gandhian Era

During the war years, 1914-1918, Nationalism gathered its forces. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 at Porbandar in Saurashtra. He proceeded to England in 1888 and returned to India as Barrister-at-Law. He proceeded to Natal in South Africa and fought for the Indian Congress and also a newspaper called “Indian Opinion” with a view to educating Indians in political matters.

Gandhiji returned to India in January 1915 from South Africa, and was warmly welcomed. Mahatma Gandhi spent his first year in India travelling throughout the country, understanding the people, their needs and the overall situation.His first involvement was in Champaaran in Bihar and the second in Kheda (Kaira). Gandhiji organised Satyagraha and asked the cultivators not to pay the land revenue. The Government yielded and a compromise was reached.

Rowlatt Act, 1919

The Rowlatt Act, passed on 10 March, 1919, enacted during the First World War in order to control public unrest and root out conspiracy in India. This act authorized the government to imprison any person suspected of terrorism for up to two years without a trial, and gave the imperial authorities power to deal with all revolutionary activities.

In 1919 Gandhiji gave a call for a satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act that the British had just passed. He asked the Indian people to observe 6 April, 1919 as a day of non-violent opposition to this Act, as a day of “humiliation and prayer” and hartal (strike).

The Rowlatt Act, along with Press Act and 22 other laws were repealed in March 1922.

The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

In April 1919 there were a number of demonstrations and hartals in the country and the government used brutal measures to suppress them. On the afternoon of April 13, 1919 a public meeting was held in Jallianwala Bagh in Amristsar, despite a ban on meetings. Sir Michael O Dyer, the Lt. Governor took command of the troops and ordered fire. Many innocent people died on the spot. Rabindranath Tagore renounced his 'Knighthood' as a measure of protest. Gandhiji returned the 'Kaiser-i-Hind' medal given to him for his work during the Boer War.

Government of India Act, 1919

The Government of India Act 1919 was passed to expand participation of Indians in the government of India. The Act provided a dual form of government (dyarchy) for the major provinces. In each such province, control of some areas of government (transferred list) were given to a Government of ministers answerable to the Provincial Council. At the same time, all other areas of government (reserved list) remained under the control of the Viceroy.

Khilafat Agitation & Non Co-operation Movement, 1920

In 1920, the British imposed a harsh treaty on the Turkish Sultan or Khalifa. People were furious about this as they had been about the Jallianwala massacre. Also, Indian Muslims were keen that the Khalifa be allowed to retain control over Muslim sacred places in the erstwhile Ottoman Empire. The leaders of the Khilafat agitation, Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, now wished to initiate a full-fledged Non-Cooperation Movement.

Gandhiji supported their call and urged the Congress to campaign against “Punjab wrongs” (Jallianwala massacre), the Khilafat wrong and demand swaraj.

The Non Co-operation Movement was launched by Gandhiji on August 1920. Tilak died on the same day. Tilak’s last message to the nation was 'Unless Swaraj is achieved, India shall not prosper. It is required for our existence'.

Gandhiji withdrew the Non Co-operation Movement in February 1922, when an angry crowd burnt the police station at Chauri Chaura (UP). Twenty two policemen were killed on that day. The peasants were provoked because the police had fired on their peaceful demonstration.

Simon Commission

The Indian Statutory Commission was a group of seven British Members of Parliament of United Kingdom that had been dispatched to India in 1928 to study constitutional reform. It was commonly referred to as the Simon Commission after its chairman, Sir John Simon.

The Government of India Act 1919 had introduced the system of dyarchy to govern the provinces of British India. The Act stated that a commission would be appointed after 10 years to investigate the progress of the governance scheme and suggest new steps for reform. The people of India were outraged, as the Simon Commission, which was to determine the future of India, did not include a single Indian member in it. The Indian National Congress, at its December 1927 meeting in Madras resolved to boycott the Commission.

Lahore Congress “Purna Swaraj”, 1929

The Congress assembled at Lahore towards the end of December 1929. The Lahore Congress declared that the agreement to Dominion Status in the Nehru Report had lapsed and committed the Congress to full Swaraj. At midnight on December 31, 1929. Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the tri-colour national flag on the banks of the Ravi.

Civil Disobedience Movement, 1930

The Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930-31 marked a critically important stage in the progress of the anti-imperialist struggle. Gandhi launched Civil Disobedience Movement by organizing the Dandi March with a view to break the salt law. According to this law, the state had a monopoly on the manufacture and sale of salt. Gandhiji and his followers marched for over 240 miles from Sabarmati to the coastal town of Dandi where they broke the government law by gathering natural salt found on the seashore, and boiling sea water to produce salt.

Organisation of country-wide demonstrations and hartals, boycott of the foreign goods and refusal to pay taxes were stages of Civil Disobedience Movement. As a result of Gandhi - Irwin Pact of 1931, Congress agreed to withdraw the Civil Disobedience Movement and took part in the Round Table Conference.

Bardoli Satyagraha

In Gujarat, a conflict developed between the peasantry and the Government. The Government attempted to increase revenue, Vallabhbhai Patel took up the cause of the peasants and the struggle was known as the Bardoli Satyagraha. The Struggle met with success and Vallabhbhai Patel came to be called Sardar.

Government of India Act, 1935

The combined struggles of the Indian people bore fruit when the Government of India Act of 1935 prescribed provincial autonomy and the government announced elections to the provincial legislatures in 1937. The Congress formed governments in 7 out of 11 provinces.

Second World War (1939-1945)

In September 1939, the Second World War broke out. Critical of Hitler, Congress leaders were ready to support the British war effort. But in return they wanted that India be granted independence after the war. The British refused to concede the demand. The Congress ministries resigned in protest.

Quit India Movement, 1942

Mahatma Gandhi decided to initiate a new phase of movement against the British in the middle of the Second World War. In 1942, the Congress decided to launch the Quit India Movement with a view to compel the British Government to offer more favorable terms. The first response of the British was severe repression. By the end of 1943 over 90,000 people were arrested, and around 1,000 killed in police firing.

Cabinet Mission, 1946

The Cabinet Mission came to India to evolve a consensus on the constitutional question. In 1945, when Mr. Atlee of the Labour Party became the Prime Minister of Britain, he took a realistic view of India’s dream for freedom.

Elections to the provinces were again held in 1946. The Congress did well in the “General” constituencies but the League’s success in the seats reserved for Muslims was spectacular. It persisted with its demand for “Pakistan”. 

In March 1946 the British cabinet sent a three-member mission to Delhi to examine this demand and to suggest a suitable political framework for a free India. This
mission suggested that India should remain united and constitute itself as a loose confederation with some autonomy for Muslim-majority areas. But it could not get the Congress and the Muslim League to agree to specific details of the proposal. Partition now became more or less inevitable.

Mountbatten Plan, 1947

The Mountbatten Plan of June 3, 1947 contained a solution for the political and constitutional deadlock created by the refusal for the Muslim League to join the Constituent Assembly, formed to frame the Constitution of India. It laid down detailed principles for the partition of India and the speedy transfer of political power in the form of Dominion Status to the newly born Dominions of India and Pakistan.

A Bill containing the main provisions of the Mountbatten Plan of June 3, 1947 was introduced in the British Parliament and passed as the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Lord Atlee was the Prime Minister of England when India got Independence. India thus obtained Independence on the 15th of August 1947 and became a Sovereign, Secular, Democratic and Republic State on the 26 January, 1950.