- India was part of the British Empire in 1900. They parted ways in 1947 when India achieved independence.
- All of the decisions in governing were made by the British.
- Britain had a heavy military presence in India.
- In World War II, the Indian people assisted the British with soldiers.
India was considered to be a very important territory in the British Empire was governed by Britain for most of the 19th century. Queen Victoria was the Empress of India and had set up a heavy military presence there. The people of India were not included in making decisions in the central and local governments. They had no influence whatsoever on policy and decision making.
The Indian National Congress (INC) was formed in 1885 by educated middle-class Indian citizens. The main objective of this party was to ensure that they got a say in how they were being governed.
A set of reforms known as the Morley-Minto reforms were introduced in 1909. Lord Morley was Viceroy of India and Minto was the Secretary of State for India. These reforms ensured that each province in India had its own governor and Indians were allowed to sit in the councils as advisors to the governors.
Nationalism in India intensified after 1918 for two main reasons: There was a great degree of satisfaction with the reforms by the educated Indian nationals. Many Brits were still dominant in India. Woodrow Wilson had made Indians aware of his belief in national self-determination. He believed that Indians had a right to govern themselves and this undermined the basic idea of the colonialist Brits.
In 1917, Britain thought of the idea of giving India a degree of self-government. They believed that it would lead to the gradual development of self-governing institutions, which in turn would lead to a progressive realisation of a government in India.
The Government of India Act was introduced in 1919, which included an introduction of a national parliament with two houses for India. This gave about 5 million of the wealthiest Indians the right to vote. This was a very small percentage of the total population. Indian nationals would also be present in the provincial government, ministry of education, health and public works. In 1929, a commission would determine if India was ready for more reforms.
The British, however, still controlled the central government and had some element of control in the provincial governments. A majority of MP’s in Britain were not in favour of giving India any form of self-government. They were paranoid about what would happen and whether it would start the fall of the British Empire.
As a result, the reforms were introduced very slowly and they consequently spread throughout the country at an equally slow rate. This antagonised the Indian nationals as they believed the British were deliberately stalling and still wanted to reign supreme.
Riots eventually broke out, the most infamous one being at Amritsar in Punjab, where 379 unarmed protesters were killed by British soldiers. A further 1,200 were injured. Many were angry when the officer who was commanding the troops, General Dyer, simply resigned when people came asking. Indians felt that they got away too easily with the assault. Many Indians felt a sense of determination to get rid of the Brits and rushed to join the INC. It quickly became the party of the masses.
Lord Birkenhead was Secretary of State for India from 1924 to 1928 was a sworn enemy of self-governance. He was a tough head and any notion of self-rule was very difficult or impossible to realise under him. This led to the emergence of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Jinnah, who would prove highly influential in India’s future.
Into the Future
Mahatma Gandhi persuaded many of his followers to use passive resistance and nonviolence in their protests. They participated in sit-down strikes, refused to work and refused to pay taxes. The British would harm their reputation if they reacted with force. However, there were leaders who wanted to use more extreme measures to quell the protests.
The commission that had been formed in 1919 to determine if India was ready for self-governance first had a sitting in 1928 under the Simon Commission. This sitting was to occur every 10 years.
The commission reported their findings in 1930. There were no Indians in this commission. In the report, there was a recommendation for self-government for the provinces but nothing else. This was unacceptable for the INC, which wanted complete control.
In the same year, Gandhi started his second civil disobedience campaign, which included deliberately breaking the law and the law on manufacturing salt in particular. The law in India stated that only the government could manufacture salt. Gandhi began to produce his own salt. He ended up being arrested.
Lord Irwin, a sympathetic Viceroy to India, was appointed. He believed that India should have the status they desired and he publicly expressed this idea. He continuously pushed for the issue to be discussed. He organised two roundtable conferences in 1930-31 and both were held in London.
The first conference in 1930 was not successful as no INC members were present. Most of them were in Indian prisons. Lord Irwin campaigned for their release and persuaded Gandhi to travel to Britain to take part in the second conference. The second conference achieved little as it broke down due to the issue of religion, which was to haunt India in the future. The bone of contention was how Muslims would be in an independent Indian parliament.
The Government of India Act was introduced in 1935. Britain, at this time, had a National Government and some progress was made over India mainly because Ramsay-MacDonald, the Labour leader, and Stanley Baldwin, the Tory leader, agreed on a joint course of action. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was against it. Some but not all of the elements were introduced. An elected Indian assembly would have a say in everything apart from defence and foreign affairs. The provincial assemblies were in full control of their local affairs.
The Indian nationalists were not satisfied with this as they were not allowed to control their own defence and foreign policies. Princes who were still in control of some areas in India refused to cooperate with the newly formed provincial assemblies, so what they had agreed to was meaningless.
A major failing of the act was that it had ignored the obvious the religious rivalry between Muslims and Hindus. Nearly two-thirds of India’s population were Hindus and Muslims feared that they would be treated unfairly once they got independence. For instance, in the 1937 provincial elections, Hindus dominated the Congress Party under Nehru and won eight out of the possible eleven provinces. The Muslim League, under Jinnah, now demanded a separate region, which was to be called Pakistan. However, Gandhi and the Congress Party were determined to maintain a united Indian front.
World War II concealed this disparity but only temporarily. The Indians provided military help in the fight against the Japanese in Burma. The British promised dominion status Indians had wanted once the war was over.
In 1945, Clement Attlee, the new head of the newly elected Labour government, wanted to solve what was perceived as the ‘Indian problem’. This turned out to be a very complex process. Attempts to solve this problem failed as neither side would compromise. The idea was to give the provincial governments most of the power while central government would only have limited powers. The new Labour government believed that most Muslims lived in one or two provinces and that the governments in these provinces could make their own decisions. This would eliminate the need for a separate Muslim state.
The plan was accepted in principle but the details weren’t. The Governor-General of India, Lord Wavell, invited Nehru to form a temporary government in August 1946. He hoped that the details of such a government could be determined later on but hoped that the creation of an actual government headed by Indians would be acceptable by all. The Hindu Nehru included two Muslims in his cabinet but this did not succeed in soothing the discontent.
Jinnah called on Muslims to take direct action to get an independent Muslim state. As a result, violence spread and more than 5,000 people were killed in Calcutta. India entered a civil war.
Attlee announced early in 1947 that Britain would leave India by June 1948 and a new Viceroy was appointed, Lord Mountbatten. He concluded that peace and harmony could only be achieved if a partition was allowed. The Hindus agreed with him. Any delay would worsen the violence and he pushed forward the date for Britain leaving India to August 1947.
The Indian Independence Act was signed in August 1947. It separated the Muslim majority areas (in the north-western and north-eastern regions of India) from India and the independent state of Pakistan was created. This new state was split in two and was 1,000 miles apart. The act was not easy to put into action.
Some people found themselves on the wrong side of the partition, especially in the mixed provinces of Punjab and Bengal. Millions had to move to the new frontiers, wherein Hindus in what was to become Pakistan moved to India while Muslims in India moved to Pakistan. The two moving groups inevitably met and violence ensued especially in the volatile Punjab province where it is thought that 250,000 people were murdered in religious clashes. By the end of 1947, it seemed that the violence would get worse, but in January 1948, Gandhi was assassinated by a fellow Hindu. It was a gesture that showed that Hindus were fed up with Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims. However, this assassination, ironically ushered in a period of stability as there was some shock at his loss.