In this article of the series : Indian Politics since Freedom, we shall discuss politics under British rule because the period during 1900-1947 led to the formation of the shape of modern politics of India.

During British rule, Indians had no presence in central government or even at a local level; their influence on policy and decision making was next to no.

The Indian Councils Act mostly known as Morley-Minto reforms introduced in 1909 was an Act of the Parliament of UK that brought about a little increase in the involvement of Indians in the governance

The Liberal Secretary of State of India, John Morley, and the Conservative Viceroy of India, Gilbert Eliot-Murray-Kynynmound, 4th Earl of Minto, had firm belief that cracking down on the uprising in Bengal was important but not sufficient for restoring stability to the British Rule after Lord Curzon’s partitioning of Bengal.  British rule considered that a dramatic step was required to reassure loyal elements of the Indian upper society and the growing Westernized section of Indians.

The Indian Councils Act or Morley-Minto reforms was important for the following reasons:

  • It effectively legitimized the election of Indians to the various legislative councils in India for the first time. Though, earlier some Indians had been appointed to legislative councils. The majorities of the councils remained British government appointments. Moreover, the electorate was limited to specific classes of Indian nationals.
  • The introduction of the electoral principle laid a firm groundwork for a parliamentary system even if it was contrary to their intent

However, People of India were not still satisfied with Indian Councils Act or Morley-Minto reforms. Nationalism within India started to intensify. The educated youth and leaders of India, who were introduced to some western scholars like Karl Marx and knew about western government system, could very well understand that British were toying with them. They were influenced by the thoughts of Indian scholars and nationalists like Lal, Bal Pal, Sri Aurobindo Ghosh and Swami Vivekanand. Educated Indians were totally dissatisfied with the Morley-Minto reforms. British still dominated India and there had been no real decrease in their power or increase in national power.

In 1919, a new act known as the Government of India Act (1919) was introduced.

  • Government of India Act (1919) act introduced a national parliament with two houses.
  • Under Government of India Act (1919), about 5 million of the wealthiest Indians were given the right to vote (a very small percentage of the total population)
  • Within the provincial governments, ministers of education, health and public works could now be Indians.
  • A promise for a commission that would be held in 1929, to see if India was ready for more concessions/reforms.

However, British still controlled whole central government and the provincial governments. They kept control of the key posts of tax and law and order.

The last stages of the self-rule struggle from the 1920s onwards saw Congress adopt Mahatma Gandhi’s policy of nonviolence and civil resistance, Jinnah’s constitutional struggle for the rights of minorities in India, and several other campaigns.

Activists Neta Ji Subhash Chandra Bose, Chandra Shekhar Azad and Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh supported armed revolution to achieve self-rule.

Poets and writers like Rabindra Nath Tagore, Subramaniya Bharati, Allam Iqbal, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Mohammad Ali Jouhar, Kazi Nazrul Islam and  Josh Malihabadi used literature, poetry and speech as a tool for political awareness.

Feminists such as Sarojini Naidu and Begum Rokeya promoted the emancipation of Indian women and their participation in national politics. Babasaheb Ambedkar championed the cause of the disadvantaged sections of Indian society within the larger self-rule movement.

During the period of Second World War, India saw two greatest campaigns named as “ Quit India movement” led by Mahatma Gandhi and the “Indian National Army movement” led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

Although the basic ideology of these movements was anti-colonial, it was supported by a vision of independent capitalist economic development coupled with a secular, democratic, republican, and civil-libertarian political structure.

After the 1930s, the freedom movement took on a strong socialist orientation, due to the increasing influence of left-wing elements in the Congress as well as the rise and growth of the Communist Party of India. The All-India Muslim League was formed in 1906 as a separate Muslim party which later in 1940 called for separate state of Pakistan. These various movements eventually led to the Indian Independence Act 1947, which ended the suzerainty in India and the creation of Pakistan.

We shall discuss influence of Quit India movement and Indian National Army on freedom of India in the next article under the same series Indian Politics since Freedom.