Essay on the freedom struggle in India and in Bangladesh


Freedom Struggle in Indiathe Indian national movement passed through various phases and with each passing phase, its social base broadened, its objective became clearer and its forms of expression varied.

The first phase of the national movement began in 1885 with the formation of the Indian National Congress (INC) and lasted roughly up to 1905.

During this phase, the leadership of the movement was in the hands of liberal leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, G.K. Gokhale, M.GRanade, S.N. Banerjee, Ferozeshah Mehta etc.


At this stage, the objective of the movement was not freedom but political, administrative, and economic reforms. At political level, the demand was to reform the central and local legislative councils, to secure more powers for the Indian representatives (which resulted in the passing of Indian Councils Act, 1892).

At the administrative level, the most important demand was to indianise the higher grades of administrative services through a simultaneous ICS examination in England and India. At economic level, the demand was for the industrialisation of the country and promotion of Indian industries.

The methods adopted to achieve these aims were clearly determined by liberal ideology. Constitutional agitation, effective argument, and fervent appeal to the democratic consciousness and traditions of the British were the accepted methods of struggle. Gradualism and constitutionalism were the key concepts.

They believed that the main purpose was to educate the masses, heighten national consciousness and create a consensus on political issues.


Freedom Struggle in Bangladesh

Bangladesh was part of Pakistan which was created on the demand that the Muslims are a nation and therefore must have a separate homeland and a state of their own. After Pakistan’s creation, however, Bengalis came to develop an increasing sense of distinctiveness that prevented the development of a single national community.

It was this estrangement that culminated in the secessionist movement as a result of which Bangladesh ceased to be its constituent part. The first significant event that was a landmark in the development of Bengali nationalism in Pakistan was the decision of the ruling government of Pakistan to introduce Urdu as the national language of Pakistan in disregard of Bengali wishes. Bengalis saw it as an attempt at cultural intrusion.

Different strata of population came out to protest this decision. Police action to disperse demonstrating students leading to the death of some individuals intensified Bengali hostility towards West Pakistan. The language movement sparked the first nationalistic sentiment that got reinforced by the economic and political treatment meted to the Bengalis by the dominant western Pakistan government. This demand later got turned into provincial autonomy. Legally, the Bengalis were citizens of Pakistan but economically the relationship between West Pakistan and East Pakistan was an exploitative one. East Pakistan’s foreign exchange earnings were diverted to the West to develop its economy while the East was left lagging behind.


There was some industrialisation, but its benefits were reaped by West Pakistan, because the owners were mostly from West Pakistan. Politically, East Pakistan had a subordinate position in the state structure of Pakistan. With West Pakistan becoming the seat of central government, the Muslim League did not allow the emergence of Bengali leadership in East Pakistan.

Instead, it sought to manage East Pakistan affairs through a combination of non-Bengali Nawabs and Muslim traders of erstwhile Bengal.

The position became worse because both in the bureaucracy and in the armed forces the eastern wing of Pakistan had no significant participation. As a result, the Bengali leadership was given much less than its due in top decision making structure. The overwhelming domination of West Pakistan in government, bureaucracy, and armed forces allowed them to manipulate and dominate East Pakistan.

The most significant impact of the language movement was on the 1954 general elections held under limited franchise. The Awami Muslim League that had emerged under the leadership of Bhashani in 1949 and other Bengali parties came together to form a United Front.


They demanded, among others, autonomy for East Pakistan and adoption of Bengali as one of the state languages. They decisively defeated the Muslim League in East Pakistan. However, the Muslim League dismissed the United Front government within six months and imposed military rule in the name of Governor’s rule. With the establishment of military dictatorship under Gen Ayub Khan in 1959, the first phase of the struggle of people of East Pakistan ended.

The military dictatorship of Ayub Khan was really aimed at preventing the middle classes or the vernacular elite from coming to power. Politicians with a mass base were disqualified and the domination of the armed forces over the military-bureaucratic complex backed by the industrial and trading bourgeoisie was ensured.

The rapid polarisation that followed reflected the cumulative impact of the growing political, ecohomic and cultural differences between the two wings.

This found expression in the Six-Point Programme announced by the leader of the Awami League, Mujibur Rahman in 1966. He demanded that the government be federal and parliamentary in nature, its members to be elected by universal adult suffrage with legislative representation on the basis of population; that the federal government have principal responsibility for foreign affairs and defence only; that each wing have its own currency and separate fiscal accounts; that taxation be done at the provincial level; that each federal unit having control over its own earning of foreign exchange; and that each unit could raise its own militia or paramilitary forces. This was virtually a demand for a confederation. The struggle for linguistic nationalism, autonomy, a balanced economic growth and democracy had now merged.


The third phase of the struggle was the elections of 1970, the first general elections conducted since independence. The Awami League not only swept the provincial assembly polls but also succeeded in securing a majority in the national assembly because of the larger population of the eastern wing. In such circumstances, the promised constituent assembly would have inevitably legitimised Mujib’s six-point programme.

Hence the convening of the national assembly was postponed by the ruling military elite and an alliance was forged with the opposition i.e. Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto in West Pakistan. Mujib launched a mass civil disobedience movement hoping to negotiate with Yahya Khan from the position of authority but the Pakistani ruling class used the negotiations to buy time to prepare for the military assault calculated to intimidate the Bengalis in submission.

When the military assault on Bengali nationalists began on 25 March, the civil disobedience and the non-cooperation movement turned into armed struggle.

The brutal military action accompanied by torture, rape and murder of intellectuals destroyed the last vestiges of Pakistani nationhood in the people of Bangladesh. The heavy civilian causalities led to an unprecedented migration of Bengali people to India. What should rightfully have been an internal affair of Pakistan thus became a major problem of India.

India provided sanctuary and training facilities to the freedom fighters. Besides, it mounted a massive diplomatic offensive to being to the notice of the world the genocide in Bangladesh and its liberation struggle/Finally; Pakistan spelt its own doom by declaring war on India on 31 December. The armed struggle ended on 16 December 1971 when the Pakistani army surrendered to the joint command of the Bangladesh Liberation Army and the Indian army in Dacca. Bangladesh emerged as a sovereign independent nation. During this phase, the national movement had a narrow base; the masses could not be attracted to it. Its influence was limited to urban educated class.

The Muslims by and large preferred to accept the leadership of Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan. In 1906, when the Muslim League was established, the Muslim community was affected by its communal character and tended to stay away from the national movement. Meanwhile, discontent against the British increased because of the high-handed measures of Lord Curzon who not only passed a number of laws such as the Indian Universities Act and the Calcutta Corporation Act curtailing the powers of the Indians but also partitioned Bengal, ostensibly for administrative convenience but politically to create a division between the Hindu dominant West Bengal and Muslim dominated East Bengal.

Large number of nationalists became disillusioned with the ideology and methods of the moderate leaders. With the rise of leaders like Bal GangadharTilak, Aurobindo Ghosh, Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal, the national movement entered a new phase, the Extremist or militant phase. The extremist leaders practiced a new political philosophy and methods of struggle.

Their programmes included boycott of foreign goods, breaking of all relations with the British Government, founding of national institutions for education, and propagation of Swadeshi. The boycott movement launched by the nationalists was aggressively anti-British. It included not only the boycott of British goods but also renunciation of the government titles and posts and boycott of councils and schools.

By providing a stimulus to cottage industries, it also became an instrument for the economic regeneration of the country. The extremists emphasised that there was an inherent clash between the Indian and the British interests and that the national movement was a direct result of this clash. The political propaganda of the militant nationalists instilled national pride, self-respect and self-corffidence in the people.

It also broadened the base of the national movement by associating with it the lower middle class, students and youth. But the movement resurrected Hindu ideas and invoked Hindu symbols which weaned its secular character.

This is perhaps why the movement could not prevent a large mass of the Muslims from accepting the communal ideology of the Muslim League. A new phase in the Indian national movement began with the entry of Mahatma Gandhi. During the World War I, the political activities were at a low ebb. But after the war, there was great unrest among the people because of the fall in agricultural prices, increasing poverty of the middle classes, debt due to war, price rise, profiteering etc.

The British government rewarded the Indian people with Government of India Act, 1919 that increased the participation of Indian people in the administration. But the Act did not come to the expectation of the Indian leaders. In these circumstances, the British severely restricted the civil liberties in India by enacting the Rowlatt Acts in 1919. Mohandas fCaram Chand Gandhi, who had returned from South Africa in 1914, initiated the struggle against the British rule by organising a series of non-violent acts of resistance against the Rowlett Acts of 1919.

The following year, Gandhi reorganised the Congress, transforming it from an annual gathering of national leaders to a mass movement, with membership fees and requirements set to allow even the poorest of the Indian to join. In August 1920 he launched a full scale non-cooperation movement on the twin issues of: i) rectify the wrongs of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy, and ii) the khilafat movement.

The non-cooperation movement through non-violence and Satyagrah revolutionised the nature of the national movement. It was transformed into a mass movement. It had three-tier programme boycott: of the national assembly, courts and foreign cloth, Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das, Patel, Rajendra Prasad and many others left the courts; students left schools and teachers resigned from schools and colleges.

The movement was not limited to boycott, it offered positive programmes like opening of national educational institutions and the establishment of cottage and handloom industries However, Gandhi ended the non-cooperation movement in 1922, when the movement turned violent at Chaura Chauri.

A special feature of the non-cooperation movement was Hindu-Muslim unity. But after the withdrawal of the movement, there were Hindu-Muslim rots throughout India. Both the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha took belligerent stands.

The national movement got a new lease of life in 1928 when the British government announced the appointment of Simon Commission to study the next steps of democratic reforms in India. The Congress boycotted the Commission on the ground that Indians were not representedJn the Commission.

It began to formulate a parallel constitution having the consent of the major communities. A committee was appointed under the chairmanship of Motilal Nehru to prepare a consensus report. The Committee prepared an All Parties Constitution based on self-governing dominion.

The report also recognised titles in private and personal property. The socialists criticised the scheme for abandoning the goal of independence. But most important the report did not enjoy the support of Jinnah and the Muslim League which felt that the Muslim interests have not been protected. Since the All Party Convention did not ^accede to the demands of the League, Jinnah parted company with the Congress.

Meanwhile, the younger leadership of INC represented by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose was not satisfied with the dominion status and called for complete independence. On 31 December, 1929, Congress, under the presidentship of Motilal Nehru passed a resolution for Purna Swaraj, that is, complete independence. The Civil Disobedience Movement began on 6 April 1930 by breaking the salt law. Gandhi prepared a comprehensive plan for this movement. He wanted every village to fetch or manufacture contraband salt, women to picket liquor shops, opium dens and shops of foreign cloth dealers; the young and old to spin khadi and bum foreign cloth, the Hindus to eschew untouchability, students to leave government school and government servants to resign their jobs.

The government responded by issuing a number of ordinances, banning the Congress and all its branches, closing down newspapers and printing presses and arresting as many as 90,000 people. Negotiations that followed resulted in the Gandhi-Irwin Pact by which all the political prisoners were released and Gandhi agreed to be sole representative of the Congress at the Round Table Conference in London. Gandhi placed the views of the Congress on the federal scheme for India, problems of minorities, the army etc. He opposed the communal division. But due to differences among the various Indian groups at the conference, viz. Congress, Hindu Mahasabha, Muslim League, Sikhs, native princes etc., no agreement could be reached and Gandhi came back from the conference empty handed.

In the meantime, the British government announced the Communal Award that not only gave separate electorate to Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, but also to the depressed classes. Gandhi who was in jail started a fast unto death. This resulted in the signing of Poona Pact that reserved seats for the depressed classes instead of separate electorate.

The constitutional reforms finally took shape in the form of the Government of India Act of 193 5. The Act provided for the establishment of autonomous legislative bodies in the provinces of British India, the creation of a federal form of government incorporating the provinces and princely states, and the protection of Muslim minorities. The 1935 Act opened a new chapter in the Indian constitutional development. Although the Act did not come up to the expectation of the political parties, all the parties decided to fight elections for the provincial assemblies in 1937, which further alienated Jinnah. He began to think in terms of Muslims not as Nationalism in South Asian minority but as a separate nationality.

In March 1940, Jinna propounded the ‘two nation’ theory and the Muslim League passed its famous resolution demanding a separate Muslim state constituting the geographically contiguous regions on the western and eastern zones of India. The Congress provincial ministries resigned in protest. In 1942, the Congress demanded that British should immediately quit India and passed the famous ‘Quit India’ resolution. But before the movement for this could be launched, all the leaders, including Gandhi were arrested and the movement became leaderless and took a violent turn.

There were strikes, agitations and demonstrations in all parts of India. Police stations, post offices and railway stations were attacked, communication wires were cut and railway lines destroyed. This phase showed that, if need be, the Indian people could take to violence to end British imperialism. Meanwhile, the Congress leaders were in jail, Jinnah got a free hand to strengthen the support base of the Muslim League.

The League soon became the chief spokesman of the Muslims. After 1943, the only question that remained was how the power could be transferred to India. After the War ended in April 1945, there were fresh elections in Britain and the new Labor government had to face a number of national and international problems. War had weakened the economy of Britain.

America and Russia which had emerged as super powers were in favor of freeing the colonies. Moreover, Britain found it difficult to maintain a colony like India which had witnessed mass movements and the revolt of the Indian National Army. In March 1946, the British government sent a Cabinet Mission to India.

After long and detailed discussions with different political parties and organisations, the Mission rejected the Muslim League’s demand to partition the country and made its proposals for an Indian federation and the setting up of a constituent assembly.

The proposals were accepted both by the Congress and the League though reluctantly. In September 1946, an interim government was formed under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru. The Muslim League also joined the government but decided not to participate in the making of a new constitution.

On 20 February 1947, the British Prime Minister announced his government’s decision to quit India before June 1948. Lord Mountbatten was to be sent to India to make arrangements for the transfer of power. In the meantime, the bickering within the interim government was threatening the breakdown of the administration.

The hostility between the two communities had acquired frightening proportions. Jinnah was adamant that the Muslims would not agree short of a sovereign state. As such partition of India and establishment of Pakistan was inevitable.

Mountbatten’s formula was that the country would be divided but also Punjab and Bengal so that the limited Pakistan that emerged would meet both the Congress and the League positions to some extent. The formula for partition and independence was accepted by all the major political parties in India and was given final shape by the British Parliament through Indian Independence Act 1947.

The act provided for the creation of two independent dominions, India and Pakistan, provided for the partition of Bengal and Punjab and gave the constituent assemblies of both the countries the power to frame their own constitutions. Thus, on 15 August 1947 India attained independence.

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