The background of the two mass movements was provided by the impact of the First World War, the Rowlatt Act, the Jallianawalla Bagh massacre and the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms.
Impact of the First World War:
The post-first World War period witnessed the increase of prices of necessary commodities and the common people were most sufferers.
The volume of imports increased and as a result, production fell, many Indian factories closed the workers became its natural voctims. The peasantry was also under heavy burden of taxes. Thus, the economic condition of the country in the post-war years became alarming. In the political front, the nationalists were disillusioned when the colonial Government did not keep their promise of bringing in a new era of democarcy and self-determination of the people. Such a situation strengthened the anti-British feeling of the Indians.
The most important landmark of the period was the passing of the Rowlatt Act on March 18, 1919 which set you stage of widespread agitation against the Government. Coming soon after the war when the Indians were expecting generous treatment from Britain, it definitely aroused violent protest from all parts of India. The Act empowered the Government to imprison any person without trial and conviction in a court of law.
The Act would, thus, enable the Government to suspend the right of civil liberities of the people. Its basic aim was to imprison the nationalists without giving them the oppurtinity to defend themselves.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared that a Government which enacted such a law in peace time had no right to be called a civilised government. Gandhi considered the “Bills to be an open challenge” and decided to oppose the Rowlatt Act which he described as “symptoms of deeep-seated disease”. Gandhi decided to show the protest of the nation against the ill-famed Rowlatt Act through the novel metrhod of Satyagraha.
He launched the movement with a day of hartal when all kinds of work were to be suspended and the people were to fast and pray. Countless men all over the country obeyed the command of Mahatma and the hartal was observed on 6th April 1919. The Government arrested Gandh on 9th April and the news of his arrest spread like wild fire.
He was released at once. March and April 1919 witnessed remarkable political awakening throughout the country. The Rowlatt Satyagraha as a political campaign was a failure as it did not attain its object- the repeal of the Rowlatt Act. But it projected Gandhi as an all India leader of imense potency.
Jallianawalla Bagh Massacre:
The same period witnessed the naked brutality of the British imperialists at Jallianawalla Bagh in Amritsar. An unarmed but large crowd had gathered on 13 April 1919, the Hindu New Year’s day or the day of the Baisakhi festival, at Jallianawala Bagh to protest against the arrest of two popular leaders of Punjab, Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlu. Sir Micheal One’Dyer, the millitary commander of Amrtitsar in his attempt to terrorise the crowd surrounded the Bagh with his rifle-men.
The Bagh of Garden was enclosed on three sides by buildings and had only one exit. He stationed his troops at the exit point and without issuing any warning, ordered the soldiers to open fire on the unarmed crowd. Thousand were killed and seriously wounded. When General Dyer left the place, the Jallianawala Bagh looked like a valeey of death. The massacre of innocent people at Jallianawala Bagh is one of the worst political crimes ever committed in the history of modern times. After the incident martial law was imposed throughout Punjab and the people were subjected to all kinds of atrocities.
The Jallianawala massacre shocked the whole nation. The Punjab tragedy had a lasting impact on succeeding generations. The popular shock was expressed by the great poet Randra Nath Tagore who renounced the title of knighthood as a measure of protest.
Gandhi was also deeply aggrieved and returned the Kaiser-I-Hind medal, awarded to him by the Government for his service during the First World War. The congress in its Amritsar Session, held on December 1919 under the presidentship of Motilal Nehru, condemned the incident.
Montagu-Chemsford Reforms of 1919:
The introduction of another constitutional reform act which is known as Montagu-Chemsford or Mont-ford reforms or the Government of India Act of 1919 further disillusioned the nationalists.
The Montagu-Chemsford Reforms, known after the names of Edwin Montagu, Secreteray of State for India and then the Viceroy of India, Lord Chemsford, recommended the enlargement of provincial legislative councils with a majority of elected members and introduced the system of “Dyarchy” in the provinces.
Under this system of dyarchy some important departments of the state like finance, police and general administartion, called “reserved subjects” were to be kept under the direct control of Governor. Other departements, like education, public health and local self Government, called the “transferred subjects” were to be kept under the control of ministers, chosen from among the elected members of the provincial legislature.
As the Governor shared power with the ministers, this system was called dyarchy. The Governor got the power to set aside the decisions of the ministers and was held responsible to the Government of India.
The Mont-ford reforms belied the expectations of the Congress and Muslim League and fell far short of their demand for self Government. The majority of leaders condemned the Act of 1919 as “inadequate, disappointing and unsatisfactory”. All these developments prepared the ground for a popualr upsurge against the British Government. The Khilafat issue gave an added advantage to get the Muslim support and the final touch to it was given by Gandhi’s leadership.