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Gandhi Declares Swaraaj

Swaraaj mean full independence or self-government for India. It was the most important
demand during the Independence movement but this was not always the case. It was after a
series of events and malicious actions taken by the British government that Gandhiji decided
to present Swaraaj as primary goal of the movement. However before studying the events that
came to play, we must first understand the concept of Swaraaj and the views Gandhiji had on
it.

Gandhiji was not always a staunch supporter of Swaraaj. In fact, he often viewed it as a goal
that represented impatience. The vast majority of Indians were tired of British impatience so
their attention was put on the achievement of Swaraaj without actually understanding the
meaning and consequences of Swaraaj. In fact, in his early years, Gandhi was not even
aiming at removing the British presence in India. He was a supporter of the “retirement” of
the British government.1 While India would take control of its government, it would keep the
constitution established by the British.

He wanted to convince the British to stop their exploitation within the country, and instead
shift their focus to developing the nation using their vast supply of resources. The Canadian
and South African model was another idea he supported. This would be where the country
would still live under the British flag but would enjoy a certain level of autonomy when it
came to governance.

Gandhiji’s main point of contention with driving the British out of India was that they were
aiming at becoming Britain rather than improving the nation on the whole. He felt that
frustration within the people was festering into their plan for the country. Rather than focus
on a sustainable plan for the country, they were following their hearts.

However, following certain actions taken by the British, Gandhi’s view on Swaraaj began to
change. The timeline of events is as follows.

1. Impact of World War 1 – While the relationship between India and Britain was
always volatile, the First World War contributed significantly to India and Gandhi’s
distrust with the British. When India joined in the war efforts, the intention was to
provide support to the British now in the hopes of getting their cooperation to
establish and autonomous government. In Gandhiji’s words “Freedom is situated on

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Chapter 4, Hind Swaraj by M. K. Gandhi
French soil. If we could but crowd the battlefields of France with an indomitable army
of Home Rulers fighting for victory for the cause of the allies, it would also be a fight
for our cause.”2 However, Britain did not acknowledge the war efforts of the citizens.
They instead chose to make ambiguous promises to satiate the Indians.
2. Jallianwala Bhag Massacre – This event cemented the hatred the Indian citizens had
towards the British government. On 13th April, 1919, General Dyer open fired on a
group of peaceful protestors at Jallianwala Bhag in Amritsar. Nearly 1000 people died
in the shooting, shocking the entire nation. In addition to this, the lax attitude of the
British further angered Gandhi as they initially applauded General Dyer for his action
and viewed the action as necessary. He had said about the event “I clung to British
rule because, in my ignorance, I attributed to it strength for undertaking the great task
of smashing this civilization. But now I see that British rule is perhaps more Satanic
than what Germany does.3” While he eventually softened his stance against the
British, the massacre did cause a shift in his views regarding the British rule.
3. The Rowlatt Act – The Rowlatt Act was a legislative act that was passed in 1919
which allowed for extreme methods of preventive detention, incarceration of Indian
without trial and removed judicial review. This caused widespread shock across the
country. Gandhi was very critical of the Act stating that the British government was
punishing the entire nation for the crimes of a few revolutionaries. He described the
Act as “unjust, subversive of the principles of liberty and justice, and destructive of
the elementary of individuals.” Gandhi was at this time but he wrote multiple articles
severely criticising the Act. He had written “If my occasional resistance be a lighted
match, the Rowlatt Legislation and the persistence in retaining it on the statute book is
a thousand matches scattered throughout India. The only way to avoid civic resistance
altogether is to withdraw that legislation.” He called for a separate Satyagraha Sabha
to tackle the issue. It was in this time that Gandhi thought of implementing an all-
India hartal as part of the Satyagraha movement. (The Story of Gandhi – Rajkumari
Shankar)
4. Non-Cooperation Movement – Gandhi had written a formal letter stating to the
viceroy that methods like petitions and deputations would no longer work on an
indifferent government. He started the Non-Cooperation Movement, for which he was

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Page 42, Independent Personality: National Identity Formation in Britain's Dominions and India by William S
Miller
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Gandhi, “Gandhi Presents Himself to India,” Gandhi in India, 5
arrested and sentenced to 6 years’ imprisonment. The charge was spreading
disaffection and hatred towards the British Government4. This angered the general
public, especially because Gandhiji was spreading the values of non-violence and
peace.

5. Simon Commission – The Simon Commission was appointed to check the impact of
the Monatgue-Chelmsford 10 years after its implementation. This was due to the
continuous agitation by the Indians against the governmental structure put forward by
the law. This was merely a shallow step taken by the Conservative party to ensure
they stayed in power. When the idea was presented to Gandhi, the document was
merely handed over to him without any scope of discussion.5 The commission
consisted of only British further angering the Indian and creating wide spread
protests. During the protest, Lala Lajpat Rai was fatally injured. This deeply impacted
Gandhiji and further increased his desire for Purna Swaraj.

Following these events, Gandhiji embraced the idea of full independence for India. However,
he still wanted to provide the British with some leeway. He offered them a year to fix their
past mistakes and improve their relations with the country. However, what finally pushed him
to the edge was the lack of initiative taken prior to the Round Table Conference. Lord Irwin
had promised India Dominion Status which led Gandhi to still have some faith in the British.
However, Britain mocked these promises and Gandhi changed his stance. The lack of
initiative taken for the round table conference and their refusal to commit to their promises
spurned Gandhi to declare Purna Swaraj or Full Independence as the primary goal for India.

Through this event, we can see how great a leader Gandhi truly was. The first mark of a
leader is the consideration he puts in when making a decision. Every opinion or view
expressed about the British was carefully thought out and he did indulge in conflict for the
sake of it. Secondly, Gandhi reflected an immense amount of patience during the above
events. He did not merely follow the crowd but instead stuck to his principles and values.
And finally, the biggest reason that Gandhi emulated the quality of leadership is his ability to
put the needs of the nation above his own. Gandhi was always a supporter of non-violence
and peace, and he genuinely wanted to part ways with the British on good terms. However,
he was able to consider the needs of the nation. He could see that British would never give

4
Searchlight, 12 March 1922.
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Simon Commission – Why Appointed by Sukhchain Kaur
the country what it wants and because of this he was able to take on the goals and aspirations
of the country. Through the declaration of Purna Swaraj, Gandhi became the brain, heart and
soul of the Indian National Movement.