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India’s Freedom Movement

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The struggle for freedom can be broadly divided into four phases each contributing towards the sharpening of the divide between the rulers and the ruled. The first phase began when the British won the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and Robert Clive, the representative of the East India Company, became the Governor of Bengal. From then onwards, the British succeeded in consolidating their presence in India. This was the first phase, in which the British Governor-Generals and the Indian leaders both collaborated and clashed. Special significance is attached to the role played by the likes of Raja Ram Mohun Roy in bringing about social reforms in the Indian society sometimes with the help of the British, at times forcing them to act.

The British presence began to creep across the subcontinent and finally the first revolt against them a hundred years later, when the first war of liberation was started against the British in 1857. This signaled the beginning of the second phase, in which the transfer of power occurred from the East India Company to the British crown. The British began to consolidate their presence and began to physically change the Indian landscape by constructing the railways, introducing the telegraphic system, turning Calcutta and Bombay into major ports. By now a section of Indian, benefited by the policies introduced by Lord Thomas Macaulay, began to organise Indian opinion against what was clearly exploitative rule by aliens. This phase also witnessed massive social reform movements and important leaders like Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Keshab Chandra Sen, Sir Sayed Ahmed Khan, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, among others revolutionised the Indian society. Along side, political thought against the British rule also began to take concrete shape, with leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji and others taking a lead.

The third phase began with the first partition of Bengal in 1905. It is here that the national movement entered a crucial stage, and turned into a mass movement a decade and a half later. Leaders like Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Sri Aurobindo, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Anne Beseant, among others, dominated this period, and took the Indian national struggle to a stage from where it became a mass movement. It was during this period that the leaders of the movement could convincingly project to the people of India the negative impact of the British rule over India. It was during this phase that the collective leadership of the national movement decided that political freedom was of paramount importance, and social reforms could wait till political freedom had been achieved.

The fourth and the final phase began after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, when Gandhi took charge of the nationalist struggle. The Indian nation and the world were introduced to a totally new concept of non-violent civil disobedience. Never before had the world seen anything like Gandhi before, and never before a political weapon as strong as Satyagraha been deployed by a political movement. The nearly two-and-a-half decades of struggle before independence in this last phase saw the emergence of important leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose, Maulana Azad, among several others. It was during this phase that the divide between the Hindus and the Muslims — many say it was created by the British as part of their divide and rule policy — could not be contained. And when the final act was played on the Indian subcontinent, the British divided the subcontinent into two countries — India and Pakistan.

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