Swarajists and No-Changers

Swarajists and No-Changers

  • After the withdrawal of Non-cooperation movement and the arrest of Gandhiji in March, 1922 and his conviction and imprisonment for 6 years, there was disintegration, disorganization and demoralization in the nationalist ranks.
  • There arose the danger of the movement lapsing into passivity.
  • Many began to question the wisdom of the total Gandhian strategy. Others started looking for ways out of the impasse.
  • At this stage a new lead was given by C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru.
  • These leaders proposed that instead of boycotting the legislature, Non -Cooperation should be carried into them.
  • They put forward the idea of Council-Entry to wreck the reforms from within.

Formation of Swaraj Party

  • The proposal of council-entry attracted several congressmen but it was stoutly opposed by orthodox Gandhians led by Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel etc.
  • There was a split in the Congress.
  • The No-Changers or orthodox Gandhians decried the programme of council-entry and desired the congress to follow Gandhi's constructive programme.
  • The Pro-Changers or Swarajists wanted the constructive programme to be coupled with a political programme of council-entry.
  • The matter came to a head in December 1922 at the Gaya Session of the Congress.
  • R. Das as the President of the Congress and Motilal as its Secretary put forward this programme of either mending or ending the councils.
  • Due to differences between the two schools of thought the proposal was defeated by 1748 to 890 votes.
  • On being outvoted C.R. Das announced the formation of the Congress-Khilafat Swaraj Party better known later as the Swaraj Party on 31 December, 1922 with himself as President and Motilal as Secretary.
  • The adherents of the council-entry programme came to be popularly known as pro-changers or Swarajists and those still advocating boycott of the councils as no changers .

Arguments of Swarajists or Pro-Changers

  • The Swarajists claimed that council-entry would not negate the Non-Cooperation Movement. The idea was to wreck the reforms from within.
  • The Swarajists said that work in the councils was necessary to fill in the temporary political void.
  • This would keep up the morale of the politicized Indians and enthuse the people.
  • By joining the councils, Congress could prevent the government from stuffing the council with undesirable elements and getting legitimacy for their laws.
  • The Swarajists claimed that they would transform the legislatures into arenas of political struggle.

Arguments of No-Changers

  • The no-changers opposed council-entry mainly on the ground that parliamentary work would lead to the neglect of constructive and other work among the masses.
  • It would lead to the loss of revolutionary zeal and political corruption.
  • The legislators who would go into the councils with the aim of wrecking them would gradually give up the politics of obstruction.
  • They would get sucked into the imperial constitutional framework, and start cooperating with the Government on petty reforms and piecemeal legislation.
  • Constructive work among the masses, on the other hand, would prepare them for the next round of civil disobedience.

Finding a Common Ground

  • The pro-changers and the no-changers were soon engaged in a fierce controversy.
  • To avoid the repetition of the Disastrous Surat split of 1907, both groups of leaders began to pull back from the brink and move towards mutual accommodation .
  • The need for unity was felt very strongly by all the Congressmen.
  • Both sides realized the importance of mass movements outside the legislature to compel the government to meet the nationalist demand.
  • Both groups of leaders fully accepted the essentiality of Gandhiji's leadership.
  • Keeping these factors in mind, a compromise was reached in a special session of the Congress held at Delhi in September 1923.
  • The Swarajists were allowed to contest upcoming elections as a group within Congress.

Gandhi Ji and Swarajists

  • Gandhiji was released from jail on 5 February 1924 on health grounds.
  • He was completely opposed to council-entry.
  • His release revived the old conflict and a split in the Congress seemed imminent.
  • The Government very much hoped for and banked on such a split.
  • But Gandhiji did not oblige and gradually, he moved towards an accommodation with the Swarajists. There were several factors responsible for such accommodation.
  • Gandhiji was pained by the bickerings in the worst of taste among the proponents of the two schools.
  • Gandhiji made his stand clear that even when opposing the Swarajist leaders he had full trust in their bonafides.
  • He also remained convinced that public opposition to the settled fact of council-entry would be counterproductive.
  • In the November 1923 elections, Swarajists had swept the polls in some provinces. Their position and strength within the Congress had increased considerably.
  • The courageous and uncompromising manner, in which the Swarajists had functioned in the councils, convinced Gandhiji that they will not become another limb of colonial administration.
  • Gandhiji was angered by the government crackdown on revolutionary terrorists and Swarajists towards end of 1924. He decided to show his solidarity with the Swarajists by surrendering to their wishes.
  • On 6 November 1924, Gandhiji brought the strife between the Swarajists and no-changers to an end, by signing a joint statement with Das and Motilal that the Swarajist Party would carry on work in the legislatures on behalf of the Congress and as an integral part of the Congress.
  • This decision was endorsed in December at the Belgaum session of the Congress over which Gandhiji presided.
  • He also gave the Swarajists a majority of seats on his Working Committee.

The Swarajists Manifesto for the elections

Elections to the legislative councils were held in November 1923. The Swarajists manifesto, released on 14 October, took up a strong anti-imperialist position. The points put forward by them in their manifesto were as following:-

  • The guiding motive of the British in governing India is to secure the selfish interests of their own country.
  • The so-called reforms were a mere blind to further the said interests under the pretence of granting responsible government to India.
  • The real objective was to continue the exploitation of the unlimited resources of the country by keeping Indians permanently in a subservient position to Britain.
  • It promised that the Swarajists would wreck the sham reforms from within the councils.

The manifesto made it clear that the demand which its members would make on entering legislatures was to press the Government to concede "the right of the people of India to control the existing machinery and system of government", and to resort to a policy of "uniform, continuous and consistent obstruction" if the Government refused to entertain such a demand.

Performance of Swarajists in the election

Even though the Swarajists got only a few weeks to prepare for the elections and the franchise was extremely narrow - only about 6.2 million or less than three per cent had the right to vote they managed to do quite well.

  • They won 42 out of 101 elected seats in the Central Legislative Assembly.
  • They got a clear majority in the Central Provinces
  • They were the largest party in Bengal; and they fared quite well in Bombay and U.P., though not in Madras and Punjab because of strong casteist and communal currents.
  • In the Central Legislative Assembly, the Swarajists succeeded in building a common political front with the Independents led by M.A. Jinnah, the Liberals, and individuals such as Madan Mohan Malaviya.
  • The victory of the Swarajists at the polls strengthened their position in the congress as against the No-Changers.
  • They, in effect, came to be recognised as the parliamentary wing of the Congress.

Activity and achievements of Swarajists in the Council

  • The Swarajists forced the Government to certify legislation repeatedly at the centre as well as in many of the provinces, thus exposing the true character of the reformed councils.
  • They succeeded in electing Vithalbhai Patel, a leading Swarajist, as the President of the Central Legislative Assembly.
  • They continuously outvoted the government on several issues including the budgetary grants.
  • The Government was defeated several times on the question of the repeal of repressive laws and regulations and release of political prisoners.
  • They defeated the Government on a number of bills. Noteworthy was the defeat of the Government on the Public Safety Bill in 1928, through which the Government proposed to acquire the power to deport undesirable and subversive foreigners (to counter the communists and socialists).
  • They brought forward the futility of the Montford Reforms. In fact, The Government was forced to appoint a committee under Sir Alexander Muddiman to enquire into the defects in the working of the Act of 1919 and to suggest remedies.
  • They delivered powerful speeches in the legislature to put forward the nationalist demands.
  • Their great achievement lay in their filling the political void at a time when the national movement was recouping its strength.
  • It inspired the politicized persons and kept their political interest alive.

Drawbacks in the activities of Swarajists

  • Politics of obstruction had its limits and could not continue forever.
  • The Swarajists lacked any policy of coordinating their militant work in the legislatures with mass political work outside. In fact, they relied almost wholly on newspaper reporting.
  • The logic of coalition politics soon began to pull back the Swarajists from militant obstructionism.
  • They could not carry their coalition partners for ever and in every respect due to conflicting ideas.
  • Some of the Swarajist legislators failed to resist the pulls of parliamentary perquisites and positions of status and patronage.
  • In Bengal, the majority in the Swaraj Party failed to support the tenants cause against the zamindars and, thereby, lost the support of its protenant, mostly Muslim, members.
  • The Swaraj Party also could not avoid the intrusion of communal discord in its own ranks.

Decline of Swarajists

  • The enthusiasm of 1924 began to wane and the years 1925-27 saw demoralisation and eventual decline of the Swarajists.
  • The Swarajists suffered a major loss when C.R. Das died on 16 June 1925.
  • Widespread communal riots across the country, actively encouraged by colonial authorities also weakened Swarajists position.
  • The Government s policy of creating dissension among the nationalists began to bear fruit.
  • There was also a split among the Swarajists themselves on communal and Responsivist-Non Responsivist lines.
  • The Responsivists among Swarajists N.C. Kelkar, M.R. Jayakar etc., wanted to join the government to work the reforms and to hold office wherever possible.
  • Other leaders such as Lajpat Rai and Madan Mohan Malaviya too separated themselves from the Swaraj Party on Responsivist as well as communal grounds.
  • Gandhiji, too, had resumed his critique of council-entry.

To prevent further dissolution and disintegration of the party, the spread of parliamentary corruption, and further weakening of the moral fibre of its members, the main leadership of the party reiterated its faith in mass civil disobedience and decided to withdraw from the legislatures in March 1926.

Constructive Work by No-changers

  • To Gandhi the chariot of freedom struggle had two wheels-constructive programme and political campaigns. While the Swarajists were busy with parliamentary politics, the no-changers carried on laborious, quiet, undemonstrative, grass-roots constructive work
  • Gandhian constructive work was multi-faceted in its content. It included the promotion of khadi and spinning, national education and Hindu-Muslim unity, the struggle against untouchability and the boycott of foreign cloth.
  • Hundreds of ashrams sprang up all over the country where political cadres got practical training in khadi work and work among the lower castes and tribal people.
  • National schools and colleges trained young men in an alternative, non-colonial ideological framework.
  • Significant work was done for Hindu-Muslim unity and removal of untouchability.
  • The boycott of foreign cloth and liquor were organised across the country and use of Swadeshi was promoted with a militant zeal.

Achievements of No-changers

  • Constructive workers were to act as the steel-frame of the nationalist movement in its active Satyagraha phase.
  • They served as the backbone of the civil disobedience movements both as organizers and as active Satyagrahis.
  • It brought some much-needed relief to the poor.
  • It promoted the process of the nation-in-the-making.
  • It provided Congress political workers or cadres Continuous and effective work in the passive phases of the national movement.
  • It filled the rural masses with a new hope and increased Congress influence among them.

Merger of Swarajists and No-Changers

  • While the Swarajists and Gandhian constructive workers were quite active in their own separate ways, there simultaneously prevailed virulent factionalism and indiscipline in both camps.
  • The announcement of Simon Commission in the closing months of 1927 and Lord Birkenhead's challenge to Indians to produce a constitution acceptable to all sections of society opened new political channels in the country.
  • The Simon Commission evoked universal boycott while Motilal, taking up the challenge of Birkenhead, prepared a constitution known as Nehru Report.
  • The Swarajists and the No-changers began to draw closer to one another.
  • The Calcutta Congress of 1928 resolved that in case the British Government did not accept the Nehru Report by 31 December 1929, the Congress would declare complete independence as its goal.
  • The Council Entry programme in the changed political situation occupied a back seat and lost its relevance.
  • The Swaraj Party now merged with the Congress as the country began to prepare for the second round of direct mass action to achieve complete independence.

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