Social Scientist. v 25, no. 292-293 (Sep-Oct 1997) p. 43.


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IRFANHABIB*

Civil Disobedience 1930-31

British imperialism's position, after its triumph in 1918 over its main challenger, Germany, and the largely successful containment of Soviet Russia, was now reinforced in India by the embarrassingly abrupt withdrawal of the Non Cooperation movement in February 1922. The Union Jack seemed unassailably ascendant over the "Indian Empire", with the nationalists forced into a demoralised and disorderly retreat. A division in the nationalist camp erupted between the Gandhian "No Changers" sticking to individual non cooperation and the "Swarajist" proponents of electoral participation as a means of carrying on political opposition to the government. When in 1926 the Swarajists experienced severe reverses in the elections, compared with their 1923 performance, the "Responsivists", seeking to become ministers under the Dyarchy, began to split the Swarajist camp as well. Simultaneously, the Hindu-Muslim chasm grew as the Hindu critics of nationalism's espousal of Khilafat, on the one hand, and Muslim leaders' outcry against its alleged betrayal of the same Khilafat, on the other, undermined the platform of communal unity that Non Cooperation in 1920-22 had so splendidly built up. Gandhi's fast in 1924 in protest against the growth of communalism had only limited effect; 1925 saw the establishment of the RSS, and Swami Shraddhanand's murder. Well could Lord Birkenhead, the secretary of state for India, claim in 1925, that "the unsubstantial ghost of nationalism" was being laid to rest.

The British government accordingly felt that this was the best time for it to institute a constitutional review that would place the nationalists further in their place. The Government of India Act, 1919, had provided for the appointment, after ten years, of a statutory commission to recommend, after scrutiny, whether "to extend, modify or restrict the

* Formerly Professor of History, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

Social Scientist, Vol. 25, Nos. 9-10, Sept.-Oct. 1997



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