The Rise of Nationalism

Of the many changes brought about by the British in India, the most significant was possibly the introduction of western education. This exposed the Indians to western ideas and philosophy such as democracy and representative government. By the late 19th century, a class of intellectuals began actively advocating Indian nationalism and pushed for greater involvement in India’s governance.

In 1885, the Indian National Congress (INC) was formed to educate public opinion through open discussions. The early leaders were moderates who did not demand the immediate end of colonial rule, but rather, advocated education in western politics.

The methods and goals of the INC changed radically under the leadership of Mohandas Gandhi in the 1920s. Gandhi led a series of non-violent, mass-based campaigns against the British, aimed at achieving self-government.

In 1920, Gandhi launched the “Non-Cooperation” movement and encouraged boycotts of British institutions and goods. His next major campaign was “Civil Disobedience” in 1930. Throughout these campaigns, Gandhi advocated political struggle through passive resistance.

Concurrently, there were others who felt that the British could only be driven out by force. The most prominent advocate of armed struggle was Subhas Chandra Bose, who once declared, “Give me blood, and I will give you freedom”.

By the early 1940s, India’s Independence was still nowhere in sight. In 1942, the INC launched the “Quit India” movement. However, the British quickly suppressed it and jailed most of the INC leaders.


Leaders of Nationalism

The Syonan Sinbun, 17 February 1943

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Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

Hailed as the “Mahatma” (Great Soul), Gandhi was the leader of the Indian nationalists. Trained as a barrister, Gandhi developed his political skills in South Africa before returning to India. He reorganised INC into an all-India organisation, capable of mobilising the social strata of Indian society, especially the peasantry and the urban intellectuals.

Jawaharlal Nehru in Malaya, 1937

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 –1964)

Nehru was one of Gandhi’s staunchest supporters and worked closely with him in the INC for India’s Independence. Trained in law, he gave up a flourishing legal practice to join the nationalist movement. He later became the first Prime Minister of India.




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