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Swaraj Party and its activities under Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das

After the failure of the Non Cooperation Movement it was deliberated by a section of the Congress to continue the fight inside the legislatures set up by the Government of India. Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das had discussed the idea at length with his coworkers including Subhas Chandra Bose in the Alipore Central Jail. In May 1922, Basanti Devi, wife of Chittaranjan Das had addressed a rally in Chattagram on her husband's behalf in which she had suggested Council entry as a strategy that Congress should consider adopting. This created a major controversy across the country. Congress had constituted an Enquiry Committee to look into the issue. While three members of the committee - M.A Ansari, Rajagopalachari and Kasturiranga Aiyangar, were against the proposal of council entry, three others - Ajmal Khan, Motilal Nehru and Vitthalbhai Patel, were in favour. Those in favour of the Council entry argued that there was no point in giving a walkover to the Moderates in the Council as they are doing immense harm to the interest of the Nation. If Congress did not contest, it would be out of action for three years during which many repressive measures would come that would be enacted with the help of the so called representatives of the people. The publishing of the report of the Enquiry Committee triggered a bitter debate among Congress and Deshbandhu backed the proposal of Council entry with all his might. In the Gaya session of Congress in 1922, C.R Das, in his presidential address, made a string case for Council entry. He said eloquently, "The boycott of the Reformed Councils, to my mind, means that such steps must be taken that these Councils may not be there to impede the progress of Swaraj. The only successful boycott of these Councils is either to mend them in a manner suitable to the attainment of Swaraj or to end them completely."

In the open session of the Congress, Rajagopalachari moved the resolution against the Council entry. Madan Mohan Malviya argued in the favour of Council entry. Srinivasa Aiyangar put forward a motion of contesting elections but not entering Councils, which was lost. Rajagopalachari's motion was carried by a large majority. Thus Congress adhered to the "No Change" programme. C.R Das announced his resignation of the office of the Congress President. Shortly after this the Pro- Council advocates issued a manifesto forming a party within Congress called Swaraj Party. It accepted the spirit of Non Violent Non Cooperation. C.R Das was the leader and Motilal Nehru one of the secretaries. Several eminent leaders like Satyamurti, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Vitthalbhai Patel, N.C Kelkar, and Jayakar, joined the party.

The leaders of the Swaraj party undertook several activities to organize the new founded party. They started a propaganda campaign in different parts of India with a leader at the helm - Motilal Nehru in United Province, V.J Patel in Bombay, and C.R Das in Central Province, in Bengal and in South. In March 1923 Swaraj party held a conference in Allahabad and undertook another series of campaign tours across the country. Chittaranjan Das led from the front and breached the citadel of the orthodox section of Congress in Madras. In 1923 Maulana Abul Kalam Azad made an attempt to bring about a compromize between the No Changers and Swarajists. The No Changers were gradually losing their hold. Rajendra Prasad and Rajagopalachari belonged firmly to the No Changers and had resigned from Working Committee when the AICC passed a resolution prohibiting any propaganda among voters on Boycott of Council entry. The AICC in Nagpur decided to suspend the operation of the Congress resolution boycotting the Councils and hold a Special session of the Congress to discuss the issue (Dr. R.C Majumdar - History of Freedom Movement Vol 3). The special session was held on Sep 15, 1923 and was presided over by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Muhammad Ali, who was released, announced that he received a message from Gandhi to lift the ban on Council entry. Congress therefore allowed the Council entry for any Congress man who willed so and suspended all propaganda against Council entry. This was a great moral victory for Chittaranjan Das, who had worked tirelessly to convince Congress of the need to fight and enter the Councils. However it was discovered later that Gandhi had not directly told Muhammad Ali to lift the ban on Council entry, but had instead told through Devdas Gandhi that if in the changed circumstances of the country, Ali felt that a change was necessary, he was to follow his own convictions.

In 1924 Gandhi was released from prison and presided over the Belgaum Congress to bring about a reconciliation between his followers and the Swarajists. 

Swarajists had barely two months to prepare for the elections which were to be held in November, after the victory in Delhi Conference. A manifesto was published in Allahabad in October 1923 where Swarajists had declared themselves to be an integral part of Congress who kept in view the essential principles of Non Violent Non Cooperation. The election proved to be a tremendous success for the Swaraj Party as it broke all the lethargy and mass inertia after 1922. The Moderates or the Liberal Party was routed. Surendranath Bannerjee, the veteran Moderate leader was defeated in Bengal and Sheshagiri Iyer was defeated in Madras. This election drove the nail in the coffin of the Moderates who henceforth ceased to play any vital role in the history of freedom movement. In Central Province Swaraj Party captured majority of the seats in the Council, became the single largest party in Bengal, became fairly strong in U.P, Bombay and Assam and constituted a large block in the Central Legislative Assembly by cornering 48 of the 105 seats. Independents under Jinnah formed a decisive block with 24 members, and Swarajists formed a coalition with them as the Nationalist Party. The Nationalist Party followed a policy of constructive obstruction, in that if the national demands were not met, they would pursue a policy of obstruction and refusal of supplies. Independents however did not follow the agreements and hence the coalition was ended by 1925. 

Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar, that with Swaraj Party's entry into the Councils, "For the first time the Legislative Assembly wore the appearance of a truly national Assembly, where national grievances were fully voiced, national aims and aspirations expressed without any reservation, and real character of the British rule through sham legislatures ruthlessly exposed. The British autocracy and Indian bureaucracy, in their naked form as agencies of tyranny and repression, stood exposed to the whole world. This, by itself, was no mean achievement." Because of the secession of the independents under Jinnah, Swaraj party could not pursue this policy over the whole tenure. but the aims and objectives of the Swaraj Party were fulfilled. The Swaraj Party held its sway over the Provincial Governments by forcing the Ministers appointed by the Governor in the Central Province to resign by their rejection of the budget. In Bengal too Swarajists won important battles in the Council, like ensuring release of political prisoners detained under Regulation 3. 

After his release Gandhi soon entered into a war path with the Swarajists. He wanted to exclude from Congress Executive Committee anybody who did not follow the principle of Boycott in practice. The Swarajists therefore had to evolve their own organization to carry on their programme. In Ahmedabad Congress in 1924, Gandhi asked every member of Congress to spin Charkha for atleast half and hour. Motilal Nehru opposed this dictum but his resolution was defeated. Gandhi however adopted a more conciliatory approach and removed all penal clauses. Gandhi and Swarajists also differed on the issue of Gopinath Saha, who had assassinated an Englishman while attempting to murder notorious police commissioner of Calcutta, Charles Tegart. Gandhi and Nehru-Das subsequently entered into a compromise formula for the sake of the National interest, to allow Swarajists to carry out the work of the Congress in the Legislative Assembly and the Councils as an integral part of the Congress organization. Chittaranjan Das on his part issued a statement in Bengal Provincial Congress in Faridpur condemning violence of all forms and defended the ideal of Dominion Status. He offered cooperation with the Government if a) the Government provided general amnesty to all political prisoners b)Government agrees on a framework for Swaraj and thus remove the basis for any grievance of the revolutionaries. Lord Lytton had opened negotiations with C.R Das and the conciliatory note of Das was the result of such intense backroom negotiations. Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State, was supposed to make an important announcement after consulting Lord Reading. But then Chittaranjan Das fell ill and died on 16 June, 1925. According to Subhas Bose the death of Das induced the British Government to change its mind; the official pronouncement, carefully prepared by Birkenhead on behalf of the Cabinet, and announced to be made on 7 July, 1925, was suppressed. and a non-committal speech was made instead on that day. The Government of London, relieved by the death of their adversary, once more fell to the mode of wait and watch rather than granting any concession. 

The sudden demise of C.R Das brought the Swarajists and Gandhi even closer. There was a split within the Swaraj party on the question of retaining their Council seats and on following a policy of Responsive Cooperation with the Government. Motilal Nehru, in the annual session of Congress on Dec, 1925, moved a resolution that the party members would walk out of the legislatures if Government did not bring about reforms by February next year. Jayakar, Kelkar and Moonje, who were in favour of Tilak's Responsive Cooperation, resigned and formed a new party. A new party was formed called Indian Nationalist party that would follow the principles of Responsive Cooperation and Pandit Madan Mohan Malavya supported the same. Further splits and cessation followed. Lala Lajpat Rai resigned from Swarajya Party. The election of 1926 was held under the shadows of intense communal disturbances as the Muslims totally rejected the principles of Non Cooperation. The Swaraj Party suffered heavy losses in the 1926 elections. In Legislative Assembly only success that they met were in Bengal and Madras provinces. The Responsivists won in some of the provinces and the Muslim voters backed the communal Muslim candidates. As a political power, the days of Swaraj Party were over. Nationalist ideas were now replaced by communal interests as Muslims declined to support the Responsivists on important issues and clung to their demand of safeguarding the community interests before Swaraj. The country was deeply polarized. Hindu Mahasabha was founded to safeguard the interest of the Hindus as it was felt that the interest of the Hindus were no longer safe in the hands of the Congress. Thus with the untimely death of C.R Das a glorious chapter in Indian politics ended.

Chittaranjan Das 


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