Swaraj Party

Swaraj Party

The Swaraj Party was a political party in India that sought greater self-government and political freedoms for the Indian people from the British Raj. It was inspired by the concept of Swaraj. In Hindi and many other languages of India, swaraj means "independence" or "self-rule".

Chauri Chaura

The Swaraj Party was formed by Indian politicians and members of the Indian National Congress who had opposed Mahatma Gandhi's suspension of all civil resistance in 1922 in response to the Chauri Chaura tragedy, where policemen were killed by a mob of protestors. Gandhi felt responsible for the killings, reproached himself for not emphasizing non-violence more firmly, and feared that the entire Non-Cooperation Movement would degenerate into an orgy of violence between the British-controlled army and police and mobs of freedom-fighters, alienating and hurting millions of common Indians. He went on a fast-unto-death to convince all Indians to stop civil resistance. The Congress and other nationalist groups disavowed all activities of disobedience.

But many Indians felt that the Non-Cooperation Movement should not have been suspended over an isolated incident of violence, and that its astonishing success was actually close to breaking the back of British rule in India. These people became disillusioned with Gandhi's political judgments and instincts.

Council entry

Gandhi and most of the Congress Party rejected the provincial and central legislative councils created by the British to offer some participation for Indians. They argued that the councils were rigged with un-elected allies of the British, and too un-democratic and simply rubber stamps of the Viceroy.

In December 1922, Chittaranjan Das,N.C. Kelker and Motilal Nehru formed the Congress-Khilafat Swarajaya Party with Das as the president and Nehru as one of the secretaies. Other prominent leaders included Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy of Bengal, Vithalbhai Patel and other Congress leaders who were becoming dissatisfied with the Congress. The other group was the 'No-Changers',who had accepted Gandhis' decision to withdraw the movement.

Now both the Swarajists and the No-Changers were engaged in fierce political struggle. But both were determined to avoid the disastrous experience of the 1907 split at Surat. On the advice of Gandhi, the two groups decided to remain in the Congress but to work in their separate ways. There was no basic difference between the two.

Swarajist members were elected to the councils. Vithalbhai Patel became the President of the Imperial Legislative Council. However, the legislatures were powerless, and apart from some heated parliamentary debates, procedural stand-offs with British authorities, the core mission of obstructing British rule failed.

With the death of Chittaranjan Das in 1925, and with Motilal Nehru's return to the Congress the following year, the Swaraj party was greatly weakened.

Changers and No-Changers, and the Simon Commission

After his release from prison in 1924, Gandhi sought to bring back the Swarajists to the Congress and re-unite the party. Gandhi's supporters were in a vast majority in the Congress, and the Congress still remained India's largest political party, but Gandhi felt it necessary to heal the divide with the Swarajists, so as to heal the nation's wounds over the 1922 suspension.

The Swarajists sought more representation in the Congress offices, and an end to the mandatory requirement for Congressmen to spin khadi cloth and do social service as a prerequisite for office. These was opposed by Gandhi's supporters, men like Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajendra Prasad, who became known as the No Changers as opposed to the Swarajist Changers. Gandhi relaxed the rules on spinning and named some Swarajists to important positions in the Congress Party. He also encouraged the Congress to support those Swarajists elected to the councils, so as not to embarrass them and leave them rudderless before the British authorities.

When the Simon Commission arrived in India in 1928, millions of Indians were infuriated with the idea of an all-British committee writing proposals for Indian constitutional reforms without any Indian member or consultations with the Indian people. The Congress created a committee to write Indian proposals for constitutional reforms, headed by now Congress President Motilal Nehru. The death of Lala Lajpat Rai, beaten by police in Punjab further infuriated India. People rallied around the Nehru Report and old political divisions and wounds were forgotten, and Vithalbhai Patel and all Swarajist councillors resigned in protest.

Between 1929 and 1937, the Indian National Congress would declare the independence of India and launch the Salt Satyagraha. In this tumultuous period, the Swaraj Party was defunct as its members quietly dissolved into the Congress fold.

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