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Ideologists of all stripes like to retell history in a manner that tends to leave out details (sometimes huge details) that would bring their ideology into question. Most Americans know almost nothing of the history of the Indian subcontinent and the creation of the Indian nation. The only people with an interest in telling this story in the USA are the Nonviolence political activists. The story is fairly simple as they retell it: Gandhi returned to India after working for civil rights for Indians in South Africa. India was ruled by Great Britain. Gandhi inspired the Indian people to demand independence from Great Britain, using non-violent civil disobedience. The Brits killed some Indians and beat up others, but eventually saw the light and granted India independence. Hence Nonviolence is the solution to all problems. Reality was much more complex. When the British first set foot in India in the 1600's, they came as the East India Company and made a treaty with the dominant power, the Mughal empire, in an alliance against the Portugese. But the Indian continent was not one country. Not only did the Mughal empire embrace several principalities that were in alliance with it, instead of ruled directly, but most of southern India was composed of smaller states opposed to the empire. The Mughals were Moslems, most Indians were not. The Mughal empire more or less collapsed in the 1700's, but not due to the British. When Gandhi returned to India at the end of World War I the situation had evolved but had remarkable similarities to that of 1600. The British government ruled India, sort of. There were many semi-independent principalities suffering varying degrees of supervision by the Viceroy. The Indians were divided by language, ethnicity, religion, and caste. The westernized intellectuals had formed the Indian National Congress party in 1885. As early as 1884 the Ilbert bill put Indian judges on the same footing as European judges in Bengal; native Indians took the same exams to enter the civil service as British colonists (but the exam was administered in London; fine if you attended school in Britain, but difficult for the average Indian to take advantage of). Legislative councils with Indian members existed, though they had limited powers. It was clear that in time India would be ruled by the Indians; the Viceroy Curzon promised that before 1900. The problem with transition was not simply that there were British who liked the old system of direct bureaucratic rule and economic exploitation. Indians were not united; many aristocrats and princes favored their old arrangements with the British; and even the Congress party was divided between factions known as Moderates and Extremists. The defeat of a European power, Russia, by the Japanese in 1905 had fired India's imagination. The Bolshevik revolution and the spread of communism also played an important role in both uniting and dividing Indians between the two world wars. More reforms were granted by the British between the wars, but independence seemed distant. Gandhi was one of the acknowledged leaders of the Congress party after he led a civil disobedience campaign and then served 6 years in jail for it. Other parties arose and were elected to the councils in different provinces. The Congress party at first refused to stand for election, then ran under the pretext of destroying the reforms from within, in order to force the independence issue. Gandhi, by his writings and actions, showed India how to gain the upper hand over the British. But it worked only because the British believed in their moral superiority. In effect Gandhi challenged the British to prove their moral superiority by withdrawing from India. Gandhi's ideology of Nonviolence was derived directly from his Jainist religious background. Suffering at the hands of the violent was a means of self-purification and showing merit for a Jainist. In 1934 Gandhi was defeated. The civil disobedience campaign was called off. Conservatives controlled the British government and remained firmly in control of the reformed India. Gandhi and the Congress Party accepted the gradualist British approach. The 1935 Government of India Act made Dominion status within the empire the accepted goal. Federalism would be the framework for the transition, and parliamentary institutions the form of government. Large parts of the Act were used verbatim when a Constitution was finally written in 1950.
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