National awakening

National awakening among Indians began with the English education of youth during the last decades of Nineteenth Century. Indians started studying in schools and colleges in English medium. Main studies which brought political and National awakening are Law and ICS. These people who studied in English language schools and colleges in India and abroad especially London and who made visits to London got the taste of Citizenship rights and Rule of law and imbibed the principles of Constitutional values and National Sovereignty. This new creed of English educated community especially Lawyers played their due role while driving the British out from India.

We hereby study some personalities and their contribution to the National awakening in India in a sequential manner.

Surendranath Banerjea

Originally, Surendranath Banerjea (1848-1925) was selected to ICS but was removed from service on flimsy grounds. He formed Indian Association in 1876 along with Ananda Mohan Bose. In the meantime, Britain has reduced the age of entry to ICS to 19 from existing 21 years. He organized a public meeting against this decision on March 24, 1877 in Town Hall, Kolkata. Surendranath Banerjea can be said to be the first person to tour all India with a cause during 1876-78. Banerjea covered Lahore, Amritsar, Delhi, Meerut, Aligarh, Kanpur, Lucknow, Allahabad and Varanasi. Crowded meetings were held in all places to adopt Civil Services memorandum. The following year, he made a similar tour to Bombay and Madras Presidency. In May, 1884 Banerjea again toured northern India extensively over the civil services question that remained unsettled. Actually, the newly built Railway network of 10,000 KMs across India had helped Surendranath Banerjea to travel across breadth and length of India lecturing on the issue. Surendranath Banerjea was inspired by Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872), the pioneer of Italian unification. During 1905-11 he took leading part in the Bengal anti-partition movement but opposed boycott and acts of violence. He was a champion of local self-government and founder of Ripon College (now Surendranath College). He became a member of Imperial Legislative Assembly in 1921.

Dadabhai Naoroji

Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917) was second President of Indian National Congress in 1886. He was one of the founders of the East India Association in London in 1867 and the Royal Asiatic Society of Bombay. He was a Professor at Elphinstone. He went to London and established his own business firm in 1855. Later he became Professor of Gujarati at University College London.

In 1867 he founded the East India Association in London with the aim of putting forward the Indian point of view before the British public. In 1874 he became the Dewan of Baroda. In 1875 he was elected a Member of the Municipal Corporation, Bombay. In 1876 he resigned and left for London. He started the newspaper ‘Voice of India’. In 1885 Bombay Presidency association was founded and he was one of the Vice Presidents. He was one of the founders of Indian National Congress in 1885. He served INC as President in 1886, 1893 and 1906. He is praised and remembered as Grand old Man of India.

Dadabhai Naoroji as President of INC Session he spoke the following words at Lahore session of 1893, “Let us always remember that we are all children of our mother country. Indeed, I have never worked in any other spirit than that I am an Indian, and owe duty to my country and all my countrymen. Whether I am a Hindu, a Mohammedan, a Parsi, a Christian, or any other creed, I am above all an Indian. Our country is India; our nationality is Indian.”

In 1902 he was elected as a Member of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons, representing Central Finsbury, he was the first British Indian MP.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) can be said to be the pioneer of freedom movement in India. Mahatma Gandhi hailed Tilak as “the Maker of Modern India,” and Jawaharlal Nehru described him as “the Father of the Indian Revolution.”

Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in 1890. He started carried out Swadeshi movement of 1905–1907 and made people to boycott foreign goods. Tilak advocated Swarajya (Self-rule) for India and not political reforms. INC under the domination of Gopala Krishan Gokhale did not accept his radical views. And at Surat session of the Congress in 1907 the Congress party split into two factions as Moderates lead by Gopalakrishna Gokhale and Extremists (Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra pal and Bal Gangadhar Tilak). 

He also initiated the passive resistance model which was adopted by Gandhi as Non-Cooperation movement later. And Tilak tried to inculcate National spirit among Marathas by organizing Ganesh Festival in 1893 and Shivaji festival in 1895. Notwithstanding his reverence for Shivaji, he did not encourage the thought of revival of Maratha model of Governance for free India. He said that Maratha model was outdated and a genuine federal system is good for free India.  


Tilak published two weekly newspapers: ‘Kesari’ (The Lion) in Marathi language and ‘Mahratta’ in English language. Tilak was prosecuted for his writings and speeches in 1897 and was sentenced for 18 months. Again, Tilak was sentenced for six years in jail for defending two men who had thrown a bomb on a carriage intending to kill an English man. Which ended up killing two women instead. Tilak spent 6 years in Mandalay jail of Burma till 1814. After coming back Tilak launched the Home Rule League with the slogan “Swarajya is my birthright and I will have it.”

In the Mandalay jail, Tilak wrote his magnum opus ‘the Gita Rahasya’. Earlier, in 1893, he had published ‘The Orion’ propounding the theory of The Arctic Home of Aryans. Tilak taught Mathematics at Fergusson college and also at a Private school in Poona. Later it became Deccan Education Society.

He rejoined INC after he came back from Burma. And became soft on British. He joined hands with moderates and INC under Tilak and Muslim league under M A Jinnah signed Lucknow pact with in 1916 allowing separate representation for minorities in Council Elections. Lucknow pact was hailed as beacon of Hindu Muslim unity but in fact it laid the foundation for Hindu Muslim discord which led to division of the Country in 1947. (Gokhale went to South Africa in 1912 to invite Gandhi to India to participate in freedom struggle. Gandhi came back to India in 1915. Gokhale died in 1915. Tilak died in 1920.)

India House

India House was established in London in 1905. One of the founders was Shyamaji Krishna varma. Originally the India house was indented to provide Hostel facilities for Indian students in London. However, it has ended up as a home of revolutionaries. And Shyamaji was exiled to Paris after murder of an English man by Madan Lal Dhingra. And V D Sawarkar took over the organization in 1907. However, the organization was closed after arrest of Sawarkar.

Gadar Party

Gadar Party was founded in the USA by mainly Punjabi immigrants in 1913. These people smuggled arms into India and incited Indian troops to mutiny against the British. However, the Ghadar Mutiny was unsuccessful and 42 mutineers were executed after a trial. Between 1914 and 1917 Ghadarites continued underground activities with the support of Germany and Ottoman Turkey which was known as the Hindu-German Conspiracy. After the I world war was concluded the party became defunct.

V D Sawarkar

Vinayak Savarkar (1883-1966) and Ganesh Savarkar started Mitra Mela a secret society in Nasik in 1899. In 1904, Savarkar renamed it as Abhinav Bharat. Sawarkar went to London in 1906 to study Law. He was associated with India house. He was arrested in 1910 with various charges of subversion, incitement to war etc in connection with a British Magistrate in Nasik. And was deported to India. ON his journey to India as prisoner he tried to escape and reach France. But France handed him over to Britain. And he was tried in India and sentenced to life and deported to Andaman Jail. He served the sentence there till 1921 and was brought back to India and kept under house arrest till 1924. He wrote books of ‘Hindutva’ and ‘First War of Independence’. He joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937. It was originally the Sarvadeshi Hindu Sabha founded by Madan Mohan Malaviya in 1915. And its name was changed to Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha in 1921. Hindu Mahasabha Joined hands with Muslim parties to form governments in Sindh, NWFP and Bengal in 1937. Sawarkar advocated formation of separate State for Muslims in 1937.

Bhagat Singh

Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) was one of the freedom fighters who took to arms. Singh regarded Kartar Singh Sarabha, a founding-member of the Ghadar Party as his hero. Bhagat was also inspired by Bhai Parmanand, another founding-member of the Ghadar Party Singh was attracted to anarchism and communism. He was an avid reader of the teachings of Mikhail Bakunin and also read Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. In his last testament, “To Young Political Workers”, he declares his ideal as the “Social reconstruction on new, i.e., Marxist, basis”. Singh did not believe in the Gandhian ideology – which advocated Satyagraha and other forms of non-violent resistance, and felt that such politics would replace one set of exploiters with another.

In December 1928 Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru fired at an English man in Lahore thinking that he was the person who ordered Lathi Charge in which Lala Lajpat Rai was fatally wounded. (But the dead English man was not the person whom Bhagat Singh and his friends wanted to kill.) After this incident all the three fled the scene. Then in April 1919 Bhagat Singh and Bhatukeswar Datt have thrown two low intensity bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi and distributed pamphlets. However, this time Bhagat Singh and Datt did not escape and courted arrest. Jatindra Das and Bhagat Singh conducted hunger strike in prison demanding them to be treated as political prisoners. Das died by doing Satyagraha.

Nehru met Bhagat in Jail. Gandhi wrote to Viceroy for commutation of sentence of Bhagat Singh but in vain.

His trial was conducted against all rules of law. The judgment was read ex-parte and he was hanged along with his friends in 1931. He scolded his father for writing a mercy petition. He did not go for appeal against his conviction.

It should be noted that thousands of Indians were hanged and killed by the British in those days but only Bhagat has become famous after his death and still Indians revere him for his sacrifice. He achieved what he wanted. He churned the minds of Indians and instilled confidence in them to fight against anarchy imposed on India by the British. But it should be noted that Indians after his hanging did change but did not took up arms against the British. But Indians realized that armed struggle was futile against the all powerful British and thence embraced Gandhian Principle of Non violence and thrown the British out with bare hands.

Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar

Keshav Baliram Hedgewar was the founder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS. Before that he participated in freedom struggle and server one year jail term in 1921. Hedgewar said like this, “We have no desire to dispossess Britain and rule over it. Just as the British in Britain and the Germans in Germany rule over themselves, we of this country of India wish to rule over ourselves and carry on our own affairs. Our mind revolts at the thought of remaining the slaves of the British Empire and carrying that stigma for all time. We demand nothing short of ‘Complete Independence’. Till we achieve it, we cannot be at peace.” He participated in Non-Co-operation movement of Gandhi also. But after 1926 he distanced himself from the freedom struggle. He died in 1940. Before his death he appointed Golwalkar as Head of RSS.

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Madhav Sadashivrao Golwalkar

He did his B Sc degree first in 1927 and then M Sc Biology in 1929. He taught Zoology in Benares Hindu University for some time upon which he was revered as Guruji by his disciples. Later he did his Law in 1937. In his book ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ Golwalkar detested the Federalism proposed under the Constitution of India and said, “We are one country, one society, and one nation, with a community of life-values and secular aspirations and interests; and hence it is natural that the affairs of the nation are governed through a single state of the unitary type. The present federal system generates and feeds separatist feelings.”

Golwalkar called “Hindu-Muslim unity” a treason, and counted 1947, not as the day India achieved freedom from British rule, but as an imaginary “defeat of Hindus at the hands of Muslims”

On the issue of Official Language he said, Hindi or Sanskrit (never English) should be adopted as the only “official language”: “Until Sanskrit takes that place, we shall have to give priority to Sanskrit-based Hindi as “official language” based on the score of convenience.

On granting privileges to certain communities his views are like this, “We must cry a complete halt to forming groups based on caste, creed, etc., and demanding exclusive rights and privileges in services, financial aids, admission in educational institutions and all such other fields. To talk and think in terms of “minorities” and “communities” should be totally put an end to.”

He branded Sikhs and Buddhists as Communal groups evolved out of Hindus.

He praised German Anti Semitism and said, “German race pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races—the Jews. However, once the British started fighting against the Nazi Germans Golwalkar Cooperated with the British against Hitler.

He encouraged Shyama Prasad Mukherjee to form the Bharatiya Janasangh as a political outfit for RSS.