1.Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Date of Birth : Oct 2, 1869 Date of Death : Jan 30, 1948 Place of Birth : Gujarat


Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi) was born into a Hindu Modh family in Porbandar, Gujarat, India in 1869. He was the son of Karamchand Gandhi, the diwan (Chief Minister) of Porbandar, and Putlibai, Karamchand’s fourth wife (his previous three wives had died in childbirth), a Hindu of the Pranami Vaishnava order. Growing up with a devout mother and surrounded by the Jain influences of Gujarat, Gandhi learned from an early age the tenets of non-injury to living beings, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance between members of various creeds and sects. He was born into the vaishya, or business, caste.

In May 1883, at the age of 13, Gandhi was married through his parents’ arrangement to Kasturba Makhanji (also spelled “Kasturbai” or known as “Ba”), who was the same age as he. They had four sons: Harilal Gandhi, born in 1888; Manilal Gandhi, born in 1892; Ramdas Gandhi, born in 1897; and Devdas Gandhi, born in 1900. Gandhi was a mediocre student in his youth at Porbandar and later Rajkot. He barely passed the matriculation exam for the University of Bombay in 1887, where he joined Samaldas College. He was also unhappy at the college, because his family wanted him to become a barrister. He leapt at the opportunity to study in England, which he viewed as “a land of philosophers and poets, the very centre of civilization.” Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a major political and spiritual leader of India, and the Indian independence movement. He was the pioneer and perfector of Satyagraha – the resistance of tyranny through mass civil disobedience strongly founded upon ahimsa (total non-violence) – which led India to independence, and has inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

Gandhi is commonly known and addressed in India and across the world as Mahatma Gandhi and as Bapu. Though his elders objected, Gandhi could not be prevented from leaving; and it is said that his mother, a devout woman, made him promise that he would keep away from wine, women, and meat during his stay abroad. Gandhi left behind his son Harilal, then a few months old. In London, Gandhi encountered theosophists, vegetarians, and others who were disenchanted not only with industrialism, but with the legacy of Enlightenment thought. They themselves represented the fringe elements of English society. Gandhi was powerfully attracted to them, as he was to the texts of the major religious traditions; and ironically it is in London that he was introduced to the Bhagavad Gita. Here, too, Gandhi showed determination and single-minded pursuit of his purpose, and accomplished his objective of finishing his degree from the Inner Temple.

He was called to the bar in 1891, and even enrolled in the High Court of London; but later that year he left for India. After one year of a none too successful law practice, Gandhi decided to accept an offer from an Indian businessman in South Africa, Dada Abdulla, to join him as a legal adviser. Unbeknown to him, this was to become an exceedingly lengthy stay, and altogether Gandhi was to stay in South Africa for over twenty years. The Indians who had been living in South Africa were without political rights, and were generally known by the derogatory name of ‘coolies’. Gandhi himself came to an awareness of the frightening force and fury of European racism, and how far Indians were from being considered full human beings, when he thrown out of a first-class railway compartment car, though he held a first-class ticket, at Pietermaritzburg. From this political awakening Gandhi was to emerge as the leader of the Indian community, and it is in South Africa that he first coined the term satyagraha to signify his theory and practice of non-violent resistance. Gandhi was to describe himself preeminently as a votary or seeker of satya (truth), which could not be attained other than through ahimsa (non-violence, love) and brahmacharya (celibacy, striving towards God). Gandhi conceived of his own life as a series of experiments to forge the use of satyagraha in such a manner as to make the oppressor and the oppressed alike recognize their common bonding and humanity: as he recognized, freedom is only freedom when it is indivisible. In his book ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’ he was to detail the struggles of the Indians to claim their rights, and their resistance to oppressive legislation and executive measures, such as the imposition of a poll tax on them, or the declaration by the government that all non-Christian marriages were to be construed as invalid. In 1909, on a trip back to India, Gandhi authored a short treatise entitled ‘Hind Swaraj’ or Indian Home Rule, where he all but initiated the critique, not only of industrial civilization, but of modernity in all its aspects.

Gandhi returned to India in early 1915, and was never to leave the country again except for a short trip that took him to Europe in 1931. Though he was not completely unknown in India, Gandhi followed the advice of his political mentor, Gokhale, and took it upon himself to acquire a familiarity with Indian conditions. He traveled widely for one year. Over the next few years, he was to become involved in numerous local struggles, such as at Champaran in Bihar, where workers on indigo plantations complained of oppressive working conditions, and at Ahmedabad, where a dispute had broken out between management and workers at textile mills. His interventions earned Gandhi a considerable reputation, and his rapid ascendancy to the helm of nationalist politics is signified by his leadership of the opposition to repressive legislation (known as the “Rowlatt Acts”) in 1919.

His saintliness was not uncommon, except in someone like him who immersed himself in politics, and by this time he had earned from no less a person than Rabindranath Tagore, India’s most well-known writer, the title of Mahatma, or ‘Great Soul’. When ‘disturbances’ broke out in the Punjab, leading to the massacre of a large crowd of unarmed Indians at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar and other atrocities, Gandhi wrote the report of the Punjab Congress Inquiry Committee. Over the next two years, Gandhi initiated the non-cooperation movement, which called upon Indians to withdraw from British institutions, to return honors conferred by the British, and to learn the art of self-reliance; though the British administration was at places paralyzed, the movement was suspended in February 1922 when a score of Indian policemen were brutally killed by a large crowd at Chauri Chaura, a small market town in the United Provinces.

Gandhi himself was arrested shortly thereafter, tried on charges of sedition, and sentenced to imprisonment for six years. At The Great Trial, as it is known to his biographers, Gandhi delivered a masterful indictment of British rule. Owing to his poor health, Gandhi was released from prison in 1925. Over the following years, he worked hard to preserve Hindu-Muslim relations, and in 1924 he observed, from his prison cell, a 21-day fast when Hindu-Muslim riots broke out at Kohat, a military barracks on the Northwest Frontier. This was to be of his many major public fasts, and in 1932 he was to commence the so-called Epic Fast unto death, since he thought of “separate electorates” for the oppressed class of what were then called untouchables (or Harijans in Gandhi’s vocabulary, and dalits in today’s language) as a retrograde measure meant to produce permanent divisions within Hindu society. Gandhi earned the hostility of Ambedkar, the leader of the untouchables, but few doubted that Gandhi was genuinely interested in removing the serious disabilities from which they suffered, just as no one doubt that Gandhi never accepted the argument that Hindus and Muslims constituted two separate elements in Indian society.

These were some of the concerns most prominent in Gandhi’s mind, but he was also to initiate a constructive programme for social reform. Gandhi had ideas — mostly sound — on every subject, from hygiene and nutrition to education and labor, and he relentlessly pursued his ideas in one of the many newspapers which he founded. Indeed, were Gandhi known for nothing else in India, he would still be remembered as one of the principal figures in the history of Indian journalism. In early 1930, as the nationalist movement was revived, the Indian National Congress, the preeminent body of nationalist opinion, declared that it would now be satisfied with nothing short of complete independence (purna swaraj). Once the clarion call had been issued, it was perforce necessary to launch a movement of resistance against British rule. On March 2, Gandhi addressed a letter to the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, informing him that unless Indian demands were met, he would be compelled to break the “salt laws”.

Predictably, his letter was received with bewildered amusement, and accordingly Gandhi set off, on the early morning of March 12, with a small group of followers towards Dandi on the sea. They arrived there on April 5th: Gandhi picked up a small lump of natural salt, and so gave the signal to hundreds of thousands of people to similarly defy the law, since the British exercised a monopoly on the production and sale of salt. This was the beginning of the civil disobedience movement: Gandhi himself was arrested, and thousands of others were also hauled into jail. It is to break this deadlock that Irwin agreed to hold talks with Gandhi, and subsequently the British agreed to hold a Round Table Conference in London to negotiate the possible terms of Indian independence. Gandhi went to London in 1931 and met some of his admirers in Europe, but the negotiations proved inconclusive. On his return to India, he was once again arrested. For the next few years, Gandhi would be engaged mainly in the constructive reform of Indian society.

He had vowed upon undertaking the salt march that he would not return to Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, where he had made his home, if India did not attain its independence, and in the mid-1930s he established himself in a remote village, in the dead center of India, by the name of Segaon (known as Sevagram). It is to this obscure village, which was without electricity or running water, that India’s political leaders made their way to engage in discussions with Gandhi about the future of the independence movement, and it is here that he received visitors such as Margaret Sanger, the well-known American proponent of birth-control. Gandhi also continued to travel throughout the country, taking him wherever his services were required. One such visit was to the Northwest Frontier, where he had in the imposing Pathan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (known by the endearing term of “Frontier Gandhi”, and at other times as Badshah Khan), a fervent disciple. At the outset of World War II, Gandhi and the Congress leadership assumed a position of neutrality: while clearly critical of fascism, they could not find it in themselves to support British imperialism. Gandhi was opposed by Subhas Chandra Bose, who had served as President of the Congress, and who took to the view that Britain’s moment of weakness was India’s moment of opportunity. When Bose ran for President of the Congress against Gandhi’s wishes and triumphed against Gandhi’s own candidate, he found that Gandhi still exercised influence over the Congress Working Committee, and that it was near impossible to run the Congress if the cooperation of Gandhi and his followers could not be procured. Bose tendered his resignation, and shortly thereafter was to make a dramatic escape from India to find support among the Japanese and the Nazis for his plans to liberate India. In 1942, Gandhi issued the last call for independence from British rule. On the grounds of what is now known as August Kranti Maidan, he delivered a stirring speech, asking every Indian to lay down their life, if necessary, in the cause of freedom.

He gave them this mantra: “Do or Die”; at the same time, he asked the British to ‘Quit India’. The response of the British government was to place Gandhi under arrest, and virtually the entire Congress leadership was to find itself behind bars, not to be released until after the conclusion of the war. A few months after Gandhi and Kasturba had been placed in confinement in the Aga Khan’s Palace in Pune, Kasturba passed away: this was a terrible blow to Gandhi, following closely on the heels of the death of his private secretary of many years, the gifted Mahadev Desai. In the period from 1942 to 1945, the Muslim League, which represented the interest of certain Muslims and by now advocated the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims, increasingly gained the attention of the British, and supported them in their war effort. The new government that came to power in Britain under Clement Atlee was committed to the independence of India, and negotiations for India’s future began in earnest. Sensing that the political leaders were now craving for power, Gandhi largely distanced himself from the negotiations. He declared his opposition to the vivisection of India.

It is generally conceded, even by his detractors, that the last years of his life were in some respects his finest. He walked from village to village in riot-torn Noakhali, where Hindus were being killed in retaliation for the killing of Muslims in Bihar, and nursed the wounded and consoled the widowed; and in Calcutta he came to constitute, in the famous words of the last viceroy, Mountbatten, a “one-man boundary force” between Hindus and Muslims. The ferocious fighting in Calcutta came to a halt, almost entirely on account of Gandhi’s efforts, and even his critics were wont to speak of the Gandhi’s ‘miracle of Calcutta’. When the moment of freedom came, on 15 August 1947, Gandhi was nowhere to be seen in the capital, though Nehru and the entire Constituent Assembly were to salute him as the architect of Indian independence, as the ‘father of the nation’. The last few months of Gandhi’s life were to be spent mainly in the capital city of Delhi. There he divided his time between the ‘Bhangi colony’, where the sweepers and the lowest of the low stayed, and Birla House, the residence of one of the wealthiest men in India and one of the benefactors of Gandhi’s ashrams. Hindu and Sikh refugees had streamed into the capital from what had become Pakistan, and there was much resentment, which easily translated into violence, against Muslims. It was partly in an attempt to put an end to the killings in Delhi, and more generally to the bloodshed following the partition, which may have taken the lives of as many as 1 million people, besides causing the dislocation of no fewer than 11 million, that Gandhi was to commence the last fast unto death of his life. The fast was terminated when representatives of all the communities signed a statement that they were prepared to live in “perfect amity”, and that the lives, property, and faith of the Muslims would be safeguarded.

A few days later, a bomb exploded in Birla House where Gandhi was holding his evening prayers, but it caused no injuries. However, his assassin, a Marathi Chitpavan Brahmin by the name of Nathuram Godse, was not so easily deterred. Gandhi, quite characteristically, refused additional security, and no one could defy his wish to be allowed to move around unhindered. In the early evening hours of 30 January 1948, Gandhi met with India’s Deputy Prime Minister and his close associate in the freedom struggle, Vallabhai Patel, and then proceeded to his prayers. That evening, as Gandhi’s time-piece, which hung from one of the folds of his dhoti (loin-cloth), was to reveal to him, he was uncharacteristically late to his prayers, and he fretted about his inability to be punctual. At 10 minutes past 5 o’clock, with one hand each on the shoulders of Abha and Manu, who were known as his ‘walking sticks’, Gandhi commenced his walk towards the garden where the prayer meeting was held. As he was about to mount the steps of the podium, Gandhi folded his hands and greeted his audience with a namaskar; at that moment, a young man came up to him and roughly pushed aside Manu. Nathuram Godse bent down in the gesture of an obeisance, took a revolver out of his pocket, and shot Gandhi three times in his chest. Bloodstains appeared over Gandhi’s white woolen shawl; his hands still folded in a greeting, Gandhi blessed his assassin: He Ram! He Ram! As Gandhi fell, his faithful time-piece struck the ground, and the hands of the watch came to a standstill. They showed, as they had done before, the precise time: 5:12 P.M.

2. Subhash Chandra Bose

Subhash Chandra Bose
Subhash Chandra Bose

Date of Birth : Jan 23, 1897 Date of Death : Aug 18, 1945 Place of Birth : Orissa

Subhash Chandra Bose (January 23, 1897 – August 18, 1945?), also known as Netaji, was one of the most prominent leaders of the Indian Independence Movement against the British Raj. Subhas Chandra Bose was born to an affluent family in Cuttack, Orissa. His father, Janakinath Bose, was a public prosecutor who believed in orthodox nationalism, and later became a member of the Bengal Legislative Council. His mother was Prabhavati Bose, a remarkable example of Indian womanhood. Bose was educated at Cambridge University. In 1920, Bose took the Indian Civil Service entrance examination and was placed second. However, he resigned from the prestigious Indian Civil Service in April 1921 despite his high ranking in the merit list, and went on to become an active member of India’s independence movement. He joined the Indian National Congress, and was particularly active in its youth wing. Subhas Chandra Bose felt that young militant groups could be molded into a military arm of the freedom movement and used to further the cause. Gandhiji opposed this ideology because it directly conflicted with his policy of ahimsa (non-violence). The British Government in India perceived Subhas as a potential source of danger and had him arrested without any charge on October 25, 1924. He was sent to Alipore Jail, Calcutta and in January 25, 1925 transferred to Mandalay, Burma. He was released from Mandalay in May, 1927 due to his ill health. Upon return to Calcutta, Subhas was elected President of the Bengal Congress Committee on October 27, 1927.

Subhas was one of the few politicians who sought and worked towards Hindu-Muslim unity on the basis of respect of each community’s rights. Subhas, being a man of ideals, believed in independence from the social evil of religious discord. In January 1930 Subhas was arrested while leading a procession condemning imprisonment of revolutionaries. He was offered bail on condition that he signs a bond to refrain from all political activities, which he refused. As a result he was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. On his release from jail, Subhas was sworn in as Mayor of the Calcutta Corporation. In 1931 the split between Gandhiji and Subhas crystallized. Although the two never saw eye to eye on their view of freedom and the movement itself, Subhas felt that Gandhiji had done a great disservice to the movement by agreeing to take part in the Second Round Table Conference. Subhas viewed freedom as an absolute necessity, unlike the freedom which Gandhiji was “negotiating” with the British. Subhas was arrested again while returning from Bombay to Calcutta, and imprisoned in several jails outside West Bengal in fear of an uprising. His health once again deteriorated and the medical facilities diagnosed him with tuberculosis. It was recommended that he be sent to Switzerland for treatment. Realizing that his avenues abroad were greater with the restrictions of the British, Subhas set sail for Europe on February 23, 1933. Subhas stayed in various parts of Europe from March 1993 to March 1936 making contacts with Indian revolutionaries and European socialists supporting India’s Struggle for Independence. Subhas met Mussolini in Italy and made Vienna his headquarters. Subhas was opposed to the racial theory of Nazism but appreciated its organizational strength and discipline. On March 27, 1936 he sailed for Bombay and but was escorted to jail immediately after disembarking. After lying low for a year, he was able to work actively. He attended the All India Congress Committee Session in Calcutta, the first one he attended after a lapse of nearly six years. Time had healed the tensions between Subhas and Gandhiji, and Gandhiji supported Subhas in his efforts to become the President of the next Congress session, 1938. He went to England for a month in 1938 and rallied for the Indian freedom cause amongst Indian students and British labor leaders sympathetic toward India’s cause. It was a bold move since he was constantly under British surveillance. Upon his return to India in February 1938, Subhas was elected President of the Indian National Congress. An excerpt from his Presidential address read, “I have no doubt in my mind that our chief national problems relating to the eradication of poverty, illiteracy and disease and the scientific production and distribution can be tackled only along socialistic lines… .” Subhas emphasized that political freedom alone would not be sufficient, as the ills of the British reign would continue to haunt post-Independent India. He stressed the need to solve linguistic and religious prejudices and to achieve a high literacy rate amongst Indians. Gandhiji found Subhas’s ideologies far too leftist and strongly disagreed with Subhas’s criticism of village industries and stress on competing with the rest of the world in the Industrial age. Opposition from Sardar Vallabhai Patel, lack of support from Gandhiji and Nehru’s indecision marked Subhas’s year as the President of the Congress. One of Subhas’ major contributions was setting up of a National Planning Committee, for the development of an economic program running parallel to the national movement. Differences between Gandhiji and Subhas led to a crisis when Gandhiji opposed Subhas’ idea that the Bengal Government (a coalition between the Krishak Praja Party & Muslim League) be ousted and the Congress take charge in coalition with the Krishak party. The idea was criticized by Gandhiji and Nehru, which resulted in the strengthening of the Muslim League in Bengal and ultimately partition of India. It is obvious today that had Subhas been able to carry out his plans, Bengal would be a different entity on the atlas. Despite opposition from the Congress brass, Subhas was a favorite amongst the majority as he was re-elected for a second term in March 1939. Gandhiji considered Subhas’s victory as his personal defeat and went on a fast to rally the members of the Working Committee to resign. Subhas resigned and Dr. Rajendra Prasad assumed the Presidency of the Congress. In May 1939, Subhas formed the Forward Bloc within the Congress as an umbrella organization of the left forces within the Congress. Gandhiji and his supporters accused Subhas of breach of Congress party discipline and drafted a resolution removing Subhas from the Congress Working Committee and restrained him from holding any office for three years. On September 3, 1939 Subhas was informed that war had broken out between Britain and Germany. Subhas discussed the idea of an underground struggle against the British with members of the Forward Bloc. Subhas pressurized the Congress leaders to get a Declaration of War Aims from the Viceroy; he declined. Subhas was elected President of the West Bengal Provincial Congress. In December the Congress Working Committee subverted the Provincial Committee’s authority and appointed its own ad hoc committee. The Forward Bloc progressively became militant and by April 1940 most of its senior members were arrested. Subhas was convinced that the only way he could bring about India’s Independence was by leaving the country and fighting from foreign territories. He had made contact with radical Punjab and Pathan activists who had contacts in Afghanistan and Russia to organize a militia. Subhas knew that Britain was in a vulnerable position following the surrender of France in June 1940. He announced the launch of Siraj-ud-daula Day on July 3, in memory of the last king of Bengal who was defeated by Clive. His plan was to hold a procession and to unify Hindu and Muslim nationalists. The Government interceded and imprisoned Subhas on July 2, 1940 in Presidency Jail, Calcutta. Netaji believed that foreign assistance was a must to free India from British rule. In 1939, when the Second World War broke out, Subhas sought assistance from Germany, Italy, and Japan as they were enemies of Britain and thus would be natural allies. In 1941, he evaded a house-arrest in Calcutta by disguising himself as a Maulavi and going to Kabul, Afghanistan. Later, he procured an Italian passport and fled to Berlin, Germany. There he met Hitler and discussed his plans and sought his assistance to free India. He also sought assistance from Mussolini. From time to time, he aired his speeches on the Azad Hind Radio from Berlin to communicate his intentions to fellow Indians and to prove that he was still alive. After the defeat of Germany, Netaji realized that he could not continue his struggle from Germany anymore. Ultimately, Netaji reached Japan in June, 1943. He established the Indian National Army (INA) with some 30,000 Indian soldiers. He also set up a radio network in South East Asia in order to appeal to the people, both in India and outside, for support. The INA declared war against Britain and America. However, the INA had to retreat from the Indo-Burmese border after a heavy defeat of the Japanese troops there. The British defense was impenetrable. Though the “Delhi Chalo” mission failed, Netaji proved to the world that his determination was strong and his attitude was positive in his dream to free India from the clutches of the British.

On August 16, 1945 Netaji boarded a plane from Singapore to Bangkok. Netaji was scheduled to fly in a Type 97-2 bomber ‘Sally’ from Bangkok to Saigon. The plane made a stopover in Taipei and crashed within minutes of take-off from Taipei. Netaji’s body was cremated in Taipei on August 20, 1945 and his ashes were flown to Tokyo on September 5, 1945 where they rest in the Renkoji Temple. To this day, many believe that Netaji escaped from the air crash and went into hiding.

Netaji wanted unconditional and complete freedom. He dreamed of a classless society with no caste barriers, social inequalities or religious intolerance. He believed in equal distribution of wealth and destruction of communalism. His slogan “Jai Hind” still acts as a great binding force today

3. Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru

Date of Birth : Nov 14, 1889 Date of Death : May 27, 1964 Place of Birth : Uttar Pradesh Political party : Indian National Congress Took Office : Aug 15, 1947 Left Office : May 27, 1964 Successor : Lal Bahadur Shastri

Jawaharlal Nehru also called Pandit Nehru, was an important leader of the Indian Independence Movement and the Indian National Congress, and became the first Prime Minister of India when India won its independence on August 15, 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru was born on November 14, 1889, to Swaroop Rani, the wife of Motilal Nehru, a wealthy Allahabad based barrister and political leader himself. He was Nehru’s only son amongst three younger daughters. The Nehru family is of Kashmiri lineage and of the Saraswat Brahmin caste. Educated in the finest Indian schools of the time, Nehru returned from education in England at Harrow, Trinity College, Cambridge and the Inner Temple to practice law before following his father into politics. By his parents’ arrangement, Nehru married Kamala Nehru, then seventeen in 1916. At the time of his wedding on 8 February 1916, Jawaharlal was twenty-six, a British-educated barrister. Kamala came from a well-known business family of Kashmiris in Delhi. His father Motilal Nehru was already a prominent figure in the Indian National Congress and had served as its president. Nehru did not share Motilal’s moderate-liberal line.

He began to draw closer to the rising leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a former barrister who had won battles for equality and political rights for Indians in South Africa, and had emerged a national hero with the successful struggles in Champaran, Bihar and Kheda in Gujarat. Nehru was instantly attracted to Gandhi’s commitment for active but peaceful, civil disobedience. Gandhi himself saw promise and India’s future in the young Jawaharl Nehru. The Nehru family transformed their lifestyle according to Gandhi’s teachings. Jawaharlal and Motilal Nehru abandoned western clothes and tastes for expensive possessions and pastimes, and adopted Hindi, or Hindustani as their common language of use. Young Jawaharlal now wore a khadi kurta and a Gandhi cap, all white – the new uniform of the Indian nationalist. Nehru was first arrested by the British during the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922), but released after a few months. After Gandhi suspended civil resistance in 1922 as a result of the killing of policemen in Chauri Chaura, thousands of Congressmen were disillusioned.

When Gandhi opposed participation in the newly created legislative councils, many followed leaders like Chittaranjan Das and Motilal Nehru to form the Swaraj Party, which advocated entry but only to sabotage government from within, as a tool to extracting concessions from the British to ensure stability. But Nehru did not join his father and stayed with Gandhi and the Congress. Jawaharlal was elected President of the Allahabad Municipal Corporation in 1924, and served for two years as the city’s chief executive. Upon his release from prison in 1924, Gandhi succeeded in re-uniting the Congress Party and increasing discipline of Congressmen by expanding activities for social reform and the alleviation of India’s poor. From 1926 to 1928, Jawaharlal served as the General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee, an important step in his rise to Congress national leadership. With the Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928, led by the rising nationalist leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Congress was back in the business of revolution. In 1928-29, the Congress’s annual session under President Motilal Nehru considered the next step. Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose backed a call for full political independence, while Motilal Nehru and others wanted dominion status within the British Empire.

To resolve the point, Gandhi said that the British would be given two years to grant India dominion status. If they did not, the Congress would launch a national struggle for full, political independence. Nehru and Bose reduced the time of opportunity to one year. The British did not respond. When the Congress convened its session in 1929, Gandhi backed the young Jawaharlal for the Congress presidency. Although confessing embarrassment at his hurried ascent, President Nehru declared India’s independence on January 26, 1930 in Lahore, raised free India’s flag in a large public convention on the banks of the Ravi and inaugurated the struggle. Nehru was arrested in 1930, and during the Salt Satyagraha of 1931 for a number of years. The revolt was an astounding national success. Millions of Indians had participated, and the British were ultimately forced to acknowledge that there was a need for major political reform. When the British promulgated the Government of India Act 1935, the Congress Party decided to contest elections. Nehru stayed out of the elections, but campaigned vigorously nationwide for the party.

The Congress formed governments in almost every province, and won the largest number of seats in the Central Assembly, which the Congress had denounced as powerless. But it was able to exercise control of provincial affairs, giving India its first taste of democratic self-government. Nehru was elected again to the Congress Presidency in 1936, and again in 1937. In his famous speech to the session in Lucknow in 1936, he pushed the passage of the Avadi Resolution which committed the Congress to socialism as the basis of the future agenda of a free India’s government. But the effort was strongly criticized by major Congress leaders, including Gandhi and Sardar Patel, though for different reasons. Nehru transformed his position to commit that the resolution did not in fact bind Congress to socialism, and that the Congress Party’s main goal was independence, not socialism. However, Nehru had grown politically closer to Congress socialists like Jaya Prakash Narayan, Narendra Dev and the liberal-socialist Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. During this period, Nehru also wrote his autobiography in which he vividly describes his struggle for (political) freedom, noting that ‘This book was written entirely in prison’.

It is a very readable and honest account that contains many anecdotes and insights in the political and social circumstances of pre-war India. When World War II broke out, Nehru and the Congress condemned the unilateral decision made by the British viceroy to enter India, but were divided as to what to do about it. Nehru and Patel made an offer of cooperation with the British, promising whole-hearted support if after the war, the British would deliver India’s political freedom. This was opposed by Gandhi, but marked the first occasion when Nehru, and indeed a majority of Congress leaders went against his advice. Several British politicians and British officials backed the offer, considering Indian support valuable, but the bid failed when the British ruled out any political reform. The Congress Party ordered all of its elected members in the Central and provincial assemblies to resign, and another national struggle seemed inevitable. Nehru and Maulana Azad were lukewarm to Gandhi’s call for revolt, still considering it a good possibility that the British would ultimately concede independence for Indian support. Although many other Indian political parties opposed the call, Gandhi and Sardar Patel convinced Nehru and Azad, and the entire Indian National Congress to a final showdown with the British Empire.

The Quit India Movement was launched on August 13, 1942. The Congress made an open call for complete independence immediately. Only an independent India would decide whether India would participate in the war. The Congress asked all Indians to boycott British goods, the institutions and factories run by the British, public services and government programs. Major strikes, protests and demonstrations broke out all over India, and although other political parties did not participate, it proved to be the most forceful revolt in the history of British rule. Gandhi and the entire Congress Working Committee were immediately arrested. The Committee was imprisoned in a fort-turned-prison in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, separate from Gandhi, who was imprisoned in Pune. The British had made arrangements to deport the leaders if necessary, but felt that then any chance of regaining order would be lost due to public outrage. Outside, hundreds of thousands of Indian freedom fighters were imprisoned, and thousands were killed in police firings. Upon the end of the war, Nehru and the Congress leadership were released. The new Labour Party government of Clement Attlee in the United Kingdom was preparing plans for India’s independence. Imprisoned for a total of over 13 years, he was President of the Congress in 1929, 1936, 1937 and 1947.

He became the Vice President of the Interim Government on September 2, 1946 and later the Prime Minister of Independent India on August 15, 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru served as India’s Prime Minister from August 15, 1947, to May 27, 1964 – the day he died. Nehru loved children; therefore his birthday is observed as Children’s Day. For children, he was Chacha (uncle) Nehru. In 1946, Nehru had moved into the former residence of the British Commander in Chief of the Indian Army on York Road, in Delhi. With independence, this became the official residence of the PM, and after Nehru’s death in 1964, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Nehru lived alone initially, but was later joined by his daughter Indira Gandhi, who despite having a young family of her own felt a need to take care of her father’s personal needs. Over the years she became his virtual chief of staff – managing his schedule and appointments, instructing the staff of the residence and often accompanying him on foreign trips and in meetings with world leaders. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s administration created the policies that formed the backbone of India’s social and economic development, national defense and position in world affairs for decades, although many times are criticized as very much wrong policies. Nehru also sired the most powerful political dynasty in India’s modern history. His daughter Indira Gandhi would become Prime Minister within two years of his death in 1966, and would serve for 15 years and 3 terms.

His grandson Rajiv Gandhi would hold that office from 1984 to 1989. Today, Rajiv’s widow Sonia Gandhi is Congress President.

 

4. Bhagat Singh

Bhagat Singh
Bhagat Singh

Date of Birth : Sep 27, 1907 Date of Death : Mar 23, 1931 Place of Birth : Jalandhar

Bhagat Singh (September 27, 1907 – March 23, 1931) was an Indian revolutionary, considered to be one of the most famous martyrs of the Indian freedom struggle. For this reason, he is often referred to as Shaheed Bhagat Singh (the word shaheed means “martyr”). Bhagat Singh was born into a Sikh family to Sardar Kishan Singh and Vidyavati in the Khatkar Kalan village near Banga in the Jalandhar district of Punjab. His uncle, Sardar Ajit Singh, as well as his father, were great freedom fighters, so Bhagat Singh grew up in a patriotic atmosphere. Ajit Singh established the Indian Patriots’ Association, along with Syed Haidar Raza, to organize the peasants against the Chenab Canal Colony Bill. He also established the secret organization, the Bharat Mata Society. At an early age, Bhagat Singh started dreaming of uprooting the British empire. Never afraid of fighting during his childhood, he thought of “growing guns in the fields,” so that he could fight against the British. The Ghadar Movement left a deep imprint on his mind. Kartar Sing Sarabha, hanged at the age of 19, became his hero. The massacre at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919 drove him to go to Amritsar, where he kissed the earth sanctified by the martyrs’ blood and brought back home a little of the soaked soil. He studied in the D.A.V. School in Lahore. At the age of 16, he used to wonder why so many Indians could not drive away these fistful of invaders. In search of revolutionary groups and ideas, he met Sukhdev and Rajguru. Bhagat Singh, along with the help of Chandrashekhar Azad, formed the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA). The aim of this Indian revolutionary movement was now defined as not only to make India independent, but also to create “a socialist India.” During the Simon Commission, Sher-e-Punjab Lala Lajpat Rai was wounded and died later. To avenge his death, Bhagat Singh and Rajguru killed Mr. Saunders (one of the deputy officers in connection with the Simon Commission).

When the British government promulgated the two bills “Trade Union Dispute Bill” and “Public Safety Bill” which Bhagat Singh and his party thought were Black Laws aimed at curbing citizens’ freedom and civil liberties, they decided to oppose these bills by throwing a bomb in the Central Assembly Hall (which is now Lok Sabha). However, things changed, and the Britishers arrested Bhagat Singh and his friends on April 8, 1929. He and his friends wanted to be shot dead, since they were termed as prisoners of war. Their request was not fulfilled, and on March 23, 1931, Bhagat Singh, Shivram Rajguru, and Sukhdev were hanged to death. This man’s only mission in life was to see his country free from British rule. He did his best and when he was being led to the gallows, he was satisfied that he had lived up to his principles, irrespective of the consequences. The only thing that made him sad was that he couldn’t do more for his country.

5. Dr. Rajendra Prasad

Dr. Rajendra Prasad

Dr. Rajendra Prasad

Date of Birth : Dec 3, 1884 Date of Death : Feb 28, 1963 Place of Birth : Zeradei, Bihar Tenure Order : 1st President Took Office : Jan 26, 1950 Left Office : May 13, 1962 Successor : Dr.S Radhakrishnan

Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the first President of India. Rajendra Prasad was a great freedom-fighter, and the architect of the Indian Constitution, having served as President of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution of the Republic from 1948 to 1950. He had also served as a Cabinet Minister briefly in the first Government of Independent India. He was a crucial leader of the Indian Independence Movement. Prasad was born in Jiradei, in the Siwan district of Bihar. His father, Mahadev Sahay, was a Persian and Sanskrit language scholar; his mother, Kamleshwari Devi, was a devout lady who would tell stories from the Ramayana to her son. At the age of 5, the young Rajendra Prasad was sent to a Maulavi for learning Persian. After that he was sent to Chapra Zilla School for further primary studies.

He was married at the age of 12 to Rajvanshi Devi. He then went on to study at R.K. Ghosh’s Academy in Patna to be with his older brother Mahendra Prasad. Soon afterward, however, he rejoined the Chapra Zilla School, and it was from there that he passed the entrance examination of Calcutta University, at the age of 18. He stood first in the first division of that examination. He then joined the Presidency College, Calcutta. He was initially a student of science and his teachers included J.C.Bose and Prafulla Chandra Roy. Later he decided to switch his focus to the arts. Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, who was impressed by his intellect and dedication asked him on the occasion “Why have you deserted your class?.” Prasad lived with his brother in the Eden Hindu Hostel. A plaque still commemorates his stay in that room. He had been initiated into the Swadeshi movement by his brother. He then joined the Dawn Society run by Satish Chandra Mukherjee, and Sister Nivedita. In 1911, he joined the A.I.C.C. However, his family estate was in bad condition. He was looked upon as the provider. But he sought permission from his brother in a letter to join the Indian freedom movement. He wrote, “Ambitions I have none, except to be of some service to the Motherland”. The shock of his brother, however, held him to the family. In 1916, Rajendra Prasad joined the High Court of Bihar, and Orissa. Such was his intellect and his integrity, that often when his adversary failed to cite a precedent, the judges asked Rajendra Prasad to cite a precedent against himself. After meeting Mahatma Gandhi, he quit as a Senator of the University, much to the regret of the British Vice-Chancellor.He also responded to the call by the Mahatma to boycott Western education by asking his son Mrityunjaya Prasad, a brilliant student to drop out of the University and enroll himself in Bihar Vidyapeeth, an institution he had along with his colleagues founded on the traditional Indian model. He wrote articles for Searchlight and the Desh and collected funds for these papers. He toured a lot, explaining, lecturing and exhorting. When the earthquake of Bihar occurred on January 15, 1934, Rajendra Prasad was in jail. He was released two days later. He set himself for the task of raising funds. The Viceroy had also raised a fund. However, while Rajendra Prasad’s fund collected over 38 Lakhs (Rs. 3,800,000), the Viceroy could only manage one-third of that amount. The way relief was organized left nothing to be desired. Nationalist India expressed its admiration by electing him to the President of the Bombay session of the Indian National Congress.

After India became independent he was elected the President of India. As President, he used his moderating influence so silently and unobtrusively that he neither reigned nor ruled. His sister Bhagwati Devi died on the night of 25 January 1960. She doted on her dearly-loved younger brother. It must have taken Rajendra Prasad all his will power to have taken the Republic Day salute as usual, on the following day. It was only on return from the parade that he set about the task of cremation. In 1962, after 12 years as President, he announced his decision to retire. He was subsequently awarded the Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest civilian award. Within months of his retirement, early in September 1962, his wife Rajvanshi Devi passed away. In a letter written a month before his death to one devoted to him, he said, “I have a feeling that the end is near, end of the energy to do, end of my very existence”. He died on 28 February 1963 with ‘Ram Ram Ram’ on his lips. Because of the enormous public adulation he enjoyed, he was referred to as Desh Ratna or the Jewel of the country. His legacy is being ably carried forward by his great grandson Ashoka Jahnavi-Prasad, a psychiatrist and a scientist of international repute who introduced sodium valproate as a safer alternative to lithium salts in the treatment of bipolar disorders.

6.Lal Bahadur Shastri

Lal Bahadur Shastri

Lal Bahadur Shastri

Date of Birth : Oct 2, 1904 Date of Death : Jan 11, 1966 Place of Birth : Uttar Pradesh

Lal Bahadur Shastri was the second Prime Minister of independent India and a significant figure in the struggle for independence. Shashtriji was born in Mughalsarai, in Uttar Pradesh. To take part in the non-cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi in 1921, he began studying at the nationalist, Kashi Vidyapeeth in Kashi, and upon completion, he was given the title Shastri, or Scholar, Doctor at Kashi Vidyapeeth in 1926. He spent almost nine years in jail in total, mostly after the start of the Satyagraha movement in 1940, he was imprisoned until 1946. Following India’s independence, he was Home Minister under Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant of Uttar Pradesh. In 1951, he was appointed General Secretary of the Lok Sabha before re-gaining a ministerial post as Railways Minister. He resigned as Minister following a rail disaster near Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu. He returned to the Cabinet following the General Elections, first as Minister for Transport, in 1961, he became Home Minister. After Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in May 27, 1964, he became the prime minister. Shastri worked by his natural characteristics to obtain compromises between opposing viewpoints, but in his short tenure was ineffectual in dealing with the economic crisis and food shortage in the nation.

However, he commanded a great deal of respect in the Indian populace, and he used it to advantage in pushing the Green Revolution in India; which directly led to India becoming a food-surplus nation, although he did not live to see it. His administration began on a rocky turf. In 1965 Pakistan attacked India on the Kashmiri front and Lal Bahadur Shastri responded in kind by punching toward Lahore. In 1966 a cease-fire was issued as a result of international pressure. Lal Bahadur Shastri went to Tashkent to hold talks with Ayub Khan and an agreement was soon signed. Lal Bahadur passed away in Tashkent before returning home. All his lifetime, he was known for his honesty and humility. He was the first person to be posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna and a memorial “Vijay Ghat” was built for him in Delhi. The slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ is attributed to Shastri. ‘If one person gives up one meal in a day, some other person gets his only meal of the day.’: made during the food crisis to encourage people to evenly distribute food.

7. Chandrashekhar Azad

Chandrashekhar Azad

Chandrashekhar Azad

Date of Birth : Jul 23, 1906 Date of Death : Feb 27, 1931 Place of Birth : India

Chandrasekhar Azad was a great Indian freedom fighter and revolutionary thinker. Revered for his audacious deeds and fierce patriotism, he was the mentor of Bhagat Singh, the famous Indian martyr. Chandrasekhar Azad is considered one of the greatest Indian freedom fighter along with Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru, Ram Prasad Bismil, and Ashfaqulla Khan. Chandrasekhar Azad’s parents were Pandit Sita Ram Tiwari and Jagrani Devi. He received his early schooling in Bhavra District Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh). For higher studies he went to the Sanskrit Pathashala at Varanasi. Young Azad was one of the young generation of Indians when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation Movement. But many were disillusioned with the suspension of the struggle in 1922 owing to the Chauri Chaura massacre of 22 policemen. Although Gandhi was appalled by the brutal violence, Azad did not feel that violence was unacceptable in the struggle, especially in view of the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, where Army units killed hundreds of unarmed civilians and wounded thousands in Amritsar. Young Azad and contemporaries like Bhagat Singh were deeply and emotionally influenced by that tragedy. As a revolutionary, he adopted the lastname ‘Azad’, which means “Free” in Urdu.There is an interesting story that while he adopted the name “Azad” he made a pledge that the Police will never capture him alive. Azad and others had committed themselves to absolute independence by any means. He was most famous for The Kakori Rail Dacoity in 1925 and the assassination of the assistant superintendent of Police John Poyantz Saunders in 1928.

Azad and his compatriots would target British officials known for their oppressive actions against ordinary people, or for beating and torturing arrested freedom fighters. Azad was also a believer in socialism as the basis for a future India, free of social and economic oppression and adversity. Bhagat Singh joined Azad following the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, an Indian leader who was beaten to death by police officials. Azad trained Singh and others in covert activities, and the latter grew close to him after witnessing his resolve, patriotism and courage. Along with fellow patriots like Rajguru and Sukhdev, Azad and Singh formed the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, committed to complete Indian independence and socialist principles of for India’s future progress. Betrayed by an informer on 27 February 1931 Azad was encircled by British troops in the Alfred park, Allahabad. He kept on fighting till the last bullet. Azad is a hero to many Indians today. Alfred Park was renamed Chandrasekhar Azad park, as have been scores of schools, colleges, roads and other public institutions across India.

8. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Date of Birth : Oct 31, 1875 Date of Death : Dec 15, 1950 Place of Birth : Gujarat

Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel was born at his maternal uncle’s house in Nadiad, Gujarat. His actual date of birth was never officially recorded – Patel entered October 31st as his date of birth on his matriculation examination papers. He was the fourth son of Jhaverbhai and Ladba Patel, and lived in the village of Karamsad, in the Kheda district. Somabhai, Narsibhai and Vithalbhai Patel (also a future political leader) were his elder brothers. He had a younger brother, Kashibhai, and a sister, Dahiba. Patel helped his father in the fields, and bimonthly kept a day-long fast, abstaining from food and water – a cultural observance that enabled him to develop physical tougheness. He entered school late – parental attention was focused on the eldest brothers, thus leading to a degree of neglect of Patel’s education. Patel travelled to attend schools in Nadiad, Petlad and Borsad, living self-sufficiently with other boys. He took his matriculation at the late age of 22; at this point, he was generally regarded by his elder relatives as an unambitious man destined for a commonplace job. But Patel himself harbored a plan – he would pass the Pleader’s examination and become a lawyer. He would then set aside funds, travel to England, then train to become a barrister.

During the many years it took him to save money, Vallabhbhai – now a pleader – earned a reputation as a fierce and skilled lawyer. He had also cultivated a stoic character – he lanced a painful boil without hesitation, even as the barber supposed to do it trembled. Patel spent years away from his family, pursuing his goals assiduously. Later, Patel fetched Jhaverba from her parent’s home – Patel was married to Jhaverba at a young age. As per Indian custom at the time, the girl would remain at her mother’s house until her husband began earning – and set up his household. His wife bore him a daughter, Manibehn, in 1904, and later a son, Dahyabhai, in 1906. Patel also cared for a personal friend suffering from Bubonic plague when it swept the state. After Patel himself came down with the disease, he immediately sent away his family to safety, left his home, and moved into an isolated house in Nadiad (by other accounts, Patel spent this time in a dilapidated temple); there, he recovered slowly. Patel took on the financial burdens of his homestead in Karamsad even while saving for England and supporting a young family. He made way for his brother Vithalbhai Patel to travel to England in place of him, on his own saved money and opportunity. The episode occurred as the tickets and pass Patel had applied for arrived in the name of “V. J. Patel,” and arrived at Vithalbhai’s home, who bore the same initials. Patel did not hesitate to make way for his elder brother’s ambition before his own, and funded his trip as well. In 1909, Patel’s wife Jhaverba was hospitalized in Bombay to undergo a major surgical operation for cancer. Her health suddenly worsened, and despite successful emergency surgery, she died. Patel was given a note informing him of his wife’s demise as he was cross-examining a witness in court. As per others who witnessed, Patel read the note, pocketed it and continued to intensely cross-examine the witness, and won the case. He broke the news to others only after the proceedings had ended. Patel himself decided against marrying again. He raised his children with the help of his family, and sent them to English-medium schools in Mumbai (then Bombay). At the age of 36, he journeyed to England and enrolled at the Middle Temple Inn in London. Finishing a 36-month course in 30 months, Patel topped his class despite having no previous college background. Patel settled in the city of Ahmedabad, and became one of the city’s most successful barristers. Wearing European-style clothes and urbane mannerisms, he also became a skilled bridge player at the Gujarat Club. His close friends would include his neighbours Dr. Balwantray and Nandubehn Kanuga, who would remain dear to him, and a young lawyer, Ganesh Vasudev Mavlankar. He had also made a pact with his brother Vithalbhai to support his entry into politics in Bombay, while Patel himself would remain in Ahmedabad and provide for the family. According to some of Patel’s friends, he nurtured ambitions to expand his practise and accumulate great wealth, and to provide his children with modern education.

Vallabhbhai Patel was a major political and social leader of India and its struggle for independence, and is credited for achieving the political integration of independent India. In India and across the world, he is known as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, where Sardar stands for Chief in many languages of India. Patel organized the peasants of Kheda, Borsad, and Bardoli in Gujarat in non-violent civil disobedience against the oppressive policies imposed by the British Raj – becoming one of the most influential leaders in Gujarat. He rose to the leadership of the Indian National Congress and at the forefront of rebellions and political events – organizing the party for elections in 1934 and 1937, and leading Indians into the Quit India movement. He was imprisoned by the British government on numerous occasions, especially from 1931 to 1934, and from 1942 to 1945. Becoming the first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of India, Patel organized relief and rehabilitation efforts in the riot-struck Punjab and Delhi, and led efforts to restore security. Patel took charge of the task to forge a united India from a plethora of semi-independent princely states, colonial provinces and possessions. Patel employed an iron fist in a velvet glove diplomacy – frank political negotiations backed with the option (and the use) of military action to weld a nation that could emancipate its people without the prospect of divisions or civil conflict. His leadership obtained the peaceful and swift integration of all 565 princely states into the Republic of India. Patel’s initiatives spread democracy extensively across India, and re-organized the states to help transform India into a modern federal republic. His admirers call him the Iron Man of India. He is also remembered as the “patron saint” of India’s civil servants for his defence of them against political attack, and for being one of the earliest and key defenders of property rights and free enterprise in independent India.

On 29 March 1949, a plane carrying Patel and the Maharaja of Patiala lost radio contact, and Patel’s life was feared for all over the nation. The plane had made an emergency landing in the desert of Rajasthan upon an engine failure, and Patel and all passengers were safe, and traced by nearby villagers. When Patel returned to Delhi, members of Parliament and thousands of Congressmen gave him a raucous welcome. In Parliament, MPs gave a thunderous ovation to Patel – stopping proceedings for half an hour. Till his last few days, he was constantly at work in Delhi. Patel’s health worsened after 2 November 1950, and he was flown to Bombay to recuperate. After suffering a massive heart attack – his second – he died in Bombay on December 15th, 1950. In an unprecedented gesture, more than 1,500 officers of India’s civil and police services congregated at Patel’s residence in Delhi on the day after his death to mourn him – they pledged “complete loyalty and unremmitting zeal” in India’s service. His cremation in Sonapur, Bombay, was attended by large crowds, Nehru, Rajagopalachari, President Prasad and many Congressmen and freedom fighters.

9. Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

Date of Birth : Jul 23, 1856 Date of Death : 1920 Place of Birth : Maharashtra

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was an Indian nationalist, social reformer and freedom fighter who was the first popular leader of the Indian Independence Movement. Tilak sparked the fire for complete independence in Indian consciousness, and is considered the father of Hindu nationalism as well. Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it! This famous quote of his is very popular and well-remembered in India even today.

Reverently addressed as Lokmanya (meaning “Beloved of the people” or “Revered by the world”), Tilak was a scholar of Indian history, Sanskrit, Hinduism, mathematics and astronomy. He was born on July 23, 1856, in a village near Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, into a middle class Chitpavan Brahmin family. Tilak was an avid student with a special aptitude for mathematics. He was among India’s first generation of youth to receive a modern, college education. After graduation, Tilak began teaching mathematics in a private school in Pune and later became a journalist. He became a strong critic of the Western education system, feeling it demeaning to Indian students and disrespectful to India’s heritage. He organized the Deccan Education Society to improve the quality of education for India’s youth. Tilak founded the Marathi daily Kesari (The Lion) which fast became a popular reading for the common people of India. Tilak strongly criticized the government for its brutalism in suppression of free expression, especially in face of protests against the division of Bengal in 1905, and for denigrating India’s culture, its people and heritage. He demanded the British immediately give the right to self-government to India’s people. Tilak joined the Indian National Congress in the 1890s, but soon fell into opposition of its liberal-moderate attitude towards the fight for self-government. Tilak opposed the moderate views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and was supported by fellow Indian nationalists Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. In 1907, the Congress Party split into the Garam Dal (literally, “Hot Faction”), led by Tilak, Pal and Lajpat Rai, and the Naram Dal (literally, “Soft Faction”) led by Gokhale during its convention at Surat in Gujarat. When arrested on charges of sedition in 1906, Tilak asked a young Mohammad Ali Jinnah to represent him. But the British judge convicted him and he was imprisoned from 1908 to 1914 in Mandalay, Burma. Upon his release, Tilak re-united with his fellow nationalists and re-united the Indian National Congress in 1916. He also helped found the All India Home Rule League in 1916-18 with Annie Besant and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Tilak proposed various social reforms, such as a minimum age for marriage, and was especially keen to see a prohibition placed on the sale of alcohol. His thoughts on education and Indian political life have remained highly influential – he was the first Congress leader to suggest that Hindi, written in the devanagari script, should be accepted as the sole national language of India, a policy that was later strongly endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi. However, English, which Tilak wished to remove completely from the Indian mind, remains an important means of communication in India. But the usage of Hindi (and other Indian languages) has been reinforced and widely encouraged since the days of the British Raj, and Tilak’s legacy is often credited with this resurgence. Another of the major contributions relates to the propagation of Sarvajanik (public) Ganesh festival, over 10-11 days from Bhadrapada Shukla (Ganesh) Chaturthi to (Anant) Chaturdashi (in Aug/Sept span), which contributed for people to get together and celebrate the festival and provided a good platform for leaders to inspire masses. His call for boycott of foreign goods also served to inspire patriotism among Indian masses. Tilak was a critic of Mahatma Gandhi’s strategy of non-violent, civil disobedience. Although once considered an extremist revolutionary, in his later years Tilak had considerably mellowed. He favored political dialogue and discussions as a more effective way to obtain political freedom for India, and did not support leaving the British Empire. However, Tilak is considered in many ways to have created the nationalist movement in India, by expanding the struggle for political freedoms and self-government to the common people of India. His writings on Indian culture, history and Hinduism spread a sense of heritage and pride amongst millions of Indians for India’s ancient civilization and glory as a nation.

Tilak was considered the political and spiritual leader of India by many, and Gandhi is considered his successor. When Tilak died in 1920, Gandhi paid his respects at his cremation in Bombay, along with 200,000 people. Gandhi called Tilak “The Maker of Modern India”.

Tilak is also today considered the father of Hindu Nationalism. He was the idol of Indian revolutionary Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who penned the political doctrine of Hindutva.

10. Gopal Krishna Gokhale

Gopal Krishna Gokhale

Gopal Krishna Gokhale

Date of Birth : May 9, 1866 Date of Death : 1915 Place of Birth : Maharashtra

Gopal Krishna Gokhale was born on May 9, 1866, in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, and he became one of the most learned men in India, a leader of social and political reformists and one of the earliest, founding leaders of the Indian Independence Movement. Gokhale was a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and the Servants of India Society. The latter was committed to only social reform, but the Congress Party in Gokhale’s time was the main vehicle for Indian political representation. Gokhale was a great, early Indian champion for public education. Being one of the first generations of Indians to receive college education, Gokhale was respected widely in the nascent Indian intellecutal community and acoss India, whose people looked up to him as the least elitist of educated Indians. Coming from a background of poverty, Gokhale was a real man of the people, a hero to young Indians discovering the new age and the prospects of the coming 20th century; he worked amongst common Indians to encourage education, sanitation and public development. He actively spoke against ignorance, casteism and untouchability in Indian society. Gokhale was also reputed for working for trust and friendship between Hindu and Muslim communities. It should be remembered that Gokhale was a pioneer in this work, never done before in Indian history by Indians. Along with distinguished colleagues like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dadabhai Naoroji, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai and Annie Besant, Gokhale fought for decades to obtain greater political representation and power over public affairs for common Indians. He was moderate in his views and attitudes, and sought to petition the British authorities, cultivate a process of dialogue and discussion which would yield greater British respect for Indian rights. In 1906, he and Tilak were the respective leaders of the moderates and extremists (now known by the more politically correct term,’aggressive nationalists’) in the Congress. Tilak advocated civil agitation and direct revolution to overthrow the British Empire, and the Congress Party split into two wings. The two sides would patch up in 1916. Gokhale did not support explicit Indian independence, for such an idea was not even understood or expressed until after the World War I.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s biggest contribution to India was as a teacher, nurturer of a whole new generation of leaders conscious to their responsibilities to a wider nation. Gokhale was famously a mentor to a young barrister who had been blooded in the work of revolution in South Africa a few years earlier. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi received great warmth and hospitality from Gokhale, including personal guidance, knowledge and understanding of India, the issues of common Indians and Indian politics. By 1920, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would become known as Mahatma Gandhi, and ad the leader of nationalist Indians and the largest non-violent revolution in the history of the world. However, Gokhale himself died in 1915. In his autobiography, Gandhi calls Gokhale his mentor and guide, while Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the future founder of Pakistan, in 1912 wanted to become the “Muslim Gokhale,” “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity.”

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