Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Anniversary of Gandhi's Assassination

By Alex Jubb

There is scarcely a name more recognisable in the history of India than that of Mahatma Gandhi.

Image used courtesy of biography.com, under a Creative Commons Attribution only licence.

Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule and ‘father of India’, famously led Indians in challenging British rule wherever possible and he was a crucial component of the Indian movement for independence. However, independence came at a price; January 30 of this year marks the seventieth anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination by the right-wing Hindu nationalist Nathuram Vinayak Godse.

The Borthwick Archives holds two original pieces of correspondence from the man himself. The first, a 1931 telegram and letter between Irwin and Gandhi about the selection of Dr Ansari for the Round Table Conference. The second was another letter between Irwin and Gandhi, this time from 1934. The Round Table Conferences were a series of conferences organised by the British Government to discuss constitutional reforms in India. They emerged as a result of the continued demand for Indian self-rule and the fervent belief by many British politicians that India needed to move towards dominion status.

The opening of the first plenary session of the Round Table Conference. Image used courtesy of The Hindu Archives, courtesy of a Creative Commons Attribution only licence.

Telegram from Gandhi to Irwin about the selection of Dr Ansari for the Round Table Conference. July 1931. Borthwick Archives: HALIFAX/A4/410/2/51.

Dr Ansari was a fellow Indian nationalist and former president of the Indian National Congress; Ansari was a close follower of Gandhi’s teachings and, unsurprisingly, the letter comprises of Gandhi's attempts to persuade Irwin of the positive impact Ansari could have on the Conference proceedings. Gandhi’s correspondent was the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, from 1926 to 1931. In his final year as Viceroy, Irwin invited Gandhi to Britain to have a series of meetings together. By the time of the Second Round Table Conference, a settlement between Gandhi and Irwin (imaginatively titled the Gandhi-Irwin Pact) was reached that meant Gandhi was appointed as the sole representative of the Congress to the Conference. Gandhi himself claimed that this Congress alone represented political India. However, Gandhi could not reach agreements in areas such as Muslim representation and safeguards, and the fact that Untouchables were Hindus and should be treated as such. Whilst he returned to India empty handed following the Conference, his work in Britain led him to resolve many of the issues with the 1932 Poona Pact; a Pact stating that the treatment of untouchables as a minority separate from the rest of the Hindu community was entirely 

It was to be the pre-premiership Clement Attlee that was one of the main British proponents of Indian independence after the Round Table Conferences had concluded. Attlee was an individual with close ties to the University of York, as shown in recent research undertaken in conjunction with the Borthwick archives. Whilst the three round-table conferences between 1930 and 1932 achieved little in reality, Attlee continued their initial work as a member of a new joint committee on India. Attlee's interest in Indian independence began in earnest following the Simon Commission of 1927; a group of British MPs under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon and assisted by Attlee himself. Attlee toured India with the Commission in 1927 and 1928 in order to study and report back on India's constitutional progress for introducing the constitutional reforms that had been promised by the British government. 

Image used courtesy of The Robinson Library, courtesy of a Creative Commons Attribution only licence.
Clement Attlee. Image used courtesy of The Robinson Library, courtesy of a Creative Commons Attribution only licence.

Attlee’s donation of works to the University contained many important primary and secondary sources detailing the history of Indian independence. Attlee donated works such as a biography of Gandhi from 1958, numerous histories of the Indian nationalist movements, and publications from Socialists and Communist groups in both Britain and India. Attlee’s devotion to the Indian cause can clearly be seen through the scope of his donations to the new University of York in the early 1960s. Attlee became the Labour party expert on India in the 1930s, and during the Second World War he was given charge of Indian affairs. It really was to be no surprise that Prime Minister Attlee orchestrated the granting of independence to India and Pakistan in 1947.

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