The revolt of 1857,which has been referred as the first war of Indian Independence was the culmination of the century long British despotic rule which adversely affected almost all sections of the Indian society. Discontent had been brewing in the infantry units, with the native sepoys being racially discriminated against and in matters of promotion and privileges as compared to their British counterparts.
At Meerut in May 1857, 85 Sepoys of the 3rd Cavalry
regiment who refused to use the greased cartridge , were court-martialled
and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Consequently, the sepoys broke
out in open rebellion, shot their officers, released their fellow sepoys
and marched towards Delhi and captured it. Within a month the Revolt spread
to different parts in UP - Kanpur, Lucknow, Benares, Allahabad, Bareilly,
Jagdishpur and Jhansi. Terrestrial aristocrats and feudal chiefs took up
the cause of the sepoys. Thus Nana Saheb in Kanpur, Begum Hazrat Mahal
in Lucknow, Khan Bahadur in Bareilly organised armies and offered stiff
resistance to the British. The most outstanding leader of the Revolt was
Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi who fought valiantly and died while fighting the
British. Though the revolt was completely suppressed by July 1857, it did
serve as a source of inspiration for the national liberation movement.
The post 1857 years saw the British renewing and consolidating their links with the Indian native rulers and zamindars who remained the most loyal of bulwarks till the very end.
The Kisan sabha and Eka movements in UP were important
peasant struggles that emerged in the second decade. The annexation of
Awadh in 1856 had led to strengthening of hold of taluqdars over the agrarian
society of the province. As a result, majority of the cultivators were
subjected to exorbitant rents, illegal levies, renewal fees or nazrana
and arbitrary ejectments or bedakhali. Added to these woes were the high
price of food and other necessites that accompanied and followed the World
The initiative to organise peasants into Kisan Sabhas was taken by the active members of Home Rule League in UP - Gauri Shankar Misra, Indra Narain Dwivedi supported by Madan Mohan Malviya. The UP Kisan Sabha, set up in 1918, had established 450 branches in 173 tehsils of the province by mid-1919. In the mid-1920, Baba Ramchandra emerged as the leader of peasants in Avadh and led a few hundred tenants from Jaunpur and Pratapgarh districts to Allahabad and apprised Jawaharlal Nehru of the conditions of the peasants. Nehru made several visits to the rural areas and developed close contacts with the Kisan Sabha Movement.
Late 1920 saw the setting up of an alternative Awadh
Kisan Sabha at Pratapgarh with the efforts of Jawahar lal Nehru, Mata Badal
Pande, Baba Ram Chandra, Dev Narayan Pande, and Kedar Nath bringing under
its umbrella over 330 Kisan Sabhas. The Sabha exhorted peasants to refuse
to till bedakhali land; not to offer har and begar ( forms of unpaid labour),
boycott those who did not accept these conditions and to solve their disputes
through panchayats. In 1921, the nature of peasant movement underwent a
marked change with peasants indulging in looting of bazaars, houses, granaries
and clashes with the police. The Government easily suppressed these outbreaks
of violence. It passed the Awadh Rent ( Amendment ) Act which though brought
little relief to the tenants , was instrumental in the gradual decline
of the movement.
Towards the end of 1921, peasant discontent surfaced
again in the districts of Hardoi, Bahraich and Sitapur, with grievances
relating to the extraction of a rent that was generally 50 percent higher
than the recorded rent. Congress and Khilafat leaders provided the initial
thrust to the peasant grievances and the movement grew under the name Eka
or unity movement. With grass-root leadership not in favour of non- violence
taking over the movement, the authorities succeeded in bringing it to an
end. The Kisan movements were also over shadowed by the Non-Cooperation
Movement in UP.
UP, during the Non Cooperation Movement became one
of the strongest bases of Congress and acquired a leading position in politics.
1920-21 marks the beginning of the continuous political careers of a number
of leading nationalists - J L Nehru, Puroshottam Das Tandon, Ganesh Shankar
Vidyarthi, Govind Ballabh Pant and Lal Bahadur Shastri.
The Non Cooperation Movement came to an abrupt end,
with the Chauri-Chaura incident which took place in Gorakhpur in 1922.
Members of a Congress and Khilafat procession were picketing the local
bazar in a campaign directed both against liquor sales and high food prices.
On being provoked by some policemen, a section of the crowd attacked them.
The police opened fire. Alarmed , the entire procession attacked the police
station and set it on fire. In the incident, twenty two policemen were
killed . Hearing the news , Gandhiji decided to withdraw the movement.
Early 20th century witnessed the emergence of a new and younger group within the Indian National Congress which was sharply critical of the ideology and methods of the old leadership. They became impatient with the slow achievements during the first fifteen years and advocated the adoption of European revolutionary methods to tackle European imperialism.
The revolutionaries in northern India were the first to emerge out of the mood of despair that had set in with the sudden suspension of the Non Cooperation Movement. They assembled under the leadership of Sachindranath Sanyal, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee and Ram Prasad Bismil at a meeting in Kanpur, 1924. They founded the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) to organise armed revolution to overthrow colonial rule and establish in its place a Federal Republic of the united States of India whose basic principle would be adult franchise.
The most important action of the HRA was the Kakori
Robbery in August 1925 in which the UP revolutionaries successfully looted
official railway cash on the Kakori bound train on the Saharanpur- Lucknow
railway line. The Government arrested a large number of young men and tried
them in the robbery case . Ashfaqualla Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, Roshan
Singh and Rajendra Lahiri were hanged, four others were sent to the Andamans
for life and 17 others were sentenced to long term imprisonment. Chandra
Shekhar Azad remained at large.
UP witnessed a non-revenue, no-rent campaign during the Civil Disobedience Movement. Agra and Rai-Bareli were the important centres of the campaign. Mass mobilisation took place by organising Prabhat Pheris, in which men, women and children went around at dawn singing patriotic songs in villages and towns.
Though the Congress originally protested against the Government of India Act of 1935 , it decided to accept office in July 1935. It formed Ministries in six provinces initially- Madras, Bombay, Central Provinces, Orissa, Bihar, UP and later NW Frontier Province and Assam. One of the main achievement of the Ministry in UP was the passage of UP Tenancy Act, 1939 which gave all statutory tenants , both in Agra and Awadh , full hereditary rights in their holdings while restricting the landlords right to prevent the growth of occupancy.
With the failure of the Cripps Mission in 1942 and the impending World War , the Quit India resolution passed by the Bombay session of the AICC called for "mass struggle on non-violent lines on the widest possible scale".
In this Movement, the common man of the country demonstrated
unparalleled heroism and militancy. Many towns in UP including Kanpur,
Allahabad and Varanasi observed hartals, public demonstrations and processions
in defiance of the law. Students of the Banaras Hindu University decided
to go to the villages to spread the message of Quit India. The Movement
was quelled with a heavy hand.
Meanwhile the formation of the INA by Subhas Bose in 1943, joined by 20,000 Indian prisoners of war , was a major inspiration for carrying on the struggle against the British. The trial of the INA prisoners by the British was resented by the entire nation . Following closely on the heels was the Bombay naval strike, in which the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) struck work to protest against the discriminatory treatment meted out to them.With the acceptance of the Mountbatten Plan , Independence was finally achieved , but at the cost of a partitioned country.
That UP has played a pivotal role in India's freedom
struggle is abundantly clear from its role ever since the Sepoy Mutiny
of 1857 to the attainment of independence in 1947. Post-independent India
saw India being governed by seven Prime Ministers who hailed from UP only.
UP has retained the leading position in Indian politics that it did during
the freedom struggle.