The Rise of New Actors in the Indian Struggle for Independence

Arora IAS Class Notes

Swarajists and No-Changers (1922-1926)

  • Context: Following Gandhi’s arrest (March 1922) and the suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement, disagreements arose within the Congress about the future course of action.

Swarajists (Pro-changers):

  • Leaders: R. Das, Motilal Nehru, Ajmal Khan
  • Advocated entering legislative councils (established under the Government of India Act 1919) to:
    • Expose their weaknesses (“end or mend”)
    • Use them as platforms for political struggle (“wreck them from within”)
    • Maintain public morale


  • Leaders: Rajagopalachari, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, M.A. Ansari
  • Opposed council entry and favored:
    • Focus on “constructive work” (e.g., khadi production, national education)
    • Maintaining the boycott of British institutions
    • Preparing for renewed civil disobedience

Compromise (September 1923):

  • Swarajists allowed to contest elections as a separate group within Congress.
  • Swarajist Manifesto (October 1923):
    • Condemned British rule and its “selfish interests.”
    • Vowed to present the demand for self-government in councils.
    • Promised to obstruct government functioning if demands rejected.

Gandhi’s Stance:

  • Initially opposed council entry but gradually shifted towards reconciliation.
  • Impressed by Swarajist performance in 1923 elections (42 out of 141 elected seats) and their uncompromising attitude.
  • Agreed to Swarajists working in councils as part of Congress (1924).


Swarajist Activity (1923-1926):

  • Achievements:
    • Formed coalitions with other parties to outvote the government.
    • Delivered powerful speeches on self-government, civil liberties, and industrialization.
    • Elected Vithalbhai Patel as Speaker of Central Legislative Assembly (1925).
    • Defeated the Public Safety Bill (1928).
    • Exposed limitations of the Montford Reforms.
    • Demonstrated the potential for creative use of councils.
  • Drawbacks:
    • Lacked a strategy to connect legislative actions with mass movements.
    • Relied solely on newspapers for public communication.
    • Limitations of obstructionist tactics.
    • Difficulty maintaining unity with coalition partners.
    • Susceptibility to the allure of power and office.
    • Failed to support the peasant movement in Bengal, alienating Muslim members.

No-Changers’ Constructive Work (1922-1926):

  • Focus on social and economic initiatives:
    • Establishing ashrams for work among tribals and lower castes.
    • Promoting khadi production and national education.
    • Working towards Hindu-Muslim unity, removing untouchability, and boycotting foreign goods.
    • Providing flood relief.
  • Limitations:
    • National education primarily benefited urban middle class and rich peasants.
    • Enthusiasm for national education waned with time.
    • Khad promotion was challenging due to its higher cost compared to imported cloth.
    • Untouchability campaign neglected the economic issues of the landless and agricultural laborers, who were mostly untouchables.


  • Both Swarajists and No-Changers eventually reunited for future struggles.
  • The Swarajist experiment highlighted the limitations of legislative politics while demonstrating their potential for disruption.
  • The No-Changers’ constructive work laid the groundwork for future mass mobilization.


Emergence of New Forces in the Indian Independence Movement (1920s)


  • The 1920s witnessed a significant shift in the Indian independence movement.
  • This period saw the entry of the masses, crystallization of political ideologies, and influence of international movements.

New Forces:

  1. Spread of Marxist and Socialist Ideas:
    • Inspired by socialist thinkers and the Soviet Revolution.
    • Led to the rise of a left wing within the Congress (e.g., Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose).
    • Advocated for:
      • Purna Swaraj (complete independence).
      • Combining nationalism with social justice.
      • Addressing internal class oppression.
    • Communist Party of India (CPI) formed in 1920 (Tashkent).
    • Meerut Conspiracy Case (1929) – crackdown on communist leaders.
    • Workers’ and peasants’ parties emerged.
  2. Activism of Indian Youth:
    • Student leagues and conferences gained momentum.
    • Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru participated in these events.
  3. Peasants’ Agitations:
    • Demanded revision of tenancy laws, lower rents, and debt relief.
    • Occurred in various regions like UP, Andhra, Rajasthan, Bombay, Madras, and Gujarat (Bardoli Satyagraha led by Vallabhbhai Patel in 1928).
  4. Growth of Trade Unionism:
    • Led by All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) founded in 1920.
    • Leaders: Lala Lajpat Rai (President), Dewan Chaman Lal (General Secretary).
    • Major strikes in Kharagpur Railway Workshops, Tata Steel Works, Bombay Textile Mills, Buckingham Carnatic Mills, etc.
    • First May Day celebration in India (Madras, 1923).
  5. Caste Movements:
    • Addressed social inequalities and discrimination.
    • Included:
      • Justice Party (Madras)
      • Self-Respect Movement (Periyar, Madras)
      • Satyashodhak Samaj (Maharashtra)
      • Movements led by Ambedkar (Maharashtra), K. Aiyappan & C. Kesavan (Kerala), Fazl-i-Hussain (Punjab)
  1. Revolutionary Activity with Socialist Leanings:
    • Aimed for armed struggle with socialist ideals.
    • Groups:
      • Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) in Punjab, UP, Bihar
      • Yugantar, Anushilan, Chittagong Revolt Group (Surya Sen) in Bengal

Revival of Revolutionary Activity in the 1920s


  • Following the Non-Cooperation Movement’s withdrawal, some revolutionaries felt disillusioned with non-violent methods.
  • They weren’t drawn to Swarajists’ parliamentary approach or the No-Changers’ constructive work.

Reasons for Renewed Activity:

  • Release of revolutionaries after WWI (amnesty for a peaceful environment).
  • Disillusionment with the Non-Cooperation Movement’s end.
  • Attraction to violent methods for achieving independence.


  • Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, Surya Sen, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Chandrasekhar Azad, Shiv Verma, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Jaidev Kapur, Jatin Das

Two Major Strands:

  1. Punjab-UP-Bihar Region:
  • Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) most prominent group.
  1. Bengal:
    • Yugantar, Anushilan Samiti, and later Chittagong Armory Raid group (Surya Sen).

Major Influences:

  • Rise of working-class trade unionism (potential revolutionary force).
  • Success of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet state.
  • Growth of communist groups and socialist ideals.
  • Journals and publications glorifying revolutionary sacrifice (Atmashakti, Sarathi, Bijoli).
  • Popular novels like Bandi Jiwan and Pather Dabi (government bans increased their appeal).


Revolutionary Activity in Punjab-UP-Bihar (1920s)

Hindustan Republican Association (HRA)/Army

  • Founded in October 1924 (Kanpur) by Ramprasad Bismil, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, and Sachin Sanyal.
  • Aimed to overthrow British rule through armed revolution and establish a “Federal Republic of United States of India” with adult franchise.

Kakori Robbery (August 1925)

  • HRA’s most significant action.
  • Revolutionaries looted a train carrying government cash near Lucknow.
  • Government crackdown led to arrests, imprisonments, and executions (including Ramprasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Sachindra Nath Sanyal, and Rajendra Lahiri).

Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA)

  • Formed in September 1928 (Delhi) by younger revolutionaries inspired by socialist ideals.
  • Leaders: Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Shiv Verma, Jaidev Kapur.
  • Adopted socialism as its official goal and functioned with collective leadership.

Lahore Conspiracy Case (December 1928)

  • Lala Lajpat Rai’s death during an anti-Simon Commission protest fueled revolutionary action.
  • Bhagat Singh and Shivram Rajguru assassinated John P. Saunders (mistaken for James Scott, responsible for the lathi charge on Lala Lajpat Rai’s procession).
  • Chandrashekhar Azad killed an Indian constable pursuing Bhagat Singh and Rajguru.
  • Justification: Upholding national honor by avenging Lala Lajpat Rai’s death.

Bombing in Central Legislative Assembly (April 1929)

  • Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt aimed a non-lethal bomb at the Assembly to protest against the Public Safety Bill and Trade Disputes Bill.
  • Sought to use the trial as a platform for their ideology.
  • Bhagat Singh’s quote: “Force…when used in the furtherance of a legitimate cause, it has its moral justification.”

Crackdown and Martyrdom

  • Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru were tried and sentenced to death in the Lahore Conspiracy Case.
  • Jatin Das died in jail after a 63-day hunger strike protesting prison conditions.
  • Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru were hanged on March 23, 1931 (Shaheed Diwas).
  • Chandrashekhar Azad died during a shootout with police in Allahabad (February 1931) after being betrayed by an associate.

Revolutionary Activity in Bengal (1920s)

Reorganized Activities:

  • Many revolutionary groups revived underground activities.
  • Some revolutionaries collaborated with the Congress (Swarajists) for mass outreach and organizational support.
  • Split in Bengal Congress after C.R. Das’s death (1925):
    • M. Sengupta (Anushilan) faction.
    • Subhash Chandra Bose (Yugantar) faction.

Actions by Reorganized Groups:

  • Gopinath Saha’s assassination attempt on Calcutta Police Commissioner Charles Tegart (1924) – resulted in a bystander’s death.
  • Government crackdown with new ordinances led to arrests (including Subhash Bose) and execution of Gopinath Saha.

Chittagong Armory Raid (April 1930):

  • Led by Surya Sen (former Non-Cooperation Movement participant and Congressman).
  • Aim: Challenge British power, seize arms, and disrupt communication and transportation.
  • 65 revolutionaries under the “Indian Republican Army – Chittagong Branch” participated.
  • Raid achieved initial success with capturing armories, hoisting the national flag, and forming a provisional revolutionary government.
  • Surya Sen’s arrest (February 1933) and execution (January 1934).

Aspects of the New Phase:

  • Increased participation of young women:
    • Pritilata Waddedar (died in raid).
    • Kalpana Dutt (life sentence).
    • Santi Ghosh & Suniti Chandheri (district magistrate assassination, December 1931).
    • Bina Das (attempted assassination of governor, February 1932).
  • Shift towards group action:
    • Targeted attacks on colonial state institutions.
    • Aiming to inspire youth and demoralize British bureaucracy.
  • Reduced emphasis on Hindu religious elements:
    • Facilitated Muslim participation (e.g., Satar, Mir Ahmed in Surya Sen’s group).


  • Persistence of conservative elements within the movement.
  • Lack of broader socio-economic goals.
  • Failure to support Muslim peasantry against zamindars (landlords) by those collaborating with the Congress.


Official Reaction to Revolutionary Activity

  • Initial Panic and Repression:
    • Government enacted 20 repressive laws.
    • Police crackdown on revolutionaries.
    • Punitive actions like village burnings and fines in Chittagong.
    • Jawaharlal Nehru’s arrest and imprisonment for sedition (1933) due to his support for revolutionaries.

Ideological Rethinking Among Revolutionaries

Mid-1920s Onwards:

  • Hindustan Republican Association (HRA):
    • Advocated for socialist principles and abolition of exploitative systems.
    • Proposed nationalization of key industries and transportation.
    • Emphasized organized and armed revolution with labor and peasant participation.

Late 1920s:

  • Shift from Individual Action:
    • Bhagat Singh and associates moved towards mass politics.
    • Bismil urged youth to abandon violent actions and work for Hindu-Muslim unity.
    • Bhagat Singh’s involvement in open organizations like Punjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha and Lahore Students’ Union.

Redefining Revolution:

  • Beyond National Liberation:
    • Goal became establishing a socialist order ending exploitation.
  • Bhagat Singh’s Views:
    • Revolution is not just violence but dismantling unjust order.
    • Socialism as ending capitalism and class exploitation.
    • Importance of mass movement led by the exploited.
    • “Real revolutionary armies are in villages and factories.”
  • Propaganda by Deed:
    • Individual acts of heroism to inspire and spread revolutionary ideas.
    • Using court trials as platforms for propaganda.

Lasting Impact:

  • Revolutionaries redefined revolution as social transformation, not just militancy.
  • Importance of mass mobilization and class consciousness.
  • Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom and ideology continued to inspire future generations.


Important Leaders

1.Subhas Chandra Bose

Birth and Early Life

  • Born: January 23, 1897, Cuttack, Orissa
  • Influenced by Vivekananda’s teachings and Chittaranjan Das’s mentorship
  • Cleared Indian Civil Services exam but resigned

Association with Congress

  • Advocated for complete independence (Swaraj)
  • Participated in Salt Satyagraha but opposed halt to Civil Disobedience Movement
  • Elected Congress President in 1938 and 1939
  • Resigned due to ideological differences with Gandhi and formed Forward Bloc

Indian National Army (INA)

  • Reached Singapore in 1943 and formed the Azad Hind Government and INA
  • INA comprised Indian prisoners of war and civilians in Southeast Asia
  • Fought Allied forces in Imphal and Burma
  • INA trials sparked protests across India


  • Reportedly died in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945, though theories surround his death

2. Chaman Lall

Early Life and Education

  • Born: October 30, 1892
  • Earned honors degree in jurisprudence from Jesus College, Oxford
  • Became barrister at Middle Temple in London

Freedom Movement Leader

  • Founded All India Trade Union Congress (1920) and served as President (1927)
  • Advocated for worker rights: reduced work hours, minimum employment age
  • Represented workers at Round Table Conference and International Labour Organization conferences
  • Elected to Central Legislative Assembly (1924-1931, 1944-1946) and Punjab Legislative Assembly (1937-1945)

Constituent Assembly

  • Elected in 1946, resigned after two years
  • Contributed to committees on steering and provincial constitutions


3. Surya Sen

Early Life and Education (1894-1918)

  • Born: March 22, 1894, Chittagong (present-day Bangladesh)
  • Inspired by the Indian freedom movement while a student (1916)
  • Joined revolutionary group Anushilan Samiti

Chittagong Armoury Raid (1930)

  • Planned a raid to seize arms and ammunition (1930)
  • Led associates in raids on police and auxiliary force armories on April 18, 1930
  • Achieved partial success: cut communication lines, hoisted Indian flag
  • Escaped with associates after the raid

Capture and Martyrdom (1933-1934)

  • Betrayed and arrested in February 1933
  • Executed by hanging on January 12, 1934 (age 39)


  • Remembered as a brave martyr for Indian independence
  • Honored by postage stamps in India and Bangladesh


4. Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee

Revolutionary Activities

  • Member of Anushilan Samiti, founder of HRA (later HSRA)
  • Arrested multiple times, imprisoned for life in Kakori conspiracy case (1926)


  • Joined Congress Socialist Party briefly, then formed Revolutionary Socialist Party (1940)
  • Held leadership positions in RSP and trade unions
  • Returned to Congress, became Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh (1956-1960)


5. Sukhdev Thapar

Early Life and Influences

  • Born in Ludhiana, Punjab
  • Rebellious spirit: refused to salute British officers at school
  • Motivated by uncle’s arrest to fight for freedom

Revolutionary Activities

  • Joined Bhagat Singh’s Naujawan Bharat Seva
  • Promoted national consciousness among youth
  • Active member of Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA)
  • Studied international revolutions, inspired by Russia

Lala Lajpat Rai’s Death and Revenge

  • Enraged by British police brutality on Lala Lajpat Rai
  • Planned to avenge Rai’s death (mistakenly killed Saunders)
  • Escaped Lahore with Bhagat Singh and Rajguru

Capture, Trial, and Execution

  • Arrested by British authorities
  • Sentenced to death by hanging with Bhagat Singh and Rajguru (1931)
  • Staged hunger strike for better prison conditions


  • Remembered for his patriotism, courage, and sacrifice for India’s freedom
  • Inspired future generations of revolutionaries


  1. Chandra Shekhar Azad


  • Born on 23rd July 1906 in Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh.

Early Life:

  • Joined Non-Cooperation Movement in 1921; arrested at age 15.
  • Adopted name “Azad” in court, becoming Chandra Shekhar Azad.

Contribution to Freedom Movement:

  • Joined Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) after non-cooperation movement’s suspension.
  • Participated in Kakori Conspiracy (1925) for fund collection.
  • HRA transformed into Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA) in 1928.


  • Died at Azad Park in Allahabad on 27th February 1931.


7. Shivaram Rajguru(1908-1931)

Early Life

  • Born: August 24, 1908, in Khed (renamed Rajgurunagar)
  • Family: Marathi, anti-British, and nationalist
  • Education: Well-versed in Indian scriptures

Revolutionary Activities (HSRA)

  • Joined: Late teens (founded in 1928 by Bhagat Singh & Chandrasekhar Azad)
  • Belief: Militant nationalism, opposed to Gandhi’s non-violence
  • Nickname: “Gunman” (Raghunath within HSRA)

Assassination of John Saunders (1928)

  • Motive: Revenge for Lala Lajpat Rai’s death (police brutality during Simon Commission protests)
  • Target: James A. Scott (ordered the lathi charge) – Mistaken identity led to killing Saunders (with Bhagat Singh)


  • Arrested: After the assassination, while traveling to Pune
  • Trial: Sentenced to death along with Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev Thapar
  • Execution: Hanged on March 23, 1931, in Lahore (at age 22)


  1. Jatindra Nath Das


  • Born on 27th October 1904 in Calcutta.

Revolutionary Activities:

  • Joined Anushilan Samiti and participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement led by Gandhi in 1921.
  • Arrested for anti-government activities while studying at Vidyasagar College.
  • Initiated a hunger strike at Mymensingh Central Jail protesting poor treatment of political prisoners.

Role in Lahore Conspiracy Case:

  • Arrested in connection with the murder of police officer J.P. Saunders.
  • Led hunger strike in Lahore Jail demanding better treatment for political prisoners.

Death and Aftermath:

  • Continued hunger strike for 63 days until his death on 13th September 1929.
  • His death sparked widespread protests across India.
  • Notable figures like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose praised his sacrifice and martyrdom.


9. Jatindra Mohan Sengupta (1885-1933)

Early Life and Education

  • Born: February 22, 1885, Barama, Chittagong (present-day Bangladesh)
  • Studied at Presidency College, Calcutta
  • Law degree from Downing College, Cambridge University

Freedom Movement

  • Joined Indian National Congress
  • Participated in Non-Cooperation Movement (1921) under Gandhi
  • Elected to Bengal Legislative Council (1923)
  • President of Bengal Provincial Congress Committee & Mayor of Calcutta (1929-1930)
  • Arrested for opposing Burma’s separation from India (1930)
  • Died in prison at Ranchi on July 23, 1933 (aged 48)


  • Honored with title ‘Deshapriya’ (Beloved of the Country)


10. Bhagwati Charan Vohra (1903-1930)

Early Life (1903-1921)

  • Born: November 15, 1903
  • Education:C. College (Intermediate Science) & National College, Lahore (BA)

Revolutionary Activities

  • Joined Non-Cooperation Movement (1921)
  • Co-founded Naujawan Bharat Sabha (1926) & became Propaganda Secretary
  • Helped draft manifesto of HSRA (1928)
  • Planned bomb attack on Viceroy Irwin’s train (1929)
  • Authored “The Philosophy of Bomb” in response to Gandhi’s criticism


  • Died: May 28, 1930 (accidentally while making bombs)


11. Kalpana Datta(1913-1995)


  • Joined Surya Sen’s armed movement (1930s)
  • Participated in Chittagong armoury raid (1930)

Later Life

  • Joined Communist Party of India
  • Married Puran Chand Joshi (General Secretary, CPI – 1943)




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