In November 1923, legislative council elections were held. The Swarajist manifesto, which was released on October 14, took a strong anti-imperialist stance. It promised that from within the councils, the Swarajists would derail the phoney reforms. Even though the Swarajists had only a few weeks to prepare for the elections and the franchise was extremely limited – only about 6.2 million people, or less than 3% of the population – they performed admirably.
• They won 42 of the 101 seats in the Central Legislative Assembly, giving them a clear majority in the Central Provinces; they were the largest party in Bengal; and they did well in Bombay and Uttar Pradesh, though not in Madras and Punjab, due to strong casteist and communal currents.
• The Swarajists were successful in forming a common political front with the Independents led by M.A. Jinnah, the Liberals, and individuals such as Madan Mohan Malaviya in the Central Legislative Assembly. In most of the provinces, they formed similar coalitions. And they set out to hand the government defeat after defeat.
Swarajists in legislature:
• The legislatures, which were reformed in 1919, had a semblance of power but no real power. Despite having a majority of elected members, they had no control over the executive at the centre or in the provinces, who were only accountable to the British government at home.
• Furthermore, if any legislation, including a budgetary grant, was rejected in the legislature, the Viceroy or Governor could certify it.
• The Swarajists forced the government to certify legislation at the centre and in many provinces on multiple occasions, exposing the true nature of the reformed councils. They were successful in electing Vithalbhai Patel, a prominent Swarajist, as President of the Central Legislative Assembly in March 1925.
• Despite intervening on every issue and frequently outvoting the government, the Swarajists focused on three major issues on which they delivered powerful speeches that were widely reported in the press and eagerly followed by readers every morning.
1. Constitutional advancement leading to self-government
2. Civil liberties, including the release of political prisoners and the repeal of repressive laws
3. The development of indigenous industries.
• Motilal Nehru made the national demand for the drafting of a new constitution that would give India real power in the first session. By a vote of 64 to 48, this demand was approved. It was reintroduced and passed by 72 to 45 votes in September 1925.
• The government was also humiliated when its requests for budgetary grants under various headings were repeatedly rejected by the House of Commons.
• Similarly, the government has been defeated on the issue of repealing repressive laws and regulations as well as the release of political prisoners on several occasions. C.S. Ranga Iyer, in response to official criticism of revolutionary terrorists, said that government officials were themselves "criminals of the worst sort, assassins of the deepest dye, men who are murdering the liberties of a liberty-loving race."
• Lala Lajpat Rai said: ‘Revolutions and revolutionary movements are only natural . . . there can be no progress in the world without revolutions and revolutionary movements.”
• CR. Das was equally harsh in his condemnation of the government's repressive policies. He told the Bengal Provincial Conference: ‘Repression is a process in the consolidation of arbitrary power — and I condemn the violence of the Government for repression is the most violent form of violence —just as I condemn violence as a method of winning political liberty.”
• By any measure, Swarajist activity in the legislatures was spectacular. It energised politicised people and piqued their interest in politics. Every time the all-powerful foreign bureaucracy was humbled in the councils, the people were ecstatic.
Congressmen in local bodies:
• During the years 1923-24, Congressmen also took control of a large number of municipalities and other local bodies. Vithalbhai Patel, President of Bombay Corporation, Vallabhbhai Patel of Ahmedabad Municipality, Rajendra Prasad of Patna Municipality, and Jawaharlal Nehru of Allahabad Municipality succeeded Das as Mayor of Calcutta (with Subhas Bose as his Chief Executive Officer).
• Because they believed that local bodies could be used to promote the constructive programme, the no-changers actively participated in these ventures.
• Despite their limited powers, many municipalities and district boards, led by a diverse group of leaders, set out to improve the people's quality of life, however modestly.
• They excelled in the fields of education, sanitation, health, anti-untouchability, and khadi promotion, earning the admiration of both friends and foes, and arousing popular enthusiasm on numerous occasions.
Setback of Swarajists: When C.R. Das died on June 16, 1925, the Swarajists suffered a major setback. A few other political developments were even more serious.
• In the absence of a mass movement, communalism rose to prominence, and people's political frustrations began to manifest themselves in communal riots. Communalists of all stripes found a fertile field for their activities, thanks to the active encouragement of colonial authorities.
• The Swaraj Party's internal cohesion began to suffer as a result of its preoccupation with parliamentary politics.
• The limits of obstructionist politics were quickly reached. After repeatedly outvoting the government and forcing it to certify its legislation, there was no way to escalate the confrontational politics inside the legislatures. Only a mass movement from the outside could accomplish this.
• The Swarajists, on the other hand, had no policy of coordinating their militant work in legislatures with mass political activity outside of them. In fact, they relied almost entirely on news coverage from newspapers.
• The Swarajists were also unable to carry their coalition partners indefinitely and in every way, as they did not believe in the Swarajists' strategy of "uniform, continuous, and consistent obstruction."
• The Swarajists were soon pulled back from militant obstructionism by the logic of coalition politics. Some Swarajist legislators couldn't resist the allure of parliamentary perquisites and status and patronage positions.
• The government's strategy of dividing nationalists by attempting to divide Swarajists from Liberals, militant Swarajists from more moderate Swarajists, and Hindus from Muslims began to bear fruit.
• In Bengal, the Swaraj Party's majority failed to support the tenants' fight against the zamindars, and as a result, the party's pro-tenant, mostly Muslim, members deserted it.
• The Responsivist: The Swaraj Party was also unable to avoid communal strife within its own ranks. Soon after, a group of Responsivists emerged in the party, eager to work on the reforms and run for office wherever they could. In the Central Provinces, the Responsivists joined the government. N.C. Kelkar, M.R. Jayakar, and other leaders soon joined their ranks. On Responsivist as well as communal grounds, Lajpat Rai and Madan Mohan Malaviya split from the Swaraj Party.
• The main leadership of the party reiterated its faith in mass civil disobedience and decided to withdraw from the legislatures in March 1926 to prevent further dissolution and disintegration of the party, the spread of parliamentary "corruption," and the weakening of the moral fibre of its members.
• Gandhiji had also returned to his criticism of council-entry. He wrote to Srinivasa Iyengar in April 1926: The more I study the Councils’ work, the effect of the entry into the Councils upon public life, its repercussions upon the Hindu-Muslim question, the more convinced I become not only of the futility but the inadvisability of Council-entry.”
• The Swaraj Party entered the November 1926 elections in a state of disarray, a much weaker and demoralised force. On the one hand, it had to deal with the government and loyalist elements, as well as its own dissenters, and on the other, resurgent Hindu and Muslim communalists.
• The Swarajists were subjected to a vicious communal and unscrupulous campaign. For example, Motilal Nehru was accused of betraying Hindu interests, favouring cow slaughter, and eating beef. Muslim community leaders were equally active in labelling the Swarajists as anti-Muslim.
• The Swaraj Party was severely weakened as a result. It won forty seats in the centre and half of the seats in Madras, but it was hammered in all other provinces, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, Central Punjab, and Punjab.
• Moreover, communalists gained more seats in local government. In addition, unlike in 1923, the Swarajists were unable to form a nationalist coalition in the legislatures.
• The Swarajists defeated the government on a number of bills once again, passing a series of adjournment motions.
THE PUBLIC SAFTEY BILL 1928:
• The Bill's main goal, according to T. Prakasam, is to prevent the spread of nationalism among workers and peasants.'
• The Government is fearful of the spread of socialist and communist ideas and influence, and believing that British and other foreign agitators sent to India by the Communist International were playing a key role in this, the government proposed acquiring the power to deport ‘undesirable' and ‘subversive' foreigners.
• Nationalists of all stripes, from moderates to militants, were united in their opposition to the Bill. ‘Capitalism is just another name for Imperialism,' said Lala Lajpat Rai.
• Motilal Nehru called the Public Safety Bill "the Slavery of India, Bill No. 1" and "a direct attack on Indian nationalism, on the Indian National Congress."
• After failing to pass the Bill, the government arrested and tried thirty-one leading communists, trade unionists, and other leftwing leaders
in Meerut in March 1929.
• As a result, nationalists have been harsh in their criticism of the government. The motive behind these prosecutions is not to kill Communism, but to strike terror,' Gandhi said, describing the arrests as heralding a period of terrorism.