Saturday, June 18, 2011

Movements There, Movements Here

Once regional rivals were removed and the British Crown took control from the Company in 1858, the true growth of Bombay began. In 1861, the American Civil War broke out, disrupting the export of cotton from the shores of America to Manchester. It was this movement half way across the world that set the stage for Bombay.

Apart from America, the other large producer of cotton was the Indian subcontinent. The British decided to substitute their American suppliers with Indian ones and Bombay became the port of trade. Bombay became the Bombay Presidency and Bombay Standard Time became one of the two timezones of the British Empire in India. When the Suez Canal was opened in 1869 in Egypt, Bombay was prepared to handle the increase in frequency that was to feed the Empire. During this boom period, the Bombay Municipal Corporation, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Bombay Port Trust and the Bombay Tramway Company Limited (the predecessor of BEST - the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport undertaking) were established and Bombay became synonymous with wealth and luxury, rivaling Calcutta.

Side-by-side, the Bombay Port Trust went in for further land reclamation, which depressed property rates, bringing in even more people. Bombay expanded northwards, into its future suburbs of Andheri, Sion and Mahim. Colaba had become an important fort for the Royal Navy. The Victoria Terminus (even today called VT, despite its change of name) was established as one of the finest stations in the world to provide connectivity with the mainland and also across Bombay itself.

The Indian Revolution
However, political consciousness was growing. Mahatma Gandhi had returned to India. In 1885, the Indian National Congress held its first ever session in the city, thus ensuring Bombay her place in history. The 1905 partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon led to the Swadeshi Movement, whose main proponent in Bombay was Lokmanya Tilak. His imprisonment led to massive protests.

The satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act galvanised the city politically. The Non-Cooperation and Civil Disobedience Movements saw a great deal of support. In the meantime, industry was busy laying the foundation of a modern nation: in 1932, legendary industrialist JRD Tata flew an aircraft from Karachi - another important port in British India - to Bombay, bringing civil aviation to the British Indian Empire. The Great Depression of 1929 affected Bombay, forcing mills to shut down and sending thousands out of work.

The End Game
World War II transformed the atmosphere in Bombay. The fleet of the Royal Indian Navy became ever more important not just for the British Isles in Europe but also for the British Indian Empire as the Japanese sought to expand their empire. However, unlike the previous World War, this time, Mahatma Gandhi refused to support the British.

Mass arrests, protests and martial law were seen all over India as Britain - herself in fear of being colonized by Nazi Germany - discarded all forms of civility in dealing with her subjects in India. This incensed the Indians, including the Indian soldiers who were forced to do their British Officers' bidding. In 1946, the Royal Indian Navy witnessed a mutiny in Bombay. The British saw that the age of Empire had gone.

On August 15, 1947, India became Independent. Previously, in 1911, the capital of British India had moved to Delhi, the traditional seat of power in India, leaving Bombay and Calcutta, along with Madras, to battle for the second spot. The winner, at the end, was clearly Bombay. The sad days of partition saw many losses for the new nations of India and Pakistan.

Many Muslim residents of Bombay migrated to the new land of Pakistan. Religious riots broke out in Punjab and Bengal, while Bombay affected by migration to and from Sindh, which was to join Pakistan (which however, is still mentioned in the Indian National Anthem, despite India having no claims to Sindh). Property prices collapsed and new migrants settles in Bombay. It was a temporary setback for the city, but a huge victory for the nation.

In 1948, the last British troops left India through the arch of the Gateway of India in Bombay. Their great city would now stand on her own feet, her creators having been expelled. After nearly 300 years, Bombay, and India, the nation of which it was an integral part, had become free.

Next: The Last Decades of the Century

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