Non Cooperation Movement
On Gandhi’s advice, the Central K Committee on 28/05/1920 accepted non-cooperation as the only acceptable line of action. The All India Congress Committee that met at Varansasi on 30/5/ urged the British government to recall the Viceroy and award punishment to Sir Michael O’Dwyer for the Jallianwala bagh massacre. It also protested against the peace terms offered to Turkey was in violation of the promises made by the Brit govt. The Congress protested but opposed the question of non-cooperation. At a meeting held on June 1, the Muslim leaders appealed to the Hindus to cooperate and support non- – cooperation. Several Hindu leaders sympathized but disagreed with the remedy i.e. non- –cooperation. Others welcomed it but thought the timing was not right.
At a meeting on June 2 of the Central Khilafat Committee Gandhi told the Muslims that non-cooperation was the only way out. A resolution appointing Gandhi and six Muslim leaders was passed then, who were to decide the future course of action. The meeting also resolved that the Swadeshi movement should be undertaken in right earnest. In addition to complete hartal and public meetings, instructions were issued that no one must be forced to close shop, lawyers must be asked to suspend practice, and parents asked to remove their children from schools, titles must be surrendered.
In August, 1920 Gandhi wrote a letter to the Viceroy and returned all the war medals which were awarded to him by the Brits, “Valuable as these honors have been to me, I cannot wear them with an easy conscience so long as my Muslim countrymen have to labor under wrong done to their religious sentiment. I venture to return these medals, in pursuance of the scheme of non-cooperation inaugurated today in connection with the Khilafat Movement". It is proved beyond doubt that the reason for the 1920 Non Cooperation Movement was incidents in Turkey and not the massacre of Indians in Punjab.
The Special Session of the Congress held in Calcutta on 4/9/1920 was to yet to recover from the demise of the great Tilak. The Congress met in a tense atmosphere to decide upon the momentous but controversial issue of Non-Cooperation. Gandhi sponsored the Resolution for non-cooperation and adoption of Swadeshi and backed by the Ali Brothers, the entire Muslim block but a large section opposed it. It was opposed by Besant, C.R.Das, Jinnah amongst others. Remember that Gandhi had taken the Khilafat decision independent of the Congress before its session.
Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Swami Shraddhananda supported Gandhi. However, prominent Muslims thought differently. Sir Syed strongly decried the belief that the Caliph’s sovergeinity extended over the entire Muslim world. Jinnah too opposed the movement. So you see the Hindu leaders were so keen to prove their sincerity to the Indian Muslims that they went headlong into an agitation on events that did not concern them directly. It was probably the first time that religion and politics were mixed together with disastrous consequences for the sub-continent. Unfortunately Hindu leaders continue to behave the same way today. Is it because most of them grew up in British India or have their minds conditioned by the secular read anti-Hindu English press? On the other hand, Maulana Azad swore by the Caliphate.
Indian leaders with a modern outlook should have known that the Caliphate had ceased to be an important for Muslims worldwide yet they stuck their neck out on the issue. Is it not ironical that they had sympathy for the Turks when they were themselves under foreign rule or did not think about the right of self-determination of the Arabs who were under Turkish rule? When later the Congress adopted non-cooperation for the sake of restoring the old status of the Caliph and Swadeshi, they were invoking two contradictory principles in the same breadth – replacing nationalism by autocracy in the one case and autocracy by nationalism in the other.
Despite weak foundations, it was due to Gandhi’s charisma that the movement caught on. The blind faith in Gandhi was limited to the Hindus but not shared by the Muslims. On 17/9/24, Gandi undertook a fast for 21 days against serious communal riots; he was staying at the house of Muhammad Ali. Yet about a year later Ali said, “However pure Gandhi’s character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion inferior to any Mussalman, even though he is without character. Yes according to my religion and creed, I hold an adulterous and a fallen Mussalman to be better than Mr Gandhi”. So much for the Muslim view of Gandhi although he had staked so much for the Khilafat cause.
Said Jinnah “I thanks you for your kind suggestion offering me to take my share in the new life that has opened up before the country. Your methods have already caused split between and division in the public life of the country, not only amongst Hindus and Muslims, but between Hindus and Hindus and Muslims and Muslims”.
Bottom line is – Khilafat was the reason for the Non-cooperation movement. It was ratified by the Congress after the movement had started. Swaraj was incorporated later. The term was not corned by Gandhi for which we need to go back to the Partition of Bengal in 1905. We owe the word to Bengalis for popularizing it although it was used by men like Swami Dayananda earlier.
The Prince of Wales was to visit India in November 1921. The Congress decided to boycott his visit. He landed in Mumbai on 17/11/ 1921 which observed a total hartal. Swelling crowds joined the meeting at the meeting that Gandhi addressed. However, the mob turned violent later damaging public property. The hartal was observed successfully through out India. Taken in by the sequence of events, the Government declared the Congress and Khilafat volunteer organization as unlawful. Large-scale arrests followed. Under the leadership of C.R. Das Calcutta witnessed large-scale mobilization of volunteers for the civil disobedience movement. This led to their arrests. During the visit of the Prince to Calcutta, the govt offered to remove the repressive measures if Das called off the boycott but Das stuck to his guns.
Keen for a peaceful settlement with the Congress before the Prince’s visit to Calcutta, the Viceroy took the initiative and made an offer, is described in Subhash Chandra Bose’s words “The offer that Malaviya brought was that if the Congress agreed to call off the civil disobedience movement, so that the Prince’s visit would not be boycotted by the public, the govt would simultaneously withdraw the notification declaring the Congress volunteers illegal and release all those who been incarcerated thereunder. They would further summon a Round Table Conference of the representatives of the Government of India and the Congress to settle the future Constitution of India”. Maulana Azad and Deshabandhu Das sent a telegram to Gandhi recommending acceptance of the proposal.
Gandhi replied that he insisted on the release of the Ali brothers and their associates as part of the settlement and also an announcement regarding the date and composition of the Round Table Conference. The Viceroy did not agree to Gandhi’s proposals. Many telegrams passed between Das and Gandhi. By the time Gandhi changed his views, it was too late, the govt had changed its mind. Das was beset with anger and disgust. The chance of a lifetime had been lost, he said. This goes to show the extent Gandhi held India’s future hostage to his love for the Ali brothers or must I say the mirage of Hindu-Muslim unity.
On 01/02/1922, Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy that the people of Bardoli would embark on a civil disobedience movement. He added that he was willing to postpone the Civil Disobedience Movement of an aggressive character provided the govt readdressed the problems of Khilafat, Punjab or Swaraj. As India watched a great battle in the making at Bardoli, it was lost before it had begun. A dastardly crime committed by the people of Chauri Chaura in Uttar Pradesh made Gandhi call off the movement.
At the A.I.C.C. meeting there was wide scale opposition to the calling off of the non-cooperation duly supported by nationalists all over India. There is no doubt that the suspension of the non-cooperation movement had the disastrous effect of developing a spirit of frustration, and this may be regarded as the main cause of political inertia that followed. As very often happens, pent-up energy found an outlet in the Hindu-Muslim riots that followed in the next few years. The Govt correctly gauged the situation, took full advantage of Gandhi’s unpopularity, was tried and sentenced to six years simple imprisonment.
A serious outbreak at Malegon in the Nashik district of Maharashtra caused considerable loss. The town, predominantly Muslim, was largely affected by the Khilafat agitation. The conviction of several Momins in April, 1921, for carrying arms at a mass meeting in contravention of orders, caused great commotion and a Police Constable was roughly handled. When the City Sub-Inspector proceeded to the town a large mob greeted him; the police had to fire some rounds of small shorts. Since the mob did not disperse, they took refuge in a temple. The mob burnt the temple and several neighboring houses. It is alleged that the mob burnt the temple because the inmates refused to surrender the police to the hands of the mob.
In Giridh, Bihar a mob of about 5,000 pelted the Sub-Inspector with stones and brickbats. In Aligarh a similar thing happened on the arrest of a political agitator Malkhan Singh. Similar incidents were reported elsewhere.
In the Madras and Bombay Residencies mobs of hooligans, with the name of Gandhi on their lips, practiced subtle terrorism and intimidation that the govt found difficult to deal with while Khilafat preachers arouses the frenzy of the poor and ignorant Muslims with the cry “Religion in Danger”. The Non-Cooperation Movement was directly and indirectly responsible for much violence but the govt measures were often unnecessarily cruel and harsh, deliberately designed to terrorize the people. However, some of the worst excesses were committed by the people and the Congress was eager to minimize and explain away their enormities as the Govt. was keen to highlight them, justifying the actions of their own officials in Punjab. This is best illustrated by the terrorism of the Moplahs and attitude of the Congress, Khilafat towards the whole episode.