This untold repression by the British government served to brought Hindus and Muslims close even more than before. With the Lucknow Pact, Hindus and Muslims were brought together for political work and the post-war repression united them against the British rule. Symbolizing this unity, Swami Shraddhanand, an Arya Samaj leader, was asked to preach in the Jama Masjid at Delhi, and Dr. Kitchlew was given the keys to the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Further, after the war, Muslims in India had been concerned about the fate of the Khalifa, the religious head of Muslims in Turkey. Turkey had been dismembered in contravention of earlier promises by England and the predominantly Turkish area of Thrace was taken away from it. Muslims felt that the religious power of the Turkish Caliphate should not be undermined in this manner. In November 1919, the All-India Khilafat Conference was held in Delhi where it was decided that a non-cooperation movement against the government would be started unless the demands of the Muslims are met.
The Muslim League under nationalist leadership supported this cause, as did the Congress. Tilak and Gandhiji saw this as the best opportunity to strengthen Hindu-Muslim relations and unite them against colonial rule. Gandhiji declared that he would start a non-cooperation movement if the Khilafat demands were ignored by the government.
Dr. M.A. Ansari headed a deputation to the Viceroy in January 1920, which proved futile. This was followed by a Khilafat Conference at Bombay, as a result of which a deputation was sent to England in March 1920. The British Prime Minister Lloyd George’s response to the representation made by the deputation struck at the very root of the Khilafat sentiment in India, as he turned down the demand for restoring to Turkey the lands taken away from it. Following this, 19 March 1920 was observed as a day of national mourning, marked by hartal, fasting and prayers.
In April 1920, Gandhiji took over the presidentship of the All India Home Rule League and, in a manifesto issued on the occasion, took the view that constitutional reforms should be given secondary place in any scheme of national reorganization. If national energy was devoted to activities like Swadeshi movement, Hindu-Muslim unity, acceptance of Hindustani as the lingua franca and the linguistic reorganisation of the provinces, it would bring about reforms and accelerate the achievement of self-government.
The publication of the Hunter Committee Report on the Punjab incidents in May 1920 increased the unrest in the country. The Report was viewed with disappointment and disgust by the Congress. General Dyer and other officers responsible for these actions were let off with mere censure.
Dissatisfaction with the Montagu–Chelmsford reforms, the government’s refusal to repeal Rowlatt Act and the Khilafat issue cumulatively increased the widespread national discontent. Thus, in June 1920, an all-parties meeting was held in Allahabad and a programme for non-cooperation was drawn up which included boycott of British courts, schools and colleges.
On 1 August 1920 Gandhiji formally launched the non-cooperation movement. Khilafat Committee also organized All India Hartal the same day. The Congress met in September at Calcutta in a special session presided over by Lala Lajpat Rai and accepted Gandhiji’s plan for non-cooperating with the government till the Punjab grievances were redressed, Khilafat demands fulfilled and Swaraj achieved.
The programme of non-cooperation adopted by the Congress called upon people to surrender their titles and honorary offices, resign from nominated seats in local bodies and refuse to attend government functions. It also asked them to boycott all foreign goods, withdraw their children from government schools and colleges, boycott British courts and establish private arbitration courts for settlement of private disputes.
The people were also asked to refuse to offer themselves as recruits for service in Mesopotamia, withdraw their candidature for election to the reformed Councils and refuse to vote for any candidate who may, despite the Congress advice, offer himself or herself for election. People were encouraged to spin and weave khadi. Later, the programme included mass civil disobedience and refusal to pay taxes.
This peaceful defiance was endorsed by the Congress session at Nagpur held in December 1920. This session was also important for the organizational changes introduced in the Congress. Provincial Congress Committees were now restructured according to linguistic areas which expanded the reach of the Congress into villages and small towns. Membership fee was reduced to a nominal 4 annas so that the poor masses could become members of the party.
These changes led to a shift in the nature of the Congress—it now became a mass party in which people from different backgrounds were united in their opposition to colonial rule and for the pursuit of Swaraj. Hindus and Muslims were acting as one in this struggle against British rule. However, not everyone was happy with this mass phase of the Congress. Many leaders, like Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Annie Besant, Bipin Chandra Pal and G.S. Khaparde, still believed in constitutional methods of agitation against colonial rule and it was during this time that they left the Congress.
During 1921 and 1922, India witnessed a great mass upsurge led and directed by the Congress. An unprecedented number of people participated in this mass movement—students left schools and colleges in thousands and joined nationalist educational institutions like Kashi Vidyapith, Bihar Vidyapith and Jamia Millia Islamia. Eminent lawyers like Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Chittaranjan Das, Motilal Nehru, Asaf Ali, C. Rajagopalachari gave up their legal practice and joined Gandhiji in this movement.
Funds for the movement were collected through voluntary donations given by people. Foreign cloth was burnt in huge bonfires and simple acts like spinning or weaving khadi became symbols of protest against the British rule. In July 1921, the All India Khilafat Committee gave a call to Muslims asking them not to serve in the British-Indian army. The government soon arrested the Ali brothers in September 1921 and charged them with sedition. The Congress decided to take the movement to the next level by launching civil disobedience of laws in provinces which included non-payment of taxes.
The government responded with repression. Congress and Khilafat grassroot workers had been working successfully to unite Hindus and Muslims and now their activities were declared illegal. The press was gagged. By the end of 1921, most leaders were in prison as were some 3,000 non-cooperators.
The Prince of Wales’ visit to India in 1921 was met with large-scale demonstrations in India and in Bombay, 53 people were killed and 400 wounded when the police tried to repress demonstrators. The December 1921 session of the Congress at Ahmedabad stated that the Congress was determined to continue this movement. All followers were asked to offer themselves for arrest, refrain from violence and promote Hindu-Muslim unity.
On 1 February 1922, Gandhiji declared that if the government did not release political prisoners and lift press controls within seven days, he would call for mass civil disobedience with non-payment of taxes. However, this did not come about because on 5 February, in Chauri Chaura village of United Provinces, a procession of 3,000 peasants was fired upon by the police.
In retaliation, the peasants set the police station on fire which led to the death of 22 policemen. Gandhiji realized that the country was not ready to practice non-violence yet and that such incidents could spread to other areas as well. Thus, in a Congress resolution passed at Bardoli on 12 February, he suspended the non-cooperation movement and asked all Congressmen to dedicate themselves to constructive work like popularization of khadi and spinning, national schools, removal of untouchability and promotion of Hindu-Muslim unity.
The Bardoli resolution shocked the nation. Some leaders believed that this retreat was also a part of Gandhian struggle while others, especially the younger members of Congress like Subhas Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru, were at that time resentful about this suspension. The government arrested Gandhiji on 10 March 1922 and sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment for spreading disaffection against the government.
Gandhiji made a historic statement during his trial. He pleaded guilty to the charges and said that the court should give him the highest punishment for “what in law is a deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.” Soon after this, the Khilafat question became irrelevant. In 1922, Turkey underwent a national revolution led by Mustafa Kamal Pasha which overthrew the rule of the Sultan.
Kamal Pasha stepped up the modernization of Turkey and as part of that, he abolished the institution of the Khalifa and separated the state from religion. He nationalized education and law on European lines and also modernized agriculture and industry. All this made the Khilafat agitation eventually redundant.
Impact of Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movements
The Khilafat agitation brought urban Muslims into the nationalist movement and contributed to a sense of national unity. Even though apparently the Khilafat and Non-cooperation movements ended without achieving their immediate objectives, they furthered the long-term objective of building the national consciousness in India.
Various sections of society had been mobilized for mass action—peasants, students, women, urban and rural poor, and artisans. This aspect of politicization of masses on an unprecedented scale made the Indian national movement revolutionary.
Through pamphlets, speeches, dramas, prabhat pheries, songs and newspapers, the adverse effect of colonial rule on India was popularized among people. The superiority and invincibility associated with the British was successfully challenged by the Indian masses, who now gained confidence and lost their fear of the colonial masters in this process.