The lie going around for the longest time is that the Non-Cooperation Movement was started by the Indian National Congress under Mahatma Gandhi. Nothing is farther from the truth.

The Khilafat Committee had started its movement in October 1919 itself. It started a Non-Cooperation Movement on 1 August 1920. Congress Working Committee met from 4-9 September, 1920, and adopted a resolution to support the Non-Cooperation Movement of the Khilafat Committee.

Let us now look at the issues around Khilafat and how its support paved the way for partition and 70 years of Muslim appeasement dressed up as secularism.

In the aftermath of the war and the imminent deposition and irrelevance of the Sultan of Turkey, who also enjoyed the status of Caliph or the leader of Sunni Muslims worldwide (ummah/ummat), Indian Muslims like Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Shaukat Ali, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Hakim Ajmal Khan started an agitation to save his position. It was an ironical movement, as Turkey itself was agitating to throw out the decrepit and anachronistic caliphate. The theological support came from Mufti-e-Azam Kifayutallah but was vehemently opposed by Ahmed Raza Khan, the founder of the Barelvi movement.

Mahatma Gandhi, overly anxious to get the support of the Muslim leadership, lent his support to the Khilafat Movement. Besides the supreme irony of a people seeking self-rule and supporting an autocratic anti-democracy institution, it also created the laughable situation in which a people seeking to free themselves from the occupation of the British started supporting the occupation of Arabian and European lands by an oppressive Ottoman empire. Even more grotesque was the ideology underlying the institution of Khilafat/Caliphate that sought to impose itself over the whole world. So INC created an ideological situation in which they were seeking independence from the British and occupation from the Islamic Caliphate!

The results, in the long run, would turn out to be disastrous. We would find an uncanny connection with the Partition of India and the Citizenship Amendment Act in this seminal event.

In the Champaran and Kheda Satyagraha movement, the masses had flocked to Mahatma Gandhi irrespective of their religious affiliation. By cementing a pact with the religious leaders of the Muslims, Mahatma Gandhi ended up achieving the following:

  1. A recognition that Muslims would be approached only through their religious leadership;
  2. A recognition that Muslims would prefer religious issues, however regressive, to secular issues like Home Rule or Swaraj;
  3. A concession of respect of Islam to Muslims in the form of sarva dharma samabhava without a reciprocal concession from Muslims, who steadfastly stuck to their principles of ummat;
  4. The normalisation of the aggressive behaviour of Muslims without seeking any concession for doing away with separate electorates.

Mahatma Gandhi also extracted concessions from the Congress and asked it to support his methods unconditionally. That being done, Congress lent support to the Non-Cooperation Movement that was launched by the Khilafat Committee on 1 August 1920. Mahatma adopted swadeshi (perfected during Bengal partition days), Khilafat and abolition of untouchability as the three prongs of this movement. Khilafat was the most regressive of the three.

Initially, the movement progressed well. People were made to believe that independence was at hand. Hindus and Muslims came together in many places to boycott English goods, peaceful non-cooperation even extended to many Indians who gave up their positions in the British bureaucracy, many instances of satyagraha, non-payment of revenues, etc. Large gatherings and processions worried the British, but not to an extent to unnerve them. The British suffered the loss of prestige and revenue, but their strategy of tiring out the movement was to prove successful soon enough.

The most painful chapter of the whole movement was about to unfold.

It may be useful to look at the views of Maulana Azad as a prelude to the Khilafat Movement. It reflects how Indian Muslims viewed themselves in the global arena. Dr Abul Kalam Azad stated the following in his address at Kolkata on 27 October 1914:

‘This biradari (community of Muslims) has been established by God.… All relationships in the world can break down but this relationship can never be severed. It is possible a father turns against his son, not impossible that a mother separates her child from her lap, it is possible that one brother becomes the enemy of [the] other brother.…But the relationship that a Chinese Muslim has with an African Muslim, an Arab Bedouin has with the Tatar shepherd, and which binds in one soul a neo-Muslim of India with the right-descendant Qureshi of Mecca, there is no power on earth to break it, to cut off this chain…

‘If even a grain of the soul of Islam is alive among its followers, then I should say that if a thorn gets stuck in a Turk’s sole in the battlefield of war, then I swear by the God of Islam, no Muslim of India can be a Muslim until he feels that prick in his heart instead of [in his] sole because the Millat-e-Islam (the global Muslim community) is a single body.

‘Today, if it is asked, where to search for [the] life of nations and evidence of life, then its answer will not come from [the] universities of education and arts, and ancient libraries.… Rather, it will be found in the metalled (war) ships which line up the coast…’[1]

 Maulana Azad was the fulcrum that joined the Congress and the Khilafat Movement, even though the latter was nominally led by Mohammad Ali Jauhar and his brother, Shaukat Ali.

As the Non-Cooperation Movement wore on, the rallying cry of the Muslim leadership became ‘jihad against the British infidel’. However, the illiterate masses did not know the distinction among different varieties of infidels. This unfortunate appeasement of the Muslim religious leadership begun by Mahatma Gandhi soon came to pass in Malabar. A fanatical Sufi of the Qadri silsila, Ali Musaliyar, preached jihad with such venom and hatred that the population was made to believe that the rule of the Caliph was going to come to Malabar and their struggle was for the Shari’a Law. Their fury rose against all infidels and the result was large-scale rioting and massacre of Hindus in the Malabar . Annie Besant, who toured the area after the rebellion, described the scenes of devastation, rape, plunder, torture and atrocities in graphic details. In light of the massacre, the Queen of Nilambur wrote a poignant letter to the wife of the viceroy. Yoking a generally peaceful and orderly majority with an aggressive minority without clarity of narrative was always likely to have disastrous consequences and it came to pass in Malabar.

Worse was the attempt by the Indian National Congress to whitewash the crimes of the Malabar. A session of the Congress in Ahmedabad, in December 1921, took note of the happenings in Malabar but adopted a resolution that virtually absolved the perpetrators of all crimes. Resolution No. 3 of the Ahmedabad Session read thus:

‘The Congress expresses its firm conviction that the Moplah disturbance was not due to the Non-Cooperation or the Khilafat movement, especially as the Khilafat preachers were denied access to the affected parts by the District authorities for six months before the disturbance, but is due to causes wholly unconnected with the two movements and that the outbreak would not have occurred had the message of non-violence been allowed to reach them.Nevertheless, this Congress is of the opinion that the disturbance in Malabar could have been prevented by the Government of Madras accepting the proffered assistance of Maulana Yakub Hassan’.[2] [emphasis added]

As if this was not enough, this resolution was endorsed by Maulana Hasrat Mohani in a Muslim League meeting: ‘Moplahs massacred Hindus because they were frightened. Why were they frightened?  Because of an “English detachment” that “suddenly appear[ed] in the locality”, which “somehow spread a rumour” that the “Hindu inhabitants had invited the English army”

As the differences grew and the misunderstandings became more acute due to the failure of the Khilafat Movement to make an impact on Turkey or Britain, the jihad zeal started outflanking the national cause. Soon enough, another incident of violence in Chauri Chaura in February 1922 made Mahatma Gandhi abandon the Non-Cooperation Movement. It caused great dismay not only among Congressmen and Hindus but also among the Muslim religious leaders. The Ali brothers went their own separate way, while Maulana Azad and Hakim Ajmal Khan continued to be a part of the Congress. Further appeasement followed as Mohammad Ali Jauhar was even made the president of Congress in 1924 but he resigned after a few months. Participation in a national movement made no difference to their position on the Muslim religious issues.

In 1924, Mohammad Ali publicly said in a speech in Aligarh: ‘However pure Mr Mahatma Gandhi’s character may be, he must appear to me, from the point of religion, inferior to any Mussalman even though he be without character.’[3]

In 1925, he escalated it further by saying, ‘Yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Mussalman to be better than Mr Mahatma Gandhi[4] [emphasis added].

In a manifesto on Hindu-Muslim relations issued in 1928, Khwaja Hasan Nizami declared:

“Musalmans are separate from Hindus; they cannot unite with the Hindus. After bloody wars the Musalmans conquered India, and the English took India from them. The Musalmans are one united nation and they alone will be masters of India. They will never give up their individuality. They have ruled India for hundreds of years, and hence they have a prescriptive right over the country. The Hindus are a minor community in the world. They are never free from internecine quarrels; they believe in Gandhi and worship the cow; they are polluted by taking other people’s water. The Hindus do not care for self-government; they have no time to spare for it; let them go on with their internal squabbles. What capacity have they for ruling over men? The Musalmans did rule, and the Musalmans will rule.”[5]

This pairing of a national movement with a religious movement achieved only one thing – it made Mahatma Gandhi a mass leader, but it also enhanced the separatism among the Muslims. The elusive Hindu-Muslim unity could not have been achieved by avoiding discussion on the essential differences between the natures of two different world views—a mature discussion like what was attempted by Bal Gangadhar Tilak would have yielded long-lasting benefits. Mahatma Gandhi’s approach only strengthened the bigots among Muslims, alienated the more liberal leaders like Jinnah and provided a template for the Muslim leadership for future negotiations with the Indian National Congress on the lines of the ‘Two Behaviour Pattern’ of Muslims that centres around ‘acrimony, accusations, complaints, deceptions, demands, denunciations, and street rioting’, followed by defending itself or playing victim, depending on the outcome of the riots.

It may be useful to excerpt a letter written by K.P. Keshava Menon, K. Madhavan Nair, T.V. Mohamad, K Karunakara Menon and K.V. Gopal Menon on the aforementioned resolution:

Truth is infinitely of more paramount importance than Hindu-Muslim unity or Swaraj, and therefore, we tell the Maulana Sahib [Hasrat Mohani] and his co-religionists and India’s revered leader Mahatma Gandhi—if he too is unaware of the events here—that atrocities committed by the Moplahs on the Hindus are unfortunately too true and that there is nothing in the deeds of Moplah rebels which a true non-violent non-co-operator can congratulate them for. What is it for which they deserve congratulation? Their wanton and unprovoked attack on the Hindus, the all but wholesale looting at their houses in Ernad, and parts of Valluvanad, Ponnani, and Calicut Taliques [Taluks]; the forcible conversion of Hindus in a few places in the beginning of the rebellion and the wholesale conversion of those who stick to their homes in its later stages, the brutal murder of inoffensive Hindus, men, women, and children in cold blood, without the slightest reason except that they are ‘Kaffirs’…the desecration and burning of Hindu Temples, the outrage on Hindu women and their forcible conversion and marriage by Moplahs; do these and similar atrocities proved beyond the shadow of a doubt by the statements recorded by us from the actual sufferers who have survived, deserve any congratulation? On the other hand, should they not call forth the strongest condemnation from all right-minded men and more especially from a representative body of Mohamedans like the Khilafat Conference pledged to non-violence under all provocation? Did the Moplahs, who committed such atrocities, sacrifice their lives in the cause of their religion? [emphasis added][6]

Unfortunately, this template was to be played out again and again over the next 100 years and was played out again as we watched the grotesque protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act unfold. It also established the fact that any one-sided desire for Hindu-Muslim unity is simply giving a tool of blackmail to the intransigent Muslim leadership that simply keeps changing the description of their aspirations from ‘two nation theory’ (1940s) to Milli Tashakkhus (1980s) to Mazhabi Pahchan (2019-20) without any change in the essential supremacist and separatist character of the demands. It is time we dissected it, learnt our lessons, and disowned it as a disaster.

[1] Khutbat-e-Azad, published by Maktaba-e-Jamal, Lahore, 2010

[2] Proceedings of  AICC session, December 1921

[3] Pakistan or the Partition of India, Dr. BR Ambedkar, CHAPTER XII (III)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] The Dharma Dispatch, 18 July 2019

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