Indian National Movement

Non-Cooperation Movement

Gandhi’s Role as Non-Cooperator

The year 1919 left India highly discontented. The Rowlatt Act, the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre and the martial law in Punjab had belied people’s hope in the British Government. The Montague-Chelmsford Reforms (1919) with their ill-considered scheme of Dyarchy did not satisfy many. The Indian Muslims were incensed to discover the ill-treatment meted out to Turkey after the First World War. Those who thought that the British Government would “correct” the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre and atrocities in other parts of Punjab, got disillusioned to find that Hunter Commission Report (to enquire into the above incidents) was an eyewash. The House of Lords had voted in favour of General Dyer’s action and the British public had demonstrated support by collecting funds for General Dyer. All excuses in favour of the British Government were fast running out.

In the meantime, the Congress had grown sceptical of any more advancement through Constitutional means. Moreover, the people in general, whose political consciousness had been awakened by the hard work of the national leaders, were eagerly waiting for some action. Some people were also outraged because they had suffered economic losses.

The All-India Congress Committee met at Benaras (Varanasi) on May 30, 1920 to consider the Hunter Report. It advised that a special session be held at Calcutta. This session, held between September 4 and 9 that year, adopted Gandhiji’s resolution on non-cooperation by a thumping majority. The resolution demanded redress of two grievous wrongs—Khilafat and the Punjab tragedy. It adopted the policy of non-violent non-cooperation. The Congress session resolved that titles and honorary offices should be given up by the people. Children should be withdrawn from schools and colleges run by the Government. National educational institutions should replace the Government-run institutions. Law courts and foreign goods should be boycotted. It also decided not to participate in new Councils under the Minto-Morley Reforms.

Non-cooperation was condemned by the Government as a “creed devoid of any constructive approach and an appeal to prejudice and ignorance”. G. S. Ghorpade, a co-worker of Lokmanya Tilak, said that the resolution was sought “to divert the energies of the Congress in directions of attaining soul force and moral excellence and lose sight of political aspects of affairs”. Dr. Annie Besant regarded it “as the greatest setback to India’s freedom and an insane proposition”. Sir Sankaran Nair described the programme as the outpourings of a fantastic visionary. The Liberals attacked the programme vehemently. However, Gandhiji, with his faith in non-violence and truth, toured the country and popularised the programme. The regular 1920 session of the Congress at Nagpur reaffirmed Gandhiji’s programme. B. C. Pal left the Congress and joined the Liberals. Gandhiji declared Swaraj as the goal “within the British Empire, if possible, and without it, if necessary”. The Congress adopted a new constitution with Swaraj as its goal.

In February 1922, Duke of Connaught visited India for inaugurating the Montford Reforms. The Congress organised a boycott. The Khilafat had already started non-cooperation in August 1919 and advocated boycott of Government jobs in July 1920. Ali Brothers were arrested. Gandhiji gave a call to the peasantry not to pay taxes. The Congress boycotted the royal visit of the Prince of Wales in 1921-22. Wherever he went, he was welcomed by hartals and black flags. Leaders of the Congress like Motilal Nehru and C.R. Das were arrested. Thousands of common people went to jail. Lawyers left courts, students came out of colleges, liquor shops and foreign cloth shops were picketed. Mahatma Gandhi gave the slogan of “Swaraj in one year.” The Government let loose repression. The Ahmedabad Congress of 1921 appointed Gandhiji as the dictator of the movement.

Mahatma Gandhi gave a notice to the Government to stop the “lawlessness and barbarism” within seven days, failing which he would start the Civil Disobedience Movement. Before the expiry of the seven days, a fatal event occurred at Chauri Chaura. Twenty-two policemen were murdered by a mob. Gandhiji was shocked. He withdrew the movement. He advised the Congress to concentrate on constructive programme of spinning, cottage industries, prohibition and fight against untouchability. The withdrawal of the movement led to disappointment all around. According to C. R. Das, “Mahatma Gandhi bungled and mismanaged.” According to Subhash Chandra Bose, it was “nothing short of a national calamity”. Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das was beside himself with anger and sorrow. The movement had, however, cemented Hindu, Muslim ties. Never before in history had India resounded so enthusiastically to cries of “Hindu-Musalman ki jai”. Never before had a leader emerged of Gandhi’s incomparable quality. Gandhiji was arrested and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. His trial was the “most epic event of those times”.

Failure of the Movement

The failure of the movement caused widespread disappointment and demorali­sation in the country. The political atmosphere was polluted by the Moplah Rebellion and communal outburst in the late 1921. After the failure of this movement, communalism dominated the political scene for some time. The Hindu-Muslim unity vanished. Communal riots occurred and the British Government intensified its policy of “divide-and-rule”.

Formation of Swarajist Party

The Montford Reforms led to a big controversy within the Congress as well as outside. After the failure of the Non-Cooperation Movement, C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru pleaded for Council entry. The Civil Disobedience Committee appointed by the Congress, admitting the failure of the movement, recommended Council entry. These recommendations had the support of Ajmal Khan, Vitthalbhai Patel and Motilal Nehru. It was opposed by Dr. Ansari, C. Rajagopalachari and S.K.R. Iyengar. C. Rajagopalachari assumed the leadership of the no-changers, who opposed Council entry. C.R. Das became the leader of the pro-change group which wanted the Congress to adopt a resolution to permit Council entry. However, C.R. Das, though President of the Gaya session of 1922, failed to persuade the party to accept his viewpoint. He decided to form the Swarajist Party. At the next session of the Congress held at Delhi under the presidentship of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the Congress adopted a resolution permitting individual Congressmen to seek election to the Councils. The annual Congress session of 1923, under the presidentship of Mohammad Ali, put its seal of approval on the decision of the Delhi session. The Congress had two programmes namely (i) to wreck Councils from inside and (ii) resort to constructive programme outside.

Aims and Objects of the Swarajists

The aims of the Swarajists were to enter the Councils and wreck them from within. They were to oppose and obstruct all the policies that the bureaucracy initiated and thereby, force the pace of reforms. C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru in a statement said that the Council entry was and could be, thoroughly consistent with the principles of non-cooperation as they understood it. They wanted to carry their non-cooperation into the very aisles and channels of the bureaucratic church. With the cooperation of the Nationalist Party, they hoped to command a working majority in the Assembly. Their programme included  throwing out the budget and defeating the ordinary bills initiated by the Government. Later, with the death of C.R. Das in 1925, the Swarajists began to fumble and falter.

Success of the Swarajists

The Swarajists fought the Council elections held in 1923. In Bengal and the Central Provinces, they achieved thumping success. In the Central Legislative Assembly, they got 45 seats out of 145. In February 1924, the Central Assembly passed Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya’s resolution demanding a Round Table Conference to discuss and recommend further steps towards constitutional reforms. The Government set up, in that year, the Mudiman Committee to review the working of the Montford Reforms. The Swarajists were able to defeat the Government on the question of Bengal Regulation III of 1818 and the release of political prisoners. They threw out the budget of 1924-25. In Bengal, the Swarajists got a majority in the Council but refused to form the Government. According to Brailesford, the policy of obstruction followed by the Swarajists “convinced even the British Conservatives that the system of Dyarchy was unworkable”. After 1925, there was a continuous watering down of the Swarajists’ obstruction. Their non-cooperation was turning into cooperation. They served on the Steel Protection Committee and Pandit Malaviya on the Skeen Committee. In the 1926 elections, they lost heavily in the Central Provinces and Bengal. Pandit Malaviya, Lala Lajpat Rai and the Nationalist Party became more responsive and left their opposition to the government. The Swarajists were themselves split between Responsivists and Non-cooperators. Swarajist President of the Central Provinces accepted the membership of the Governor-General’s Council. The Swarajist Party petered out soon. Politics became more active outside than inside the Council Chambers.

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