The defeat of Turkey in the First World War and the dismemberment of the mighty Ottoman empire, which once stretched from the Arabian Sea to the Black Sea, as a result thereof, injured the sentiments of the Muslims all over the world. They had always worshipped the Sultan of Turkey as Caliph—the Vice-Regent of Prophet Mohammed—and their supreme religious head. He was now stripped of all his political powers as well as of his spiritual authority by being placed under the control of a high commission appointed by the Allied powers. This was quite contrary to an assurance of the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George who declared publicly on January 5, 1918, that the Allies were “not fighting to deprive Turkey of the rich and renowned lands of Asia Minor and Thrace which are predominantly Turkish in race.” It had been further supported by the American President, Woodrow Wilson, in his address to the Congress on January 8, 1918.
It was thus really unfortunate that when the great war came to an end, these solemn words were not being implemented. The Indian Muslims looked upon this blatant humiliation of Turkey as an act of betrayal on the part of the British Government and an affront to their religious feelings. They started an agitation for restoration of the temporal and spiritual authority of the Sultan of Turkey. It came to be known as the Khilafat Movement and was led by the famous Ali Brothers—Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali. The other prominent leaders of the movement were Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Hasrat Mohani. The Congress leaders like Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi looked upon the Khilafat as a godsend for bringing about Hindu-Muslim unity and securing an active participation of the Muslim masses in the national movement.
To Gandhiji, Hindu-Muslim unity was an unalterable article of faith, rooted in his ancestral background and his personal relationship with the Muslims. He also genuinely felt that Koran was divinely composed and enjoyed reading it to his soul’s satisfaction and heart’s pleasure. He attended the conference of the Khilafat leaders held at Delhi in November 1919 and was elected its president. The conference advised the Muslims not to join the public celebrations of the British Government and to adopt an attitude of non-cooperation towards the Government if their demands were not granted. The decision was also supported by the Muslim League in its session held at Calcutta.
The release of Ali Brothers on the eve of the Amritsar session of the Congress held in December 1919 gave a new vigour to the Khilafat Movement. The leaders of the Congress and Khilafat Committee met at Amritsar. They decided to revitalise the Khilafat agitation under the guidance of Gandhiji. It was marvellous that the Hindus and Muslims could unite under a common banner and offer passive resistance to the Government. That was bound to have an impact on the Britishers and help the people to accelerate the tempo of the freedom struggle. They decided to send a joint deputation to the Viceroy. It met him on January 19, 1920 and presented a memorandum which had been signed jointly by both the Hindu and Muslim leaders, including Gandhiji, Pandit Motilal Nehru, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Swami Shradhanand. The Viceroy expressed his inability to do anything in the matter.
Another delegation led by Mohammad Ali waited upon the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, on March 17, 1920, but without success. The Khilafat leaders were deeply disappointed. They looked towards Gandhiji for advice as to what should be done further. It was at that time that he issued a manifesto on March 20, 1920, elucidating for the first time his doctrine of non-cooperation. He explained that the power that a nation or an individual could generate by forswearing violence was that power which was irresistible. It could, therefore, be the most effective weapon whenever it was completely free from any shade of violence. He elucidated that when cooperation meant humiliation or degradation or an injury to one’s cherished religious feelings, as the abolition of the Caliphate had been to the Muslims, the non-cooperation became an imperative duty. He asked how could they continue their meek submission to England over an issue which was a matter of life and death for the Mohammedans ?
Many Hindus did not feel so strongly about the Khilafat issue as he did. They even criticised him. His answer was, “The test of friendship is true assistance in adversity and whatever we are, Hindus, Parsees, Christians or Jews, if we wish to live as one nation, surely the interest of any of us must be the interest of all. We talk of the Hindu-Mohammedan unity. It would be an empty phrase if the Hindus kept aloof from the Mohammedans when their vital interests are at stake.”
The peace terms offered to Turkey by the Treaty of Sevres by the Allied powers were announced on May 15, 1920. They amounted to complete dismemberment of the Ottoman empire, leaving the Sultan only in control of Constantinople under the surveillance of the British masters. Two days later, Gandhiji issued a statement asking the Muslims to adopt non-cooperation as their only weapon for fighting out against the injustice done to them by the British Government. The Central Khilafat Committee accepted his advice and adopted “non-cooperation” as their only form of action against the Government at a public meeting held at Bombay on May 28, 1920.
A joint meeting of Hindu and Muslim leaders under the auspices of the Central Khilafat Committee was held at Allahabad on June 1 and 2, 1920, to assess the situation. A galaxy of Hindu leaders participated in this meeting. They were Gandhiji, Lala Lajpat Rai, Motilal Nehru, Tej Bahadur Sapru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bipin Chandra Pal, Madan Mohan Malaviya, C. Rajagopalachari, Satyamurti and Chintamani. This meeting endorsed the decision of the Central Khilafat Committee and appointed an Action Committee consisting of Gandhiji and six Muslim leaders. It also resolved to undertake the swadeshi movement in right earnest.
In accordance with the decision taken at Allahabad, a letter signed by about 90 prominent Muslim leaders from all over the country was sent to the Viceroy. It was an ultimatum, “If, unfortunately, Your Excellency will not adopt our humble suggestion, we shall be obliged, as from the first August next, to withdraw cooperation to the Government and to ask our co-religionists and Hindu brethren to do likewise.” Gandhiji also wrote to the Viceroy on identical lines. In July 1920, the Action Committee announced its programme. There was to be a complete hartal on August 1, 1920. Peaceful demonstrations were also planned. Apart from these, Gandhiji gave a four-point line of action. First, all titles, honours and medals conferred by the Government were to be surrendered. Second, all lawyers were asked to suspend their practice, Government officials to leave their offices and parents to withdraw their children from the Government-supported schools and colleges. Third, the soldiers were asked to lay down their arms. Fourth, people were asked not to pay taxes to the Government. He travelled all over the country accompanied by Shaukat Ali and tried to explain his new programme to the people. Huge crowds greeted him wherever he went. They raised loud slogans, Mahatma Gandhi ki jai and Hindu-Mussalman ki jai. A majority of them were too eager to have his darshan (glimpse) as an act of faith or duty. He exhorted them as under :
Proclaim to the Government: ‘You may hang us on the gallows, you may send us to prison, but you will
get no cooperation from us. You will get it in jail or on the gallows, but not in the regiments of the army. You will notget it in legislatures or in any department of the Government service.’
He also castigated that the British empire represented Satanism and those who loved God, could afford to have no love for Satan. He also held the British Government guilty of terrible atrocities like the massacre at Amritsar and felt strongly that if it did not apologise for these to God and the country, the British empire would certainly perish. Whether the people at large understood and appreciated Gandhiji’s views or not, they had developed utmost reverence for him and were ready to make any sacrifice at his command.
The hartal on August 1, 1920, was a big success. On the same day, Gandhiji returned all the war medals which
had been awarded to him by the British Government for his support to the war. He wrote to the Viceroy, “Valuable as these honours have been to me, I cannot wear them with an easy conscience, so long as my Mussalman countrymen have to labour under the wrong done to their religious sentiments.” He charged the British Government with having acted “in an unscrupulous, immoral and unjust manner.” He had also been unhappy about the Government’s soft attitude on the Hunter Report on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The Congress met in a special session at Calcutta under the chairmanship of Lala Lajpat Rai in September 1920. It endorsed Gandhiji’s plan of Non-Cooperation Movement against the two wrongs—an injury to the feelings of the Muslims on account of the abolition of the Caliphate at Constantinople and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by General Dyer, and added the third, the biggest wrong of all wrongs, the denial of swaraj. The Congress asked the people to do the following :
(i) Surrender titles and honours.
(ii) Do not attend the Durbars and other official and non-official functions.
(iii) Withdraw your children from schools and colleges owned, aided and controlled by the Government and send them to national schools and colleges.
(iv) Boycott foreign goods.
(v) Boycott Government courts and establish private arbitration courts for settlement of private disputes.
(vi) Do not offer yourself for service in the army and clerical or labour services in Mesopotamia.
(vii) Do not contest for the provincial and central legislative councils.
(viii) Do not participate in the elections.
(ix) Resign from the nominated seats in the local bodies.
That was the negative side of the non-cooperation. On the positive side, the Congress advised the people to adopt hand-spinning in every home and encourage hand-weaving by the millions of weavers. It also exhorted them to use the swadeshi goods in place of the imported articles. For Gandhiji, “spin and weave” became a sacred mantra. He advised the people to adopt it with full vigour and faith. As if a prophet was affirming the truth he obtained through divine revelation, he told them that swaraj would come about when they learned to spin and weave.
The resolution passed by the Congress in its special session held at Calcutta in September 1920 required ratification by a regular session. It was held in December 1920 at Nagpur under the presidentship of Vijayaraghavachariar. There was tremendous enthusiasm and more than 14,000 delegates attended the session. Two members of the British Parliament belonging to the Labour Party, named Wedgwood and Ben Spoor, also participated. The session endorsed the Calcutta resolution. It also made various changes in the constitution of the Congress. The new goal of the Congress was defined as swaraj to be achieved through peaceful and constitutional means as hitherto. Gandhiji defined swaraj to mean “self-government within the empire and outside, if necessary.” The Provincial Congress Committees were to be reorganised on linguistic basis. They had to be strengthened at the grassroots, i.e., village level and from there onwards to the tehsil, district, province and national level. This converted the Congress into a mass organisation having close rapport with the common people.