Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Khilafat Movement

The second decade of the twentieth century was a period of turmoil both in India and around the world. The outbreak of the First World War led to reverberations that were felt not only by the countries of the two opposing camps but also their dependencies. In India this period witnessed heightened political activity, post-wartime economic recession, growing Government repression that was blatantly manifested in the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and Government’s complete lack of sympathy of those massacred. Amongst the Indian Muslim too there was an upsurge in political activity. They were stirred into action on account of Turkey’s fate which had joined the First World War siding with the Triple Alliance against the Triple Entente. Once Turkey was defeated and it became apparent that the Ottoman Empire was going to be dismembered by the victorious Britain, the Pan-lslamic sentiments of the Indian Muslims developed into the Khilafat Movement. This movement was aimed against the Allies, specifically Britain, and in support of the Ottoman Caliph. Indian Muslims, especially the prosperous Bombay merchants like Chotani, organised a Central Khilafat Committee in November 1919. In the same month Gandhi was elected as the Committee’s President by an All-India Khilafat Conference that met in Delhi. The Ali brothers, who were released from internment in December 1919 and M. A. Ansari were the prominent leaders of the movement. This group was the radical wing of the Khilafat movement that gained its place over the moderate section. It was this radical group which pressed for country wide hartals of October 17, 1919 and March 19, 1920; and first called for Non-Cooperation at the Delhi all-India Khilafat Conference in November 1912. This group wanted mass agitation against the British and support of the Hindus.

The radical section comprised of lower middle class journalists and the ulama who had considerable influence over small towns and villages, particularly in the United Provinces, Bengal, Sind and Malabar. From this time onwards ulama came to play a significant role in stirring the sentiments of the Muslims and used religious slogans in their efforts. This use of religious slogans was responsible for the spate of religious violence during the post-Khilafat years. In March 1920, the Khilafatists, represented by Mohammad Ali, presented to diplomats in Paris their three central demands. The demands were that the Turkish Sultan, the Khalifa, was to retain control over the Muslim sacred places; he must be left with sufficient territory to enable him to defend the Islamic faith, and that the Jazirat-ul-Arab (Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Palestine), the traditional centre of Islam, must remain under Muslim sovereignty. These demands were ignored and with this the radical group became more appealing to the people.

The terms of Treaty of Sevres with Turkey was published in May 1920 which inflamed the Indian Muslims. In the same month the Hunter Commission Majority Report was published and it took a rather lenient view of General Dyer’s role in the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, which inflamed Indians. In the Allahabad Conference of the Central Khilafat Committee (June 1-2, 1920), a decision was reached to launch a four staged non-cooperation movement: boycott of titles, civil services, police, and army and finally non-payment of taxes. Non-cooperation was advocated by Gandhi as the technique for the Khilafat Movement. But this posed a problem between Gandhi and Muslim political leaders. As Gandhi found out during the course of the movement the leaders adhered to the technique only to ensure Gandhi’s support which was necessary for an alliance with the Hindus. Gandhi was responsible for urging the Congress to take up a cause (in this instance Khilafat Movement) which was close to the Muslims inorder to make good the Congress’ claims of its desire to pursue Hindu-Muslim unity.

Khilafat MovementOctober 17, 1919 was observed as the 'Khilafat Day at an all-India scale. In September 1920, at a special session of the INC at Calcutta a resolution was passed, largely due to Gandhi’s insistence, to launch the Non- Cooperation Movement to protest against two wrongs: (a) the British Government’s attitude towards the Khilafat issue, and (b) "its failure to protect the innocent people of the Punjab and punish the officers guilty of the barbarous behaviour towards them”. This resolution was passed despite the protests of some prominent Congress leaders like Chitta Ranjan Das, Bepin Chandra Pal, Annie Besant, Motilal Nehru and Madan Mohan Malviya. (Note: A third demand that figured in the Non-Cooperation movement headed by the Congress was attainment of Swaraj within one year as promised by Gandhi but what swaraj was to mean was left undefined). The opposition by Motilal Nehru at the Amritsar Session was on account of the proposed boycotting of the council elections which were scheduled for November 1920 after the acceptance of the Montagu- Chelmsford Reforms (interestingly while C. R. Das virtually rejected them, it was Gandhi who directed the Congress to contest in the first place ‘so work the Reforms as to secure an early establishment of full responsible Government ) Gandhi at the Calcutta laid down an elaborate programme: -

  • Surrender of titles and honorary offices and resignation from nominated seats in local bodies;

  • Refusal to attend official and non-official functions;

  • ‘Gradual withdrawal of children’ from officially controlled schools and colleges;

  • ‘Gradual boycott of British courts by lawyers and litigants’;

  • Military, clerical and labouring classes were asked to refuse to offer themselves as recruits for service in Mesopotamia;

  • Boycott of election to the Legislative Councils by candidates and voters;

  • Boycott of foreign goods;

  • Establishment of national schools and colleges, and

  • For the settlement of private disputes private arbitration courts were to be set up.


Interestingly the Non-Cooperation Movement was joined to the Khilafat Movement by Gandhi on August 1, 1920, a month before it was placed before Congress at the special Calcutta session. Regardless of such a presumptuous step taken by Gandhi, the pronouncements of the Calcutta and Nagpur sessions lent support to Gandhi’s decision though some continued to oppose.

However, the joint movements, Khilafat Movement and the Non-Cooperation Movement were facing inter-movement tensions. Muslim leaders’ support to Non-Cooperation was conditional. In July 1921 they had announced that it was wrong for the Muslims to serve in the British army. The Ali brothers were arrested again in September 1921. In their absence, the resentments of the Muslims at the control of the Non-Cooperation Movement (it is important to remember that the Khilafat Movement was a part of the Non-Cooperation Movement) by the non-Muslims increased. After the Chauri Chaura incident, Gandhi suspended the Non-Cooperation Movement even though it was unconnected with the Khilafat Movement. Gandhi himself was arrested in March 1922. By then it was apparent that the Hindu-Muslim unity was more of a facade. Nor was swaraj attained within a year. As far as the Khilafat Movement was concerned the use of religious symbolism by the ulama lent fuel to communal violence in the post-Khilafat years. The violence in the Malabar by the Moplahs was indicative of a rupture in Congress-Khilafatist anti-British alliance. While the Moplah’s might have declared jihad against the British, the brunt of the violence was felt by Hindus. The cause of the Caliphate itself suffered a major setback when from the late 1922 the Grand National Assembly of Turkey set about a process for the abolition of the Caliphate, first by depriving it of its temporal powers in November 1922, and then abolishing it altogether in March 1924. Thus, the central focus of the Khilafat Movement disappeared by 1924. One can summarize that Caliphate provided a symbol around which Indian Muslims could unite irrespective of their internal differences. According to Gail Minault “A pan- Islamic symbol opened the way to pan-Indian Islamic political mobilization."


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