Indian History III

Delhi Law Academy

Home Rule League Movement

•            The Home Rule Movement was the Indian response to the First World War in a less charged but a more effective way than the response of Indians living abroad which took the form of the romantic Ghadr adventure.

•            Prominent leaders—Balgangadhar Tilak, Annie Besant, S. Subramania Iyer, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah among others—got together and decided that it was necessary to have a national alliance that would work throughout the year (unlike the Congress which had annual sessions) with the main objective of demanding self-government or home rule for all of India within the British commonwealth.

•            This alliance was to be the All India Home Rule League along the lines of the Irish Home Rule League.

Factors Leading to the Movement

•            Some of the factors leading to the formation of the Home Rule Movement were as follows.

(i)          A section of the nationalists felt that popular pressure was required to attain concessions from the government.

(ii)         The Moderates were disillusioned with the Morley- Minto reforms.

(iii)        People were feeling the burden of wartime miseries caused by high taxation and a rise in prices, and were ready to participate in any aggressive movement of protest.

(iv)        The war, being fought among the major imperialist powers of the day and backed by naked propaganda against each other, exposed the myth of white superiority.

The Leagues

•            Both Tilak and Besant realised that the sanction of a Moderate-dominated Congress as well as full cooperation of the Extremists was essential for the movement to succeed.

•            Having failed at the 1914 session of the Congress to reach a Moderate-Extremist rapprochement, Tilak and Besant decided to revive political activity on their own.

•            By early 1915, Annie Besant had launched a campaign to demand self-government for India after the war on the lines of white colonies.

•            She campaigned through her newspapers, New India and Commonweal, and through public meetings and conferences.

•            At the annual session of the Congress in 1915, it was decided that the Extremists be admitted to the Congress.

•            Tilak and Besant set up their separate leagues to avoid any friction. However, both leagues coordinated their efforts by confining their work to their specific areas. They cooperated where they could.

Tilak’s League

•            Tilak set up his Indian Home Rule League in April 1916.

•            Tilak held his first Home Rule meeting at Belgaum. Poona was the headquarters of his league.

•            His league was restricted to Maharashtra (excluding Bombay city), Karnataka, Central Provinces and Berar.

•            Its demands included swarajya, formation of linguistic states and education in the vernacular.

Besant’s League

•            Annie Besant set up her All-India Home Rule League in September 1916 in Madras and covered the rest of India (including Bombay city).

•            It had 200 branches, was loosely organised as compared to Tilak’s league and had George Arundale as the organising secretary.

The Home Rule League Programme

•            League campaign aimed to convey to the common man the message of home rule as self-government.

•            The aim was to be achieved by promoting political education and discussion through public meetings, organising libraries and reading rooms containing books on national politics, holding conferences, organising classes for students on politics, carrying out propaganda through newspapers, pamphlets, posters, illustrated post-cards, plays, religious songs, etc., collecting funds, organising social work, and participating in local government activities.

•            The Russian Revolution of 1917 proved to be an added advantage for the Home Rule campaign.

•            Many of the Moderate Congressmen who were disillusioned with Congress inactivity, and some members of Gokhale’s Servants of India Society also joined the agitation.

Government Attitude

•            The government came down with severe repression, especially in Madras where the students were prohibited from attending political meetings.

•            Tilak was barred from entering the Punjab and Delhi.

•            In June 1917, Annie Besant and her associates, B.P. Wadia and George Arundale, were arrested.

•            This invited nationwide protest. In a dramatic gesture, Sir S. Subramaniya Aiyar renounced his knighthood while Tilak advocated a programme of passive resistance.

•            The repression only served to harden the attitude of the agitators and strengthen their resolve to resist the government.

Why the Agitation Faded Out by 1919

•            The Home Rule agitation proved to be short-lived. By 1919, it had petered out.

•            The reasons for the decline were as follows.

(i)          There was a lack of effective organisation.

(ii)         Communal riots were witnessed during 1917-18.

(iii)        The Moderates who had joined the Congress after Annie Besant’s arrest were pacified by talk of reforms (contained in Montagu’s statement of August 1917 which held self-government as the long-term goal of the British rule in India) and Besant’s release.

(iv)        Talk of passive resistance by the Extremists kept the Moderates away from activity from September 1918 onwards.

(v)         The Montagu-Chelmsford reforms which became known in July 1918 further divided the nationalist ranks.

(vi)        Gandhi’s fresh approach to the struggle for freedom was slowly but surely catching the imagination of the people, and the mass movement that was gathering momentum pushed the home rule movement onto the side lines.

•            In 1920, Gandhi accepted the presidentship of the All India Home Rule League, and changed the organisation’s name to Swarajya Sabha.

•            Within a year, the league joined the Indian National Congress.

Positive Gains

•            The Home Rule Leagues and the associated activities had many positive effects and contributed to the fresh direction that the freedom struggle was to take in the coming years.

•            The Home Rule Movement marked a transition between the deliberative and rather inactive nature of the Congress till then and the Gandhian phase that was to come with its mass involvement in the struggle for freedom.

(i)          The movement shifted the emphasis from the educated elite to the masses and permanently deflected the movement from the course mapped by the Moderates.

(ii)         It created an organisational link between the town and the country, which was to prove crucial in later years when the national movement entered its mass phase in a true sense.

(iii)        It created a generation of ardent nationalists.

(iv)        It prepared the masses for politics of the Gandhian style.

(v)         The August 1917 declaration of Montagu and the Montford reforms were influenced by the Home Rule agitation.

(vi)        The efforts of Tilak and Annie Besant towards the Moderate-Extremist reunion at Lucknow (1916) revived the Congress as an effective instrument of Indian nationalism.

(vii)       The home rule movement lent a new dimension and a sense of urgency to the national movement.

Lucknow Session of the Indian National Congress (1916)

Readmission of Extremists to Congress

•            The Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress, presided over by a Moderate, Ambika Charan Majumdar, finally readmitted the Extremists led by Tilak to the Congress fold.

•            Various factors facilitated this reunion:

(i)          Old controversies had become meaningless now.

(ii)         Both the Moderates and the Extremists realised that the split had led to political inactivity.

(iii)        Annie Besant and Tilak had made vigorous efforts for the reunion. To allay Moderate suspicions, Tilak had declared that he supported a reform of administration and not an overthrow of the government. He also denounced acts of violence.

(iv)        The death of two Moderates, Gokhale and Pherozshah Mehta, who had led the Moderate opposition to the Extremists, facilitated the reunion.

Lucknow Pact between Congress and Muslim League

•            Another significant development to take place at Lucknow was the coming together of the Muslim League and the Congress and the presentation of common demands by them to the government.

•            This happened at a time when the Muslim League, now dominated by the younger militant nationalists, was coming closer to the Congress objectives and turning increasingly anti-imperialist.

Advent of Gandhi

Early Career and Experiments with Truth in South Africa

•            Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 in Porbandar in the princely state of Kathiawar in Gujarat. His father was a diwan (minister) of the state.

•            Having studied law in England, Gandhi, in 1898, went to South Africa in connection with a case involving his client, Dada Abdullah.

•            In South Africa he witnessed the ugly face of white racism and the humiliation and contempt to which Asians, who had gone to South Africa as labourers, were subjected.

•            He decided to stay in South Africa to organise the Indian workers to enable them to fight for their rights. He stayed there till 1914 after which he returned to India.

•            The Indians in South Africa consisted of three categories:

o            one, the indentured Indian labour, mainly from south India, who had migrated to South Africa after 1890 to work on sugar plantations

o            two, the merchants—mostly Meman Muslims who had followed the labourers; and

o            three, the ex-indentured labourers who had settled down with their children in South Africa after the expiry of their contracts.

•            These Indians were mostly illiterate and had little or no knowledge of English. They accepted racial discrimination as a part of their daily existence.

•            These Indian immigrants had to suffer many disabilities. They were denied the right to vote. They could reside only in prescribed locations which were insanitary and congested.

•            In some colonies, Asians and Africans could not stay out of doors after 9 pm nor could they use public footpaths.

Moderate Phase of Struggle (1894-1906)

•            During this phase, Gandhi relied on sending petitions and memorials to the authorities in South Africa and in Britain hoping that once the authorities were informed of the plight of Indians, they would take sincere steps to redress their grievances as the Indians were, after all, British subjects.

•            To unite different sections of Indians, he set up the Natal Indian Congress and started a paper Indian Opinion.

Phase of Passive Resistance or Satyagraha (1906-1914)

•            The second phase, which began in 1906, was characterised by the use of the method of passive resistance or civil disobedience, which Gandhi named satyagraha.

Satyagraha against Registration Certificates (1906)

•            A new legislation in South Africa made it compulsory for Indians there to carry at all times certificates of registration with their fingerprints.

•            The Indians under Gandhi’s leadership decided not to submit to this discriminatory measure.

•            Gandhi formed the Passive Resistance Association to conduct the campaign of defying the law and suffering all the penalties resulting from such a defiance.

•            Thus was born satyagraha or devotion to truth, the technique of resisting adversaries without violence.

•            The government jailed Gandhi and others who refused to register themselves.

•            The Indians under the leadership of Gandhi retaliated by publicly burning their registration certificates.

•            In the end, there was a compromise settlement.

Campaign against Restrictions on Indian Migration

•            The earlier campaign was widened to include protest against a new legislation imposing restrictions on Indian migration.

•            The Indians defied this law by crossing over from one province to another and by refusing to produce licences. Many of these Indians were jailed.

Campaign against Poll Tax and Invalidation of Indian Marriages

•            A poll tax of three pounds was imposed on all ex-indentured Indians.

•            The demand for the abolition of poll tax (which was too much for the poor ex-indentured Indians who earned less than ten shillings a month) widened the base of the campaign.

•            Then a Supreme Court order which invalidated all marriages not conducted according to Christian rites and registered by the registrar of marriages drew the anger of the Indians and others who were not Christians.

•            By implication, Hindu, Muslim and Parsi marriages were illegal and children born out of such marriages, illegitimate.

•            The Indians treated this judgement as an insult to the honour of women and many women were drawn into the movement because of this indignity.

Protest against Transvaal Immigration Act The

•            Indians protested the Transvaal Immigration Act, by illegally migrating from Natal into Transvaal. The government held these Indians in jails.

•            Miners and plantation workers went on a lightning strike.

•            Eventually, through a series of negotiations involving Gandhi, Lord Hardinge, C.F. Andrews and General Smuts, an agreement was reached.

•            The Government of South Africa conceded the major Indian demands relating to the poll tax, the registration certificates and marriages solemnised according to Indian rites, and promised to treat the issue of Indian immigration in a sympathetic manner.

Gandhi’s Experience in South Africa

(i)          Gandhi found that the masses had immense capacity to participate in and sacrifice for a cause that moved them.

(ii)         He was able to unite Indians belonging to different religions and classes, and men and women alike under his leadership.

(iii)        He also came to realise that at times the leaders have to take decisions unpopular with their enthusiastic supporters.

(iv)        He was able to evolve his own style of leadership and politics and new techniques of struggle on a limited scale, untrammelled by the opposition of contending political currents.

Gandhi’s Technique of Satyagraha

•            Gandhi evolved the technique of Satyagraha during his stay in South Africa.

•            It was based on truth and non-violence.

•            He combined some elements from Indian tradition with the Christian requirement of turning the other cheek and the philosophy of Tolstoy, who said that evil could best be countered by non-violent resistance.

Its basic tenets were as follows:

•            A satyagrahi was not to submit to what he considered as wrong, but was to always remain truthful, non-violent and fearless.

•            A satyagrahi works on the principles of withdrawal of cooperation and boycott.

•            Methods of satyagraha include non-payment of taxes, and declining honours and positions of authority.

•            A satyagrahi should be ready to accept suffering in his struggle against the wrong-doer.

•            Even while carrying out his struggle against the wrong-doer, a true satyagrahi would have no ill feeling for the wrong-doer; hatred would be alien to his nature.

•            A true satyagrahi would never bow before the evil, whatever the consequence.

•            Only the brave and strong could practise satyagraha; it was not for the weak and cowardly.

Gandhi in India

•            Gandhi returned to India in January 1915. His efforts in South Africa were well known not only among the educated but also among the masses.

•            He decided to tour the country the next one year and see for himself the condition of the masses. He also decided not to take any position on any political matter for at least one year.

•            He was convinced that the only technique capable of meeting the nationalist aims was a non-violent satyagraha.

•            He also said that he would join no political organisation unless it too accepted the creed of non-violent satyagraha.

•            During 1917 and 1918, Gandhi was involved in three struggles—in Champaran, Ahmedabad and Kheda—before he launched the Rowlatt Satyagraha.

Champaran Satyagraha (1917)—First Civil Disobedience

•            Gandhi was requested by Rajkumar Shukla, a local man, to look into the problems of the farmers in context of indigo planters of Champaran in Bihar.

•            The European planters had been forcing the peasants to grow indigo on 3/20 part of the total land (called tinkathia system).

•            When towards the end of the nineteenth century German synthetic dyes replaced indigo, the European planters demanded high rents and illegal dues from the peasants in order to maximise their profits before the peasants could shift to other crops.

•            When Gandhi, joined now by Rajendra Prasad, Mahadeo Desai, and J.B. Kripalani, reached Champaran to probe into the matter, the authorities ordered him to leave the area at once.

•            Gandhi defied the order and preferred to face the punishment. This passive resistance or civil disobedience of an unjust order was a novel method at that time.

•            Finally, the authorities retreated and permitted Gandhi to make an enquiry. The government appointed a committee to go into the matter and nominated Gandhi as a member.

•            Gandhi was able to convince the authorities that the tinkathia system should be abolished and that the peasants should be compensated for the illegal dues extracted from them.

•            As a compromise with the planters, he agreed that only 25 per cent of the money taken should be compensated.

Ahmedabad Mill Strike (1918)— First Hunger Strike

•            In March 1918, Gandhi intervened in a dispute between cotton mill owners of Ahmedabad and the workers over the issue of discontinuation of the plague bonus.

•            The mill owners wanted to withdraw the bonus. The workers were demanding a rise of 50 per cent in their wages so that they could manage in the times of wartime (World War I).

•            The mill owners were ready to give only a 20 per cent wage hike. The workers went on strike.

•            The relations between the workers and the mill owners worsened with the striking workers being arbitrarily dismissed and the mill owners deciding to bring in weavers from Bombay.

•            Gandhi asked the workers to go on a strike and demand a 35 per cent increase in wages instead of 50 per cent. Gandhi advised the workers to remain non-violent while on strike.

•            When negotiations with mill owners did not progress, he himself undertook a fast unto death (his first) to strengthen the workers’ resolve.

•            But the fast also had the effect of putting pressure on the mill owners who finally agreed to submit the issue to a tribunal.

•            In the end, the tribunal awarded the workers a 35 per cent wage hike.

Kheda Satyagraha (1918)—First Non-Cooperation

•            Because of drought in 1918, the crops failed in Kheda district of Gujarat. According to the Revenue Code, if the yield was less than one-fourth the normal produce, the farmers were entitled to remission.

•            Gandhi asked the farmers not to pay the taxes.

•            The revolt was remarkable in that discipline and unity were maintained. Even when, on non-payment of taxes, the government seized the farmers’ personal property, land and livelihood, a vast majority of Kheda’s farmers did not desert Sardar Patel.

•            Gujaratis in other parts who sympathised with the cause of the revolt helped by sheltering the relatives and property of the protesting peasants.

•            Ultimately, the government sought to bring about an agreement with the farmers. It agreed to suspend the tax for the year in question, and for the next; reduce the increase in rate; and return all the confiscated property.

Gains from Champaran, Ahmedabad and Kheda

•            Gandhi demonstrated to the people the efficacy of his technique of satyagraha.

•            He found his feet among the masses and came to have a surer understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the masses.

•            He acquired respect and commitment of many, especially the youth.

Rowlatt Act, Satyagraha, Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

The Rowlatt Act

•            The Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act was popularly known as the Rowlatt Act.

•            All the elected Indian members of the Imperial Legislative Council voted against the bill but they were in a minority and easily overruled by the official nominees.

•            All the elected Indian members—who included Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Madan Mohan Malaviya and Mazhar Ul Haq – resigned in protest.

•            The act allowed political activists to be tried without juries or even imprisoned without trial.

•            It allowed arrest of Indians without warrant on the mere suspicion of ‘treason’.

•            Such suspects could be tried in secrecy without recourse to legal help.

•            The law of habeas corpus, the basis of civil liberty, was sought to be suspended.

•            There was strict control over the press and the government was armed with a variety of powers to deal with anything the authorities chose to consider as terrorism or revolutionary tactics.

Satyagraha Against the Rowlatt Act

First Mass Strike

•            Just when the Indians expected a huge advance towards self-rule as a reward for their contribution to the war, they were given the Montford Reforms with its very limited scope and the shockingly repressive Rowlatt Act.

•            Gandhi called the Rowlatt Act the “Black Act” and argued that not everyone should get punishment in response to isolated political crimes.

•            Gandhi called for a mass protest at all India level. But soon, having seen the constitutional protest meet with ruthless repression, Gandhi organised a Satyagraha Sabha and roped in younger members of Home Rule Leagues and the Pan Islamists.

•            The forms of protest finally chosen included observance of a nationwide hartal (strike) accompanied by fasting and prayer, and civil disobedience against specific laws, and courting arrest and imprisonment.

There was a radical change in the situation by now.

(i)          The masses had found a direction; now they could ‘act’ instead of just giving verbal expression to their grievances.

(ii)         From now onwards, peasants, artisans and the urban poor were to play an increasingly important part in the struggle.

(iii)        Orientation of the national movement turned to the masses permanently. Gandhi said that salvation would come when masses were awakened and became active in politics.

•            Satyagraha was to be launched on April 6, 1919 but before it could be launched, there were large-scale violent, anti-British demonstrations in Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Ahmedabad, etc.

•            Especially in Punjab, the situation became so very explosive due to wartime repression, forcible recruitments and ravages of disease, that the Army had to be called in.

•            April 1919 saw the biggest and the most violent anti-British upsurge since 1857.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (April 13, 1919)

•            On April 9, two nationalist leaders, Saifuddin Kitchlew and Dr Satyapal, were arrested by the British officials without any provocation except that they had addressed protest meetings, and taken to some unknown destination.

•            This caused resentment among the Indian protestors who came out in thousands on April 10 to show their solidarity with their leaders. In the riot that followed, five Englishmen are reported to have been killed and Marcella Sherwood, an English woman missionary going on a bicycle, was beaten up.

•            Troops were sent immediately to quell the disturbances. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer was the senior British officer with the responsibility to impose martial law and restore order. By then the city had returned to calm and the protests that were being held were peaceful.

•            Dyer, however, issued a proclamation on April 13 (which was also Baisakhi) forbidding people from leaving the city without a pass and from organising demonstrations or processions, or assembling in groups of more than three.

•            On Baisakhi day, a large crowd of people mostly from neighbouring villages, unaware of the prohibitory orders in the city, gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh, a popular place for public events, to celebrate the Baisakhi festival.

•            Local leaders had also called for a protest meeting at the venue. It was then that Brigadier- General Dyer arrived on the scene with his men.

•            The troops surrounded the gathering under orders from General Dyer and blocked the only exit point and opened fire on the unarmed crowd. No warning was issued, no instruction to disperse was given. An unarmed gathering of men, women and children was fired upon as they tried to flee.

•            According to official British Indian sources, 379 were identified dead, and approximately 1,100 were wounded.

•            The Indian National Congress, on the other hand, estimated more than 1,500 were injured, and approximately 1,000 were killed.

•            The incident was followed by uncivilised brutalities on the inhabitants of Amritsar. Martial law was proclaimed in the Punjab, and public floggings and other humiliations were perpetrated.

•            The entire nation was stunned. Rabindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood in protest. Gandhi gave up the title of Kaiser-i-Hind, bestowed by the British for his work during the Boer War.

•            Gandhi was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of total violence and withdrew the movement on April 18, 1919.

The Hunter Committee of Inquiry

•            The massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh shocked Indians and many British as well.

•            On October 14, 1919, the Government of India announced the formation of the Disorders Inquiry Committee, which came to be more widely and variously known as the Hunter Committee/Commission after the name of its chairman, Lord William Hunter.

•            The final report of the Committee, released in March 1920, unanimously condemned Dyer’s actions.  Dyer’s actions had been “inhuman and un-British” and had greatly injured the image of British rule in India.

•            The Hunter Committee did not impose any penal or disciplinary action because Dyer’s actions were condoned by various superiors (later upheld by the Army Council).

•            In the end, Dyer was found guilty of a mistaken notion of duty and relieved of his command in March 1920. He was recalled to England. No legal action was taken against him; he drew half pay and received his army pension.

Non-Cooperation Movement and  Khilafat Aandolan

•            During 1919-22, the British were opposed through two mass movements—the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation.

•            Though the two movements emerged from separate issues, they adopted a common programme of action—that of non-violent non-cooperation.


•            The economic situation of the country in the post-War years had become alarming with a rise in prices of commodities, decrease in production of Indian industries, increase in burden of taxes and rents etc. Almost all sections of society suffered economic hardship due to the war and this strengthened the anti-British attitude.

•            The Rowlatt Act, the imposition of martial law in Punjab and the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre exposed the brutal and uncivilised face of the foreign rule.

•            The Hunter Committee on the Punjab atrocities proved to be an eyewash. In fact, the House of Lords (of the British Parliament) endorsed General Dyer’s action and the British public showed solidarity with General Dyer by helping The Morning Post collect 30,000 pounds for him.

•            The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms with their ill- conceived scheme of dyarchy failed to satisfy the rising demand of the Indians for self-government.

•     The post-First World War period also saw the preparation of the ground for common political action by Hindus and Muslims—

  • the Lucknow Pact (1916) had stimulated Congress-Muslim League cooperation
  • (ii) the Rowlatt Act agitation brought Hindus and Muslims, and also other sections of the society, together; and
  • (iii) radical nationalist Muslims like Mohammad Ali, Abul Kalam Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Hasan Imam had now become more influential than the conservative Aligarh school elements who had dominated the League earlier. In this atmosphere the Khilafat issue emerged, around which developed the historic Non-Cooperation Movement.

The Khilafat Issue

•            The Muslims in India, as the Muslims all over the world, regarded the sultan of Turkey as their spiritual leader, Khalifa, so naturally their sympathies were with Turkey.

•            During the war, Turkey had allied with Germany and Austria against the British.

•            When the war ended, the British took a stern attitude towards Turkey—Turkey was dis-membered and the Khalifa removed from power.

•            This incensed Muslims all over the world.

In India, too, the Muslims demanded from the British

(i)          that the Khalifa’s control over Muslim sacred places should be retained, and

(ii)         the Khalifa should be left with sufficient territories after territorial arrangements.

•            In early 1919, a Khilafat Committee was formed under the leadership of the Ali brothers (Shaukat Ali and Muhammad Ali), Maulana Azad, Ajmal Khan and Hasrat Mohani, to force the British government to change its attitude towards Turkey.

Development of the Khalifat-NonCooperation Programme

•            At the All India Khilafat Conference held in Delhi in November 1919, a call was made for the boycott of British goods.

•            The Khilafat leaders also clearly spelt out that unless peace terms after the War were favourable to Turkey, they would stop all cooperation with the Government.

•            Gandhi, who was the president of the All India Khilafat Committee, saw in the issue a platform from which mass and united non-cooperation could be declared against the Government.

Congress Stand on Khilafat Question

•            Although Gandhi was in favour of launching satyagraha and non-cooperation against the government on the Khilafat issue, the Congress was not united on this form of political action.

•            Tilak was opposed to having an alliance with Muslim leaders over a religious issue and he was also sceptical of satyagraha as an instrument of politics.

•            There was opposition to some of the other provisions of the Gandhi’s non-cooperation programme also, such as boycott of councils.

However, Gandhi was able to the get the approval of the Congress for his programme of political action and the Congress felt inclined to support a non-cooperation programme on the Khilafat question because—

•            it was felt that this was a golden opportunity to cement Hindu-Muslim unity and to bring Muslim masses into the national movement

•            the Congress was losing faith in constitutional struggle, especially after the Punjab incidents and the blatantly partisan Hunter Committee Report

•            the Congress was aware that the masses were eager to give expression to their discontent

Muslim League Support to Congress

•            The Muslim League also decided to give full support to the Congress and its agitation on political questions.

The Non-Cooperation Khilafat Movement

February 1920

•            In February 1920, Gandhi announced that the issues of the Punjab wrongs and constitutional advance had been over-shadowed by the Khilafat question and that he would soon lead a movement of non-cooperation if the terms of the peace treaty failed to satisfy the Indian Muslims.

May 1920

•            The Treaty of Sevres with Turkey, signed in May 1920, completely dismembered Turkey.

August 31, 1920

•            The Khilafat Committee started a campaign of non-cooperation and the movement was formally launched. (Tilak had, incidentally, breathed his last on August 1, 1920.)

September 1920

•            At a special session in Calcutta, the Congress approved a non-cooperation programme till the Punjab and Khilafat wrongs were removed and swaraj was established.

The programme was to include—

•            boycott of government schools and colleges

•            boycott of law courts and dispensation of justice through panchayats instead

•            boycott of legislative councils

•            boycott of foreign cloth and use of khadi instead; also practice of hand-spinning to be done

•            renunciation of government honours and titles; the second phase could include mass civil disobedience including resignation from government service, and non-payment of taxes.

December 1920

•            At the Nagpur session of the Indian National Congress—

(i)          The programme of non-cooperation was endorsed.

(ii)         An important change was made in the Congress creed: now, instead of having the attainment of self-government through constitutional means as its goal, the Congress decided to have the attainment of swaraj through peaceful and legitimate means, thus committing itself to an extra-constitutional mass struggle.

(iii)        Some important organisational changes were made: a congress working committee (CWC) of 15 members was set up to lead the Congress from now onwards; provincial congress committees on linguistic basis were organised

(iv)        Gandhi declared that if the non-cooperation programme was implemented completely, swaraj would be ushered in within a year.

•            The adoption by the Congress of the non-cooperation movement initiated earlier by the Khilafat Committee gave it a new energy, and the years 1921 and 1922 saw an unprecedented popular upsurge.

Spread of the Movement

•            Gandhi accompanied by the Ali brothers undertook a nationwide tour.

•            Thousands of students left government schools and colleges and joined around 800 national schools and colleges which cropped up during this time.

•            These educational institutions were organised under the leadership of Acharya Narendra Dev, C.R. Das, Lala Lajpat Rai, Zakir Hussain, Subhash Bose and included Jamia Millia at Aligarh, Kashi Vidyapeeth, Gujarat Vidyapeeth and Bihar Vidyapeeth.

•            Many lawyers gave up their practice, some of whom were Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, C.R. Das, C. Rajagopalachari, Vallabhbhai Patel, Asaf Ali, and Rajendra Prasad.

•            Heaps of foreign cloth were burnt publicly and their imports fell by half. Picketing of shops selling foreign liquor and of toddy shops was undertaken at many places.

•            The Tilak Swaraj Fund was oversubscribed and one crore rupees collected.

•            Congress volunteer corps emerged as the parallel police.

•            In Assam, strikes in tea plantations, steamer services and Assam-Bengal Railways had been organised. J.M. Sengupta was a prominent leader in these strikes.

•            In November 1921, the visit of the Prince of Wales to India invited strikes and demonstrations.

•            The spirit of defiance and unrest gave rise to many local struggles such as Awadh Kisan Movement (UP), Eka Movement (UP), Mappila Revolt (Malabar) and the Sikh agitation for the removal of mahants in Punjab.

Peoples Response

Business Class

•            The economic boycott received support from the Indian business group because they had benefited from the nationalists’ emphasis on the use of swadeshi.


•            Peasants’ participation was massive. Although the Congress was against class war, the masses broke this restraint.

•            In general, the peasants turned against the landlords and the traders.

•            The movement gave an opportunity to the toiling masses to express their real feelings against the British as well as against their Indian masters and oppressors (landlords and traders).


•            Students became active volunteers of the movement and thousands of them left government schools and colleges and joined national schools and colleges.

•            The newly opened national institutions like the Kashi Vidyapeeth, the Gujarat Vidyapeeth and the Jamila Milia Islamia and others accommodated many students.


•            Women gave up purdah and offered their ornaments for the Tilak Fund.

•            They joined the movement in large numbers and took active part in picketing before the shops selling foreign cloth and liquor.

Hindu-Muslim Unity

•            The massive participation of Muslims and the maintenance of communal unity were great achievements.

•            Gandhi and other leaders addressed the Muslim masses from mosques, and Gandhi was even allowed to address meetings of Muslim women in which he was the only male who was not blind-folded.

Government Response

•            In December, the government came down heavily on the protestors.

•            Volunteer corps were declared illegal, public meetings were banned, the press was gagged and most of the leaders barring Gandhi were arrested.

The Last Phase of the Movement

•     On February 1, 1922 Gandhi threatened to launch civil disobedience from Bardoli (Gujarat) if

  • political prisoners were not released, and
  • press controls were not removed.

•            The movement had hardly begun before it was brought to an abrupt end.

Chauri Chaura Incident

•            A small sleepy village named Chauri-Chaura (Gorakhpur district in United Provinces) has found a place in history books due to an incident of violence on February 5, 1922 which was to prompt Gandhi to withdraw the movement.

•            The police here had beaten up the leader of a group of volunteers campaigning against liquor sale and high food prices, and then opened fire on the crowd which had come to protest before the police station.

•            The agitated crowd torched the police station with policemen inside who had taken shelter there; those who tried to flee were hacked to death and thrown back into the fire. 22 policemen were killed in the violence.

•            Gandhi, not happy with the increasingly violent trend of the movement, immediately announced the withdrawal of the movement.

•            The Congress Working Committee met at Bardoli in February 1922 and resolved to stop all activity that led to breaking of the law and to get down to constructive work, instead, which was to include popularisation of khadi, national schools, and campaigning for temperance, for Hindu-Muslim unity and against untouchability.

•            Most of the nationalist leaders including C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru, Subhash Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, however, expressed their bewilderment at Gandhi’s decision to withdraw the movement.

Why Gandhi Withdrew the Movement

•            Gandhi felt that people had not learnt or fully understood the method of non-violence. Incidents like Chauri-Chaura could lead to the kind of excitement and fervour that would turn the movement to become generally violent.

•            A violent movement could be easily suppressed by the colonial regime who would make the incidents of violence an excuse for using the armed might of the State against the protestors.

•            The movement was also showing signs of fatigue. This was natural as it is not possible to sustain any movement at a high pitch for very long. The government seemed to be in no mood for negotiations.

•            The central theme of the agitation—the Khilafat question—also dissipated soon. In November 1922, the people of Turkey rose under Mustafa Kamal Pasha and deprived the sultan of political power. Turkey was made a secular state. Thus, the Khilafat question lost its relevance. In 1924, the caliphate was abolished.

Evaluation of Khilafat Non-Cooperation Movement

•            The movement brought the urban Muslims into the national movement, but at the same time it communalised the national politics, to an extent.

•            With the Non-Cooperation Movement, nationalist sentiments reached every nook and corner of the country and politicised every strata of population—the artisans, peasants, students, urban poor, women, traders, etc.

•            Colonial rule was based on two myths—one, that such a rule was in the interest of Indians and two, that it was invincible.

o            The first myth had been exploded by the economic critique by Moderate nationalists.

o            The second myth had been challenged by satyagraha through mass struggle.

•            Now, the masses lost the hitherto all-pervasive fear of the colonial rule and its mighty repressive organs.

Swarajists and No-Changers

Genesis of Congress-Khilafat Swarajya Party

•            After Gandhi’s arrest (March 1922), there was disintegration, disorganisation and demoralisation among nationalist ranks. A debate started among Congressmen on what to do during the transition period, i.e., the passive phase of the movement.

•            One section led by C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru and Ajmal Khan wanted an end to the boycott of legislative councils so that the nationalists could enter them to expose the basic weaknesses of these assemblies and use these councils as an arena of political struggle to arouse popular enthusiasm.

•            Those advocating entry into legislative councils came to be known as the ‘Swarajists’, while the other school of thought led by C. Rajagopalachari, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad and M.A. Ansari came to be known as the ‘No-changers’.

•            The ‘No-changers’ opposed council entry, advocated concentration on constructive work, and continuation of boycott and non-cooperation, and quiet preparation for resumption of the suspended civil disobedience programme.

•            The differences over the question of council entry between the two schools of thought resulted in the defeat of the Swarajists’ proposal of ‘ending or mending’ the councils at the Gaya session of the Congress (December 1922).

•            C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru resigned from the presidentship and secretaryship respectively of the Congress and announced the formation of Congress-Khilafat Swarajya Party or simply Swarajist Party, with C.R. Das as the president and Motilal Nehru as one of the secretaries.

The Swarajist Manifesto for Elections

Released in October 1923, the Swarajist manifesto took a strong anti-imperialist line.

The points put forward were as follows.

•            The so-called reforms by the British were only a blind to further the said interests under the pretence of granting a responsible government, the real objective being to continue exploitation of the unlimited resources of the country by keeping Indians permanently in a subservient position to Britain

•            The Swarajists would present the nationalist demand of self-government in councils;

•            If this demand was rejected, they would adopt a policy of uniform, continuous and consistent obstruction within the councils to make governance through councils impossible

•            Councils would thus be wrecked from within by creating deadlocks on every measure

Gandhi’s Attitude

•            Gandhi was initially opposed to the Swarajist proposal of council entry. But after his release from prison on health grounds in February 1924, he gradually moved towards a reconciliation with the Swarajists.

•            He felt public opposition to the programme of council entry would be counter-productive.

•            In the November 1923 elections, the Swarajists had managed to win 42 out of 141 elected seats and a clear majority in the provincial assembly of Central Provinces.

•            The courageous and uncompromising manner in which the Swarajists functioned convinced him that they would not become just another limb of colonial administration.

•            There was a government crackdown on revolutionary terrorists and the Swarajists towards the end of 1924; this angered Gandhi and he expressed his solidarity with the Swarajists by surrendering to their wishes.

•            Both sides came to an agreement in 1924 (endorsed at the Belgaum session of the Congress in December 1924 over which Gandhi—the only time—presided over the Congress session) that the Swarajists would work in the councils as an integral part of the Congress.

Swarajist Activity in Councils

•            Gradually, the Swarajist position had weakened because of widespread communal riots, and a split among Swarajists themselves on communal and Responsivist-Non-responsivist lines. The death of C.R. Das in 1925 weakened it further.

•            The Responsivists among Swarajists—Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malaviya and N.C. Kelkar—advocated cooperation with the government and holding of office wherever possible.

•            Besides they also wanted to protect the so-called Hindu interests. The communal elements accused leaders like Motilal Nehru, who did not favour joining the council, of being anti-Hindu even as Muslim communalists called the Swarajists anti-Muslim.

•            Thus, the main leadership of the Swarajist Party reiterated faith in mass civil disobedience and withdrew from legislatures in March 1926, while another section of Swarajists went into the 1926 elections as a party in disarray, and did not fare well on the whole.

•            In 1930, the Swarajists finally walked out as a result of the Lahore Congress resolution on purna swaraj and the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement.


(i)          With coalition partners, they out-voted the government several times, even on matters relating to budgetary grants, and passed adjournment motions.

(ii)         They agitated through powerful speeches on self-government, civil liberties and industrialisation.

(iii)        Vithalbhai Patel was elected speaker of Central Legislative Assembly in 1925.

(iv)        A noteworthy achievement was the defeat of the Public Safety Bill in 1928 which was aimed at empowering the Government to deport undesirable and subversive foreigners (because the Government was alarmed by the spread of socialist and communist ideas and believed that a crucial role was being played by the British and other foreign activists being sent by the Commintern)

(v)         By their activities, they filled the political vacuum at a time when the national movement was recouping its strength.

(vi)        They exposed the hollowness of the Montford scheme.

(vii)       They demonstrated that the councils could be used creatively.

Revolutionary Activity During the 1920s

Major Influences

(i)          Upsurge of working class trade unionism after the War; the revolutionaries wanted to harness the revolutionary potential of the new emergent class for nationalist revolution.

(ii)         Russian Revolution (1917) and the success of the young Soviet state in consolidating itself.

(iii)        Newly sprouting communist groups with their emphasis on Marxism, socialism and the proletariat.

(iv)        Journals publishing memoirs and articles extolling the self-sacrifice of revolutionaries, such as Atmasakti, Sarathi and Bijoli.

(v)         Novels and books such as Bandi Jiwan by Sachin Sanyal and Pather Dabi by Sharatchandra Chatterjee

In Punjab-United Provinces-Bihar

•            The revolutionary activity in this region was dominated by the Hindustan Republican Association/Army or HRA (later renamed Hindustan Socialist Republican Association or HSRA).

•            The HRA was founded in October 1924 in Kanpur by Ramprasad Bismil, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee and Sachin Sanyal, with an aim to organise an armed revolution to overthrow the colonial government and establish in its place the Federal Republic of United States of India whose basic principle would be adult franchise.

Kakori Robbery (August 1925)

•            The most important action of the HRA was the Kakori robbery.

•            The men held up the 8-Down train at Kakori, an obscure village near Lucknow, and looted its official railway cash.

•            Government crackdown after the Kakori robbery led to arrests of many, of whom 17 were jailed, four transported for life and four—Bismil, Ashfaqullah, Roshan Singh and Rajendra Lahiri—were hanged.


•            Determined to overcome the Kakori setback, the younger revolutionaries, inspired by socialist ideas, set out to reorganise Hindustan Republic Association at a historic meeting in the ruins of Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi in September 1928.

•            Under the leadership of Chandra Shekhar Azad, the name of HRA was changed to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA).

•            The participants included Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Bhagwaticharan Vohra from Punjab and Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Shiv Verma and Jaidev Kapur from the United Provinces.

•            The HSRA decided to work under a collective leadership and adopted socialism as its official goal.

Saunders’ Murder (Lahore, December 1928)

•            Just when the HSRA revolutionaries had begun to move away from individual heroic action, the death of Sher-i-Punjab Lala Lajpat Rai due to lathi blows received during a lathi- charge on an anti-Simon Commission procession in October 1928  led them once again to take to individual assassination.

•            Bhagat Singh, Azad and Rajguru shot dead Saunders, the police official responsible for the lathi-charge, in Lahore.

Bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly (April 1929)

•            The HSRA leadership now decided to let the people know about its changed objectives and the need for a revolution by the masses.

•            Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were asked to throw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly on April 8, 1929 to protest against the passage of the Public Safety Bill and Trade Disputes Bill aimed at curtailing civil liberties of citizens in general and workers in particular.

•            The bombs had been deliberately made harmless and were aimed at making ‘the deaf hear’.

•            The objective was to get arrested and to use the trial court as a forum for propaganda so that people would become familiar with their movement and ideology.

Action against the Revolutionaries

•            Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were tried in the Lahore conspiracy case. Many other revolutionaries were tried in a series of other cases.

•            In jail, these revolutionaries protested against the horrible conditions through fasting, and demanded honourable and decent treatment as political prisoners.

•            Jatin Das became the first martyr on the 64th day of his fast.

•            The defence of these young revolutionaries was organised by Congress leaders.

•            Azad was involved in a bid to blow up Viceroy Irwin’s train near Delhi in December 1929. He was killed in a police encounter in a park in Allahabad in February 1931.

•            Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged on March 23, 1931.

In Bengal

Chittagong Armoury Raid (April 1930)

•            Surya Sen had participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement and had become a teacher in the national school in Chittagong. He was the secretary of the Chittagong District Congress Committee.

•            Surya Sen decided to organise an armed rebellion along with his associates—Anant Singh, Ganesh Ghosh and Lokenath Baul—to show that it was possible to challenge the armed might of the mighty British Empire.

•            They had planned to occupy two main armouries in Chittagong to seize and supply arms to the revolutionaries to destroy telephone and telegraph lines and to dislocate the railway link of Chittagong with the rest of Bengal.

•            The raid was conducted in April 1930 and involved 65 activists under the banner of Indian Republican Army—Chittagong Branch.

•            The raid was quite successful; Sen hoisted the national flag, took salute and proclaimed a provisional revolutionary government. Later, they dispersed into neighbouring villages and raided government targets.

•            Surya Sen was arrested in February 1933 and hanged in January 1934, but the Chittagong raid fired the imagination of the revolutionary-minded youth and recruits poured into the revolutionary groups in a steady stream.

Aspects of the New Phase of Revolutionary

Movement in Bengal

Some noteworthy aspects were as follows.

• There was a large-scale participation of young women especially under Surya Sen. These women provided shelter, carried messages and fought with guns in hand. Prominent women revolutionaries in Bengal during this phase included Pritilata Waddedar, who died conducting a raid; Kalpana Dutt who was arrested and tried along with Surya Sen and given a life sentence; Santi Ghosh and Suniti Chandheri, school girls of Comilla, who shot dead the district magistrate. (December 1931); and Bina Das who fired point blank at the governor while receiving her degree at the convocation (February 1932).

•            There was an emphasis on group action aimed at organs of the colonial State, instead of individual action. The objective was to set an example before the youth and to demoralise the bureaucracy.