During 1920-21 the Indian National Movement entered a new phase in a phase of mass politics and mass mobilization.
The British rule was opposed through two mass movements, Khilafat and Non-cooperation Movement. Though emerging out of separate issues both these movements adopted a common programme of action. The technique of nonviolent struggle was adopted a national level.
The background and the circumstances for the merger of the two movements were provided by the impact of the First World War, the Rowlett Act, the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre’ and the Montage Chelmsford Reforms. During the First World War, the prices of daily commodities increased sharply and the most sufferers were the common people. The volume of imports which declined during the World War increased towards the end of the war.
As a result, the Indian industries suffered, production fell, many factories were closed and the workers became its natural victims. The peasantry was also under the heavy burden of rents and taxes. So, the economic situation of the country in the post-war years became alarming.
In the political fired the Nationalists were disillusioned when the British did not keep their promise of bringing in a new era of democracy and self determination for the people. This strengthened the anti-British attitude of the Indians.
The next important landmark of this period was the passing of the Rowlett Act in March 1919. This act empowered the Government to imprison any person without trial and conviction in a court of law. Its basic aim was to imprison the nationalists without giving them the opportunity to defend themselves. Gandhi decided to oppose it through Satyagraha,
March and April 1919 witnessed remarkable political awakenings in India. There were hurtles and demonstrations against the Rowlett Act.
The same period witnessed the noted brutality of the British imperialists at Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar, as unarmed but large crowd gathered on 13 April 1919 at Jalianwala Bagh to protest against arrest of their popular leaders.
General Dyer. The military commander of Amritsar ordered his troops to open fire without warning on the unarmed crowd, in a park from which there was no way out. Thousands were killed and wounded. This shocked the whole world. The famous poet Robindranath Tagore renounced his knighthood in protest.
The introduction of another constitutional reform Act which is known as the Government of India Act, 1919 further disillusioned the nationalists the reform proposals failed to satisfy the rising demand of the Indian for self government. The majority of leaders condemned it as “disappointing and unsatisfactory”.
All these development prepared the ground for a popular upsurge against the British Government. The Khilafat issue gave an added advantage to get the Muslim support and the final touch to it was given by Gandhi’s leadership.
During the World War I, Turkey allied with Germany and Austria against the British. The Indian Muslims regarded the Sultan of Turkey as their spiritual leader Khalifa, so naturally their sympathies were with Turkey. After the war, the British removed the Khalifa from power in Turkey. Hence, the Muslims started the Khilafat movement in India for restoration of the Khalifa’s position. Their main demands were:
(a) Khalifa control should be retained over Muslim sacred places; and
(b) In territorial adjustments after the war, the Khalifa should be left with sufficient territories.
In early 1919, a Khilafat committee was formed in Bombay. The actions were confined to meeting, petitions, and demonstrations in favour of the Khalifa.
However there soon emerged a militant trend within the movement. The leaders of this trend were not satisfied with a moderate approach. They advocated for the first time at an All India Khilafat Conference in Delhi 1919, Non-cooperation with the British Government in India.
It was in this conference that Hazrat Mohani made a call for boycott of the British goods. The Khilafat leadership clearly spelt out that in care the peace terms after the war were unfavourable to Muslims they would stop all cooperation with the Government.
In April 1920 Shaukat Ali warned the British that in case the Government failed to pacify Indian Muslims, we would start a joint Hindu-Muslim movement of non-cooperation. Shaukat Ali further stressed that the movement would start under the guidance of Mahatma Gandhi, a man who commands the respect of both Hindu and Muslims.
The Khilafat issue was not directly linked with the politics in India, but the Khilafat leaders were eager in enlisting the support of Hindus. Gandhi saw, in this an opportunity to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity against the British. But, in spite of his support to the Khilafat issue and being the president of the All India Khilafat Committee, Gandhi till May 1920 had adopted a moderate approach.
However, the publication of the terms of the Treaty of Serve with Turkey which were very harsh towards Turkey and the publication of the Hunter Committee Report on Punjab disturbances in May 1920 unformatted the Indians and Gandhi now took an open position.
The Central Khilafat Committee met at Allahabad in June 1920. The meeting was attended by a number of congress and Khilafat leaders. In this meeting, a programme of non-cooperation towards the Government was declared. This was to include
(a) Boycott of all tolls confined by the government;
(b) Boycott of civil services, army and police. All government jobs; and
(c) Non-payment of taxes to the government.
August 1st 1920 was fixed as the date to start the movement. Gandhiji insisted that unless the Punjab and Khilafat wrongs were undone, there was to be non-cooperation with the government. However, for the services of the movement, congress support was essential.
Therefore, Gandhi’s efforts were now to make the congress adopt the non-cooperation programme. Thi8s be got successfully done at Calcutta session of the congress. The movements theirs came to merge. The congress met in a special session at Calcutta in September 1920 and endorsed Gandhi’s plan for non- cooperation with government ill the Punjab and Khilafat wrongs were removed and Swaraj established.
The Khilafat agitation had made an important contribution to the non-cooperation movement. However, congress is interested for mixing religion with politics. As a result, it is said, religious consciousness spread to politics and in the long run fires of communalism were strengthened. This is true to an extent. There was of course, nothing wrong in the nationalist movement taking up a demand that affected Muslims only. The nationalist leadership however failed to some extent in raising the religious political consciousness of Muslims to the higher plane.