Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22)

Gandhiji by this time, was convinced that no useful purpose would be served by supporting the government. He was also emboldened by his earlier success in Bihar In the light of the past events and the actions of British government, he decided to launch a nationwide satyagraha against the proposed Rowlatt Act in 1919.

He threatened to start the non-cooperation movement in case the government failed to accept his demands. Gandhiji protested against the Act because the Act gave the government enormous powers to repress political activities and allowed detention of political prisoners without any trial for two years. Gandhiji wanted non violent civil disobedience against such unjust laws.

The government paid no heed to it. Gandhiji, therefore, started his non-cooperation movement in August 1920, in which he appealed to the people not to cooperate with the British government. At this time, the Khilafat movement started by the Muslims and the Non-cooperation movement led by Gandhi merged into one common confrontation against the British Government.

For this Gandhi laid down an elaborate programme:

  • Surrender of titles and honorary offices as well as 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
  • Refusal on the part of the military, clerical and labouring classes to offer themselves as recruits for service in Mesopotamia
  • Boycott of elections to the legislative council by candidates and voters
  • Boycott of foreign goods and National schools and colleges

Later, it was supplemented with a constructive programme which had three principal features:

  1. Promotion of ‘Swadeshi’, particularly hand-spinning and weaving
  2. Removal of untouchability among Hindus
  3. Promotion of Hindu-Muslim unity

Due to this appeal of Gandhiji, an unusual frenzy overtook the country. A large number of people, dropping their differences, took part in this movement. Over two-thirds of the voters abstained from taking part in the elections to the Council, held in November, 1920. Thousands of students and teachers left their schools and colleges and new Indian educational centers were started by them. Lawyers like Moti Lal Nehru, C. R. Das, C. Rajagopalachari and Asif Ali boycotted the courts. Legislative Assemblies were also boycotted. Foreign goods were boycotted and the clothes were put on bonfire.

But, during this movement some incidents took place that did not match with the views of Gandhiji. The non-violent Non-Cooperation Movement, which started
auspiciously, was marked by violence in August, 1921. The government started taking serious action. Prominent leaders were arrested. In two months, nearly 30,000 people were imprisoned.

The outbreak of violence cautioned Gandhi. Mob violence took place on February 9, 1922, at Chauri Chaura village, in Gorakhpur district of UP. This was followed by more violence at Bareilly. Gandhi suspended his non-cooperation on February 14, 1922. He was arrested at Ahmadabad on March 18, 1922, and sentenced to six years simple imprisonment.

The non-cooperation movement failed to achieve success, yet it succeeded to prepare a platform for the future movements. After taking back the Non-Cooperation movement, Gandhiji and his followers were busy in creative activities in village areas. By this he gave the message to the people to remove the cast based animosity.

C. R. Das, Motilal Nehru and other like minded persons hatched out a novel plan of non-cooperation from within the reformed councils. They formed the Swaraj Party on January 01, 1923. C. R. Das was the president of the party and Motilal Nehru the Secretary. The party was described as ‘a party within the Congress’ and not a rival organisation.

But, they could neither end nor amend the Act of 1919. In 1927, British government appointed a commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon. The Commission was appointed to study the reforms of 1919 and suggest further measures for Constitutional reforms. The Commission had no Indian member in it. The Indians boycotted this all-White commission.

Therefore, when this Commission arrived in India, it faced protests all over the country. Black flags were shown, demonstrations and Hartals took place all over the country and the cry of ‘Simon go back’ was heard. These demonstrators were lathi charged at a number of places by the British Police. Lala Lajpat Rai was severely assaulted by the police and he succumbed to his injuries. This agitation against the Simon Commission gave a new strength to the National Movement of India.

Meanwhile, Indian political leaders were busy in drafting a Constitution. This is known as Nehru Report which formed the outline of the Constitution. Among its important recommendations were a declaration of rights, a parliamentary system of government, adult franchise and an independent judiciary with a supreme court at its head.

Most of its recommendations formed the basis of the Constitution of independent India which was adopted more than twenty years later. At the historic annual session of Congress in Lahore in 1929, the Congress committed itself to a demand for Purna Swaraj or complete independence and issued a call to the country to celebrate 26th January as Purna-Swaraj Day.

On January 26, 1930, the Congress celebrated ‘Independence Day’. On the same day in 1950 the Constitution of Independent India was adopted, making India a sovereign, democratic socialist republic. Since then January 26th is celebrated as Republic Day.