Non-Violent Non-Cooperation

Martial law was imposed in Punjab after the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. Inhuman treatment was meted out to Indians e.g. men were made to crawl on their bellies in the bylane where a European woman had been attacked. Although the Rowlatt satyagraha had been withdrawn, the feeling of resentment toward British rule grew even more bitter.

The Montague Chelmsford reforms of 1919 frustrated the hopes of those who still had any faith in the colonial government’s intention for bringing about reforms enabling Indians to participate in the government.

At this juncture a large group of enlightened Muslim leaders emerged and they had a special reason for discontent with the British government. The Muslims were offended by the insensitive treatment of Turkey after the First World War. Muslims all over the world regarded the Caliph of Turkey as their spiritual leader and they had been assured that the Caliph will be treated leniently after the defeat of Turkey and its allies in the War. However in the post war treaty with Turkey the powers of the Caliph were severely curtailed.

Matters came to a head when the Hunter Committee that was appointed by the government to look into the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy submitted its report. In this report they upheld the action of General Dyer and all other kinds of repression. This report enraged all the Indian leaders and the moment was ripe for the next movement of protest. It was at this time that Gandhi contemplated a non-violent non-cooperation movement.

The non-cooperation movement was an expression of the growing resentment of all classes of the Indian people against oppressive British rule. Gandhi took up three specific points on which the movement was initiated:

  1. the Khilafat wrong
  2. the Punjab wrong
  3. Swaraj

The call for non-cooperation first came from the All India Khilafat Conference at Delhi on 22-23rd November 1919 at the initiative of the Ali brothers (Mohammad and Shaukat). At the Allahabad meeting of the Khilafat Conference, a programme of four-stage non-cooperation was announced - boycott of titles, of the civil services, of the police and army and finally non-payment of taxes.

Thereafter, Gandhi began to urge the members of the Congress to give theirs support to the movement. In the historical Calcutta special session in September, 1920 the Congress adopted a programme of giving up of titles, a boycott of schools, courts and Councils and also boycott of foreign goods. This boycott would be side by side with the establishment of national schools and courts to resolve matters without taking recourse to the judicial system of the government and the adoption of khadi.

In the Nagpur Congress of December 1920, veteran Congress leader of Bengal Chittaranjan Das lent his support to the movement. Although the movement was formally initiated on 1st August 1920, the Congress leaders support gave a new impetus to it and from January 1921, it gained great strength. Within a month a large number of students left government aided schools and colleges and joined national institutions that had been started in different parts of the country.

Several well-established lawyers like CR Das, Motilal Nehru, Saifuddin Kichhlu, Vallabhbhai Patel, C Rajagopalachari, Asaf Ali etc, gave up their lucrative practices. This sacrifice inspired the people. Boycott of foreign goods, picketing of shops selling foreign cloth were other forms of protest. Charkhas began to be distributed and handspun cloth became popular among nationalists. Nationalist newspapers held advertisements inviting people to participate in bonfires of foreign goods. The value of cloth exports fell to a great extent. Along with cloth shops there was also for the first time picketing of liquor shops.

To the alarm of the British government Muhammad Ali in July 1921 appealed to all Muslims in the British Indian army and declared that they must consider it morally wrong to be a part of the British army and that they should not continue in it. He was arrested at once. This call was taken up by the Congress and Gandhi. A manifesto was issued calling all men (civilian and soldier) to sever all links with the British Indian army.

In the midst of this the Prince of Wales visited India in November 1921, and was greeted by a hartal in Bombay where he landed and also in the rest of the country. Gandhi addressed a huge meeting on the day of the Prince of Wales’ arrival and anti-British feeling was so strong that a riot situation occurred when the people dispersing from the meeting came across the others who had gone for the welcome procession of the Prince.Gandhi had to go on a four day fast to reduce tension.

The non-cooperation movement was gaining strength progressively. In Midnapur district of Bengal a movement was organized against Union Board taxes and a no-tax movement was also organized in Andhra Pradesh. The refusal to pay taxes under the Gandhian scheme was to be resorted to in the very last and most radical stage of the movement. In the Awadh region of UP the kisan movement was gaining ground through the kisan sabhas which were becoming more organized and a great threat to British rule.

The stand of the colonial government was also becoming more rigid. The fall in cloth exports, the show of resentment from the students, lawyers, government officials, workers, peasants, plantation workers and attempts to influence the army finally led to the adoption of repressive measures against the movement. Public meetings and assemblies were banned, newspapers repressed, and midnight raids were conducted at Congress and Khilafat offices. The Congress under Gandhi’s guidance was beginning to chalk out a programme of civil disobedience at Bardoli. This move was however cut short by a violent incident at Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur district of UP.

A Khilafat and Congress procession on being confronted by some policemen turned violent and attacked the police. The policemen tried to take shelter in the police station, however the enraged mob set fire to it and hacked to death those policemen who came out to escape the fire. Twenty-two policemen were killed. This incident occurred on the 5th of February and on the 12th Gandhi withdrew the non-cooperation movement. This withdrawal proved that at this stage Gandhi did not want to lead a movement which he could not control and it also proved that the nationalists would heed Gandhi’s call, for though there were many who differed from him, no one thought of defying his call for withdrawal.

Within the Congress party there was a difference of opinion between those who wanted to enter the legislative councils through the soon to be held elections; and those who wanted to undertake Gandhian constructive work in villages and preparing for the next step of the struggle. Rajagopalachari, Ansari and others advocated rural constructive work while Motilal Nehru, Vithalbhai Patel and Hakim Ajmal Khan wanted to enter the councils and disrupt the business of the government through creating a deadlock in the system.

Rajendra Prasad and Vallabhbhai Patel supported the former view while CR Das adhered to the latter view. Das and Motilal Nehru set up a Swaraj Party in 1923 to contest the elections. The ‘No-Changers’ as the group of Gandhians was called gained support with the release of Gandhi from jail in 1924.

However the Congressmen could not be prevented from standing in the elections though they were made to acknowledge the importance of constructive work. The Congress candidates did win several seats in the elections held in November 1924 in the Central Provinces and in Bengal. Initial efforts at disrupting the processes of the Councils began, but whatever regulation the members did not allow to be passed was pushed through by the special powers assigned to the Governor exposing the limitations of the system of dyarchy.

Soon the elected members began to lose direction and were slowly beginning to be absorbed in the system. In Bengal, CR Das suddenly passed away causing a leadership problem there. At this stage of the nationalist movement amidst political uncertainties and a lull in the activities under the ‘mainstream’ Congress movement arose a far more radical group of activists in the second phase of the revolutionary movement.