History of the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-22): Causes, Consequences, and Significance
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948) entered the Indian political scene as a layman in 1916 but by 1919 had emerged as one of the most important national leaders. His unique political ideas emanating from Gandhian spiritual beliefs changed Indian politics and played an important role in awakening the political consciousness of the general public.
Many subsequent movements launched under Gandhi’s leadership focused on his core political ideologies of satyagraha and nonviolence and played an important role in uniting people to fight for India’s independence.
The Non-Cooperation Movement (1920–22) was the first of the three most important movements of India’s struggle for independence – the other two being the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Quit India Movement. The Non-Cooperation Movement was perhaps the biggest event in the history of India’s freedom struggle since the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. The movement was started as a protest against the Rowlatt Act, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, and the Khilafat Movement. ,
Reasons for the non-cooperation movement
Gandhi entered the Indian political arena around 1916 (Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in 1915) and initially, his ideals relied on the fairness of British rule. Before entering the full-fledged political scene, he was involved in semi-political causes such as the demand for fair wages for the farmers of the Champaran district of Bihar, the farmers of the Kheda district of Gujarat, and the textile workers of Ahmedabad.
In the spirit of his sympathy for the government, he advocated the recruitment of volunteers as soldiers to fight on the British side in World War I. Like other contemporary political figures, he assumed that after the war, the people of India would move swiftly towards self-government.
His assumption proved to be wrong when the British government implemented the Rowlatt Act and ignored the demands put forth by the Khilafat Movement. Events such as the imposition of martial law in Punjab, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the failure of the Montague-Chelmsford reforms, and the annexation of Turkey by the British after the Treaty of Sèvres in May 1920 provoked widespread resentment among the people of India and across all classes.
Rowlatt Act 1919
In the year 1919, the British government passed a new law called the Rowlatt Act. Under this Act, the government had the power to arrest any Indian and keep them in prison without trial if they were suspected of anti-state activities. The government also gained the power to stop newspapers from reporting and printing news.
Gandhi not only strongly condemned the bill but also warned the British government that the nation would not abide by any such act which would deprive the masses of civil rights. Gandhi said……
“When the Rowlatt Bills were published, I thought they were so restrictive of human liberty that they should be opposed to the utmost. I also observed that the opposition to them is universal among Indians. I submit that any State, No matter how despotic, has no right to make laws that are prejudicial to the body or the people as a whole, much less a government guided by constitutional practice and precedent like the Government of India.
All India strike called by Gandhi
In protest against the Rowlatt Act, Gandhi urged the people to organize an all-India strike on 6 April 1919. The unanimous success of this program led to many more demonstrations and agitations across the country. Punjab became the epicenter of violent turmoil, with minor riots breaking out and the government taking drastic measures to contain the growing unrest.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
Protests against the Rowlatt Act reached a climax when soldiers of the British Indian Army under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer opened fire on a crowd of non-violent protesters, including Baisakhi pilgrims, who had gathered at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab. Implementation of martial law in Punjab. No other incident in the history of modern India aroused so much hostility towards the British Government as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
Frustrated with the British policies against Turkey, Indian Muslims started the Khilafat Movement which became the inspiration for the Non-Cooperation Movement. Although not directly associated with Indian mainstream politics, the movement, led by Indian Muslim leaders, aimed to establish the Sultan of Turkey as the Caliph of Islam after World War I with due respect and territorial control. To maintain it, the pressure was to be created on the British.
The distorted terms of the peace treaty that the British signed with Turkey were interpreted by many Indian Muslim leaders as a betrayal of a promise made by the British. The news of the peace treaty reached India on the same day that the Hunter Committee Report on the Causes of the Massacre in Punjab and the Discourse of the Government was published.
Both incidents intensified widespread discontent against the British government. In a letter to the Viceroy, Gandhi referred to the Khilafat and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, explaining how it changed his view of the government’s intentions in India. He has written……
“The attitude of the British Government and Her Majesty’s Government in England on the question of the Jallianwala incident has turned me against the English Raj… This heinous incident has been taken very lightly by the Government, Sir Michael O’Dwyer, and Mr Montagu, and The most shameful ignorance of Punjab events and the blatant disregard for the feelings of the betrayed Indians by the House of Lords has filled me with grave apprehensions about the future of the Empire, has made me completely alienated from the present Government and I am inclined to tender Disqualified, as I have given my faithful co-operation till now.
The Calcutta session of the Congress and the resolution of non-cooperation
In September 1920, a special session of the Congress was held in Calcutta under the presidentship of Lala Lajpat Rai, to take action against such gross corruption of human rights. The British government was criticized and condemned for its inability to protect innocent people in Punjab and for not keeping its promise on the Khilafat issue. Several resolutions were passed by the delegates, and the objective of the Indian National Congress was now declared to be the attainment of self-rule – Swaraj – by legitimate and peaceful means. Swaraj was taken as “self-rule within the Empire, if possible without, if necessary”.
Non-cooperation movement program
Soon after the start of the movement, Gandhi traveled to different regions of India, explaining the ideology and programs aimed at reaching people from all strata of society. They organized rallies and held public meetings to garner public support and mobilize their ideals among the masses in favor of the movement. The outline of the programs of the movement is as follows:
1. Abandon all British titles.
2. Renunciation of honorary offices.
3. Withdrawal of students from schools and colleges funded by the English Government.
4. Boycott of British courts by lawyers and litigants.
5. Boycott of civil services, army, and police.
6. Non-payment of taxes to the government.
7. Boycott of council elections.
8. Boycott of foreign goods.
9. Resignation from government-nominated posts in local bodies.
Phases of the Non-Cooperation Movement
The Non-Cooperation Movement can be divided into four distinct phases from its beginning in January 1920 till its abrupt end in February 1922.
In the first phase (January–March 1920), Gandhi undertook a nationwide tour with the Ali brothers (Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali) to publicize their ideals and resolutions behind the movement. Thousands of students left government schools and colleges. About 800 native schools and colleges were opened to accommodate the students.
The educational boycott was most successful in Bengal. Lala Lajpat Rai was leading it in Punjab. Motilal Nehru, C.R. Das, Jawaharlal Nehru, C. Raj Gopalachari, Vallabhbhai Patel, Saifuddin Kitchlew, Asaf Ali, Rajendra Prasad and T. Prakasam, many eminent and established lawyers left the legal profession. Students, intellectuals, and other influential heads of society were urged to start the Charkha program to promote nationalist products.
During the second phase (April–July 1921), donations were collected for the “Tilak Swaraj Fund” to finance the movement with a target of one crore rupees. The general public was encouraged to become a member of Congress. The fund was oversubscribed and Rs 1 crore was deposited, but the target subscription was only 50 lakhs. Charkha (spinning wheel) was distributed among the masses. The Swadeshi concept became a household word. Khadi and Charkha became symbols of freedom.
In the third phase (July-November 1921) the agitation became more violent. The foreign cloth was publicly burnt and their imports were halved. People picketed foreign liquor and toddy shops.
All India Khilafat Conference 8 July 1921
The All India Khilafat Conference was held in Karachi on 8 July 1921, where the leaders called upon Muslim soldiers in the British Indian Army to quit their jobs. Furthermore, Gandhi and other Congress leaders also emphasized that it is the duty of every Indian citizen and soldier to break ties with the oppressive power.
Gandhi called for volunteers to fill the jail. The Khilafat Conference in Malabar incited such communal feelings among the Muslim peasants (Moplahs) that it took an anti-Hindu turn in July 1921. This revolt of the Muslim peasants against the Hindu landlords came to be known as the Mopla revolt.
The visit of the Duke of Connaught to India was boycotted. Similarly, in November 1921, there were massive demonstrations against the Prince of Wales during his visit to India. The British government resorted to harsh measures of repression. Many leaders were arrested. Congress and Khilafat committees were declared illegal.
In the fourth and final phase of the movement (November 1921–February 1922), citizens chose not to pay taxes in many areas. In December 1921, the Congress at its annual session in Ahmedabad reaffirmed its resolve to intensify the movement. On 1 February 1922, in a letter to the Governor General, Gandhi spoke of non-payment of taxes. Gandhi threatened to start civil disobedience from Bardoli in Gujarat if the government did not release political prisoners and lift the press control imposed by the Rowlatt Act.
Chauri-Chaura incident on 5 February 1922 and the end of the non-cooperation movement
Barely a few days after the correspondence between Gandhi and the British government, the Chauri-Chaura incident took place in Gorakhpur on 5 February 1922. An angry mob of farmers attacked the police station of Chaura near Gorakhpur in UP and killed about 22 policemen. This violent incident unsettled Gandhi and he ordered the immediate suspension of the movement (11 February 1922). Most of the leaders were unhappy with Gandhi’s sudden decision to suspend the movement but accepted it with respect.
Results of the non-cooperation movement
The non-cooperation movement was a definite success in spite of its abrupt end. The movement united the country in an unprecedented feat of protest against the government.
In the first few weeks of the agitations, around 9,000 students had left government-aided schools and colleges. Acharya Narendra Dev, C.R. Das, Zakir Hussain, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Subhash Bose, around 800 national institutions were established across the country to accommodate the students. Famous institutions like Jamia Millia, Kashi Vidyapeeth, Gujarat Vidyapeeth, and Bihar Vidyapeeth were established in Aligarh during this period.
The educational boycott was most successful in Bengal followed by Punjab. Areas of Bihar, Bombay, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, and Assam also witnessed active participation in the programs. The impact of the movement was also seen in Madras.
The boycott of educational institutions was more successful than the boycott of law courts by lawyers. Many prominent lawyers like C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru, M.R. Jayakar, V. Patel, A. Khan, Saifuddin Kitchlew, and many others gave up their flourishing law practice, which inspired many more to do the same.
Once again, Bengal led by example, and it inspired other states like Uttar Pradesh, Andhra, Punjab, and Karnataka. The boycott of law courts and educational institutions performed well but the most successful program of non-cooperation was the boycott of foreign cloth. It brought down the value of import of foreign cloth from Rs 102 crores in 1920-21 to Rs 57 crores in 1921-22.
The government announced sections 108 and 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code at various centers of the movement. The dead body of a Congress volunteer was declared invalid. By December 1921, more than thirty thousand people were arrested from all over India. Most of the prominent leaders were inside the jail except Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. In mid-December, Madan Mohan Malviya started talks with the British but it proved futile. The conditions laid down by the British meant sacrificing the Khilafat leaders, which was unacceptable to Gandhi.
Gandhi’s sudden decision to call off the movement drew discontent from leaders such as Subhash Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru who openly expressed their dismay. He argued that the movement which had received sufficient enthusiastic participation from the public against the British government should have been allowed to reach its culmination.
They feared that the discontent and protests could turn into violent protests that could lead to widespread riots in the country. Although his opinion that Gandhi’s decision would set back the freedom movement by several years was justified, one cannot ignore the arguments that Gandhi put forth along the lines of his own morality.
Gandhi firmly believed that violence such as the Chauri Chaura incident symbolized a deviation from the ideals behind the entire movement, which if allowed would see the movement spin out of control and be rendered useless against the mighty military force to crush the British government. Will go with This.
After the suspension of the movement, the government decided to deal firmly with Gandhi. He was immediately arrested on 10 March 1922. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment and sent to Yerwada Central Jail in Poona.
The Non-Cooperation Resolution received a mixed response from the national leaders. While people like Motilal Nehru and the Ali brothers supported Gandhi’s proposal, it met with opposition from prominent figures like Annie Besant, Madan Mohan Malaviya, and C.R. Slave. They feared that large-scale mass action against the British government would lead to large-scale violence, as had happened during the protests against the Rowlatt Act.
Importance of non-cooperation movement
Even though the non-cooperation movement could not achieve its declared goals, the strategic and leadership role of Mahatma Gandhi gave new dimensions to India’s freedom struggle. The biggest advantage of this movement was that it instilled new confidence in the common people and taught them to be fearless in their political activities.
Mahatma Gandhi made the idea and necessity of Swarajya a more popular notion, which in turn; A new wave of patriotic enthusiasm was created. Protest through satyagraha or passive resistance became the primary means of the Indian independence movement.
The promotion of the Charkha and Khadi as a symbol of Indian nationalism helped Indian handloom products gain recognition. Native weavers got fresh employment. Gandhi’s most important contribution to the Non-Cooperation Movement and the Indian National Movement was the unanimous unification of the entire country behind a single cause.