The chief Architect of Non Violent Movement was Mohandas Gandhi, or Mahatma Gandhi. According to Dr. R.C Majumdar, "Gandhi's magic personality and saintly character, which has always a great appeal to the Indian masses, transformed the latent energy of the people into strenuous political activity in an astonishingly short period of time. The two weapons with which Gandhi decided to fight were Non Violent Non Cooperation and Civil Disobedience - the two outward manifestations of the great principle that Gandhi described as Satyagraha." According to Dr. R.C Majumdar in History of Freedom Movement of India Vol 3, "none but a saintly person could really observe it (Satyagraha) in actual life....This was the reason why, as Gandhi himself admitted, even 14 years of trial have failed to yield the anticipated result." Dr. Majumdar continues his blistering attacks, "There is a popular notion, sustained by catching slogans, that Gandhi achieved India's freedom by the method of Satyagraha, and thus laid down for the subject peoples all over the world a unique method for gaining independence without bloodshed." "He (Gandhi) placed the cult of non violence above everything else - even above independence of India." Says Dr. Majumdar, "Gandhi was a dictator who could not tolerate opposition. In 1930 he deliberately excluded from the Working Committee of Congress those who differed from his views." Dr. Majumdar concludes that, "that Gandhi played a very great role in rousing the political consciousness of the masses nobody can possibly deny. But it would be a travesty of truth to give him sole credit for the freedom of India, and sheer nonsense to look upon Satyagraha as the unique weapon by which it was achieved."
Dr. Majumdar emphatically says, "The two great ends of Gandhi’s life, to which even the freedom of India was a subordinate one, were to inculcate in the masses the spirit of non-violence and to bring about unity between the Hindus and Muslims by a change of heart. He failed miserably in both and realized it only too well at the fag end of his life. The cult of non-violence never took root in the hearts of the people." But, Dr. Majumdar also gives due credit, "He (Gandhi) should not be judged merely by the result of his actions, but the high motive that inspired him should also be taken into account."
Emergence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
M.K Gandhi was born in 1869 in Porbandar, in Kathiwawar Peninsula in Gujarat province of India. In 1888 he qualified himself at the bar in England. In 1891 he began to practise in the courts of India but was a complete failure. He was insulted by the English political agent of Kathiawar State. He went to South Africa in 1893 as a lawyer for a firm of the Kathiawar Muslims. He encountered the racial treatment meted out to Indians in White dominated South Africa. He became a political leader and championed the cause of Indians when South African Government wanted to pass a Bill to deprive Indians of their rights. He had enraged the whites by his pamphlet describing the condition of Indians in Natal. He was attacked on his return while he was walking home. However, he formed an Ambulance Corps to help the British during the Boer war and rendered great service. He had hoped that this service would help in reducing the hostility of the Whites towards Indians. He was sorely disappointed as the attacks on Indians only intensified. Yet Gandhi did not learn his lessons. He joined the British Army during the Zulu rebellion of 1906 as he felt that "the British Empire existed for the benefit of the world" and he had a "genuine sense of loyalty" to it.
Gandhi's loyalty was however shaken by a law in Transvaal in 1906 that required all Indians to be fingerprinted like criminals. Gandhi took the leadership in opposing it and inspired the Indian community to resist by non violent means. He termed the movement as Satyagraha. It enhanced its scope to oppose other discriminatory laws against the Indian community and women in large number including Kasturba Gandhi, joined Satyagraha, a form of Passive Resistance. In 1913 he led a community of Indian miners who had gone on strike against the laws and were driven out to the open along with their families. The Government resorted to severe brutality. Several miners were shot dead, others were arrested and Gandhi was also imprisoned for nine months.
The British Government of India led by Lord Hardinge finally intervened and the South African Government released Gandhi and sanctioned removal of some of the indignities imposed on the Indian Community. The Indian Relief Act was passed in 1914 and Gandhi became a famous name in India.
Gandhiji returned to India in January 1915. He however was disconnected with the movement that had been permeating throughout the length and breadth of India and although he professed hi indebtedness to Thoreau and Tolstoy on his ideas of Civil Disobedience he never even spoke of Aurobindo Ghosh who had detailed out the idea of Passive Resistance. When India, esp. Bengal was burning, Gandhi thought it fit to profess his loyalty to the British Empire. He did not think of the Zulus and their rights. His Hind Swaraj, which he wrote in 1908. was so crude and so far fetched that even Gopal Krishna Gokhale thought it to be ill conceived and hoped that Gandhi would destroy that booklet after spending a year in India. Yet, even in 1938, Gandhi had no intention to change it. Gandhu remained a British loyalist even during the first World War. He formed an Ambulance Corps to help the British whose members suffered most humiliating treatment in the hands of the White men (Dr. R.C Majumdar, History of Freedom Movement in India Vol 3).
On returning to India Gandhi chose Gokhale as his political mentor. Gokhale wanted to make him a member of the Servants of India Society but the other members did not accept him. Gandhi set up his own ashrama on the banks of Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. The main objective of the ashrama was to acquaint Indians to the methods of Satyagraha. His first opportunity came in 1917 when he took up the cause of the peasants in Champaran in Bihar, against the Indigo planters who had been terrorizing the poor peasants. Gandhi defied the Government dictum and his inquiry revealed extreme injustices meted out by the Indigo Planters. Government had to enact a legislation to abolish the system of Indigo plantation, in a first major victory for Satyagraha. This was a repeat of the 1860s when Dinabandhu Mitra's Neel Darpan and its English translation by Reverend James Long, had created a furor in Bengal on the ruthlessness of the Indigo planters. Next Gandhi took up the cause of the Mill workers in Ahmedabad who were striking for a wage increase. When their "non violent" strike did not bear fruit, Gandhi threatened for an indefinite fast that resulted in a settlement between the mill owners and the workers. Next Gandhi launched a Satyagraha campaign in the Kheda district for the cultivators who were reeling under a severe burden of taxation despite a reduction of yield below 25%. The cutivators took the pledge of not paying revenue and suffer all consequences. In this movement Gandhi got a trusted lieutenant named Vallabh bhai Patel. The cultivators stood firm in their demands and Government had to agree for a settlement. These victories earned Gandhi the status of a Messiah, who could do wonders and he came to be regarded as Gandhi Maharaj - a spiritual political figure, a symbol of renunciation and hope for the beleaguered masses. He next launched his Satyagraha campaign against the Rowlatt Bill.
Non Violence - Satyagraha
Satyagraha in Gandhi's word differed from Passive Resistance as it was supposed to be a "way of Love", by eschewing violence in thought, words and action. It was supposed to win over an enemy by gaining their good faith. So it was absolutely necessary in this path to forego violence in any form, as opposed to Passive Resistance which did not shy away from violence if needed. A Satyagraha Sabha was established against Rowlatt Bill with Gandhi as the President and many people signed the Satyagraha pledge. Gandhi also proposed that the country should observe a general Hartal. The date of Hartal was fixed at 6th of April, 1919. It started in Delhi on March 30 with processions on which the police opened fire and there were many casualties. Lahore and Amritsar were simmering and Gandhiji decided to visit these areas. The Hartal and the protest against the Rowlatt Act made Gandhi the uncrowned king of India's masses.
After the violence in the wake of the Hartal, Gandhi suspended the Satyagraha movement. Despite the atrocities committed by the Punjab Government and the Martial Law related atrocities narrated in Gandhiji declared that on account of the indications of goodwill on the part of the Government and as per advices from many of his friends, he would not resume the Civil Disobedience movement as he did not want to embarrass the Government.
The Reforms Act passed by the Government was only a shadow of the promises made under Montford reforms. It led to the establishment of a form of Government called Dyarchy. The Provincial Government would be led by a Governor who would be having supreme power in all matters while local self government like municipal bodies and elected members of the Legislative Council. Stage was set for Divide and Rule by having separate constituencies on the basis of religion, caste, interest groups and Europeans and Indians. Moderates as usual stood for whole hearted cooperation. Tilak and Congress however promised responsive cooperation. Chittaranjan Das moved a resolution in the Amritsar Congress proclaiming Reforms Act to be inadequate, unsatisfactory and disappointing. C.R Das was in favour of rejecting the reforms but Gandhi took the opposite view. Gandhi viewed the Reforms Act as an indication of the change of heart and goodwill of the people of England and therefore Congress should work for its success. Gandhi's view was not only heard, but it was supported even when British barbarism had reached its peak. This shows the amount of hold that Gandhi was already having on the political leaders of Congress. Chittaranjan Das was forced to make a compromise but he made it clear that his path was towards a full responsible Government. On whole the path adopted by Congress was the one proposed by Tilak.
Khilafat and the Non Cooperation Movement
Muslims of India led by the Ali brothers, regarded the treatment of Turkey as a great betrayal on the part of the British and their allies. They were enraged and wanted to extract revenge by forcing Britain to change her Turkish policy. Gandhi offered them a way in the form of Satyagraha. This led to the Khilafat agitation in 1920. Gandhi felt that there was a genuine need to establish a bond of friendship between the two communities and it would be possible by making the Hindus cede more ground to get the trust of goodwill of the Muslims. Gandhi wrote a letter to the Viceroy on the question of the settlement of the Khilafat issue. He felt that the grievances of the Muslims were just and the British ought to fulfill the pledge given by their Prime Minister to the Indian Muslims during the war. He went to the extent of placing the Khilafat issue on the same level as that of Home Rule. Muslims elected Gandhi as the President of the All India Khilafat Conference in November 1919. Gandhi also pressed hard for the release of the Ali brothers. Ali brothers were released subsequently and they decided to organize the Khilafat agitation under the guidance of Gandhi. Writes Dr. R. C Majumdar, "Congress lent the full support of its power, prestige and organization to the cause of the Khilafat." A deputation was sent to the Muslims countries and to England to meet the Prime Minister. Gandhi also came out with a Manifesto that contained his ideas on pursuing a Non Violent Non Cooperation if the demands of the Muslims were not granted. It could have been questioned that whether the issue of treatment of Turkey was so important to Gandhi that he could launch an agitation, when India herself had borne a century of humiliation and deprivation and the recent excesses in Punjab had been a glowing testimony to the satanic rule of the alien Empire. Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar, "As to regarding the fate of Khilafat as a matter of life and death to the Muslims, events were soon to prove that it was a rhetoric or hyperbole and can hardly be regarded as a serious fact; for in less than five years the Muslims of Turkey usurped the rights of the Caliph to a far greater degree than the British ever did, and not a leaf stirred in the whole Muslim world outside India."
Non Cooperation Manifesto reads - "We may therefore begin at the top as well at the bottom. Those who are holding the offices of honour or emoluments ought to give them up. Those who belong to the menial services under Government should do likewise." However it proclaimed that "Advice to the soldiers to refuse to serve is premature. It is the last, not the first step." Writes Dr. Majumdar, "Gandhi failed to realize that the Pan Islamic idea which inspired the Khilafat question cut at the very root of the Indian nationality.....Different groups of people cannot constitute a Nation until they have common sympathy, agreement and interest."
Gandhi had hoped that the Hindu support for Khilafat would go a long way in forging Hindu Muslim unity. But the question is, were the other leaders so naïve as to believe in a chimera and the danger posed to Indian Nationalism through a surrender to fanatic Islam? It appears that many of them did not privately subscribe to the optimism, but were compelled to submit owing to the mass appeal of Gandhi. Except Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, who was fully sympathetic to the larger interests of the Muslims within the Nationalistic fold, no other Congress leader had any mass base to stand upto Gandhi. Within two years Gandhi's hopes would dash into pieces when Moplah rebellion would result in widespread communal violence and genocide of the Hindus in the hand of fanatic Islamic mob - a sign of time to come. Yet Gandhi and other leaders of the Congress paid no heed and learnt no lesson. They went ahead with their politics of appeasement. They bred Islamists like the Ali brothers who had no sympathy for Indian Independence. They also successfully alienated Mohd. Ali Jinnah with disastrous consequences as would be seen later. Maulana Muhammed Ali had initially rather strong reservations against exponents of Hindu Muslim unity and the influence of Islamic world affairs on Indian Muslims, but he changed his views on both to embrace the cause of Khilafat. Dr. R.C Majumdar suggests that the "respect and reverence for the Muslim masses in India for their Caliph, were deliberately utilized by their leaders to rally them to the cause of the Pan Islamic movement5, and by forging unity among themselves on this basis, to make the Muslims great political power in India." Ali brothers had openly said that they were Muslims first and Indians afterwards. Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar, "But the attitude of Gandhi in this respect was much worse, as he lent the whole weight of his magnetic personality towards making a common cause with the Khilafat movement and carrying the Hindu leaders with him." Gandhi made the following statement in Young India in 1921, "I claim that with us both the Khilafat is the central fact, with Maulana Muhammad Ali because it is his religion, with me because, in laying down my life for Khilafat, I ensure the safety of the cow, that is my religion, from the Mussalman knife." Writes Dr. Majumdar, "The conduct of Gandhi, a great political leader, in assuming the leadership of the Khilafat movement, was certainly very reprehensible, and judged in this context, the epithet 'Father of Indian Nation', given to him by his devotees, seems to be singularly inappropriate."
Notes Dr. Majumdar, "there were atleast two Indians who had the courage to denounce in public, in the most unequivocal manner, the abject surrender of Gandhi to the Muslims. One was Sir Sankaran Nair, and the other one was Dr. Ambedkar."
Gandhiji defined Swaraj to mean "Self Governance within the Empire, if possible, and outside, if necessary." (Dr. R.C Majumdar - History of Freedom Movement Vol 3)
A meeting of the Hindus and the Muslims was held at Allahabad on June 1 & 2 on Khilafat. Hindus leaders like Gandhi, Tej Bahadur Sapru, Bipin Chandra Pal, Motilal Nehru, Lala Lajpat Rai, Madanmohan Malavya, Satyamurti, attended the meeting. Annie Bessant strongly opposed Non Cooperation. The decision to adopt Non Cooperation to support the cause of Khilafat was taken by six Muslim leaders and Gandhi. Dr. R. C Majumdar opines that the gesture of Gandhi to return the medals which were awarded to him for his war services with a letter to the Viceroy claiming that he could not wear them with an easy conscience as long as his Mussalman countrymen were wronged, shows that the Non Cooperation launched on Aug 1, 1920 was a direct outcome of the Khilafat movement. Writes Dr. Majumdar, " there seems to be no doubt that when he (Gandhi) launched the Non Cooperation movement on Aug 1, 1920, the Khilafat wrongs were the main issue that determined his action; the Punjab atrocities and winning of Swaraj were secondary issues, which were gradually tacked on to the main issue of Khilafat, at a later date and as an afterthought." In September a special session of Congress was called in Calcutta to obtain a stamp of approval on Non Cooperation. After the death of Tilak, Gandhi was appointed as the President of All India Home Rule League and he used that organization to further the interest of Non Cooperation and Khilafat. The Home Rule League ceased to exist and was merged with Congress. This had resulted in first serious difference of opinion with M.A Jinnah.
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Non Cooperation Movement Launched
The Calcutta Congress on 4th September , 1920, was under the shadow of the death of Tilak who had passed away on Aug 1. Congress passed resolution to adopt Non Cooperation using Satyagraha as the weapon under the leadership of Gandhi with the twin objectives - of the settling the Khilafat question and of a means of protest against the atrocities in Punjab culminating in the Jallianwalah Bagh massacre and the exoneration of O' Dwyer. The movement would include - a) surrender of titles, honourary offices and resignation from the nominated seats in the Local Bodies b)refusal to attend Government functions c) Withdrawal of children from Government sponsored schools and colleges and enlist them in National schools and colleges d) Boycott of Government courts by lawyers and litigants and establishment of private courts for settling disputes e) non participation in the electoral process for the reformed councils f) refusal to enlist in military services g) Boycott of foreign goods. In addition hand spinning and weaving were adopted as primary means and in the spirit of Satyagraha self sacrifice and self restraint must be encouraged. The resolution was passed only after a strong resistance and a prolonged debate and a large block within the Congress was opposed to it. The opposition included Chittaranjan Das, Madanmohan Malavya, M.A Jinnah, Bipin Chandra Pal among others. Only Motilal Nehru supported it. This was a complete U turn of Gandhi as earlier in Amritsar Congress he had opposed even a milder form of Non Cooperation, even after the Jallianwalah Bagh bloodbath. Gandhi had primarily driven this movement, in his own words, to avenge the wrongs committed on the Muslims. However he had claimed in his letter to the Viceroy that in view of the British going back on Khilafat promise and because of the whitewashing of the crimes and atrocities in Punjab, he saw that the reforms of the British Government were "only a method of further draining India of her wealth and of prolonging her servitude." The more objectionable part was aligning with a separate organization (Khilafat) that operated independently of Congress, and in deciding the issue of Khilafat as the major plank when even the Muslim countries like Arabia did not seriously considered the emancipation of Turkey and redeeming of British pledge of restoring Caliphate as a serious problem of Islam. Writes Dr. R. C Majumdar, "In other words, he upheld the rights of the Muslims in India to look upon Turkey or Khilafat as more important than their own country, India." Also it is inconceivable that Gandhiji was unaware of the designs of the British administrative machinery that had fully endorsed the Rowlatt Act and Jallianwallah Bagh, so as to expect justice from them and therefore propose cooperation during Amritsar Congress only to take a U turn six months down the line when the question of Khilafat came up. Observes Dr. Majumdar, "the draining of wealth of India, so pathetically described by Dadabhai Naoroji and Digby, and abject servitude for one hundred and sixty years, could not materially impair Gandhi's attachment to the British rule, and left Gandhi sufficiently loyal to extend his hand of cooperation upto the end of 1919." Therefore the last part of his letter to the Viceroy was not a proper justification. In line with Gandhi's saintly character and penchant for truth, it is therefore prudent to surmise that he really thought Khilafat to be an opportunity for bringing Hindus and Muslims on one platform and also had implicit faith in the British sense of justice in the matter of Punjab atrocities when he had proposed cooperation in Amritsar Congress. Gandhi carried out his pro Birtosh resolution in the face of opposition from Tilak, Jinnah and C.R Das, and eight months later he carried the opposite resolution again in the face of opposition from C.R Das and Jinnah. He, according to Dr. Majumdar, had assumed a cult status among his followers, a Messiah of the masses and a guru of Indian politics, by his saintly practices and attire and renunciation.
The end goal of Non Cooperation was not Swaraj. As Dr. Majumdar points out, when Non Cooperation failed to address the grievances of the Muslims, Gandhi wrote that "I would gladly ask for the postponement of Swaraj activity if thereby we could advance the interest of the Khilafat. ....But in my humble opinion attainment of Khilafat is the quickest method of righting the Khilafat wrong." Thus according to Gandhi's own statement, the Swaraj was valued chiefly as a means for restoring the rights of the Turkish Sultan, and he was ready to give up the cause for Indian Independence if anybody could suggest a quicker remedy for achieving the same end.
In the Nagpur session of Congress it was expected that C.R Das would oppose Non Cooperation. But he accepted the resolution which was accepted with practical unanimity, thus paving the way for the launch of a Nationwide Stir, albeit on the wrong ground. Only Bipin Chandra Pal and Jinnah were opposed to it. G.S Khaparde, a coworker of Tilak, had also opposed the resolution. In the Nagpur session, the goal of Congress was declared to be "Swaraj" or Self Rule within the Empire if possible and outside if necessary, as per Gandhi's definition. Congress was reorganized and All India Congress Committee was to elect a Working Committee as Executive Council. Nagpur session also emphasized on Charkha as the key means of India's freedom, eradication of untouchability, Hindu Muslim unity and spinning and weaving as means of restoring lost industries. The program of agitation included triple Boycott, of the legislature, courts and educational institutions maintained or aided by the Government. National schools and colleges and arbitration boards were planned as alternatives. Boycott of foreign goods would be complemented by the promotion of Swadeshi.
After Nagpur session Gandhiji took an extensive tour of India to promote the constructive sides of the program, like spinning in charkha. A corpus of over 1 crore was collected for Tilak Memorial Fund. Gandhiji as an afterthought in July 1921, had called for a complete Boycott of foreign cloths and promote hand spinning of Khaddar - a coarse garment made from cotton with the help of spinning wheels. Gandhi had also advocated picketing of liquor shops. Foreign cloths were burnt in heaps in different parts of India. Rabindranath Tagore had protested against this particular wastage when millions were going half naked sans any cloth. However none of these steps made any significant impact. Foreign cloths were still used, liquor was purchased and consumed the moment picketing was lifted and supply of khaddar fell far short of the demand. There was not much progress in the removal of untouchability and Hindu Muslim unity remained a mirage as the Moplah riots in Malabar and the riots in Multan would show. The Boycott of educational institutions by the students was far more pervasive but in absence of National institutions to absorb them, the students faced a bleak future. However one positive outcome of all this was the formation of volunteer organizations that helped Congress carrying out its programs. Many students were part of the volunteer organizations involved in picketing and Boycott of foreign goods. The movement for Boycotting the councils was a complete failure. Non Congressmen could get into the council easily as they virtually got a walkover. Boycott of the courts was not successful as except for prominent leaders like Motilal Nehru and Chittaranjan Das, who had sacrificed their enormous income, lawyers generally held on to their practice and ordinary people also continued to throng the courts. In Calcutta a large no. of students had left their colleges and picketed in front of colleges to prevent others from entering. They had hoped to continue with their education in National colleges. However the National colleges did not quite catch up owing to lack of good teachers, lack and funds and other constraints. Moreover, Gandhi was opposed to students continuing their education in National colleges and instead asked them to devote their full time in the movement. There was not much response among the students to the call of Boycott, in other parts of India and hence on the whole the call for Boycott was a failure at an all India level.
One outcome of the Boycott program was that for the first time the country got a band of dedicated and devoted workers to the cause of the Nation. Chittaranjan Das devoted his full time and energy to organizing the political movement in Bengal and emerged as an alternative to Gandhi. He gave up his vast wealth, luxurious lifestyle and palatial house to embrace a life of poverty along with his entire family. This spirit of renunciation was greatly appreciated by the people of the country and he aptly got the title of Deshabandhu or the friend of the Nation. This dedicated work for the National cause by a large number of workers and leaders alike, gave a tremendous impetus to the movement. Young ICS Subhas Chandra Bose resigned after his qualification and came back to the country to work alongside Deshabandhu, under his guidance.
A large section of the Muslims who had hitherto stayed away from the Nationalist movement, had joined the Khilafat movement led by the Ali brothers who were close to Gandhiji. Religious interest had stronger hold on them than national interest. As time passed it was very evident that Hindu Muslim unity was a chimera. The so called unified movement was based on fundamental irreconcilable difference. Islamic movement on the basis of pan Islamism, while Hindu movement was primarily driven by Nationalism. The two fell apart as soon as the movement petered out and Moplah and other communal riots that broke out in different parts of India, where Muslim mobs perpetrated unspeakable and dastardly acts on fellow Hindus, were to clearly show the flipside of the exuberance exhibited by the joint movement. Maulana Muhammad Ali openly claimed that he was a Muslim first and everything else was secondary to him. However such was the spell of Gandhi Maharaj on the Hindus that not many spoke against the illusive unity that was harming the Hindu interest.
The Government had decided not to come down heavily on the movement as a) the officials considered that the Montagu Chelmsford reforms had paved the path for the Indians to take a larger part in the Governance and any unpopular act like repression of the press and politicians would alienate people and defeat the spirit of the reforms b) As long as the movement did not incite policemen or Army men, it was not deemed necessary to take resort to harsh measures.
After Lord Reading assumed charge as the Viceroy he had a series of meetings with Pandit Madan Mohan Malavya and upon suggestion from Malavya decided to meet Gandhi in Simla. There were six interviews held between them in May 1921. Viceroy had highlighted the Ali brothers' act of inciting violence against the Government and expressed his intention of prosecuting them. Gandhi went to the extent of drafting an apology on behalf of the Ali brothers to prevent their arrest. It was distasteful to a section of the political leaders that Gandhiji could go to such an extent to prevent the arrest of Ali brothers while people across the country were courting arrest in the spirit of non violence. Gandhiji had pledged Swaraj within a year and it was nowhere in sight. In Karachi conference of the Khilafat, Muhammad Ali cited the apology as a tactical measure and a resolution was passed to ensure that Muslims did not join the British army. A futwa was issued by about five hundred Ulemmas to ask the Muslim policemen to step down from the British government service. For the Government it was a clear violation of the spirit of the Non Cooperation movement and therefore it decided to arrest the Ali brothers in September 1921, as they were the spirit behind such acts. Gandhiji rose in support of the Ali brothers and Khilafat and the Congress leaders issued a joint manifesto in October, asking soldiers, policemen and civilians alike to sever ties with the Government. Congress Working Committee meeting in Nov 5, after the arrest of the Ali brothers, authorized every Province to undertake their own Civil Disobedience, including non payment of taxes, as long as it subscribed to the basic ideologies of Non Cooperation and was under the control of the Provincial Congress Committee.
The revolutionaries of Bengal were hostile to the spirit of Non Violence attached to Non Cooperation. Chittaranjan Das made an honest attempt to align them with the movement in a conference in September 1921 along with Mahatma Gandhi. In a heart to heart conversation with the Mahatma, most of the revolutionaries, who had been released in 1919 or 1920, decided to give a chance to Gandhi to realize his dream of Swaraj within a year. Several of them decided to join the Congress as active members.
The visit of the Prince of Wales to India provided an opportunity to the youth who were clamouring for a showdown against the Government. Viceroy Reading had assured that the visit of Prince of Wales would not be exploited by the Government politically. But Congress declared that the visit was motivated to support the Government and rally the people for the reforms. Even the Moderates were not in favour of the visit as articulated by their leader Srinivasa Sastry. Therefore Congress had decided to Boycott the visit. Prince of Wales had landed in Bombay on Nov 17, and was welcomed by the Viceroy, the heads of the princely states, the big businessmen and Government bureaucrats. Those who cheered his visit included mostly Europeans, Parsis, Eurasians and the wealthy merchants having business interests. Congress Committee had declared hartal and large crowd had gathered in hartal meeting in the beach which was addressed by Gandhi. Huge bonfires were made of foreign cloths. Mob rioting took place on the streets whereby Hindus and Muslim crowds had molested the royalists - mostly Parsis, Jews, Eurasians and Europeans. In turn the Parsis, the Jews and the Europeans armed themselves and lynched the Hindus and the Muslims. Police opened fire and many people were either injured or killed in the riots. Gandhi was horrified by the violence and strongly condemned the same. He suspended the Civil Disobedience which was supposed to be launched in Bardoli on November 23. The hartal was peaceful in the rest of India.
Calcutta however had a different story to tell. Under the leadership of a young trusted lieutenant of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Subhas Chandra Bose, it opted for a total hartal. All Indian shops, markets and mills were closed. No vehicles plied. No Indian staff was present in any of the offices and therefore even European business establishments had to shut down. Courts did not function, railway station was deserted. Municipal hands had stopped work. Not a single case of violence, coercion or threat was reported. Everywhere the volunteers under the able leadership of Subhas Chandra Bose, took charge and the picketing went off peacefully and efficiently. The efficiency unnerved the Europeans. The English dailies demanded immediate and strict action against the volunteers for paralyzing the administration. The Government issued a notice that the Congress and the Khilafat volunteer organization was illegal. Lord Ronaldshay, the Governor of Bengal, decided to take even more drastic steps. Government of India was determined to suppress by force the movement to Boycott the visit of the Prince of Wales. The Bengal Provincial Congress under Chittaranjan Das took the lead and declared total war on the Government, peacefully. Das sent batches of volunteers to sell Khadi cloths and as a supreme gesture of selflessness, sent his son Chiraranjan (Bhombal), his sister, and wife Basanti Devi as volunteers. His son was arrested and so also was Basanti Devi. The arrest of Basanti Devi sparked a massive resentment. Even police constables vowed to resign from their jobs in protest. Government was taken aback and had to release Basanti Devi by the same night. From the very next day, thousands of volunteers enrolled for the protest. Everyone was eager for court arrest. Big prisons were filled to the brim with political prisoners. Camp prisons too were filled. To go to British prison became a matter of pride among the youth. Therefore police decided to change tactics and resorted to violent means while dealing with demonstrations.
The Prince of Wales was due to arrive in Calcutta on December 24. Ronaldshay opened channels of negotiations with C.R Das. Das pointed out that the Boycott was called by Congress and could only be lifted by it. Das and all prominent Khilafat leaders, including Subhas Chandra Bose, were arrested in Calcutta. Government even appointed soldiers to take over different quarters of the city. In other provinces too repression followed and leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Motilal Nehru, were arrested. A wave of unprecedented enthusiasm swept over the people of the country. In a matter of month over twenty five thousand courted arrest. The repression had not stifled the movement, it rather put fuel in the fire. Even the Moderates had to display resentment. Loyalty to the British Government had suddenly eroded. Police and military excesses and brutalities on the citizens in the streets and the forceful suppression of a peaceful movement had made even the staunchest loyalists aghast and the Liberals and the Moderates had no other option than to protest openly in the Council and in letters to the Viceroy. Viceroy Reading himself got a flavour of the discontent when he landed in Calcutta. The banquet in his honour by the Bar Association of Calcutta was cancelled as a protest against the arrest of C.R Das.
Reading therefore decided to open backroom conversations with Das to find resolution to ensure a peaceful visit of the Prince of Wales. He approached Das via Pandit Madan Mohan Malavya. The Viceroy's offer was (according to the Indian Struggles by Subhas Chandra Bose who was in Alipore jail with C.R Das at that time) that if Congress agreed to call off the Civil Disobedience Movement and did not Boycott the Prince of Wales's visit, Government would immediately withdraw the notification declaring Congress as illegal and would release all political prisoners. Government would then call for a Round Table Conference with Congress to decide on the further steps towards greater cooperation.
Das discussed the matter at length with Madan Mohan Malavya and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. When the matter of release of Ali brothers came before the Government, Government declined on the matter stating that since their release did not come under the notification as they were not part of those detained under Non Cooperation movement. However Government agreed to their eventual release at a later stage. Das discussed the matter with the younger section of the Provincial Congress including Subhas Chandra Bose, Jatindra Mohan Sengupta, Birendranath Sasmal and others. They vehemently opposed any agreement with the Government at this juncture. But C.R Das argued that Congress should accept the terms because Mahatma Gandhi rightly or wrongly had promised Swaraj within a year. That year was drawing to a close and barely a fortnight was left. Something should be achieved in order to keep up the morale and a release of all political prisoners of Non Cooperation Movement would be seen as a moral and tactical victory. He considered the offer from Viceroy as a Godsend one. Congress could resume the fight if the Government went back on its assurance of a Round Table Conference or if that Conference did not meet the demands. When it would do so, it would command greater credibility and confidence of the public.
The logic was irrefutable and Bengal Provincial Congress agreed. However when Mahatma Gandhi's decision was sought on the matter, Gandhi insisted on the release of the Ali brothers as a precondition and also the announcement for the date and composition of the Round Table Conference. The Viceroy was in no mood to give in. Deshbandhu tried his best to get Gandhi agree to the proposal and many telegrams were exchanged between Calcutta and Sabarmati where Gandhi was staying. Ultimately Mahatma changed his mind but it was too late as the Government, tired of waiting, had changed its mind. Deshbandhu was livid with anger as felt that a chance of a lifetime was lost. The feeling in the rank and file of Congress was also the same, that an opportunity was lost through a serious blunder of Gandhiji.
The annual session of Congress was held in Ahmedabad in December 1921. C.R Das, the president elect, was in jail. So were around forty thousand volunteers of Congress across the country. Hakim Ajmal Khan was the acting President and Das's message was read. Das criticized the reform scheme citing it as hollow, elaborated the meaning and philosophy behind the Non Cooperation, and justified its principle of negation saying that, "We destroy in order to construct, we break in order to build, we reject in order to accept." He said that violence was an intrinsic part of many movements including the religious ones like Christianity and that did not affect the truth behind the movement. The Congress resolution gave a call for continuing Civil Disobedience with renewed vigour and requested all youth over the age of eighteen to join as Congress volunteers to contribute to the cause. Mahatma Gandhi was appointed as the sole Executive Authority of Congress in view of the arrest of the prominent leaders of the Working Committee. Maulana Hasrat Mohani moved a resolution that complete independence should be adopted as the goal of Congress, but the resolution was defeated as Gandhi stood firmly against the proposal.
Attempts were still made to bring the Government on negotiation table. However the Viceroy was in no mood for a negotiation. Government had hardened its stance as it anticipated no further grounds to give in, since the Prince of Wales's visit was already past and that Ahmedabad resolution showed that Gandhi was not ready to go on a war path. Gandhiji however had different plan. In January 1922 he declared his decision to launch a mass satyagraha in the small town of Bardoli and wrote a letter to the Viceroy on the same. Unless the Government decided to release all political prisoners of Non Cooperation Movement and suspend any form of repressive measures, Gandhiji warned the Government that an aggressive Civil Disobedience would be launched. Gandhi's letter was an ultimatum. But Government did not give in and prepared for hard, repressive measures with the reliance of police and army. Mass Civil Disobedience was launched in Bardoli under the guidance of Gandhi and Vallabhbhai Patel and many women participated in the movement. Bardoli was hailed as a big success and all other regions were India were gearing up to emulate the same when the unthinkable happened. On 5 February, an excited mob in a small village called Chauri Chaura, set in fire a police station and hacked to death the police forces who had earlier opened fire on them. In view of this incident Pandit Malavya, Jinnah, Jayakar and other Moderates urged Gandhi to suspend Civil Disobedience Movement and Gandhi agreed to do so. Mass Civil Disobedience was indefinitely suspended. This seemed to most of India as incredible and it was hard to digest for most leaders except the hardcore Gandhi loyalists. Louis Fischer had well summed up, "At a word from Gandhi India would have risen in revolt. That word was not said; instead all the enthusiastic and sacrificing efforts were wasted or thrown away at the altar of the doctrine of Non Violence." Chittaranjan Das, who had foreseen and justified such isolated acts of violence earlier, shared the popular resentment. He was livid with anger with the repeated bungling of Gandhiji. Subhas Chandra Bose wrote in Indian Struggles, "To sound the order of retreat just when public enthusiasm was reaching the boiling-point was nothing short of a national calamity." Lala Lajpat Rai, in frustration and anger sent a seventy page letter to the Mahatma. The All India Congress Committee had not accepted the decision without objection. Romain Rolland articulated succinctly : '‘It is dangerous to assemble all the forces of a nation, and to hold the nation, panting, before a prescribed movement, to lift one’s arm to give the final command, and then, at the last moment, let one’s arm drop, and thrice call a halt just as the formidable machinery has been set in motion. One risks ruining the brakes and paralysing the impetus.”
Government realized that Gandhi's decision had made him unpopular and it decided to act swiftly. Gandhiji was arrested in March 1922. Gandhi defended as to why he, a British loyalist, had turned against the Government. He was sentenced to six years of simple imprisonment. Non Cooperation died with his arrest. The constructive side of Non Cooperation like spinning and untouchability removal, was of less importance and value to the public esp. the youth. Gandhi's arrest did not cause any upheaval among the masses.
Dr. Ramesh Chandra Majumdar in his History of Freedom Movement Volume 3, has listed out many instances of the oppressions of British police and military on ordinary citizens during this period of Non Cooperation. Cruel and inhuman treatment meted out to the volunteers was rampant. Volunteers and public were assaulted by military police often without any valid ground, citizens, even eminent ones, were harassed, meetings were forcefully cancelled, indiscriminate arrests, unlawful and forceful detention, police firings on peaceful processions were common and even young boys were not spared. Police raided houses and behaved in the most atrocious manner even with the ladies, people were tortured in jail and so on. Even the Moderates and Liberals, the British sympathizers and boot lickers, were aghast by the repressive measures. Gurkhas were particularly active in harassing, intimidating and assaulting volunteers of Non Cooperation Movement. The Gurkha military police had played a notorious role in assaulting a peaceful group of protestors in Chattogram. They had indiscriminately beaten the citizens, including an Indian magistrate with sticks and rods, thus injuring more than hundred.
Non Cooperation movement was not free from violence. Chauri Chaura was not an isolated incident. There were incidents of violence reported from Malegaon, a predominantly Muslim stronghold, riots in Aligarh, agrarian riots in certain provinces of UP, and several other parts of India. In evaluating the Non Cooperation Movement, attention must be given to the speech of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das in the Gaya Congress, " It is assumed that a movement must either succeed or fail, whereas the truth is that human movements— I am speaking of genuine movements—neither altogether succeed nor altogether fail. Every genuine movement proceeds from an ideal and the ideal is always higher than the achievement...Was the Non-co-operation Movement in India a success ? Yes, a mighty success when we think of the desire for Swaraj which it has succeeded in awakening throughout the length and breadth of this vast country. It is a great success when we think of the practical result of such awakening, in the money which the nation contributed, in the enrolment of the members of the Indian National Congress and in the boycott of foreign cloth. I go further and say that the practical achievement also consists of the loss of prestige suffered by Educational Institutions and the Courts of Law and the Reformed Councils throughout the country. Yet it must be admitted that from another point of view, when we assess the measure of our success in the spirit of Arithmetic, we are face to face with ‘'the petty done” and the "undone vast". ...I say to our critics : I admit we have failed in many directions, but will you also not admit our success where we have succeeded ?"
Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar in History of Freedom Movement Vol 3, " The most outstanding feature of the Non-co-operation movement was the willingness and ability of the people in general to endure, to a remarkable degree, hardships and punishments inflicted by the Government. This is the reason why, though the Non-co-operation movement collapsed, the memory of its greatness survived, and was destined to inspire the nation to launch a more arduous campaign at no distant date. For, the movement served as a baptism of fire which initiated the people to a new faith and new hope, and inspired them with a new confidence in their power to fight for freedom. Any one who reviews the whole course of events during the movement must be struck with two undeniable facts. First, that the Congress movement had, for the first time, become a really mass movement, in the sense that national awakening had not only penetrated to the people at large but also made them active participants in the struggle for freedom. The second, which is no less important, but generally ignored by friends and foes alike, is that the Indian National Congress was, almost overnight, turned into a genuine revolutionary organization. It was no longer a deliberative assembly, but an organized fighting party, pledged to revolution. Its weapons were different, but its aims, objects and animating spirit closely resembled those of the militant nationalism of the early years of the century, represented by the so-called terrorist party."