Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement


  • Khilafat and Non-cooperation movements were important milestones in the history of modern India.
  • Both these movements ushered in a new era of mass mobilisation and shaped the future of Indian polity in important ways.
  • Although their trajectories were somewhat different, both were anti-imperialist movements
  • They emerged from separate issues.
  • The Khilafat issue was not directly linked to Indian politics but it was deeply anti-imperialist and nationalist in its impulse.
  • These two movements were brought together during 1920-22, under the leadership of Gandhi.

Background to Non-Cooperation Movement

  • The economic hardship post first world war in terms of high commodity prices, increase in rent and taxes etc. created dissatisfaction among the masses against the British rule.
  • The Rowlatt Act, 1919, the imposition of martial law in Punjab and the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre exposed the brutal and uncivilised face of the British rule.
  • The Hunter Commission on the Punjab atrocities was only eyewash. In fact, General Dyer’s action was endorsed by the House of Lords and the British public showed solidarity with him by aiding the Morning Post in collection of 30,000 pounds for him.
  • The Montague-Chelmsford Reforms, which resulted in the Government of India Act 1919, disillusioned the nationalists who had expected much more in the direction of self-government.

Khilafat Issue

  • The Khilafat movement in India arose out of the sentiments of the Indian Muslims to protect the institution of the Khalifa in Turkey.
  • The Khalifa in Islamic tradition was considered as the successor to the Prophet Muhammad, religious leader and the custodian and protector of the Muslim holy places.
  • As Turkey was defeated in the First World War, the Allies imposed strict terms on it. Turkey was dismembered and the Khalifa removed from power.
  • The Muslims in India launched the Khilafat movement to pressurise the British to be lenient and preserve the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire and the institution of Khalifa.
  • In early 1919, a Khilafat Committee was formed under the leadership of the Ali brothers (Shaukat Ali and Muhammad Ali), Maulana Azad, Ajmal Khan and Hasrat Mohani.
  • The Khilafat may be seen as the attempt on the part of the Indian Muslim leadership to bring their pan-Islamic and Indian nationalist sentiments together.

Congress stand on Khilafat question

  • At that point of time, the Congress as a nationalist organisation and Mahatma Gandhi as the most acceptable leader were highly revered.
  • Gandhi was willing to lead the Khilafat movement, but the Congress was not yet prepared for an all-India movement.
  • Especially Tilak was opposed to having an alliance with the Muslim leaders on a religious issue
  • However, later on  Gandhi Ji was able to them get the approval of the Congress for his programme of political action
  • The change in stand of Congress was due to the opportunity presented by the Khilafat movement to bring together the Hindus and Muslims on a common platform. Congress was also losing faith in the constitutional struggle especially after the Punjab incident and the Hunter Commission report.
  • Muslim league also decided to give complete support to congress on political questions

Development of Khilafat-Non cooperation Programme and Convergence of the two movements

  • On 20 March 1919, a Khilafat Committee was formed in Bombay under the leadership of prominent Muslim leaders
  • Initially, they took a moderate stand, and their activities were restricted to meetings, petitions and deputations
  • The advocates of a militant movement wanted to launch a non-cooperation movement against the colonial government.
  • An all-India Khilafat Conference was organised in Delhi on 23-24 November 1919. A call for boycott of British goods was made in the conference.
  • They also threatened to stop all cooperation with the government in case unjust treatment was meted out to Turkey during the peace settlement
  • Gandhi was declared as the leader under whose guidance the movement would be carried forward
  • Gandhi Ji saw an opportunity to bring together Hindus and Muslims on a common platform for nationalist movement
  • It was his leadership that made the convergence of the two anti-imperialist streams – nationalist and the Khilafat – possible during this period.

Main Phases of Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement, 1920-22

February 1920 - In early 1920, a joint Hindu-Muslim deputation was sent to the viceroy to seek redress of grievances on the issue of Khilafat, but the mission proved abortive. Gandhi Ji declared that the Khilafat issue was more important than constitutional reforms and even the Punjab atrocities, and he was prepared to launch a movement of non-cooperation if the peace terms were antagonistic to the interests of Turkey.

May 1920 - The terms of the Peace Treaty, which became public in May 1920, were a blow to the wishes of the Khilafat leaders. The Ottoman Empire controlled by the Turks was dismembered.

June 1920 - In a series of meetings held by the Khilafat Conference and in a meeting held along with Congress members on 1-2 June 1920 in Allahabad, it was decided to begin a programme of non-cooperation towards the government.

August 1920 - The non-cooperation movement was formally launched on 1 August 1920. That day was also marked by the death of Lokmanya Tilak.

September 1920 - A special session of the Congress was held in Calcutta in September 1920 to finally deliberate and decide the issue of non-cooperation. It gave its assent to non-cooperation, despite some opposition by those interested in Council entry.

Nagpur Session of Congress

  • The regular Congress Session was held in December 1920 at Nagpur
  • The programme of non-cooperation was accepted without opposition.
  • Now, instead of having the attainment of self-government through constitutional means as its goal, the Congress decided to have the attainment of swaraj through peaceful and legitimate means
  • For the first time, an open extra-constitutional programme of mass mobilisation was started by the Congress
  • Some important organisational changes were made such as setting up of Congress Working Committee (CWC) of 15 members to lead the Congress to organise Provincial Congress Committees on linguistic basis and reduction of entry fee to four annas
  • Gandhi declared that if the non-cooperation programme was implemented completely, swaraj would be ushered in within a year.

The programme included:-

  • Boycott of government schools and colleges. It was decided to set up national schools and colleges
  • Boycott of law courts and establishment of the panchayats for settlement of disputes
  • Nonpayment of government taxes
  • The surrender of government titles and honorary positions. It could also be extended to include resignation from government service
  • Boycott of foreign cloth. Promotion of hand spinning and weaving
  • Condemnation and renunciation of untouchability
  • Maintenance of communal amity
  • Strict observance of non-violence.

Spread of the movement

First Phase

  • From January to March 1921, the main emphasis of the movement was on the boycott of government schools, colleges and law courts, and the use of Swadeshi.
  • Thousands of students left schools and colleges and joined 800 national schools and colleges that had come up throughout the country.
  • Many leading lawyers of the country like C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru, C. Rajagopalachari, Sardar Patel, Asaf Ali and T. Prakasham etc., quit their practice.
  • The foreign-made clothes were collected and set on fire. There was also picketing of shops selling foreign cloth. Many merchants took vow not to deal in foreign cloth.

Second Phase

  • The next phase started from the Vijayawada session of the Congress held in March 1921
  • Tilak Swaraj Fund was oversubscribed and one crore rupees collected
  • 50 lakh members were enrolled in the party
  • Charkhas were widely popularised and khadi became the dress of the movement

Third Phase

  • A challenging speech was made by Mohammed Ali in July 1921 declaring it ‘religiously unlawful for the Muslims to continue in the British Army’ and asking them to resign.
  • The colonial government immediately arrested Mohammed Ali along with some other leaders.
  • On his visit to Bombay in November, 1921, The Prince of Wales was greeted with city-wide strikes and demonstrations

 Fourth Phase

  • In the fourth phase, both the non-cooperators and the government appeared in confrontationist mood.
  • Congress becmae influential among a very large number of people and its Volunteer Corps became almost a parallel police force.
  • The Congress had sanctioned its provincial committees to start civil disobedience movement wherever it was felt necessary.
  • The government, on the other hand, had started using repression as its official policy. There were large-scale arrests, ban on meetings and prohibition of the volunteer corps.
  • The threat of violence on both sides was increasing and it was extremely disturbing to Gandhi Ji who not only abhorred violence but also feared that state repression would crush the movement.

Chauri Chaura Incident and Withdrawal of the movement 

  • His apprehensions proved correct when on 5 February 1922, in Chauri-Chaura in Gorakhpur district, the police provoked a crowd of demonstrators.
  • The people attacked the policemen who then fired on them.
  • Angered by this, the people set fire to the police station building in which many policemen died
  • When Gandhi heard about this violent incident, he decided to withdraw the movement which was later ratified by the Congress Working Committee.
  • However, many nationalist leaders including Subhash Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru expressed their bewilderment at Gandhi’s decision to withdraw the movement.
  • The Khilafat leaders also reacted angrily to the decision of the withdrawal.
  • The movement had hardly begun before it was brought to an abrupt end.
  • Soon after Gandhi was arrested on 10 March 1922 and was sentenced to 6 years in jail.

The reasons for withdrawal

  • Gandhi felt that people had not learnt or fully understood the true essence of Satyagraha and the method of non­violence.
  • Incidents like Chauri-Chaura could lead to excitement and fervour turning the movement violent.
  • A violent movement could be easily suppressed by the mighty colonial regime.
  • The movement was also showing signs of fatigue. This was natural as it is not possible to sustain any movement at a high pitch for very long.
  • The British were in no mood for negotiations
  • The Turks themselves, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, first abolished the Ottoman sultanate in 1922 and then did away with the office of the Khalifa itself in 1924.
  • After this, there was little justification for the movement to continue.

Evaluation of Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement

  • The Khilafat and non-cooperation movements played extremely important role in generating and spreading anti-imperialist consciousness among the Indian people.
  • The Hindus and Muslims together participated in the movement throughout the country and often it was difficult to point out the difference between khilafat and non cooperation movement
  • Despite the Malabar happenings, in which the Muslim peasants revolted against their largely Hindu landlords and killed many of them, the Hindu-Muslim unity remained intact throughout the period.
  • An important issue which the non-cooperation movement brought to the fore was the need to fight against caste discrimination and untouchability.
  • The need for social justice was clearly acknowledged, pushed forward and was later enshrined in the Constitution of independent India.
  • Strong anti-colonial movements were afoot among various sections of population.
  • Peasants and workers were particularly active during this period, besides the middle classes in both the urban and rural areas.
  • Moreover, Gandhi’s insistence on non-violence brought a large number of women into the movement.
  • Thus, these movements under the leadership of Gandhi revolutionised the structure of Indian politics in several ways.
  • The most significant success of the movement should be located in its mobilisation of various sections of people across the country and the creation of political and social consciousness in them.

Khilafat movement summary

  • The Khilafat issue was of central concern to the Indian Muslims in the wake of the British pressure on Turkey and the threat it posed to the institution of Khalifa.
  • These religious sentiments became even more intensified due to Britain’s presence as a colonial power in India.
  • Thus, the religious and anti-imperialist feelings of Indian Muslims produced a very strong reaction against the British colonial rule.
  • On the other hand, the failure of the colonial government to fulfill their promise of some measure of self-government for the Indians after the War created resentment among politically active groups.
  • In addition to this, the Rowlatt Act further hurt the feelings of a large number of Indians, and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre following the anti-Rowlatt agitation was the last straw.
  • At this moment, Gandhi provided an able leadership and united various strands of these anti-imperialist movements which developed into the non-cooperation movement involving millions of rural and urban people across the country.
  • Although the movement failed to attain its objectives of either saving the Khalifa or to secure self-government for India, it mobilised a large number of people and imbued them with consciousness about their political rights.
  • The small, powerless people in the dusty corners of the country stood against the mightiest of the empires in the world and raised their voice for freedom. In itself, it was the most significant achievement any movement could aspire to.

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