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Chapter 14. Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements (History of Modern India Summary)

Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements

During 1919-22, the British were opposed through two mass movements—the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation. Though the two movements emerged from separate issues, they adopted a common programme of action—that of non-violent noncooperation.
The Khilafat issue was not directly linked to Indian politics but it provided the immediate background to the movement and gave an added advantage of cementing Hindu-Muslim unity against the British.
The background to the two movements was provided by a series of events after the First World War which belied all hopes of the government’s generosity towards the Indian subjects. The year 1919, in particular, saw a strong feeling of discontent among all sections of Indians for various reasons:
● The economic situation of the country in the post- War years had become alarming with a rise in prices of commodities, decrease in production of Indian industries, increase in burden of taxes and rents etc. Almost all sections of society suffered economic hardship due to the war and this strengthened the anti-British attitude.
● The Rowlatt Act, the imposition of martial law in Punjab and the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre exposed the brutal and uncivilised face of the foreign rule.
● The Hunter Committee on the Punjab atrocities proved to be an eyewash. In fact, the House of Lords (of the British Parliament) endorsed General Dyer’s action and the British public showed solidarity with General Dyer by helping The Morning Post collect 30,000 pounds for him.
● The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms with their illconceived scheme of dyarchy failed to satisfy the rising demand of the Indians for self-government.
The post-First World War period also saw the preparation of the ground for common political action by Hindus and Muslims—(i) the Lucknow Pact (1916) had stimulated Congress-Muslim League cooperation; (ii) the Rowlatt Act agitation brought Hindus and Muslims, and also other sections of the society, together; and (iii) radical nationalist Muslims like Mohammad Ali, Abul Kalam Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Hasan Imam had now become more influential than the conservative Aligarh school elements who had dominated the League earlier. The younger elements advocated militant nationalism and active participation in the nationalist movement. They had strong anti-imperialist sentiments.
In this atmosphere the Khilafat issue emerged, around which developed the historic Non-Cooperation Movement.
The Khilafat Issue
The Khilafat issue paved the way for the consolidation of the emergence of a radical nationalist trend among the younger generation of Muslims and the section of traditional Muslim scholars who were becoming increasingly critical of British rule. This time, they were angered by the treatment meted out to Turkey by the British after the First World War.
The Muslims in India, as the Muslims all over the world, regarded the sultan of Turkey as their spiritual leader, Khalifa, so naturally their sympathies were with Turkey. During the war, Turkey had allied with Germany and Austria against the British. When the war ended, the British took a stern attitude towards Turkey—Turkey was dismembered and the Khalifa removed from power. This incensed Muslims all over the world.
In India, too, the Muslims demanded from the British
(i) that the Khalifa’s control over Muslim sacred places should be retained, and (ii) the Khalifa should be left with sufficient territories after territorial arrangements. 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, to force the British government to change its attitude towards Turkey. Thus, the ground for a country-wide agitation was prepared.
Development of the Khalifat-Non-
Cooperation Programme
For some time, the Khilafat leaders limited their actions to meetings, petitions, deputations in favour of the Khilafat.
Later, however, a militant trend emerged, demanding an active agitation such as stopping all cooperation with the British.
Thus, at the All India Khilafat Conference held in Delhi in November 1919, a call was made for the boycott of British goods. The Khilafat leaders also clearly spelt out that unless peace terms after the War were favourable to Turkey they would stop all cooperation with the Government. Gandhi, who was the president of the All India Khilafat Committee, saw in the issue a platform from which mass and united noncooperation could be declared against the Government.
Congress Stand on Khilafat Question
It was quite clear that the support of the Congress was essential for the Khilafat movement to succeed. However, although Gandhi was in favour of launching satyagraha and non-cooperation against the government on the Khilafat issue, the Congress was not united on this form of political action. Tilak was opposed to having an alliance with Muslim leaders over a religious issue and he was also sceptical of satyagraha as an instrument of politics. According to Professor Ravinder Kumar, Gandhi made a concerted bid to convince Tilak of the virtues of satyagraha and of the expediency of an alliance with the Muslim community over the Khilafat issue. There was opposition to some of the other provisions of the Gandhi’s non-cooperation programme also, such as boycott of councils. Later, however, Gandhi was able to the get the approval of the Congress for his programme of political action and the Congress felt inclined to support a non-cooperation programme on the Khilafat question because— ● it was felt that this was a golden opportunity to cement Hindu-Muslim unity and to bring Muslim masses into the national movement; now different sections of society—Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, peasants, artisans, capitalists, tribals, women, students—could come into the national movement by fighting for their own rights and realising that the colonial rule was opposed to them; ● the Congress was losing faith in constitutional struggle, especially after the Punjab incidents and the blatantly partisan Hunter Committee Report; ● the Congress was aware that the masses were eager to give expression to their discontent.
Muslim League Support to Congress
The Muslim League also decided to give full support to the Congress and its agitation on political questions.
The Non-Cooperation Khilafat Movement 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.
In February 1920, Gandhi announced that the issues of the Punjab wrongs and constitutional advance had been overshadowed by the Khilafat question and that he would soon lead a movement of non-cooperation if the terms of the peace treaty failed to satisfy the Indian Muslims.
May 1920 The Treaty of Sevres with Turkey, signed in May 1920, completely dismembered Turkey.
June 1920 An all-party conference at Allahabad approved a programme of boycott of schools, colleges and law courts, and asked Gandhi to lead it.
August 31, 1920 The Khilafat Committee started a campaign of non-cooperation and the movement was formally launched. (Tilak had, incidentally, breathed his last on August 1, 1920.) September 1920 At a special session in Calcutta, the Congress approved a non-cooperation programme till the Punjab and Khilafat wrongs were removed and swaraj was established. The programme was to include— ● boycott of government schools and colleges; ● boycott of law courts and dispensation of justice through panchayats instead; ● boycott of legislative councils; (there were some differences over this as some leaders like C.R. Das were not willing to include a boycott of councils, but bowed to Congress discipline; these leaders boycotted elections held in November 1920 and the majority of the voters too stayed away); ● boycott of foreign cloth and use of khadi instead; also practice of hand-spinning to be done; ● renunciation of government honours and titles; the second phase could include mass civil disobedience including resignation from government service, and non-payment of taxes.
During the movement, the participants were supposed to work for Hindu-Muslim unity and for removal of untouchability, all the time remaining non-violent.
December 1920 At the Nagpur session of the Indian National Congress—
(i) The programme of non-cooperation was endorsed.
(ii) An important change was made in the Congress creed: 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, thus committing itself to an extraconstitutional mass struggle.
(iii) Some important organisational changes were made:
a congress working committee (CWC) of 15 members was set up to lead the Congress from now onwards; provincial congress committees on linguistic basis were organised; ward committees was organised; and entry fee was reduced to four annas.
(iv) Gandhi declared that if the non-cooperation programme was implemented completely, swaraj would be ushered in within a year.
Many groups of revolutionary terrorists, especially those from Bengal, also pledged support to the Congress programme.
At this stage, some leaders like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Annie Besant, G.S. Kharpade and B.C. Pal left the Congress as they believed in a constitutional and lawful struggle while some others like Surendranath Banerjea founded the Indian National Liberal Federation and played a minor role in national politics henceforward.
The adoption by the Congress of the non-cooperation movement initiated earlier by the Khilafat Committee gave it a new energy, and the years 1921 and 1922 saw an unprecedented popular upsurge.
Spread of the Movement
Gandhi accompanied by the Ali brothers undertook a nationwide tour. Thousands of students left government schools and colleges and joined around 800 national schools and colleges which cropped up during this time. These educational institutions were organised under the leadership of Acharya Narendra Dev, C.R. Das, Lala Lajpat Rai, Zakir Hussain, Subhash Bose (who became the principal of National College at Calcutta) and included Jamia Millia at Aligarh, Kashi Vidyapeeth, Gujarat Vidyapeeth and Bihar Vidyapeeth.
Many lawyers gave up their practice, some of whom were Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, C.R. Das, C. Rajagopalachari, Saifuddin Kitchlew, Vallabhbhai Patel, Asaf Ali, T. Prakasam and Rajendra Prasad.
Heaps of foreign cloth were burnt publicly and their imports fell by half. Picketing of shops selling foreign liquor and of toddy shops was undertaken at many places. The Tilak Swaraj Fund was oversubscribed and one crore rupees collected. Congress volunteer corps emerged as the parallel police.
In July 1921, the Ali brothers gave a call to the Muslims to resign from the Army as it was unreligious. The Ali brothers were arrested for this in September. Gandhi echoed their call and asked local Congress committees to pass similar resolutions to that effect.
Now, the Congress gave a call to local Congress bodies to start civil disobedience if it was thought that the people were ready for it. Already, a no-tax movement against union board taxes in Midnapore (Bengal) and in Guntur (Andhra) was going on.
In Assam, strikes in tea plantations, steamer services and Assam-Bengal Railways had been organised. J.M. Sengupta was a prominent leader in these strikes.
In November 1921, the visit of the Prince of Wales to India invited strikes and demonstrations.
The spirit of defiance and unrest gave rise to many local struggles such as Awadh Kisan Movement (UP), Eka Movement
(UP), Mappila Revolt (Malabar) and the Sikh agitation for the removal of mahants in Punjab.
People’s Response
The participation in the movement was from a wide range of the society but to a varying extent.
Middle Class
People from the middle classes led the movement at the beginning but later they showed a lot of reservations about Gandhi’s programme. In places like Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, which were centres of elite politicians, the response to Gandhi’s call was very limited. The response to the call for resignation from the government service, surrendering of titles, etc., was not taken seriously. The comparative newcomers in Indian politics found expression of their interests and aspirations in the movement. Rajendra Prasad in Bihar and Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat provided solid support and, in fact, leaders like them found non-cooperation to be a viable political alternative to terrorism in order to fight against a colonial government.
Business Class
The economic boycott received support from the Indian business group because they had benefited from the nationalists’ emphasis on the use of swadeshi. But a section of the big business remained sceptical towards the movement.
They seemed to be afraid of labour unrest in their factories.
Peasants’ participation was massive. Although the Congress was against class war, the masses broke this restraint. In Bihar, the confrontation between the ‘lower and upper castes’ on the issue of the former taking the sacred thread got merged with the Non-Cooperation Movement. In general, the peasants turned against the landlords and the traders. The movement gave an opportunity to the toiling masses to express their real feelings against the British as well as against their Indian masters and oppressors (landlords and traders).
Students became active volunteers of the movement and thousands of them left government schools and colleges and joined national schools and colleges. The newly opened national institutions like the Kashi Vidyapeeth, the Gujarat Vidyapeeth and the Jamila Milia Islamia and others accommodated many students.
Women gave up purdah and offered their ornaments for the Tilak Fund. They joined the movement in large numbers and took active part in picketing before the shops selling foreign cloth and liquor.
Hindu-Muslim Unity
The massive participation of Muslims and the maintenance of communal unity, despite the events like Moppila Uprisings, were great achievements. In many places, two-thirds of those arrested were Muslims, and such type of participation had neither been seen in the past nor would be seen in the future.
Gandhi and other leaders addressed the Muslim masses from mosques, and Gandhi was even allowed to address meetings of Muslim women in which he was the only male who was not blind-folded.
Government Response
Talks between Gandhi and Reading, the viceroy, broke down in May 1921 as the government wanted Gandhi to urge the Ali brothers to remove those portions from speeches which suggested violence. Gandhi realised that the government was trying to drive a wedge between him and the Khilafat leaders and refused to fall into the trap. In December, the government came down heavily on the protestors. Volunteer corps were declared illegal, public meetings were banned, the press was gagged and most of the leaders barring Gandhi were arrested.
The Last Phase of the Movement
Gandhi was now under increasing pressure from the Congress rank and file to start the civil disobedience programme. The Ahmedabad session in 1921 (presided over, incidentally, by
C.R. Das while still in jail; Hakim Ajmal Khan was the acting president) appointed Gandhi the sole authority on the issue.
On February 1, 1922 Gandhi threatened to launch civil disobedience from Bardoli (Gujarat) if (i) political prisoners were not released, and (ii) press controls were not removed. The movement had hardly begun before it was brought to an abrupt end.
Chauri Chaura Incident
A small sleepy village named Chauri-Chaura (Gorakhpur district in United Provinces) has found a place in history books due to an incident of violence on February 5, 1922 which was to prompt Gandhi to withdraw the movement. The police here had beaten up the leader of a group of volunteers campaigning against liquor sale and high food prices, and then opened fire on the crowd which had come to protest before the police station. The agitated crowd torched the police station with policemen inside who had taken shelter there; those who tried to flee were hacked to death and thrown back into the fire. Twenty-two policemen were killed in the s
violence. Gandhi, not happy with the increasingly violent trend of the movement, immediately announced the withdrawal of the movement.
The Congress Working Committee met at Bardoli in February 1922 and resolved to stop all activity that led to breaking of the law and to get down to constructive work, instead, which was to include popularisation of khadi, national schools, and campaigning for temperance, for Hindu-Muslim unity and against untouchability.
Most of the nationalist leaders including C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru, Subhash Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, however, expressed their bewilderment at Gandhi’s decision to withdraw the movement.
In March 1922, Gandhi was arrested and sentenced to six years in jail. He made the occasion memorable by a magnificent court speech: “I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.” Why Gandhi Withdrew the Movement
Gandhi felt that people had not learnt or fully understood the method of non-violence. Incidents like Chauri-Chaura could lead to the kind of excitement and fervour that would turn the movement to become generally violent. A violent movement could be easily suppressed by the colonial regime who would make the incidents of violence an excuse for using the armed might of the State against the protestors.
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 government seemed to be in no mood for negotiations.
The central theme of the agitation—the Khilafat question—also dissipated soon. In November 1922, the people of Turkey rose under Mustafa Kamal Pasha and deprived the sultan of political power. Turkey was made a
secular state. Thus, the Khilafat question lost its relevance.
A European style of legal system was established in Turkey and extensive rights granted to women. Education was nationalised and modern agriculture and industries developed.
In 1924, the caliphate was abolished.
Evaluation of Khilafat Non-Cooperation Movement
The movement brought the urban Muslims into the national movement, but at the same time it communalised the national politics, to an extent. Although Muslim sentiments were a manifestation of the spread of a wider anti-imperialist feeling, the national leaders failed to raise the religious political consciousness of the Muslims to a level of secular political consciousness.
With the Non-Cooperation Movement, nationalist sentiments reached every nook and corner of the country and politicised every strata of population—the artisans, peasants, students, urban poor, women, traders, etc. It was this politicisation and activisation of millions of men and women which imparted a revolutionary character to the national movement. Colonial rule was based on two myths—one, that such a rule was in the interest of Indians and two, that it was invincible. The first myth had been exploded by the economic critique by Moderate nationalists. The second myth had been challenged by satyagraha through mass struggle.
Now, the masses lost the hitherto all-pervasive fear of the colonial rule and its mighty repressive organs.

Important Events (1921-1925) Swarajists and No-Changers Genesis of Congress-Khilafat Swarajya Party
After Gandhi’s arrest (March 1922), there was disintegration, disorganisation and demoralisation among nationalist ranks.
A debate started among Congressmen on what to do during the transition period, i.e., the passive phase of the movement.
One section led by C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru and Ajmal Khan wanted an end to the boycott of legislative councils so that the nationalists could enter them to expose the basic weaknesses of these assemblies and use these councils as an arena of political struggle to arouse popular enthusiasm.
They wanted, in other words, to ‘end or mend’ these councils, i.e., if the government did not respond to the nationalists’ demands, then they would obstruct the working of these councils.
Those advocating entry into legislative councils came to be known as the ‘Swarajists’, while the other school of thought led by C. Rajagopalachari, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad and M.A. Ansari came to be known as the ‘Nochangers’.
The ‘No-changers’ opposed council entry, advocated concentration on constructive work, and continuation of boycott and non-cooperation, and quiet preparation for resumption of the suspended civil disobedience programme.
The differences over the question of council entry between the two schools of thought resulted in the defeat of the Swarajists’ proposal of ‘ending or mending’ the councils at the Gaya session of the Congress (December 1922). C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru resigned from the presidentship and secretaryship respectively of the Congress and announced the formation of Congress-Khilafat Swarajya Party or simply Swarajist Party, with C.R. Das as the president and Motilal Nehru as one of the secretaries.
Swarajists’ Arguments
The Swarajists had their reasons for advocating the entry into the councils.
● Entering the councils would not negate the noncooperation programme; in fact, it would be like carrying on the movement through other means—opening a new front.
● In a time of political vacuum, council work would serve to enthuse the masses and keep up their morale. Entry of nationalists would deter the government from stuffing the councils with undesirable elements who may be used to provide legitimacy to government measures.
● The councils could be used as an arena of political struggle; there was no intention to use the councils as organs for gradual transformation of colonial rule.
No-Changers’ Arguments
The No-Changers argued that parliamentary work would lead to neglect of constructive work, loss of revolutionary zeal and to political corruption. Constructive work would prepare everyone for the next phase of civil disobedience.
Agree to Disagree
Both sides, however, wanted to avoid a 1907-type split and kept in touch with Gandhi who was in jail. Both sides also realised the significance of putting up a united front to get a mass movement to force the government to introduce reforms, and both sides accepted the necessity of Gandhi’s leadership of a united nationalist front. Keeping these factors in mind, a compromise was reached at a meeting in Delhi in September 1923.
The Swarajists were allowed to contest elections as a group within the Congress. The Swarajists accepted the Congress programme with only one difference—that they would join legislative councils. The elections to the newly constituted Central Legislative Assembly and to provincial assemblies were to be held in November 1923.
The Swarajist Manifesto for Elections
Released in October 1923, the Swarajist manifesto took a strong anti-imperialist line. The points put forward were as follows.
● The guiding motive of the British in governing India lay in selfish interests of their own country; ● The so-called reforms were only a blind to further the said interests under the pretence of granting a responsible government, the real objective being to continue exploitation of the unlimited resources of the country by keeping Indians permanently in a subservient position to Britain; ● The Swarajists would present the nationalist demand of self-government in councils; ● If this demand was rejected, they would adopt a policy of uniform, continuous and consistent obstruction within the councils to make governance through councils impossible; ● Councils would thus be wrecked from within by creating deadlocks on every measure.
Gandhi’s Attitude
Gandhi was initially opposed to the Swarajist proposal of council entry. But after his release from prison on health grounds in February 1924, he gradually moved towards a reconciliation with the Swarajists.
● He felt public opposition to the programme of council entry would be counter-productive.
● In the November 1923 elections, the Swarajists had managed to win 42 out of 141 elected seats and a clear majority in the provincial assembly of Central Provinces. In legislatures, in cooperation with the Liberals and the independents like Jinnah and Malaviya, they won a majority.
The courageous and uncompromising manner in which the Swarajists functioned convinced him that they would not become just another limb of colonial administration.
● There was a government crackdown on revolutionary terrorists and the Swarajists towards the end of 1924; this angered Gandhi and he expressed his solidarity with the Swarajists by surrendering to their wishes.
Both sides came to an agreement in 1924 (endorsed at the Belgaum session of the Congress in December 1924 over which Gandhi—the only time—presided over the Congress session) that the Swarajists would work in the councils as an integral part of the Congress.
Swarajist Activity in Councils
Gradually, the Swarajist position had weakened because of widespread communal riots, and a split among Swarajists themselves on communal and Responsivist-Non-responsivist lines. The government strategy of dividing the Swarajists— the more militant from the moderate, the Hindus from the Muslims—was successful. The Swarajists lost the support of many Muslims when the party did not support the tenants’ cause against the zamindars in Bengal (most of the tenants were Muslims). Communal interests also entered the party.
The death of C.R. Das in 1925 weakened it further. The Responsivists among Swarajists—Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malaviya and N.C. Kelkar—advocated cooperation with the government and holding of office wherever possible. Besides they also wanted to protect the so-called Hindu interests. The communal elements accused leaders like Motilal Nehru, who did not favour joining the council, of being anti-Hindu even as Muslim communalists called the Swarajists anti-Muslim.
Thus, the main leadership of the Swarajist Party reiterated faith in mass civil disobedience and withdrew from legislatures in March 1926, while another section of Swarajists went into the 1926 elections as a party in disarray, and did not fare well on the whole. They won 40 seats in the Centre and some seats in Madras but were routed in the United Provinces, the Central Provinces and Punjab.
In 1930, the Swarajists finally walked out as a result of the Lahore Congress resolution on purna swaraj and the beginning of the Civil Disobedience Movement.
(i) With coalition partners, they out-voted the government several times, even on matters relating to budgetary grants, and passed adjournment motions.
(ii) They agitated through powerful speeches on selfgovernment, civil liberties and industrialisation.
(iii) Vithalbhai Patel was elected speaker of Central Legislative Assembly in 1925.
(iv) A noteworthy achievement was the defeat of the Public Safety Bill in 1928 which was aimed at empowering the Government to deport undesirable and subversive foreigners (because the Government was alarmed by the spread of socialist and communist ideas and believed that a crucial role was being played by the British and other foreign activists being sent by the Commintern).
(v) By their activities, they filled the political vacuum at a time when the national movement was recouping its strength.
(vi) They exposed the hollowness of the Montford scheme.
(vii) They demonstrated that the councils could be used creatively.
(i) The Swarajists lacked a policy to coordinate their militancy inside legislatures with the mass struggle outside.
They relied totally on newspaper reporting to communicate with the public.
(ii) An obstructionist strategy had its limitations.
(iii) They could not carry on with their coalition partners very far because of conflicting ideas, which further limited their effectiveness.
(iv) They failed to resist the perks and privileges of power and office.
(v) They failed to support the peasants’ cause in Bengal and lost support among Muslim members who were propeasant.
Constructive Work by No-Changers
The No-Changers devoted themselves to constructive work that connected them to the different sections of the masses.
(i) Ashrams sprang up where young men and women worked among tribals and lower castes (especially in Kheda and Bardoli areas of Gujarat), and popularised the use of charkha and khadi.
(ii) National schools and colleges were set up where students were trained in a non-colonial ideological framework.
(iii) Significant work was done for Hindu-Muslim unity, removing untouchability, boycott of foreign cloth and liquor, and for flood relief.
(iv) The constructive workers served as the backbone of civil disobedience as active organisers.
A Critique of Constructive Work
National education benefited the urban lower middle classes and the rich peasants only. Enthusiasm for national education surfaced in the excitement of the movement only. In passivity, the lure of degrees and jobs took the students to official schools and colleges.
Popularisation of khadi was an uphill task since it was costlier than the imported cloth.
While campaigning about the social aspect of untouchability, no emphasis was laid on the economic grievances of the landless and agricultural labourers comprising mostly the untouchables.
Although the Swarajists and the No-changers worked in their separate ways, they kept on best of terms with one another and were able to unite whenever the time was ripe for a new political struggle.
Emergence of New Forces: Socialistic Ideas, Youth Power, Trade Unionism
The third decade of the twentieth century is a watershed in modern Indian history in more ways than one. While, on the one hand, this period marked the entry of Indian masses into the national movement, on the other hand, this period saw the basic crystallisation of the main political currents on the national scene. These diverse political currents owed their origin partly to the coming on the scene of the Gandhian philosophy of satyagraha based on truth and non-violence, as they embodied a positive or negative reaction to it. The international influence on Indian political thinkers during this phase was also more pronounced than before.
The new forces to emerge during the 1920s included the following.
Spread of Marxist and Socialist Ideas
Ideas of Marx and Socialist thinkers inspired many groups to come into existence as socialists and communists. These ideas also resulted in the rise of a left wing within the Congress, represented by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose. These young nationalists, inspired by the Soviet Revolution and dissatisfied with Gandhian ideas and political programme, began advocating radical solutions for economic, political and social ills of the country. These younger nationalists— ● were critical of both Swarajists and No-Changers; ● advocated a more consistent anti-imperialist line in the form of a slogan for purna swarajya (complete independence); ● were influenced by an awareness, though still vague, of international currents; ● stressed the need to combine nationalism and antiimperialism with social justice and simultaneously raised the question of internal class oppression by capitalists and landlords.
The Communist Party of India (CPI) was formed in 1920 in Tashkent (now, the capital of Uzbekistan) by M.N.
Roy, Abani Mukherji and others after the second Congress of Commintern. M.N. Roy was also the first to be elected to the leadership of Commintern.
In 1924, many communists—S.A. Dange, Muzaffar Ahmed, Shaukat Usmani, Nalini Gupta—were jailed in the Kanpur Bolshevik Conspiracy Case.
In 1925, the Indian Communist Conference at Kanpur formalised the foundation of the CPI.
In 1929, the government crackdown on communists resulted in the arrest and trial of 31 leading communists, trade unionists and left-wing leaders; they were tried at Meerut in the famous Meerut conspiracy case.
Workers’ and peasants’ parties were organised all over the country and they propagated Marxist and communist ideas.
All these communist groups and workers’ and peasants’ parties remained an integral part of the national movement and worked along with the Congress.
Activism of Indian Youth
All over, students’ leagues were being established and students’ conferences were being held. In 1928, Jawaharlal Nehru presided over the All Bengal Students’ Conference.
Peasants’ Agitations
In the United Provinces peasant agitations were for revision of tenancy laws, lower rents, protection against eviction and relief from indebtedness. Similar peasant agitations took place in the Rampa region of Andhra, in Rajasthan, in ryotwari areas of Bombay and Madras. In Gujarat, the Bardoli Satyagraha was led by Vallabhbhai Patel (1928).
Growth of Trade Unionism
The trade union movement was led by All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) founded in 1920. Lala Lajpat Rai was its first president and Dewan Chaman Lal its general secretary.
Tilak was also one of the moving spirits. The major strikes during the 1920s included those in Kharagpur Railway Workshops,Tata Iron and Steel Works (Jamshedpur), Bombay Textile Mills (this involved 1,50,000 workers and went on for 5 months), and Buckingham Carnatic Mills. In 1928, there were a number of strikes involving 5 lakh workers. In 1923, the first May Day was celebrated in India in Madras.
Caste Movements
As in earlier periods, the varied contradictions of the Indian society found expression in caste associations and movements.
These movements could be divisive, conservative and at times potentially radical, and included:
● Justice Party (Madras) ● Self-respect movement (1925) under “Periyar”—E.V.
Ramaswamy Naicker (Madras) ● Satyashodhak activists in Satara (Maharashtra) ● Bhaskar Rao Jadhav (Maharashtra) ● Mahars under Ambedkar (Maharashtra) ● Radical Ezhavas under K. Aiyappan and C. Kesavan in Kerala ● Yadavs in Bihar for improvement in social status ● Unionist Party under Fazl-i-Hussain (Punjab).
Revolutionary Activity with a Turn towards Socialism
This line was adopted by those dissatisfied with the nationalist strategy of the political struggle with its emphasis on nonviolence.
Here, too, two strands developed— ● Hindustan Republican Association (H.R.A.)—in Punjab-UP-Bihar ● Yugantar, Anushilan groups and later Chittagong Revolt Group under Surya Sen—in Bengal Revolutionary Activity During the 1920s Why Attraction for Revolutionary Activity after Non-Cooperation Movement
The revolutionaries had faced severe repression during the First World War. But in early 1920, many were released by the government under a general amnesty to create a harmonious environment for the Montford Reforms to work. Soon, Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation Movement. Under the persuasion of Gandhi and C.R. Das, many revolutionary groups either agreed to join the non-cooperation programme or suspended their activities to give the non-violent Non- Cooperation Movement a chance.
The sudden withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation Movement, however, left many of them disillusioned; they began to question the basic strategy of nationalist leadership and its emphasis on non-violence and began to look for alternatives. But since these younger nationalists were not attracted to the parliamentary work of the Swarajists or to the patient, undramatic, constructive work of the No-changers, they were drawn to the idea that violent methods alone would free India. Thus, revolutionary activity was revived.
Nearly all major leaders of revolutionary policies had been enthusiastic participants in the Non-Cooperation Movement and included Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, Surya Sen, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Chandrasekhar Azad, Shiv Verma, Bhagwaticharan Vohra, Jaidev Kapur and Jatin Das. Two separate strands of revolutionary groups emerged during this period—one operating in Punjab-UP-Bihar and the other in Bengal.
Major Influences
(i) Upsurge of working class trade unionism after the War; the revolutionaries wanted to harness the revolutionary potential of the new emergent class for nationalist revolution.
(ii) Russian Revolution (1917) and the success of the young Soviet state in consolidating itself.
(iii) Newly sprouting communist groups with their emphasis on Marxism, socialism and the proletariat.
(iv) Journals publishing memoirs and articles extolling the self-sacrifice of revolutionaries, such as Atmasakti, Sarathi and Bijoli.
(v) Novels and books such as Bandi Jiwan by Sachin Sanyal and Pather Dabi by Sharatchandra Chatterjee (a government ban only enhanced its popularity).
In Punjab-United Provinces-Bihar
The revolutionary activity in this region was dominated by the Hindustan Republican Association/Army or HRA (later renamed Hindustan Socialist Republican Association
or HSRA). The HRA was founded in October 1924 in Kanpur by Ramprasad Bismil, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee and Sachin Sanyal, with an aim to organise an armed revolution to overthrow the colonial government and establish in its place the Federal Republic of United States of India whose basic principle would be adult franchise.
Kakori Robbery (August 1925) The most important action of the HRA was the Kakori robbery. The men held up the 8-Down train at Kakori, an obscure village near Lucknow, and looted its official railway cash. Government crackdown after the Kakori robbery led to arrests of many, of whom 17 were jailed, four transported for life and four—Bismil, Ashfaqullah, Roshan Singh and Rajendra Lahiri—were hanged. Kakori proved to be a setback.
Determined to overcome the Kakori setback, the younger revolutionaries, inspired by socialist ideas, set out to reorganise Hindustan Republic Association at a historic meeting in the ruins of Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi (September 1928). Under the leadership of Chandra Shekhar Azad, the name of HRA was changed to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). The participants included Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Bhagwaticharan Vohra from Punjab and Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Shiv Verma and Jaidev Kapur from the United Provinces. The HSRA decided to work under a collective leadership and adopted socialism as its official goal.
Saunders’ Murder (Lahore, December 1928) Just when the HSRA revolutionaries had begun to move away from individual heroic action, the death of Sher-i-Punjab Lala Lajpat Rai due to lathi blows received during a lathi- charge on an anti-Simon Commission procession (October 1928) led them once again to take to individual assassination. Bhagat Singh, Azad and Rajguru shot dead Saunders, the police official responsible for the lathicharge in Lahore. The assassination was justified with these words: “The murder of a leader respected by millions of people at the unworthy hands of an ordinary police officer…was an insult to the nation. It was the bounden duty of young men of India to efface it… We regret to have had to kill a person but he was part and parcel of that inhuman and unjust order which has to be destroyed.” Bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly (April 1929) The HSRA leadership now decided to let the people know about its changed objectives and the need for a revolution by the masses. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were asked to throw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly on April 8, 1929 to protest against the passage of the Public Safety Bill and Trade Disputes Bill aimed at curtailing civil liberties of citizens in general and workers in particular. The bombs had been deliberately made harmless and were aimed at making ‘the deaf hear’. The objective was to get arrested and to use the trial court as a forum for propaganda so that people would become familiar with their movement and ideology.
Action against the Revolutionaries
Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were tried in the Lahore conspiracy case. Many other revolutionaries were tried in a series of other cases. In jail, these revolutionaries protested against the horrible conditions through fasting, and demanded honourable and decent treatment as political prisoners. Jatin Das became the first martyr on the 64th day of his fast. The defence of these young revolutionaries was organised by Congress leaders. Bhagat Singh became a household name.
Azad was involved in a bid to blow up Viceroy Irwin’s train near Delhi in December 1929. During 1930 there were a series of violent actions in Punjab and towns of United Provinces (26 incidents in 1930 in Punjab alone).
Azad died in a police encounter in a park in Allahabad in February 1931. Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged on March 23, 1931.
In Bengal
During the 1920s many revolutionary groups reorganised their underground activities, while many continued working under the Congress, thus getting access to the masses and providing an organisational base to the Congress in towns and villages. Many cooperated with C.R. Das in his Swarajist work. After Das’s death (1925), the Bengal Congress broke up into two factions—one led by J.M. Sengupta (Anushilan group joined forces with him) and the other led by Subhash Bose (Yugantar group backed him).
The actions of the reorganised groups included an assassination attempt on the notorious Calcutta Police Commissioner, Charles Tegart (another man named Day got killed) by Gopinath Saha in 1924. The government, armed with a new ordinance, came down heavily on revolutionaries.
Many including Subhash Bose were arrested. Gopinath Saha was hanged.
Because of government repression and factionalism among the revolutionaries, revolutionary activity suffered a setback, but soon many of revolutionaries started regrouping.
Among the new ‘Revolt Groups’, the most active and famous was the Chittagong group under Surya Sen.
Chittagong Armoury Raid (April 1930) Surya Sen had participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement and had become a teacher in the national school in Chittagong.
He was imprisoned from 1926 to 1928 for revolutionary activity and afterwards continued working in the Congress.
He was the secretary of the Chittagong District Congress Committee. He used to say ”Humanism is a special virtue of a revolutionary.” He was a lover of poetry and an admirer of Tagore and Qazi Nazrul Islam.
Surya Sen decided to organise an armed rebellion along with his associates—Anant Singh, Ganesh Ghosh and Lokenath Baul—to show that it was possible to challenge the armed might of the mighty British Empire. They had planned to occupy two main armouries in Chittagong to seize and supply arms to the revolutionaries to destroy telephone and telegraph lines and to dislocate the railway link of Chittagong with the rest of Bengal. The raid was conducted in April 1930 and involved 65 activists under the banner of Indian Republican Army—Chittagong Branch. The raid was quite successful; Sen hoisted the national flag, took salute and proclaimed a provisional revolutionary government. Later, they dispersed into neighbouring villages and raided government targets.
Surya Sen was arrested in February 1933 and hanged in January 1934, but the Chittagong raid fired the imagination of the revolutionary-minded youth and recruits poured into the revolutionary groups in a steady stream.
Aspects of the New Phase of Revolutionary Movement in Bengal
Some noteworthy aspects were as follows.
● There was a large-scale participation of young women especially under Surya Sen. These women provided shelter, carried messages and fought with guns in hand. Prominent women revolutionaries in Bengal during this phase included Pritilata Waddedar, who died conducting a raid; Kalpana Dutt who was arrested and tried along with Surya Sen and given a life sentence; Santi Ghosh and Suniti Chandheri, school girls of Comilla, who shot dead the district magistrate. (December 1931); and Bina Das who fired point blank at the governor while receiving her degree at the convocation (February 1932).
● There was an emphasis on group action aimed at organs of the colonial State, instead of individual action. The objective was to set an example before the youth and to demoralise the bureaucracy.
● Some of the earlier tendency towards Hindu religiosity was shed, and there were no more rituals like oath-taking, and this facilitated participation by Muslims. Surya Sen had Muslims such as Satar, Mir Ahmed, Fakir Ahmed Mian and Tunu Mian in his group.
There were some drawbacks too:
● The movement retained some conservative elements.
● It failed to evolve broader socio-economic goals.
● Those working with Swarajists failed to support the cause of Muslim peasantry against zamindars in Bengal.
Official Reaction
There was panic at first and then severe government repression.
Armed with 20 repressive Acts, the government let loose the police on the revolutionaries. In Chittagong, several villages were burned and punitive fines imposed on many others. In 1933, Jawaharlal Nehru was arrested for sedition and given two years’ sentence because he had condemned imperialism and praised the heroism of the revolutionaries.
Ideological Rethinking
A real breakthrough was made by Bhagat Singh and his comrades in terms of revolutionary ideology, forms of revolutionary struggle and the goals of revolution. The rethinking had begun in the mid-1920s. The Founding Council of HRA had decided to preach revolutionary and communist principles, and the HRA Manifesto (1925) declared that the “HRA stood for abolition of all systems which made exploitation of man by man possible”. The HRA’s main organ Revolutionary had proposed nationalisation of railways and other means of transport and of heavy industries such as ship building and steel. The HRA had also decided to start labour and peasant organisations and work for an “organised and armed revolution”. During their last days (late 1920s), these revolutionaries had started moving away from individual heroic action and violence towards mass politics.
Bismil, during his last days, appealed to the youth to give up pistols and revolvers, not to work in revolutionary conspiracies and instead work in an open movement. He urged the youth to strengthen Hindu-Muslim unity, unite all political groups under the leadership of the Congress. Bismil affirmed faith in communism and the principle that “every human being has equal rights over the products of nature”.
The famous statement of the revolutionary position is contained in the book The Philosophy of the Bomb written by Bhagwaticharan Vohra.
Even before his arrest, Bhagat Singh had moved away from a belief in violent and individual heroic action to Marxism and the belief that a popular broad-based movement alone could lead to a successful revolution. In other words, revolution could only be “by the masses, for the masses”.
That is why Bhagat Singh helped establish the Punjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha (1926) as an open wing of revolutionaries to carry out political work among the youth, peasants and workers, and it was to open branches in villages.
Bhagat and Sukhdev also organised the Lahore Students’ Union for open, legal work among students. Bhagat and his comrades also realised that a revolution meant organisation and development of a mass movement of the exploited and the suppressed sections by the revolutionary intelligentsia.
Bhagat used to say, “…real revolutionary armies are in villages and factories.” What then was the need for individual heroic action?
Firstly, effective acquisition of new ideology is a prolonged and historical process whereas the need of the time was a quick change in the way of thinking. Secondly, these young intellectuals faced the classic dilemma of how to mobilise people and recruit them. Here, they decided to opt for propaganda by deed, i.e., through individual heroic action and by using courts as a forum for revolutionary propaganda.
Redefining Revolution
Revolution was no longer equated with militancy and violence.
Its objective was to be national liberation—imperialism was to be overthrown but beyond that a new socialist order was to be achieved, ending “exploitation of man by man”. As Bhagat Singh said in the court, “Revolution does not necessarily involve sanguinary strife, nor is there a place in it for personal vendetta. It is not the cult of bomb and pistol.
By revolution we mean the present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice, must change.” Bhagat fully accepted Marxism and the class approach to society—”Peasants have to free themselves not only from

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