Most important aspects of Non-cooperation movement

Sansar LochanHistory of IndiaLeave a Comment

Background of non-cooperation movement

In Champaran, Khera and Ahmdabad, in a long history of discontent checks, the peasants were forced to grow indigo for Lancashire and Manchester cloth mills. When the opposition to British Raj increased the government took the national agitation as seditious and the expression to this can be seen in measures like the Rowlett act of 1919 which curtailed civil liberties of Indians. Gandhiji called for a nationwide Satyagraha against this but the struggle took a violent turn culminating into attacks on Europeans and general dyer’s Jaliawallabagh massacre. Gandhijias a result had to withdraw the movement.  However , these earlier movements shaped Gandhi’s understanding of the weaknesses and strengths of the people. Gandhi was committed to the belief that India was one nation,the task of building which he saw as Swaraj. In this his identity as mahatma and Indian nation were interwoven.

Khilafat movement

After this Gandhiji got involved in the Khilafat movement which got him under many Hindu misunderstandings and criticism but Gandhiji gave the argument that he considered it morally important.the Khilafat cause gave Gandhi an influential role and standing in Indian government, it enabled him to advocate non-cooperation with the British and also gave him a receptive audience.  In the early 20th century there was a rise of a new Muslim leadership away from the loyalists of politics of sir Syed Ahmad Khan and the elitism of older Aligarh generation. They were disappointed with the British gov. the Muslim university campaign suffered as government wanted to have a strict control and did not make it an affiliated body, the partition of Bengal was  annulled in 1911 also the Balkan wars seemed as a conspiracy against the ottoman empire. The Muslim league also was turning to a pro congress policy under young men like Abul Kalam, Muhammad Ali etc. The declaration of the British war with turkey and turkeys defeat created a situation of Islam in danger. There were 3 main demands of the Khilafat were that the khalifa retain control over the muslim holy places, the pre-war territories must be left with him and jizarat al arab be under Muslim sovereignty. This seemed like a pan Muslim movement in no connection with india . however, gailminault points out that it was a symbol to unite Indian Muslim community.

The Khilafat had two trends – the moderate and the radical. Gandhi mediates between both the groups. However, later the moderates loose control and the movement comes under the radicals. At the Amritsar meeting of the INC in 1919 concerns are raised on the massacre of Jaliawalabagh, Amritsar . The genral public was aggrieved about no measures being taken against dyer and other officials . The Muslims were unhappy with the treaty of serves imposed on turkey. The Khilafat under Gandhiji decided in its Allahabad conference to launch a four stage non cooperation movement : boycott of title, civil services , police and army, civil disobedience along with non payment of revenue until the situation is corrected.

Beginning of Non-Cooperation

The non-cooperation began with a hartal on August 1 which coincided with Lokmanya Tilak’s death. The support for the movement began to rise and Gandhiji pressed congress to plan a similar campaign on 3 issues which were the Punjab wrongs, Khilafat wrong and Swaraj. Although he never defined Swaraj. The important congress leaders were in doubt. They feared it might lead to violence leading to delay of implementation of constitutional reforms. Also Gandhi’s support came from the politically backward areas and groups hitherto untouched by congress. . In September congress met and non-cooperation was approved. . National school and colleges were to be set up, establishment of panchayat for settling disputes, hand spinning was encouraged to boycott English cloth and Hindu-Muslim unity and complete non-violence was to be maintained. During congress’s Nagpur session in 1920 after much debate all parts of non-cooperation movement were accepted. Gandhi promised to bring Swaraj in 1 year. Congress goals changed from self-governance through constitutional and legal means to attaining Swaraj by peaceful and legitimate means. New constitution by Gandhi brought in new changes. The provincial congress committees were now organised on linguistic basis. According to Judith brown the Nagpur resolution was a victory for Gandhi, he played a great role in having wider representation in congress and make it into a true mass organisation. He was a mediator between the educated high class groups active in politics to the wider social groups.

Civil disobedience and non-payment of land revenue

No government of India has ever faced such a problem before and the government was threatened by this disorder as Montague Chelmsford reform was to pass. The congress decided to boycott the elections for a new council of 1920. Government decided to hold the policy of non-interference. However, officials like William Vincent and Cradock disagreed as according to them it would jeopardize the launch of the reforms and also the movement must be suppressed before it goes out of hand. Gandhi and Ali brothers took a nationwide tour and held meetings. Gandhi announced the beginning of civil disobedience and non-payment of land revenue in Bardoli, Gujrat on 23 November. The non-cooperation movement began in January 1921.

Congress made efforts to raise a Tilak Swaraj fund and developing national schools and popularizing Charkhas, in the Khadi programme women had a major role to play. Economic boycott was most successful as even the traders participated and import of foreign cloth dropped to almost half, production of handloom increased. The education boycott was most successful in Bengal. On the day of arrival of prince of whales congress organised a hartal and a major plan for jail bharoandolan. However, the situation went out of hand and violence broke out in Bombay and Calcutta. The government took sharp actions political meetings were prohibited and leaders like Nehru and Lajpat Rai were arrested. Gandhi was disappointed and postponed the civil disobedience movement.

Arrest of Gandhiji

The most important aspects of non-cooperation was that it integrated the politically backward groups from different regions and it had an uneven geographical spread. Initially, there was middle class support which wasn’t as successful. There was peasant participation from Rajasthan, Gujrat, Assam etc., there was some lower caste participation from Maharashtra and labour unrest in madras, Bengal and Assam, also traders participated. Gandhi started the anti-arrack movement where women were the main participants as it affected women most, Gandhi addressed the question of caste through this movement as liquor was mainly a problem in lower caste families and they saw it as an opportunity for social upliftment. However, at places it often crossed the limit and the final threshold was reached in chaurachauri in Gorakhpur. Gandhiji withdrew the movement in February which disappointed the congress leaders. Gandhiji wanted to avoid false credo and did not want the government to have an exsuce to unlease violent repression. Gandhiji was arrested on 10 march 1922.

The Khilafat also started to collapse. According to Shekhar Bandhopadhyaya, the Khilafat leaders accepted Gandhi’s idea to take advantage of his influence. The overt use of religious symbols evoked religious sentiments in Muslim masses leading to violence. There were factionalism within the movement as the radicals suggested a move beyond non-violence while the moderates wanted to stay with Gandhi. Breach between Hindus and Muslims occurred, visible by the end of 1921 when the Moplah uprising in Malabar and other such incidents took place.

The non-cooperation movement took different shape in different regions, also in places even after official withdrawal of the movement it continued. In madras, the justice party launched a campaign against the “Brahman” congress and non-cooperation and supported the Montague Chelmsford reforms, so the boycott in the region was not successful. In Nagpur the inadequacy of national schools forced students to go back to government schools. In Punjab the Akali movement according to Richard for was the longest and largest Gandhian programme of Satyagraha. In 1920 a Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak committee was formed with the main aim to reclaim control of Sikh shrines. The government launched a repressive regime and the akali responded with Satyagraha gaining Gandhi’s and congress’s support and success. When the non-cooperation movement was withdrawn the akali campaign moved to the countryside, but when it became violent Gandhi withdrew his support. The gurdwara reform act 1925 restored control of shrines to sikh management but the withdrawal of support made them feel betrayed.

Gradually the middle class enthusiasm was dying down and larger Indian capitalist opposed the movement but the small traders and merchants continued to support but even they opposed total boycott of foreign goods. The attempt to involve the tea garden labourers in Chandpur Assam ended in a disaster. In Nagpur and berar, Gandhians succeeded in influencing the working class but when this turned violent the congress leaders withdrew disheartening the workers so that they did not support the movement again.

Success of non-cooperation movement

The non-cooperation movement was most successful in areas where peasants had already organised themselves. In Awadh district of UP there was a peasant movement against taluqdars under Baba Ramchandra which later came under UP Kisan Sabha. In north Bihar there was an anti-planters agitation and swami Vishwananda’s campaign. In Kheda district of Gujrat the pattidar peasants had already launched a successful no revenue campaign in 1918. Similar campaign had come in south India in 1921 in the Andhra delta. All these movements later got integrated into the non-cooperation movement. Bandhopadhyaya also points out that in the areas where there was a dominant peasant class the control of congress was greater than that in the areas where there was no dominant peasant group. Gandhi also influenced the Indian tribal population and their participation in politics increased. Examples of these come from areas like Kumaon and Garhwal regions and Midnapur district of Bengal where tribal rose against forest laws under local leaders.


Shahidamin says that Gandhi’s ideas were interpreted by people to fit their campaigns, he was imagined to have occult powers and tribal in Bengal believed in his protective powers. According to Judith brown Gandhi greatly contributed in mediating between groups and bringing the politically backward groups to participate actively in Indian politics, he changed the old congress policies which led congress to contribute to the stability of Indian politics after independence which is rare in post-independence history of Asian and African states. According to him it was Gandhi’s clothing and speech that helped him connect to the wider public. Various political leaders condemned Gandhi for the withdrawal of non-movement saying that he feared the radical turn in the movement as he wanted to protect the interests of landlords and capitalists. Bipin Chandra is of the view that Gandhi’s critics have been unfair to him as Gandhi repeatedly warned that he did not want violence anywhere in the country also he wanted to avoid violent repressive measures from the government. Gandhi used the congress organisation to launch the movement against colonial rule. He depended on the provincial leaders like Nehru and Patel, who depended on the local leaders and it was through this structure of leadership that Gandhi reached the masses and integrated different visions of freedom. His vision of non-violence was a superbly adaptable technique for conducting and resolving conflicts. According to Judith brown Thenon-cooperation movement gave Gandhi a new position of leadership and leverage in Indian politics. Muslims looked at him as a spokesperson and he gained support of Hindu leaders. By addressing not just the issue of religion but also caste and class by bringing in the people from lower caste and rural background he gained a sizable popularity.

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