The end of the First World War created more problems globally than establishing peace. The so-called Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920) was all set to create a new world order. The Muslims in many countries, including in India, were anxious and agitative to know the fate of the Caliph (Khalifa) of Turkey and holy places in West Asia. The Indian nationalist leaders and masses, on the other hand, had many reasons to protest against British rule. Thus, the nationalist issues and Khilafat issues were merged to start an all-India mass movement.
At the beginning of the First World War (1914-1918), the British Government had promised constitutional reforms in India. Instead, they handed over the Rowlatt Act to Indians which was an attempt to curb civil rights through a system of special courts and detention without trial for a maximum of two years. The Act gave immense power to the police, which created panic among Indians. Almost all political parties opposed Rowlatt Act and Gandhi organised Satyagraha Sabha with the help of ex-members of Home Rule League and Pan-Islamic group like Abdul Bari of Firangi Mahal ulema group (Lucknow), Ali brothers (Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Shaukat Ali ), Wazir Hasan, Raja of Mahmudabad, Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, etc. Though there was unrest in many parts of India it was maximum in Punjab due to rising in the price of food grain to 100% between 1917 and 1919, Muslim-awakening brought about by poets like Mohammad Iqbal and journalists like Zafar Ali Khan, and also due to activities of Arya Samajists. At Badhshahi mosque (Lahore) people’s committee was formed which virtually controlled the city from April 11, 1919, to April 14, 1919. Apart from Punjab, Delhi and Calcutta were also important centres of Rowlatt Satyagraha. At Delhi, unemployed artisans and lower-middle-class Hindus joined with prominent Muslim leaders like M.A. Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan and observed series of hartals from March 30, 1919, to April 18, 1919. But the Jallianwala Bagh massacre (April 13, 1919) shocked the nation and Gandhi who, calling Rowlatt Satyagraha as his Himalayan miscalculation, decided to call it off on April 18, 1919.
The nationalist movement had a brief halt, but some sections of Muslims were active, agitative and organised on Khilafat issue. The word Khilafat’ derived from the Arabic word ‘Khalifa’, used for ruler Arab and other Islamic countries, meant institution or office of Khalifa. The Khalifa of Turkey was regarded as the spiritual and political head of the Muslim world, at least for some Muslims. The allied powers, i.e., England, France, USA, etc. had imposed a harsh and humiliating treaty on Germany in June 1919, at Versaille (near Paris). A similar humiliating treaty was being planned for Turkey, the ally of Germany in the war. To put pressure on English, French and USA, the Khilafat Movement was launched in many Muslim countries, therefore, it became a pan-Islamic movement. In India, a Khilafat Committee was formed at Bombay by Ali brothers—Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar and his elder brother Shaukat Ali—Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Mohammad Ali presented a charter of demand before the diplomats in Paris in March 1920. They demanded that
- the Caliph must retain control over the Muslim sacred places, like Mecca, Medina, Aqsa (in Jerusalem);
- the Caliph must be left with sufficient territory to enable him to defend the Islamic faith; and
- the Jazirat-ul-Arab (Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, etc.) must remain under the Muslim sovereignty.
Members of the Khilafat Committee of UP, Bengal, Sindh and Malabar, came from the lower middle class who were mainly journalists and ulemas. They called all-India hartals on October 17, 1919, and March 19, 1920, and also worked for Hindu-Muslim unity. Despite all their efforts and pressure tactics, the humiliating treaty of Severe (August 10, 1920) was imposed on Turkey, forcing them to boycott the British goods, services, and the institution run by the Government. They wanted to make it an all-India movement, therefore, chose Mahatma Gandhi as their leader. Gandhi, too, saw this as a great opportunity to gain the confidence of Muslims and also to strengthen the national freedom movement as the Muslims were well organised against the British. To show solidarity with Muslim sentiments, he returned his ‘Kaiser-i-Hind’ honour and undertook a nationwide tour and addressed hundreds of meetings. He merged the various political issues like the Rowlatt Act, Jallianwala Bagh massacre, dyarchy (a provision of Government of India Act, 1919), price-rise of essential commodities—with Khilafat issue. In other words, he channelised various streams into one national mainstream. The Congress met in a special session at Calcutta on September 4, 1920, and Gandhi’s resolution on Non-Cooperation was passed. Despite opposition from C.R. Das, Madan Malaviya, Lajpat Rai and Bipan Chandra Pal, the resolution recommended a boycott of the legislature, renunciation of Government titles, law courts, Government educational institution and foreign goods. Emphasis was laid down on the promotion of Swadeshi goods and panchayats were to be established for settling disputes. The resolution of September was ratified at the annual session of the Congress at Nagpur in December 1920 where Congress was restructured under the guidance of Gandhi.
The alliance between Khilafat and Non-Cooperation movements, thus, was situational and perhaps need of the hour. Many eminent Muslim leaders were associated with both the Khilafat Movement and the Congress party; therefore, the alliance was natural too. The Khilafat issue further helped in making Non- Cooperation Movement an all-India mass movement.
Was it a politically wise step on the part of the Congress?
But, the issue of Khilafat was blown out of proportion. It was neither a serious or real Islamic issue nor concerned with the life of average Indian Muslim in any way. Most of the Indian Muslims did not know where Turkey was and who was the Caliph (Abdul Majeed III was the Caliph). Interestingly, the Turkish people who were led by Mustafa Kamal Pasha, themselves removed the Caliph, for whose honour’ Indian Muslims had launched such a powerful movement along with the Congress. The Congress obviously felt let down by the events in Turkey as it placed the Congress in an awkward situation. Khilafat was a religious issue and Congress party claimed itself a secular party. Many leaders of Congress including Mohammad Ali Jinnah was not happy with mixing up a religious issue with a political issue. The growth of communalism in Indian politics proved that it was dangerous to use religious issues or symbols in a plural society like India’s. Thus, mixing Khilafat issue with Non-Cooperation Movement was not a wise decision if not another ‘Himalayan miscalculation’.