The Khilafat Movement may be roughly said to have played out in two phases before it lost steam. The first phase (December 1918-July 1920) was the phase of petition and persuasion. This meant stirring public opinion, building up organizations, passing resolutions and petitioning the Government. The second phase (August 1920-March 1922) was the phase of coercion and carnage.
These two phases follow classical Islamic practice that entails preaching when the ummah is weak and wholesale violence once it gathers sufficient strength.
Muslim discontent after World War I
A series of secret treaties and war-time agreements from 1915-18 sought the dismemberment of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Turkey’s downfall was closely interwoven with the question of the Khilafat and of the guardianship of Islam’s holy places, issues that were dear to the Indian Muslims.
The Indian Muslims also feared that the collapse of the Ottoman Turkish Empire would adversely affect their political importance within India. The Indian Muslims complained that loyalty to the British had not fetched them any dividend.
In 1918, a joint report on Constitutional Reforms by Viceroy Lord Chelmsford and Secretary of State for India in the British Cabinet Sir Edwin Montague, known popularly as the Montford Report was published. The Report observed, “The Muhammadans were given special representation with separate electorates in 1909… The Muhammadans regard these as settled facts, and any attempt to
go back on them would rouse a storm of bitter protest and put a severe strain on the loyalty of a community… The Muhammadans regard separate representation and communal electorates as their only adequate safeguards… we are convinced that… the present system must be maintained… But we can see no reason to set up communal representation for Muhammadans in any province where they form a majority of the voters (The Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms, London, 1918, p.188). This mere suggestion of discontinuing communal representation not in toto but merely in Muslim-majority provinces was enough to raise the hackles of Muslim leaders.
The Press Act (1910) and the Defence of India Act (1915) had been frequently used to impede the publication of Muslim journals like the Comrade, Hamdard, Al-Hilal, Al-Balagh and Zamindar. More importantly, prominent leaders such as Mahmud al-Hassan, the Ali brothers, Abul Kalam Azad and Hasrat Mohani were in detention. Among the prominent leaders who had escaped internment
during the War, only Maulana Abdul Bari, Dr. Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Mushir Hosain Kidwai were politically active. Since early 1917, a movement had been started to get the detained Muslim leaders released (The Khilafat Movement in India, 1919-1924, Muhammad Naeem Qureshi, dissertation submitted to University of London, 1973, pp.51, 52).
Gandhi’s obsession with Hindu-Muslim unity
It was in 1915 that Gandhi returned to India, having conducted successful satyagraha campaigns in South Africa. It was in the winter of 1917 that Gandhi was persuaded to join the campaign for the release of detained Muslim leaders. His circle of Muslim friends now widened and included the Ali brothers, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Maulana Abdul Bari. He earned their gratitude when he forcefully presented the Muslim point of view with regard to Turkey at the Delhi Imperial War Conference in April 1918 (Qureshi, ibid, p. 53).
In February 1919, the Rowlatt Act was passed by the Imperial Legislative Council. This allowed certain political cases to be tried without juries and permitted internment of suspects without trial.
This resulted in widespread discontent and culminated in the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar on 13 April 1919.
Right from the start of his political career, Gandhi was obsessed with Hindu-Muslim unity. This is how Ambedkar describes this peculiar trait in Gandhi, “At the very commencement of his career… Mr. Gandhi startled the people of India by his promise to win Swaraj within six months, Mr. Gandhi said that he could perform the miracle only if certain conditions were fulfilled. One of these
conditions was the achievement of Hindu-Muslim unity. Mr. Gandhi is never tired of saying that there is no Swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity. Mr. Gandhi did not merely make this slogan the currency of Indian politics but he has strenuously worked to bring it about. Mr. Gandhi…declaring his intention to launch Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act …March 1919… had prescribed that the masses attending the meetings should take a vow (of Hindu-Muslim unity)… There was nothing in the campaign of Satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act which could have led to any clash between the Hindus and the Muslims. Yet Mr. Gandhi asked his followers to take the vow. This shows how insistent he was from the very beginning upon Hindu-Muslim unity” (Pakistan or the Partition of India, B.R. Ambedkar, Thacker and Company Limited, 1945, pp. 135,136).
It is possible that Gandhi’s life-long obsession with Hindu-Muslim unity was influenced by his early interaction with Muslim leaders in the winter of 1917.
Gandhi-Bari quid pro quo
The first public expression of the anxiety over the fate of Turkey was given at the All India Muslim League session held in Delhi on 30, 31 December 1918. However, the agitation over Turkey was mostly centred in the larger towns of the U.P., Bengal, Punjab, Bombay and Sind. Clearly, Muslim mobilization was not enough. Hindu support was needed to further the pan-Islamist agenda.
The Source Material for a History of the Freedom Movement in India (Vol. 3, Government of Maharashtra, p.139) says in its report of 3 March 1919, “In March 1919, Gandhi was in Lucknow as the guest of Abdul Bari… An informer reports that Mr. Gandhi met Maulvi Abdul Bari some time ago and discussed the Satyagraha movement (against Rowlatt Bill) with him. Gandhi is said to have been most optimistic about the success of the movement. He told Abdul Bari that he had agents in every city and that the passive resistance idea would extend to the servants of officials and to the army.
Hindu-Muslim unity would be complete and the Government would be paralysed. It was agreed that when agitation was at its height there would be a large meeting of Ulemas, Maulvis and Mahommadans generally, at which Abdul Bari should be elected Shaikh-ul-lslam and the Muslim demands regarding the Khilafat, the holy places, etc., should be formulated. The Hindus would support these demands which should be submitted to His Excellency the Viceroy with the warning that non-acceptance of them would mean jehad. In return for the assistance of the Hindus, Abdul Bari, in his capacity as Shaikh-ul-lslam, was to issue a fatwa declaring that the animal originally sacrificed by Ibrahim was a sheep and not a cow, and that cow-sacrifice was prohibited in future.
The scheme is said to have been ruined by the outbreaks of violence in various parts of the country” (p. 139). Gandhi and Abdul Bari were both utilizing each other and the issues they stood for to their own advantage. Gandhi exploited the Khilafat issue to gain Muslim support and through them the leadership of a united India. Otherwise, he himself admitted that he ‘cared nothing for Turkey as such, but the Indian Mahommadans did … and, he felt justified in championing it’. For Abdul Bari, Gandhi’s support meant the strengthening of the Khilafat movement and perhaps personal fame as the ‘Shaikh-ul-Islam’ of the sub-continent. For this he was prepared to modify his earlier stance and
preach cow protection (Qureshi, ibid, pp. 59-60). The Rowlatt Satyagraha was short-lived and was suspended by Gandhi on 18 April, 1919.
On 19 March 1919, some wealthy Bombay Muslim businessmen of Firangi Mahal connection funded the establishment of the Bombay Khilafat Committee. In the middle of May 1919, the Amir Amanullah of Afghanistan embarked upon a war with the British. The pan-Islamists lost no time in coquetting with the Amir’s agents. Abdul Bari circulated an ‘inflammatory’ leaflet and a lengthy jihad pamphlet appeared in the U.P. which emphasised the necessity of a religious war (The Khilafat Movement in India 1919-1924, A.C. Niemeijer, Martinus Nijhoff, 1972, p. 75; see also Qureshi, ibid, p.67).
In spite of deputations to London to plead Turkey’s case, efforts by pan-Islamist societies in London and agitations in India, no favourable result was in sight. To give a more united expression to their feelings, an All India Muslim Conference was held in Lucknow in September 1919 which was attended by around 1000 important Muslim leaders of different shades of political opinion. Two significant decisions were taken by the Conference; first, the establishment of a central coordinating body and, secondly, the fixing of 17 October 1919, as the ‘Khilafat Day’. The Muslim League was reluctant to pursue an aggressive anti-Government line, hence it was thought necessary to establish a temporary organisation solely for the Khilafat question. The Khilafat Committee of Bombay was designated as a central body with branches to be formed all over the country. Consequently, at a meeting held on 11 November 1919, the Bombay Khilafat Committee changed its title to ‘The Central Khilafat Committee of India, Bombay’ (Qureshi, ibid, p. 71).
Central Khilafat Committee
The Central Khilafat Committee (hereafter CKC) or the Jamiyat-i-Khilafat-i-Hind as it was also known, met again in Amritsar (December 1919) and Bombay (February 1920). As per its constitution, the objects of the CKC were: To secure for Turkey a just and honourable peace; to obtain the settlement of the Khilafat question; also of the holy places of Islam and the Jazirat-ul Arab (Arabian Peninsula) in strict accordance with the requirements of the Shariat; to secure the fulfilment of the pledges of Rt. Hon. Mr. Lloyd George, given on 5th January, 1919 and of Lord Hardinge, regarding the preservation of the integrity of the Turkish Empire; for the above purpose to approach the British Ministers, the Viceroy of India and the British public; to carry on propaganda work in and out of India; to take such further steps as may be deemed necessary.
The CKC with its headquarters at Bombay consisted of 200 members – later increased to 250 in 1923.
Bombay was given 54 seats, Sind 20, Madras 15 and the remaining seats went to other provinces.
The provincial Khilafat committees were required to work in affiliation with the CKC and where no such committees existed the central body was to do the work. The central and the provincial committees were to collect funds. With a hundred odd local committees and a vast membership, it became the most powerful Muslim body until the re-vitalisation of the Muslim League in the late
1920’s (Qureshi, ibid, p. 72).
In addition, there were so-called Khilafat Workers and Khilafat Volunteers. At some places, men were appointed to collect four annas a head from those who wished to style themselves Khilafat members (Niemeijer, ibid, p. 85).
On the level of mass membership, no clear distinction was made in those years between Congress and Khilafat adherents. It was not uncommon even to combine offices in the Congress organization with similar ones in the Muslim League, and the same rule applied to Congress and the Khilafat Conference and the CKC. This was because the Congress fully accepted the Khilafat demands since the summer of 1920. Large meetings took place especially in Punjab, Sind, Bombay, the U.P., Bihar, Bengal and Madras. The movement was also spreading to the villages. Not only the Muslim masses, but Muslim liberals too participated. As an exception, some liberal Muslims, notably Jinnah considered the Khilafat movement to be “a false religious frenzy” of which no good could ultimately come, either for India in general or for the Indian Muslims in particular (Niemeijer, ibid, pp. 86-90).
It is remarkable that in these early manifestations of the Khilafat movement, no mention is made of co-operation with the Hindus or of swaraj. Almost on the contrary, Seth Haji Abdullah Harun, president of the Khilafat Conference in Sind – a man who in the years 1911-1913 was prominent in the Sind Red Crescent Society complained bitterly of having been lumped together “with extremists and Home Rulers” (Niemeijer, ibid, p. 91).
The supporters of the Khilafat Movement themselves had doubts about the so-called Hindu-Muslim unity engendered by the Khilafat Movement. In 1913 itself, Muhammad Ali had warned Hindu and Muslim leaders alike against “mistaking the accidental for the essential” and “drowning the problem
in a deluge of words.” Several years after the event, Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman of the Muslim League described in his memoirs “the silly excitement” of the Muslims who took Swami Shraddhanand inside the mosque at Delhi. Probably becoming wise some thirty years after the events, Nehru spoke about “the artificial unity Gandhi had forged out of diverse discontents” (Niemeijer, ibid, p. 93). For the majority of the Hindus, the religious and even the political aspects of the Khilafat Movement had little appeal. Among their leaders, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861-1946) was perhaps the chief sceptic. In December 1918, as the President of the Congress, he had ruled out the plea of
Chittaranjan Das (1870-1925) to lend support to the Khilafat issue. Sankaran Nair (1857-1934, President of 1897 Congress session) was openly critical of the Khilafatists’ motives! Lokmanya Tilak (1856-1920) was another sceptic. Vallabhbhai Patel (1875-1950) and Indulal K. Yajnik (1892-1972, participant in Gandhi’s Kheda Satyagraha in 1918) exchanged ‘many unholy jokes and laughs over the sacred cause of the Khilafat. Bipin Chandra Pal (1858-1932), who had always dreaded ‘the virus of pan-Islamism’, was also hesitant to lend his support. Motilal Nehru (1861-1931) considered that there were ‘many things nearer home than the question of the Khilafat which we have to attend to’. V.S. Srinivasa Sastri (1869-1946, follower of Gopal Krsihna Gokhale; Gandhi used to address him as ‘elder brother’) advised Gandhi to stay clear of the Khilafat movement for ‘we have no right to embarrass the Government of India’. There were others who gave only verbal support and yet others attached conditions of cow protection before they joined the Muslims (Qureshi, ibid, pp. 74,75).
In spite of Gandhi’s efforts and his earlier claims that twenty-one crores of Hindus were ready to help Muslims dictate to the Government whatever terms they wished, the Khilafat Day (17 October 1919) saw no big Hindu-Muslim entente. Only at Dacca, Bombay, Lucknow, Hyderabad (Sind), Sukkur and a few other places did the Hindus join the Muslims in demonstrations and observe hartals (Qureshi, ibid, p. 76).
In a meeting of the CKC in 1920, “extremist Moslem leaders advocated joining any Afghan army that might invade India to drive out the British. Hindu leaders demanded explanation and made it clear that at first sign of such danger Hindus would cease to co-operate” (Niemeijer, ibid, p. 95).
From persuasion to coercion
Despite all efforts, Prime Minister Lloyd George’s speeches created grave doubts that Turkey would get the treatment the Khilafatists were hoping for. The British Government had called for Peace Celebrations in India in December 1919 to celebrate the end of the War. When on 23 November 1919, the first session of the All-India Khilafat Conference opened at Delhi; it was unanimously decided to boycott of the Peace Celebrations as a religious duty. It was decided to send a deputation to Britain to place their demands before responsible British ministers. If this failed to bring about desired result, it was decided to start boycott of British goods, followed if required by gradual cessation of co-operation with the Government. The last bit about Non-cooperation was Gandhi’s suggestion to circumvent the Muslim insistence on boycott of goods and violence.
To get the crucial Hindu support to the Khilafat Movement, a special joint meeting of Hindu and Muslim delegates was held the following day (24 November 1919). To assuage Gandhi, he was made President and the resolution on boycott of goods that he had opposed was withdrawn. To win Hindu
approval, Fazlul Haque had proposed adding the Punjab issue (Jallianwala Baug massacre) to the Khilafat issue. But this proposal was dropped because Gandhi was opposed to it. He wanted the Khilafat issue to be the sole basis for Non-Cooperation. The Khilafatists successfully organized boycott of the Peace Celebrations. The moderate businessmen leaders in the CKC were sidelined and
the Ali brothers became the leaders of the Khilafat Movement. At CKC meetings at Bombay in April and May, 1920, the principle of Non-cooperation was accepted and a committee was appointed to work out a scheme for its initiation. In June 1920, an All-India Khilafat Conference at Allahabad resolved to give effect to Non-cooperation “without further delay”; the Viceroy, however, was given “a month’s warning”.
Whereas the Khilafatists accepted the Non-cooperation programme without too much opposition towards it and in rather a short time, Congress took a longer time to do so. Initially, the Khilafatists were prepared to go a good deal further than Congress. Their programme included resignation from the police and the army and refusal to pay taxes, whereas the Congress programme initially
envisaged merely advising people not to offer themselves as recruits for the army. These widely differing programmes reflected the wavering within the Hindu leaders in the Congress.
How Gandhi neutralized the opposition to the Khilafat Movement within the Congress and forced it to come around to the position taken by Khilafatists is another story. With an ally like Gandhi, the time for persuasion was over; it was now time for coercion and carnage for the Khilafatists!
(The author has written books on Islam, Christianity, contemporary Buddhist-Muslim relations, Shuddhi movement and religious demography)