Gandhi’s Experiment with Khilafat Movement

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A. (Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D.

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India.

When  India’s independence struggle was at its height Gandhi realized that independence cannot come about by the efforts of the Hindus alone. Muslims too must be involved in the struggle. Gandhi decided to bring in the Muslim masses and particularly their religious leaders. This led to the Khilafat Movement of 1919-24. Gandhi and led by him the Indian National Congress joined hands with the religious group knows as Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind. This was Gandhi’s experiment with orthodox Islam.

During the First World War, Turkey was allied with Germany and Austria against the British. The Indian Muslims regarded the Sultan of Turkey as their spiritual leader, Khalifa, so naturally theysympathized with Turkey. After the four, the British removed the Khalifa from power and fragmented Turkey. Hence, the Muslims started the Khalifat movement in India for the restoration of the Khalifa’s position. The Muslims like the Ali brothers, Muhammad Ali Hasrat Mohani and Shaukat Ali and Maulana, Abul Kalam Azad had organised a Khilafatparty.

The demands of the Jamiat were simple. In Turkey the Caliph (the supreme religious ruler, the Jamiat wanted the power of the Caliph to be restored to the full. It claimed that the Caliph was the true ruler of all Muslims everywhere; therefore the Muslims must restore him. The Jamiat therefore proposed an alliance with the Congress to fight the British in India . Without realizing the implications Gandhi agreed to join the ‘restore Caliph’ movement. Thus the Jamiat’s entry into Indian national movement had nothing to do with India , but everything to do with a faraway country. Even more importantly it had nothing to do with Hindus, Christians, Parsis or secular Muslims . That was the first mistake Gandhi made: he believed that the movement would bring Hindus and Muslims closer.

Gandhiji decided to extend their support to the Khilafat movement as this was to him and apportion duty of uniting the Hindu and Muslim. October 17, 1919 was observed as Khilafat Day when the Hindu united with Muslims in fasting and observed a hartal on tht day. Gandhiji was elected President of the All-India Khilafat Conference which met at Delhi on November 23, 1919. They decided to withdraw all cooperation from the government if their demands were not met. . The main demand was  Khalifa’s control should be retained over the Muslim scared places.

In 1920 an alliance was made between Khilafat leaders and the Indian National Congress, the largest political party in India and of the nationalist movement. Congress leader Mohandas Gandhi and the Khilafat leaders promised to work and fight together for the causes of Khilafat and Swaraj. Seeking to increase pressure on the British, the Khilafatists became a major part of the Non-cooperation movement — a nationwide campaign of mass, peaceful civil disobedience. The support of the Khilafatists helped Gandhi and the Congress ensure Hindu-Muslim unity during the struggle. Gandhi described his feelings towards Mohammad Ali as “love at first sight” to underscore his feelings of solidarity. However, the Congress-Khilafat alliance began withering soon.

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 skeptical of Satyagraha as an instrument of politics. 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 them 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.

The Islamic movements are not anti-British, not anti-Imperialists or pro-nationalists – they are simply supporters of their version of Islam. They are extremists to whom orthodox Islam is everything. The Muslim leaders of the Khilafat movement painted a picture of world-wide conspiracy against Muslims. Gandhi was swayed by the eloquence of Mohamed and Shaukat Ali.

Gandhi ignored voices coming from the Indian Muslim community. There were many Indian Muslims who did not support the Khilafat movement. Sir Sayed Ahmed Khan had distinguished sharply between the political realm and religious realm declaring the two to be separate. He also said that a Caliph is the Caliph only of his own territory and there is no universal Caliphate What Gandhi did was to legitimize Islamic identity over other ties and give a boost to the pan-Islamic identity. He ignored the sects of syncretic Islam that had arisen in the Indian subcontinent.  There were also a growing number of secular Muslims. But Gandhi ignored them in favour of religious mullahs.

The Muslim clergy did not believe in living peacefully with other religions. During the Khilafat movement the Ali brothers and Maulana Azad declared that India was enemy territory and so favoured migration toTurkey . It is obvious therefore such Muslims had no love for India or for their fellow citizens; they cared only for their pure Islam. . In 1920 the latter movement was marred by the ḥijrat, or exodus, from India to Afghanistan of about 18,000 Muslim peasants, who felt that India was an apostate land

The movement brought the urban Muslims into the national movement, but at the same time it communalized 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.

It cannot be emphasized enough that Khilafat movement had no real connection with India ‘s national movement. It was all about Turkey ; Turks themselves have kicked out their Caliph. Yet Indian Muslims were asked to fight for this deposed leader. Gandhi thus ignored the actual nature of Khilafat agitation. It was only later when many Congressmen began to question the extra-territorial loyalty of Muslims that Gandhi woke up.   The Khilafat movement made the Muslims more conscious of their Islamic identity. It was this that finally led to the Pakistan movement and partition India was divided on the basis of religion.

According to Subhash:“Mr . Gandhi when persuaded by the Ali brothers to join hands with them in launching a forceful movement could clearly visualise that by exploiting the Muslim sentiments he could build himself into a leader of All India stature. And he succeeded in achieving that purpose

But Mr. Subhash Bose has his way of looking at things. It is a renowned fact that Mr. Bose had never liked the dictatorial behaviour of Mr. Gandhi. He hated “yesmanship .

Swami Shardhanand (d:1936) was amongst those who disliked the  Pact. He states, “I attended the Lucknow sitting of the Congress also as a visitor but behind the scenes I had to do something with the negotiations that were going on. The Hindu-Muslim pact was privately discussed in my presence. Pandit Madan Malaviya and Mr. C.Y. Chintarmany were  both against the pact. They could not agree to communal representation and communal votings. In informal talks, I too, was in agreement with their views”.

Mr.S.K. Majumdar commenting on Mr.Gandhi’s interest in the Khilafat Movement says:

“Therefore, he (Mr.Gandhi) was determined that the flame of the Khilafat Movement must be kept ablaze. With that end in view, he felt that if he himself be sent to prison for his activities in the Khilafat cause, his non-cooperation Movement would acquire tremendous strength among the Muslims. he was bent on retaining the Muslims under his banner and under his leadership for what he considered his life’s Session”

Mr. Gandhi stood elated. He had succeeded in killing the spirit of the Lucknow Pact wherein lay the acceptance of the fact that Muslims and Hindus were two separate nations represented politically by the Muslim League and the Congress respectively. Now there no longer were two nations. There was only one Indian nation led by their supreme leader Mr. Gandhi.

Gandhi viewed Islam through his own spirituality ignoring how the parishioners of Islam actually saw it. For them religion and politics are inseparable. To Gandhi this was not bad since he also believed that religion and politics should not be separable and religion is needed to make politics ethical. He himself was a devout Hindu and declared his allegiance to Hinduism as an essential component of national struggle. But his Hinduism was of a different brand than the Islam practiced by orthodox Muslims. About Hindu sacred texts Gandhi said, “My belief in the Hindu scriptures does not require me to accept every word and every verse as divinely inspired.  Nothing in the shastras which is manifestly contrary to universal truths and morals can stand…  Nothing in the shastras which is capable of being reasoned can stand if it is in conflict with reason. But no devout Muslim can accept this as true of the Koran or even the Hadith. For them their revealed texts are eternal and immutable; the commandments are not to be rationally scrutinized but simply accepted. That was the essential difference between the way Gandhi practiced his religion and the orthodox Muslims practice theirs.

It was not that Gandhi was ignorant of Islamic fanaticism. He complained that Muslims are bullies and Hindus are cowards during riots. The Ali brothers had invited the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India . Swami Shraddhananda was shot dead by Abdul Rashid. No Muslim condemned the murder; instead Rashid was declared a martyr and was given a namaaz (prayed upon) in the mosques. However Gandhi’s response was the mistaken one of appeasement: the belief that the bully would be transformed if only one shows friendship. So he pardoned every Muslim fanaticism. He said, “I have called Abdul Rashid a brother and I repeat it. I do not even regard him as guilty of Swami’s murder. Guilty indeed are those who excited feeling of hatred against one another”.  After 1947, he said “Hindus should never be angry against the Muslims even if the latter might make up their minds to undo even their existence.” Also: “They (Hindus) should not be afraid of death. After all, the killers will be none other than our Muslim brothers”.

Needless to say Gandhi’s experiment with Islam failed. The results were disastrous for both Hindus and Muslims. In 1922 there was violence and Gandhi withdrew his support for the movement. Now let us take a look at the consequences of support to this Islamic movement:-

For the sake of Hindu-Muslim alliance Gandhi continued to make compromise after compromise, but ultimately the alliance collapsed.  It collapsed because of several reasons and because Gandhi did not think things through. He was not interested in Turkey but according to his own words wanted to buy Muslim friendship. The problem was that Gandhi simply did not understand the mindset of Islamic leaders he was dealing with.

The Muslim clergy became the centerpiece of Muslim politics in India .  But now they became de facto leaders and the genuinely secular and educated Muslim leaders were sidelined. Muslims blamed Gandhi for the failure of the restoration of Khalifa.

It led to Mopla riots. The Mopla Muslim community heard rumours that the time for jihad had come and an end must be put to all kaffirs. So they violently attacked the Hindus, killing old and young, raping women, tearing off fetuses from wombs. Finally the British restored peace. This must be the only time during the national movement when British troops were welcomed with open arms by the Indians.

Let us see how the orthodox  Muslims repaid Gandhi: In 1924,  Mohammed Ali to whom Gandhi showed such affection said, : “However pure Mr. Gandhi’s character may be, he must appear to me, from the point of religion, inferior to any Mussalman even though he be without character.”  In 1925 he emphasized:  “Yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Mussalman to be better than Mr. Gandhi”. That is the true Islamofascist mentality revealed in all its glory.



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