The movement ignited the spirit of Dar-ul-Islam among Muslims.


Mahatma Gandhi, who started his political career in India with the short-lived campaign against the Rowlatt Act, had, according to Dr Ambedkar, “startled the people of India by his promise to win Swaraj within six months”. And “Hindu-Muslim” unity was one of the “condition precedents” laid down by him. Dr Ambedkar further says: “The (Khilafat) movement was started by the Mohammedans. It was taken up by Mr Gandhi with tenacity and faith, which might have surprised many Mohammedans themselves. There were many people who doubted the ethical basis of the Khilafat movement and tried to dissuade Mr Gandhi taking any part in the Movement the ethical basis of which was so questionable.” (Pakistan or Partition of India, pages 146,147).

One among those who doubted the logic of Gandhiji’s experiment was Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Once he even met Gandhiji and asked him: “As a matter of fact, we have in Bharat people belonging to different faiths like Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. So, instead of talking about the unity of all these people, what is the rationale behind speaking only of Hindu-Muslim unity?” Gandhiji retorted: “Through this, my idea is to create a love for this nation in the minds of Muslims here, and don’t you see the spectacle of their fighting shoulder to shoulder with others for India’s freedom?” Doctorji, who was not satisfied with this answer, again said: “Even before this slogan was coined, many Muslims like Barrister Jinnah, Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan, etc. were active under the leadership of Lokmanya Tilak in the freedom movement. And I fear this slogan will create divisive tendencies in the minds of Muslims.” Gandhiji abruptly wound up the meeting saying “I don’t have such fear.” (Dr. Hedgewar by Nana Palkar: page 99).

What was the appreciation of Pandit Nehru of the Khilafat Movement? “Owing to the prominence given to the Khilafat movement in 1921, a large number of Moulvies and Muslim religious leaders took a prominent part in the political struggle. They gave a definite religious tinge to the Movement, and Muslims generally were greatly influenced by it. Many a Westernised Muslim, who was not of a particularly religious turn of mind, began to grow a beard and otherwise conform to the tenets of Orthodoxy. The influence and prestige of the Moulvies, which had been gradually declining owing to new ideas and a progressive Westernisation, began to grow again and dominate the Muslim community. The Ali brothers, themselves of a religious turn of mind, helped in this process, and so did Gandhiji, who paid the greatest regard to the Moulvies and Moulanas.” (Jawaharlal Nehru: An Autobiography, Page 71-72).

Dr M.G.S. Narayanan, former Chairman, ICHR, New Delhi, shed light on why and how the calculations of Gandhiji went wrong and the disastrous turn the movement took: “Gandhiji was politically innocent at that time to assume in the context of British India that the poor and illiterate Muslim community in India could be drawn into an active political struggle against the British power easily. To please the Muslims, he supported the case of the moribund Khilafat that the British had done away within Turkey at the close of the First World War. Later Mahatma Gandhi regretted this folly in sponsoring the Khilafat, but it was too late by that time—the damage was done. Instead of coaxing Muslims into social reform and modern education, the Khilafat had legitimised their conservative religious instincts and roused their fears and suspicions about the outside world. It strengthened their communalism, which thrived on hatred against the Hindu Kafirs, lying dormant from the days of Alauddin Khilji and Aurangazeb.” (In his Foreword to the book Gandhi and Anarchy by Chettur Sankaran Nair, page II).

According to Pandit Nehru, “Thus Indian Muslims sought to derive some psychological satisfaction from the contemplation of Islam’s great past, chiefly in other countries…especially Turkey, practically the only power left.” (Discovery of India, page 346). These observations clearly indicate where and why Gandhi’s expectations were belied.

Why was the agitation called off abruptly? Had Gandhiji consulted anyone in the Congress party before doing so? Writes Pandit Nehru: “Suddenly, early in February 1922, the whole scene shifted, and we in prison learnt, to our amazement and consternation, that Gandhi had stopped the aggressive aspects of our struggle, that he had suspended civil resistance. We read that this was because what had happened near the village of Chauri Chaura where a mob of villagers had retaliated on some policemen by setting fire to the police-station and burning half a dozen or so policemen in it. …We were angry when we learnt of this stoppage of our struggle at a time when we seemed to be consolidating our position and advancing on all fronts. But the disappointment and anger in prison do little good to anyone, and civil resistance stopped, and non-cooperation wilted away.” (Jawaharlal Nehru: An Autobiography, page 81).

Gandhiji, who was shocked enough by the news of “setting fire to the police station and burning of half a dozen or so policemen in it” to withdraw the agitation, had failed to show even a fraction of that sympathy to the Hindus of Malabar. And although Hakim Ajmal Khan condemned in unequivocal terms the Moppla Muslims to assuage the hurt of the Hindus, Gandhiji “underplayed the occurrence”, says Rafiq Zakaria (Gandhi and the Break-up of India, page 64). Hence, Annie Besant said, “It would be well if Gandhi could be taken into Malabar to see with his own eyes the ghastly horrors which have been created by the preaching of himself and his ‘loved brothers’ Muhammed Ali and Shaukat Ali…. Mr Gandhi was shocked when Parsi ladies had their saries torn off, and very properly, yet the God-fearing hooligans had been taught that it was sinful to wear foreign cloth, and doubtless felt they were doing a religious act; can he not feel a little sympathy for thousands of women left with only rags, driven from home, for little children born of the flying mothers on roads in refugee camps? The misery is beyond description. Girl wives pretty and sweet, with eyes, half-blind with weeping, distraught with terror; women who have seen their husbands hacked to pieces before their eyes, in the way ‘Moplas consider as religious;’ old women tottering, whose faces become written with anguish and who cry at a gentle touch and a kind look waking out of a stupor of misery only to weep; men who have lost all, hopeless, crushed, desperate… Mr Gandhi would have hostilities ‘suspended’ so that the Moplas may sweep down on the refugee camps, and finish their work?” (New India, November 29, 1921).

All of this leads us to one conclusion: Gandhiji, who sought to club the Khilafat Movement with India’s freedom struggle, was never under the illusion that the Movement had anything to do with our freedom movement, and for Indian Muslims it was anything but a religious war or jihad (the utmost effort, a war in the cause of Islam). And what he said about the Movement bears ample testimony to this fact. He said: “The brave and god-fearing Moplas were fighting for their religion in according with their religious tenets as they understood them.” (Dr. Ambedkar, Pakistan or Partition of India, page 148).

Gandhiji had two objectives when he decided to take up the Khilafat Movement, a purely religious issue of Muslims, having no relevance whatsoever to the Indian situation: one, he had somehow come to the firm belief that Hindu-Muslim unity was a prerequisite for securing India’s freedom from the British; two, he thought it to be the best means to bring Muslims, who were, by and large, keeping aloof, to the mainstream of the freedom struggle. Here, we have to bear in mind that, for all practical purposes, Gandhiji’s decision to take up the Khilafat cause was entirely based on his reliance on his own intuition and wisdom. Gandhiji was comparatively a novice in the Congress party having little experience or knowledge about the undercurrents or nuances of Indian politics of that period. The stalwarts in the party were neither consulted nor taken into confidence while making such a decision of far-reaching consequences.

In his over-enthusiasm to bring the Muslims into the mainstream of the freedom struggle, Gandhiji had miserably failed to assess or evaluate the Muslim psyche properly. The disastrous turn the Khilafat Movement was to take as had also the Congress leaders of Malabar who made highly emotional and provocative speeches to arouse Muslim passions in the name of Khilafat.

So, contrary to Gandhiji’s expectation, the Movement ignited the spirit of Dar-ul-Islam among Muslims in India, and the brunt of the enthusiasm to turn India, a Dar-ul-Harb, into Dar -ul-Islam, and the attendant orgy of violence had to be borne by the hapless, innocent and unsuspecting Hindus all over Bharat. And by the Hindus of Malabar in the Madras Presidency (presently part of Kerala) who were the most affected by the orgy of riots, arson and every form of conceivable atrocities, including mass killings and forced religious conversions, by Moplahs of Malabar.

What were the Moplahs aiming for: India’s freedom? Never! “To the simple Moplah folk, it seemed an excellent opportunity to establish their own government…”, says Pattabhi Sitaramayya in his book, History of Freedom Movement (Volume I, page 220). Although in the initial stages the jihad was intended against the British, as there were not much of any British to vent their fury on, they turned their ire against the Hindus, who, according to their faith, were kafirs.

Nandakumar is an RSS ideologue and All India Convenor of Prajna Pravah.