The Khilafat movement (1919–1924) was a pan-Islamic, political protest campaign launched by Muslims in British India to influence the British government and to protect the Ottoman Empire during the aftermath of World War I. The movement gained force after the Treaty of Sèvres (August 1920) which imposed the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire and gave Greece a powerful position in Anatolia, to the distress of the Turks. The movement won the support of Mahatma Gandhi and the predominantly Hindu Congress movement because of its anti-British overtones. In India, although mainly a Muslim religious movement, the movement became a part of the wider Indian independence movement.
Background to Khilafat.
Turkey’s an ally of Germany in WWI was defeated. Thrace was presented to Greece while the Asiatic portions of Turkey passed to England and France. Thus Turkey was dispossessed of her homelands and the Sultan deprived of all real authority and also caliphate was abolished. Being a Caliph, the Ottoman emperor was nominally the supreme religious and political leader of all Muslims across the world. Indian Muslims regarded this as a great betrayal andthey regarded the Turkish Sultan as their Khalifa and they started Khilafat movement for the restoration of Khalifa in Turkey.
Course of the Movement:
The Khilafat Committee led by Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali (Ali Brothers) headquartered at Lucknow, formally launched the Khilafat Movement on August 31, 1920. They aimed to build political unity amongst Muslims and use their influence to protect the caliphate. In 1920, they published the Khilafat Manifesto, which called upon the British to protect the caliphate and for Indian Muslims to unite and hold the British accountable for this purpose.
They called upon Gandhi to guide them. Immediately after this, the Indian National Congress convened a special Session in September 1920 in Calcutta, where Gandhi presented a plan for non-cooperation with the government till the wrongs in Punjab and those in Turkey were mended by the British. 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.
Massive protests, strikes and acts of civil disobedience spread across India. Hindus and Muslims collectively offered resistance, which was largely peaceful. Gandhi, the Ali brothers and others were imprisoned by the British. Under the flag of Tehrik-e-Khilafat, a Punjab Khilafatdeputation comprising MoulanaManzoor Ahmed and MoulanaLutfullah Khan Dankauri R.A. took a leading role throughout India, with a particular concentration in the Punjab.
Although Khilafat movement was not directly concerned with Indian politics, Gandhi thought that in this there was an opportunity to unite the Hindu and Muslims against the British. He therefore, openly supported the movement.
Decline and Collapse of the movement:
However, the Congress-Khilafat alliance began withering soon. The Khilafat campaign had been opposed by other political parties such as the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha. Many Hindu religious and political leaders identified the Khilafat cause as Islamic fundamentalism based on a pan-Islamic agenda. And many Muslim leaders viewed the Indian National Congress as becoming increasingly dominated by Hindu fundamentalists.
Central Khilafat Committee participated in All parties Conference, which formed a committee under the Chairmanship of MotiLal Nehru to draft a constitution, which came to be known as “Nehru Report”. Khilafat Committee rejected Nehru Report.
In wake of these disturbances, the Ali brothers began distancing themselves from Gandhi and the Congress. The Ali brothers criticised Gandhi’s extreme commitment to non-violence and severed their ties with them after he suspended all non-cooperation movement after the killing of 23 policemen at ChauriChaura in 1922. Although holding talks with the British and continuing their activities, the Khilafat struggle weakened as Muslims were divided between working for the Congress, the Khilafat cause and the Muslim League.Another reason was that members of the movement were concerned with the fate of khalifa than were the western powers and the people of Turkey.
The final blow came with the victory of Mustafa Kemal’s forces, who overthrew the Ottoman rule to establish a pro-Western, secular republic in independent Turkey. He abolished the role of Caliph and sought no help from Indians.
Leaders such as Dr. Ansari, Maulana Azad and Hakim Ajmal Khan remained strong supporters of Gandhi and the Congress. The Ali brothers joined Muslim League. They would play a major role in the growth of the League’s popular appeal and the subsequent Pakistan movement.
Criticism of the Movement:
- It is regarded as a political agitation based on a pan-Islamic, fundamentalist platform and being largely indifferent to the cause of Indian independence.
- Critics of the Khilafat see its alliance with the Congress as a marriage of convenience.
- Advocates of Pakistan and Muslim separatism see it as a major step towards establishing the separate Muslim state.
- The Ali brothers came to be regarded as founding-fathers of Pakistan.
Impact of the movement:
- 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.
- Proponents of the Khilafat see it as the spark that led to the non-cooperation movement in India and a major milestone in improving Hindu-Muslim relations
- Khilafat leaders such as Dr. Ansari, Maulana Azad and Hakim Ajmal Khan also grew personally close to Gandhi. These leaders founded the JamiaMilliaIslamia in 1920 to promote independent education and social rejuvenation for Muslims.
- Azad, Dr. Ansari and Hakim Ajmal Khan became national heroes in India’s independence.
Was Khilafat Movement a new chapter in Hindu Muslim Unity or was a closing chapter?
The period 1919-22 is understood as the heyday of Hindu-Muslim unity against the colonial rule. This was the period when the leaderships of Congress and the Khilafat movement often overlapped. This was in tune with Gandhi’s idea that British can be fought only with united Hindus and Muslims. Strikes, demonstrations, and Satyagrahas took place around the country, while ‘Hindu-Musalmanki Jai was the famous slogan.
But the above was just ephemeral. After 1922 a series of differences between the Khilafat and Non-Cooperation leaderships intersected with growing popular conflict between Hindu and Muslim communities. Some section of Muslims started to see the futility of Swaraj and fresh interest was awakened in the Muslim league which had been stagnant since 1918.
The most ardent khilafatists started to believe that there was more to be gained by supporting government in its honest efforts than by adhering to the hitherto non-cooperation . Many Muslim leaders raised fears and doubts about the capacity of India to win freedom through civil disobedience. As a result of this, the old dissensions, based upon complaints like cow-slaughter and music before mosque, were raised up and issues of disagreement such as Suddhi Movement or tabligh and sangathan or tanzim were added.
The Hindu Muslim Unity was shattered, giving way to a period of “communalism”. This was the sad demise of the Hindu-Muslim unity as marking a turning point in the freedom struggle. The disintegrated state of affairs then offered an opportunity to the British to re-establish their old relations with the Muslims. They were able to successfully bring the Muslims into their loyalists fold. The so called bond of fraternity turned out to be an ad hoc coalition of interests. India was now on a path to partition.
How Government seeded hate?
The Government created commissions and commissions on one another with an undeclared motive of creating mutual apprehensions and mistrusts. It was the time when the top leaders including Gandhi were failed to understand the political implications of his extensions of support to the cause of Khilafat. Practically, the leaders of Khilafat needed support of Gandhiji only for a defined particular purpose.
Most of the constitutional acts were there to ensure that there was a constant creation of mutual mistrust among the communities. It was made sure that people would understand that the benefit of one caste / community was at the cost of those of others