Khilafat Movement





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Khilafat Movement

A movement for restoring Caliphate, albeit failed to achieve this aim but left its its mark on the annals of history. It had tremendous consequences for Bharat which finally culminated in its partition.

In the early 1920s, a movement that had profound repercussions for the nation and was essentially religious in nature, got linked with the ongoing freedom struggle and affected it in ways both very obvious as well as abstruse. It was Khilafat movement that sought to restore Khalifa- Sultan of Turkey and the religious head of Ummah, the Muslim community, to the prestigious position which he enjoyed before the end of First World War. In order to grasp the factors that led to its genesis fully, a peek into the dynamics of this War becomes essential.   

Fate of Turkey

Turkey was a monarchical state ruled by Caliph (Khalifa). When the war broke out, Turkey allied with axis powers against England and Allies. This put Indian Muslims in a situation of conflicting loyalties. As the subjects of British Empire they were supposed to help England while their religious allegiances drove them to the opposite camp. Also, they were concerned what would happen to Khilafat and Turkish Empire if the Allies won. These fears were assuaged to some extent by the statements of British Prime Minister Llyod George and US President Wilson, who assured Turkey of sympathetic treatment after the war. These hopes however, were misplaced, as the Treaty of Versailles (June 1919) and Sevres (August 1920) made evident. Turkey was not only dismembered but partitioned- Thrace was presented to Greece while the Asiatic portions went under the control of France and Britain. The sultan was reduced to a nominal figurehead and the effective control of the nation was in the hands of a high commission appointed by Allied powers. [ref]

Reaction in India 

This humiliation of Islamic head infuriated Indian Muslims in a way and to such an extent which constant subjugation of their own nation and its exploitation with brutality beyond limits, had failed to. Best and surest friends of British had turned into their bitter enemies. The ties of friendship which had stood the test of time, which remained cemented amid the wails of millions of countrymen perishing under the yoke of British rule, which witnessed the plunder of nation in silence and didnt even quiver a bit, now lay shattered because in a country which was thousands of miles away, the powers of a monarch had been subdued.

Ali brothers- Shaukat Ali and Mohammad Ali, along with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari and others took the lead of this Muslim agitation. They found an able mentor in Mahatma Gandhi, who was desperately looking for a way to crystallise Hindu Muslim unity and enlist the support of Muslims in the freedom struggle.

Twin demands

The objective of Khilafat movement was two-fold; to preserve Khilafat and to maintain the territorial integrity of the Turkish Empire. Both these motives, as B.R. Ambedkar has rightly noted, were unsupportable. Khilafat was a monarchy while the people of Turkey wanted for themselves a republic and to get rid of Sultan. Similarly, maintaining the territorial integrity of Turkish Empire would have meant the subjugation of different nationalities like Arabs under Ottoman rule, and snatching from them their right of self-determination. Thus the cause was unjust from the very start. [ref]

A gross confusion

It is believed by many, that the Non Co-operation movement was started by Congress to win Swaraj and it was later joined by Khilafatists. The truth, as it turns out, is other way round. As BR Ambedkar reveals-it was started by Khilafatists to help Turkey and adopted by the Congress only to help Khilafatists. Swaraj was not its primary object, but its primary object was Khilafat and Swaraj was added as a secondary object to induce the Hindus to join it. [ref]

On 27 October, 1919, Khilafat day was observed all over India, followed by the first Khilafat conference in Delhi on 23rd November 1919 where Gandhi was unanimously elected president. It was here that he presented non-cooperation as a possible method of action. In the Khilafat Conference of Calcutta, on 10 March 1920, non cooperation was ratified. On 22 June, the Khilafat committee wrote to the viceroy that they would launch non-cooperation by 1 August if their demands were not met. This was accompanied by a personal letter in the same vein, from Mr. Gandhi. Finally, non cooperation was commenced on 1 August 1920- not by the Congress but Khilafat committee.

From here on, Gandhi directed all his energy in convincing Congress of the justness of Khilafat campaign and enlisting its support. It was more than one month later, in September session of Congress at Calcutta, that the resolution was passed to a similar effect. The resolution describes the treatment meted out to Turkey and the atrocities committed in Punjab (Jallianwala Bagh massacre) as the two wrongs whose redressal was sought by launching non cooperation. It further added- "only effectual prevent a repetition of similar wrongs in future is establishment of Swarajya."

Mrs Annie Besant has thrown some light on the psyche behind the inclusion of Swaraj and wrongs done to Punjab in the resolution in her book 'The future of Indian Politics' (pp 250)- "it was found that the Khilafat was not sufficiently attractive to Hindus, so at the meeting of All India Congress Committee, the Punjab atrocities and the deficiencies of the reform act were added to the list of provocative causes." It is worth mentioning here that in the Amritsar Congress held in 1919, barely five months after the Jallianwala Bagh genocide, Gandhi himself advocated complete cooperation with the British in the wake the reforms initiated in the Royal Proclamation and the government of India Act, 1919.

Thus it is proven beyond doubt that the only real motive behind Non- cooperation movement was Khilafat and Swaraj and Punjab atrocities were the hanging fruits to allure Hindus to join it.

Frantic attempts abroad

In Turkey, a powerful national movement had gained momentum under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, the Turkish revolutionary leader. Sultan Abdul Majid (the then Turkish monarch) had to flee to Malta to escape the wrath of his countrymen. Khilafat leaders saw in Kemal Pasha the last flickering ray of hope of saving Caliphate (Khilafat). Aga Khan and Amir Ali wired Pasha to save the Khilafat of Majid but this request was thrown into the bin. This did not discourage these stalwarts of Islam and they met Pasha personally to urge him to restore the full Caliphal authority to Abdul Majid. When this proposal was met with contempt, they requested Pasha himself to assume the Caliphal throne. Kemal Pasha not only denied this but mocked Agha Khan and Amir Ali for being the stooges of British. He replied-"you being the subjects of English and French Dominions, would you be able to obey my commands if I were to assume the throne of Caliph." The message was amply clear- free your own country first rather than wasting your energy in saving something as futile as Khilafat.

But it met deaf ears. Pasha not only declined scornfully to become the Khalifa, but he dismantled the institution of Khilafat itself. He proclaimed- "Islam is a religion of defeated people. Since the day it has stepped on our soil, the condition of Turkey has steadily deteriorated." Islam was dethroned from the pedestal of State religion and Turkey was declared a secular state in 1924.  

But could he knock some sense in these self proclaimed protectors of Khilafat? Unfortunately, no! Scorned and humiliated, they left the Turkey for Arabia and approached King Abdul Azeez Ibn Saud to become their Khalifa, who confronted them with the same question- "Why dont you join hands with Gandhi and free India first?" One may think that at least now these Khilafatists would do some serious thinking and see the futility of their motives, that now, having noticed that no one gives any regard to the Khilafat question in the Islamic world; they shall invest their energy and emotions in freeing India, but no! Some metal of inexplicable chemical composition had been forged into them. They now approached the ruler of Iran- Reza Shah Pehlah with the same proposal and this too, as expected, met the fate of its predecessors. Empty handed, humiliated, but no wiser, Khilafat leaders finally returned to India.  [ref]

What made Indian Muslims so zealous for Khilafat?

The dedication with which Indian Muslims espoused the cause of Khilafat- which Turkey itself had rejected, is intriguing. Historian R.C. Majumdar notes- unless we are prepared to believe that Indian Muslims were the only true followers of the Prophet or the most genuine champions of the cause of Islam, it is difficult to understand or explain the weight that they attached to the Khilafat question, save on the theory that it was a phase of that Pan-Islamic movement to which the Indian Muslims looked forward as the only guarantee against the influence of a Hindu majority.  [ref]

Jawaharlal Nehru, in his analysis of psyche of Muslims in those days, points out that Muslims searched their national roots elsewhere. To some extent, they found them in Afghan and Mughal periods of India. It was after the demise of this glorious epoch, that the name of the Turkish Sultan began to be mentioned in Indian mosques. [ref]

Thus the nostalgia of heyday of Islam, and the yearning to realise that past glory again, blended with the fear of being dominated by majority resulted in the growth of profound Pan-Islamic loyalties among Indian Muslims, an epic expression being the Khilafat movement. R.C. Majumdar has observed that by endorsing such extra-territorial allegiance and by his own admission that the Khilafat question was a vital one for Indian Muslims, Gandhi himself admitted in a way that they formed a separate nation; that they were in India, but not for India.

Voices of concern   

Many leaders, like Lala Lajpat Rai and Chittaranjan Das had raised their voices of concern while Gandhiji embarked upon making a religious issue with extra territorial allegiances the basis of a nationwide movement. After his travels in Muslim countries of Central Asia and Egypt and his interactions with the local Muslims, Lajpat Rai alarmed- "Indian Muslims are more Pan-Islamic and exclusive than the Muslims of any other country of the globe, and that fact alone makes the creation of a united India difficult than it otherwise would be." In his assessment of Khilafat movement, he noted- "sectarianism and bigotry have been very much strengthened within the last three years. The Khilafat movement has particularly strengthened it among Mohammedans." [ref]

Those who were familiar with the Muslim behavioural pattern also feared that they might invite the barbaric hordes from Afghanistan and Central Asia to invade India. C.R. Das, in his letter to Lajpat Rai wrote that he did not fear the seven crore Muslims of India, but "the seven crores of Hindustan, plus the armed hordes of Afghanistan, Central Asia, Arabia, Mesopotamia and Turkey would be irresistible." These fears, as the upcoming events proved, were not unfounded. But all these cautions subsided in the holler of Hindu-Muslim unity. [ref]

The poison spreads

Khilafat leaders, most notably the Ali brothers, along with Gandhi toured the nation and urged the masses to join the campaign. Their tones however, mismatched. As the modern review pointed out, it is not difficult to see that with one of them the sad plight of Khilafat in distant Turkey is the central fact, while with the other (Gandhi) attainment of Swaraj here in India is the object in view. Mr. Gandhi openly repudiated this allegation of associating his speeches with Swaraj, termed it as cruellest cut and wrote in his article in young India dated 20th October 1921- I claim that with us both (he and Shaukat Ali) the Khilafat is the central fact.

Speeches of Khilafatists were often aggressive and excessively communal in nature. Swami Shraddhananda wrote of one instance in Nagpur Khilafat conference where the Ayats (verses) of Quran recited by the Maulanas contained frequent references to Jihad against unbelievers and killings of kaffirs. When Gandhis attention was drawn to this, he merely smiled and said, They are alluding to British bureaucracy. Swamiji replied that it was subversive of the idea of non violence and in future, the Mahomeden Maulanas will not refrain from using these against Hindus. [ref]

Calls of jihad continued. Nexus of Maulanas reached almost all the corners of the sub-continent and stirred the religious sentiments of Muslims, making them impatient for action. On one occasion, more than 20,000 Muslims denounced their motherland as Dar-ul-Harb and migrated to Afghanistan (Dar-ul-Islam i.e., land of Islam) following the call of Hijra rose by Abdul Bari, although it brought them severe ruin. Muslim leaders such as Faqir Qayammuddin and Bari jointly wrote to the president of Central Khilafat committee on 14 May 1920- "lessons of forbearance and patience are troublesome. Tell Mr. Gandhi that... we will not sit (idle) relying upon him but thanking him for his sympathy, will perform our religious obligation. This is our religious duty."    

Even Gandhi had to admit "in their impatient anger, the Musalmans ask for more energetic and more prompt action. To them, Swaraj means, as it must mean, Indias ability to deal effectively with the Khilafat question." He advised them that angry outbursts of violence can bring no relief to turkey but, Muslims were in no mood to listen to sermons. They did exactly what was feared- inviting the Afghan hordes to invade India. Every sane Indian would have disassociated himself from such an insane project. What utter destruction the Afghani hordes would have ushered in Gangetic Plains needs no mention. But Gandhis "misguided zeal for Swaraj and his obsession on the Hindu- Muslim unity as the only means to achieve it led him to support it." He declared- "I would, in a sense, certainly assist the Amir of Afghanistan if he waged war against British government."

Frustration of not achieving anything substantial in all these years, compounded by the flammable sermons of Maulanas, had accumulated in the Muslim mind and acquired dangerous proportions. It finally found an outlet in Malabar, the coast of Kerala.

Moplah Genocide

Moplahs or Mappilas are the members of Muslim community, prominent in Malabar and Lakshadweep. In 1921, under the leadership of two organisations- Khuddam-i-Kaba and Central Khilafat Committee, they broke out into a rebellion against British rule, anointed one Mohammed Haji as their Caliph and proclaimed Jihad. First they encountered British and established Dar-ul-Islam, but were suppressed ruthlessly. The Khalifa and his followers were sentenced to death. Defeated and frustrated, they now turned against Hindus- the Kaffirs or unbelievers. Conditions for Hindus were made more gruesome by the fact that most of the landlords there were Hindus. According to the report of Enquiry Committee set up by Servants of India Society, the number of Hindus murdered was 1500, the number of those forcibly converted 20000, and property looted worth about Rs. 3 Crores.

Dr. Annie Besant stated: "They murdered and plundered abundantly, killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatize. Somewhere about a lakh of people were driven away from their homes with nothing but the clothes they had on, striped of everything." She later added- "Malabar has taught us what Islamic rule still means, and we do not want to see another specimen of Khilafat raj in India."   [ref]

B.R. Ambedkar has called the monstrosity that was directed against Hindus baffling. He wrote- "the Hindus were visited by a dire fate at the hands of Moplahs. Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples, foul outrages upon women, such as ripping open pregnant women, pillage, arson and destruction- in short, all the accompaniments of brutal and unrestrained barbarism, were perpetrated freely by Moplahs upon the Hindus. This was not a Hindu-Muslim riot. This was just a Bartholomew." [ref]

J. Campbell, Chief of the Central Intelligence Department, and even Theodore Morrison, a champion of Muslim Separatism, held the Khilafat Leaders squarely responsible for inciting racial hatred resulting in Moplah carnage. The heart wrenching petition written by women of Malabar to Lady Reading, wife of viceroy, describes the horrors perpetrated upon them. It speaks of "wells and tanks filled up with the mutilated, bodies of pregnant women cut to pieces, innocent and helpless children torn from our arms and done to death before our very eyes, our helpless sisters carried away and subjected to every shame and outrage which the vile and brutal imagination of these inhuman hell hounds could conceive of, places of worship desecrated and destroyed...images of deity smashed to pieces." [ref]

And for these barbarians, what Gandhi, the apostle of non violence had to say- "They are a brave god-fearing people who were fighting for what they consider as religion, and in a manner which they considered religious."  Not a word of condemnation! He instead preached to Hindus- "the Hindus must have courage and faith to feel that they can protect their religion in spite of such fanatical eruptions." [ref]

The resolution passed by the congress working committee on the Moplah atrocities said that there were only three cases of forcible conversions!! While the eyewitness accounts as well as the official figures estimated the number to be in thousands. Such was the caution our national leadership exercised in not hurting the sentiments of Muslims.  

Tragic consequences of a thoughtless plunge

Pontificating upon the repercussions of Khilafat movement, H.V. Sheshadri has observed that it had two catastrophic results. First- Muslim fanaticism secured a position of prestige in Indian politics thereafter; their religious loyalty took precedence over national loyalty, their extra-territorial loyalties were set aflame; the Muslim population so long divided among various groups and political pulls now got crystallised into a single direction. Secondly, a new fanatic leadership riding on the crest of Khilafat wave came to wield the reins of Muslim leadership thereafter. Muslim leaders who possessed a rational point of view and opposed Khilafat like Jinnah were sidelined by Congress and the most orthodox ones were accepted as the leaders and spokesperson of the Muslim community. [ref]

The venom which was emitted during the Khilafat propaganda continued to pollute the nation for decades to come. A streak of communal riots began from Malabar and reached Kanpur, Aligarh, Nagpur, Calcutta, Kanpur, Kohat, and Delhi, practically every major city of India. A detailed \account of the heinous atrocities perpetrated upon Hindus during these riots has been given by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his seminal research- Pakistan or Partition of India. Khilafat movement fizzled out in a few years, but scars it left took a long time to heal. It substantiated the two nation theory, and widened the rift between the two communities by stirring and strengthening Muslim separatist tendencies. Thus, it sowed the seeds of partition decades before its actual manifestation.



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