Non-Violent Gandhi and the Non-cooperation hocus pocus
by Anurupa Cinar on 27 Jan 2013 9 Comments

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869-30 January 1948) is one of the most lauded and idolized personalities in the world. Yet, researching for a novel on the freedom movement, the author came across a mountain of documentation revealing a decidedly unsavory side of the man popularly known as Mahatma, both in his character traits and in his politics. This saga of treachery and power-plays by Gandhi during the freedom movement, beginning from 1907-8, up to the partition of India, is hereby recorded to bring to light facts that tell a different tale about the so-called apostle of non-violence.


From 1908-9, Gandhi was vociferous in denouncing the revolutionaries for their ‘violence’ and much more. But only a short time before, Gandhi’s own deeds reveal what was sauce for the goose was not sauce for the gander. In his autobiography, he wrote,

-        “I make no distinction, from the point of view of ahimsa (nonviolence) between combatants and non-combatants. He who volunteers to serve a band of dacoits, by working as their carrier, or their watchman while they are about their business, or their nurse when they are wounded, is as much guilty of dacoity as the dacoit themselves. In the same way those who confine themselves to attending to the wounded in battle cannot be absolved from the guilt of war.”

This suggests that nonviolent Gandhi would stay far away from war, but no.


In an article in Indian Opinion, Gandhi called upon Indians to fight on the side of the British. He said that Europeans had always distrusted the fighting prowess of the Indians in Natal, as at the first sign of danger they would desert their posts and make their way back to India. “We cannot meet this charge with a written rejoinder,” he wrote. “There is but one way to disproving it - the way of action.” So he asked Indians to join the Volunteer Corps, saying they should not be afraid of war; wars are relatively harmless (Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity, by G.B. Singh, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004; page 63.)


To understand what follows, we must understand the background of the Khilafat Movement of 1919. Briefly, the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919. Much to the indignation of Indian Muslims, the Turkish Empire was cut up and distributed among the Allies. Even in his home territory, the Caliph had only nominal powers. The propagandist of the Turkish Caliphate in India decided to force Britain into changing her policy for Turkey, and so the Khilafat Movement was born. Gandhi, rather than fight for the bigger national issue of Indian freedom or even protest against the horrific behavior of the British military and police against the helpless Indians, decided to make the Turkish cause his own, and willy-nilly dragged the freedom movement behind him! Was Britain’s treatment of Turkey a greater degradation to Indians than her treatment of India?


Ironically, at the time Gandhi was fighting for the Caliphate, there was a revolution in Turkey to abolish it! The Caliph was ruler and religious head of Turkey and a nationalist revolution headed by Young Turks led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha seized the government and ended the Caliphate and his Sultanate. Kemal Ataturk (father of the Turks) declared, ‘Islam, this theology of an immortal Arab, is a dead thing’. He wanted to tear out religion from the body politic of Turkey (Mahatma Gandhi, Political Saint and Unarmed Prophet, Dhananjay Keer, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1973; p 302.)


So while Gandhi promoted the Khilafat Movement in India, “Kemal Pasha described the Indian supporters of the Khilafat as foreign busybodies in league with the British Government” (Keer). On November 24, 1919, Gandhi presided over a Khilafat Committee meeting. In his Young India, March 20, 1920, he wrote of a Khilafat Committee resolution:

-        “The resolution is a joint transaction between Hindus, Muslims and others to whom this great land is their mother country or adopted home and it also commits a joint movement to a policy on non-violence in the course of the struggle. But Muslims have special Koranic obligations in which Hindus may or may not join. They, therefore, reserve to themselves the right, in the failure of non-cooperation in order to enforce justice to resort to all such methods as may be enjoined by Islamic scriptures.”


The mildness of language notwithstanding, this is nothing less than a sanction for Jihad. So in Gandhi’s creed, to fight as revolutionaries for freedom was a no-no, but Jihad to maintain the supremacy of the Sultan of Turkey was a ‘right’ of Indian Muslims!

Recruiting agent-in-chief


By beating the drum of nonviolence Gandhi stripped Hindus of their virility, but even in that he did a volte face! On April 28, 1918, he gave Viceroy Chelmsford’s War Conference resolution his full support: “I consider myself honoured to find my name among the supporters of the resolution. I realize fully its meaning and I tender my support to it with all my heart”. On April 29, 1918, he goes further.


In early 1918, Gandhi had the people of Kheda district stage a satyagraha to protest the increase in their tax. The Government began to confiscate and sell their property in lieu of the taxes. This made the peasants of Kheda very restive, and the Satyagraha was in danger of coming apart at the seams! So on April 29, in a letter to the Viceroy, Gandhi suggested a bargain that if the Government relieved him of his Kheda trouble, he would act “as a recruiting agent-in-chief, rain men on them” in the war. He was forced to make do with minor concessions granted on April 20, before his bargain offer, and then make tall claims of a successful satyagraha and save face! Still, Gandhi made desperate attempts to recruit Indians for the British army and kept his negotiations secret from the Indian people.

(The relevant letters on this topic can be found on pages 1-54:


As for the actual result of this “successful” satyagraha, only 8 percent of the land revenue was in arrears and most of it was subsequently recovered, but Gandhi thought he had won a victory!


More interesting are Gandhi’s many declarations of loyalty to the Empire he supposedly fought against: “If I could make my countrymen retrace their steps, I would make them withdraw all the Congress resolutions, and not whisper ‘Home Rule’ or ‘Responsible Government’ during the pendency of the war. I would make India offer all her able-bodied sons as a sacrifice to the Empire at its critical moment…. I write this, because I love the English Nation, and I wish to evoke in every Indian the loyalty of the Englishman”. (Letter to the Viceroy, 29 April 1918)


Even more interesting is the revelation that: “Another matter that he wished to speak to them about was the idea that self-government meant the dismissal of the British from India - this was impossible. All they wanted was to become a great partner in the British Empire”.  (Speech at Patna, May 25, 1918)


Dhananjay Keer cites several more examples: “On August 1 Gandhi declared that ‘Indians were not entitled to Swaraj till they came forward to enlist in the Army!’ Gandhi made strenuous efforts to supply the Government with military recruits and spent his energy, time and goodwill in the propagation of army recruitment”. (Mahatma Gandhi, Political Saint and Unarmed Prophet, p 277)




Gandhi’s year-long Noncooperation Movement of 1920 is a landmark in the freedom struggle; but contrary to popular perception, its agenda was not swaraj (self-rule) but the Khilafat Movement; the Punjab atrocities were tacked on as a subsidiary clause.

-        “On August 18, 1920, he [Gandhi] made a daring speech in Calicut: ‘I am here to declare for the tenth time that by shaping and by becoming a predominant partner in the peace terms imposed on the helpless Turkey, the Imperial Government have intentionally flouted the cherished sentiments of the Muslim subjects of the Empire. What the Government did in the Punjab mercilessly was its double wrong. The people of India must, therefore, have a remedy to redress the double wrongs - the remedy of non-cooperation which I consider it perfectly harmless, absolutely constitutional and yet perfectly efficacious.’” (CWMG, Vol. XVIII, p 177-79)

In other words, not a word on swaraj; indeed, the Congress had not even passed a resolution in favor of the Noncooperation Movement.


How did Gandhi react to the death of Bal Gangadhar Tilak? “….The nation bowed in mourning. ‘Never before in the history of India was such nation-wide grief witnessed.’ Gandhi felt a great personal loss; however, he did not postpone the programme of noncooperation. The movement was formally inaugurated on the 1st of August, 1920, by Gandhi with the return of the Kaiser-e-Hind gold medal and the Zulu war medal granted by the British Government to him for his humanitarian works in South Africa.” (The Turkish Question: Mustafa Kemal and Mahatma Gandhi, RK Sinha, Adam Publishers & Distributors, Delhi, 1994, p 91)


Can anything be so shabby? As an aside, one may mention that the medals were bestowed upon “Sergeant” Gandhi for distinguished service to the British Raj. They show his true affiliation.


On September 4, 1920, a special session of the Congress met to pass a resolution on the Noncooperation Movement. Sinha notes that the discussion were heated as Gandhi felt that non-cooperation was required only to obtain redressal of wrongs done to the Turkish and Punjab. But Vijaya Raghavachari and others argued that non-cooperation should not be limited to particular wrongs and that the absence of swaraj was the biggest wrong the country was laboring under. Ultimately, the resolution was passed unchanged in essence with swaraj tacked on as a sop to the conscience:

-        “The Congress is of the opinion that there can be no contentment in India without redress of the two aforementioned [Khilafat cause and Punjab atrocities] wrongs and that the only effectual means to vindicate national honor and to prevent repetition of similar wrongs in future is the establishment of swarjya. This Congress is further of opinion that there is no course left open for the people of India but to approve of and adopt the policy of progressive non-violent Non-cooperation inaugurated by Mr. Gandhi until the said wrongs are righted and swarajya is established. (History of Freedom movement in India, Volume III, RC Majumdar, Calcutta: Firma KL Mukhopadhyay, 1963, p 86)


Selective horror


An established myth is that violence at Chauri Chaura so pained Gandhi that he called off the Noncooperation movement. Yet there are several instances of his readily coming to terms with violence. RC Majumdar observes: “Though pledged to non-violence their [the National Volunteers] activities were described by the Government as subversive of order and discipline. ‘Attempts to usurp functions of police, intimidation and use violence to enforce hartals and social and commercial boycott, or under guise of swadeshi or temperance movements in order to impair authority of Government and terrorize political opponents, have been prominent features of their recent activities’.” (History of the Freedom Movement of India, Volume III, p 106)


Nor was the overall tone of the noncooperation movement nonviolent. Its ugliest face was the Moplah riots of the Malabar area where, on August 20, 1921, the Moplahs rose and indiscriminately raped, killed, and converted the Hindus and killed Europeans and damaged Government property. Their very worst act was ripping open the womb of pregnant Hindu women and pulling the unborn baby out.


Yet Gandhi was unmoved by these horrors. “The Moplahs are among the bravest in the land. They are god-fearing. Their bravery must be transformed into purest gold.” (Young India, September 8, 1921) He added, “Hindus must find the causes of Moplah fanaticism. They will find that they are not without blame. They have hitherto not cared for the Moplah. It is no use now becoming angry with the Moplahs or Mussalmans in general.” (CWMG, Vol. 22, p 269)


Keer observes, “It was not only the Muslims in the Khilafat Conference and the Muslim League who ignored the criminality of the barbaric Moplah action in Malabar, but the Congress under the truth-seeker did so by declaring there were only three cases of forcible-conversions! It showed to what level the Gandhi-dominated Congress had fallen in placating the Muslims.”


There were other riots also. In Bombay, during the visit of the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, in November 1921, protests degenerated into mob violence and looting, and some policemen were beaten to death. In just three days, 58 Bombay citizens were killed and 400 injured.


Many believe that Gandhi used Chauri Chaura as an excuse to call off the Noncooperation Movement. The British had watched the antics of the Noncooperation Movement indulgently, but the crunch came with the scheduled visit of the Prince of Wales to India and Congress decided to boycott the visit. As the movement grew from strength to strength, Viceroy Lord Reading in December 1921 approached CR Das, then in Presidency jail, via Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. The Viceroy offered that if the Congress agreed to call off the civil disobedience movement immediately, so that the Prince’s visit was not publicly boycotted, the Government would release all those arrested and would also summon a Round Table Conference to settle the future constitution of India. As the one year in which Gandhi had promised swaraj was drawing to a close within a fortnight and something had to be achieved to save face, Das urged Gandhi to accept the offer.


But Gandhi insisted on the release of the Ali brothers and their associates as part of the settlement and announcement of the date and composition of the Round Table Conference. This upset the Viceroy and by the time Gandhi came round, it was too late. The Government of India changed their mind and Deshbandhu was enraged at the lost opportunity. Gandhi now sought an excuse to end the noncooperation movement. When the Chauri Chaura incident took place on February 5, 1922, in the midst of the failure of his initiative with the Viceroy, he calls off the movement, and Congress, unhappy at this manner of retreat, finally goes along with it. The result, of course, is that the freedom movement is effectively derailed for years to come.


Interestingly, neither Gandhi nor Congress ever defined “swaraj” which Indians simply assumed meant self-rule. As Keer notes, Gandhi had resisted defining the meaning of independence for the previous twelve months. The Khilafatist Muslim leaders preferred to keep the word swaraj undefined as they expected Afghan forces to overrun India. But when the British signed a treaty with Afghanistan, the Muslim leaders became desperate and Hazarat Mohani tried to force Congress to declare independence. But Gandhi still did not allow it.


It is pertinent that on January 5, 1922, before the Noncooperation movement supposedly aiming for freedom was called off, Gandhi said Young India: “It will be unlawful for us to insist on independence. For it will be vindictive and petulant. It will be a denial of God.” And two months later, M. Paul Richard, a French Author, declared in an interview to Lokmanya, that Gandhi had said to him: ‘I do not work for freedom of India. I work for non-violence in the world.’”


Gandhi always had two faces – one the public saw, and one private for carrying on his actual politics. Today, when so much documentation has come to light, there is no reason for Indians to still be burying their heads in the sand.


Anurupa Cinar is author of a historical novel, Burning for Freedom, Trafford Publishing, USA, 2012; she lives in Massachusetts and writes and researches for She blogs at and

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