INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS AND PARTITION OF INDIA -PART II

The isolationist policy and attitude of Muslim separatism was strengthened by the divide and rule policy of the British imperialism. But the fact is that no imperialistic power has ever worked anywhere in a spirit of welfare to the people it dominates and hence, the major responsibility for the partition of India was that of the Muslims. To a very great extent, the Indian National Congress was also responsible for the above course of events. It adopted an attitude of appeasement towards the Muslim League to woo it and frequently made sacrifices of principles. It never tried to understand the character of isolation and aggression of the Muslim separatists (Lal Bahadur, Struggle for Pakistan, p. 294.) One such grave mistake committed by the Congress was the support it gave to Khilafat movement.

The Khilafat Agitation

The last Caliph with a legitimate claim to the title was the Abbasid Caliph Al- Mustansir Billah. The Mongol Hulagu Khan (grandson of Chengiz Khan) had executed him following the sack of Baghdad in 1258. Recognising its value as a political symbol, the Mameluk Sultan of Egypt invited a member of the family to set up a puppet Caliphate in Cairo. These Caliphs were ” complete nonentities”- as the Encyclopedia Britannica puts it- and their claim was ended for all time when the Ottoman Sultan Salim invaded Egypt in 1517. Later the Ottoman Turkish Sultans styled themselves as Caliphs. (Rajaram N.S, Gandhi, Khilafat and the National Movement, p.14)India since the establishment of Mughal rule in the sixteenth century had refused to recognize the Caliphate of the Turkish Sultans. It was only in 1876 that England anxious to maintain the influence and power of the Sultan as a barrier against Russian advance towards the Mediterranean persuaded some Indian Muslims to accept the Turkish Caliphate. Even then Syed Ahmed Khan, an inheritor of the Mughal tradition, refused to acknowledge the Caliphate, much to the chagrin of Syed Jamal al Din Afghani, the promulgator of the idea of Islamic unity under the leadership of the Turkish Caliph. (Tara Chand, History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol III,  p.420). During the First World War, Turkey had supported Germany against the Anglo-Saxon powers. After the defeat of the central powers, the Treaty of Serves was imposed upon Turkey by which it was deprived of territories of Hejaz (wherein was Mecca and Medina), Armenia, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.( Hayes C.J.H, Contemporary Europe Since 1870,. p 427.)The Indian Muslims who considered the Caliph, as their religious head wanted the maintenance of the religious prestige and temporal power of the Sultan of Turkey, which implied the unrestricted performance of the Caliph’s duties in the preservation of the holy places, defined by the Muslim jurists as including Palestine, Mesopotamia and Arabia. They were also against the imposition of the mandates of Britain and France over the Arab states of the Fertile Crescent, converting Palestine into a Jewish home under the British protectorate and dividing Arabia among the tribal chiefs. The Muslims of India had been given assurance by the British Prime Ministers- Asquith and Lloyd George and the Indian Viceroy Hardinge that the territorial integrity of Turkey would be respected, but the terms of the Treaty of Serves was contrary of their pledges. (Tara Chand,.pp.491-492)

To achieve the above goals the Muslims in India began the Khilafat movement. In September 1919 the All India Khilafat Committee was formed with Seth Chhotani as President and Shaukat Ali as the Secretary. The first Khilafat Conference was held at Delhi on 23rd November 1919, under the chairmanship of Fazlul Haq. On the second day Gandhiji was voted to the chair and he explained that the remedy for the wrongs of the Muslim was non-cooperation.(Tara Chand, p.417) Writing in Young India on May 11th, 1921 Gandhiji said that “if the Hindus wish to cultivate eternal friendship with the Muslims, they must perish with them in the attempt to vindicate the honour of Islam.” But Jinnah however did not share Gandhiji’s view and held that the fate of distant Turkey and of its Khalifa was none of India’s concern. (Kulkarni V.B., British dominion in India, p.183) The Congress under Gandhiji’s leadership decided to launch a mass struggle (Non-Cooperation Movement) against the Government with the triple purpose of winning Swaraj, rectification of the Punjab wrongs, and rehabilitation of the Khilafat. The combination was significant as it meant the recognition of a purely communal religious demand as of equal importance with the national demand for Swaraj. In spite of its concept of territorial nationalism and logical striving for a unitary sovereign state, the Congress was compelled to give its assent to the achievement of an extra-territorial sacramental aim. (Tara Chand, p.419 ) 

One of the most unfortunate incidents of the movement was the rising of the Moplahs in Kerala. The Khilafatist meetings where the wrongs of Islam were described intensified religious feelings among the Moplahs. The authorities attempted to suppress the movement, which seemed to threaten law and order. The Moplahs then rebelled and started a guerilla war with swords and spears and committed terrible atrocities against the administration as well as their Hindu neighbours. The Muslim communalists either denied the atrocities or minimized them and tried to shift the blame. Moreover the Moplahs were praised for their religious zeal and bravery. The tender plant of Hindu-Muslim unity began to wither. But in spite of the grave shock, the Non-cooperation Movement continued.( Tara Chand, pp.496-497) On February 5th 1922, a clash took place between the police and the stragglers of a procession at Chauri Chaura, in which 22 policemen were burnt alive. Gandhiji without discussing with the Khilafat Committee decided to call off the movement.( Tara Chand, Op.cit. p.423) This badly affected the Hindu-Muslim relations as the latter felt that Gandhi had withdrawn the movement while the Khilafat question was still unsettled and left them in the lurch. Some Ulamas began to cast doubt upon Gandhiji’s sincerity. Fissiparous tendencies began to develop. (Tara Chand, p.425) The surprising feature of this movement was that it was confined to the Muslims of India only. No other Muslim people in Asia or Africa gave their moral or material support to the Turkish Sultan or the Caliph. Nor were the Indian Muslims aware of the extent of the secularization and Westernization of the progressive parties in Turkey. Even while the Khilafat leaders were threatening the Indian Government with dire consequences- issuing fatwas of jihad and boycott of military service, the Turkish nationalists under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal were taking steps, which finally led to the abolition of the Khilafat. Gandhiji’s desire to secure permanent Hindu-Muslim unity by co-operating with the Muslims in the Khilafat agitation had little chance of fulfillment as the Khilafatists chose to fight the government on issues of questionable expediency, issues whose bearing on Hindu and Muslim India’s affairs was marginal, if not quite unsubstantial. Hence Gandhiji’s identification with the Muslim cause was from the practical and political point of view, of dubious value.( Tara Chand, pp.427-428) (to be continued) 

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