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Non Cooperation Movement: Causes, Programme, Growth and Suspension

Updated on August 11, 2017
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Till the outbreak of the First World War, Gandhi had complete faith in the justice and honesty of the English Government. Therefore, he made an appeal to the people of India for cooperation during the First World War but just after the end of this war, some events occurred in the political sphere of India which made Mahatma Gandhi doubt the integrity of the British Government and he declared a non-violent movement against it.

Non Cooperation Movement
Non Cooperation Movement | Source

Causes of the Non Cooperation Movement

The following reasons were responsible for launching a movement against the British government:

  • Rowlatt Act: During the First World War, the British government had passed the India Defence Act in order to crush the Revolutionary Movement in India. But as they failed to get any success through this Act, the Rowlatt Act Committee was formed in 1917 by the British government which submitted its report in 1918. According to this report, the Rowlatt Act was passed. Under this Act, anybody could be arrested on mere suspicion for an uncertain period. This Act was severely opposed by the Indians. According to Pandit Motilal Nehru, this Act ended the system of Appeal, Vakil and Dalil. However, the government passed this Bill in 1919. Gandhiji arranged an All India strike against this Act and after attaining success he decided to launch a movement against it.
  • Jallianwala Bagh Massacre: The people of Punjab also opposed the Rowlatt Act vehemently. Consequently, Sir Michael O Dyer arrested Dr. SatyaPal and Saifuddin Kitchlu, the two leaders of Punjab without giving the reason for their arrest and sent them to some unknown place. Seeing the opposition of the people against this action of O Dyer, the defense and security of the town were handed over to General Dyer. On 13th April, 1919 on the occasion of Baisakhi Festival, a function and general meeting was being organised at Jallianwala Bagh but in order to show his authority, General Dyer ordered the soldiers to shoot at the people who were assembled there. Consequently, a large number of people were killed. The military rule was also imposed in Amritsar in order to stem the opposition of the people. However, this massacre of Jallianwala Bagh was vehemently criticized and condemned throughout the country. Thomas and Garrett have written that the incident of Amritsar was a macabre event in the relations between the people of India and England. It was similar to that of the revolt of 1857. As a result of the report of Hunter Commission which declared General Dyer innocent in spite of the unprovoked massacre that he had ordered, the feelings of Gandhi were extremely hurt and he decided to withdraw his cooperation from the British. Hence, his outlook changed and he began to oppose them.
  • Khilafat Problem: During the First World War, Turkey supported Germany against England, so the Muslims of India were afraid of the English who might take a revengeful attitude towards them. Although the English government had assured the Muslims of India that it was not going to take such step which could be harmful to the interests of the Muslims, in the treaty of 1920 concluded between Turkey and England, some restrictions were imposed on Turkey. Turkey being a Muslim Country and the Caliph (Khalifa) of Turkey was looked on by the Muslims as religious head, these restrictions were opposed by the Indian Muslims. Gandhi endeavoured to establish Hindu-Muslim unity in India on the basis of the Khilafat problem. He started Non-Cooperation movement in order to get the support of the Muslims.
  • Change in the Politics of Congress: Gandhi while presenting the proposal of non-cooperation in the Calcutta Session (1920) said,” The English government is Satan. Cooperation is not possible with it. He is not sad of his shortcomings, so we have to adopt a progressive, non-violent, non-cooperation policy for the fulfillment of our demands.” This proposal was passed by the majority and it was fully endorsed in the Nagpur session of the Congress.
  • Repressive Policies of the British Government: The attitude of the British Government remained quite negligent towards the victims of famine and epidemics, as a result, people began to hate the British government and decided to overthrow it.

Programme of Non Cooperation Movement

This movement was a bit different from the other movements which had so far emerged in India. It had a two-fold programme: first part dealt with the boycott of the foreign goods and the second part contained the solution of the problems which emanated from the boycott. It had a fourteen point programme:

  • Surrender of all titles and government posts.
  • Boycott of all functions organised by the British government.
  • Boycott of Government Schools.
  • Boycott of Courts of Justice.
  • Giving up the policy adopted in Mesopotamia in connection with the Indian soldiers.
  • Non cooperation with the Act of 1919.
  • Boycott of all foreign articles.
  • Establishment of National Schools.
  • Formation of Nyaya Panchayats.
  • Development of small scale industries.
  • Use of Swadeshi articles.
  • Development of communal amity.
  • End of Untouchability and Caste System.
  • Adoption of Non violence in the whole country.

Growth of Non Cooperation Movement

This started with the surrender of the title of Kaiser-i-Hind by Gandhi. The advocates, government officers, students and the general masses also followed this policy of Gandhi. Persons like C. R. Das, Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Lajpat Rai and Rajendra Prasad gave up their legal practices and joined the movement. The government resorted to repressive measures for the suppression of this movement and a large number of its workers and leaders were arrested but the movement could not be suppressed, rather it received an impetus and spread all the more rapidly.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has mentioned in his autobiography that the youths of the country used to sit down in the vans of the government and refused to get down. The police authorities were very much confused and perturbed to see this enthusiasm among the people of India.

On 17th November 1921 when the Prince of Wales visited India, contrary to the hope of the people of England, the Indians showed him black flags and a country wide strike was organised.

Episode of Chauri Chaura and Suspension of the Non Cooperation Movement

An encounter took place at Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh on 5th February 1922 between the Satyagrahis and the Police. When the police opened fire on the mob and killed some persons, the angry mob set the Police Station on fire in which two constables were burnt to death. Gandhi was shocked by this incident which was against his non-violent movement. Hence, he declared the discontinuance of the Non-Cooperation Movement on 22nd February 1922.

Estimate of the Non Cooperation Movement

The people of India opposed the suspension as they did not want the movement to be suspended at this critical stage. Even Lala Lajpat Rai and Pandit Motilal Nehru who were under confinement at that time declared this step of Gandhi to be improper and Subhash Chandra Bose commented that at the time when the enthusiasm and courage of the people of India were at its zenith, it was an unfortunate step to command them to leave the ground. After the suspension of the movement, the confidence of the people of India came to an end and various shortcomings began to be visible. V P Menon has also remarked in this connection that if the movement of Gandhi had not been suspended at this critical moment when it was becoming a significant subject of worry to the government then it was certain, the government must have taken some steps to satisfy the people of India.

Undoubtedly, the non-cooperation movement was a turning point in the direction of getting freedom for the country, which was based on truth, love and non-violence. During this movement for the first time, a sense of courage and sacrifice was discernible in the people. Consequently, the spirit of nationalism was strengthened.

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