Non Cooperation Movement

Non Cooperation Movement

This article deals with ‘ Non Cooperation Movement  – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

Reasons of Non Cooperation Movement (NCM)

1 . World War 1 after effects

  • High prices of basic goods. This was due to War expenditure and transport bottlenecks and disruption (e.g., the sharp fall in shipping-space available for non-military needs, causing a decline in imports) leading to a big increase in prices.
  • ‘Drain of wealth’ took on during the war years the character of a massive plunder of Indian human and material resources.
  • Indian army was expanded to 1.2 million, and thousands of Indians were sent off to die in a totally alien cause in campaigns which were often grossly mismanaged (like some of the offensives on the Western front, or in Mesopotamia). Theoretically, voluntary recruitment often became near-compulsory, most notably in the Punjab under Lieutenant-Governor Michael O’Dwyer, where the Congress inquiry after the 1919 disturbances found numerous instances of coercion through lambardars (village chiefs).
  • 300% increase in defense expenditure inevitably meant not only war loans but a sharp rise in taxes
  • After war, imports which stopped during war again started .  Indian industries started to close  & workers sent out of job
  • In Political field , nationalists were disillusioned when British didn’t keep their promise of new era of democracy

2. Rowlatt act

  • Already discussed in other article. Click here to read.

3. Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

  • Already discussed in other article. Click here to read.

4. Montagu Chelmsford Reforms

  • Government of India Act, 1919 further disillusioned the nationalists. Leaders  called it as disappointing & unsatisfactory and far from self government.

5. Khilafat Issue

  • Explained below

Non-Cooperation Movement was undertaken to 

  • (a)restore the status of the ruler of Turkey 
  • (b) to avenge the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and other violence in Punjab and 
  • (c) to secure Swaraj (independence) for India.

Gandhi promised Swaraj in one year if his Non Cooperation Programme was fully implemented.

The another reason to start the Non-cooperation movement was that Gandhi lost faith in constitutional methods and turned from cooperator of British Rule to Non-Cooperator.

Khilafat Issue

  • During war time, loyalty of Indian Muslims was purchased giving assurance of generous treatment of  Turkey after the war, a promise that British had no intention of fulfilling. Muslims regarded the Caliph of Turkey as their spiritual head and were upset when they found that he would retain no control over the holy places which  was his duty as Caliph to protect
  • To oppose this ,Muslims all over the world launched Khilafat Movement . Muslims in India also launched it. So khilafat was religious and extra territorial issue
  • November 1919 : Khilafat committee was formed under leadership of Ali brothers(Shaukat Ali, Mohammad Ali),  Maulana Azad, Ajmal khan (Hindustani Dwakhana, Delhi and father of Unani Medicine) and Hasrat Mohani & they published manifesto .
  • Gandhi was sympathetic to their cause, especially because he felt the British had committed a breach of faith by making promises that they had no intention of keeping. On Khilafat Issue , Congress and Muslim League entered into the pact to launch collective demands against Britishers
  • The pact remained from 1919-1922 ,till end of NCM

Note – It was thus a pan-Islamic movement in all its appearance, as the cause had nothing to do with India. But as Gail Minault has shown, the Khilafat was being used more as a symbol, while the leaders actually had little concern about altering the political realities in the Middle East. It was found to be a symbol that could unite the Indian Muslim community divided along many fault-lines, such as regional, linguistic, class and sectarian


  • The attitudes of the Khilafat leaders increasingly revealed that they had accepted the Gandhi’s  creed of non-violence more as a matter of convenience to take advantage of Gandhi’s charismatic appeal, rather than as a matter of  faith. By bringing in the ulama and by overtly using a religious symbol, the movement evoked religious emotions among the Muslim masses.
  • Violent tendencies soon appeared , as the masses lost self-discipline and the leaders  failed to control them . Eg  Moplah uprising in Malabar , where the poor Moplah peasants, emboldened by the Khilafat spirit, rose against the Hindu moneylenders and the state.
  • Khilafat movement itself contributed  further to the strengthening of Muslim identity in Punjab and Bengal
  • The Arya Samaj started a militant suddhi campaign in Punjab and UP and the Hindu Mahasabha launched its drive towards Hindu sangathan

In 1924, the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, an overtly aggressive Hindu organisation, was also born  in the same year.

Changes in Congress after 1920

  • Goal changed from the attainment of Self-Government by Constitutional and Legal Means to the attainment of Swaraj by Peaceful and Legitimate Means.
  • Congress was now to have a Working Committee of 15 members to look after its day-to-day affairs (idea originally given by Tilak in 1916 but not accepted by Moderates then )
  • Provincial Congress Committees were now to be organized on a linguistic basis, so that they could keep in touch with the people by using the local language.
  • Congress organization was to reach down to the village & mohalla level by the formation of village & mohalla committees.
  • Membership fee reduced to 4 annas/ year to enable poor to become members . This ensured mass support & source of income
  • Congress was to use Hindi as far as possible

Course of Events

Gandhi laid elaborate program for this

Negative Program (Destruction)

  • Boycott of:
    • Legislature +Elections (congress didn’t participate )
    • Courts
    • Education /Schools
    • Foreign cloth 
  • This was led by CR Das (Gandhi was moving force )

Positive Program (Construction)

  • Setting up of the national educational institutions and tribunals
  • Charkha and khadi popularization
  • Raising volunteer corps

Phases of Non Cooperation Movement (1921 -22)

1 . 1st Phase

  • January to March 1921
  • Main emphasis was on the boycott of schools, colleges, law courts and the use of Charkha. There was widespread student unrest and top lawyers like C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru gave up their legal practice.

2. 2nd Phase

  • Starting from April 1921
  • In this phase the basic objectives were collection of Rs. 1 crore for the Tilak Swaraj Fund by August  1921, enrolling one crore Congress members and installing 20 lakh Charkhas by 30 June

3. 3rd Phase

  • Starting from August
  • Stress was on boycott of foreign cloth, boycott of the forth coming visit of the Prince of Wales (Prince Edwards VIII) in November, 1921, popularisation of Charkha  and Khadi and Jail Bharo by Congress volunteers.
  • All India Khilafat Movement declared that Muslims shouldn’t serve in British army . Ali Brothers arrested for sedition for this
  • Congress Volunteer Corps became parallel police
  • Prince of Wales welcomed by Empty streets

4. Last Phase

  • From November 1921
  • Shift towards radicalism was visible. Congress volunteers rallied people & country was on the verge of revolt
  • Gandhi decided to launch a no revenue campaign at Bardoli, and also a mass Civil Disobedience Movement for freedom of speech, press and association.
  • Ended with Chauri Chaura incident

People’s response

1 . Middle Class of presidency towns

  • Middle class had a lot of reservations about Gandhi’s Programme.
  • In places like Calcutta, Bombay, Madras which were centers of elite politicians, the response to Gandhi’s movement was very limited. Their response to the call for resignation from government service, surrendering of titles, etc.-was not very encouraging.  
    • Only 24 titles were surrendered out of 5186, and the number of lawyers giving up practice stood at 180 in March 1921.
    • Polling was low in many places in the November 1920 elections, falling to only 8% in Bombay city and 5% in Lahore, but candidates offered themselves in all but 6 out of 637 seats, and Council functioning could not be disrupted.
  • However, the economic boycott received support from the Indian business group, because the textile industry had benefited from the nationalists emphasis on the use of Swadeshi.
  • Still a section of the big business remained critical of the Non-Cooperation Movement. They were particularly afraid of labour unrest in factories

2. New Comer leaders

  • New comers in Indian politics found expression of their interests and aspirations in the Gandhian movement. Leaders like Rajendra Prasad in Bihar, Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat provided solid support to Gandhian movement.
  • They found Non-Cooperation as a viable political alternative to terrorism in order to fight against a colonial government.

3. Students & woman

  • Very effective
  • Thousands of students left the schools and joined newly founded Jamia Milia islamia, Kashi Vidyapeeth & Gujarat Vidyapeeth
  • Women also came forward. They gave up Purdah and offered their jewellery for the Tilak Fund.

4. Peasants & workers

  • Massive participation of the peasants & workers in it.
  • Long-standing grievances of the toiling masses against the British, as well as the Indian masses got an opportunity through this movement to express their real feelings.
  • Although the Congress leadership was against class war, the masses broke this restraint. In rural areas and some other places, the peasants turned against the landlords and the traders
  • Mostly , their course of action was decided by Local Demands .
  • The non-cooperation movement was most     effective where the peasants had already organised themselves. In Awadh district of   UP a radical peasant movement was being organised since 1918-19 against the oppressive taluqdars. 

5. Villages

  • Gandhian programme of village reconstruction through self-help envisaged an economic revival through the spinning wheel and hand-woven cloth (charkha and khadi), panchayats or arbitration courts, national schools, and campaigns for Hindu-Muslim unity and against the evils of liquor and untouchability.
  • Panchayats proved very popular in Bihar and Orissa, while in Bengal 866 arbitration courts in all were set up between February 1921 and April 1922—at their height in August 1921, ‘they considerably outnumbered the Government courts.

Spread & Variations

  • NCM & Boycott got massive support from different parts of India  but movement was shaped according to local conditions & instructions from Congress leadership were not always followed –  ie Pressures from below was important factor
  • It was the first countrywide popular movement. Gandhi accompanied by the Ali brothers undertook a nationwide tour. About 90,000 students left government schools and colleges and joined around 800 national schools & colleges . These educational institutions were organised under the leadership of Acharya Narendra Dev, C.R. Das, Lala Lajpat Rai, Zakir Hussain, Subhash Bose (who became the principal of National College at Calcutta) and included Jamia Millia at Aligarh, Kashi Vidyapeeth, Gujarat Vidyapeeth and Bihar Vidyapeeth.
  • Many lawyers gave up their practice, some of whom were Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, C.R. Das, C. Raja- gopalachari, Saifuddin Kitchlew, Vallabhbhai Patel, Asaf Ali, T. Prakasam and Rajendra Prasad.
  • Heaps of foreign cloths were burnt publicly and their imports fell by half. Picketing of shops selling foreign liquor and of toddy shops was undertaken at many places. Tilak Swaraj Fund was oversubscribed and one crore rupees collected. Congress Volunteer Corps emerged as the parallel police.
  • In 1921, Ali brothers gave a call to the Muslims to resign from the Army as that was nonreligious. The Ali brothers were arrested for this in September. Gandhi echoed their call and asked local Congress committees to pass similar resolutions to that effect.

1 . Bengal

  • Mass participation less enthusiastic here
  • Rabindra Nath Tagore in his ‘Call for Truth‘   hailed the Mahatma’s achievement in arousing the destitute millions, but sharply criticized elements of narrowness, obscurantism and unthinking conformity in the cult of the charkha.
  • But movement brought unique communal unity
  • Hartals, strikes & mass courting greatly pressurised British government

2. Bihar

  • Bihar won the Mahatma’s praise as ‘a Province in which the most solid work is being done in connection with Non-Cooperation. It’s leaders understand the true spirit of non-violence  .'(Young India, 2 March 1921).
  • 41 high and 600 primary and middle national school with a total of 21,500 pupils had been established by June 1922, and 48 depots had been set up in 11 districts to distribute cotton and charkha. 300,000 charkhas, 89,000 handlooms, and a khadi production of 95,000 yards per month were reported from Bihar in August 1922
  • Right to Graze on common land became issue of confrontation between upper & lower castes
  • Issue of cow protection & rights of kisan also merged with it
  • Swami Vidananda emerged as leader of the masses who was ready to take militant stand especially in Dharbanga  (which was unacceptable to Gandhi )

3. UP

  • Strongest base – in cities , towns & rural areas
  • In the countryside it took a different form. Here the movement got entangled with the Kisan Movement. Despite the repeated appeal for non-violence from the Congress leadership, the peasants rose in revolt not only against Taluqdars but also against merchants (outside Congress, Baba Ramchandra was main spirit here)
  • Nehru was leading here
  • The deep Gandhian impact on the U.P. intelligentsia was vividly reflected in the novels of Premchand, who resigned his post in a Gorakhpur government school in February 1921 to work for the nationalist journal Aj and for the Kasi Vidyapith. His Premasharam (1921) depicts a landlord with Gandhian leanings, while Rangbhumi (1925) has as its hero a blind beggar, Surdas, who fights a prolonged, non-violent struggle to prevent the pastures of his village being taken over for an Anglo-Indian cigarette factory

Demands were

  • no nazarana (extra premium on rent)
  • no eviction from holdings, and
  • no begar(forced  labour) and rasad (forced supplies )

4. Punjab

  • Akali Movement of Gurudwaras got closely identified with NCM
  • Showed a remarkable communal unity between Sikhs, Muslims & Hindus

5. Maharashtra

  • Relatively weak because the Tilakites were unenthusiastic about Gandhi, and Non-Brahmins felt that the Congress was a Chitpavan-led affair.
  • Higher castes disliked Gandhi’s emphasis on the elevation of the depressed classes and their participation in the Non-Cooperation Movement

6. Andhra

  • Grievances of Tribal and other peasants against Forest Laws got linked to the Non-Cooperation Movement. A large number of these people met Gandhi in Cudappa in September 1921 to get their taxes reduced and forest restrictions removed. Forest officials were boycotted. To assert their right they sent their cattle forcibly,into the forests without paying the grazing tax.
  • Important leader – Dhuggaraya Gopal Krishna Aiyer in Guntur Area

7. Karnataka

  • Remained comparatively unaffected – out of 682 title holders just 6 returned + 92 national schools opened with strength of 5000 students

8. Assam

  • In the usually isolated province of Assam, Non-Cooperation attained a strength which no later phase of the national movement would ever equal. The most important development was in the tea-gardens of Surma valley, where at Chargola in May 1921 coolies demanded a big wage increase with ‘shouts of Gandhi Maharaj Ki Jai’, followed by a massive exodus of some 8000 (52% of the labour force here)  amidst declarations that such was Gandhi’s order. Rumours had apparently spread that Gandhi-Raj was coming to give them land in the villages from where they had been so forcibly or deceitfully torn away

9. Kerala

Moplah Rebellion

  • Moplahs (Muslim peasantry)  of Kerala under the influence of Khilifatists started to participate in the rebellion against imperialist state .
  • Although Moplah rebellions had long history but this time , there was huge mobilisation on the large scale . But after sometime , it acquired communal overtone & they started to attack Hindus

10. Tamil Nadu

  • In Madras, the movement witnessed from the very beginning a Brahman-non-Brahman conflict, as the Justice Party launched an active campaign against the ‘Brahman’ Congress and its non-cooperation programme and rallied in support of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms. Very few candidates actually withdrew and the Justice Party won the majority.
  • Because of this resistance, the boycott of foreign cloth was also much weaker in the Tamil regions than in other provinces of India.

Governments’  Repression

  • In beginning, Government thought it is best to leave it alone as repression will only make martyrs out of Nationalists & fan the spirit of revolt . But by end of 1921 , Government felt things are going too far . Change  in policy & declared Volunteer Corps illegal & arrested all who claimed to be its members
  • CR Das was among first to be arrested followed by his wife Basantidebi . This outraged Bengali youth who came forward to court arrest . Next two months saw over 30,000 arrests
  • Gandhi came under immense pressure after this from Congress ranks & was forced to enter into new phase of Civil Disobedience

Chauri Chaura Incident

  • Volunteer leader (an army pensioner named Bhagwan Ahir) was beaten by Police and then they opened fire on the crowd which had come to protest before the police station. In return, agitated crowd burnt the police station killing 22 policemen 
  • British alarm at the incident was vividly reflected by the fact that the sessions   court initially sentenced not less then 172 of the 225 Chauri Chaura accused to death (eventually 19 were hanged, and the rest transported).
  • It must remain a matter of shame that there were virtually no nationalist protests against the barbarous attempt to take 172 lives in return for the 22 policemen killed—the only recorded protests being those made by M.N. Roy’s emigre Communist journal, Vanguard, and by the Executive Committee of the Communist International—and that even today at Chauri Chaura there remains a police memorial, but nothing in honour of the peasant martyrs.
  • Chauri Chaura incident 5 February 1922 made Gandhi withdraw NCM

Was Gandhi correct in decision of withdrawal?

  • If violence occurred anywhere,  it could be easily made as an excuse by Government to launch massive attack on movement as a whole & government site violence at one place as proof of likelihood of violence at other place & thus justify its repression . Gandhi’s assessment of chances of being allowed to conduct a mass civil disobedience campaign in Bardoli had receded further after Chauri Chaura. Mass civil disobedience would be defeated even before it was given a fair trial.  (True, the withdrawal itself led to considerable demoralization, especially of the active political workers, but it is likely that the repression and crushing of the movement (as happened in 1932) would have led to even greater demoralization.)
  • The central theme of the agitation the Khilafat question dissipated soon. In November 1922, the people of Turkey rose under Mustafa Kamal Pasha and deprived the Sultan of political power. Turkey was made a secular state. Thus, the Khilafat question lost its relevance. A European style of legal system was established in Turkey and extensive rights granted to women. Education was nationalised and modern agriculture and industries developed. In 1924, the Caliphate was abolished.
  • Mass movements have an inherent tendency to ebb after reaching a certain height, that the capacity of the masses to withstand repression, endure suffering and make sacrifices is not unlimited, that a time comes when breathing space is required to consolidate, recuperate, and gather strength for the next round of struggle

Achievements of the Non Cooperation Movement (NCM)

  • Although Swaraj which Gandhi assured to be achieved in one year was no where in sight but Non Cooperation Movement was a success in many ways & foremost being it converted struggle to mass movement &  showed that Congress doesn’t represent microscopic minority
  • Strength of the movement established the success of new organisation of the congress
  • Movement coincided with many Local Movements as well as Praja Mandal Movement of some of the Princely States
  • Women participation in such large numbers for the first time
  • Economic boycott was far more intense and successful than in 1905-08, with the value of imports of foreign cloth falling from Rs 102 crores in 1920-21 to Rs 57 crores in 1921-22. While picketing remained important, a new feature was the taking of collective pledges by merchants not to indent foreign cloth for specific periods, and we hear also of interesting forms of business pressure, as when a Delhi trader’s threat not to honour hundis of Rohtak, led the latter town into joining a hartal in February 1920. However, their refusal to import foreign cloth might have also been due to a sudden fall in rupee-sterling exchange rates that made import ex- tremely unprofitable
  • On Constructive Side : Emphasis was laid on eradication of social evils like untouchability , drinking as well as establishment of educational institutions like Jamia Milia, Kashi Vidyapeeth, Gujarat Vidyapeeth with 440 institutions started in Bihar and Orissa, 190 in Bengal, 189 in Bombay, and 137 in U.P. Many of these proved short-lived, as the pull of conventional degrees and jobs naturally reasserted itself when Swaraj failed to come in a year— but quite a few survived, to serve as valuable seminaries of nationalism.

Limitations of Non Cooperation Movement (NCM)

  • None of the three objectives could be achieved 
  • Sudden suspension of NCM led to disillusionment with the Gandhian tactics and many nationalists started looking for alternative means to struggle against the British rule
  • The bridge of Hindu-Muslim unity build during NCM collapsed & could never be built again . Post NCM Jinnah emerged as the leader of Muslim league .
  • At many places, peasants were mobilized on local demands and were not interested in national cause .
  • There was no movement till Anti-Simon agitation

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