R. C. Majumdar
In 1919, the Muslim community in British India started an agitation to put pressure on Britain to change its policy towards Turkey and restore the caliph of the Ottoman Caliphate as the political authority. This was known as the Khilafat Movement (Caliphate Movement), and it was led by the Ali brothers: Shaukat Ali and Mohammad Ali Jauhar.
Mahatma Gandhi saw in the Khilafat Movement an opportunity to bring Hindus and Muslims together. He exhorted all Hindus to join the protests. He went to the extent of proclaiming that the Khilafat issue was as important as the issue of home rule in India. When the All-India Khilafat Conference met at Delhi on 24 November 1919, Gandhiji was elected its President. At least on the surface, it seemed that the Khilafat was a Gandhian movement backed by the power and prestige of the Congress Party.
In the Non-Cooperation agitation that the Congress organized between 1920 and 1922, the Khilafat issue was given as much importance as the issue of home rule. Most Indians in that time would not have known where Turkey was or what the Khilafat issue was about, but they answered Gandhiji’s call and millions participated in the protests.
Historian R. C. Majumdar has opined that Gandhiji made a political blunder by providing overwhelming support to the Khilafat Movement.
In his book, History and Culture of the Indian People: Struggle for Freedom, Majumdar writes: “there seems to be no doubt whatsoever that when he [Gandhiji] launched the Non-cooperation movement on 1 August 1920, the Khilafat wrongs were the single issue which determined his action; the Punjab atrocities and winning of Swaraj were subordinate issues which were gradually tacked on to the main issue of the Khilafat, at a later date and as an after-thought.” (Page 332)
According to Majumdar, even Gandhiji’s close associates believed that he was going too far in supporting the Khilafat Movement. But Gandhiji continued to justify his position in the name of Hindu-Muslim unity. On page 318, Majumdar writes: “Gandhi looked upon the fate of Khilafat as a matter of life and death to the Muslims. But this was out-Heroding Herod himself, for in less than five years’ time the post of Caliphate was abolished by the Turks themselves without creating a stir in the Muslim world.”
On page 319, Majumdar points out that the Khilafat issue was inimical to India’s interests: “Gandhi failed to realize that the pan-Islamic idea which inspired the Khilafat question cut at the very root of Indian nationality. If the real sympathy and “vital interests” of a large section of Indians were bound up with a State and society which lay far outside the boundaries of India and had no political connection with it, they could never form a unit of Indian nationality.”
Gandhiji failed to achieve his dream of achieving Hindu-Muslim unity through the Khilafat Movement. The Ali brothers had a distaste for the Hindus; they had contempt for the Gandhian ideal of Hindu-Muslim unity. They saw their connection with the Congress as a purely tactical step. In 1925, the unity between the Congress and the Khilafat Movement broke down, and the Ali brothers began to openly criticize Gandhiji.
On page 336, Majumdar writes that in 1925, “Muhammad All said: ‘However pure Gandhi’s character may be, he must appear to me from the point of view of religion inferior to any Mussulman, even though he be without character.’ He repeated it later, saying, ‘Yes, according to my religion and creed, I hold an adulterous and a fallen Mussalman to be better than Mr. (no longer Mahatma) Gandhi.’” This was the end of bonhomie between Gandhiji and the Ali brothers.
Instead of bringing Hindus and Muslims together, as Gandhiji had hoped, the Khilafat Movement widened the gulf between the two communities.