Non-Cooperation Movement - Causes, Spread, Significance and Limitations




Modern History

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Prelims: History of India and Indian National Movement.

Mains: Modern Indian History from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.

The Non-Cooperation Movement (NCM) was the first nationwide movement launched by Gandhiji in 1920 during British rule. It emerged as a powerful and fervent response to a culmination of grievances and disillusionment that had been building up among the Indian populace. Rowlatt Actand the brutal Jaliawala Bagh Massacre were the immediate causes for launching the movement. 

Congress, at its special session of Calcutta in September 1920, approved the Non-Cooperation movement, which was later endorsed by theNagpur session of Congress in December 1920. The movement saw tremendous participation of masses throughout the country. However, the movement was called off by Gandhi on February 11, 1922, following the Churi Chaura incident in the Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh. 

Non-Cooperation Movement 

During the years 1920-21, the Indian National Movement entered a new phase of mass politics and mobilisation. Two mass movements, Khilafat and Non-Cooperation, were formed to oppose British rule. The Non-Cooperation Movement was launched by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920 to mobilise the Indian masses to peacefully resist British rule through non-cooperation with British institutions, laws, and policies. Both the Khilafat Movement and Mahatma Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement saw a convergence at the end of the summer of 1920. 

Gandhi, through his earlier localised movements such as Champaran, Kheda and Ahmedabad, had already gained popularity and was able to attract the masses throughout the country. Thus transitioning to a new era of nationwide movement and mass politics. 

Causes of Non-Cooperation Movement

The causes of the Non-Cooperation Movement were multifaceted. The impact of the First World War, the Rowlatt Act, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, and the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms provided the immediate context for the movement.

  • Simmering dissent: The economic exploitation of India by the British colonial rulers had already impoverished the masses. The economic and political situation of the country during and after the First World War was further aggravated by rising high inflation, heavy taxation and forced cultivation of cash crops. 
  • First World War: The British government backtracked on its promises to consider nationalist demands in exchange for Indian support in the War, which shattered the political optimism of the War years. 
  • Montagu-Chelmsford reforms: The reforms introduced by the British government through the Montagu-Chelmsford in the form of the Government of India Act 1919 fell short of Indian aspirations for self-governance and responsible government.The vast majority of leaders called it "disappointing and unsatisfactory."
  • Rowlatt Act: It was passed in 1919 that allowed for the arrest and detention of Indians without trial. Its primary goal was to imprison nationalists without allowing them to defend themselves. This had infuriated the nationalists and other leaders. Gandhi decided to use Satyagraha to oppose it.
  • Jallianwala Bagh Massacre: The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in Amritsar, in which British troops opened fire on a peaceful gathering of Indians, killing hundreds, shocked and enraged the Indian population.
  • Khilafat Movement: The Khilafat Movement was a parallel movement initiated by Indian Muslims to protest against the dismantling of the Ottoman Caliphate by the British after the First World War. Gandhi supported the Khilafat cause and advocated for non-cooperation.

Launch of Non-Cooperation Movement

As a follow-up to the Rowlatt Act, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and the Khilafat Movement, Mahatma Gandhi announced his intention to begin Non-Cooperation with the Government. At a special session in Calcutta in September 1920, Congress approved a Non-Cooperation Movement until the Punjab and Khilafat wrongs were corrected and Swaraj was established. The programme of non-cooperation was accepted and endorsed without opposition in the Nagpur INC Session of December 1920.

Features of the Non-Cooperation Movement

The programmes of the Non-Cooperation Movement were unfolded in stages:

  • Surrender of titles and honorary positions.
  • Resignation of membership from the local bodies.
  • Boycott ofForeign goods; Elections held in accordance with the provisions of the 1919 Act; Courts, Government functions and legal practise; government schools and colleges.
    • Thousands of volunteers went from house to house, trying to persuade people of the importance of adopting Swadeshi. The foreign-made clothing was gathered and set ablaze.
  • Boycott of legislative councils (There were differences over boycott of councils).
  • The boycott movement against liquor and toddy shops
  • National schools, colleges, and private panchayat courts were established. Kashi Vidyapeeth, Bihar Vidyapeeth, and Jamia Millia Islamia were established.
  • Popularising Swadeshi goods and Khadi.
  • Maintenance of Hindu-Muslim unity and practice of strict nonviolence.
  • Promotion of Charkha and Khadi and Jail Bharo Andolan by Congress volunteers.
  • Tilak Swaraj Fund was announced by Gandhi, which aimed at collecting Rs 1 crore to aid constructive work.

Spread of Non-Cooperation Movement

The call for non-cooperation and boycott provoked massive responses from various parts of India, which were marked by massive popular protests against the British Raj. However, in most places, the movement was shaped by local conditions.

  • Bengal: Birendranath Sasmal organised the anti-union board agitation in the Contai and Tamluk sub-divisions of Midnapore.
  • Assam: J.M. Sengupta organised strikes in tea plantations, steamer services, and Assam-Bengal Railways. 
  • United Province: Under Baba Ram Chandra's leadership, agrarian riots erupted in Rae Bareli, Pratapgarh, Fyzabad, and Sultanpur. 
    • A peasant outburst of the 'Eka movement' arose under the leadership of Madari Pasi. 
    • In Awadh, the Kisan Sabha movement was prominent. 
  • Punjab: The Akali movement for Gurudwara reform and control became closely associated with non-cooperation. It demonstrated remarkable communal unity among Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus.
  • Rajasthan: The peasants protested against cesses and begar. The Bijolia Movement in Mewar and the Bhil Movement under Motilal Tejawat were significant movements against the exploitation by the British and Jagirs. 
  • Gujarat: Vallabh Patel spread the movement and regarded non-cooperation as a feasible alternative to revolutionary terrorism to fight against a colonial government.
  • Karnataka: Karnataka areas were largely unaffected by the movement, and the initial reaction of upper and middle-class professional groups in several areas of the Madras presidency was limited. 
    • Workers at the Buckingham and Carnatic textile mills went on strike. Local Non-Cooperation leaders offered them moral support.
  • Andhra: In Andhra, tribal and other peasant grievances against forest laws were linked to the Non-Cooperation Movement. The peasants refused to pay taxes to the zamindars, and the entire population of Chirala-Perala refused to pay taxes and vacated the town. Alluri Sitaram Raju organised the tribals and combined their demands with those of the Non-Cooperation Movement.
  • Tamil Nadu: Led by C. Rajagopalachari, S. Satyamurthy and Periyar E.V.R
  • Kerala: Peasants organised anti-Jemni struggles. The Mopillah revolt was very intense during this period. 

Withdrawal of Non-Cooperation Movement

The non-cooperation movement was one of the most powerful movements in the Indian freedom struggle. However, despite all efforts, it was called off by Gandhiji due to various reasons. These reasons include: 

  • Chauri-Chaura Incident: In Chauri-Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, a group of protestors attacked and set fire to a police station, resulting in the death of several police officers. Gandhi felt that the incident violated the principle of non-violence, and as a result, he called off the movement in February 1922.
  • Lack of discipline and violence: Mahatma Gandhi realised that the Indian masses were not fully prepared for a nationwide struggle of civil disobedience and non-cooperation.There were instances of indiscipline and violence by some participants. For instance, the Mopillah revolt in Kerala turned violent.
  • Abolishment of Caliphate: Khilafat, one of the non-cooperation movement's issues, lost its relevance. Turks themselves, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, first abolished the Ottoman sultanate in 1922 and then did away with the office of the Khalifa in 1924. 
  • Rise of militancy: Towards the later stages of the movements, there was a gradual shift towards more radical and militant approaches. This led to a loss of popular support and alienation of certain sections of society.
  • Issue of class revolution: The Non-Cooperation Movement was gradually turning into a no-rent movement against the Zamindars. However, the Congress leadership had no intention of undermining the Zamindars' legal rights. Gandhi's goal was a "controlled mass movement" involving various Indian classes rather than a class revolution. As a result, he was opposed to the continuation of this movement, which could lead to a class revolution.
  • Government repression: The British colonial government had responded to the Non-Cooperation Movement with harsh measures.The government seemed in no mood for negotiations. Volunteer corps were declared illegal, public meetings were forbidden, the press was silenced, and most leaders of the Congress were arrested.

Significance of Non-Cooperation Movement

Though the non-cooperation movement did not succeed and was suddenly called off, it had a significant impact on the Indian freedom struggle. It played a significant role in generating and spreading anti-imperialist consciousness among Indian people.

  • Hindu-Muslim unity: Gandhi opined that the realisation of Swarajya lies in the proper resolution of the Mahomedan question. This effort led to an unprecedented Hindu-Muslim unity, reflected in the ensuing mass mobilisations against colonial rule. It also paved the way for Gandhi to become the main protagonist of secularism. 
  • Issue of social justice: The non-cooperation movement introduced the issue of caste discrimination and untouchabilityto national politics and made Gandhi an important leader for social justice. 
  • Mass participation: The Khilafat and NCM witnessed extensive participation from the Indian masses from all walks of life, including peasants, workers, students, teachers, women and professionals. The long-standing grievances of the working masses against the British, as well as the Indian masters, were given an outlet through this movement. Gandhi’s emphasis on non-violence introduced women in large numbers into the freedom struggle. Thus, it proved to be a mass mobilisation in the true sense. 
  • National consciousness: The most significant success of the movement was the creation of political and social consciousness and nationalism in Indians. 
  • Inspiration for subsequent movements: The success and impact of these movements paved the way for subsequent movements such as the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Quit India Movement.

Limitations of Non-Cooperation Movement

The Non-Cooperation Movement was a significant step in India's struggle for independence. However, it had several limitations and challenges that impacted its effectiveness. 

  • Merger of Khilafat issue: The cause of the Khilafat movement was exclusively on the religious line, and then the convergence of NCM and Khilafat proved to be less useful for secular politics in India in the long term. 
  • Limited reach: While the Non-Cooperation Movement garnered substantial support, especially in urban areas, it did not have universal backing across India. The rural population had limited awareness of these movements and often remained detached.
  • Lack of clear goal: The movements didn't have a well-defined roadmap beyond non-cooperation with the British for achieving independence or addressing broader socio-economic issues.
  • Differences: There were differences in strategies, ideologies, and priorities that led to fragmentation and weakened the overall effectiveness of the movements. For example, there were differences regarding the boycott of legislative councils. Some leaders, such as C.R. Das, were unwilling to include a council boycott.

PYQs on Non-Cooperation Movement

Q) Bring out the constructive programmes of Mahatma Gandhi during the Non-Cooperation Movement and Civil Disobedience Movement. (UPSC Mains 2021)

Q) Since the decade of the 1920s, the national movement acquired various ideological strands and thereby expanded its social base. Discuss. (UPSC Mains 2020) 

Q) Many voices had strengthened and enriched the nationalist movement during the Gandhian phase. Elaborate (UPSC Mains 2019)

FAQs on Non-Cooperation Movement

Who launched the Non-Cooperation-Khilafat Movement?

The Non-cooperation Movement was launched on 5 September 1920 by the Indian National Congress (INC) under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.

What was the Non-Cooperation Movement, and how was it related to the Khilafat Movement?

The Non-Cooperation Movement was a more extensive, nonviolent mass campaign launched by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920 to protest against British colonial rule in India. The Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement were strategically linked to gain broader support from both Hindus and Muslims. Mahatma Gandhi used the Khilafat issue as a unifying force to bring Hindus and Muslims together in the fight against British imperialism.

Who was the president of the Nagpur Session 1920, which endorsed the non-cooperation movement?

Vijayaraghavachariar was the president of the Nagpur Session 1920, which endorsed the non-cooperation movement

What was the reason for holding the Special Session of INC in Calcutta in 1920?

A special session was organised to pass the resolution of the Non-cooperation movement with a demand for Swaraj.

What event led to the suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement?

The Non-Cooperation Movement was suspended by Mahatma Gandhi in 1922 after the Chauri Chaura incident. In this incident, protesters turned violent, leading to the death of police officers. Gandhi believed that the movement had lost its nonviolent essence and called for its suspension.