Introduction: A new chapter in the history of India’s struggle for independence was opened with the non-cooperation movement in 1920. Based on the principles of non-violence and boycott, this movement was launched formally on August 1, 1920.
What was the Non-Cooperation Movement?
Non-cooperation movement was started by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920 to drive the British out of the country.
Non-cooperation movement was nothing but a declaration of peaceful; and non-violent war against the atrocities of the British government which had gone back on its words.
The Non-cooperation Movement meant active refusal to abide by the laws and regulations passed by the government.
- An appeal was made to all the Indians to surrender their titles and to boycott the law courts, the educational institutions and the election of the legislatures.
- It was thought in the beginning that this would be enough to the emphasis upon the government the need for greater reforms and more amenities in the administration of the country.
- However, it was planned that, in case, it did not succeed in bringing down the Government; the payment of taxes would be refused.
The Congress also declared that it would not be satisfied with anything less than Swarajya. Thus, for the first time, the Congress had taken a revolutionary step. An organization which was wedded to constitutional means had now adopted a revolutionary policy and was even ready to work for self-rule disconnecting all relations from the government of England in case it was not granted by them willingly.
Causes of the Movement
- Disillusion at the end of the war: There were some Indians who did not want to cooperate with the government during the war but Gandhiji thought it improper to take advantage of the weak position of the rulers. With the outbreak of the World War I, India came to be involved in the War as a part of the British Empire.
The British Government utilized India’s wealth, money and manpower for its own interest. About 1.25 million Indian soldiers fought on behalf of the British in different war fronts and many of them sacrificed their lives. They also donated about six crores and 21 lac pounds as war subscription.
So, Indians expected that in return of this valuable service, the British Government would grant autonomy to them at the end of the War. But they were greatly disillusioned. This dissatisfaction was one of the causes of the Non-cooperation Movement by Gandhi.
- Home Rule movement: Indians were disappointed to see the British government adopting repressive measures. In response to it, Tilak and Besant started Home Rule movement. The Lucknow Pact had brought the Congress and the Muslim League closer together. The return of the Extremists to the Congress in 1916 gave the Congress a militant character.
The Home Rule movement prepared the ground for the Non-Cooperation Movement.
- Economic distress caused by World War I: The War brought about great economic distress to the Indians. At the end of the war, the economic condition took a turn of the worse. Prices shot up. Price of cloths, sugar etc., began to soar. Foreign goods began to be imported.
Both the peasants and the workers suffered due to the impact of war. The price of agricultural products did not increase. The workers being unemployed had to live in half-starvation.
According to Louis Fischer, not only political leaders but also the soldiers and even the peasants claimed compensations for shedding Indian blood.
- Montague-Chelmsford Act: The Mont-Ford Act of 1919 could not satisfy the Congress. The actual scheme of reforms fell far short of nationalists’ demands.
Impact of the Rowlatt Act: The passing of the Rowlatt Act and the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy gave a new turn to Indian politics. Gandhiji became firm in the policy of non-cooperation. The Rowlatt Act tried to put a restriction upon the liberty of speech and Press, and this was taken to be a signal for still greater repressive measures from the British government. The whole of the nation rose in indignation against the government, and like wildfire, there was a wave of agitation all over the country.
- The Khilafat movement: The Khilafat leaders were told that they should not expect anything more. So, the Khilafat Committee accepted the suggestion of non-cooperation and asked Gandhi to lead the movement.
Thus it was apparent that the Congress had to work out something soon, for it was clear that the people were becoming impatient for action. So, the all India Congress Committee met to decide on its course of action. The Nagpur session of the congress confirmed the resolution of starting non-cooperation movement. Gandhiji assured the nation that the Swaraj would be achieved within a year.
Result and Importance
Since swaraj was not achieved within a year as Gandhiji had assured, the movement was apparently a failure.
However, the significance and importance of the Non-Cooperation movement cannot be denied.
The non-cooperation movement led by Gandhiji was such a mass movement which had never been seen before and after the Great Rebellion of 1857. India for the first time saw a leader who had the ability to fight face to face. According to Marjorie Sykes, Gandhiji had ‘the gift of a fight’.
Importance and immediate good results: Indian mill-owners earned a good profit due to the programme of a boycott. The import of sugar from England decreased considerably. The import of British cotton-goods decreased from Rs. 6.7 crores to Rs. 2.8 crores within a period of six months. Likewise, the import of iron decreased to 50%.
Political importance: Popularity of the Congress and the movement increased among the masses. The non-cooperation movement certainly demonstrated that the Indian National Congress commanded the support and sympathy of vast sections of the Indian people. The spread of the movement was also nation-wide. It may be true that some areas were more active than others, but there were few that showed no sign of activity at all.
Participation of Muslims: Participation of the Muslims in the movement and the maintenance of communal harmony was also a great achievement. Muslim participation gave the movement a mass character.
Success in several cases: According to R.C. Majumdar, the non-cooperation movement was an acid test for the people. The movement was a success in several cases:
- People became conscious of their political right.
- People lost their trust in British administration.
- They became confident of self-reliance.
- The government failed to create fear in their mind.
The non-cooperation movement evoked an unprecedented enthusiasm throughout the country. According to Dr. Tarachand, the non-cooperation movement was the first movement without a weapon in the history of the world. It gave a new complexion to the people’s urge for freedom. It marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of India’s freedom movement.