Hundred years of Khilafat: How Gandhi supported movement unleashed the beast of Islamic fanaticism

Gautam Guha, Agami Kalarab: The Khilafat movement, taught in Indian school books as the first pan-India agitation against the British rule, fought by Hindus and Muslims together, does not incite readers’ interest. However, when examined closely, with its nuances, one finds seeds of prominent historical events such as the partition of India on religious grounds, creation of Pakistan and genesis of Hindutva, an ideology defining Hindu nationalism, were either sowed or germinated in this movement. It leaves many questions unanswered. Had Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, not thrown its weight behind the movement to reinstate an Islamic state, thousands of miles away from India, could it have saved lives of thousands of Hindus, who were killed or targeted in the Moplah revolt? Could it have deferred Veer Savarkar from defining Hindutva on the lines of fatherland and holy land?Could it has responsible for creating Pakistan?

The Khilafatists deny the charge of dual nationality by putting it like India is motherland while Turkey was like fatherland to Indian Muslims, implying that supporting Khilafat does not affect their love for India. However, it left important questions such as whether it is permissible to request the help of Muslim countries for India’s independence; whether India should be a constitutional democracy based on the representation of people or a Hindu majority country to be ruled by Muslims as desired by these leaders; unanswered. Similarly, Islam doesn’t advocate non-violence advocated by Mahatma Gandhi, as an essential element of the non-cooperation movement. At the annual session of the Congress in 1920 in Nagpur, the Khilafat leaders read Quranic verses that call for Jihad and support the killing of Kafirs (non-muslims). When it was pointed out to Mahatma Gandhi, he smiled and said: “They are alluding to the British bureaucracy”. As a result, the Khilafat movement started losing its direction from the beginning.

Gandhi at Khilafat movement

In south India Moppila agitators was in their rampage. In August 1921, as per estimates, close to ten thousand Hindus were massacred by radical acrocities. A large number of women were raped, temples were vandalized, people’s homes were burnt and they were banished. There were many incidents of burning people alive, peeling their skins, people were asked to dig graves for themselves and were buried in them. Marxist historians have tried to play their political propaganda by stating that it was caused by economic injustice and not by religious fanaticism. But that makes a case for such revolts across the country.Leading political and social leaders such as Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Swami Shraddhanand and Dr Annie Basent condemned these events. In her report, Dr Annie Basent described the heartbreaking experiences in the refugee camps. But Mahatma Gandhi, obsessed with his dream of Hindu-Muslim unity, chose to ignore this criticism. Initially, he praised Moplahs for the love of their religion. He also held Hindus partially responsible for the riots. Nationalist leader V. D. Savarkar sharply criticized the caste-based discrimination among Hindus while vividly describing the atrocities of Muslims in the Malabar region. Essentials of Hindutva was deliberately written in English with an objective of removing confusion created by Mahatma Gandhi in the name of Hindu-Muslim unity.
This year, as we are marking the centenary of the events that started the Khilafat movement, we see the rise of nationalist parties all over the world. This year, Indian people have entrusted power with a larger mandate to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who have been following the path of Veer Savarkar and Dr. Hedgewar in the spheres of national security and foreign policy. Our central government has indicated that it will not hesitate in making tough decisions in the national interest. Today, as a mature democracy, we need to look back at the Khilafat movement which shaped our modern history with an open mind.

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