The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms in 1919 left Indians dissatisfied with the idea of dyarchy, adding fuel to the fire of the atrocities like the Rowlatt Act, the Jallianwala Massacre and the Martial Law in Punjab. The Indian Muslims were incensed when they found that their loyalty had been purchased during the war by false assurances of generous treatment after the War. The Muslims regarded the Caliph of Turkey as their spiritual head and were naturally upset when they found that he would retain no control over the holy places he was to protect as the Caliph.
By the first quarter of 1920, all excuses for the British Government were running out. Gandhiji, who was in touch with the Khilafat leaders and sympathized with them, felt that it was a breach of trust for the British to not keep their promise. In 1920, the Khilafat Committee requested Gandhiji to launch and lead a non-violent non-cooperation movement.
The Non-Cooperation Movement was launched on August 1, 1920, after the expiry of the notice Gandhiji had given to the Viceroy. The programme included the surrender of titles and honours, boycott of government schools and colleges, law courts, foreign cloth, spinning of charkha and observance of strict non-violence.
The adoption of the Non-Cooperation Movement (initiated earlier by the Khilafat Conference) gave the Congress a new enthusiasm. Gandhiji, along with the Ali Brothers (Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali - the foremost Khilafat leaders)), toured the country, addressing hundreds of mass meetings. Thousands of students left schools and colleges in protest. Many leading lawyers including CR Dass, Motilal Nehru, MR Jayakar, Saifuddin Kitchlew, VB Patel, C Rajgopalachari, T Prakasam and Asif Ali gave up lucrative practices to join the movement and their sacrifices inspired many others too.
But the most successful tactic was the boycott of foreign cloth. Foreign cloth was collected door to door and the entire community would gather to make a public bonfirely. Prabhudass Gandhi, Gandhiji’s co-traveller on his tour, recalls how at many small stations, the train would stop for a few minutes. Gandhiji would persuade the crowd to at least discard the head dress at once. Immediately, a pile of caps, dupatas, and turbans would be collected and as they resumed journey, they saw the flames leaping upwards. Picketing of shops selling foreign cloth was also done.
The Prince of Wales, was received in 1921 with empty streets and downed shutters wherever he went. Encouraged by their successful defiance, the protestors became more aggressive. In September, 1920, when the movement had begun, the British chose to leave it alone. But by December, they felt that the things were really going too far and changed the policy. The Congress Volunteer Corps was declared illegal. Gandhiji was under considerable pressure to start a mass civil disobedience. Finally, after much deliberation, Bardoli in Gujarat was chosen for starting the mass phase.
But before Bardoli could start the movement, another incident sealed its fate. In February, 1922, a mob in Chauri Chaura (UP) set fire to a police station. Many policemen were killed, and those who tried to escape were hacked and thrown into the fire. Gandhiji immediately withdrew the movement and thus on 12th February, 1922, the Non-Cooperation Movement suddenly stopped after ratification by the Congress Working Committee.
Many Congress leaders like Motilal Nehru, CR Dass and Subhash Bose felt that the sudden withdrawal of the movement was a blow to the masses who had been agitating hard. But Gandhiji had his own reasons for doing so. Mass movements cannot be sustained for long because the masses do not have unlimited capacity, like leaders, for making sacrifices. The Non-Cooperation Movement was showing definite signs of fizzling out and weakness in many parts. Chauri Chaura was an honourable way to exit because a withdrawal could be understood as a defeat.