28 July 1921: Congress Boycotts Prince of Wales Visit

On 28 July the Congress decided to boycott the upcoming visit of the Prince of Wales in November as part of the Non- Cooperation Movement.


The Non-Cooperation movement was an important part of India’s freedom struggle, led by Mahatma Gandhi. Supported by the Indian National Congress (INC), the Non-Cooperation Movement was started by Gandhi after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre to oppose British rule using non-violent methods. This movement came about due to colonial oppression. Most of India’s wealth was exported to Britain and local artisans suffered because handmade goods were being replaced by British factory made products. There was also massive resentment among Indian soldiers who were fighting in the First World War as a part of the British Army in battles which had nothing to do with India. Farmers too were dissatisfied, oppressed by poverty and poor social conditions; they were forced to grow cash crops like tobacco, cotton and indigo by the British, instead of food grain and were compelled to pay tax despite there being several famines.


From early 1921 students left schools which were run or supported by the British, people left their jobs with the police, military and the civil services. Lawyers left their practice, including the likes of C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru. Educated urban youth were encouraged to join the “Charkha” program and take to voluntary spinning as an effort to identify with the rural masses. The Swadeshi Movement saw the boycott of British manufactured goods, especially cloth, much of which was burned in public bonfires.


By July 1921, the All India Congress Committee took on a strong stance and decided to boycott the upcoming visit of the Prince of Wales in November of the same year. Gandhi sought the filling of prisons with volunteers as organizing volunteer bands. The then Viceroy of India, Lord Reading understood the magnitude of the Non-Cooperation movement and commented, “the change from Gandhi’s appeal to intellectuals to his appeal to ignorant masses…has altered (the) situation, but it has the advantage of bringing intellectuals and persons of property more close to us”.


Developments in the fourth phase of the Non-Cooperation Movement in November 1921 almost broke the government. Khilafat leader, Hasrat Mohani was enraged at the jailing of the Ali brothers for their speech at the Karachi Khilafat Congress in which they appealed all Muslims to leave the army. They were also demanding complete independence and the abandonment of the principle of non-violence. Gandhi by then had decided on a no-revenue campaign in Bardoli to tackle the issue of violated liberties of speech, press and association. This entire movement was suddenly called off by Gandhi on 11 February following the news of the burning alive of 22 policemen by enraged farmers at Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.


The early appeal for self-sacrifice did not see much success, because not many people surrendered their jobs or gave up titles they held. The educational boycott was far more effective, especially in Bengal, where at least 20 headmasters or teachers resigned every month and large number of students left government aided schools. It was during this time that many national schools and colleges were founded, such as the Jamia Milia Islamia in Aligarh (which was later moved to Delhi) and the Kashi Vidyapith in Varanasi. Around 422 institutes came up in Bihar and Orissa, 190 in Bengal, 189 in Bombay (now Mumbai) and 137 in Uttar Pradesh. Most of these institutes were short lived, since students looked for conventional degrees and secure jobs when Swaraj failed to come around within a year as expected.


The economic boycott was extremely successful and the value of foreign cloth fell from Rs. 102 crore in 1920-21 to Rs. 57 crore in 1921-22. Picketing remained extremely common, while merchants pledged not to indent foreign cloth for a certain period of time. 1921 saw the post-war boom give way to a recession, especially in Calcutta (now Kolkata), where jute mill owners tried to cut back productivity with a four day work week. The workers revolted and there were 137 strikes in Bengal, involving 186,479 workers.


Many regional Congress workers participated in some strikes, especially in Bengal and Madras (now Chennai), but Gandhi opposed these strikes saying that they needed to regulate the relations between capital and labour and it would be foolish to encourage sympathetic strikes. The Gandhian program for the betterment of villages was through adopting the spinning wheel and hand woven cloth (khadi), panchayats, national schools, campaigns for Hindu-Muslim unity and educating society about the ills of alcohol and untouchability.


Panchayats were extremely popular in Bihar and Orissa and the anti-alcohol campaign was welcomed because to the lower castes it provided an opportunity for Sanskritizing, which would ultimately lead to their social upliftment. The Khilafat Movement too led to strong Hindu-Muslim ties, even though they were not long term. Unfortunately, the progress regarding untouchability was rather slow, though Gandhi deserved credit for bringing the matter of untouchability to the forefront of national politics.


There were regional variations of the Non-Cooperation movement across the country. The movement saw a lot of success in Punjab, with a massive student walk out inspired by Lala Lajpat Rai in January 1921. In Rajasthan a different pattern of the powerful peasant movement had emerged. In the meanwhile in the Bombay Presidency, Muslim traders and peasants of the Sindh were greatly moved by the Khilafat Movement. Though the Gandhian movement was naturally at its strongest in Gandhi’s home state of Gujarat. In Bombay city there was a lot of support from Gujarati businessmen, professionals and clerks, though most Maharashtrians were still mourning the loss of Lokmanya Tilak. Of the four main states in southern India, only Karnataka was unaffected. The state would only reach political consciousness in the 1930’s. In the otherwise cut off north east states, Assam saw the Non-Cooperation movement take on great strength, especially in the tea gardens where workers were demanding an increase in their salary, which were combined by enthusiastic slogans of “Gandhi Maharaj ki Jai”. In Bengal the movement gained great strength and the Non-Cooperation-Khilafat alliance made in 1921-22 was a great example of unity Bengal has ever seen.


By and by the Non-Cooperation movement got stronger and finally, by the time the Prince of Wales arrived in India in November he was greeted by a large scale country wide hartal and deserted streets. This also led to large scale clashes in Mumbai, which disturbed Gandhi greatly, who postponed his plans for the Civil Disobedience Movement.


Also on This Day:


1914: The S.S Komagata Maru was forced to leave Vancouver and sailed for India.


1946: Sister Alphonsa, good teacher and social worker, died at Bharananganam.


1972: Signed on 2nd July 1972, the Simla Agreement was ratified on 28th July, 1972.


1979: Chaudhary Charan Singh became the fifth Prime Minister of India.

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