Why No Centennial Celebration for the Khilafat Movement?

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Just a thought occurred that in 2019, India must have celebrated the 100th anniversary of the famous Khilafat movement (1919-24), an international campaign to restore the post of the Caliph abolished as a consequence of the collapse of the Ottoman empire (1908-22).

In India, that Muslim-led movement, under the leadership of Shaukat Ali and Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, was supported and incorporated into the freedom movement by Mohandas Gandhi in 1920.

I expected the Indian organizations or institutions -- from the Indian National Congress party to numerous Gandhi-centered establishments -- must have commemorated that historic chapter of the freedom movement.

So, I Googled: “2019 marks the centenary of the Khilafat movement.”

To my surprise, not many news items on the centennial celebration came up.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, one procession was organized in Mumbai that started from the headquarters of the All India Khilafat Committee (AIKC) at Mazagaon and terminated at the Haj House, Fort. This particular event took place to mark the 100th anniversary of the day Gandhi led a march in Mumbai as a part of the Khilafat movement. It was the day of the Islamic religious festival, Eid-e-Milad.

No nation-wide fanfare or large-scale memorial events or excitement.

The interesting questions, therefore, the historians should be asking why in a huge country of 185 million Muslims whose political support is mainly claimed by the largest opposition party, the Indian National Congress, there was such a muted celebration of the Khilafat movement that stormed India for nearly five years.

Even today, the official stance of the Indian National Congress vis-à-vis the Khilafat is that it was a “landmark movement that forged Hindu-Muslim unity during the freedom struggle.” The INC is the major party that’s the inheritor of Gandhi's legacy. It still expresses allegiance to him. Gandhi was unquestionably the towering figure whose leadership during the anti-British colonial movement earned India its independence, he came to be called the Mahatma and the father of the nation. Then why wasn’t there a series of study sessions, seminars, or symposium to at least educate people in this part of Indian history? Is this because they acknowledged the Khilafat movement wasn’t the right cause? Or, they didn’t wish to talk about their  embarrassment, setbacks or failures?

The Khilafat movement was taught in the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) approved textbooks as the first pan-Indian mass movement jointly launched by the Hindus and the Muslims against the British colonial rule. In fact, if we examine closely, in hindsight, the Khilafat movement sowed the seeds of the eventual partition of India on the basis of two-nation theory.

As the movement legitimized the Islamists’ claim of a separate nationhood (ummah), it sought to fill every Indian Muslim with a sense of separateness from their Hindu neighbors, brothers and sisters. It consumed the Indian Muslims with the false desire that the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Turkey was as important or, maybe, more important than the independence of their ancestral homeland from the British colonial yoke. In turn, this led to the rise of the faction of Hindu nationalism that looked upon every Muslim in India as having extra-territorial loyalty.

A close reading of Gandhi’s co-option of the Khilafat movement also brought his wisdom into question: How could a British-educated barrister and an apostle of non-violence and peace be so oblivious of the Ottoman Empire, “one of the worst genocidal regimes in the history of humankind,” that systematically exterminated more than 1.5 million Armenian Christians in a short period between 1915 and 1916 and supported the restoration of the Caliph?

How couldn’t he see connections between the Khilafat movement and anti-Hindu savagery of the Moplah riots (1921) in Kerala despite their condemnation by such leading figures as Dr Annie Basent, Swami Shraddhanand and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar? How couldn’t he notice the overwhelming evidence that the foundation of the Khilafat movement lay in the Sunni Islamist orthodoxy and kept on emphasizing that “such an opportunity to unite the Hindus and the Mohameddans would not arise in a hundred years”.

It’s also debated now, in the light of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s testimony, that the seminal demand of the Gandhi-led Congress was Swaraj (self-rule) and “the non-cooperation had its origin in the Khilafat agitation and not in the Congress.” The non-cooperation “was started by the Khilafatists to help Turkey and adopted by the Congress to help Khilafatists.” Swaraj wasn’t the primary object of the Khilafatists, it was “added as a secondary object to induce the Hindus to join it.”

In conclusion, the empirical fact stands now that most of the 185 million Muslims of India -- including their fanatic sectarian institutions -- haven’t exhibited great nostalgia or enthusiasm over the Khilafat movement initiated in their name by the Islamists in disguise. It goes to show that all Muslims are not necessarily disloyal separatists. They can be persuaded to be called Hindustani Muslims with pride.

It’s only a miniscule that poisons the water for political or extra-territorial selfish gains.


Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.

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