Gandhi Formally Agrees to Convene the Key 1924 India All-Parties’ Conference, Called to Bring Together Hindus and Muslims, and Unite the Indian Independence Movement’s Factions

In a show of unity with other factions, he gives his assent to Annie Besant, former President of the India National Congress, who had called the Conference

Just days after completing his longest ever fast

After World War I ended, Gandhi stepped up his activities aimed at gaining independence for India. On August 1, 1920, he instituted the Non-Cooperation Movement by calling on Indians to refuse to cooperate with British rule in India. By March 10, 1922, the British...

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Gandhi Formally Agrees to Convene the Key 1924 India All-Parties’ Conference, Called to Bring Together Hindus and Muslims, and Unite the Indian Independence Movement’s Factions

In a show of unity with other factions, he gives his assent to Annie Besant, former President of the India National Congress, who had called the Conference

Just days after completing his longest ever fast

After World War I ended, Gandhi stepped up his activities aimed at gaining independence for India. On August 1, 1920, he instituted the Non-Cooperation Movement by calling on Indians to refuse to cooperate with British rule in India. By March 10, 1922, the British had had enough of Gandhi, and near his Sabarmati Ashram arrested him. He did not dodge responsibility, but pleaded guilty to the charge of sedition for writing three articles in “Young India”. The articles were: “Tampering with Loyalty”, “A Puzzle and its Solution”, and “Shaking the Manes”. These articles argued for resistance to British rule, and even called upon Indians to seek arrest to obtain freedom. He was given a six year sentence, and served two years before being released from prison in January 1924. He then returned to his Ashram.

Annie Besant was a British socialist, women’s rights activist, theosophist (mystic), writer and orator, and supporter of Irish and Indian self-rule. As part of her theosophy-related work, she travelled to India. In 1898 she helped establish the Central Hindu College, and in 1922 she helped establish the Hyderabad National Collegiate Board in Mumbai. She also became involved in politics in India, joining the Indian National Congress. When World War I broke out in 1914, she played a key role in launching the Home Rule League to campaign for democracy in India and dominion status within the Empire. This led to her election as president of the India National Congress in late 1917. She later drafted the Commonwealth of India Bill that was presented in Parliament in 1925, the first bill for effective autonomy for India to reach the British Parliament. She was not a supporter of civil disobedience, which meant that she and Gandhi were not always in agreement on tactics.

From September 18 to October 8, 1924, just months after leaving prison, Gandhi engaged in a 21 day fast aimed at bringing together Hindus and Muslims, and the various sects and parties within India, to achieve cross-country unity. Hardly had Gandhi started the hunger strike when Annie Besant and others – concerned about the strike leading to a confrontation with the British – called for an All-Parties’ Conference in Bombay on the 21st and 22nd of November. The object of the All-Parties’ Conference was to arrive a peaceful resolution to the ongoing antagonism between Indian Muslims and Hindus, and indeed develop a national program that all pro-independence and pro-commonweath factions could support. When he emerged from this fast the Conference was upon him. Annie Besant quickly reached out to him to take a leadership role in the Conference, knowing that without his support its efforts were doomed to failure.

Dr. Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari was an Indian nationalist and political leader, member of the Indian National Congress, and former president of the Muslim League. Dr. Ansari was amongst a new generation of Indian Muslim nationalists, one that included Maulana Azad, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and others. He was very passionate about the issues of common Indian Muslims, but unlike Jinnah, was resolutely against separate electorates based on religion and opposed Jinnah’s viewpoint that the Muslim League could be the only representative of India’s Muslim communities.

Autograph letter signed, in English, Delhi, October 18, 1924, to Dr. Besant, agreeing to be a formal convener of the All-Parties’ Conference. “Dr. Ansari gave me your letter with the papers today. You may put me down as a convener. I have no choice as to the place. If it is the 3rd week of November, I should make a strenuous effort to attend. I think that you should be the Provisional Secretary.” This letter is published in Gandhi’s correspondence, based on a retained copy in his secretary’s diary.

Gandhi did attend as planned, as did the others. On November 21 he spoke at a Working Committee meeting and moved the first resolution on Bengal. Then, on November 22, he made the speech that mattered most to him – unity.

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