Provincial Autonomy: Congress Rule And The War (1937-1939)

The Government had announced that the new Act (1935) would come into effect in April 1937. However, the part of the Act dealing with the Central Government depended on the condition that a sufficient number of States (as mentioned in the last chapter) would accede to the federation. As this did not happen, the constitution of the Federal Union, therefore, had to be kept in abeyance. In the meantime some important changes took place; Marquess of Zetland (Lord Ronaldshay) replaced S.Hoare as Secretary of State in June 1935, and Lord Willingdon retired and Lord Linlithgow was appointed as the Viceroy in April 1936. Zetland and Linlithgow were faced with a peculiar situation; J. Nehru as President of the Congress session of December 1936 declared that they would go to the Legislatures not to co-operate with the British Imperialism, but to combat the Act of 1935 and seek to end it; that they were not going to pursue the path of constitutionalism; that they would have nothing to do with office and ministries because it would be a partnership with the British imperialism; and that they must think in terms of deadlocks and not in terms of carrying on with the office. The Congress appointed a committee to organize the election campaign (R.Prasad, B.Desai, Azad, Rajaji, V.Patel, A.N.Dev and G.B.Pant). The manifesto, among other things, rejected the Act of 1935 and demanded its replacement by a constitution framed by the elected Assembly: the real aim was to end the Act, “ordinances and other rules and regulations which had oppressed the people.”

On the other hand, Muslim politics were in a confused condition during the years Jinnah was out of India. Jinnah was shocked when his amendments to the Nehru Report were not accepted and this ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity was attacked by Hindu leaders like Jayakar and Pandit Malaviya; he was even more hurt when Gandhi and Motilal Nehru instead of supporting Jinnah, defended the politics pursued by the anti-Muslim Hindu Mahasabha party. Jinnah was also annoyed when Congress (1929) declared the independence of India (Purna Swaraj) completely ignoring the Muslim League. Moreover, the Shafi-Fazl-i-Husain group and the All-India Muslim Conference’s behavior further alienated Jinnah. He might have said: enough is enough and that he had no more business in India to do. He, therefore, decided to leave India (at least for some years) to settle down and practice law in London, confining himself to appeals before the Privy Council; and later Jinnah applied to London’s Inner Temple to let chambers that were vacant and the application was accepted for Jinnah was so distinguished a person.

In London, Jinnah spent perhaps the most comfortable and peaceful years of his life and also established a reputation for excellence before the Privy Council. But in India, Jinnah was remembered and missed by his community due to his qualities, abilities and most of all his unpurchasability; he was requested to return to India by leaders like Liaquat Ali Khan and to lead his community. It would to an exaggeration to say that a person like Jinnah decided to return to India due to any body’s advice; the decision was definitely his own. However, Jinnah returned in March 1934 to revive the moribund Muslim League. While in London, Jinnah was re-elected by the Muslims of Bombay City to represent them in the Central Assembly. In 1935, Jinnah met with Congress President (R.Prasad) for talks but failed to resolve the communal disputes; Malaviya once again was living in fool’s paradise and therefore was unable to read the new sings that Jinnah was bound to rise so high where he could be the most difficult customer; Malaviya once again rejected Jinnah’s demands. In February 1935, Jinnah spoke in the Assembly for the acceptance of the Communal Award and rejected the All-India Federation Scheme. The Congress leader, B.Desai, spoke against Jinnah’s proposal to accept the Award; but Jinnah’s argument carried the House by a vote of 68 to 15. Jinnah was, however, willing to accept the provincial part of the Act (for what it was worth) even though he shared, the Congress objection to the discretionary powers of the Governors. He also wished that discretionary powers of the Viceroy be modified.

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After Jinnah’s return to India, the Muslim League (on the other hand) showed fresh signs of life (which had been in a moribund condition ever since the Shafi-Noon group had rebelled against Jinnah) Jinnah always wanted the Punjab to be a vital part of the League and therefore a close association with the ruling Unionist Prty and its leaders had always been important to Jinnah’s political strategy. So far as the re-organization of the League was concerned it was a long-term project (which might have taken several years) but the elections were due shortly. Therefore, the best solution was to have an alliance with the Unionists; Jinnah wrote to Fazl-i-Husain (the Unionist Chief) inviting him to preside over the forthcoming session of the League, and the Aga Khan also requested Fazl-Husain to accept this offer. But shrewd Fazl-i-Husain refused because he did not wish to disturb the status quo in the Punjab, which could have proved extremely risky for his party. The League, however, held its session under Sir Wazir Hasan and among other things decided to authorize Jinnah to form a Central Parliamentary Board to fight elections. He selected the members (thirty-five) from all over India. Among the names chosen were the members of the Muslim Unity Board who represented the nationalist group, a number of old Khilafatists, Ahrars and members of the Jamiatul ulema. The Board held its first meeting in Lahore on 8 June 1936 and adopted the election manifesto, declaring that the League stood for full responsible government for India, deplored the enactment of the Act of 1935, however accepting the Communal Award but rejecting the federal and provincial constitutions and defining the election programme of protecting religious rights; to secure repealing of all repressive laws; to protect and promote the Urdu language and script – etc. On the Communal issues, Jinnah had earlier (February 1935) declared that: “So long as Hindus and Muslims are not United, let me tell you that there is no hope for India and we shall both remain, slaves of foreign domination and that half the battle for independence was won if Hindu-Muslim Unity was achieved.”

Similarly, Bengal was also a key province for the Quaid-i-Azam, the chances of success were better in Bengal than in Punjab. There had been a great deal of competition between the Nawab of Dacca’s United Muslim party and Fazlul Haq’s Krishak Proja Samiti. Soon a United front between these two parties was mooted, but the negotiations failed on the question of leadership. At this moment M.A.H.Ispahani and A.R.Siddique decided to attend the Lahore meeting of the League’s Parliamentary Board. The Quaid gave them the task of organising the Bengal League. Soon the Quaid was requested to come to Bengal. Jinnah reached Calcutta; the United Muslim Party went into voluntary liquidation by joining the League on a limited liability basis; in other words the Nawab’s party took over the “mantle of a moribund Muslim League in Bengal”. This unity brought renowned leaders like H.S.Suhrawardy and Khwaja Nazimuddin into the League’s fold. Initially, Fazlul Haq had also agreed but later he had second thoughts and changed his mind. The result was that the rivalry between the Muslim League and Fazlul Haq intensified. Later Haq and the Congress concluded an unwritten (unholy) alliance not to hurt each other which led the Muslims calling the Proja party as “The running dog of the Congress Party”.

The other two Muslim-majority provinces, Sind and the N.W.F.P. were also equally important for the reorganization of the Muslim League. In Sind and the N.W.F.P. and in Punjab, Muslim leaders had confined themselves to getting special privileges for their community under the British patronage. In Sind, leading Muslim politicians were: Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah (1879-1948) and Sir Shahnwaz Bhutto; the tragedy was that these two could not work together. There were may political parties; Seth Abdullah Haroon (1872-1942) founded the United Party with its non-communal manifesto and was able to have Bhutto’s support.G.H.Hidayatullah established Sind Muslim Party. Jinnah, on the other hand, liked to have them all working for the Muslim League but failed to get a positive result at this stage. And thus before the upcoming elections in this predominantly Muslim province (72% Muslim population) the Muslim League and Jinnah failed to make inroads. In the N.W.F.P.. however, a few supporters of the League pleased Jinnah by asking him to establish the League’s Parliamentary Board. But it was clear that the force to be reckoned with was the Khudai Khidmatgars and their Congress bosses.

In the U.P. the Muslim League expected to get the support of Muslim landowners who disliked the Congress programme based on socialist ideas trying to end their influence; some ex-Congress Muslims were also ready to help the League. The Nawab of Chattari and Nawab Sir Muhammad Yusuf were ready for co-operation; the Raja of Mehmudabad also came to help the League, providing financial support (which continued for a very long time) and the Rajas of Salempur and Mehmudabad joined the League’s newly established Parliamentary Board. Choudhary Khaliquzzaman, however, continued his association with the Congress Party.

Elections

The elections to the provincial legislature under the Act of 1935 were held early in 1937; over 54% went to the polls. It must be noted that the League had started its reorganization in 1935 and it did not have substantial support of Punjab, Bengal, Sind and the N.W.F.P. (all predominantly Muslim Provinces) before the elections. In view of these circumstances, it was not anticipated that the League would win any substantial number of seats; the League was not even able to put up candidates for all the seats reserved for Muslims. On the other hand, Congress was the largest and most disciplined political organization in India; it had efficient party machinery and huge amounts to spend on the elections. The results of the elections, therefore, showed that the Congress obtained a clear majority in Madras, the U.P., Bihar, the C.P. and Orissa. In Bombay too it was capable of forming a stable government with the help of a few sympathizers ready to accept its dictation. In Assam and the N.W.F.P. it was the largest single party; only in Bengal, the Punjab and Sind it was in a minority. In Bengal the Krishak Proja Party of Fazl-ul-Haq won a large number of seats; in Punjab (as expected) the Unionist Party led by Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan (Sir Fazl-i-Husain died in 1936) was in the driving seat. These results also revealed the fact that (at this moment) neither the Congress nor the League could claim to represent the Indian Muslims, for (as anticipated) Muslim politics remained provincialized. The League won only 109 of the 482 seats reserved for Muslims; in Punjab it was routed and utterly failed, winning only two seats of the only seven it contested. In Bengal, it was able to win 39 of the 117 seats – doing exceptionally well-but not in a position to form a ministry. In Sind and the N.W.F.P. the League also failed to win seats. In the Hindu majority provinces, the League secured better results; it contested 35 of 66 seats and winning 29. In Bombay the League obtained 20 seats of 29; and in Madras 11 out of 28. The Congress claim to represent Muslims was not proved; it was also rejected in the U.P. where its organization was strong but no Muslim was returned on its ticket. Nor was any Muslim elected on the Congress platform for a Muslim seat in Bengal, Sind, Punjab, Assam, Bombay, the C.P. and Orissa. The Congress did better only in N.W.F.P. due to its allies, the Khudai Khidmatgars.

The Question of Forming Ministries

After the elections, in accordance with statutory requirements, the provincial Governors had to summon the leaders of majority parties to assist in the formation of ministries. This led to a controversy over the “safeguards” between the Congress and the Government; there was a great debate on whether Congress would accept the office. The radicals in the Congress were opposed but the provincial leaders wished to become ministers and chief ministers. On 18 March 1937, the Congress working committee passed a resolution repealing the Congress aim of destroying the Act of 1935 but authorized and permitted the acceptance of offices in provinces mainly on the condition that the Governors would not use their special powers. This demand led to much controversy which was finally resolved by a long statement (on 22 June) by the Viceroy (Lord Linlithgow) requesting the Indian politicians to take advantage of the new constitution (the Act of 1935) for all it was worth. On 7 July 1937, under Gandhi’s influence, it was decided that Congressmen be permitted to accept office when invited. However, in the meantime ministries had been formed in those provinces where Congress was not in a majority. In March 1937, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan became the chief minister of Punjab; his cabinet included three Muslims, two Hindus and one Sikh. As for Bengal, Fazlul Haq tried to negotiate with the Congress but failed; Hag, therefore, accepted the Muslim League’s terms. Hag became, the chief minister, his cabinet included four Muslims (of M.L), three caste Hindus and two representatives of the Scheduled Castes. Soon Haq had to depend heavily on the League’s support.

In Sind, even though the United party won more seats, its leader and deputy leader failed to win their seats and therefore the Governor had to ask Sir Ghulam Husain Hidayatullah to form a ministry. In the N.W.F.P., Congress’s delay in accepting office gave an opportunity to Sir Abdul Qaiyum to taste power; but later on Dr. Khan Sahib of the Congrss defeated the Qaiyum ministry. Congress ministries were also formed in Madras, Bombay, the C.P., Bihar, Orissa and the U.P. In October 1938, a Congress coalition ministry was also formed in Assam; these eight ministries continued in office until October 1939. It may be noted that when Congress decided to form cabinets, there were proposals that it must form coalition ministries with the Muslim League in order to create a better atmosphere and fighting against communal hatred. Some Muslim Leaguers under Khaliquzzaman had negotiated with Congress, proposing a coalition ministry in U.P. But the Congress demanded that the League must cease to function as a separate group: that the M.L. Parliamentry Board in the U.P. must be dissolved and that the existing member of the M.L. in the Assembly must accept the Congress discipline. This was indead a death-warrant for the League which opened the eyes of the Muslims. The negotiations, therefore, failed; no self-respecting political party could have accepted these terms only to become a part of a ministry. As a matter of fact it was not long-term planning on the part of the Congress; the sole aim was to have homogeneous ministries from amongst those who would accept its dictation by sacrificing Muslim rights (it is happening today in India of 1990s). It may also be noted that this was the beginning of a serious rift between the Congress and the League, eventually leading to the creation of Pakistan.

Congress Rule and the Muslims (1937-39)

Armed with powers in eight of the eleven Indian provinces, the Congress tried to do all it could to destroy the Muslims. But the League leader M.A. Jinnah was not a man to be terrified by the Congress leaders. He was all out to defend the Muslims; in 1937 when Nehru declared that there were only two forces in the country (The Congress and the British) Jinnah declared that he refused to line up with the Congress ; that there was a third party in India and that was the Muslims. A few days later, the Quaid asked Nehru to “leave Muslims alone”. But the Congress once again failed to read Jinnah’s mind. After the elections of 1937, the Congress started a programme of Muslim mass-contact movement. This movement failed and proved to be another mistake of the Congress which alienated the Muslims, annoying their leaders, widening the gulf between the Congress and the League, and even more importantly widened the rift between Jinnah and Congress leaders. A few months, later, Jinnah described Nehru as “the busybody President of the Congress – who seemed to carry the responsibility of the whole world on his shoulders and must poke his nose into everything except his own business”.

The aim of the Congress mass-contact movement was to reach over the heads of Muslim leaders to the rank and file of Muslim voter and to win him for the Congress policies of agrarian reforms. A circular was issued by Nehru to all provincial Congress committees to pay special attention to the enrollment of Muslim members. The office of the Congress committee started a special department and from May 1937 onwards this campaign was started. Muslim chief ministers were well aware of this mass-contact movement which tried to short-circuiting them; some Muslim leaders like Dr. Alam, Dr. Khan Sahib and Dr. Ashraf tried to help the Congress. As soon as the Congress formed its ministries, the mass-contact campaign also gathered momentum; Congress ministers toured the non-Congress provinces. Nehru was also giving statements to that effect. The result was that the challenge of the Congress was not only accepted by the Muslim League but men like Shoukat Ali, Hasrat Mohani. Khaliquzzaman and the Muslim Ulema also came to fight against the “Congress Raj”. To sum up, a situation had arisen whereby it became essential for the Muslim leaders to support Jinnah. Even though the League had failed to win any large following among the Muslims, its leader (Jinnah) possessed the tremendous ability, experience, and political talent and represented a dynamic force in Indian politics. Besides this, Jinnah was also proving himself as the major opponent of Congress policies, particularly against its leader, Nehru.

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The idea of a common front against the Congress matured in the League’s session in October 1937: Some Muslim leaders who had earlier (1936) rebuked Jinnah, were now enthusiastic to join the League. Sir Sirkandar Hayat, A.K.Fazlul Haq and Sir Muhammad Saadullah (form the province of Asam) also came to Lucknow and decided to merge forces with the League to from a United Muslim movement; they had been terrified by the Congress threats and its attempts to cut the mass base of their constituencies. Sikandar, Haq and Saadullah agreed to be led by the League on all-India affairs and also agreed to advise all those Muslim members of the League, to join it and therefore become the subjects of its discipline. Jinnah during his speeches criticised the Congress leadership for alienating the Muslims more and more by pursuing a policy which was exclusively Hindu; that Muslims could not expect justice or fair play at their hands for the Congress demanded surrender. He appealed for unity, discipline, honesty and sacrifice for the Muslim cause. Congress was also attacked for imposing its own party anthem, Bande Mataram (Hail to the Thee, Mother) as the official new anthem of government, wherever its ministries took power. The Congress was also denounced for its attacks on Muslim culture and the hoisting of its tricolor, the Vidya Mandir scheme in the C.P and the Wardha scheme of education. These were the proofs of Congress atrocities against the Muslims.

All India Muslim Students Federation was also able to flex its muscle against the Congress. In March 1938. S.C.Bose became the Congress President at this stage Nehru wrote to Jinnah asking “what exactly are the points in dispute which require consideration?” Jinnah was not to be trapped” he replied that the Nehru knew what were the fundamental points in dispute and that these points could not be solved through correspondence.” In February 1938, Gandhi wrote to Jinnah asking him to discuss the matters with Moulana Azad; but Jinnah was adamant and replied he did not find any change in Gandhi’s mentality as he was guided by Azad. Now at this stage the Congress was in trouble and Jinnah had the upper hand, he therefore pressed Congress to accept the League as sole representative of Muslim opinion and that Congress represented the Hindu opinion because the Congress was purely a Hindu body. Jinnah clearly refused to meet Azad or any other non-League Muslim. In April 1938, Gandhi met Jinnah and was deeply depressed because Jinnah was getting stronger as the time went by. In 1938, Jinnah appointed his working committee consisting of eminent Muslims like Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, Fazlul Haq, Khaliquzzaman and Liaquat Ali – it was a sort of High Command or a shadow cabinet.

The Quaid also got in touch with the Government; Lord Brabourne (the acting Viceroy) invited Jinnah to meet him. The meeting was held on 16 August 1938; Jinnah suggested that there sould be no new move so far as Centre was concerned; that the British should “make friends with the Muslims by protecting them in the Congress Provinces” and that if they did, the Muslims would protect the British at the Centre; that the League should be accepted as the sole representative of the Muslims. The Quaid (in December 1938) explained that “in politics one has to play one’s game as on a chess-board” and that he was ready to do business with the devil if the Muslim interests so demanded; from now on the Quaid followed a two-pronged policy to strengthen the League; the first was to win support of the Muslim masses – this he was able to have by welding the Muslims all over India.

Jinnah time and again reminded the Muslims that Congress was only a Hindu party; in October 1938, presiding over the Sind Muslim League Conference, Jinnah declared that the High Command of the Congress had adopted a “most brutal, oppressive and inimical attitude towards All-India Muslim League since they secured a majority in six provinces”. Jinnah also compared the Muslim majority provinces with Sudetenland area separated from Germany after the first world war). In December 1938, the Quaid repeated all the well-known charges against the Congress and the Congress governments in the provinces. Side by side, Jinnah made a determined effort to bring all Muslim political parties under the banner of the League; a substantial number of Muslims who had been elected on non-League tickets to the legislatures started trickling into the League’s camp. And by the end of 1938, Jinnah had succeeded in consolidating his position to a great extent. Muslim Premiers like Sikandar Hayat Khan and Fazlul Haq also gave tremendous strength; Sikandar (a favorite of the British) also met the Viceroy in support of Jinnah’s claim. On one occasion Sikandar argued that the Muslims would be mad to go ahead with the Federation scheme. Sikandar hoisted the League’s green flag on 9 October 1938 in Karachi; he regretted that Sind and N.W.F.P. had not yet fulfilled the expectations of the League and also vehemently criticized the Congress.

The attacks on the Congress (and the Hindu Raj) now became more and more bellicose; Sir Sikandar’s sharpest attack on the Congress came in his speech at the Patna session of the League (in December 1938) in which he once again attacked Congress and assured the Muslim League that he would stand behind the League against the Congress. He also added that the Congress ministries in some provinces had been intoxicated by their newly-acquired power; that they should remember that 90 million Muslims could not be suppressed or turned out of India as a minority: that the Congress dream of Swaraj would never come true, if it did not learn to practice toleration; and that every Punjabi Muslim would be prepared to lay down his life in the defence of Islam. In May 1939, Sikandar once again criticized the Congress saying that it was heading towards the idea of a totalitarian state; he also criticized the mass-contact movement and its policy towards Muslim States; that the Muslims would not become camp followers of the Congress; that their religion, culture and self-respect were dearer than their lives; and that All-India matters affecting the Muslims must rest with the Muslim League.

Jinnah was also repeating all the charges against the Congress and declaring that all hopes of communal settlement had been wrecked on the rocks of “Congress fascism”. It may be mentioned that the M.L. Council had passed a resolution on the allegations of Congress atrocities and a special committee was appointed with Raja Syed Muhammad Mehdi of Pirpur as its Chairman, to reinvestigate Muslim complaints against Congress and submit a report. Shortly afterward the Pirpur report was published which condemned the Congress governments on numerous counts: excluding Muslims from a share in the government and in the services; introduction of the Wardha scheme of education; compelling Muslims to show respect to the Congress flag and sing Bande Matrum, and extending the use of Hindi and the neglect of Urdu-etc. This comparatively restrained documennt was followed in March 1939 by much more lusid account of some “grievances of Muslims in Bihar” by a provincial League inquiry committee (the Sharif Report). This report mainly consisted of a fullest description of the atrocities perpetrated by Hindus at various places in Bihar. It was followed by Fazlul Haq’s pamphlet “Muslim Sufferngs under the Congress Rule”, in December 1939. These charges were, however, repudiated by the Congress and Hindu press by saying that these were exaggerated accounts of some complaints, half-truths and untruths. But the Indian Muslims were now very much aware of the real facts, thanks to the Muslim League and its leader Jinnah who had unraveled the truth.

Muslims were convinced that the Congress had failed to inspire confidence in the minorities; that it was a Hindu party (as Jinnah had been saying all along) which folowed a “close-door” policies to liquidate the Muslim League: that the Congress Muslims were stooges that mass-contact scheme was to destroy the Muslim solidarity and for that matter Moulvis were also employed by the Congress; that the Congress did not wish to settle the communal disputes; that due to its high-handedness and the reign of terror, the Congress wished to impose Hindu Raj on the Muslims so that they could not practise Islam; that if the Muslims killed cows, the Hindus would kill them and burn their houses and assault their children, pigs would be thrown in the mosques, Azans would be denounced and interrupted, Muslim shops would be boycotted, they would not be allowed to use the village wells, and that official inquiries would always be biased against the Muslims.

It may also be noted that Sir Syed’s All-India Muslim Educational Conference was also well aware of Hindu plans to relegate Muslim education; for decades of hard work for the growth of Muslim education had come under threat. In 1938, its fifty-second annual session was held at Calcutta and a committee was appointed under Nawab Kamal Yar Jang Bahadar, in order to survey the educational system in India and to propose a scheme of Muslim education; a sub-committee under Sir Azizul Haq (Speaker of Bengal Legislature and Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University) toured India to collect the relevant information. The Report was published in 1942; in summary, the Report criticized the Wardha scheme of education – its author Zakir Husain was opposed by the Muslims – Muslims in the C.P. Assembly opposed the Scheme but they had been ignored. Its implementation was even worse, hurting the Muslim students and teachers in many ways. Small children were made to solute Gandhi’s portrait and sing hymns and to respect Hindu Heros. This scheme was secular in nature in order to divorce Muslims from their religion, culture and traditions. Some newly introduced books, also glorified the Hindu culture.

The Muslim League, therefore, kept up its utmost pressure on the Congress and the Government so long as the Congress was in office. Jinnah declared that Congress was not entitled to speak on behalf of the whole of India and therefore was not capable of delivering the goods; that the Muslims wanted no gifts and no concessions but full rights; that Congress was nothing but a Hindu body, presence of a few Muslims (misled and misguided ones) could not make it a national body. He criticised Gandhi for turning the Congress into an instrument for the revival of Hinduism and to establish Hindu Raj. Jinnah also criticised Nehru, S.C.Bose, R.Prasad and Sardar Patel. He also pleaded for patience, asking Muslims to do all they could to organize the League so that 90 million Muslims might come under its discipline. Nevertheless, by the outbreak of second world war in 1939, the Muslim League had become the strongest single Muslim political party in India and also the second largest party in Indian politics.

The war and its impact on Indian Politics

A new phase in the growth of Muslim League began in 1939 by the outbreak of the Second World War. Although the official declaration of war on India’s behalf was made in September 1939. preparations on a large scale had been underway at least since February 1938. Military maneuverings and air raids exercises had been giving the impression of a forthcoming war. From April to August, Indian troops had been involved in preparations for war at Aden, Singapore and Egypt. On 11, August the Congress Working Committee declared that it was opposed to any war and that it would resist any effort to impose war on India. On 27 August, the League’s Council passed a resolution deploring the treatment meted out to Muslims and stressing that if the British desired cooperation, the demands of the League would have to be accepted. However, Bengal and the Punjab (Sikandar and Haq) fully supported the British war effort. On 3 September 1939. Britain declared war on Germany and on the same day Linlithgow declared India’s involvement in the war, without consulting the Congress party which was ruling eight of the eleven Indian provinces.

On 4 September, the Viceroy met Gandhi, Jinnah and the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes. Gandhi assured the Viceroy of his full sympathies in the war but the could not commit the Congress in any manner. Jinnah clearly told the Viceroy that Sir Sikandar alone “could not deliver the goods”; he asked the Viceroy for something in return to take back to Muslims to help him rally their support for the war. Jinnah wanted the Congress ministries to be thrown out of the office and made it clear that the ultimate solution for India was its partition. Nehru (specialist on foreign affairs) was in China; on 11 September Nehru went to Wardha to attend the Congress Working Committee’s discussions. A resolution was passed on 15 September condemning Fascism and Nazism. attacking the proclamation of war and the emergency powers and asking the Government to declare its war aims; Nehru had drafted this resolution. On 10 October, the Congress demanded that India must be declared an independent nation.

On the other hand, the League wished to have some safeguards from the British; on 18 September the League’s Working Committee declared that the British could bank on Muslim co-operation only on two conditions: justice and fair play for Muslims in the Hindu Provinces and an assurance that no declaration would be adopted without the approval of the Muslim League – right to veto. On 26 September, Gandhi met the Viceroy; Linlithgow told him that the Government could not disregard the legitimate demands of the Muslims. Gandhi wished that Britain should leave Indians to settle their problems, begginng the Viceroy not to consult the Muslim League. But the Government was in trouble due to the war; Zetland (the Secretary of State) very much regretted the Congress stance on the war. On 2 October, Linlithgow met R.Prasad and Nehru who also demanded a high price (freedom for India and a share of power at the Centre) On 5 October, Jinnah met the Viceroy again and demanded “more protection” for Muslims. On 17 October, the Viceroy issued the statement of his Majesty’s Government’s policy confirming that the natural issue of India’s progress was the attainment of Dominion status; that at the end of the war negotiations would be held for more advance. On 18 October 1939, the Viceroy assured Muslims that “full weight would be given to their views and interests”. The Muslim League interpreted this statement as an emphatic repudiation of the Congress claims to represent the whole of India; that the Government had recognized the fact that the League alone truly represented the Indian Muslims and could speak on their behalf. Indeed it was a sort of veto given to the League.

The Congress rejected the Viceroy’s statement; on 23 October its Working Committee condemned the Government and decided that it could not support the war effort. Moreover, the Congress High Command called upon the Congress ministries to resign. Jinnah on the other hand, asked for further discussions; he was authorized by the League to give an assurance of support and co-operation on behalf of Muslims to the Government for the prosecution of the war. But Jinnah was waiting for a better deal. On 1 November, the Viceroy invited Gandhi, R.Prasad, and Jinnah for talks; Gandhi and Prasad insisted that the question to be settled was: Britain’s war aims. Jinnah was also given the same answer by Gandhi and Prasad. On 3 November, Prasad sent a long letter to Linlithgow that the Congress would not co-operate unless the British war aims were enunciated. Jinnah also wrote to Linlithgow saying that the Congress had refused to discuss any questions until the British Government clarified its war aims. On 5 November, Linlithgow reported the failure of talks, publishing the correspondence between him and the leaders, deploring the lack of agreement. In the meantime, the Congress ministries resigned one after another and the Governors took charge of their administration under Section 93 (of 1935 Act). In any case, Linlithgow felt assured that his administration had enough resources to meet any emergency created by the rebellious Congress Party. At this stage, Gandhi appealed to Jinnah to cooperate with Congress. But Jinnah being a politician of the highest order wished to extract all he could for the growth of Muslim League; he knew too well that at this movement Linlithgow (as an administrator) had no choice but to give a due weight to the second largest party, the League, for the Congress was in a very bad temper.

It was perhaps the best opportunity for the Muslim League to strengthen its organization; after the resignations of Congress ministries, the Congress leaders had lost all the bargaining power they had acquired when they were in charge of eight Indian provinces (Assam, Bihar, Bombay, C.P.Madras, Orissa. U.P. and N.W.E.P.). It may be noted that the decision of the Congress to resign was widely regretted; it was noticed that most of its ministers resigned reluctantly. Many knew that under these circumstances the British would have to lean more on the support of the Muslim League and that the League, the Governors (incharge of Congress provinces) and the Viceroy would not like to see the return of Congress ministries, at least during the war and that the status quo would remain for a long time. And the result was that the League’s popularity graph among the Muslims rose with a great deal of speed; wavers among the Muslims began trickling into the League. With good cards in his hands, Jinnah (on 5 November) asked the Viceroy for more safeguards for Muslims such as:

  • the future constitutional advance should be examined and reconsidered de novo;
  • no constitution be enacted without the approval of Congress and the League;
  • the British Government should meet all reasonable demands of the Arabs in Palestine; and
  • Indian troops would not be used against any Muslim country.

The Viceroy sent a reply (23 December) among other things promising that his government knew the importance of Indian Muslims and that full weight would be given to their views; and that the Government would consider all reasonable demands of the Arabs.

After getting some assurances from the Government, Jinnah once again turned towards the Congress, perhaps from time to time teaching them lessons for hurting the Muslims during its two and a half years rule. On December 2, 1939, he issued a proclamation calling upon the Muslims throughout India to observe 22 December as a day of thanksgiving to mark their deliverance from the “tyranny, oppression and injustice” of the Congress regime in the provinces, a mark of relief that the Congress rule had at last ended. The resolution stated that the League do not accept the Congress claim that it represented all interests justly and fairly.

The Congress Ministry [sic] both in the discharge of their duties of the administration and in the legislatures have done their best to flout the Muslim opinion, to destroy Muslim culture, and have interfered with their religious and social life, and trampled upon their economic and political rights; that in matters of differences and disputes the Congress … invariably have sided with, supported and advanced the cause of the Hindus in total disregard and to the prejudice of the Muslim interests.

The Congress Governments constantly interfered with the legitimate and routine duties of district officers even in petty matters to the serious detriment of the Musalmans, and thereby created an atmosphere which spread the belief amongst the Hindu public that there was established a Hindu raj, and emboldened the Hindus, mostly Congressmen, to ill-treat Muslims at various places and interfere with their elementary rights of freedom.

Jinnah had treuly read the Muslim mind; the resignations of the Congress ministries was a matter of jubilation for the Muslims, particularly in predominantly Hindu provinces. A few days later Jinnah clarified that he was not in favour of section 93 in the provinces but for the formation of truly popular ministries which would be able to do justice to all communities. He demanded the appointment of a Royal Commission to investigate and report upon the allegations and charges against the Congress regime by the Muslims. Jinnan also advised his followers to behave with perfect calmness, observing no hartals, no processions or demonstrations, only expressing relief and gratitude in their hearts, not joy and triumph. On 22 December, “Deliverance Day” was observed by the Muslims throughout India in a peaceful and disciplined way. But Nehru was shocked and the Congress now described Jinnah as “The Dictator of Malabar Hills”. But the fact of the matter was that the Congress had not given top priority to settling the communal problems and giving due importance to the League when it was in power. Early in 1940, Linlithgow visited Nagpur and Bombay and interviewed some of the political leaders and delivered an important speech in Bombay. He recognized the claims not only of the Muslims, but also of the Scheduled Castes, saying that his government was determined to see that justice was done to them and appealed to the leaders of political parties in India to sort out their differences by reaching an agreement helping the Government to end the political deadlock as soon as possible. The Viceroy also met Jinnah; the Quaid demanded that the coalition ministries be formed; that any legislation affecting the Muslims not to be enforced if the two-third of their members in a provincial Lower House were opposed to it; that the Congress flag not to be flown on public institutions, that an understanding was essential as to the use of Bande Matrum; and that the Congress must cease its wrecking tactics against the Muslim League. Jinnah told the Viceroy that the Congress did not consider Linlithgow’s offer to enlarge the Executive Council. The Quaid was deeply pessimistic about the success of democratic institutions in India.

Linlithgow also met B.Desai who clearly stated that he could not make any commitment and that the Viceroy should get intouch with Gandhi. Linlithgow acquainted Desai with Jinnah’s demands to sound the Congress response to Jinnah. Desai told the Viceroy that the Congress was ready to include in any ministry a Muslim nominated by the majority of Muslim representatives in a provincial Assembly, but that Minister must accept the principle of collective responsibility and ordinary Congress discipline. Desai stressed the importance which the Congress attached to majority rule and to collective responsibility in the cabinet. On 25 January 1940, Linlithgow met the premiers of Bengal and Punjab who were fully cooperating with him, even sometimes defying Jinnah and the League’s mandate.

Sir Sikandar Hayat was told about the talks Linlithgow had with Jinnah and Desai; the Punjab Premier was against forcing the League’s representatives into Congress cabinets. As for Communal disputes, Sir Şikandar suggested that committees might be set up in the provinces to protect minorities, with a right to approach the Governor direct and it not satisfied, they should be given the right to appeal to the Federal Court. A few days later (on 3 February) Linlithgow met Fazlul Haq and Sikandar together; both were ready to admit the Congress into their ministries and were of the view that the Congress should offer concessions to the minorities if it were given concessions at the Centre. Both of them impressed on the Viceroy the seriousness with which the League would view any concession to the Congress if unaccompanied by some satisfaction for their own demands. A few days later Jinnah was invited by Linlithgow; Jinnah told him that the Muslims feared that Congress governments might return to office at any time; and if their ministries returned to office under existing circumstances, there would be a civil war in India. The Viceroy promised to do something for the protection of minorities. Jinnah also referred to the efforts being made by the League to form a ministry in the N.W.F.P. Linlithgow welcomed the working of the constitution in that province. Jinnah wrote an article for London’s Time and Tide (19 January 1940): “Let us first diagnose the disease, then consider the symptoms and finally arrive at the remedy”; that “there are in India two nations who must both share the governance of their common motherland”. On 12 February, the Secretary of State made an appeal to the Congress leaders that the problem of minorities must be addressed by Indian themselves.

The Quaid kept up his pressure on the government; on 24 February 1940 he told the Viceroy that although the M.L. Working Committee appreciated the good wishes expressed for Muslims, their real demand of a definite assurance that no declaration would be made, nor any constitution be enforced or enacted by the Government without the approval and consent of the Indian Muslims, had not been accepted. That the Viceroy’s assurances so far had left the position of the 90 million Indian Muslims only in the region of consultation and counsel, and vested the final decision in British to determine the fate and future of Muslim India. He again emphasized the need to find a solution of Palestine problem to the satisfaction of the Arabs; that the Working Committee wanted a clear assurance on the above-mentioned points so that the Muslims could give there whole-hearted support in the prosecution of war. Jinnah was again ready to meet the Viceroy to explain his position in details.

On 13 March 1940, Jinnah was again invited by the Viceroy for a meeting; he once again assured Linlithgow that the Muslims would not retard the war effort in case an assurance was given to the Muslims that no political settlement would be reached with the Congress without the approval of the Muslims. Linlithgow reacted favorably and promised to communicate his feelings to the British Government in London. Jinnah also made it plain that if the Government did not give him more security, the Muslims would be left with no option but to fall back on some form of partition of India; that Muslims were not a minority but rather a nation; that democracy for India was impossible. Jinnah was in favor of a Muslim area run by Muslims in collaboration with the British, despite the fact that it might mean poverty, but the Muslims would be able to retain their independence, self-respect, their religion and culture and would be able to lead their lives as they wished. He thought it was the only way to keep Muslims happy and satisfied, and that the Muslims sincerely believed that this was the only solution. The stage had, therefore, arrived where the Muslim League had to announce a clear-cut policy regarding the partition of India.

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