The war provided the Muslim League with a golden opportunity to consolidate its position and establish itself as a formidable force. The organization of the League that had commenced in 1936-37 attained fraction during the war. Imitating the Congress, it started a two-anna membership and soon had considerable numbers on its rolls. It had also begun to build up bases for itself in the village. It sent a large number of Maulvia into the countryside to spread communal views among the Muslim masses. They promised as Islamic state as well as economics prosperity. They spread hatred for Hindu traders, money lenders and zamindars.
The League organized a network of Provincial Committees and through them bought into its fold previously recalcitrant Muslim politicians in the Muslim majority provinces. Its hold on the Muslim electorate increased tremendously in the by elections between 1937 and 1943 it captured 14 of the 61 reserved Muslim seats. As the Congress was out of office, the League utilized the opportunity to its best advantage. It managed to establish League ministries in Bengal, Assam, Sindh and NWFP. Though it did not have complete control in Punjab, the Chief Minister and most of his supporters now belonged to the League.
In the beginning not all Muslims wanted Pakistan. The Zamait-ul-Ulema and the Shia Conference were opposed to it. But in the last years of the war the opposition was drowned by the rising tide of communal fanaticism, the call for Pakistan. In such circumstances, Jinnah’s position became unassailable. He emerged as the sole spokesman of the Muslim masses and epitomized Pakistan.
In October 1943 Lord Linlithgow relinquished office, and Lord Wavell was appointed the Governor-General. On May 6, 1944, Gandhiji was released from confinement on grounds of ill health, while other Congress leaders remained inside. Immediately after release, Gandhiji announced that the mass civil disobedience portion of the resolution of August 8, 1942 stood automatically cancelled. But the deadlock continued, since the government refused to consider negotiations until the August Resolution was withdrawn, and at the same time refused to-release the Working Committee members who alone could be in a position to make any new statement of policy. Thus Gandhiji alone had to face the situation presented by the Quit India Movement.
In the meantime important political leaders, especially Rajagopalachari, pressed Gandhiji to meet Jinnah and explore some solution to the communal problem. Gandhiji agreed and extended discussions were held between him and Jinnah on the basis of a formula prepared by Rajagopalachari; the Muslim League was to endorse the demand for independence for the transitional period; thereafter a plebiscite should be held on Muslim Majority areas, and depending on its results, a separate state formed. The formula thus made considerable concession’s to Jinnah, but it did to satisfy him since it did not explicitly accept Pakistan and the discussions ultimately broke down on the ground that Gandhiji had no representative status vis-a-vis the Congress. When the members, of the High Command came to know of the details of the talks, they disapproved them. The unity of the country could not be sacrificed so easily.
Bhulabhai Desai – Liaqat AliTalks
One more attempt was made for resolving the deadlock in the beginning of 1945. A provisional agreement was reached in January between the parliamentary leader of the Congress party in the Central Legislative Assembly, Bhulabhai Desai, and the parliamentary leader of the Muslim League Party, Liaqat Ali Khan, for the formation of a Provisional National Government. The proposal was as follows:
The Congress and the League agreed that they would join in forming an interim government on the centre. The composition of such government will be on the following lines.
(1) Equal number of persons nominated by the Congress and the League in the Central Executive. Persons nominated need not be members of the Central Legislature.
(2) Representatives of minorities.
(3) The Commander-in-Chief.
The government will be formed and function within the, framework of the existing Government of India Act.
The next step would be to form as soon as possible Provincial Governments on the lines of a coalition.
This proposal was known as Desai-Liaqat Ali Pact. It was never formally approved by the Congress or the League. The Congress leaders were in detention, but on reading about it in the papers, they became furious, and poor Desai’s political career was blasted. But the proposal was welcomed by Lord Wavell.
Wavell Plan and Simla Conference
In the meantime the war came to an end in Europe on May 7, 1945 with the unconditional surrender of the German chief of staff. About the same time the Russians had occupied Berlin and in the south the allied armies had destroyed the resistance of the enemy and occupied Italy. In the east the Japanese were driven out of Burma. The main base for war operations had now shifted to India.” It was in this situation that the British took the initiative to solve the Indian political deadlock. Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill permitted Wavell to start negotiations with the Indian leaders.
On June 14,1945, Wavell ordered the release of all Congress Working Committee members and proposed which would be entirely Indian excepts for the Viceroy himself and the Commander-in-Chief caste Hindus and Muslims would have equal representation, the Executive, if formed, would work within the existing constitution, i.e. it would not be responsible to the Central Assembly. The functions of the new Executive Council would be (a) to prosecute the war, (b) to carry on the government of India, and (c) to consider the means by which a new permanent constitution could be agreed upon and the long-term solution was facilitated.
Consequently, a conference was held at Simla on June 25, 1945 which lasted up to July 14. At the conference, the Congress naturally objected to what it felt was an attempt to reduce it to the status of a purely caste Hindu party and insisted on its right to include members of all communities among its nominees for the Executive. The conference failed due to Jinnah’s intransigent stand that the League had an absolute right to choose all the Muslim members and that there should be a kind of commercial veto in the Executive,-with decisions opposed by Muslim members requiring a two-thirds majority. According to Jinnah, the League represented all the Muslims of India. On this the Congress could not compromise. It claimed to be a secular party. To concede to Jinnah meant giving up this status, accepting his two nation theory and becoming a communal body itself. In addition, the President of the Congress, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, was a Muslim. Not to be able to nominate him to the Executive was patently absurd. Lord Wavell was also responsible for the failure of the conference. By dissolving the conference in the face of the demands of the League, Wavell in effect gave Jinnah the veto he was asking for. No attempt was made to call the League’s bluff and go ahead with consisting an Executive excluding it if necessary.
Labor Party comes to power in Britain –
In the meantime great political changes took place in England. Churchill’s War Cabinet had now been replaced by a Labor Government, following General Elections held early in July 1945. On July 26, C.R. Attlee, the leader of the Labor Party, was installed as the Prime Minister. The unexpected change, of government marked a wide shift in British public opinion. Soon after the Labor- Party’s assumption of office the Americans dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all Japanese resistance ceased, and on August 15, Victory Day was celebrated by the Allies.
As the war had come to an end the problem of interim government during the war ceased to be a live issue and the British government had to take immediate steps to find a long-term solution to the Indian problem. On August 21, 1945, the Viceroy of India and the Secretary of State in England announced that the elections would be held in the coming winter. The announcement was inevitable, since the last elections had been held on 1934 for the centre and 1937 for the provinces.
Before the elections started an event occurred which was not without significance for the elections. This was the trial of INA officers who had fallen into the hands of the British when the Japanese were driven- out of Burma. The British initially decided to hold public trials of several hundreds of the 20,000 INA prisoners. They held the first trial in the Red Fort, Delhi in November 1945 and put on the dock together, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh. The charge against them was that they had waged war against the king” and they were guilty “of gross brutality on the method employed to induce their fellow prisoners to join them.” A military tribunal was set up for the trial The Congress set up a defense committee consisting of Bhulabhai Desai, Tej Bahadur Sapru and Jawaharlal Nehru.
The trial created a great excitement for the name of Subhash Chandra Bose was associated with the INA and he had become the hero of India for the exemplary sacrifices he had made for the freedom of the country. Demonstrations were held in many towns and funds were collected. The Congress leaders delivered fiery speeches applauding the INA and its heroic deeds and demanded immediate release of the INA prisoners. The British became extremely nervous about the INA spirit spreading to the Indian army. In Calcutta the demonstrations against the trials took a violent turn. The police and the army resorted to firing in which a large number of people were killed.
The protest movement swept forward not only among the civilian population but also among the armed forces. Thus was a new development for India, whose revolutionary significance was not lost on the ruling authorities of British imperialism.
The 1946 Elections:
In the elections held in the opening months of 1948 the Congress won massively in the general constituencies. It captured 57 out of 102 seats in the Central Assembly and 91% of non- Muslim votes. In the provinces it own majority everywhere except Bengal, Sindh and Punjab.
The League’s success in the Muslim constituencies was equally spectacular. It annexed all the 30 seats in Central Legislative Assembly reserved for Muslims and secured 86.6% of Muslim votes. In the provinces it own 442 out of 509 Muslim seats. But despite major advances in Punjab, a majority still eluded it in that key province. The Congress won handsome majority in two other provinces being claimed for Pakistan NWFP and Assam, and the two League ministries that were set up in Bengal and Sindh remained dependent on European and official Support.
The result of the 1,946 elections was damaging to India’s unity; the rivalry between the Congress and the League was accentuated.
The greatest threat to British rule in 1946 was rising of the I ratings of the Royai Indian Navy in Bombay oh February 18-23, 1946. It was one of the most heroic episodes in our freedom struggle. On February 18, the ratings in the signals training establishment at Talwar went on hunger-strike against bad food and racist insults. By the morning of February 19, it had spread to all the 20,000 ratings in the twelve shore establishments in Bombay and the suburbs as well as the twenty ships in the harbor. The Union Jack was removed from the ship masts, and Congress and Muslim League flags were put of instead. The ratings elected a Central Naval Strike Committee, headed by M.S. Khan. They formulated demands which included issues of better food, equal pay for white and Indian sailors etc. With these were combined the national political demands of release of INA prisoners and the Withdrawal of Indian troops from Indonesia. The support from the Bombay people who brought food to the ships was overwhelming. The British authorities taken by surprise by the extent of the movement, resorted to violent measures of suppression. British troops were-called in and a seven hour battle ensued on February 21 outside the castle Barracks. By February 22 the strike had spread to naval bases all over the country as well as to some ships at sea, involving at its height 78 ships, 20 shore-establishments, and 20,000 ratings. At Karachi, the ‘Hindustan’ surrendered that morning only after a gun battle while Hindu and Muslim students and workers demonstrated support through violent clashes with the police and army.
Finally, on February 23, under pressure of Valabh Bhai Patel who gave the advice to surrender giving an assurance that the national parties would prevent any victimization, the Central Naval Strike Committee decided to surrender? The last statement of the President of the Strike Committee declared: “we surrender to India and not to Britain. However, the promise given by Patel and others was soon forgotten.
The Naval rising and popular struggle in Bombay revealed the explosive situation developing in India in the beginning of 1946. The British rules were quick to realize the gravity of the situation. On February 18, the Bombay Naval Strike began. On February 19, Attlee in the House of Commons announced the decision to dispatch the Cabinet Mission.
The Cabinet Mission:
The Cabinet Mission arrived in India in March 1946. It included the Secretary of State for India, Pethic Lawrence, and President of the Board of Trade, Sir Stafford Cripps, and the Lord of Admiralty Alexander. From March 24 to June 1946 the members of the Mission together with Wavell, carried on long negotiations with Indian leaders on the two issues of an interim government and principles and procedures for framing” a new constitution giving India freedom. As the Congress and Muslim League could not reach an agreement on the future constitution, the initiative-fell into the British hands and the cabinet Mission on May 16 came out with a plan which for a brief moment promised to break the deadlock.
The plan rejected Jinnah’s demand of Pakistan. It pointed out that a full-fledged Pakistan was impossible, since it would include a very large number of non-Muslims, the very principle of communal self-determination being urged by the League would demand the separation of Hindu-majority West Bengal Including Calcutta and the Sikh and Hindu-dominated Ambala and Jallandhar divisions of the Punjab.
The alternative suggested was a weak centre controlling only foreign affairs, defense and communications; the existing provincial assemblies were to be grouped into three sections; Section A for the Hindu-majority provinces, Section B and C for the Muslim-majority provinces of the north-west and the northeast. The sections would be free to set up their own Executives and Legislatures and each group would determine the provincial subjects to be taken in common. The states would join the Union. There would be a Constituent Assembly to frame the future constitution of the country. Initially the long-term plan envisaged in the proposal was accepted by both the Congress and the League. But the agreement was short lived, as it was based on mutually opposed interpretations of the plan. The new Congress President, Jawaharlal Nehru, declared at a press conference on July 10 that probably there would be no grouping, as NWFP and Assam would have objections to joining Section B and C. The League also withdrew its acceptance of the long-term plan and called on the Muslims to go in for Direct Action from August 16, 1946 to achieve Pakistan.
The Cabinet Mission Plan also contained a provision for setting up a short-term interim government at the centre. Wavell’s efforts to implement this part of the plan also broke down. Jinnah wanted a ratio of Five Congress Hindus, Five League Muslims, one Sikh and one Scheduled Caste. The Congress rejected this parity. Wavell consequently had to set up a caretaker government of officials alone on July 4, 1946. But within a few weeks the Viceroy realized the need for somehow getting the Congress into the interim government even if the League stayed out. Ultimately he succeeded in persuading the Congress to form an interim Government.
On September, 2, a Congress-dominated government was sworn in headed by Nehru. In October 26 the League, in order to prevent the Congress from enjoying a monopoly of power entered the interim Government. However, the League was allowed to join without giving up its Direct Action Programme, its rejection of the Cabinet Mission’s long-term plan, or its insistence on compulsory grouping of the provinces.-In July, elections to the Constituent Assembly were held and the Congress and the League were each returned with overwhelming majorities. The League refused to attend the Constituent Assembly which had started functioning from December 9.
The, Muslim League had joined the Interim Government to get a foot hold to fight for their cherished goal of Pakistan. It, therefore, refused to cooperate and created a statement. A last-ditch effort was made to break the impasse. Nehru and Jinnah flew to London in December for consultation with the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. These meetings failed. It was clear that the plan had broken down.
Direct Action and Communal Holocaust:
On August 16, 1946 the Muslim League inaugurated its programme of Direct Action. The whole Indian scene was transformed by communal riots on an unprecedented scale. The riots started in Calcutta where the League Ministry had declared a holiday on the Direct Action Day. In a rally, Chief Minister Subrawardy had promised that the police and the army would not interfere in the Direct Action programme.
Therefore, large-scale Muslim attacks began on the Hindus. The League Ministry did nothing to prevent the massacre. When the government took no action, the Hindus and the Sikhs hit back. By August 19 at least 4,000 had been killed and 70,000 injured.
Soon the riots spread to other parts of the country. In Bombay more than 300 persons were killed in September 1946. In October there were large-scale riots in the Noakhali and Tippera districts of East Bengal. There were about 300 deaths, but loss of property amounted to cores of rupees. Hindu Zamindars, lawyers and other notables were the special target of the hooligans. When news of the Noakhali riots reached Bihar, riots, spread there like wild fire and; about 7,000 people died in the holocaust. Bihar was followed by Garhmukteswar in U.R where over 7000 people were slaughtered. In the first week of March 1947 there were large-scale riots in Lahore, Amritsar, Multan, Attock and-Rawalpindi.
The main targets in these Muslim-majority areas were Sikh and Hindu traders and moneylenders. The widespread riots and the failure of the interim government changed the views of Nehru and Patel and by late December 1946 or early January 1947 they had begun to think in terms of two dominions.
Mountbatten Plan: Freedom and Partition
By the beginning of 1947 it had become clear that Wavell had reached a dead end and a fresh approach was needed. On February 20, Prime Minister Attlee made a speech in the House of Commons fixing June 1948 as a deadline for transfer of power, “even if Indian politicians had not been agreed by the date on a “constitution the British would relinquish power whether as a whole to some form of Central Government for, British India, or in some areas to the existing Provincial Governments or in such other way as may seem reasonable and in the best interest of the Indian, people.” British paramountcy over the princely states would also end with the transfer of power, but that would not be transferred to any successor government in British India. Wavell was replaced by Mountbatten who arrived in Delhi on March 22, 1947.
Mountbatten was given extraordinary plenipotentiary powers and specifically charged with the task of transferring power to Indian successors before June 1948. After preliminary discussions Mountbatten succeeded in convincing Patel, Nehru and other members of the Congress Working Committee that there was no alternative but to partition the country. The last to be convinced was Gandhiji. Mountbatten quickly drew up a plan which was accepted by the Congress, the League and Sikh leaders. On June 3 the Governor-General announced that the transfer of power would take place by August 15, 1947 and that in place of the British Raj there would be two independent dominions, India, and Pakistan. The Mountbatten Plan became the basis of Indian. Independence Act which was ratified by the British ParJiament and Crown on July 18 and implemented on August 15, 1947.
In practical terms the plan meant that Punjab and Bengal were partitioned. Pakistan, therefore, consisted of two wings half of Bengal on the East and Baluchistan, Sind, NWFP and Western Punjab in the West. The test of the country was included in the Dominion of India.