INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS AND PARTITION OF INDIA -PART III

In 1937 elections to Central and Provincial assemblies under the 1935 Act were held and the Congress won majorities of seats in six provinces. In N.W.F.P it constituted the largest single group with 19 members out of 50-member assembly. A similar situation existed in Assam where 33 out of 108 belonged to the Congress party. The Congress High command committed one of those political mistakes which cost the nation dear when it decided that the Congress would form ministries only in those provinces where it had an absolute majority in the assembly, and would not join hands with any other party.

In Bengal when the governor John Herbert invited Sarat Chandra Bose as the leader of the single largest party to discuss the formation of a ministry, he declined the offer. Fazlul Haq, the leader of the Krishak Praja Party, requested Kiran Shankar Roy, the leader of the Congress assembly party to join him to form a coalition government under his leadership. Sarat Chandra Bose who led an unofficial Congress group was inclined to agree and requested Abul Kalam Azad, the Congress President for permission to join hands with Haq taking into account the special situation in Bengal. This ides was said to have the support of Subash Chandra bose. But the Congress High command turned it down despite repeated requests. Haq turned to Muslim League, which promptly seized the initiative when it agreed to join the coalition under Haq’s leadership. (Nitish Sengupta, History of the Bengali speaking people, p.422) It is said that Gandhiji was unduly influenced by G.D.Birla and Nalini Rangan Sarkar, both representing Indian business interests. Birla as leader of the Marwari business interest strongly felt that a political unity between the Muslims and Hindus in Bengal would threaten Marwari domination over the trade and economy of Calcutta. According to a letter written by Subash Chandra bose to Gandhiji dated 21-12-1938 even in the case of Assam, Maulana Azad opposed Subash’s proposal for a coalition ministry and if Sardar Patel had not come forward to support Subash, Gandhiji would not have accepted his (Subash) views and no coalition ministry would have been formed in Assam. Azad was against a coalition in Sindh too while Subash and other members of the Congress working committee were in its favour. According to Maulana Azad Muslim ministries should be accepted where Muslims are in a majority even though those ministries are blatantly communal. (Nitish Sengupta, pp.423-424)

Resignation of Congress Ministries.

The Congress committed a big blunder by resigning from the ministries in 1939 on flimsy grounds. Its main grouse was that the government had not taken it into confidence before involving India in the Second World War. By this act, the Congress not only lost power, but also gave way for Muslim League to form ministries in Assam and N.W.F.P. After the resignation of the Congress ministry in Assam, Sir Sadulla formed a League ministry there after succeeding in the game of intense horse-trading with the members of the legislature. He was able to strengthen the roots of the League deep in Assam by his policy of allowing the Muslim migrants of East Bengal to settle indiscriminately in the province. In N.W.F.P. after the Congress ministry went out, Sardar Aurangzeb Khan headed a Muslim League ministry with the support of a few independent Hindu and Sikh legislators. Gradually the League started gaining ground in the Frontier Province, which was evident from its success in four by-elections that followed soon after. (Sailesh Kumar, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the creation of Pakistan, pp.227-228)

The Quit India Movement. 

But the biggest blunder committed by the Congress was to launch the Quit India movement at a time when Britain was in the brink of the Second World War. Though the Cripps proposal conceded the right of Indians after the cessation of the war to frame a new constitution on dominion status with the right to secede from the empire, the Congress insisted upon immediate establishment of a cabinet form of government at the Center, with almost all departments of administration transferred to the representatives of the Indian parties and with the Viceroy as a mere figurehead, shorn of all powers. (Tara Chand,.Vol. IV.pp.344,452-453.) As the government did not agree to the Congress demands, on July 14th 1942 the Congress approved a resolution that if the British did not withdraw its rule from India it would launch a non-violent struggle. On August 8th the Congress met at Bombay and in a resolution decided to launch a mass non-violent struggle. (Tara Chand,pp.373,375) The movement was not only violent but also did not achieve the desired goal.  The British never forgave the Congress for putting them in grave jeopardy by launching the Quit India movement when the going for them in the war was tough. This grudge was further deepened by the war reducing England to a second rate European power that was in no position to hold on to their Indian empire, the loss of which they realized would further weaken their international standing. (H.N.Bali, India’s Wounded Polity, p.99)

Anti-Congress forces rally

 The government decided to rally anti-Congress parties, particularly the League with a view to weaken the Congress. The governors of the Muslim majority provinces obliged Jinnah by contriving the installation of Muslim League ministries and the removal or dismissal of the non-League governments. In Bengal governor John Herbert forced Fazlul Haq to resign and appointed Nazimuddin of the Muslim League as Premier on April 24, 1943. In Sindh Allah Bakhsh, a non-Leaguer expressed disapproval of the repressive policy of government. The governor under Section 51 of the 1935 Act dismissed him and Ghulam Husain Hidayatullah of the Muslim League was asked to assume office in October 1942. (Tara Chand,.Vol. IV pp.388-390)After his return from London in September 1945 Viceroy Wavell announced elections to the Provincial assemblies with a view to convene a constitution making body. The Congress leadership’s demand for freedom assumed distinctly strident notes as Nehru and others plunged in electioneering, touring the country frantically. Nehru’s speech in Lahore set the tone and tenor that was qualitatively different from the Pre-Quit India days. “India is on the brink of mighty revolution. Therefore, to vote for the Congress is to vote for the freedom that is coming soon. By your vote you have to declare whether you stand for freedom or slavery. The elections will decide the fate of the Red fort and the Vice regal lodge. Those who try to go against the great gushing torrent of Indian nationalism will be swept ashore lifeless as a log of wood.” As Wavell’s secret dispatches show, the government didn’t take kindly to what was regarded as arousal of masses for violent action. Those whose responsibility it was to maintain law and order read into the speeches of the Congress leaders (particularly Nehru) something far more than election speech. It is most likely that finding the Congress stand hardening by the day as the 1945 elections approached, the British government finalized their plans for the division of the subcontinent to sow the seeds of permanent discord with a view to teaching, as it were, a bitter lesson to India’s freedom fighters. (H.N.Bali, p.70) (to be continued)

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