Summary: India’s 1st War of Independence in 1857 kicked out the rogue East India Company, formally ended the Mughal rule and brought in the direct Rule of the British Crown (‘British Raj’). So unsettled were the British by the revolution that they immediately started transporting freedom fighters to Andaman Island (Kālā Pānī) for almost sure torturous death in isolation. Yet, the fervor for freedom continued to grow both in extent and intensity. The British also switched stance and started to groom Rajas and Nawabs as allies. A new breed of educated nationalists started emerging as a new political force that demanded just policies, spread of education and dignified treatment of Indians as well as say in the administration. The British tried to win over these leaders as allies who would help them prevent revolt like situation. In 1885, they propped up a group of Indian elites loyal to the Crown rule. It became Indian National Congress (INC). Two decades later, the INC ceased to be a loyalist club as the nationalist leaders like Tilak and Lajpat Rai gained prominence with their nationalist agenda of Swaraj and Swadeshi. In 1906, the British created a loyal group of Muslims – the All India Muslim League (ML) – to counter the influence of the INC that was fast becoming the pivot for nationalistic movement. Following their ‘divide and rule’ policy they actively encouraged Muslim League’s separatist tendencies by scare mongering of ‘majority Hindu’ dominance. So, partition in 1947 to create an Islamic State was a pre-scripted colonial affair. It was to play an important regional role in the ensuing cold war with the communists post WW2.
Indians leaders cooperated with the British in the WW1 hoping that after the War the British would reward them with some kind of self-rule, but they continued with their repressive policies. The demand for Swaraj or ‘dominion status’ continued for another decade and turned into ‘Purna Swaraj’ or complete independence towards end of 1920s. Some semblance of self-rule came in the form of provincial autonomy in the mid 1930s. The Muslim League’s separatist politics gained strength in the crucial 1940s as Congress leaders languished in jail after their ‘quit India’ call. War wrecked Britain was too weak to maintain control on India as the nationalistic fervor penetrated its Indian army. Finally, Jinnah’s separatist gang succeeded in winning ‘Pakistan’ after shedding blood of lakhs of innocent Indians. ‘Partition’ was a clear failure of Gandhi’s Muslim appeasement politics; it indicated his ignorance of how political Islam works. The biggest losers were the Hindus, on both sides of the Radcliffe partition line. In Islamic Pakistan, they became second grade citizens; in India, their interests became subordinate to Muslim appeasement politics of the Congress Party.
1857 Rebellion Shook the Foundation of the British Empire
The Revolt of 1857 came exactly 150 years after death of fanatic Mughal king Aurangzeb which practically marked collapse of Mughal Empire. It was easily the most remarkable single event in the history of Indian freedom struggle. What added to its importance was the Hindu-Muslim unity and participation of people from almost all sections of the society. It must be seen as the beginning of the Indian war of independence that continued until 1947. It was triggered by a minor rebellion of Indian soldiers in Meerut which soon snowballed into a major battle engulfing several parts of India. The summer of 1857 saw violence on an unprecedented scale. Never before and never after in the history of British rule in India was there violence at such ghastly level. [The Forgotten Brutality of 1857 Revolt]. Such was the force of the pent-up anger against the exploitation by the East India Company that by the time the British could bring back ‘normalcy’ in 1858, they stood totally alienated from the Indian masses and their leaders. It badly shattered the image of invincibility of the British Empire.
The impact of the 1857 uprising was profound. In fact, the highly influential pragmatic revolutionary, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar rightly called it India’s “First War of Independence.” It drastically changed the way India was ruled in the ‘British Raj’ until 1947. The British Crown took direct control of India, the Mughal empire was disbanded, titular Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled to Burma and Indian army was reorganized. Now “Divide-and-Rule” became its foremost policy guiding tool and the British did everything to keep Indians divided – particularly Hindus and Muslims – and beautifully exploited the separatist tendency of the Muslim community. Realizing that the 1857 Uprising reflected a lack of contact between the ruler and the ruled, the British came up with the Indian Councils Act of 1861 which was a beginning towards development of representative institutions.
British Suspicion of Muslims
After the 1857 revolt, the British saw Muslims with suspicion. They knew that a Jihadi Movement was started in the 1820s on the lines of radical ideology of a 18th century cleric, Shah Wali Ullah. They had waged jihad the Sikhs ruler in Punjab but were inactive after fall of the Sikhs in 1849. They, however, became active in 1857 and Muslim clerics of Delhi issues a Fatwa-e-Jihad against the British. A Jihadi commander Bakht Khan had taken a dominant role under the namesake Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was chosen as rebels’ leader. The British saw the 1857 uprising as an attempt to restore the Mughal rule.
However, towards the end of 19th century the British changed their stance, now they wanted to pit Muslims against Hindus. Thus, they started grooming Muslims and discovered a great ally in a Muslim aristocrat, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who was very much keen to be in the good book of the British. He responded by writing a series of articles known as “The Loyal Mohammadans.” He worked hard to convince the British that not all Muslims were against their government (a typical Islamic argument) and Muslims also respected the Christians as the “People of the Book.” However, his pro-British stance made him target of conservative Deobandi Ulema who issued fatwas against him and his institutions. The Ulema considered the British their biggest enemy.
Understanding Indian Islam & “Islamic Separatism”
A Traitor Who Invited Afghan Ruler to Attack India
In the year 1703, two Muslim men were born – several thousand kilometers apart – for the same life mission – revival of violent Jihadi Islam. One was the notorious Islamic cleric Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1791) in the Arab desert of the Middle East and the other was Shah Wali Ullah (1703-1762) in Muzaffarnagar (Western UP) in India. The two men radicalized Islam in their respective areas, on the pretext of restoring the glory of “pure” Islam. For both men, ‘pure Islam’ meant the political violent Islam to dominate all others – Muslims as well as the non-Muslims. Wahhab’s political Islamic cult later became the state religion of the Saudi Arabia and is the driving force of today’s global terrorist groups like the ISIS. Wali Ullah’s political Islam spread to all parts of British India and shaped the thinking of Muslims, including that of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who started the Aligarh movement, in the 19th century.
Wali Ullah had “grown up watching the Mughal Empire crumble” after the death of barbaric Mughal king Aurangzeb in 1707. It was the period when the Marathas were the most dominant power in India, while the East India Company had not yet taken territorial control in Bengal. He wanted to restore the Islamic Mughal rule in India. So, Wali Ullah invited the Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali to attack India to ‘save Muslims’ from Hindus and Shias. It led to the 3rd battle of Panipat in 1761 where the Marathas were defeated. It prolonged the life of the moribund Mughal dynasty for another 100 years and Wali Ullah became a hero of Indian Muslim clerics – and a savior of Islam! His letter to the Afghan ruler reveals his devious plot against “infidel” Hindus:
“…All control of power is with the Hindus because they are the only people who are industrious and adaptable. Riches and prosperity are theirs, while Muslims have nothing but poverty and misery. At this juncture you are the only person, who has the initiative, the foresight, the power and capability to defeat the enemy and free the Muslims from the clutches of the infidels. God forbid if their domination continues, Muslims will even forget Islam and become indistinguishable from the non-Muslims.”
He further wrote:
“We beseech you in the name of Prophet to fight a jihad against the infidels of this region… The invasion of Nadir shah, who destroyed the Muslims, left the Marathas and Jats secure and prosperous. This resulted in the infidels regaining strength and in the reduction of Muslim leaders of Delhi to mere puppets”
Wali Ullah also urged Muslims, “to draw swords and not put them back in the sheath until Allah has separated the Muslims from the polytheists and the rebellious Kafirs and the sinners are made absolutely feeble and helpless.”
Clearly, for Wali Ullah’s Islam referred to the political ideology that must rule over others; else it is threatened (demanding protection of sword!) in the presence of people who who think differently!!
Wali Ullah Poisoned the Minds of Indian Muslims
So, the central theme of Wali Ullah’s political Islam is: ‘Whenever Muslims are not in political dominance, Islam is in danger!’ It is nothing but an absurd ideology obsessed with dominance at any cost. He became instrumental in radicalizing the Sunni Muslims into Wahhabi and semi-Wahhabi (that later emerged as Deobandi) Islam. His hateful teachings against Hindus and Shias attracted many clerics whose political careers were in trouble as the Mughal rule was decaying. However, this ideology permanently poisoned the mind of Indian Muslims. Its adherents are a serious threat to India’s multi cultural and highly diverse society. Most scholars see Wali Ullah as Wahhab of India.
After Wali Ullah’s death in 1762, his son Abd al Aziz (1746-1823) carried his mission forward and issues a fatwa declaring the British India a dar al-harb (a place where Muslims are not rulers). Aziz’s disciple Syed Ahmad Shahid of Bareli took it much closer to the Arab Wahhabi terrorism. Thus, a Jihadi movement was born in the mid 1820s that continued till 1864. It initially targeted the Sikhs who were ruling Punjab, Kashmir and the Frontier. Syed Ahmad died in 1831 fighting the Sikhs. But after fall of the Sikhs in 1849 the jihadis turned against the British. They gave tough resistance to the British in the 1857 uprising from the Madrasa-i-Ramiyya which was set up by Wali Ullah in Delhi.
However, failure of the 1857 uprising gave a severe blow to Jihadi dream of restoring Islamic rule in India. Looking at the might of the British Empire, they gave up the idea of armed struggle but they decided to keep their ideology alive propagating it through Islamic educational institutions. Thus, an Islamic madarsa came up in Deoband UP in 1866 which became dar ul Uloom in 1879. Since then it has kept alive the arguments of violence loving Wahhabi doctrine. Today, the radical Deobandi ideology is taught in majority of madarasas in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most Pak-Afghan based terrorists are adherents of Deobandi Wahhabism. It is weird how Jinnah accepted Pakistan without having Deoband and Aligarh in it!
Here is some interesting info on behavioral change in Muslims as their population grows.
The Idea of Separate “Islamic State” for Muslims
Since the decay of Mughal Rule after death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the idea of reviving “Islamic Rule” was proposed by different people in different ways. A famous pan-Islamist Afghani had proposed creating a separate Islamic State by merging the North-West India, Afghanistan and the states of Turkistan. The ideas were backed by Shah Wali Ullah and Shah Abdul Aziz in the eighteenth century and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the nineteenth century. In 1804, the Faridi sect was founded to establish Islamic rule.
In 1810, Abdul Rahman proclaimed himself the Imam Mehdi in Surat. In 1820-21, the leader of Wahhabl Movement, Syed Ahmad of Rae Bareli, preached flight of Muslims under the British rule to Islamic North West Frontier region. In Bengal, a Wahhbi Titu Mir preached restoration of Muslim rule and overthrow of the British.
In 1890, Abdul Halim Sharar, a novelist and editor of newspaper Muhazzib, stated: “If Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in peace, then it is better to divide India into Hindu and Muslim provinces and exchange populations.”
In 1913, Maulana Mohammed Ali suggested that North India may be assigned to the Muslims and rest to the Hindus to solve the Hindu-Muslim problem. A similar idea was expressed in 1917, by Abdul Jabbar and Abdul Sattar at the International Socialist Conference at Stockholm. A Pathan chief, Mohammad Gulkhan, suggested a separate Muslim homeland in the North-West extending as far as Agra.
Therefore, Islamic separatism is deeply rooted in the manner Indian Muslims are taught Islam.
Nature of British ‘Raj’
While all colonial powers exploited their colonies, British imperialism showed significantly less Christian fanaticism compared with what the Portuguese and Spanish demonstrated in Latin America. It was also less enthusiastic for cultural diffusion than the French or the Americans. Thus, westernization of India happened to a limited extent. The British imperialism was motivated primarily by economic gains and had several goals.
Achieving monopolistic trading position was one. Using India as a cheap raw material source and Indian market as a dumping ground for British goods was another. India also provided novel and lucrative employment for a sizable portion of the British upper middle class, and the remittances they sent home made an appreciable contribution to British prosperity. Finally, India was their most prized colony in the global power structure, in terms of geography, logistics and military manpower.
Dumped East India Company’s Corrupt Ways
The main changes they made in the Indian society after 1857 were governance related. They replaced the wasteful “warlord aristocracy” by a bureaucratic-military machinery, which was very efficient and effective. The East India Company paid its servants fairly modest salaries, but let them make extra income through private transactions exploiting their dominant position (corrupt practices, in modern language). This arrangement became a problem after the territorial possession in Bengal and the right to collect tax in 1765. The company officials became extortionists as rulers. More money went in their pockets than in the company’s coffers. It also meant over exploitation of local population.
Robert Clive operated through the titular Nawab of Bengal. Warren Hastings displaced the Nawab and took over direct administration, but retained Indian officials. Finally, in 1785, Cornwallis created a professional cadre of Company servants who had generous salaries and enjoyed the prospect of regular promotion along with entitlement of pensions. They had no private business interests in India. All high-level posts were reserved for the British. Cornwallis appointed British judges and British officials as revenue collectors and magistrates in each district of Bengal.
From 1806 the Company trained its young recruits in London, but appointments were largely on patronage. After 1833, appointments were made through competitive examination among the nominated candidates. But after 1853, selection was entirely merit-based and through examination open to any British candidate. The examination system was inspired by the Chinese model, which had worked well for 2,000 years. The Indian civil service was therefore able to attract high quality people for two reasons: high salary and the political power which no bureaucrat could enjoy in England.
In 1829, the territory under the Company was divided in districts small enough to be effectively controlled by an individual British official who held a completely autocratic power, acting as revenue collector, judge and police-chief. This made their administration further efficient. These functions had been separate under the Mughal administration. This district structure later became the cornerstone of Imperial administration throughout the British Empire.
Creation of Modern Developmental infrastructure
The British ‘raj’ was not averse to Indian economic development, but only as long as it did not threaten their economic interests or political security. Thus, they made developmental investments in India such as in railways, post and telegram, irrigation etc. They also invested in education but only to the extent that it served their colonial needs. It was in stark contrast with the Mughal India when rulers could not think beyond expansion of “harems”, destruction of Hindu temples and construction of tombs and monuments to glorify themselves.
If the delusion of “Islamic Superiority” was the distinguishing feature of the 800 years of Islamic rule that oppressed the indigenous Hindus, the hallucination of “Racial Superiority” (master race) was the tyranny of the colonial rule – this time both for the Hindus and the ex-Hindus (Muslims). Racial humiliation was the foundation for colonial exploitation and violence around the world. In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru:
… We in India have known racialism in all its forms ever since the commencement of British rule. The whole ideology of this rule was that of Herrenvolk (Master Race), and the structure of government was based upon it; indeed the idea of a master race is inherent in imperialism. There was no subterfuge about it; it was proclaimed in unambiguous language by those in authority.
More powerful than words was the practice that accompanied them, and generation after generation and year after year, India as a nation and Indians as individuals, were subjected to insult, humiliation and contemptuous treatment. The English were an imperial Race, we were told, with God-given right to govern us and keep us in subjection; if we protested we were reminded of the ‘tiger qualities of an imperial race’.
[The German word Herrenvolk, “master race“, was used in 19th century discourse to justify colonialism with the racial superiority of Europeans.]
Elite Lifestyle in the British Raj
The British established themselves as a separate ruling caste, denouncing the Hindu caste system! They did not intermarry or mingled with natives. They did not adopt the Mughal custom of polygamy, but remained monogamous and brought in their own women. Then how did the small creole class of Anglo-Indians formed? Some British did slip on the slope of sexual exploitation of native servants or subordinates. These mixed breed people tuned outcasts and could not integrate into Indian or local British society.
The British kept to their clubs and bungalows in special suburbs known as cantonments and civil lines. They maintained the Mughal tradition of official pomp, sumptuous residences, and retinues of servants. While rolling in the hallucination of ‘White Supremacy’ they also developed their own brand of self-righteous arrogance. They considered themselves purveyors not of popular but of good government that meant maintenance of strict law and order.
The striking thing about the British Raj is that it was operated by so few people. In 1805, there were only 31,000 White men in India (of which 22,000 were in the army and 2,000 in civil government). The number increased substantially after the 1857 Uprising, and then remained steady. In 1911, there were 164,000 British (of which 66,000 were in the army and police and 4,000 in civil government). In 1931, there were 168,000 (of which 60,000 in the army and police and 4,000 in civil government). These numbers were far smaller than the Mughal machinery.
In the princely states, the remnants of the Mughal aristocracy continued their extravagances – large palaces, harems, hordes of retainers, miniature armies, ceremonial elephants, tiger hunts, and stables full of Rolls Royces.
Social Environment during 1860 – 1900
The English educated class in India was slowly becoming politically conscious and several political associations were being formed between 1870 and 1885; such as Indian Association of Dwarkanath Ganguly in Calcutta, Poona Sarvajanik Sabha of Ranade and GV Joshi, Bombay Presidency Association of KT Telang, and Madras Mahajan Sabha of G Subramaniya Iyer. The agenda of these organizations was limited, far from ideals of freedom and liberty. They raised voices against British policies that were against interests of Indians. Their issues revolved around topics like unfavorable cotton import duties, inclusion of more Indians in the administration, opposition of the Afghan policy, suppression of press freedom etc.
What made the British initiated Indian National Congress (INC) different from other organizations was its pan India reach. It aimed at creating a common consciousness of belonging to a single nation among people by bringing different strands of society under its umbrella. Their most valuable contribution was to formulate a economic critique that rather than bringing in industrial revolution into India, the British rule was making India poorer by destroying its indigenous handicraft production. Other issues it focused upon were demand for greater Indian presence in legislature and Civil Services, changes in the forest laws to favor Indians, exploitation of tea plantation workers in Assam, etc.
Threat to Global British Supremacy
The 2nd half of the 19th century saw spread and intensification of the Industrial Revolution in the European countries, the USA, and Japan. It ended the manufacturing and financial supremacy of Britain on the global platform. Completion of the Suez Canal – connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas – in 1869 forced the British to reshape their Imperial politics. It drastically shortened the distance between India and Europe, which had several economic and political implications. From 1870 onward, there was a resurgence of imperialism all over the world. The British started to consolidate their control over the existing empires. Thus, they invested heavily on railway infrastructure, post and telegram and army. The renewed upsurge of imperial control was reflected in the reactionary policies of various viceroys. After all, India was the most prized colony in the so-called “British Commonwealth.” It provided them with an endless supply of low paid Indian soldiers and enormous economic resources for exploitation, almost forever!
As the British rule consolidated and the modern means of communication expanded, the rulers reached out to the frontier regions. The British interests revolved around protection of the invaluable Indian empire. They liberally used Indian soldiers and money in their military ventures. They ventured into Burma to expand the market for British goods, to exploit it forest resources and to keep the French away. As the nationalistic fervor increased in Burma they tried weakening it by separating it from India in 1935. It must be mentioned that the British had colonized Burma through wars in 1824 and 1852. Finally, after the WW-2 unable to maintain colonial control the British quit Burma also in January 1948.
The British saw Afghanistan as a strategically located State where it must have a friendly government in order to keep the Russians away and to promote British commercial (oil) interests in the Central Asia. In 1893, they drew the Durand Line that arbitrarily divided the Pashtun people. Even today, this line is the source of the Afghan-Pak border dispute and a heart burn for the divided Pashtuns. After birth of Pakistan in 1947, Afghanistan demanded that Pashtuns living on the Pak side of Durand line be given the right of self-determination. But, both Britain and Pakistan refused. In response, the Afghan government began to ignore the Durand Line.
Kālā Pānī – Cellular Jail
Kālā Pānī, the transportation of freedom fighters to Andaman for “penal experiment” is easily among the darkest chapters of the “British Raj.”
As the ‘British Raj’ started in 1858, one of its first acts was to set up a penal colony on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (a group of 572 islands in the Bay of Bengal) and start exiling prisoners to it. In fact, the devious idea was conceived while the British Rule was paralyzed by the 1857 rebellion. The island chain was chosen by 2 British doctors for the “penal experiment” on “deserters and rebels.” It was perfect for secrecy and isolation. The first batch of 200 “grievous political offenders” arrived after 8 days trip from Calcutta in early 1858. Soon prisoners started arriving from Calcutta, Madras, Karachi, Singapore and Burma, with their crime and punishment carved on a wooden plate on the neck. Then, it was no more than an isolated hostile backwater and survival was only a matter of chance against all odds.
In Feb 1872, Viceroy Lord Mayo came for an inspection. He was killed by a convict Sher Ali. The news of this high profile murder was suppressed by the British. Towards the end of 1880s, the population of prisoners had become unmanageable; thus, they decided to build a high-security jail to house them. In 1890, a two member commission inspected the penal settlement of Port Blair, Andaman Nicobar. Its report stated, “it was aimed that the place for transportation should be second only to the capital punishment, but…” The British clearly intended to create a “Hell for Indian freedom fighters.” Construction work started few years later. Bricks came from Burma and labor from the exiled prisoners living there. Thus, the Cellular Jail (Kālā Pānī, for Indians) came into existence in 1906 at Port Blair.
The Cellular Jail was named so because it entirely consisted of individual cells for solitary confinement – 693 altogether, each of the size 13.5 ft X 7.5 ft ventilated by 3 ft X 1 ft window. Originally, designed like spokes on a wheel, 7 long buildings (150 yard long) emanated from a massive central 3-floor structure. Each wing had rows of iron-gated cells for solitary occupants.
Life in Cellular Jail
The prison authorities were determined to give the inmates a fate “even more dreadful than the hangman’s noose.” During its active life from 1906 to 1939, it silently witnessed the most brutal and barbaric atrocities meted out to Indian freedom fighters. Doctors experimented new drugs on the inmates. Guards were expected to treat the political prisoners in a way “that would break their spirit and completely demoralize them.” Prisoners were made to work like slaves, with scantest regard for their lives. The life would be filled with torture, hunger and loneliness. Some would go mad; others would be driven to suicide. For the prisoners, it was like “being transported for life to the valley of death.” The bodies of the dead were “thrown in the sea tied with stones.” Here is a typical tale of horror and torture at the Cellular Jail.
Famous revolutionary icon, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was imprisoned here during 1911-21 for his revolutionary connections. The wooden plate around his neck declared that he was to serve a 50-year double life sentence. He wrote – “as the gates of the prison shut behind me, I felt that I have ‘entered the jaws of death’.” His cell has been marked with a sign board and is a special attraction for the tourists.
Closure of Cellular Jail
On Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts and widespread condemnation, the Cellular Jail was forced to empty in 1939. In 1942, the Japanese captured the islands and turned the jail into POW camp. On December 30, 1943, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose hoisted the Indian tricolor and Andaman became the first Indian territory to be declared independent. He also named the islands Shaheed and Swaraj. The British, however, recaptured the island in October 1945. During the Japanese occupation 2 wings of the Jail got destroyed and another 2 wings pulled down after independence. The remaining three wings were converted into a 500-bed public hospital for the local population in 1963.
The Cellular Jail was converted into national memorial in 1979 and it became a “symbol of the freedom movement in India.” Today, it is a highly sought-after tourist destination where the “sound and light show” retells the soul-touching story of the ‘hell’ countless freedom fighters went through. Public interest in the Cellular Jail increased particularly after the 1996 Malayalam movie, Kaalapani, which was dubbed in several languages. It won several National and Kerala state awards. In Hindi, it was released as Sazaa-E-Kala Pani.
You may like to read: Survivors of the Hell
Emergence of Organized Nationalism
The foundation of Indian national movement was laid by the emerging group of the English educated Indians. But as their activities raised public awareness, they were joined by the middle-class Indians. They all stood together against the unjust British policies. Despite the exploitative character of the British rule, they were also aware of its positive features, particularly the fact that the British had created a unified country run by an organized administration and common laws on secular Western ideas. The British connections also opened the doorway to modern concepts of liberty and democracy and industrial technology.
People’s dissatisfaction with the British rule intensified in the 1870s and 1880s for several immediate triggers. Educated young Indians had serious issue with the biased selection procedure for the civil services. The extravagant Delhi Darbar of 1877 to proclaim Queen Victoria as the Empress of India did not find favor among masses because the southern India was in the grip of severe famine. The racial Arms Act of 1878 made arm license mandatory for Indians while exempting the Europeans. Their ill conceived Second Afghan war (1878-80) to neutralize Russian influence proved to be a costly and disastrous venture.
Leaving aside the immediate triggers, several systemic factors led to the emergence of such a socio-political over the years.
1. Spread of European education: Although the British had spread ‘Macaulay brand’ education among Indians since 1835 to prepare ‘clerks’ and ‘babus’ for the administration, but it also exposed educated Indians modern democratic and nationalist political outlook. Knowledge of English language also helped them to communicate with people of other linguistic regions. Many Indians were able to go to Britain for education and had seen the European lifestyle and knew how freedom and democracy shape nations. They were also exposed to European thoughts and philosophies.
2. Emergence of Modern Press: The introduction of the printing press in India was a revolutionary event.After mid 19th century, there was an unprecedented growth of Indian-owned English and Vernacular newspapers. They played a notable role in spreading political education and mobilizing public opinion, organizing political movements and promoting nationalism. It also connected Indians with the events around the world, giving them another perspective to look at their life. When the British government tried suppressing people’s voice through the Vernacular Press Act, 1878 it was vehemently opposed and the Act had to be repealed in 1882.
3. Emergence of Political Organizations: Dissatisfaction among Indians saw emergence of political organizations like the East India Association in 1866 in London. It was started by Dada Bhai Naoroji to inform the British Parliament on Indian issues. In 1876, Satendra Nath Bose started the Indian Association in Bengal to voice people’s grievances against the British misrule. Formation of the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885 was just a prominent example of the trend.
4. Development of Transport and Means of Communication: Although the British government developed the infrastructure of railways, roads, canals and organization of postal, telegraph and wireless services etc to further their own colonial goals, they also helped to unite Indian public and the nationalists
5. Influence of International Events: The tentacles of the British Empire covered a large part of the world and Indians were not the only people fighting against the British colonialism. Moreover, news from abroad also affected the Indian nationalism. The Declaration of Independence by Americans in 1776, the French Revolution of 1789, the unification of Italy and Germany in 1870, defeat of Russia by Japan in 1904, the Russian Revolution of 1917 etc. influenced Indians too.
6. Revival of Glorious Indian Heritage: This was particularly important for Hindus. Before the British domination, they had lived humiliating life under the Islamic rule for 800 years. Their highly evolved socio-spiritual culture since ancient times was almost annihilated by the barbaric Mohammadans who repeatedly plundered, destroyed their temples and educational centers and forced conversion into Islam. Therefore, their psych was deeply depressed and they were badly demoralized. However, when some western scholars like Max Muller, William Jones and Charles Wilkins revived the glorious heritage of their ancient past and established the profound wisdom of ancient Indian culture and philosophy it was like putting life back into dead corps.
7. Socio-Religious Reform Movements: As the nationalistic consciousness spread among people a need was felt to reform social institutions and religious outlooks which were proving obstacles in social progress and national integration. Thus, various reform movements emerged to remove social evils which divided the Indian society. They attempted to remove the caste and sex barriers and promoted the idea of individual liberty and social equality. Thus a number of organizations like the Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, Rama Krishna Mission, Theosophical Society etc emerged. Since many of these reform movements drew inspiration from India’s rich Hindu past, they promoted pan-Indian feelings and spirit of nationalism.
Birth of Indian National Congress (INC) – As A Pro-British Forum!
Most Indians grow up learning that the Congress Party gave us independence by throwing out the White British occupiers and that it was, in fact, born for that purpose only. A common image on the mind is that the history of the Indian National Congress is “The History of the Freedom Movement”. But a little careful study of the history after the 1857 Rebellion would be amusing!
The Macaulay education system was introduced in 1835, replacing Persian with English as new official language. It aimed at forming ‘a class who may be interpreters between the British and the millions they govern – a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.’’ As a result, by 1880s there were lots of educated Indians – often derided as the ‘brown British.’ They served the British administration as clerks and were were familiar with English language and the British system of governance. They had no professional dignity due to racism or opportunity to advance in the career. Hence, they lived stagnated lives. These “brown British” were on target when the Indian National Congress was founded in 1885.
Congress was created as a ‘safety valve’ to prevent ‘1857’ like revolts!
A retired British Officer, Alan Octavian Hume, conceived the idea of Congress at a social gathering of elite Indians. The idea was to create a platform to provide a safe, peaceful, and constitutional outlet or ‘safety valve’ for the rising discontent among the masses, which if bottled up could potentially lead violent rebellion. He wanted it to act as a ‘Safety Valve’ to prevent repeat of ‘1857’ like revolts! In other words, it would nip the revolutionary potential in the bud. Thus, the formation of Congress was a well thought of British plan to use the “brown Sahibs” as bridge between the British government and the common masses. Such a ‘safety valve’ idea was around for many years. It was expressed by Sir Henry Harrison in 1886 in these words:
“Repress the educated natives, their ambitions and then aspirations and you turn them into a sold phalanx of opposition against the Government; gratify their ambitions, and you make them into allies of the Government.”
Thus, with the support of Viceroy Lord Dufferin (1884-88), Hume convened the first meeting of educated Indian elites in 1885 at the Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Mumbai from 18-31 December 1885. It was presided over by Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee and attended by 72 delegates representing all over India, including the likes of Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, S Subramania Iyer, Dinshaw Wacha, etc. Viceroy Lord Dufferin invited the newly formed group for a ‘Tea Party’! In this first session, Bannerjee concluded his presidential address by emphasizing that the Congressmen desired the permanence of British rule in India, and that their ultimate aim was only to gain a share in the administration of its government.
Three years later, he stressed that “the principle on which the Indian National Congress is based is that British Rule should be permanent and abiding in India.”
This club was derided by nationalists as an organization of Anglicized Indians and pseudo-imitators of English culture. Lala Lajpat Rai ridiculed the Congress as an institution of beggars that pleaded for charity from the Government. He was aware that “the congress was created with the object of saving the British Raj from any impending danger.”
Read in detail about the nature of Congress in the first 20 years.
Until end of the 19th century, the Congress did not have much public support and functioned more like a private club of elite Indians who sought personal favors by eulogizing the British government. They only placed petitions before the British government and worked within the framework of law and the rulers, of course, treated them with neglect. They asked for things like representative legislature, employing more Indians in the administration, holding Indian civil service (ICS) exam in India, decrease tax burden on cultivators, more funds for education and so on. The only achievement of these so-called ‘moderate’ leaders was the enactment of the Indian Council Act, 1892 that enlarged the legislature and having a resolution passed for holding the ICS exam simultaneously in London and India. They however created a forum to discuss people’s issues and criticize the government that raised public awareness.
The closing years of the 19th century brought bubonic plague and famine but the Congressmen could not do anything for the suffering people and exposed themselves as useless members of an elite club. The hardships gave rise to severe resentment against the government. Viceroy, Lord Curzon, passed an Act in 1898, that made provoking people against the government an offense and brought in the Indian Universities Act in 1904 to suppress the rising nationalism among students.
Entry of Radicals in Congress
Turn of the century brought patriotic people like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat and Bipin Chandra Pal (Bal-Lal-Pal) onto the Congress platform. The did not like the culture of submissiveness and sycophancy. They did not believe in depending on the mercy of the Britishers, but firmly believed that freedom was their right. They talked of Swaraj – self rule. Giving call for Swaraj – self-rule, Tilak declared: “Swaraj is my birthright and I must have it”. They believed in organizing mass protests, criticizing government policies, boycotting foreign goods and replace them with Swadeshi (home-made) goods etc. Tilak’s newspaper, Kesari, became their mouthpiece. Their ideas resonated well with the public sentiments. The partition of Bengal in 1905 provided them a good opportunity to emerge as popular leaders. They spread the Swadeshi movement among masses. Strikes and boycotts became new weapons of protest. But their radical ideas brought them in conflict with the loyalists of the Congress Party led by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. It led to their expulsion from the party in 1907 – popularly known as the Surat Split. It again turned Congress into a group of self-serving noisemakers with no public appeal. It remained inactive until the two factions reunited with the efforts of Annie Besant in 1916.
The British government passed a series of repressive Acts during 1907-11 to curb these activities and sent Tilak to a Burma jail for six years. The movement again picked up pace after release of Tilak in 1914 and formation of Home Rule League in 1916. The evolution of Congress before independence is generally divided in three phases, dominated by the British loyalists (1885-1905), nationalists (1905-1919), and Gandhian (1919-1947).
Muslims wanted Freedom from Hindus, Not British!
[Indian Muslims exhibited the typical Islamic exclusivist tendency, ever inclined towards isolationism. They remained obsessed with their Muslim identity and its preservation. One section of Muslims joined the mainstream national movement to liberate India from the British rule. They faced prison, torture and death. The other section, led by Jinnah gang of Muslim League, fought for separation from Hindus under British patronage. They were never jailed!]
British India was home to the largest Muslim population in the world – yet only around 20-25% of the total population. Indian Muslim community was a peculiar mix – the bulk of them were “forced converts” mainly from the lower orders of Hindu society, economically poor and social depressed. There was a tiny elite class mostly located in the United Province (broadly, today’s UP), which consisted of mostly the descendants of Muslim aristocrats who served in higher positions in the Mughal period, big landlords or those awarded jagirs. Their position had been deteriorating after coming under the colonial rule but were still better than the common masses. Given the exclusivist nature of Islamic orthodoxy, very few even from the elite class could switch to modern English education from their traditional Quranic studies in Persian. As a result, when the Crown rule started in 1858 there were very few educated Muslims and ordinary Muslims lagged far behind rest of the Indians in education..
In 1871, a British official W W Hunter published a book Indian Mussalmans pointing out the poor reach of education in the Muslim community and how their loyalty could be won by promoting education among them. It made the British think of developing policies to educate Muslims, largely for creating a separate class of educated Muslims loyal to them and prevent Muslims from joining the nationalistic movement which was growing steadily.
This new British thinking was exploited by a prominent aristocrat, Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-98) from United Province. Coming from a privileged background, he had a loyal career in judicial service and was an intellectual, educationist and writer. He understood the value of modern education and wanted to spread it in his community while cooperating with the British government. His loyalty earned him Knighthood in 1888. He founded the Mohammadan Ango-Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875. It became a prominent center of education among Indian Muslims. In 1920, it became the Aligarh Muslim University which played a vital role in shaping separatist tendency in the Muslim leaders that ultimately led to India’s partition. Ahmad Khan sincerely wanted to take English education to his community, but always as a British loyalist.
Khan proposed that Hindus and Muslims were two different nations, who shared nothing except common territory. Thus, he demanded that Muslims should not be treated as a minority community (based on just 20-25% population) in India, rather they should be seen as a ‘separate nation’ – at par with Hindus. This is the Two Nation Theory that ultimately led to creation of Muslim Pakistan. It should be seen in the light of the fact that before the British, Muslims had ruled over Hindus for 800 years. Therefore, they were deluded with ‘Superiority Complex.’ However, this sowed the seeds of separatism among his followers in the Muslim community.
All India Muslim League
When the INC was formed in 1885, Muslims saw it through their “Islamic lens” as a ‘Hindu Party’ and yearned to have their own Muslim party. A year after the INC was setup, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan founded the Mohammadan Educational Conference (in 1886) in order to groom Muslims as a separate block of Indians. Eight years after his death, in 1906 the Muslim League was founded in Dacca (now in Bangladesh) at a meeting of the Mohammadan Educational Conference. Its basic aim was to safeguard the political interests of Indian Muslims with the blessings of the British. Like the INC, the Muslim League was also formed with the blessings of the British. The Muslim League actively dissuaded Muslims from joining the nationalistic movement of the INC which had pan India representation. Therefore, communal identity politics was the basic goal of this Muslim body.
Muslim League (ML) leaders did not want representative governance because that would favor Hindus who formed more than 75% population. They wanted equality with Hindus (something like 50:50) or a separate electoral roll for Muslims but such ideas were not acceptable to Congress leaders. So, they nurturing separatist sentiments that ultimately came out as the demand for a separate Muslim State, first time in 1930 and then formally in 1940 (Lahore Declaration). It was denounced vehemently by nationalists. C Rajagopalachari called it ‘a medieval concept – a quasi-tribal point of view’ and a product of ‘diseased mentality’, the Hindustan Times described it a ‘mock heroic at Lahore’, Nehru called it a ‘mad scheme’ and Viceroy Linlithgow called it ‘Jinnah’s political maneuvering’ against Congress. Then they boycotted the Constituent Assembly and announced ‘Direct Action’ in August 1946. It pushed Bengal into communal violence.
In nutshell, Muslim League’s only one-point Islamic agenda was rejection of living in a future Hindu dominated society. And towards that end it was even willing to prolong the British rule! The Last Stand of Muslim League
Important Questions: Why were Muslims so paranoid about living as minority in Hindu dominated India? Were they afraid of being treated in the same humiliating way they had treated Hindus for centuries? Why did the British consider the Muslim League, sole representative of all Indian Muslims and went about dividing India? And why they did not listen to the large section of Indian Muslims who did not want partition?
Muslims Opposing the Two Nation Theory
It is ironic that Western educated Muslim leaders promoted division of India, in the name of Islam. Even their leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a England-trained lawyer who drank Scotch, enjoyed bacon and married a Parsi (all taboos in Islam)! A childish and irresponsible attitude, indeed. This juvenile characteristic defines Pakistani intelligentsia even now!! On the other hand, the orthodox ulema advocated living peacefully with other communities in united India. They worked to synthesize Islamic principles and nationalistic aspirations and advocated a united India.
Ahmad Khan’s separatist ideology was opposed on several grounds. The strongest opposition came from the powerful orthodox ulema (religious leaders) of Dar-ul-uloom in the Deoband town of Saharanpur district in UP. It was founded in 1866, just a few years after the 1857 war of independence, in order to continue promoting Wali Ullah’s political Islam. They were strong critics of Syed Ahmad Khan’s western and his British loyalty. They considered the British number one enemy of Islam. They became particularly suspicious when Ahmad Khan’s followers formed the Muslim League (ML) in 1906 in connivance with the British. Thus, to counter the ML the Deobandi ulema created a political entity, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind (JUH) in 1919.
In ulema’s opinion, the Westernized leadership of ML lacked Islamic credentials and authority to demand a separate Islamic State. Additionally, they argued that the creation of a separate Islamic State would only benefit Muslims living in the Muslim majority provinces. What would be the fate of rest of the Muslims who were in minority in Hindu majority provinces? They also opposed partition of India because those living in the Islamic State (Pakistan) would lose contact with important historical cultural Islamic Centers like Delhi, Agra, Lucknow, Hyderabad etc. And finally, the partition would give rise to anti-Muslim sentiments among Hindus that would hurt the larger interest of promotion of Islam in India.
The JUH leader Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani strongly opposed the ‘Two Nation Theory’, declaring that all inhabitants of India, irrespective of their color, cast, creed and religion are connected with each other through the common Indian-ness on the common motherland. He was also pragmatic and stated that in the present times nations were made by territory, not by ethnicity or religion. He issued fatwa to forbid Muslims from joining Muslim League!
Another prominent organization opposing the separate Islamic State was the Majlas-e-Ahrar-el-Islam, based in Punjab. It had strong support of lower and middle class Muslim society. Its considered the idea against the universal brotherhood concept of Islam and favored a multi-religious society. It did not consider Pakistan – a land of purity or Jinnah, a Muslim. It called Jinnah Kafir-e-Azam.
A prominent Muslim scholar, in opposition, was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. He was a front-line Congress leader and a great admirer of Gandhi. He was also known as Imam-ul-Hind. He rejected the idea of Muslim Nationalism and favored Composite Indian Nationalism. He criticized the word “Pakistan” saying “The word Pakistan itself suggests that in the world some places are pure and others are impure. Islam recognizes no such division of territories. The Prophet says, ‘God has made the whole world as a mosque for me.’ Thus, the demand for Pakistan loses all force.”
In his book ‘India Wins Freedom’ he wrote: “It is one of the greatest frauds to suggest that the religious affinity can unite areas which are geographically, linguistically and culturally different. It is true that Islam seeks to establish a society which transcended racial, linguistic, economic and political frontiers. History has, however, proven that only during the initial one century when Islam was practiced as ‘religion’ it had unitary quality.”
History of Islam shows that much too soon Islam lost it ‘religious component’ and turned into a political ideology of confrontation, oppression and tyranny. “Religious Muslims” can stay peacefully anywhere; but “political Muslims” can’t live peacefully even in their own Muslim societies. This is what we see around the world. Terrorism is just the most extreme scenario.
“Pakistan” was Founded on Shallow Arguments
The “two nation theory” is worst than useless. – Dr B R Ambedkar
Wise Muslim Ulema had already punctured the religious arguments in favor of creating Pakistan. Let’s now see the minority-majority argument of the Muslim League; it was also absurd and perverted. It pushed for creating a “Pakistan” by combining Muslim majority provinces in the 1930s and 40s.
If Hindu and Muslims have lived together for 1000 years, why not now? And, what good would be Pakistan for Muslims living in areas where they were in minority numbers?
In a self-ruled independent United India there would be made up of different provinces run by provincial governments, connected to a representative Central Government. What is it that Muslims couldn’t do in United India that could only be done a separate Muslim country?
The Muslim League started out by championing the interests of Muslims who were in “minority” in British India. But when it twisted the argument and demanded “Pakistan’ eyeing Muslim majority areas it became an advocate of “majority Muslims”! What a perversion in the name of protecting Muslim interest! Pity.
Dr Ambedkar rightly said, the idea of Pakistan was “worse than useless.”
Mohammad Ali Jinnah – From Secular to Communal
By all means the choice of Jinnah to lead an Islamic separatist movement by the Muslim League was highly unusual. He was coerced to come back to India after he had gone into self-exile in Britain after his wife died in the late 1920s. By all means he was the most liberal ‘brown British.’ He was a staunch secularist, clean-shaven and stylish, drank whiskey, smoked cigar, visiting mosque was never a part of his routine, and favored beautifully cut Savile Row suits and silk ties. Gujarati and English were the only languages he could speak easily. Urdu, the darling language of his Muslim brothers was a tough nut to crack. He even chose to marry a non-Muslim woman, the glamorous daughter of a Parsi businessman. She was famous for her ultra modern outfits.
Jinnah deeply resented the way Gandhi introduced spiritual conduct into the political discourse. He even reportedly told Gandhi (as overheard by a British governor) that “it was a crime to mix up politics and religion the way he had done.” He believed that doing so emboldened religious chauvinists on all sides.
Sri Aurobindo criticized Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan: “The idea of two nationalities in India is only a new-fangled notion invented by Jinnah for his purposes and contrary to the facts. More than 90% of the Indian Mussalmans are descendants of converted Hindus and belong as much to the Indian nation as the Hindus themselves. This process of conversion has continued all along; Jinnah is himself a descendant of a Hindu, converted in fairly recent times, named Jinabhai and many of the most famous Mahommedan leaders have a similar origin.”
There were people who knew Jinnah well. They often suggested that the Pakistan demand was just a “tactical move”, a “bargaining counter”. They also felt that Jinnah did not imagine “Pakistan would come into being” and was prepared to settle for loss. Even if he was not honest about the Pakistan demand, he went too far in his public posturing to retreat respectfully. Therefore, the responsibility for the creation of Pakistan lies squarely on Jinnah and nobody else. Jinnah did not divide just India. He also divided his own Muslim community.
The British PM, Clement Attlee, during partition had commented: “Jinnah was the only fascist I had ever met.”
After the partition in 1947, Congress and Muslim League both degenerated. Gandhi’s Congress Party degenerated to become Nehru family’s private property. Jinnah’s Muslim League eroded and evaporated; even its birth place (Dacca) now no longer belongs to Pakistan! It is also comical that Jinnah’s “Pakistan” does not include Aligarh and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) where the idea of Pakistan was conceived and nurtured!! On the flip side, the AMU is a highly vulnerable spot for India – Jinnah, Pakistan lovers and separatist minded Muslims still feel at home here!
Jinnah’s Aversion towards Gandhi
Gandhi’s emergence as a key political figure pushed Jinnah to the sidelines of Indian politics. He saw Patel and particularly Nehru, as his staunch political rival. Jinnah felt eclipsed by their rise as mainstream national leaders. As Gandhi’s stature grew larger and larger, the ‘highly secular’ and ambitious Jinnah shrunk into a mere Muslim leader – reduced to seeking concessions for his community. As he fell in the trap of power hungry Aligarh School leaders of the Muslim League, his pan-India nationalistic politics turned into disruptive Islamic separatism. ‘Pakistan’ – a separate homeland for the Muslim minority of South Asia – became the only hope to quench his thirst for power.
Jinnah Resigned from Muslim League
In 1919, the Muslim League was dominated by the Khilafat leaders and the country was echoing with shouts of “Ali Bhaion Ki Jai” and “Gandhiji Ki Jai”. In its Amritsar session, the ML censured the Government for its atrocities at the Jallianwala Bagh, expressed strong resentment at the proposed dismemberment of Turkey, showed unflinching loyalty to the Sultan of Turkey, demanded recall of the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford from India and decided not to sacrifice cow on the occasion of Id-ul-Azha.
Jinnah supported the non-cooperation program of Gandhiji but he was threatened by Gandhiji’s extraordinary influence on people. Jinnah resigned from the Muslim League “with great sorrow“, because the league members were eulogizing Gandhiji and cooperating in the Khilafat Movement.
Resigned from Home Rule League
On October 3, 1920, Gandhiji chaired the Home Rule League meeting in Bombay and proposed “To secure Complete Swaraj for India”. It alarmed Jinnah who wanted only a limited self-rule under British patronage. Soon, Jinnah and his 18 colleagues resigned from the Home Rule League.
Resigned from the Congress
At the Nagpur session in December 1920, Gandhiji proposed amending the Congress goal as “the attainment of Swaraj by all legitimate and peaceful means”. Threatened Jinnah argued that it would be dangerous for the Muslims to dissolve ‘the British connection.’ Jinnah was booed when he insisted on calling his rival “Mr. Gandhi” rather than referring to him as ‘Mahatma’. He resigned from the Congress also. This humiliation turned him into a staunch Gandhi and Congress antagonist.
Gandhi Vs Jinnah Debate
Jinnah was a godless, ruthless, self-centered man who had nothing but contempt for the Muslim masses, who hated Gandhi “yet loved to be equated with him”. – Rafiq Zakaria, Author of the famous Book The Man Who Divided India.
Countless books got written on Gandhi and his non-violent ideology became a topic for research across the world. Jinnah invited very little attention, relatively speaking. In 2012, Roderick Matthews wrote a book comparing the two men, Jinnah vs Gandhi. He wrote:
“Gandhi’s optimism gave India a broad and inclusive conception of nationhood whereas Jinnah’s pessimism bequeathed to Pakistan a narrow and defensive brand of nationalism. Gandhi was prolific and self-critical, Jinnah was reticent and defensive. Jinnah was committed to ends without great regard to means.”
According to Matthews, Gandhi was “a renunciate pilgrim” and Jinnah, “the apple that shriveled on the tree, the milk that soured in the bottle, the favored son who never inherited a promised bequest”. And that “Gandhi had the right kind of virtues to found a nation which Jinnah, ultimately, did not”.
Clearly, Jinnah had no long term vision for Pakistan as a separate nation, except for the obsession to have it. The result was a paranoid directionless country, too weak to walk on its own feet – it hooked itself on US Apron. Americans used it as a pawn in the cold war game, handing out regular doles. They exploited its Jehadi fanaticism to drive out the Russians from Afghanistan, forced it to join its war on terror after 9/11 and then dumped it in 2018 for sponsoring Jihadi terrorism! Today, it is running here and there begging for money, to evade the fast approaching bankruptcy. It must be the karmic fate of nation its own founder called “a maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten” Pakistan at its birth!!
The Divide-and-Rule Politics
As nationalism started growing at the start of the 20th century, the British took refuge in their trademark ‘divide and rule’ philosophy. The sycophantic overtures of some Muslim leaders and their separatist tendency were right before them. So they started nurturing them in order to pit them against the nationalists of the Congress party. At the same time, they also started to create more fissures in the Indian society along caste, lingual, ethnic and regional lines. This became possible with regular census that started in 1871-72. This information had consequences. It defined, for instance, whether particular groups would be allowed to join prestigious army regiments. When the British introduced a Legislative Assembly in India after World War I, fixed seats were reserved for Europeans, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, “depressed classes,” landholders, merchants and so on. Belonging to one group or another was crucial to an individual’s destiny. Identity politics was not merely endorsed; it was made systemic.
The partition of Bengal along Hindu-Muslim line was a major step in 1905. The following year, they helped form the All India Muslim League. Then they immediately accepted its demand for separate Muslim electorate through the Morley-Minto Reforms (1909). Under this the Muslim members were to be elected only by Muslim voters.
This set the stage for Muslim Communalism vs Indian Nationalism politics. But it also fueled separate electoral demand from other communities. Under the Montford Reforms (1919), the separate electorate system was extended to other communities like Sikhs, Europeans, Anglo-Indians, Indian Christians, etc. The Communal Award of 1932 extended this policy to the depressed classes also. It was a blatant effort to fragment Hindus by exploiting its caste system and treat the lower caste as a separate minority group. It was opposed by Gandhi and it had to be repealed.
Such was the degree of fragmentation that under the Act of 1935 seventeen separate electorates were constituted. A severe dent has already been created for the cause of national integration. Muslim’s two-nation theory was forcefully vocalized by Jinnah in 1940, with overt and covert British support. The country was seemingly drifting towards anarchy. Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ call of 1942 and imprisonment of Congress leaders provided wonderful opportunity to the Muslim League to strengthen its Muslim votes. Results were clear in the 1945/46 elections. Partition became inevitable.
Partition of Bengal
Conceptualization of Indian National Flag
At the dawn of the 19th century, Bengal had become a major center of nationalism and was seen as a formidable threat by the British. Thus, they decided to divide Bengal in 1905 along religious line. [They reunited Bengal in 1911 after severe protests.] The idea originated form a meeting of Lord Curzon and a Muslim delegation in Assam in June 1905. The partition came into effect on October 16, 1905. Formation of the Muslim League a year later is seen by many as part of larger divisive plan.
The resistance to the partition was explosive and all pervasive.The radicals of the INC led by Tilak used the protests to spread the message of Swaraj and Swadeshi. Cries of “Vande Mataram” took Bengal and rest of India by storm. A need was felt to unite all Indians under some “banner.” A group of Bengali revolutionaries decided to design a flag. The ideas came from the French Revolution’s tri-color motto of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. It was designed by two prominent revolutionaries, Sachindra Prasad Basu and Sukumar Mitra and was hoisted on 7 August 1906 at the Parsibagan Square in Calcutta. Thus, it was the first time a national flag was unfurled in a protest against the British, as a way to unite people.
On August 22, 1907, Madame Bhikaji Rustam Cama (also fondly called Mother of Indian Revolution) unfurled the first Indian National Flag on foreign soil at the International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart (Germany). She also exhibited the flag at a socialist conference in Berlin. Its design was similar to the Calcutta flag, with “Vande Mataram” written in the center strip. It was prepared together by Cama, Savarkar and Shyamji Krishna Varma. It was used by revolutionaries during the First World War. The flag is now on display at the Maratha and Kesari Library in Pune.
These flags provided the basic tri-color concept of Indian flag that we have today.
The Swadeshi Movement
Partition of Bengal was protested through Swadeshi and boycott movement.
The swadeshi movement introduced new forms of public mobilization and protests – meetings, processions, boycott of foreign goods (later extended to boycott of government schools, colleges, courts, titles and government services), organizing strikes, burning foreign goods in public etc. ‘Samitees’ were formed to take the message into the interiors of Bengal. Some of these were also later employed in Gandhiji’s satyagraha.
A novel idea was to turn traditional festivals into public functions. Thus, in Maharashtra Tilak turned Ganapati and Shivaji festivals into means of public gathering. In Bengal, swadeshi songs like Vande Mataram were employed to inspire people and the popular theatre form jatra was also used to spread nationalist feeling. It made the movement a feast of cultural activities. Ultimately, the colonial government was compelled to withdraw the partition of Bengal in 1911 in the form they envisaged it. However, while reuniting Bengal they decreased the importance of Calcutta by announcing shifting of capital to Delhi.
From Split of Congress (1907) to Reunion (1916)
The agitation against partition of Bengal had a deep impact on the Indian National Congress. It brought out the difference between the moderates and radicals into open. Although both factions supported the Swadeshi and Boycott movement in Bengal, they differed in approach. The moderates wanted protests limited to only Bengal and only boycott of foreign goods in Bengal. The radicals wanted to extend it to all over the country and boycott all forms of engagement with the government. In the December 1907 Surat session, both factions adopted rigid positions and clashed making the split inevitable. Congress became ‘Mehta Congress’ due to hegemony of Pherozeshah Mehta. It remained dysfunctional and inactive for next 9 years. Along the way, it became almost leadersless also with the death of Gokhale and Mehta in 1915.
It gave the British government chance to play the ‘divide and rule’ game. Aiming to suppress and isolate the radicals, the government cracked down on them. Between 1907 and 1911, five new laws were enforced to suppress the nationalistic activities. These included the Seditious Meetings Act, 1907; Indian Newspapers Act 1908; and the Indian Press Act, 1910. Tilak, the main radical nationalist, was sent to Mandalay jail for 6 years. B C Pal retired from politics and Lala Lajpat Rai left for Britain in 1908.
In order to placate the moderates, they announced constitutional concessions through the Indian Council Act 1909 (or the Morley-Minto Reforms). It enlarged the size of the legislative council both Central and Provincial but elected members were less than half, not by public but by the elite class such as landlords, zamindars, businessmen etc. However, for the first time Indians were allowed to stand for legislative council positions. But it introduced separate electorate system. Muslims were to be given separate constituencies marked only for them. In 1911, they announced reunion of Bengal, but with creation of Bihar and Orissa provinces. They also announced shifting of Capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911.
After 1908, the national movement remained virtually leaderless. The moderates realized that the Morley-Minto Reforms really did not offer much, but continued supporting the government. Actually the Morley-Minto Reforms sowed the seeds of religious division by treating Muslims as separate electoral group that would elect only Muslim candidates. It, however, served the separatist cause of the Muslim League.
Outside the Congress hemisphere, in 1909 revolutionary icon Veer Savarkar published the book “The Indian War of Independence, 1857“. [It can be accessed online]. This one book alone created numerous revolutionaries; it was highly inspiring. Its popularity led the British to ban it. But revolutionaries like Bhikaji Cama and others kept the circulation alive clandestinely. It became hit among Indian revolutionaries in the Europe and North America – most notably among the “Gadar Revolutionaries.”
When the WW1 began in 1914, many supported the British, in the mistaken belief that grateful Britain would reward them for loyalty by giving self-rule. They failed to realize that in the so-called Great War, the two warring White sides were only trying to protect their existing colonies, exposing the myth of “White Superiority.”
The war, however, has increased the hardships of people due to high prices and heavy taxation. But they further fueled nationalistic movement. But what was missing was a strong leadership. It was provided by Tilak and Annie Besant in the form of Home Rule movement.
Home Rule Leagues
When Tilak was released in 1914, he had become a moderate. He was ready to assume the leadership and made conciliatory gestures to the moderates and urged people to support the British government in their war efforts. At the same time, Annie Besant, an Irish theosophist based in India since 1896 and a supporter of Indians’ struggle had decided to build a movement for self-rule based on the Irish Home Rule League model. Tilak liked her idea. Both wanted a unified Congress before launching the Home Rule movement, but seeing no interest in the moderates of the Congress party, they decided to go ahead on their own. Nevertheless, the moderate-radical union took place in 1916, as they launched their movement.
Tilak formed his Home Rule League in April 1916 and Annie Besant formed the other, in September 1916. They worked in sync to spread the message across the country for Home Rule or self-government (as a Dominion like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa etc) after the War. Many leaders such as Motilal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Chittaranjan Das, Madan Mohan Malviya, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Tej Bahadur Sapru and Lala Lajpat Rai joined the Home Rule agitation. Many Congress moderates and some members of Gokhale’s Servants of India Society also joined the agitation. Tilak got the title of “Lokmanya” during this movement. The Home Rule campaign involved political education and raising awareness through public meetings, newspapers, posters, plays, post-cards, motivational songs, setting-up libraries and reading rooms, holding conferences, fund raising and so on. The movement reached even villages. The Russian Revolution of 1917 also indirectly boosted the Home Rule campaign, with the rise of communism in India.
Government’s response was familiar; it Tilak was barred from entering Punjab and Delhi. Annie Besant was arrested which invited widespread protest. Sir S Subramaniya Aiyar renounced his Knighthood. The British government was forced to come with the August Declaration of 1917 and commitment for self-government as the long term goal
The Home Rule movement of just around one year laid the foundation for Mahatma Gandhi’s future mass movements, as he was just emerging on the scene after arrival from South Africa. These Leagues ultimately merged with Congress in 1920. Tilak died in the same year.
Lucknow Pact, 1916
The December 1916 Lucknow session of Congress marked an important milestone in the history of freedom struggle. It not only united the two factions of the INC but also brought INC and Muslim League together to chalk out an agenda for self governance in India. The jointly agreed reform scheme was presented to the British, asking for more autonomy to Indians. Congress agreed to separate electorate for Muslims; but its long term implication was disastrous. Rather than uniting people, it promoted communal division. The Hindu Mahasabha strongly opposed the separate electorates granted to the Muslims by the Lucknow pact of 1916. It was in favor of one-man-one-vote.
The British tried to appease the nationalists by declaring their intention of giving Indians the right to self-govern, but India would remain an integral part of the British Empire. It came in the form of the ‘August Declaration’ of 1917. It promised the policy of gradual development of self-government institutions in India and led to the Government of India Act, 1919, outlining the practical steps.
Indians Contributed Enthusiastically in the First World War
The First World War broke out in August 1914. The Allied powers claimed that they were fighting the war for freedom and democracy! Many Indian leaders took their words at the face value. They offered full support to the British government’s war efforts, hoping that their loyalty would be rewarded by a grateful Britain with self-rule. But their hopes shattered.
The WW1 came at a time when the Swadeshi movement was gaining strength in the space of Indian nationalism. The urge to throw out the British had not yet reached its peak (which was to spike with the Jalianwala Bagh massacre and peak in the early 1940s during the WW2). Thus when, the King sent the message asking the ‘Princes and People of My Indian Empire’ to support the War efforts, both the Princely State and the ‘political nationalists’ came forward with zeal. For the first time, Indians would have the opportunity fight on the European soil. During the past decades, they had fought only in places like China, Abyssinia, Perak, Egypt and Sudan.
Now for the first time, Indians will have the opportunity to kill ‘white enemies’ which was directly in conflict with the ‘White Supremacist’ logic that justified colonizing non-white people around the world. It would badly hurt the ‘White Prestige.’ Even in the Boer War of 1899-1902, the British had avoided using Indian Army against the ‘White enemy.’ The question before the British was: Having had the experience of killing white men in the battlefield what would stop the Indian soldiers from thinking about turning against their ‘White Masters’? It would potentially upset the strict racial hierarchies and threaten the colonial machinery. But it was now a case of necessity winning over ideology. So, they ended the color barrier.
The Princely States vied with each other in contributing troops, money and resources. The Nawabs and Rajas urged public to remain loyal to the British. And, the British did recognize this outpouring of loyalty; for example, the Nizam of Hyderabad was bestowed with the title ‘His Exalted Highness’.
The nationalists also did not remain behind, but for a different motif. The INC, ML and most other parties pledged support to the Allied cause. Many leading political figures campaigned to boost army recruitment. Their calculation was that Indians’ strong role would bring political pay-offs (in the form of some kind of self-rule within the Empire) after the War. Note their hope for “self-government within the Empire.” Annie Besant and Subramania Bharthi were two vocal hopefuls. Even Gandhi thought that ‘England’s need should not be turned into our opportunity.’ For radical nationalists like Tilak recruitment drive offered an opportunity to propagate military training among Indians. Sarojini Naidu also saw scope for betterment of India in military training. And, among the hopeful recruits the chance to see vilayat seemed like a great prestigious adventure.
Thus, in September 1914, the first Indian troops landed in Marseilles.
End of the WW-1 in 1918 with victory of Allied Powers (the British side) over the Central Powers (the German-Austria-Turkish Ottoman side) led to the fall of four great imperial dynasties (in Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey). The fall of the Ottoman Caliphate in Turkey had ripples in the Indian Muslim community – the Khilafat movement (1919-24).
Impact of the World War 1
Indian soldiers returned with raised morale which boosted the spirit of the masses. The world war ended the myth of invincibility of the British Empire; they faced many humiliating defeats during the war. The rise of communism with the October Revolution of 1917, paving way for formation of the USSR, led to the rise of communism in India. It gave a socialist tinge to freedom struggle. For ordinary Indians, it meant high taxes to recover war=costs and rising prices.
However, rather than honoring their words, the British government reneged. But this only fueled further nationalism.
The Gadar Movement of Overseas Indians
While the leaders of freedom struggle inside India, including Tilak and Gandhi, remained busy recruiting Indian soldiers for the British government, a lot of Indian immigrants were also active in Europe and US/Canada for India’s freedom from British rule. For instance, read The Untold Story of Madam Bhikaji Cama and design of India’s first Flag.
Revolutionaries of Gadar Movement led by Hardayal, Rashbehari, Vishnu Pingle, Maulana Barkatulla and Bagha Jatin were burning with desire to free India from British occupation through armed struggle, just like the Americans. They planned an armed thrust on the British government exploiting the WW situation – just like what Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose tried during WW2. Though it failed due to bad organization, but it certainly scared the British enough that they had to come up with the Rowlatt Act in March 1919, despite Montague’s promise of August 1917 to move towards ‘progressive self-government’ in India. The tragic Komagata Maru incidence and the Budge Budge riots are reminders of their struggle that inspired nationalists for years to come.
Arrival of Mahatma Gandhi in India – 1915
Gandhi arrived in India in 1915 after practicing law for 22 years in South Africa. He was introduced to politics by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who also advised him to tour the country, mainly the villages, to understand the ground situation. In 1916, he founded the the Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmadabad to practice the ideas of truth and non-violence. He plunged into the nationalistic movement through the Champaran Satyagraha in 1917. It was Gandhi’s first civil disobedience movement in India. Incidentally, his mentor Gokhale was not alive to see it. At Champaran, he inspired the peasants to struggle against the oppressive plantation system. He also organised a satyagraha to support the peasants of the Kheda districts of Gujarat. These peasants were not able to pay their revenue because of crop failure and epidemics. Then, in Ahmadabad, he organized a movement among cotton mill workers.
Gandhi had realized that the British had been able to be in India only because of the co-operation they received from the Indians. Keeping this in mind, he called for a non-cooperation movement. Gandhi was greatly influenced by the works of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Civil Disobedience’ and Ruskin’s ‘unto to the last’. He transformed Tolstoy’s ideal of non-possession into the concept of ‘trusteeship’. Gandhi’s non-violent Satyagraha involved peaceful violation of specific laws. He resorted to mass courting arrest and hartals and marches. Gandhi was always ready for negotiations and compromise. His struggle is popularly called ‘struggle-truce-struggle’.
It is amazing how Gandhi became a central figure in the Indian National Congress and in the freedom struggle so quickly. Gandhi’s impact on people was mesmerizing. He launched three major movements until country’s independence: Non-cooperation movement (1920-22), Civil Disobedience movement (1930-34), and Quit India movement (1942). Indian government published a postal stamp in 2015 marking 100 years of Gandhi’s return to India.
Rowlatt Act, 1919
In order to suppress the growing nationalistic movement, the Imperial Legislature Council passed the Rowlatt Act in March 1919. The British were also apprehensive of Gadar type revolution. The Act allowed the authorities to detain people up to 2 years without trial and empowered the police to search any place without warrant and put several restrictions on the press. The Act was widely condemned by all Indian leaders. Gandhi started what was called ‘Rowlatt Satyagrah’ but had to call it off as violence erupted in many provinces. Protest was particularly intense in Punjab and the rogue Act caused bloodbath at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar.
Its harsh provisions and the events following this Act brought Hindus and Muslims closer. It is something the British could not imagine. It also brought radical nationalists into prominence and the pacifists and moderates lost ground.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre Fueled Nationalism
On the day of Baisakhi festival on April 13, 1919 a crowd gathered at Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden in Amritsar. Seeing the crowd, Brigadier General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer arrived with troops and blocked the only exit/entrance. Without warning, he ordered his troops to fire at the unarmed crowd that also included children. The indiscriminate firing went on for about 10 minutes which killed around 400 injured around 1000 people. This massacre shocked and outraged the nation, and even created ripples in Britain – but it gave a tremendous impetus to freedom struggle. A sham inquiry (Hunter) Commission was set which criticized Gen Dyer’s conduct but did not take any action against him except criticizing and relieving him of duty. It further infuriated the masses. Amazingly, the British public showed solidarity with Gen Dyer – The Morning Post collected 30,000 pounds for him!
In protest, Rabindranath Tagore gave up his knighthood and Gandhi returned the title ‘Kaiser-e-hind’ bestowed on him by the British for his services during the Boer War in South Africa. Udham Singh was a 20 year old man when he witnessed the Jallianwala massacre. Later in 1940, Udham Singh killed Michael O’ Dwyer who had approved Dyer’s action. Another sikh Bhagat Singh was just 12 year old at the time of this incident; it turned him into a hardcore revolutionary.
Among the prime reason behind the massacre was the British nervousness about the growing nationalistic movement. However, more and more Indians rushed to join the INC and it quickly became a party of protesting masses. It also gave birth to Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation movement that assimilated the khilafat movement of Muslims and continued till 1922 when it was abruptly ended due to violent events.
The khilafat movement (1919-1924) was a pure Muslim uprising. It was connected with the events in Turkey at the end of WW1 that affected the fate of Turkey – it had no direct connection with Indian politics. Actually, in the War, the Ottoman Turkey sided with the Germany led Central Powers and got defeated by Britain and its allies. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) reduced the territorial boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. In truth, the Ottoman Sultan had stopped behaving as spiritual leader centuries ago and had indulged in ethnic cleansing of Armenians.
Yet, it upset a lot of superstitious Muslims around the World. As they still considered the Ottoman Sultan as Khalifa, the Custodian of Islam [Imagine Pope for The Christian world] and they became concerned about his fate. So after end of the War, Indian Muslims under the leadership of the Ali brothers – Mohammad and Shaukat – started protesting to pressure the British Crown to preserve the religious authority of the Ottoman Sultan as Caliph. In particular, they wanted that he should be allowed to retain authority over Muslim religious places of Makkah, Madina and Jerusalem and that he should be left with sufficient territory to continue the Caliphate.
Ali brothers were able to involve other prominent Muslim leaders. In October 1919, a khilafat committee was formed and Gandhi was made its president. Gandhi had supported this pure Islamic protest hoping that it would bring Hindus and Muslims closer. The khilafat leaders promised support in Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement. In February, a joint Hindu-Muslim delegation met the Viceroy, threatening a mass non-cooperation movement if their demands were not met. While supporting the Khilafat to appease Muslims, Gandhi ignored (or forgotten) that the rogue Ottoman empire had caused genocide of 1 lakh Armenian people.
In August 1920, the Treaty of Sevres dismembered Turkey. It further fueled the movement. But in November 1922, a popular uprising in Turkey under Mustafa Kamal Pasha dethroned the Ottoman Sultan, made Turkey a secular state and a European style legal system was established. Thus, the Khilafat issue lost its relevance. In 1924, the Caliphate was abolished.
[Today, when the terror leaders of ISIS talk of global Islamic Caliphate, they only reflect the traditional hallucination. If Islam had the quality of uniting its own followers, 1.6 billion Muslims of the world would have been already living in a single grand Islamic Caliphate. Just look at Pakistan, Islam could not keep it united beyond 1971. But the hallucination continues in the Islamic orthodoxy.]
The Non-Cooperation Movement (Aug 1920 – Feb 1922)
By this time, Gandhiji was convinced that no useful purpose would be served by supporting the British government. He threatened to start the non-cooperation movement in case the government failed to accept his demands. The government paid no heed to it. Therefore, Gandhiji started his non-cooperation movement in August 1920, in which he appealed people to not cooperate with the British government. The program for the movement included boycott of British goods and government schools and colleges, courts and legislative councils, resign from government employment; and to forsake British titles and honors. It urged promotion of Khadi cloths and justice through Panchayats. The movement was highly popular and successful in awakening people.
An unusual frenzy overtook the country. People, in thousands, participated in the movement. Over two-thirds of the voters boycotted the elections to the Council, held in November, 1920. Thousands of students and teachers left their schools and colleges and new Indian educational centers were started by them. Lawyers like Moti Lal Nehru, C. R. Das, C. Rajagopalachari and Asif Ali boycotted the courts.
However, the movement ended abruptly in February 1922 when protesters burnt policemen alive in a police station in Chauri Chaura near Gorakhpur. Gandhi did not want violence in his Satyagraha which was supposed to be purely a non-violent activity. Gandhi was arrested and sent to jail for 6 years, but was released after 2 years.
Outcome of the Movement: It spread nationalism to the remote corners of India and was the first real mass movement that attracted people from different sections of society – peasants, workers, students, teachers and women. The Khilafat issue connected Muslims with the mainstream nationalism (although short-lived). It demonstrated the willingness and ability of the Indian masses to endure hardships and make sacrifices.
The Government of India Act, 1919
The First Step Towards Local Self-Governance (Dominion status)
In 1917, the British had aired the idea of giving India some measure of self-government: “the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire”. It materialized in the form of the 1919 Government of India Act.
This Act is also known as Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms because it was the brain child of the secretary of state, Edwin Samuel Montagu, and Viceroy Lord Chelmsford. Montagu had submitted a statement to the British cabinet asking for “gradual development of free institutions in India with a view to ultimate self-government” however, later the words “ultimate self government” were replaced with “responsible government.” His statement came to be known as Montagu declaration, it read “Increasing the association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire“. It gave for the first time an inference that the rulers are answerable to the public. Also called ‘August Declaration”, it was greeted with joy by the moderate nationalists but the radicals remained committed to total independence.
The Act had a separate Preamble which declared that the “Objective of the British Government is the gradual introduction of responsible government in India.” The Preamble suggested a decentralized unitary form of government. It was a beginning. It provided for bicameral Central legislature – primitive model of today’s Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. But its main feature was the introduction of the principle of diarchy in the provinces. Diarchy means a dual set of governments one is accountable another is not accountable.
The Provincial Executive was divided into two parts – the British Councilors who took charge of what was known as “reserved subjects” and the Indian Ministers were allowed responsibility for “Transferred subjects”. Here ‘subjects’ meant various administrative functions of the government. Thus, the British councilors got control of politically important ‘reserved subjects’ like law and order, the police, the land revenue, and irrigation and the Indian ministers were given ‘transferred subjects’ such as local self-government, education, public health, public works, etc. The right to vote was given to around 5 million wealthy Indians only. The Act also stated that a commission would be established after 10 years to assess the situation of India’s self-rule.
The Nagpur Session of the Congress in 1920
The Nagpur session of the Congress in December 1920 was an important milestone. It spelt out its aim, Swaraj, clearly – Self-Government within the Empire if possible and outside if necessary. It also clarified its method of achieving it – it replaced the earlier method of ‘constitutional means’ with ‘all peaceful and legitimate methods’. With the demise of Tilak in August 1920, the leadership went into the hands of Gandhi, marking the beginning of Gandhian era in Indian Politics. Organizational changes aimed to make it a truly grass root level party reaching the villages.
When Mahatma Gandhi Decided to Wear Only Dhoti
It was on September 22 1921 that Mahatma Gandhi gave up wearing pant and shirt. Gandhiji made his first appearance in the ‘New Attire’ of Dhoti at a public gathering in Madurai on Kamarajar Road.
The inspiration came during the train journey from Madras (Chennai) to Madurai when he met ordinary Indians clad in ‘Made in Britain’ clothing – because they could not afford to buy costly Khadi. Boycott of foreign cloths and promotion of home spun Khadi became a symbol of Indian nationalism and Swaraj. No wonder the Charkha became a symbol of Gandhian nationalism.
The Swaraj Party
After the suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement Congress split into two factions. One group led by Motilal Nehru and Chittranjan Das wanted to contest the soon-to-be-held council elections and wreck the government from within. They formed a Swaraj Party within the Congress on 1 January 1923. The other group included leaders like Rajendra Prasad and Rajagopalachari. They wanted to undertake Gandhian constructive work in villages and preparing for the next step of the struggle, boycotting the legislatures. They got strengthened after Gandhi’s release in 1924. The Swaraj Party won impressively in the elections held in November 1923. They succeeded in making their points against the government views and demanded changes in the Government of India Act of 1919 for more people friendly governance.
However, after the death of C.R. Das in June 1925, the Swaraj Party started weakening. The Swarajists finally walked out of legislature in 1930 as a result of the Lahore congress resolution and the beginning of the civil disobedience movement. Their biggest achievement lay in filling the political void at a time when the Gandhians were readying for their next struggle.
Simon Commission, Nehru Report, “Purna Swaraj”
The 1919 Act was essentially transitional in character; it envisaged appointment of a statutory Commission at the end of 10 years to determine the next stage of the constitutional reforms for self-rule in India. Accordingly, the Simon Commission was announced. Its early announcement in 1927 was due to the rising revolutionary activities and dissatisfaction of Indians after the end of the non-cooperation movement. It was a group of seven British Members of Parliament led by Sir John Allse Brook Simon. The diarchy had already turned into a farce with all key decision making powers in the white hands. The all-white Commission arrived in Feb 1928 to review the status of 1919 Act and suggest changes. One of its members was Clement Attlee who later became Britain’s prime minister in the mid 1940s and oversaw India’s independence in 1947. It was seen as mere delaying tactics of the British government and was boycotted. Its all-white character enraged Indians. Wherever the Commission went, it was greeted with black flags, protests, hartals and demonstrations. It went on for almost a year. In Lucknow, Nehru and Govind Ballabh Pant received severe blows. In Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai led a students’ protest in October 1928 and got badly injured in police action. He died a month later, further enraging the public. Lajpat Rai’s murder was later avenged by Bhagat Singh and his associates in December 1928. He, along with Rajguru and Sukhdev, was hanged in March 1931.
The report of the Commission was published in May 1930 but its conclusions were already announced in October 1929 which stated that dominion status was to be the goal of Indian constitutional development. With this Lord Erwin also announced a Round Table Conference to discuss a future constitution.
Nehru Report, 1928
The British, however, did not include any Indian in the Commission and instead challenged Indians to prove that they could draw up a constitution themselves. Previously in 1925 also, a similar challenge was thrown by the Secretary of State, Lord Birkenhead, in the House of Lords. This time, Indian Leaders responded by drafting the Nehru Report outline of the Constitution. The drafting committee had 2 prominent Muslim members. Most of its recommendations later formed the basis of Constitution adopted in 1950. Separatist Jinnah rejected the Nehru report and tossed his ultra communal communal Muslim focused 14-point agenda. An ultimatum was served to the British Government to accept the Nehru Report by December 1929, else a mass movement would be launched. The government rejected the Nehru Report as well as Jinnah’s communal agenda and started the game of Round Table Conferences.
Demand for “Purna Swaraj” in 1929
Around this time an important development took place. The Congress adopted Purna Swaraj (complete independence) as its goal through a resolution at the historic annual session of Congress in Lahore in 1929. It also issued a call to the country to celebrate 26 January, 1930 as Purna-Swaraj (Independence) Day. It greatly fueled the fervor of nationalism in the country; an immediate proof was the massive railways strike. The Congressmen started getting ready for mass civil disobedience and Congress legislatures were asked to resign. Gandhi sent a list of 11-point specific demands to Lord Erwin in January 1930 which included abolition of recently levied salt tax among others.
Civil Disobedience Movement
With no response from the government, Gandhi launched his civil disobedience movement starting with the salt issue. It led to the famous 25-day Dandi March during March-April 1930, from his Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi on Gujarat coast. Through careful planning and mass mobilization, the movement spread all over India. Involvement of women and youth was the striking feature of the movement. The government responded by issuing ordinances curbing civil liberties. It banned the Congress Working Committee and arrested its President Motilal Nehru. Gandhi was arrested in May 1930 and jailed in Pune. It further snow-balled the movement that shook the British government. The British government played the procrastinating game of Round Tables in March and August in 1931, with nothing to show.
Replacement of Erwin with Willingdon as Viceroy hardened the government attitude. He first arrested Congress leaders and then also Gandhi in January 1932 and severely cracked down on civil liberties. It provoked massive reaction from the public, inviting further repression. Congress was banned and Gandhi’s ashrams were taken over by the police. In April, Gandhi withdrew the movement. This was the time when revolutionary activities became widespread. The news of mass scale uprising in India was turning the global opinion against British and its colonial policies, especially in the USA.
Actually, in 1921, Britain gave self-rule to the Irish people; this made continuation of its oppressive policies in India untenable. As a result, throughout the 1920s and 1930s Britain had to introduce a range of measures that gave more and more independence to India.
The Simon Commission submitted its report in May 1930, stating failure of the diarchy and proposed ‘self-government for the provinces’ forming the basis of the 1935 Act.
When Mahatma Gandhi met British King!
Mahatma Gandhi, along with Indian delegates, was in England for the Round Table Conference. They had invitation for Tea at Buckingham Palace by King George V. This was a reluctant invitation due to Gandhi’s poor dress (only Dhoti). It was against the court etiquette. But Gandhi was reluctant to change his attire on the ground that the Indians were poor and naked because of Britain.
“White supremacist” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was full of revulsion, “It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice Regal Palace, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor.”
When, someone asked why he was not wearing enough clothes to meet the King, Gandhi curtly remarked, “The king had enough on for both of us”.
Poona Pact, 1932
In order to draw a Constitution for self-rule for India, the British invited leaders from different parties for the Round Table Conferences during 1930-32. In the second Round Table, Dr Ambedkar demanded separate electorates for the untouchables. Such provisions were already available to other minorities, such as Muslims, Christians, Anglo-Indians and Sikhs. The British government agreed with this contention, and the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald announced ‘The Communal Award’ on August 16, 1932 that extended the provision of separate electorate to the Dalits. But Gandhi strongly opposed it arguing that it would disintegrate the Hindu society and further alienate the dalits. He thought it was a social issue that should be solved with social efforts. So, he went an indefinite hunger strike while at Yerwada Central Jail from September 20, 1932 in protest.
But the British took the stand that the separate electorate was demanded by the depressed class representatives, so they can’t make any change without their approval. The term “Depressed Classes” was later expanded to become the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under India Act 1935, and in the later Indian Constitution of 1950.
Gandhiji’s fast became a national issue and as his health deteriorated people became agitated. Thus, a compromise was reached between the dalit leaders led by Dr Ambedkar and Pt Madan Mohan Malviya at Yerwada Jail in Pune on September 24, 1932. It is popularly called the Poona Pact. The crux of the Pact was stated thus, “henceforth, amongst Hindus no one shall be regarded as an untouchable by reason of his birth and they will have the same rights in all the social institutions as the other Hindus have“. The Pact marked the start of movement against untouchability within the Indian nationalist movement.
In reality, the Pact was a compromise that confused the general public, while the dalits felt that they achieved very little. The Pact abandoned the idea of separate electorate in favor of reservation of seats for the ‘depressed classes’ in the Provincial and Central legislature. But the voting was to be done by the general electorate.
The Government of India Act, 1935
In 1935 the British Parliament passed the Government of India Act. This was the last major legislation passed by the British government before the formal partition in 1947. It also split Burma from India and separated Sindh from Bombay and Orissa from Bihar. It abolished the diarchy system at the provinces but introduced it in the Central government It gave far greater measure of autonomy to the provinces and toyed with the idea of establishing a ‘Federation of India’ including all of British provinces and ‘princely States’ if at least 50% join it. It established the Reserve Bank of India. It also introduced direct elections in India for the first time, giving voting rights to about 10% population. The eleven provincial assemblies were to have full control over local affairs. However, their autonomy was superficial because the Governors were not bound to accept the advice of the ministers.
Thus, the Act proposed an elected Indian assembly that would have say in everything in India except defense and foreign affairs. However, prominent leaders were not happy as their demand for a dominion status was not met – the dominions have control over defense and foreign policies. Also the princes refused to co-operate with the provincial assemblies so the second strand of the Act would have been meaningless. Despite the drawbacks, the Congress decided to participate in the provincial elections which were held in Feb 1937.
The INC swept the polls and after assurance of cooperation from Viceroy Lord Linlithgow formed governments in 7 of the 11 provinces. The Muslim League won Sindh and formed a coalition government in Bengal. The most important achievement of the Act of 1935 was that Indians tasted the political empowerment that made them yearn for complete autonomy.
After losing general elections in 1937, the Muslim League virtually went on war-path against the Congress in particular and Hindus in general and started polarizing the population on religious lines. To blunt League propaganda, Gandhi very wisely chose Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as the Congress President in 1940, just a couple of months before the ML’s Lahore resolution for the creation of Pakistan. He held that position till 1946.
As the World War II broke out in September 1939, the British declared India a party to the war as part of the British Empire, without consulting Indian leaders or the INC. Thus, the Congress governments in all the 7 provinces resigned in protest in November 1939. The Muslim League celebrated it as ‘Deliverance Day’ on December 22, 1939 to rejoice the resignation of rival provincial Congress governments, as a relief from ‘Congress Oppression’. Meetings and rallies were held by Muslims in various parts of Bengal which strengthened Muslim separatist politics. In March 1940, it demanded creation of Pakistan.
The Cripps Mission 1942
In order to secure Indian cooperation, in August 1940, the British made the ‘August Offer’ promising that after the War a body of Indians would be set up to frame the new Constitution. It was rejected as insufficient and unreliable. The British government had imposed martial laws that curbed freedom of speech and the Press. Gandhi launched a limited and mild Satyagraha to make the point that he did not want to hamper the British war against Nazism through a mass movement. But it served to expose British double standard of fighting a war for the freedom of Poland while denying it to Indians. It went on for 15 months.
The message reached the global audience and pressure was mounted on Britain by the US to seek Indian cooperation in the war efforts. In the meantime, fall of Burma and Singapore was posing the threat of a direct attack on India. So, Sir Stanford Cripps (The Cripps Mission) was sent to India with a proposal for Dominion Status to India after the War and fresh election in every province. The INC and Gandhi rejected the proposals as a “post-dated cheque drawn on a crashing bank” and the Muslim League rejected it because it appeared to form just “One State.”
Quit India Movement (August Kranti)
It started from a park in Central Mumbai called Gowalia Tank Maidan (now also called August Kranti Maidan) on 8 August 1942. Mahatma Gandhi made his famous “do or die” speech after demanding that the British quit India immediately. He gave call for a nationwide Civil Disobedience movement. The Congress demanded “An Orderly British Withdrawal” from India. Within less than 24 hours top leadership of the Congress, including Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and Patel, was arrested. The entire Congress leadership remained cut off from rest of the world for over 3 years. Gandhi, however, was released in 1944 due to his failing health but he kept demanding release of all others. Another eminent leader of the Congress, C. Rajagopalachari did not support the proposal of immediate withdrawal of Britishers. He was also in favor of accepting the Cripps proposal and the two-nation theory. Therefore, he resigned from Congress.
The movement became leaderless even before it started. Self motivated people took upon themselves to carry out hartals, mass meetings, processions, etc. Congress was banned. Under the circumstances, the movement could not remain non-violent and violent clashes with police and attacks on government properties took place. India became a police state. The underground movement was led by Jai Prakash Narain, Ram Manohar Lohia, Aruna Asaf Ali etc. By early 1944, India was almost peaceful again, while Congress leadership languished in confinement. A sense of failure gripped many nationalists and Gandhi and Congress leadership came under heavy criticism from its opponents. Although considered ‘failed’, the movement did have some impact on global opinion and the US and China started favoring Indian independence.
A Flop Show
Any rational observer of that period would certify that the Quit-India movement was a flop show because it was mistimed and ill-conceived. Disappearance of Gandhi and Congress leaders from the public in 1942 for almost 3 years gave Jinnah a great chance to pose himself as a key British ally amidst the chaos and emerged as the best protector of Muslim interests against the imagined Hindu dominance. As a result, in 1945-46 the Muslim League performed much better in general elections, and widely gained recognition as a ‘third political force’ in India alongside Congress and the British. It gained 75% of all Muslim votes. Compare it with previous elections vote share of just around 4.6 %. It was a 16 fold increase! Therefore, the ‘Quit India’ movement actually damaged the chance of a unified India, by allowing the League to strengthen its divisive position.
Opposition to Quit India Movement
There were many sources of opposition to the ‘Quit India’ movement; they worked against it or supported the British government. The British had the support of the Viceroy’s Council that had a majority of Indians. They got support from the Muslim League, the Indian Imperial Police, the British Indian Army and the Indian Civil Service. They also got staunch support from the Princely states that not only opposed the movement but also funded the opposition. The status and privileges of the ruling princes and aristocrats were tied to the well-being of the British Empire. It helps to recall that even after independence five Princely States tried their best to avoid merging with India – they were Travancore, Jodhpur, Bhopal, Hyderabad and Junagadh.
The Muslim League opposed the Quit India Movement because of its self-induced nightmare ‘Hindu Raj’ after the British left! Its communal thinking discovered communal motif in the quit India movement also: “the movement was not independence but for establishing a Hindu Raj and to deal a death blow to the idea of Pakistan.” Psychologically speaking, their phobia of ‘Hindu Raj’ came from how “kafir Hindus” were mistreated during the 800 year Islamic rule. Guilty conscious!!
The Hindu nationalist parties like the Hindu Mahasabha openly opposed the Quit India Movement and boycotted it officially. It was pissed off by Gandhi’s Muslim appeasement politics, reflected in the shocking statement that Congress has no objection if the British handed over power of the whole India to Muslim League. Moreover, it wanted Indians to get military training so that could be able to defend their country in future, so it actively assisted in army recruitment. Another notable organization, RSS, was more interested in cultural unification of Hindus and had little confidence in Gandhi’s whimsical and confused spiritual politics.
The dalit icon Ambedkar called the movement as irresponsible and an act of ‘madness’. His philosophy of opposing India’s independence came from the All India Depressed Classes Congress (AIDCC) of 1930: “The depressed classes welcomed the British as their deliverers from age-long tyranny and oppression by the orthodox Hindus”. In July 1941, he joined the Defense Advisory Committee that had been set up by the viceroy to involve Indian leaders in the war effort. The Communists had stayed away from the movement. But when Russia entered the War from the Allied side, they came in support of the British government and criticized the movement. Many Indian businessmen profiting from heavy wartime spending also did not support Quit India Movement or even tacitly supported the British.
In nutshell, INC was just a major stake holder among many, but it managed to get all the limelight – and power as well after partition!
Disenchantment with Gandhian Ways
Was Gandhi a widely accepted leader? No.
A lot of people were not amused with Gandhi’s mixing spirituality into politics. Revolutionaries were the most vocal opponents of Gandhian ‘meek protest’ – as they called it. Jinnah openly ridiculed Gandhi and left Congress forever. Even inside Congress Party, there were many who did not fully agree with Gandhi’s dictates but somehow went along in the wider interest. When Gandhi announced his non-cooperation movement (NCM) in 1920, a lot of prominent Congressmen left the party. A well-known leader said: The NCM may develop personal endurance, but not the political wisdom necessary for a political struggle. In fact, he spoke for a lot of silent minds.
The formation of Congress Socialist Party group (within Congress) in 1934 by Acharya Narendra Dev, Jaiprakash Narayan etc is a good example. These leaders were not satisfied with the Gandhian approach. They however brought left leaning ideologies in the Congress. The All India Forward Block of Subhash Chandra Bose emerged in 1939. Bose’s differences with Gandhi were well known.
The founder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Keshav Baliram Hegdewar, a medical doctor participated in Congress movements during 1916 – 1924 and was even jailed. Previous to that he was in contact with a revolutionary organization Anushilan Samiti and revolutionaries like Ram Prasad Bismil. Rise in Islamic fundamentalism in the 1920s across the country led him to organize Hindu society, particularly the youth to safeguard the Hindus from Muslim domination. The RSS was basically an educational body aiming for character building, disciplining and uniting Hindus.
The Indian National Army
The Azad Hind Fauz (Indian National Army or INA) occupies a very unique place in the history of Indian freedom struggle. This highly unusual entity initially consisted of Indian soldiers of the British India taken as POW by the Japanese when they captured Singapore in Feb 1942. These 40,000 Indian POWs formed the Indian National Army (INA) in 1943. Initially, they were led by a disillusioned former British Indian army officer, Captain Mohan Singh who was captured during the initial stages of Japanese invasion of Malaya. When Subhash Chandra Bose escaped from India in 1941 and ultimately managed to reach Singapore via Germany and Japan, he took charge of the INA.
The Provisional Government of Free India
On 21 October 1943, Subhash Chandra Bose announced the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India) in Singapore. Bose himself became India’s first Head of State and Prime Minister as well as the Minister of War. Ras Behari Bose was the Chief Advisor of the Government. Aim of the Provisional Government was to kick out the British; not negotiation of ‘transfer of power’ with them, as aimed by Gandhi and the Congress Party! [Explore: Bose must be seen as the First Head of State of the Provisional Government]
It received immediate recognition by as many as eleven countries, including Japan, Nanking China, Thailand, Burma, Italy, Germany and the Philippines. The formation of Provisional Government facilitated the mobilization of Indians in East Asia to join and support the INA. By April 1944, the Azad Hind Bank was established in Rangoon to manage the overwhelming donations from the Indian communities. The provisional government even had a secret service, its own currency and postal stamp! But unfortunately, Japanese defeat in the WW sealed its fate and the INA men had to surrender. But the silver lining came when public their trial began in Delhi’s Red Fort.
Most Indian soldiers had experienced racial exploitation under the British and when they saw decisive defeat of the ‘invincible’ British army at the hands of the Japanese they were motivated to join the INA. It gave them a new sense of dignified purpose to fight for their mother land. In 1944, these INA soldiers marched behind Bose to Rangoon, hoping to ‘liberate’ first Manipur and then Bengal from the British rule. But the British forces at India’s eastern gateway held up positions and then drove Bose’s INA troops back to the Malay Peninsula. Yet Indians already had the FIRST TASTE OF FREEDOM (though short-lived) in Andman & Nicobar Islands and Manipur!!
Ever since the outbreak of War in 1939, the British were suspicious of the loyalty of their Indian troops. They were aware of Japanese efforts to exploit anti-British sentiments among Indians and use Indian POWs against them. In 1942, a secret British report stated: “We have … bred a new class of officer who may be loyal to India and perhaps to Congress, but not necessarily loyal to us.”
When Bose saw the British defeat in Singapore, he saw chance of winning Indian independence by siding with the Japanese. He expanded the INA and provided a wider perspective for INA to operate. However, his hope for mass scale defection from the British Indian army proved futile, the performance of INA remained lackluster and finally after Japanese defeat in Burma in mid 1945 the INA crumbled, and even Bose vanished on 18 August 1945 (The plane crash theory was most likely a decoy; Bose was captured by either the French or British but he escaped 2 years later.).
The INA Lost the War, but Won Independence!
But the INA achieved far more after end of the War. With thousands of captured INA soldiers, the British authorities made a series of mistakes that further fueled the nationalistic feelings. First, the public trial glamorized the role of INA among the masses. Next blunder was the selection of the INA prisoners to put on trial; they opted a Muslim, a Sikh and a Hindu. Whatever their reasoning, it unwittingly generated a sense of unity among Indians – undermining their ‘divide and rule’ philosophy. Next, the choice of venue for trial – Delhi’s Red Fort, a historic symbol of the once mighty Mughal Empire. It also brought back memories of the previous armed struggle, the bloody rebellion of 1857.
If the British hoped to crush the nationalistic struggle and paint the ill-fated INA soldiers as ‘traitors’ and villains, they grossly miscalculated. The trials and associated widespread publicity not only turned the INA soldiers into national heroes, it also intensified the anti-British feelings across the country. India was now “too hot” for them!
However, the final blow came from their own country: The change of government in Britain after July 1945 elections, practically sealed the fate of British Indian government.
The Forgotten Naval Mutiny of 1946
The British had always kept the Indian army soldiers away from political news, as part of service discipline. They had no access to newspapers etc. So, they were not quite aware of INA’s activities. But when the INA trials began in November 1945, they along with the whole nation learned about how INA of Subhash Chandra Bose had been fighting for their freedom from the British rule. The British failed to realize that the open trial could spark mutiny among the Indian soldiers in its own ranks – due to systemic racial maltreatment and and exploitative service environment.
A mass protest was organized in Calcutta with the joint efforts of the INC, Muslim League and the Communist Party. Dozens died in police firing. In February 1946, when the INA man Abdul Rashid Khan was sentenced to 7 years rigorous imprisonment, Calcutta simply exploded. Police firing killed over 100 Indians. Within a fortnight, the governors of Punjab and NWFP were pleading to stop the trials of INA soldiers, for fear of a full scale rebellion by Indian soldiers.
5,200 personnel of the Royal Indian Air Force revolted in January 1946. The rebellion spread to the Royal Indian Navy (RIN). On 8 February 1946 in Bombay Naval ratings on HMIS Talwar came out protesting against poor quality food and racial maltreatment. The protest spread rapidly to other ships in the harbor and also to the Castle and Fort barracks on shore. They soon formed a striking committee and took out a procession in Bombay, carrying a large portrait of Subhas Chandra Bose. They also raised the flags of the Congress, Muslim League and Communist Party on the ships in their possession.
Their demands soon widened beyond service grievances to wider political issues such as the release of INA soldiers and other political prisoners and withdrawal of troops from Indonesia. The strike spread to other naval establishments around the country. From the initial flash point in Bombay, the revolt spread throughout British India, from Karachi to Calcutta and ultimately came to involve 78 of the 88 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 ratings. In Karachi, Gurkha soldiers refused to fire on the revolters.
The most significant feature of this uprising was the massive public support, particularly from the labor class which went on strike in solidarity.
But unfortunately, the rebellious soldiers got no support from the INC or Muslim League. On the contrary, both parties condemned them. Only Aruna Asaf Ali supported them. Perhaps leadership of these parties thought that independence was in sight and did not want to encourage such indiscipline in the armed forces. On surrender, the mutineers faced court martial and imprisonment. However, the highly hostile public mood sent the British into ponderous mood.
It was highly distressing for the British to imagine over two million out of job trained Indian soldiers (decommissioned at the end of the WW2) on the streets in such a charged up environment vis-à-vis mere 60,000 – 70,000 White soldiers (mostly officers). It would be far worst than 1857 – most likely total annihilation of all Whites in India. Moreover, the WW2 had totally wrecked Britain. Thus, they concluded that they were now too weak to maintain control of India and hence it would be best to quit India at the earliest.
On 19th February 1946, the British PM Clement Attlee announced in the House of Commons that he would send a team of his senior colleagues (the Cabinet Mission) to negotiate India’s freedom.
It is clear that like most other slave nations, India too ultimately gained freedom through military means. The Gandhian non-violent movement did play a key role in mass mobilization starting from 1920-21, but ultimately it was the fear of revolt in British Indian army due to the impact of INA activities that forced the British to pack up and leave. It is ironic that INA heroes and other revolutionaries remain ignored in independent India, as if Congress alone won freedom for India.
Britain Prepares to Quit India
British historians Cain and Hopkins, in their book British Imperialism: 1688-2000 described the hopeless situation of the British India after the WW2 in these words:
”By the end of war, there was a loss of purpose at the very center of the imperial system. The gentlemanly administrators who managed the Raj no longer had the heart to devise new moves against increasing odds, not least because after 1939 the majority of the Indian Civil Service were themselves Indian. In 1945 the new Viceroy, Wavell, commented on the “weakness and weariness of the importance of the instrument still at our disposal in the shape of the British element in the Indian Civil Service. The town had been lost to opponents of the Raj; the countryside had slipped beyond control. Widespread discontent in the army was followed in 1946 by a mutiny in the navy. It was then Wavell, the unfortunate messenger, reported to London that India had become ungovernable [which finally led to the independence of India].”
In 1945, the newly elected Labour government headed by PM Clement Attlee wanted to push ahead with solving what was the pending “Indian Issue”. He had sensed that the British people and the British army was unwilling to back the ongoing policy of repression in India and other colonies of the Empire, while their own country lay shattered by War’s ravages. In the changed reality after the War, London’s primary concern in India was to find a speedy exit and extricate as many of its assets as possible. In Labour Party’s perspective, the British public no longer wanted to continue as Imperial Power.
In September 1945, Viceroy Lord Wavell called for elections for the national and legislative assemblies. The election in the Punjab was to be held in February 1946. The Congress won 91% votes in non-Muslim constituencies and the Muslim League got majority of Muslim votes and most of the reserved Muslim seats in the provincial assemblies. The Congress formed its ministries in Assam, Bihar, Bombay, Central Provinces, Madras, NWFP, Orissa and United Provinces. The Muslim League formed its ministries in Bengal and Sindh. A coalition of the Congress, Unionist Party and the Akalis formed government in Punjab.
In 1946, Attlee appointed the British Cabinet Mission appointed to resolve the Congress Muslim League stand deadlock and negotiate the transfer of power. Jinnah’s uncompromising obsession with separate Pakistan for Muslims rendered all efforts meaningless. His call for “direct action” to get Pakistan made division of India inevitable.
Jinnah’s “Direct Action” to Force Partition
Jinnah’s call for “direct action” came with a ominous warning: “It would be either a divided India or a destroyed India”. By all means August 16, 1946 was to be a Jihad against Hindus, in order to force creation of a separate Muslim nation. This “Direct Action Day” is rightly called the day of the “Great Calcutta Killings” assisted by the Chief Minister of united Bengal, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Butcher of Bengal. It unleashed the wave of violence and threw India into a lawless situation. It was Jinnah’s way of proving that that Hindus and Muslims couldn’t live together in peace and bolster the two-nation theory. Pakistani columnist, Pir Mohammad Ali Rashdi, had proudly described Suhrawardy’s ‘service towards the cause of Muslims’:
… As Chief Minister of the United Bengal, he (Suhrawardy) supported and served Muslims during the riots to such a degree that Hindus in Bengal would never put his role out of their minds….
But Suhrawardy met his Karmic justice in the ‘Islamic paradise’ called Pakistan that he was trying to create for Indian Muslims. In 1948, he was declared a ‘Traitor of Pakistan’ and kicked out of East Pakistan. Turn of events made him Law Minister and then Prime Minister (Sept 1956). Finally, when Ayub Khan took over, Suhrawardy got fired (Oct 1957) and disqualified from holding any public office under the Elective Bodies Disqualification Order. Unable to tolerate the life of humiliation in the ‘Muslim paradise’ he left Pakistan and died (killed?) in a Beirut hotel room in 1963.
Jinnah’s Jihad – “Great Calcutta Killings”
It led to bloodbath in Bengal, covertly assisted by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Prime Minister of the Muslim League led government in Bengal Province. Most of the victims of that day were Hindu. This in turn led to retaliation in Bihar, where most of the victims were Muslim, and the violence continued to Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Gandhi walked more than 100 miles in a seven-week period, in an effort to stop the violence.
The Jihadi angle of the so-called “Great Calcutta Killings” became clear from Muslim League’s mouthpiece The Star of India. Three day ago, on August 13, it had written,
“Muslims must remember that … it was in Ramazan that the permission for jehad was granted by Allah. It was in Ramazan that the Battle of Badr, the first open conflict between Islam and Heathenism, was fought and won by 313 Muslims and again it was in Ramazan that 10,000 Muslims under the Holy Prophet conquered Mecca and established the kingdom of Heaven and the commonwealth of Islam in Arabia. The Muslim League is fortunate that it is starting its action in this holy month”.
How Patel Was Denied Congress President-Ship in 1946
Maulana Azad became Congress president in 1940 in the Ramgarh Session and since after the Quit India Movement practically all senior Congress leaders were sent to jails, Azad stayed as Congress president even in 1946. The WW2 had already ended in 1945 and Cabinet Mission was in India in March 1946 to explore the power transfer agreement. So, it was clear that Indian independence was around the corner. It was also very clear that the Congress president shall be invited to form the interim government at the Centre — due to the number of seats in the Central Assembly the Congress had won in 1946 elections.
On 20 April 1946, Gandhiji made it open that his choice of next Congress President was Nehru. At that time only the Provincial Congress Committees could nominate and elect the Congress president. And April 29, 1946 was the last date for the nominations for the post of the Congress president, and thereby the first Prime Minister of India. 12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress Committees nominated Sardar Patel. The remaining three abstained from nomination process. Thus, no Provincial Congress Committee nominated Jawaharlal Nehru. Patel was considered “a great executive, organizer and leader” with his feet firmly on the ground.
However, some individual members of the Congress working committee proposed Nehru, despite having no authority to do so. It started the efforts to persuade Sardar Patel to withdraw in favor of Nehru. At this point, Gandhiji said to Nehru: “No PCC has put forward your name…only [a few members of] the working committee has.”
But Nehru remained silent; he was keen that “either he would take the number one spot in the Government or stay out. When Gandhi was informed that “Jawaharlal will not take the second place”, he asked Patel to withdraw. Rajendra Prasad lamented that Gandhiji “had once again sacrificed his trusted lieutenant for the sake of the “glamorous Nehru.” He also feared that “Nehru would follow the British ways”. Rajendra Prasad used the phrase “once again” to remind that in the past too Patel was denied the Congress president-ship – in 1929 and in 1937; and always at the last moment.
Patel obeyed Gandhiji and accepted the second position. For him, position was not important. Moreover, he knew that if Nehru turned rebellious it would not be good for the newly freed country. At this time, Patel was 71 and Nehru only 56.
Michael Brecher, one of the most sympathetic biographers of Nehru, writes:
“In accordance with the time-honored practice of rotating the Presidency, Patel was in line for the post. Fifteen years had elapsed since he presided over the Karachi session whereas Nehru had presided at Lucknow and Ferozpur in 1936 and 1937. Moreover, Patel was the overwhelming choice of the Provincial Congress Committees…. Nehru’s ‘election’ was due to Gandhi’s intervention. Patel was persuaded to step down….
“If Gandhi had not intervened, Patel would have been the first de facto Premier of India, in 1946-7…. The Sardar was ‘robbed of the prize’ and it rankled deeply.”
C Rajagopalachari, who could not become India’s first President due to Patel’s opposition, wrote few months before his demise in December 1972 in Bhawan’s Journal (22 years after Patel’s death):
“Undoubtedly it would have been better if Nehru had been asked to be the Foreign Minister and Patel made the Prime Minister. I too fell into the error of believing that Jawaharlal was the more enlightened person of the two… This was a wrong notion but it was the prevailing prejudice.”
The Interim Government was formed in September 1946 from the newly elected Constituent Assembly. It had the task of assisting the transition of British India to independence. Early in 1947, British PM Attlee announced that Britain would leave India no later than June 1948. A new Viceroy – Lord Mountbatten – was appointed. Mountbatten concluded that with adamant Muslim League partition was unavoidable. In the week he arrived, there was mutiny in Patna, bomb blasts in Calcutta, rioting in Amritsar, and daily stabbings in Delhi. The government in London was busy dealing with after effects of WW2 and had no intention of attending to Indian issues. The British authority has lost both control and trust. He became convinced that any delay would only promote religious violence. Thus, he pushed forward the date of British departure to August 1947. The Indian Independence Act was signed.
A partition map was hurriedly drawn by a British architect, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who had never visited India before and had to complete the task in just 5 weeks! It must be his ‘logic of ignorance’ that Lahore, which is just 50 km from Amritsar, is not part of India today and Kartarpur Sahib (among the holiest Sikh Shrine) is off by 4 km into Pakistan. The Islamic State of Pakistan was created in two pieces, 1000 miles apart. The funniest thing is that on August 15, 1947 neither Indians nor would-be-Pakistanis knew where the partition-line was! The Radcliffe line came into effect only on August 17. This delay was another fine thinking of Mountbatten.
Clearly, Indians were not in command. And, Muslims remained ecstatic at the prospect of having a special “Islamic Paradise” on the planet just for themselves!!
Birth of Pakistan
Jinnah got his ‘Pakistan’ as two pieces of lands, separated by thousand miles of Indian territory. He was badly disappointed. He called what he got as “a maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten” Islamic State. Beggars can’t be choosers and he got what he deserved. This was the karmic punishment for his heinous crime of trying to destroy the great Indian civilization!
Jinnah was disappointed because the lofty dreams his power hungry team had been weaving since 1930s got shattered in 1947. In 1933, Choudhry Rahmat Ali had created the future Muslim paradise – Pakistan – on paper. But Jinnah was expecting full Punjab and full Bengal in the Islamic paradise. He was expecting a Pakistan almost of the size of “Hindu-India” with many tiny independent nations (from the princely states like Hyderabad, Bhopal, Junagarh, etc). Therefore, his day-dreams ended harshly as the Radcliffe Line was drawn and he earned a place in history as the traitor (and a separatist Muslim) who divided the glorious ancient civilization of India. Then, he blundered by attacking Kashmir which was neutral until then. Pak invasion forced Raja Hari Singh to accede to India in self-defense.
The emptiness of Jinnah’s arguments for two nation theory were always obvious to any thinking person. Within a quarter century, in 1971 Pakistan lost its Eastern half, which became sovereign Bangladesh. In next 3 decades, Pakistan became a highly fertile breeding ground of Jihadi terrorists. It sheltered a lot of globally wanted terrorists including Osama Bin Laden, while being a part of international coalition against terrorism. Today, Pakistan stands totally isolated from the global community and Pakistanis are seen with suspicion all over the globe. Yet, they still have no idea how to become part of the modern 21st century global community!
What else to expect from people whose role model is Jinnah – a mere power hungry England educated Islamic separatist!!
Partition Horrors: Rioting and Migration
On the day of independence, 15 August 1947, Gandhi was not in Delhi to rejoice Independence Day celebrations, he was in Calcutta, sitting on an indefinite fast until violence stopped, trying to prevent repeat of another “Great Calcutta Killings” that happened a year ago. He succeeded in keeping Bengal largely peaceful, but rioting in Punjab went out of control, despite deployment of 55,000 soldiers. The virus of hate, initiated by Jinnah gang, spread unchecked: estimates of the dead ranged from 500,000 to two million. It is said, Jinnah hid in his home, too terrified to confront the monster of hate that he had unleashed.
It resulted in the greatest mass migration in history: around 15 million people were displaced; there were reports of convoys of 100,000 people walking in lines which stretched for as many as 10 miles. At the end, the two bloodied nations had millions of refugees; shattered, penniless, homeless, and jobless. Not a healthy way to divorce, after centuries of living together.
Most ironically, no leader (Gandhi, Nehru or any other Congress leader) ever expressed concern for the well being of non-Muslims left stranded in Pakistan. In 1951, there were 1.6% non-Muslims in the West Pakistan (today’s it is Pakistan) and 22% in the East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In 2018, the non-Muslim population the Bangladesh is down to around 8 percent and shrinking, due to persecution. In Pakistan, non-Muslims have virtually vanished – they can be easily threatened under the blasphemy law and forced to convert for survival, the standard trick employed in Islamic societies.
With Jinnah’s belligerent attitude after the threat of ‘direct action’ to get a Muslim nation and failure of Cabinet Mission it was clear that riots were coming, but Gandhi and Nehru failed to show foresight or wisdom (or guts) to first get the Radcliffe Line and secure the border and then work out a peaceful two-way migration using the British Army effectively to mitigate the tragedy. The whole world had just seen the horrors of the World War. So even the global powers could have helped to prevent another tragedy – after all Gandhi was a global superstar!
It could have also allowed more effective migration along the Muslim /non-Muslim lines leaving very few Muslims in India. It would have permanently freed India from the curse of Hindu-Muslim riots, cross-border jihadi indoctrination, creation of Muslim pockets of ‘mini Pakistans’ and danger of another Muslim partition in the future. The power hungry Jinnah would have also gotten a much bigger and much ‘purer’ Pakistan – freed of more Shias and more infidel Hindus!!
But as things happened, Gandhi was satisfied sitting on Fast in Bengal and Nehru must be busy for his coronation as PM of British-free India – and poor Indians left to their fate.
Did India Abandon the North West Frontier Province (NWFP)?
Pathans (along with the Balochs) became clear victims of Partition.
Britain’s military planners had made it clear that if they were to ever leave India, they needed to retain a foothold in the NWFP and Baluchistan to protect their oil interests in the middle east – in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. For Britain, the problem was the NWFP that had elected Congress governments in both 1937 and 1946, and the NWFP delegation had entered the Constituent Assembly of India in December 1946 (defying the Muslim League’s call to boycott it). As expected, Pakistan duly followed its strategic destiny by joining the Baghdad Pact in 1955 which then became CENTO.
Mountbatten came up with the strategy of holding a referendum in the NWFP (Nehru merely played puppet) — which Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar Party boycotted. Perhaps the geographical location of NWFP warranted that it be made part of Pakistan. It is one of the tragedies of India’s partition. People of Delhi know there is a Khan Market in the city, but they hardly have idea about how the Pathans were denied their wish to join India. Frontier Gandhi, as Ghaffar Khan was popularly known, remained largely confined to Pakistani jails for the rest of his life, so that the ISI could subvert the peace-loving Khudai Khidmatgars and instead train the army of jihadi terrorists: first the mujahideen led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, then the Taliban and the Haqqani network, and later Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda.
When his people were handed over to the “Islamic paradise” of Pakistan, Ghaffar Khan lamented, ‘We have been thrown to the wolves’! His book, Thrown to the Wolves is an account of the betrayal of nationalist Pathans by the Congress. The princely state Kalat in Balochistan wanted to join India and actually sent in the accession papers, but Nehru returned them by post. When Pakistani government intercepted the returned papers, the poor Khan of Kalat was deposed. Another patriot had been thrown to the wolves!
Today, every non-Punjabi Pakistani group feels the same way in the ‘Islamic paradise’ created for South Asian Muslims.
Early Mistakes by India and Pakistan
Both India and Pakistan stared off with ‘brown British’ CEOs! On the Indian side, Nehru was handpicked by Gandhi, ignoring the wider opinion in favor of Sardar Patel. ‘Across the border’ Jinnah became the governor general cum CEO of the Islamic State!. If Jawaharlal Nehru was an “accidental Hindu” Jinnah was much more “accidental Muslim”! For both, masses were just masses – to be influenced for political reasons. None were visionaries like Mahatma Gandhi who derived strength from morality and showed the world how to apply it in the real world. The only difference between Nehru and Jinnah was that the former was politically rather simpleton compared with the ‘twisted political brilliance’ of the later.
However, both Nehru and Jinnah committed errors.
Governance: Both became rulers continuing the colonial administrative set up; neither Nehru did anything to Indianize the governance, nor Jinnah tried to mold it to suit the newly created Islamic State. The police continued to behave as if its primary role was to serve the elite masters from the ordinary people. Even today, people of both countries don’t see police as a friend in need. They would rather keep a distance from it.
The colonial education system continued to churn out half baked products. Macaulay designed it to help the colonial administration that required least educated Indians good only to be clerks. But free nations need vibrant education system that shapes children to grow up to be well informed and well groomed citizens. But both the British educated CEOs failed to show that maturity – perhaps because they came from that system!
Democracy: Neither Nehru nor Jinnah tried to do anything to promote grass roots democracy which was to be the system of governance in both nations. Well, Jinnah might be forgiven because he would not have known the reaction of Muslim clergy that was to dictate the Muslim-ness of Pakistan. But, what about Nehru?
The Gandhian model of ‘Gram Swaraj’ was ideal for Indian conditions; it would have sowed the seeds of democracy at the base level along with strengthening the Indian economy. But Nehru wasn’t interested.
Ignored Welfare of Tribal Population: The colonial looters had enacted special laws for tribal areas. In fact, their administration was mainly concerned with rest of the Indians. In India, Nehru’s government did precious little to assimilate tribals into the mainstream society beyond designating tribals areas into Schedule V and Schedule VI regions.. North Eastern region remained a glaring example of neglect. Only after 2014, that the Modi government showed honest intentions to bring the North Eastern state into national mainstream.
Likewise, on the other side the colonial British had devised the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) to deny the Pashtun people’s of the tribal areas of the former NWFP basic legal and political rights. The brutal FCR allowed for collective punishment of the whole tribe for the crime of a few and indefinite detention without right of appeal. Non integration of the Pashtun people of today’s FATA region into the mainstream society even after 7 decades has been a major source of lawlessness in the Afghan border region. Jinnah’s also lacked vision and left the tribal folks isolated, as they were before 1947.
Not Dissolving the Congress Party: Ignoring Gandhi’s advice to dissolve the Indian National Congress was a grave mistake. Indian democracy suffered due to largely one party rule for almost half a century. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to dissolve the grand old party and form two new parties, one headed by Nehru and the other by Sardar Patel. It would have given India framework for two party democracy that would have strengthen roots of Indian democracy.
Not following Gandhi’s ‘Gram Swaraj’ Model: Nehru was most fascinated by the Communist/socialistic ideologies. But Gandhi was connected with roots of India. His gram ‘swaraj model’ of development could have been a great starting point to promote both development as well as democratic roots.
Promoting Dynastic Rule: Nehru’s father had nepotistic tendencies. Nehru too inherited it. Knowingly or unknowingly he ended up promoting his daughter, rather than promoting a cadre of next generation from different backgrounds. As it turned out, Sardar Patel merged 565 dynasties into Indian republic but Nehru ended up creating a new one! Seven decades later, this dynasty is still a serious barrier in promoting merit based and healthy competitive democracy.
Kashmir Dispute: By not allowing Sardar Patel to handle the J&K State, Nehru messed up and created a long term problem for India.
Ignoring Defense: The Chinese invasion of 1962 proved that Nehru was sub-mediocre in the understanding of international relations. He kept talking of ‘Panchsheel’ and chanted ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ but got back stabbed and dies broken heart. It is also a mystery why he did not use air superiority to repel the Chinese.
In the early 1950s, general Ayub Khan suggested to Nehru, let’s have a joint defense system. Nehru’s response was, Defense against whom?
Authoritarian Tendency: Jinnah became the Governor General of Pakistan. Under the British model, it was largely a ceremonial post (representing the British monarch) and the executive powers resided with the Prime Minister and his cabinet. But he started to act as executive head of the state! This set a dangerous trend. Although he died soon (September 11, 1948) but his successors imitated his style of functioning and pushed the nascent democracy towards authoritarian rule. It took 9 years Pakistan to adopt a Constitution. It was adopted in 1956, only to be thrown away in 1958! and In the 11 year period between 1947 to 1958, Pakistan saw seven prime ministers! The first premier Liyaqat Ali was assassinated and another, Sohrawardy, had to later escape Pakistan to stay alive!
Lacked Ideological Vision: Jinnah failed to set forth his vision for future Pakistan in terms of Constitutional guidelines. Merely stating that Pakistan was meant for South Asian Muslims did not serve any useful purpose. And what about the 20% non-Muslim minorities left behind in Pakistan due to imperfect partition of British India? 70 years later they are reduced to less than 3 percent and still shrinking fast – given the Islamic cult of forced conversions, rape and kidnapping of girls.
Jogendra Nath Mandal, a prominent dalit Muslim League leader from East Bengal, was a close confidante of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He became Pakistan’s first Law and Justice Minister. But he was forced to come back to India in 1950, totally disillusioned by the jihadi culture of Islamic Pakistan where non-Muslims had no safety or dignity. Mandal’s resignation letter to prime minister Liyaqat Ali Khan tells how Pakistan fell in radical hands right since the beginning.
Colonial type exploitation: By not dismantling the colonial machinery and mindset, Jinnah allows the culture of exploitation. For instance, the politically dominant leadership sitting in the West Pakistan saw the resources of East Pakistan as ‘booty’ meant for exploited without local consent. Balochistan became another sad example. Jinnah occupied it militarily in 1948 and today vast resources of Baloch people are the prime target of Chinese CPEC projects; of course, without their consent or consultation.
Ignoring East Pakistan: Jinnah only wanted Bengal into Pakistan if it came undivided primarily for its large and wealthy city of Calcutta. But he got was the Muslim dominated poor East Bengal; the Western side was Hindu dominated and Calcutta was rich because of Hindu business community. Therefore, Jinnah lost interest in the East Pakistan. Of course, Bengali Muslims played vital role in forming the Muslim League and agitated for Pakistan but that became history with the creation of Pakistan!
Then he made another crucial mistake. Declaring Urdu (spoken by less than 10% Pakistanis) as the official language of Pakistan he imposed it on East Pakistan also. In reality, he himself could hardly speak Urdu. One really wonders, Jinnah divided India for his love for ‘Muslim majority’ but why he did not choose Bengali as the sole official language of Pakistan? It was spoken by 54% population of Pakistan – by all the East Pakistanis!
This antagonized and alienated the East Pakistanis. The language issue erupted few years later as a major unrest. Bengali Muslims noted that they were being treated like second grade citizens by the leadership sitting in the West Pakistan. End result: East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971!
Encouraged Feudalism: He took comfort in the company of the elite feudal class – big land lords and top bureaucrats elite leaders who controlled everything. He never bothered to connect with ordinary folks who would supposedly elect their representatives. As a result, political power became a privilege of a handful rich elites who never bothered about ordinary or poor people. This bred a culture of unaccountability, arbitrariness, and corruption – and people’s voices and their problems became secondary.
Today, Pakistanis are realizing how the rich elite class has been running the country for their own personal benefits.
Created Kashmir Dispute: On August 15, 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was an independent princely state ruled by Raja Hari Singh. Not satisfied with the lands he got under Pakistan, on October 22 Jinnah first sent tribal jihadis to attack Kashmir and then sent Pakistan troops to support them. To protect his state, the ruler signed accession pact with India on October 26. Indian troops arrived the next day and started pushing back the invaders — who were also indulging in rape, loot and women capturing. When the ceasefire was announced some part of J&K still remained with the intruders. So, a line of control (LOC) got created – the situation still persists today. Nehru, of course, blundered by ignoring Sardar Patel and going to the UN.
But Jinnah set a dangerous trend – of using non-state actors (private militia, terrorists) to further the State objectives. His successors followed his tactics religiously and today Pakistan has an elaborate network of non-state actors (terrorists) with global reach. So much so that Pakistan is now known as the “global capital of terrorism“.
Tried Accession of Hindu majority states into Pakistan: After the British agreed to separate out Muslim majority regions to form Pakistan, Jinnah became greedy for bigger and bigger territory under Pakistan. Going against his own Two-Nation ‘Muslim majority’ theory, he started to entice even Muslim rulers of ‘Hindu majority’ princely states to join Pakistan (or stay independent)!! Hyderabad was a prominent example. But Sardar Patel foiled his efforts.
The hypocrisy proved that Jinnah’s long posturing for Pakistan in the name of ‘Muslim majority’ was more of a political game than any ideological conviction. Certainly it was all about ‘political power’ for Jinnah — ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim majority’ were catchy phrases to fool people, particularly Muslims.