The development and growth of the Muslim League during the last seven years has been an unusual phenomenon. Started in 1906 with British encouragement and in order to keep away the new generation of Muslims from the National Congress, it remained a small upper-class organization controlled by feudal elements. It had no influence on the Muslim masses and was hardly known by them. By its very constitution it was limited to a small group and a permanent leadership which perpetuated itself. Even so, events and the growing middle class among the Muslims pushed it in the direction of the Congress. World War I and the fate of the Turkish Khilafat (Caliphate) and the Muslim holy places produced a powerful impression on the Muslims of India and made them intensely anti-British. The Muslim League, constituted as it was, could not offer any guidance or leadership to these awakened and excited masses; indeed the League suffered from an attack of nerves and practically faded away. A new Muslim organization grew up inc lose co-operation with the Congress— the Khilafat Committee. Large numbers of Muslims also joined the Congress and worked through it. After the first non-co-operation movement of 1920-23, the Khilafat Committee also began to fade away as its very raison d’etre had disappeared—the Turkish Khilafat. The Muslim masses drifted away from political activity, as also the Hindu masses to a lesser extent. But a very considerable number of Muslims, chiefly of the middle classes, continued to function through the Congress.
During this period a number of petty Muslim organizations functioned spasmodically, often coming into conflict with each other. They had no mass affiliations, no political importance except such as was given to them by the British Government. Their chief function was to demand special privileges and protection for the Muslims in the legislatures and services. In this matter they did represent a definite Muslim viewpoint, for there was a background of resentment and fear among the Muslims at the superior position of the Hindus in education, services, and industry, as well as in numbers. Mr. M. A. Jinnah retired from Indian politics, and indeed from India, and settled down in England.
During the second Civil Disobedience movement of 1930 the response from the Muslims was very considerable, though less than in 1920-23. Among those who were jailed in connection with this movement there were at least 10,000 Muslims. The North-West Frontier Province, which is an almost entirely Muslim province (95 per cent Muslims) played a leading and remarkable part in this movement. This was largely due to the work and personality of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the unquestioned and beloved leader of the Pathans in this province. Of all the remarkable happenings in India in recent times, nothing is more astonishing than the way in which Abdul Ghaffar Khan made his turbulent and quarrelsome people accept peaceful methods of political action, involving enormous suffering. That suffering was indeed terrible and has left a trail of bitter memories; and yet their discipline and self-control were such that no act of violence was committed by the Pathans against the Government forces or others opposed to them. When it is remembered that a Pathan loves his gun more than his brother, is easily excited, and has long had a reputation for killing at the slightest provocation, this self-discipline appears little short of miraculous.
The Frontier Province, under Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s leadership, stood firmly by the side of the National Congress, so also did a large number of the politically conscious middle-class Muslims elsewhere. Among the peasantry and workers, Congress influence was considerable, especially in provinces like the United Provinces, which had an advanced agrarian and workers programme. But it was none the less true that the Muslim masses as a whole were reverting vaguely to their old local and feudal leadership, which came to them in the guise of protectors of Muslim interests as against Hindus and others.
The communal problem, as it was called, was one of adjusting the claims of the minorities and giving them sufficient protection from majority action. Minorities in India, it must be remembered, are not racial or national minorities as in Europe; they are religious minorities. Racially India is a patchwork and a curious mixture, but no racial questions have arisen or can arise in India. Religion transcends these racial differences, which fade into one another and are often hard to distinguish. Religious barriers are obviously not permanent, as conversions can take place from one religion to another, and a person changing his religion does not thereby lose his racial background or his cultural and linguistic inheritance. Latterly religion, in any real sense of the word, has played little part in Indian political conflicts, though the word is often enough used and exploited. Religious differences, as such, do not come in the way, for there is a great deal of mutual tolerance for them. In political matters, religion has been displaced by what is called communalism, a narrow group mentality basing itself on a religious community but in reality concerned with political power and patronage for the interested group.
Repeated efforts were made by the Congress as well as other organizations to settle this communal problem with the consent of the various groups concerned. Some partial success was achieved but there was always a basic difficulty—the presence and policy of the British Government. Naturally the British did not favour any real settlement which would strengthen the political movement— now grown to mass proportions—against them. It was a triangle with the Government in a position to play off one side against the other, by giving special privileges. If the other parties had been wise enough, they could have overcome even this obstacle, but they lacked wisdom and foresight. Whenever a settlement was almost reached, the Government would take some step which upset the balance.
There was no dispute about the usual provisions for minority protection, such as the League of Nations used to lay down. All those were agreed to and much more. Religion, culture, language, the fundamental rights of the individual and the group, were all to be protected and assured by basic constitutional provisions in a democratic constitution applying equally to all. Apart from this, the whole history of India was witness of the toleration and even encouragement of minorities and of different racial groups. There is nothing in Indian history to compare with the bitter religious feuds and persecutions that prevailed in Europe. So we did not have to go abroad for ideas of religious and cultural toleration; these were inherent in Indian life. In regard to individual and political rights and civil liberties, we were influenced by the ideas of the French and American revolutions, as also by the constitutional history of the British Parliament. Socialistic ideas, and the influence of the Soviet revolution, came in later to give a powerful economic turn to our thoughts.
Apart from full protection of all such rights of the individual and the group, it was common ground that every effort should be made by the state as well as by private agencies to remove all invidious social and customary barriers which came in the way of the full development of the individual as well as any group, and that educationally and economically backward classes should be helped to get rid of their disabilities as rapidly as possible. This applied especially to the depressed classes. It was further laid down that women should share in every way with men in the privileges of citizenship.
What remained? Fear that bigger numbers might politically overwhelm a minority. Normally speaking, numbers meant the peasantry and the workers, the masses of all religious faiths, who had long been exploited not only by foreign rule but by their own upper classes. Having assured the protection of religion and culture, etc., the major problems that were bound to come up were economic ones which had nothing to do with a person’s religion. Class conflicts there might well be but not religious conflicts, except in so far as religion itself represented some vested interest. Nevertheless people had grown so accustomed to think along lines of religious cleavage, and were continually being encouraged to do so by communal religious organizations and Government action, that the fear of the major religious community, that is the Hindus, swamping others continued to exercise the minds of many Muslims. It was not clear how even a majority could injure the interests of a huge minority like the Muslims, concentrated mostly in certain parts of the country, which would be autonomous. But fear is not reasonable.
Separate electorates for Muslims (and later for other and smaller groups) were introduced and additional seats were given to them in excess of their population. But even excess in representation in a popular assembly could not convert a minority into a majority. Indeed separate electorates made matters a little worse, for the protected group for the majority electorate lost interest in it, and there was little occasion for mutual consideration and adjustment which inevitably takes place in a joint electorate when a candidate has to appeal to every group. The Congress went further and declared that if there was any disagreement between the majority and a religious minority on any issue touching the special interests of that minority, it should not be decided by majority votes but should be referred to an impartial judicial tribunal, or even an international tribunal, whose decision should be final.
It is difficult to conceive what greater protection could be given to any religious minority or group under any democratic system. It must be remembered also that in some provinces Muslims were actually in a majority and as the provinces were autonomous, the Muslim majority was more or less free to function as it chose, subject only to certain all-India considerations. In the central government Muslims would also inevitably have an important share. In the Muslim majority provinces this communal-religious problem was reversed, for their protection was demanded by the other minority groups (such as Hindu and Sikh) as against the Muslim majority. Thus in the Punjab there was a Muslim-Hindu-Sikh triangle. If there was a separate electorate for Muslims then others claimed special protection for themselves also. Having once introduced separate electorates there was no end to the ramifications and compartments and difficulties that arose from them. Obviously the granting of weightage in representation to one group could only be done at the cost of some other group, which had its representation reduced below its population figures. This produced a fantastic result, especially in Bengal, where, chiefly because of excessive European representation, the seats allotted to the general electorate were absurdly reduced. Thus the intelligentsia of Bengal, which had played such a notable part in Indian politics and the struggle for freedom, suddenly realized that it had a very weak position in the provincial legislature fixed and limited by statute.
The Congress made many mistakes, but these were in relatively minor questions of approach or tactics. It was obvious that even for purely political reasons the Congress was eager and anxious to bring about a communal solution and thus remove a barrier to progress. There was no such eagerness in the purely communal organizations, for their chief reason for existence was to emphasize the particular demands of their respective groups, and this had led to a certain vested interest in the status quo. Though predominantly Hindu in membership, the Congress had large numbers of Muslims on its rolls, as well as all other religious groups like Sikhs, Christians, etc. It was thus forced to think in national terms. For it the dominating issue was national freedom and the establishment of an independent democratic state. It realized that in a vast and varied country like India, a simple type of democracy, giving full powers to a majority to curb or overrule minority groups in all matters, was not satisfactory or desirable, even if it could be established. It wanted unity, of course, and took it for granted, but it saw no reason why the richness and variety of India’s cultural life should be regimented after a single pattern. Hence a large measure of autonomy was agreed to, as well as safeguards for cultural growth and individual and group freedom.
But on two fundamental questions the Congress stood firm: national unity and democracy. These were the foundations on which it had been founded and its very growth for half a century had emphasized these. The Congress organization is certainly one of the most democratic organizations that I know of anywhere in the world, both in theory and practice. Through its tens of thousands of local committees spread out all over the country, it had trained the people in democratic ways and achieved striking success in this. The fact that a dominating and very popular personality like Gandhi was connected with it, did not lessen that essential democracy of the Congress. In times of crisis and struggle there was an inevitable tendency to look to the leader for guidance, as in every country, and such crises were frequent. Nothing is more absurd than to call the Congress an authoritarian organization, and it is interesting to note that such charges are usually made by high representatives of British authority, which is the essence of autocracy and authoritarianism in India.
The British Government had also stood in the past, in theory at least, for Indian unity and democracy. It took pride in the fact that its rule had brought about the political unity of India, even though that unity was one of common subjection. It told us further that it was training us in the methods and processes of democracy. But curiously enough its policy has directly led to the denial of both unity and democracy. In August, 1940, the Congress Executive was compelled to declare that the policy of the British Government in India ‘is a direct encouragement of and incitement to civil discord and strife.’ Responsible spokesmen of the British Government began to tell us openly that perhaps the unity of India might have to be sacrificed in favour of some new arrangement, and that democracy was not suited to India. That was the only answer they had left to India’s demand for independence and the establishment of a democratic state. That answer, incidentally, tells us that the British have failed, on their own showing, in the two major objectives they had set themselves in India. It took them a century and a half to realize this.
We failed in finding a solution for the communal problem agreeable to all parties concerned, and certainly we must share the blame as we have to shoulder the consequences for this failure. But how does one get everybody to agree to any important proposition or change? There are always feudal and reactionary elements who are opposed to all change, and there are those who want political, economic, and social change; in between these are varying groups. If a small group can exercise a veto on change then surely there can never be any change. When it is the policy of the ruling power to set up such groups and encourage them, even though they may represent an infinitesimal proportion of the population, then change can only come through successful revolution. It is obvious that there are any number of feudal and reactionary groups in India, some native to the soil and some created and nurtured by the British. In numbers they may be small but they have the backing of the British power.
Among the Muslims various organizations grew up, apart from the Muslim League. One of the older and more important ones was the Jamiat-ul-Ulema which consisted of divines and old-fashioned scholars from all over India. Traditional and conservative in its general outlook, and necessarily religious, it was yet politically advanced and anti-imperialist. On the political plane it often co-operated with the Congress and many of its members were also members of the Congress and functioned through its organization. The Ahrar organization was founded later and was strongest in the Punjab. This represented chiefly lower middle-class Muslims and had considerable influence on the masses also in particular areas. The Momins (principally the weaver class), though large in numbers, were the poorest and most backward among the Muslims and were weak and badly organized. They were friendly to the Congress and opposed to the Muslim League. Being weak they avoided political action. In Bengal there was the Krishak (peasant) Sabha. Both the Jamiat-ul-Ulema and the Ahrars often co-operated with the Congress in its normal work and its more aggressive campaigns against the British Government, and suffered for it. The chief Muslim organization which has never come into conflict, other than verbal, with the British authorities, is the Muslim League, which throughout subsequent changes and developments and even when large numbers joined it, never shed its upper class feudal leadership.
There were also the Shia Muslims organized separately, but rather vaguely, chiefly for the purpose of making political demands. In the early days of Islam, in Arabia, a bitter dispute about the succession to the Khilafat led to a schism and two groups or sects emerged—the Sunnis and Shias. That quarrel perpetuated itself and still separates the two, though the schism ceased to have any political meaning. Sunnis are in a majority in India and in the Islamic countries, except in Iran, where Shias are in a majority. Religious conflicts have sometimes taken place between the two groups. The Shia organization in India as such kept apart and differed from the Muslim League. It was in favour of joint electorates for all. But there are many prominent Shias in the League.
All these Muslim organizations, as well as some others (but not including the Muslim League) joined hands to promote the Azad Muslim Conference, which was a kind of joint Muslim front opposed to the Muslim League. This conference held a very representative and successful first session in Delhi in 1940.
The chief Hindu communal organization is the Hindu Mahasabha, the counterpart of the Muslim League, but relatively less important. It is as aggressively communal as the League, but it tries to cover up its extreme narrowness of outlook by using some kind of vague national terminology, though its outlook is more revivalist than progressive. It is peculiarly unfortunate in some of its leaders who indulge in irresponsible and violent diatribes, as indeed do some of the Muslim League leaders also. This verbal warfare, indulged in on both sides, is a constant irritant. It takes the place of action.
The Muslim League’s communal attitude was often difficult and unreasonable in the past, but no less unreasonable was the attitude of the Hindu Mahasabha. The Hindu minorities in the Punjab and Sind, and the dominant Sikh group in the Punjab, were often obstructive and came in the way of a settlement. British policy was to encourage and emphasize these differences and to give importance to communal organizations as against the Congress.
One test of the importance of a group or party, or at any rate of its hold on the people, is an election. During the general elections in India in 1937 the Hindu Mahasabha failed completely; it was nowhere in the picture. The Muslim League did better but on the whole its showing was poor, especially in the predominantly Muslim provinces. In the Punjab and Sind it failed completely, in Bengal it met with only partial success. In the North-West Frontier Province Congress formed a ministry later. In the Muslim minority provinces, the League met with greater success on the whole, but there were also independent Muslim groups as well as Muslims elected as Congressmen.
Then began a remarkable campaign on behalf of the Muslim League against the Congress governments in the provinces and the Congress organization itself. Day after day it was repeated that the governments were committing ‘atrocities’ on the Muslims. The governments contained Muslim ministers also but they were not members of the Muslim League. What these ‘atrocities’ were it was not usually stated, or some petty local incidents, which had nothing to do with the government, were distorted and magnified. Some minor errors of some departments, which were soon rectified, became ‘atrocities’. Sometimes entirely false and baseless charges were made. Even a report was issued, fantastic in its contents and having little to do with any facts. Congress governments invited those who made the charges to supply particulars for investigation or to come and inquire themselves with government help. No one took advantage of these offers. But the campaign continued unchecked. Early in 1940, soon after the resignation of the Congress ministers, the then Congress president, Dr. Rajendra Prasad wrote to Mr. M. A. Jinnah and also made a public statement inviting the Muslim League to place any charges against the Congress governments before the federal court of inquiry and decision. Mr. Jinnah declined this offer and referred to the possibility of a Royal Commission being appointed for the purpose. There was no question of any such commission being appointed and only the British Government could do so. Some of the British governors, who had functioned during the regime of the Congress governments declared publicly that they had found nothing objectionable in the treatment of minorities. Under the Act of 1935 they had been especially empowered to protect minorities if any such need arose.
I had made a close study of Nazi methods of propaganda Since Hitler’s rise to power and I was astonished to find something very similar taking place in India. A year later, in 1938, when Czechoslovakia had to face the Sudetenland crisis, the Nazi methods employed there were studied and referred to with approval by Muslim League spokesmen. A comparison was drawn between the position of Sudetenland Germans and Indian Muslims. Violence and incitements in speeches and in some newspapers became marked. A Congress Muslim minister was stabbed and there was no condemnation of this from any Muslim League leader; in fact it was condoned. Other exhibitions of violence frequently took place.
I was terribly depressed by these developments and by the general lowering of the standards of public life. Violence, vulgarity, and irresponsibility were on the increase, and it appeared that they were approved of by responsible leaders of the Muslim League. I wrote to some of these leaders and begged them to check this tendency but with no success. So far as the Congress governments were concerned, it was obviously to their interest to win over every minority or other group and they tried hard to do so. Indeed complaints arose from some quarters that they were showing undue favour to the Muslims at the expense of other groups. But it was not a question of a particular grievance which could be remedied, or a reasonable consideration of any matter. There was a regular campaign on the part of members or sympathisers of the Muslim League to make the Muslim masses believe that something terrible was happening and that the Congress was to blame. What that terrible thing was nobody seemed to know. But surely there must be something behind all this shouting and cursing, if not here then elsewhere. During by-elections the cry raised was ‘Islam in danger’ and voters were asked to take their oaths on the holy book to vote for the Muslim League candidate.
All this had an undoubted effect on the Muslim masses. And yet it is surprising how many resisted it. The League won most by-elections, lost some; even when they won, there was a substantial minority of Muslim voters who went against them, being influenced more by the Congress agrarian programme. But for the first time in its history the Muslim League got a mass backing and began to develop into a mass organization. Much as I regretted what was happening, I welcomed this development in a way as I thought that it might lead ultimately to a change in the feudal leadership and that more progressive elements would come forward. The real difficulty thus far had been the extreme political and social backwardness of the Muslims which made them liable to exploitation by reactionary leaders.
Mr. M. A. Jinnah himself was more advanced than most of his colleagues of the Muslim League. Indeed he stood head and shoulders above them and had therefore become the indispensable leader. From public platforms he confessed his great dis-satisfaction with the opportunism, and sometimes even worse failings, of his colleagues. He knew well that a great part of the advanced, selfless, and courageous element among the Muslims had joined and worked with the Congress. And yet some destiny or course of events had thrown him among the very people for whom he had no respect. He was their leader but he could only keep them together by becoming himself a prisoner to their reactionary ideologies. Not that he was an unwilling prisoner, so far as the ideologies were concerned, for despite his external modernism, he belonged to an older generation which was hardly aware of modern political thought or development. Of economics, which overshadow the world today, he appeared to be entirely ignorant. The extraordinary occurrences that had taken place all over the world since World War I had apparently had no effect on him. He had left the Congress when the organization had taken a political leap forward. The gap had widened as the Congress developed an economic and mass outlook. But Mr. Jinnah seemed to have remained ideologically in that identical place where he stood a generation ago, or rather he had gone further back, for now he condemned both India’s unity and democracy. ‘They would not live,’ he has stated, ‘under any system of government that was based on the nonsensical notion of western democracy.’ It took him a long time to realize that what he had stood for throughout a fairly long life was nonsensical.
Mr. Jinnah is a lone figure even in the Muslim League, keeping apart from his closest co-workers, widely but distantly respected, more feared than liked. About his ability as a politician there is no doubt, but somehow that ability is tied up with the peculiar conditions of British rule in India today. He shines as a lawyer-politician, as a tactician, as one who thinks that he holds the balance between nationalist India and the British power. If conditions were different and he had to face real problems, political, and economic, it is difficult to say how far his ability would carry him. Perhaps he is himself doubtful of this, although he has no small opinion of himself. This may be an explanation for that subconscious urge in him against change, to keep things going as they are, and to avoid discussion and the calm consideration of problems with people who do not wholly agree with him. He fits into this present pattern; whether he or anybody else will fit into a new pattern it is difficult to say. What passion moves him, what objective does he strive for? Or is it that he has no dominating passion except the pleasure he has in playing a fascinating political game of chess in which he often has an opportunity to say ‘check’? He seems to have a hatred for the Congress which has grown with the years. His aversions and dislikes are obvious, but what does he like? With all his strength and tenacity, he is a strangely negative person whose appropriate symbol might well be a ‘no’. Hence all attempts to understand his positive aspect fail and one cannot come to grips with it.
Since British rule came to India, Muslims have produced few outstanding figures of the modern type. They have produced some remarkable men but, as a rule, these represented the continuation of the old culture and tradition and did not easily fit in with modern developments. This incapacity to march with the changing times and adapt themselves culturally and otherwise to a new environment was not of course due to any innate failing. It derived from certain historical causes, from the delay in the development of a new industrial middle class, and the excessively feudal background of the Muslims, which blocked up avenues of development and prevented the release of talent. In Bengal the backwardness of the Muslims was most marked, but this was obviously due to two causes: the destruction of their upper classes during the early days of British rule, and the fact that the vast majority were converts from the lowest class of Hindus, who had long been denied opportunities of growth and progress. In northern India the cultured upper-class Muslims were tied up with their old traditional ways as well as the land system. In recent years there has been a marked change and a fairly rapid development of a new middle class among Indian Muslims, but even now they lag far behind Hindus and others in science and industry . The Hindus are backward also, sometimes even more hide-bound and tied up with traditional ways of thought and practice than the Muslims, but nevertheless they have produced some very eminent men in science, industry, and other fields. The small Parsee community has also produced outstanding leaders of modern industry. Mr. Jinnah’s family, it is interesting to note, was originally Hindu.
Both among Hindus and Muslims a good deal of talent and ability has in the past gone into government service, as that was the most attractive avenue open. With the growth of the political movement for freedom, that attraction became less, and able, earnest, and courageous persons were drawn into the Congress. Thus many of the best types of Muslims came in to it. In more recent years young Muslims joined the socialist and communist parties also. Apart from all these ardent and progressive persons, Muslims were very poor in the quality of their leaders and were inclined to look to government service alone for advancement. Mr. Jinnah was a different type. He was able, tenacious, and not open to the lure of office, which had been such a failing of so many others. His position in the Muslim League, therefore, became unique and he was able to command the respect which was denied to many others prominent in the League. Unfortunately his tenacity prevented him from opening his mind to any new ideas, and his unquestioned hold on his own organization made him intolerant both of his own dissidents and of other organizations. He became the Muslim League. But a question arose: As the League was becoming a mass organization, how long could this feudal leadership with outmoded ideas continue?
When I was Congress president, I wrote to Mr. Jinnah on several occasions and requested him to tell us exactly what he would like us to do. I asked him what the League wanted and what its definite objectives were. I also wanted to know what the grievances of the League were against the Congress governments. The idea was that we might clarify matters by correspondence and then discuss personally the important points that had arisen in it. Mr. Jinnah sent me long replies but failed to enlighten me. It was extraordinary how he avoided telling me, or anyone else, exactly what he wanted or what the grievances of the League were. Repeatedly we exchanged letters and yet always there was the same vagueness and inconclusiveness and I could get nothing definite. This surprised me very much and made me feel a little helpless. It seemed as if Mr. Jinnah did not want to commit himself in any way and was not at all eager for a settlement.
Subsequently Gandhiji and others amongst us met Mr. Jinnah, several times. They talked for hours but never got beyond a preliminary stage. Our proposal was that representatives of the Congress and the League should meet and discuss all their mutual problems. Mr. Jinnah said that this could only be done after we recognized publicly that the Muslim League was the sole representative organization of the Muslims of India, and the Congress should consider itself a purely Hindu organization. This created an obvious difficulty. We recognized of course the importance of the League and because of that we had approached it. But how could we ignore many other Muslim organizations in the country, some closely associated with us? Also there were large numbers of Muslims in the Congress itself and in our highest executive. To admit Mr Jinnah’s claim meant in effect to push out our old Muslim colleagues from the Congress “and declare that the Congress was not open to them. It was to change the fundamental character of the Congress, and from a national organization, open to all, convert it into a communal body. That was inconceivable for us. If the Congress had not already been there, we would have had to build up a new national organization open to every Indian.
We could not understand Mr. Jinnah’s insistence on this and refusal to discuss any other matter. Again we could only conclude that he did not want any settlement, nor did he want to commit himself in any way. He was satisfied in letting matters drift and in expecting that he could get more out of the British Government this way.
Mr. Jinnah’s demand was based on a new theory he had recently propounded—that India consisted of two nations, Hindu and Muslim. Why only two I do not know, for if nationality was based on religion, then there were many nations in India. Of two brothers one may be a Hindu, another a Muslim; they would belong to two different nations. These two nations existed in varying proportions in most of the villages of India. They were nations which had no boundaries; they overlapped. A Bengali Muslim and a Bengali Hindu living together, speaking the same language, and having much the same traditions and customs, belonged to different nations. All this was very difficult to grasp; it seemed a reversion to some medieval theory. What a nation is it is difficult to define. Possibly the essential characteristic of national consciousness is a sense of belonging together and of together facing the rest of mankind. How far that is present in India as a whole may be a debatable point. It may even be said that India developed in the past as a multi-national state and gradually acquired a national consciousness. But all these are theoretical abstractions which hardly concern us. Today the most powerful states are multi-national, but at the same time developing a national consciousness, like the U.S.A. or the U.S.S.R.
From Mr. Jinnah’s two-nation theory developed the conception of Pakistan, or splitting up of India. That, of course, did not solve the problem of the ‘two nations,’ for they were all over the place. But that gave body to a metaphysical conception. This again gave rise to a passionate reaction among many in favour of the unity of India. Ordinarily national unity is taken for granted. Only when it is challenged or attacked, or attempts are made to disrupt it, is unity really appreciated, and a positive reaction to maintain it takes place. Thus sometimes attempts at disruption actually help to weld that unity.
There was a fundamental difference between the outlook of the Congress and that of the religious-communal organizations. Of the latter the chief were the Muslim League and its Hindu counterpart, the Hindu Mahasabha. These communal organizations, while in theory standing for India’s independence, were more interested in claiming protection and special privileges for their respective groups. They had thus inevitably to look to the British Government for such privileges, and this led them to avoid conflict with it. The Congress outlook was so tied up with India’s freedom as a united nation that everything else was secondary, and this meant ceaseless conflict or friction with the British power. Indian nationalism, as represented by the Congress, opposed British imperialism. The Congress had further developed agrarian, economic, and social programmes. Neither the Muslim League nor the Hindu Mahasabha had ever considered any such question or attempted to frame a programme. Socialists and communists were,’ of course, intensely interested in such matters and had their own programmes, which they tried to push in the Congress as well as outside.
There was yet another marked difference between Congress policy and work and those of the religious-communal organizations. Quite apart from its agitational side and its legislative activity, when such existed, the Congress laid the greatest stress on certain constructive activities among the masses. These activities consisted in organizing and developing cottage industries, in raising the depressed classes, and later in the spread of basic education. Village work also included sanitation and some simple forms of medical relief. Separate organizations for carrying on these activities were created by the Congress, which functioned apart from the political plane, and which absorbed thousands of whole-time workers and a much larger number of part-time helpers. This quiet non-political, constructive work was carried on even when political activities were at a low ebb; but even this was suppressed by Government when there was open conflict with the Congress. The economic value of some of these activities was questioned by a few people, but there could be no doubt of their social importance. They trained a large body of whole-time workers in intimate touch with the masses, and produced a spirit of self-help and self-reliance among the people. Congressmen and women also played an important part in trade union and agrarian organizations, actually building up many of these. The largest and best-organized trade union—that of the Ahmedabad textile industry—was started by Congressmen and worked in close co-operation with them.
All these activities gave a solid background to Congress work, which was completely lacking in the religious-communal organizations. These latter functioned on the agitational plane only by fits and starts, or during elections. In them also was lacking that ever-present sense of risk and personal danger from government action which Congressmen had almost always to face. Thus, there was a far greater tendency for careerists and opportunists to enter these organizations. The two Muslim organizations, the Ahrars and the Jamiat-ul-Ulema, however, suffered greatly from governmental repression because politically they often followed the same line as the Congress.
The Congress represented not only the nationalist urge of India, which had grown with the growth of the new bourgeoisie, but also, to a large extent, proletarian urges for social change. In particular, it stood for revolutionary agrarian changes. This sometimes produced inner conflicts within the Congress, and the landlord class and the big industrialists, though often nationalistic, kept aloof from it for fear of socialistic changes. Within the Congress, socialists and communists found a place and could influence Congress policy. The communal organizations, whether Hindu or Muslim, were closely associated with the feudal and conservative elements and were opposed to any revolutionary social change. The real conflict had, therefore, nothing to do with religion, though religion often masked the issue, but was essentially between those who stood for a nationalist—democratic—socially revolutionary policy and those who were concerned with preserving the relics of a feudal regime. In a crisis, the latter inevitably depend upon foreign support which is interested in preserving the status quo.
The beginning of World War II brought an internal crisis which resulted in the resignation of the Congress governments in the provinces. Before this occurred, however, the Congress made another attempt to approach Mr. M. A. Jinnah and the Muslim League. Mr. Jinnah was invited to attend the first meeting of the Congress Executive after the commencement of the war. He was unable to join us. We met him later and tried to evolve a common policy in view of the world crisis. Not much progress was made but nevertheless we decided to continue our talks. Meanwhile the Congress governments resigned on the political issue which had nothing to do with the Muslim League and the communal problem. Mr. Jinnah, however, chose that moment for a fierce attack on the Congress and a call on his League for the observance of a ‘Day of Deliverance’ from Congress rule in the provinces. He followed this up by very unbecoming remarks on Nationalist Muslims in the Congress and especially on the Congress president, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was greatly respected among Hindus and Muslims alike. The ‘Day of Deliverance’ was rather a flop and counter demonstrations among Muslims took place in some parts of India. But it added to bitterness and confirmed the conviction that Mr. Jinnah and the Muslim League under his leadership had no intention whatever of coming to any settlement with the Congress, or of advancing the cause of Indian freedom. They preferred the existing situation.*
* After I had finished writing this book, I read a book by a Canadian scholar, Wilfrid Cantwell Smith, who has spent some years in Egypt and India. This book, which is called ‘Modern Islam in India—A Social Analysis, (Lahore, 1943), is an able analysis and careful survey of the development of ideas among Indian Muslims since the Indian Mutiny of 1857. He deals with the progressive and reactionary movements from Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s time onwards, and the different phases of the Muslim League.