1937 Nehru, Jinnah and Coalition Governments, Bimal Prasad

Quotes included:
Bimal Prasad quoted from The Partition in Retrospect Ed. Amrik Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru and Partition,  Anamika Publishers and National Institute of Panjab Studies, New Delhi, 2000.
Mushirul Hasan quoted from Memories of a Fragmented Nation in the same volume.
M.A. Jinnah's speeches quoted from
Speeches, Statements & Messages of the Quaid-e-Azam, ed. Khurshid Yusufi, Bazm-e-Iqbal, Lahore, Volume I.

These excerpts from Bimal Prasad's essay, Jawaharlal Nehru and Partition offer interesting perspectives and quotes on political events in 1937, a key year in Congress-Jinnah relations. It supplements other accounts of that period presented in DurgaDas (3), 1
937-1940(2)  and MJAkbar.

Like the other authors excerpted on this website, Bimal Prasad too examines in detail the failure of Congress and League to form coalition governments in 1937. One interesting quote in these excerpts is from K.M.Munshi, regarding failure of Congress and Muslim League to agree in Bombay: "[T]
he League wanted two ministers in the cabinet. . . it was made clear on Jinnah's behalf that his nominees would neither join the Congress Legislature Party nor accept its discipline. . [t]hey would also not accept the principle of joint responsibility".  Munshi said if these terms were accepted, "Jinnah would have dictated the whole policy of the Government through his nominees, who, on every occasion, would threaten to resign."

This corresponds closely with M.J.Akbar's  account of failure in U.P. "
In Khaliquzzaman's own words . . .the new proviso was 'Provided that the Muslim League Party members in the U P Assembly  will be free to vote in accordance with their conscience, on communal matters.' Azad was shocked and upset at this. Both he and Pant knew that there was no need to even refer this new condition to Nehru. The League had sabotaged the idea by its final communal demand, for the League had arrogated to itself exclusive rights on Muslim questions, as if Congressmen could not be trusted on the matter. " Presumably, a similar apprehension about  League members refusing collective responsibility alongside the Congress legislative majority, and thereby dictating  policy to the U.P. Congress Government from a legislative minority position, caused Congress to reject the coalition in U.P. as well.
Another interesting quote in these excerpts is of Governor of Bombay writing to Viceroy Linlithgow in June 1937 : "
Jinnah went on to tell me some of his plans for consolidating the Muslim League throughout India and how he is doing his utmost to awaken the Muhammedans to the necessity of standing on their own feet more than they do now. His policy is to preach communalism morning, noon and night. . . ". This was before the  final coalition talks in the middle of July 1937.

To summarize the constitutional context of the Congress-Jinnah conflict -  in 1937, elections were held for provincial governments under Government of India Act 1935.  In earlier years, the composition of provincial legislatures had ensured that  British and collaborating  Indian factions including Muslims and special interests would outvote any nationalist (including Congress) factions in those legislatures. Moreover, the concept of dyarchy (key subjects reserved to the British) had ensured that Indians had limited responsibility in the provincial executives.  Under Government of India Act 1935, full responsibility was granted in the provinces with the British Governors retaining special powers to intervene at their discretion. 

Congress had decided to end non-cooperation and contest the 1937 elections, and it won legislative majorities or near majorities in six of eleven provinces. If Congress decided to take office[Glend1], then for the first time ever,  Congress would be in a position to not only control provincial legislatures but also reign in the executives of these provinces.   One consequence of Congress victories was that special interest groups like landlords, industrialists and co-operating Muslims who had earlier been sought after by British officialdom, for legislative support and for government positions, now found themselves irrelevant, outnumbered, and in the opposition.

Jinnah's demand for a communal vote for the minority League as pre-condition for coalition (as mentioned above) can be viewed in this context. His demand violated the principles of parliamentary democracy; effectively rolled back, in the Hindu-majority provinces, the advance to responsible provincial government offered by the 1935 Act; and he did not offer a similar communal vote to religious minorities in Muslim majority provinces. In my view, such a communal vote for a minority over a overwhelming majority as existed in these provinces might have preserved Muslim sovereignty and separatism from the Hindu majority as Jinnah evidently desired, but was not a sustainable safeguard in the long run. [ Later, starting from 1940 onward, Jinnah put forward his demand for  equal represention for Muslim League (equal to that of Congress)  as pre-condition for provincial governments in these six provinces[AnitaIS1], in which Muslim population percentage varied from 15.3% in U.P. to 2% in Orissa and in which Congress legislative majorities varied from 74% in Madras to 49% in Bombay].

Apart from this, there was the national question.  Under the 1935 Act, the British retained control of key subjects at the centre.  The acquiescence of at least half the Princely States' rulers covering at least half the total population in these States was required to bring the  1935 Act into force at centre. And even if that happened, an elected Congress majority to bear upon the British to concede more power to Indians or to declare independence was not a foregone conclusion since elected Hindus were granted a minority of seats in the central legislature
[Glend2].  The Congress thus pursued its nationalist goal of ousting the British by terming the 1935 Act a British colonial imposition on all Indians,  rejecting the federal part of the Act, agitating for elected/representative institutions in the Princely States, and demanding a Constituent Assembly to write a wholly Indian Constitution. 

From the Muslim point of view,  the 1935 Act incorporating the 1932 Communal Award[Extra5] had by and large secured their majority positions in the Muslim majority provinces  while retaining their weightages  in the Muslim minority provinces and also retaining separate electorates  inspite of Hindu opposition[Extra8].  Muslims were also less ambivalent than the Congress about the Federal (or central) part of the Act, one reason being, that at about 25% of British India's population, they were granted 80% in number of the elected Hindu seats [Extra8]and could expect to play a decisive role at centre as long as the British remained in control. 

On the other hand, the Congress demand for a  Constituent Assembly was a threat to the existing Muslim position since Congress positions on unitary federal structure,  legislative quotas, electorates and  franchise were all less favorable to Muslims than the  British positions  institutionalised in the Communal Award 1932 and the Government of India Act 1935.

Collaborating Muslims felt their position to be insecure even if Congress decided to work the 1935 Act because inspite of its provisions, the Congress might still  manage to construct a majority at the centre either by forcing electoral reform in the Princely States or by winning over enough Muslims to their platform.  Also,  the 1935 Act decreed a largely  unitary federal structure and
if the Congress succeeded, Muslim politicians who had ruled in Muslim majority provinces as sought-after collaborators of the British, faced the prospect of coping instead with a Congress/Hindu majority at centre.

Jinnah had declared in 1935 that the Communal Award 1932 did not satisfy all Muslim demands,  that the Hindu-Muslim question was as yet unsettled and that Indians could not achieve unity without a further Hindu-Muslim settlement.

M.A.Jinnah's Speech in the Central Assembly on the Motion to consider the Report of the Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform, New Delhi, February 4-7, 1935(excerpts)

"My amendment accepts the Communal Award,- and remember when until a substitute is agreed upon between the communities concerned. Now, it may be that our Hindu friends are not satisfied with the Communal Award, but at the same time I can also tell the House that my Muhammedan friends are not satisfied with it either(Hear, hear), because it does not meet their full demand. And, speaking for myself, personally, I am not satisfied with the Communal Award(Hear, hear), and, again, speaking as an individual, my self-respect will never be satisfied until we produce our own scheme. (An Honorable Member: "Very good of you") (Hear, hear). . .

But why do  I accept it? I do not want to got into the past history, but I can tell the House that I accept it, because we have done everything that we could so far to come to a settlement, though, so far, we have not been able to come to a settlement, and, therefore, whether I like it or whether I do not like it, I accept it, because unless I accept that, no scheme of Constitution is possible. ("Hear, hear" from Official Benches). Therefore, please stop this talk of rejection now. For the time being let it stand.

I entirely reciprocate every sentiment which the Honourable the Leader of the Opposition[Bhulabhai Desai of the Congress] expressed, and I agree with him, that religion should not be allowed to come into politics, that race should not be allowed to come into politics. Language does not matter so much, I agree with him, if taken singly one by one, religion is merely a matter between man and God, I agree with him there entirely; but I ask him to consider this- is this a question of religion purely? Is this a question of language purely? No, Sir, this is a question of minorities and it is a political issue. (Some Muslim Honourable Members: "Civilization and culture.") Have we not got in other countries questions of minorities?  Have not those problems been faced and solved, - and this problem must also be faced and solved.

Now, what are the minorities? Minorities mean a combination of things. It may be that a minority has a different religion from the other citizens of a country. Their language may be different, their race may be different, their culture may be different, and the combination of all these various elements- religion culture, race, language, art, music, and so forth makes the minority a separate entity in the State, and that separate entity as an entity wants safeguards. Surely, therefore, we must face this question as a political problem, we must solve it, and not evade it.

Then, my Honourable friend laid down the proposition, acquisition first, and distribution afterwards. There is a great fallacy, if I may say so respectfully, in that statement. This is not a question of acquisition and distribution. It is not that  we are acquiring some land, it is not that we are going to enter upon a venture and then share or distribute the spoils. But, may I know if that proposition is correct, why did Mahatma Gandhi fast to death and come to an agreement with the sanction and concurrence of all Leaders from India and arrive at the Poona Pact as regards the Depressed Classes? (Hear, hear)

Why were they not told, acquisition first and distribution afterwards? (Hear, hear) Mahatma Gandhi was right. He knew, and they are drawn from your race, they are Hindus, 50 or 60 millions of Hindus. He was right, and I agree with him. I begged of him in England. First he said: "No, I will not divide the Hindus. I will never agree to this." I begged of him. Believe me, I pleaded more for the Depressed Classes before Mahatma Gandhi than I did for the Mussalmans. But he was adamant, but ultimately he did realise, and I congratulate my Hindu brethren that they have by recognising and giving this protection and safeguard to the Depressed Classes, won them over, and today he is still working for their amelioration. Show us the same spirit, join hands with us and we are ready.(Hear, hear). I will say no more about the Communal Award. . . " [The Poona Pact exchanged separate electorates for Depressed Classes for joint electorates with reservation of seats for Depressed Classes greater in number than that granted by the Communal Award 1932].
(end excerpts)

The Congress, interested in seeking Muslim co-operation at centre to oust the British, had tried to reach an agreement with Jinnah during this period,  in January-March 1935
[Gallagher], by conceding a Muslim position better than that in the Communal Award 1932 in return for Muslim agreement on joint electorates. However, Jinnah insisted that Congress must secure agreement to the deal, from the Sikhs and the Hindu Mahasabha  before he put it to the League. The Congress didn't succeed in this and the talks failed since Jinnah declared he was not interested in a Congress-League agreement. Meanwhile he emphasized to the public the continued existence of the communal problem.
Speech at a meeting at Town Hall, Lahore, March 1, 1936(excerpt)

Referring to the communal award, Mr. Jinnah said that it was never intended to be a permanent arrangement. Political pacts, constitutions and such other adjustments could have no permanency about them. They were devised to meet a particular situation and were all subject to alteration by the nation. He referred to the changing constitutions in European countries in support of this contention. In conclusion, Mr Jinnah referred to his constant efforts for a solution of the communal problem and assured the audience: " I will not and I  cannot give it up. It may give me up. I will not." He was convinced that without communal unity there was no salvation for India. . . "
(end excerpts)

It is well to note that Jinnah used the "two nation" terminology at least as early as April 1936, as seen in his speech following.

Speech on a resolution at the Annual Session of All Indian Muslim League, Bombay, April 12, 1936(excerpts)

Mr.M. A. Jinnah then referred to the situation in India. There were four major parties sitting as it were at a chessboard. There were the British people, as a collective entity. There were the Indian Princes, the Hindus and the Mussalmans.

The object of Great Britain was to maintain inviolable and intact the powers and authority of Great Britain as a dominant party that must maintain the "Raj" in India. The object of the Indian Princes was that they did not want any kind of democratic government. They seemed to think, that if the B[ritish]. Government might hand over certain power to the people of B[ritish]. India, was it not better that the Princes should come in to keep a control over any such power given to the people of  B[ritish]. India. The object of the Hindus and Muslims was common to a certain extent. The Muslims were anxious and were as ready as any Hindu nationalist to stand by the country and struggle for the freedom of the country.

But this was the first time that the people were trying a constitution by which the Government was carried on by majority rule and the Muslims were a minority community. It was not a religious question. It was a question whether they should not have sufficient safeguards which would inspire confidence in them so that they too wholeheartedly join with the sister communities in the march for freedom. Unfortunately, there was no agreement between the Hindus and the Muslims on this question.

The fact thus remained that the people of India were not united as yet, and could not present a united front. Mere resolutions did not impress the B[ritish]. Government. Leaving aside the question of unity of the whole people in India, even in communities there was no unity.  If Muslims were divided, Hindus too were in a similar condition. . .  He would submit to the new consitution under protest just like the German nation under the Treaty of Versailles. But at the first opportunity he would begin to tear off as many pages of the Government of India Act as possible. No constitution could be forced on the people, unless it was with their agreement. Referring to the methods open to him to adopt, Mr. M.A.Jinnah said that he would take up "Constitutional agitation" inside and outside the legislatures to create those forces which would constitute sufficient pressure to bend the British Government to the will of the people of India.

But that was a task, he confessed, which could not be done alone. It could be done only by the two communities standing shoulder to shoulder in their demands. Unfortunately, however "the largest organisation", the Indian National Congress, was behaving like an ostrich, putting its head in the sand and thinking that nobody was observing it. The Congress claimed to represent the entire nation and stated that it did not care about individual communities.  The Congress attitude was "If you like to come with us, you may, or stay away, if you choose. We will remain neutral and we are marching towards our goal." It was wrong to adopt such an attitude. "I venture to say that the Congress will never reach the goal they desire and we desire unless they appeal to the Muslims."

So far as the Muslims are concerned they owed not only a duty to the community but also to the country. Whether the Congress wanted them to join that body or not, they should organise themselves and compel the Congress to approach them for co-operation. He believed with such organisation the Muslims could arrive at a settlement with the Hindus as two nations, if not as partners."
(end excerpts)

The foregoing discussion provides a context to Jinnah's and Congress's respective strategies in 1937.   Congress's unexpected victories in the 1937 elections made Muslim insecurities as detailed above with respect to provinces and centre, seem more real and acute. At the same time,  with its sweeping electoral victories  Congress became a more powerful challenger to British control over India than ever before and so,  despite Muslim League's own electoral performance, obtaining  Congress concessions to himself on the Muslim question  would put Jinnah in a stronger bargaining position with the British. To hold off a strengthened Congress's demands for independence, the British might be induced to grant Muslims even more than they had in the Act of 1935.   However, Muslims who were aligned with the Congress presented a serious threat to this bargaining position of Jinnah and other Muslim leaders. It is evident [including from his speeches in 1937] that Jinnah considered strict separatism(constitutional  and political) from the Congress and Hindus, as being vital to preserving Muslim interests in the provinces and at the centre.

Congress, on the other hand, was determined to leverage its electoral victories and later, office acceptance, for advancing the nationalist cause and wresting more power from the British.  Hence the party was determined against  collaboration with other parties which might possibly dilute its national-level quest for the sake of enjoying the fruits of provincial-level government office.  Towards strengthening its claims against the British, the Congress was also determined to solicit Muslim mass support  for its party platform and  use the lures of office to court Muslim legislators  into the party fold.  Jinnah and the Congress were thus on a direct confrontation course in 1937.

When Congress refused to concede him  separatism and the role of sole Muslim spokesman  by rejecting his conditions for coalition, Jinnah attempted to impose Muslim separatism de-facto
via communalism and thereby improve his bargaining position.  Though Congress had been willing to offer him a Communal Award-plus settlement when they lasted talked in 1935, he propagated the notion that the Congress intended to deny Muslims any rights at all.

In not settling with, at provincial-level, Muslim parties such as the Muslim League and Krishak Proja Party in Bengal, Congress straightaway forfeited their support at the national level. However Congress would most likely have forfeited such Muslim support later, anyway, given the already evident incompatability(such as described above) of their respective constitutional goals. The 1935 Government of India Act and Congress office acceptance therefore  "smoked out" at the federal  and provincial levels,  the inevitability of a future parting of ways.

A number of Jinnah statements and speeches in 1937 can be found here.
(end comment)

Jawaharlal Nehru and Partition(excerpts)
Bimal Prasad writes:

[I]t is argued that the Muslim League could not have moved towards adopting the demand for Partition if the Congress had formed coalition Ministries with its co-operation, particularly in U.P., where prospects for such a coalition were quite bright. However, thanks to Nehru such a coalition did not materialize. This surmise is based on the assumption, noticed in almost all works dealing with Partition or with the developments leading towards it, that since the Act of 1935 had satisfied almost all demands of the Muslim League there was a relaxed atmosphere in the country on the communal front and the way was open for the inauguration of harmonious Hindu-Muslim relations in the political field. However, the failure of the Congress to form a coalition with the League in U.P., in breach of an understanding arrived at before the elections, when the prospects for a Congress victory did not appear to be bright, seriously upset the League leaders and put them on the road to Partition. . .

[C]ontrary to what is generally imagined, the coming into force of the Act of 1935 did not coincide with a relaxed atmosphere in Hindu-Muslim relations. The controversies raging since 1932 when the Communal Award had been announced and which formed the basis of the electoral system introduced in 1935 continued in full force. The failure of the Jinnah-Prasad talks in 1935 [Gallagher]to find an acceptable alternative to the Award had further worsened the atmosphere, with Jinnah blaming the Congress leaders and the latter blaming  the former for that failure; this controversy was revived in 1937 when the accusations began afresh. To this had been added the resurrection of the Hindu-Urdu controversy occasioned by a chance use by Gandhi in 1936 of the phrase Hindi or Hindustani, without any reference to Urdu. Protagonists of Urdu now charged Gandhi with not being sincere in championing Hindustani and really wishing to promote Hindi in the name of Hindustani. Both Gandhi and Nehru were further accused of a conspiracy to crush Urdu. . .

During the election campaign Congress-League relations had reached a new low. Jinnah took offence at Nehru's remark that in India there were only two parties-those who wanted to perpetuate British rule and others who were fighting to end it-and asserted that there was a third party and that consisted of Muslims. When Jinnah called upon the Congress to keep its hands off Muslims Nehru described it as evidence of a medieval mentality. The exchanges went on and on through public speeches and press statements, further embittering Congress-League relations. This was unavoidable. For while the Congress was determined to use the election campaign to heighten the tempo of the Indian nationalist movement and carry its message to all parts of the country and all sections of the Indian people, the Muslim League was equally determined to establish itself as the sole
representative organisation of the Muslims of India and so inclined to treat as affront any effort on the part of the Congress to woo the Muslims or to put up any candidate of its own in any Muslim constituency. . .

It is also not true that there had been an understanding between the Congress and the League in U.P. on the eve of the elections to the effect that the two organisations would join in forming a coalition ministry. There had been informal co-operation between the members of the two parties in certain constituencies in opposition to the candidate of the National Agriculturist Party. Even Khaliquzzaman, who was most sorely disappointed by the failure of the Congress-League talks in U.P., does not claim more than this: he only asserts that the amicable manner in which the two parties had fought the election in U.P."presaged a future settlement."

It is also remarkable that with diverse channels of information available to the government, it was only in 1940, a full three years after the breakdown of the so-called coalition talks in U.P. that the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, first heard of such an understanding which the Congress was alleged to have broken in the flush of resounding victory at the hustings. The Viceroy got the matter investigated by J.C. Donaldson, who had been Secretary to the Governor of U.P. in 1937 and was then working in the Governor General's Secretariat. Donaldson in his note dated 13 August 1940, categorically stated that he did not think there was any definite agreement of the kind mentioned between the Congress and the Muslim League leaders in Uttar Pradesh. He further added:

I have never heard it seriously alleged that the Muslim League had been tricked in the way suggested. It was, I think, sufficiently well known that while the League got valuable assistance from the Congress in the election, it had not been in a position to contribute to any large extent to the Congress success. The direct benefits of the election alliance went to the League. That body had at that time little to offer to the Congress in U.P., and I do not think that a bargain over Ministerships of the kind suggested was either likely or did in fact take place.

The next senior official, Thorne, agreed with this and remarked that while he had seen occasional allusions to the matter in the press, his impression was that "these stories had no currency (or very little) until a long time had passed and until the manufacture of Muslim League grievances had been organized."

We must also take into account the fact that after the elections the relations between the Congress and the League had further deteriorated. The League leadership was seriously concerned with the inauguration of the mass contact programme of the Congress, including contact with the Muslim masses. Although that programme finally flopped, for reasons into which we need not go into here, it had shown considerable promise in the initial stage and there were reports that the Muslims in several areas were feeling inclined to move towards the Congress.

"I have been a little disturbed." wrote Linlithgow to the Secretary of State Zetland, barely a week after the dispatch of Nehru's circular to Provincial Congress Committees(31 March 1937) regarding the importance of working among the Muslim masses, "to hear from more than one Muslim visitor that there is evidence here and there of a tendency on the part of the rank and file of Mohammedans to drift towards the Congress."

This was particularly  true of U.P. As the Governor, Sir Harry Haig, informed the Viceroy about a month later, the League leaders there were "frankly alarmed at the Congress attempt on the Muslim masses and feared it may be successful." Reports from the Governor of Central Provinces and Bombay, sent as late as October-November 1937, told a similar tale[Hyde Gowan to Linlithgow, 20 October 1937 and Lumley to Linlithgow, 15 November 1937, Linlithgow collection, National Archives of India, Delhi] and Bengal too was affected.  "I do feel," wrote S.H. Suhrawardy to Jinnah in July 1937, "that the Congress mass-contact movement is spreading rapidly and will succeed in course of time unless we set up our own organization."

Jinnah was already seized of the problem likely to be created by the Congress programme and had been warning the Congress to keep off Muslims, thereby in effect asking for the application of the two-nation theory. Thus in a statement issued on 1 July 1937, he affirmed that the Muslim mass-contact programme of the Congress was "fraught with very serious consequences" and added that there was plenty of scope for Nehru "to improve his people, the Hindus," just as the League should try to improve the Muslims. Nehru issued a rejoinder claiming that the number of Muslim members of the Congress was much larger than the total membership of the League and affirming that all the Indian people were his people, regardless of the religion they might profess.

The issue that brought the relations between the Congress and the League to their lowest point until then concerned the tactics employed by the Muslim League during the by-election in Bundelkhand(U.P.) in the beginning of July 1937, caused by the death of a member who had been elected on the Muslim League ticket.  The Congress decided to challenge the League and put up one of its well-known Muslim members as candidate. In view of the then prevailing political situation [the] election was generally considered a trial of strength between two organisations.

The League leaders appealed to the religious sentiments of the voters in a most blatant manner and issued a leaflet declaring that Muslims should come together as they had "been ordered to do by God and his Prophet to support the Muslim League candidate to give a crushing reply to the non-Muslim organization so that in future it would not dare interfere in the affairs of Muslims." To Nehru the use of such tactics appeared as "working for the Dark Age in India."

This not merely widened further the gulf between the Congress and the League, but also created a hiatus between Nehru and Khaliquzzaman, the leader the Muslim League group in the U.P. Legislative Assembly, known till then to be a Congress sympathiser who had continued his personal contacts with the prominent Congress leaders of the state, including Nehru. When Nehru found Khaliquzzaman's name also among the signatories of the leaflet, he was shocked beyond measure. "I could never have associated your name," he wrote to Khaliquzzaman on 27 June 1937, "with a document of this kind. Under any circumstances this would have been difficult to believe, but after our talk in April last, I could hardly believe my eyes." Khaliquzzaman's reply failed to assuage Nehru who now became convinced that the former had clearly jointed the communalist and reactionary camp and there was hardly any meeting ground left between them. As Nehru again wrote to Khaliquzzaman, he was rather glad that the Bundelkhand by-election had clarified the situation and revealed the real nature of the conflict then raging in India. This according to him, was essentially political, between progress on one hand and communalism, religious bigotry and political reaction on the other. He was, he further added, keen to do all that was possible to contribute to the solution of the communal problem, but he could not have any dealings with political reaction because that would mean a surrender of all his principles and "a divorce from the realities of the situation."

It was against this background that the final round of talks took place between the leaders of the Congress and the League in U.P. These talks were from the very beginning centred around some leaders of the League joining the Congress ministry and their supporting MLAs joining the Congress Party in the Assembly, and not around setting up of a Congress-League coalition Ministry. In the second week of February, 1937, before all the election results were available but after it had become clear that the Congress would be returned with a majority, Haig reported to Linlithgow that Congress was likely to have some understanding with the left wing of the League, from which two Ministers were expected to be taken, taking about 15 Leaguers with them into the Congress.

Again, Govind Ballabh Pant, leader of the Congress Party in the U.P. Assembly, thus reported to Nehru on his talks with Khaliquzzaman on 29 March 1937:"I had a long talk with him and stressed the need and advisability of the Nationalist Musalmans merging themselves in the Congress. Similarly, I pressed him to join the Congress actively both inside and outside the legislature." Pant went on to add that Khaliquzzaman had "well-nigh agreed to do so but wanted to examine the matter further before taking an irrevocable decision."

The fact that this was not baseless is confirmed by a subsequent report of the Governor that Khaliquzzaman had "begun almost openly to identify himself with the Congress." He had a talk with Nehru to discuss the terms for joining Congress and, as chairman of the Lucknow Municipal Board, invited Pant to hoist the Congress flag over its office building.  Khaliquzzaman also avoided clarifying the situation to Jinnah for several weeks in spite of the latter's persistent reminders, forcing Jinnah to issue a press statement on 25 April 1937 wondering at "the mystery of this silence" and expressing the hope that the Muslims of U.P. would not betray the Muslims of India and that Khaliquzzaman would not enter into any committments that were likely to be repudiated not only by the Muslims of U.P., but also by Indian Muslims as a whole.

Jinnah followed this up by a visit to Lucknow where he presided over a meeting of the U.P. Parliamentary Board of the League on 7 May 1937 at which a decision was taken against merging the League Party in the Assembly with the Congress Party, but leaving the door open for co-operation with the latter or with any other party on the basis of an agreed programme. Khaliquzzaman, though not happy with the decision, felt it prudent to go along with it, as he did not want to lose the support of the majority of the members of the League Party in the Assembly as well as the League Parliamentary Board in U.P.

The Congress leaders in U.P., however, continued to stick to their line decided upon earlier, i.e., to insist on the merger of the League party in the Assembly with the Congress party and this led to the breakdown of the Congress-League negotiations. Azad, who was in charge of these negotiations from the Congress side, dictating his memoirs about twenty years after the event, when he was not in the best of health, thought that the final round of Congress-League talks held in July 1937 broke down because of Nehru's insistence on having only one nominee of the League in the Ministry instead of two as demanded by Khaliquzzaman.

Actually, Nehru even though reluctantly, and in spite of the serious dilemma involved in leaving out of the Ministry Congress Muslims, however small in number, had agreed to the idea of two League members being taken in as ministers. What caused the breakdown of the Congress-League talks was not the dispute regarding the numer of League members to be taken into the Ministry, but on the terms on which they were to be so taken. On this the most reliable and authoritative version is the one given by Nehru himself, as it had been recorded, just after the breakdown of the talks and in a confidential letter to Rajendra Prasad, Nehru's immediate predecessor in the office of the Congress President and at the time one of the secretaries of the Central Parliamentary Board of the Congress.

According to this letter, after much discussion of the pros and cons in which Nehru, Azad, Pant, J.B.Kripalani and Narendra Dev participated, it had been decided to offer "stringent conditions" to the Muslim League group in U.P. and to agree to take two ministers from it if those conditions were met. These included the League's acceptance of the Congress policy in legislature as settled by its Working Committee in March 1937(according to which the immediate objectives of the Congress were to fight the new constitution, to resist the introduction and implementation of its federal part, to lay stress on the demand for the setting up of a Constituent Assembly and to press this demand by agitation outside); the winding up of the League group in the U.P. Legislature, including the U.P. Parliamentary Board; all League members of the Legislature becoming full members of the Congress Party without necessarily severing all connections with the League(also without being required specifically to take the Congress pledge though abiding by its discipline); no Muslim League candidate being set up in future elections; and the League committing to resign from the ministry or legislature in case of resignation by the Congress members. Upon the League leaders refusing to accept these terms the talks failed.

The Congress strategy in U.P. was not the special handiwork of Nehru alone, though he certainly had a hand in it, may be a little more than others, but broadly in line with the then Congress policy of projecting itself as the representative organisation of all sections of the Indian people, regardless of the community or religion to which they might belong, and not to enter into any alliance with any party which might compromise its position in this respect, or come in the way of working the Act of 1935 in the way it really wanted. In brief, the Congress plan was to work the Act as to accelerate the march towards independence by pressing for the setting up of a Constituent Assembly and, in the meanwhile, utilise whatever power was available under it to ameliorate the plight of the peasantry so as to expand its base among them, again regardless of the religious or communal affiliation of the people involved. It is significant that the first statement affirming that the Congress was not interested in entering into alliance with any other party in the legislatures came as early as 12 February 1937, when many results were still to be announced, and that the author of the statement was not Nehru but Rajendra Prasad, who as the then Congress President, had burnt his fingers by having had prolonged but futile negotiations with Jinnah in 1935 for hammering out a formula to replace the Communal Award. . .

In the course of his presidential address to the All-India Convention of Congress Legislators on 19 March 1937, [Nehru] stressed that any reversion to the old policy would not help solve the communal problem, but further aggravate it. The right course for the Congress to follow was to go directly to the Muslim masses with an emphasis on solving their economic problems which were not different from those of the other sections of the Indian people. The Congress mass-contact programme with special emphasis on Muslims, soon followed.

While Nehru, as President of the Congress at that time, did most of the talking, the policy being followed had been decided upon by the Congress leadership as a whole, including Gandhi, Patel, Prasad and Azad as well as Nehru. . .

The same conclusion is confirmed by what happened in Bombay. The Muslim League had done its best there, securing twenty out of a total of thirty-nine Muslim seats(better than U.P. where the League had secured twenty-seven out of a total of sixty-four). According to Kanji Dwarka Das, a friend and admirer of Jinnah, B.G.Kher, the leader of the Congress Assembly Party, sought Jinnah's co-operation in forming a ministry and asked him to nominate two persons from the League for appointment as ministers. Jinnah readily agreed, and offered full co-operation to the Congress Ministry. However, the Congress High Command, particularly Vallabhbhai Patel, intervened and reprimanded Kher for having approached Jinnah. It began to be said that members of the League could be appointed as ministers only if they resigned from their organisation and joined the Congress. Jinnah regard this as humiliating and instantly rejected it.

This version has been contested by K.M.Munshi who was one of the prominent members of the Congress Ministry in Bombay during 1937-39 and quite close to Kher. According to him, instead of Kher approaching Jinnah, it was Jinnah who had talked first to Munshi as well as Kher about such co-operation. Detailed discussions had taken place between Jinnah's emissary Cowasjee Jehangir, on the one hand, and Patel and Azad on the other, with Kher and Munshi also present on several occasions during the discussions. The League wanted two ministers in the cabinet. Patel and Azad, however, rejected the offer of co-operation as it was made clear on Jinnah's behalf that his nominees would neither join the Congress Legislature Party nor accept its discipline. They would also not accept the principle of joint responsibility.[Munshi, Pilgrimage to Freedom,1902-1950, 1967]  The Congress leaders felt that if Jinnah's nominees were taken into the Congress Ministry under such terms, "Jinnah would have dictated the whole policy of the Government through his nominees, who, on every occasion, would threaten to resign." [Munshi, Oral History Transcript no. 15, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, Delhi]. . .

Now about the supposed result of the failure of the talks for Congress-League co-operation in Ministry-formation in U.P. and Bombay. There is incontrovertible evidence that even before the beginning of the final talks for the formation of the so-called Coalition Ministries in these provinces, nay even before the publicaton of the Viceroy's statement of 22 June 1937, given an assurance against the arbitrary use of special powers by the Governors, thereby opening the way for the formation of Congess Ministries in different provinces, Jinnah had begun to feel inclined towards the idea of a separate, sovereign Muslim State. It was at this time that in confidential letters addressed to him, Iqbal, the poet-philosopher of Muslim nationalism, finally declared that the only proper solution of the Indian problem lay in the Muslim majority areas of India emerging as an independent State or States. . .

Jinnah's replies to these letters[dated 28 May 1937 and 21 June 1937] have not been found, but towards the end of his foreword to the publication(1942) containing them, he refers to Iqbal's views on the future of Muslim India and remarks:

His views were substantially in consonance with my own and had finally led me to the same conclusion as a result of careful examination and study of constitutional problems facing India, and found expression in due course in the united will of Muslim India as adumbrated in the Lahore Resolution of the All-India Muslim League, popularly known as the "Pakistan Resolution" passed on 23 March 1940.

This was written two years after the passing of the Lahore Resolution and may be treated by some as an after-thought. But a careful perusal of Iqbal's letter to Jinnah dated 21 June 1937, clearly shows that the latter's statement in the foreword is based on truth; there was no time difference in the views of Iqbal and Jinnah regarding the ultimate political future of Indian Muslims. Jinnah in his reply to Iqbal's earlier letter had not at all differed from Iqbal on this point, but only argued caution in view of the fact that the Muslims were not yet sufficiently organised and disciplined. The following lines from Iqbal's letter under reference lend themselves only to this meaning:

Some Muslims in the Punjab are already suggesting the holding of a North-West Indian Muslim Conference, and the idea of a separate Muslim State is rapidly spreading. I agree with you, however, that our community is not yet sufficiently organised and disciplined and perhaps the time for holding such a conference is not yet ripe. But I feel it would be highly advisable for you to indicate in your address at least the line of action that the Muslims of North-West India would be finally driven to take.

There is also evidence of the fact that Jinnah had by that time determined his plan of action to achieve his goal, that is, to pursue a programme of intensified communalism. The Governor of Bombay, Lord Brabourne, reporting to the Viceroy on his conversation with Jinnah in early June 1937, wrote:

Jinnah went on to tell me some of his plans for consolidating the Muslim League throughout India and how he is doing his utmost to awaken the Muhammedans to the necessity of standing on their own feet more than they do now. His policy is to preach communalism morning, noon and night and to endeavour to get the Muhammadens to found more schools, to open purely Muhammadan hospitals, children's homes, etc, and to teach them generally to stand on their own feet and make themselves independent of the Hindus.

What has been written above will, it is hoped, free us from the traditional unhistorical view regarding the background, nature and significance of the failure of the Congress-League talks in U.P. Neither the general political situation nor the state of relations between the Congress and the Muslim League was conducive to the formation of a coalition between them. There had also been no prior understanding between them regarding it. Besides, the top leadership of the League had already, before serious negotiations for a so-called coalition had even commenced, began veering round to the idea of a separate Muslim state, mooted several years earlier. . .

It would not, however, be proper to go to the other extreme and assume, as has been done by some, that the failure of the talks had "no weighty consequences"[Sarvepalli Gopal]. Nehru, who contrary to the impression recently sought to be created[Sarvepalli Gopal, B.R.Nanda], though not solely responsible for Congress policy in 1937, had certainly had a hand in shaping it, along with others, and had been opposed to any coalition with the Muslim League right from the beginning, showed a better understanding of the consequences of their failure. Even while continuing to consider the decision of the Congress not to enter into a coalition with the Muslim League as "natural and logical" in the then existing circumstances, he admits that "the consequences of it on the communal question were unfortunate and it led to a feeling of grievance and isolation among the Muslims".

At the stage reached by Indian politics by the summer of 1937 these consequences were indeed weighty and immensely helped the League in its drive to re-invigorate itself and increase its following among the masses as well as the elite. What happened in U.P. and Bombay could be shown as a model for what would happen when responsible government was established at the Centre: only those Muslims who were prepared to join the Congress could have a share in the government. This was a most unwelcome prospect for the Muslim elite, who were determined to maintain their separate political identity and at the same time secure a substantial share in power, not necessarily limited to the proportion of their co-religionists to the total population of the country. The spectre of Hindu domination, haunting the minds of the Muslim elite right from the beginning of the talk of responsible government in India and considerably magnified by the establishment of Congress dominance in the majority of the provinces, foreshadowing a similar dominance at the Centre, now began to appear much more menacing than might otherwise have been the case.

It may, however, be worth pondering whether Jinnah would have been less advantaged in carrying out his mission of reviving and strengthening the League, rallying most of the Muslims under it and then moving on to demand Partition and the creation of Pakistan if through a pact with the Congress, the League had been able to secure a foothold in the Ministries of Bombay and U.P., with bright prospects for acquiring a similar foothold in other Congress-led ministries. But that may perhaps be speculation and not history.
(end quotes from Bimal Prasad)

Memories of a Fragmented Nation(short excerpt)

Mushirul Hasan writes:

. . .
At the time when the Muslim League was flexing its muscles, India's First Prime Minister is said to have jettisoned the plan for a Congress-League coalition in 1937 and dimmed the prospect of an enduring Hindu-Muslim coalition in India politics. Thus the mainstay of the argument is that the country's vivisection could have been avoided had Nehru acted judiciously on this and other critical  junctures in the 1940s.[N.B:The judgement is harsh, though many contemporary observers believed that Jinnah may not have had the space to press his campaign in the United Provinces if the coalition issue was amicably resolved. The lieutenant-governor of UP felt that way. Harry Haig to Linlithgow, 3 June 1939...]

Though such impressions rest on questionable assumptions, they cannot be brushed aside.[N.B. On the coalition issue, there is unmistakable evidence to suggest that talks for a Congress-Muslim League alliance were initiated sometime in March-April 1937. Though Nehru had opposed 'all pacts and coalitions with small groups at the top', Abdul Wali of Barabanki(UP) referred to a scheme 'being hatched with the help of Pantiji[G.B.Pant] and Mohanlal[Saxena] to bring about coalition between the Congress and League parties in the Assembly'. The lieutenant-governor of UP reported on 7 April that the League was looking forward to an alliance with the Congress and felt that 'at present it looks as if the new government will gradually attract to itself a fair number of Muslim Leaguers'.]
(end quotes from Mushirul Hasan)


A couple of excerpts from  statements by Jinnah in 1934 are included here for general information, as being somewhat relevant to the context of 1937.

Interview to the Associated Press regarding his impression of the meeting of the League Council, New Delhi, April 3, 1934(excerpt)

The emphasis which Muslims place on the Communal Award is only an indication of their desire to make sure that  any national demand which they join to put forward on behalf of the country will incorporate the safeguards which Muslims consider to be a minimum. Muslims are in no way behind any other community in their demand for national self-government. The crux of the whole issue, therefore, is: can we completely assure Muslims that the safeguards to which they attach vital importance will be embodied in the future Constitution of India?

Statement regarding his talks with Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Bombay, April 6, 1934(full text)

That Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya proprosed a trip to London with a view to persuading the British Cabinet to force Europeans in Bengal to part with some of their seats under the communal award was revealed in the course of an interview with the Associated Press by Mr. M.A.Jinnah on his arrival from Delhi.

"I am essentially grieved", he added, "that a leader like Pandit Malaviya should have disclosed the details of our conversations. I cannot help saying that this is a breach of confidence and I feel that unless I state the whole of the conversation I am likely to be misunderstood by the public. In these circumstances I am compelled to state briefly what actually took place."

Bengal Governor Refuses Interference
Pandit Malaviya's proposal was that he had almost brought about an agreement at Allahabad. Hindus were willing to give 51 per cent, and keep only 44 percent for themselves in Bengal on the basis of joint electorates. But the difficulty was that this could be given effect to provided Europeans parted  with a certain number of seats which were alloted to them under the communal award.

He approached the Europeans in Calcutta but they point blank refused to part with anything. Then he went to the Governor of Bengal, who was sympathetic, but said that in a matter of this kind it was most difficult for him to interfere. Therefore Panditji told me that the Bengal question could be settled if I joined hands with him and approached them again.

Proposal to Approach British Cabinet
I told him that if the Europeans again refused what shall we do?

Panditji said that then we shall go to Lord Willingdon and ask him to press the Europeans to accept a less number of seats having regard to the fact that they have been given excessive representation under the communal award.

Suppose the Viceroy also gives the same reply as the Bengal Governor what shall we do?

We shall then, said Panditji go to England and persuade the British Cabinet to force Europeans to part with their excessive number of seats or modify the communal award in order to give effect to our proposals, namely 51 seats for Muhammadan and 44 for Hindus and joint electorates.

Joint Electorate Basis for Punjab
As regards the Punjab his proposal was that he would not be able to persuade the Hindus and Sikhs to accept the communal award, as it stands. Therefore, he suggested that the Muslims of Punjabshould accept joint electorates only with 49 per cent seats which were allotted to them under the communal award by separate electorates, and they should not contest, at any rate during the first election, the seats for commerce, University, Labour, etc.

I said I wouldnot be able to persuade the Muslims to accept this arrangement, but Panditji informed me that Sir Fazli Hussain had almost agreed to it.

I said that if the Punjab leaders were willing to agree to your proposal or any other, I shall put my signature thereto blindly, if they agree and if they were satisfied with such a settlement.

Thereupon Panditji told me that he would see Sir Fazli and let me know. I don't know what happened between him and Sir Fazli but on the morning of April 5 when I was just leaving for Bombay I got a message from Panditji saying that Sir Fazli did not agree.

The Bengal Proposal
Regarding his Bengal proposal, I told Panditji that apart from practical objections to the course he suggested that was not the kind of unity I wanted, which can only be brought about with the consent of Europeans or Lord Willingdon or the British Cabinet.

I also told him that there were many other practical objections to the course. I for one do [not? -blogger] like to go to any outsider for what I consider is primarily a business of our own people, but anyhow that question would stand over until the Punjab question could make any progress!

The point of view I urged was that it was a fact that we could not settle and thereafter our leaders of various groups including Malaviyaji, the Hindu Mahasabha leaders, Sikh leaders and the rest of the group asked the Premier to make an award. He has made the award. For the time being let us accept it and come together and we shall under a new atmosphere, if created be in a better position to discuss a substitute and God willing we may produce an agreement.

Mr. Jinnah takes initiative
Therefore, the first thing is, let us get together. We have spent enough time in discussing safeguards for our communities. Let us now concentrate upon the interests of our mother land. If a settlement be brought about, I assured him that nothing will please me more and I was willing to do all that I could to bring about that.

It is a pity that some Delhi newspapers have created some mischief in stating that I took the initiative to approach Pandit Malaviya. I would not be sorry if I had but all the more the credit is due to Pandit Malaviya for taking the initiative and surely this is hardly a matter worth taking notice of by the public.
The Star of India, April 7, 1934

Update in 08/09:
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Durga Das (1) 1919-1931,  Jallianwala Bagh to Bhagat Singh

Durga Das (2) 1931-1936,  Crescent Card: Jinnah in London to Fazli Husain in Punjab

Durga Das(3)  1937-1940 Provincial Autonomy to Jinnah gets the veto

Durga Das(4) 1940-1945 The War Years: India's War Effort-Pakistan on a platter

Durga Das(5)  1945-1947 The Cabinet Mission to Divide and Quit

1937-1940(2)  Congress and Jinnah fall out in U.P., Jinnah's anti-Congress campaign and the Viceroy gives Jinnah a Veto: Ayesha Jalal, Sarvepalli Gopal and Stanley Wolpert

1937: Congress-Jinnah tussle over coalition government in United Provinces, M.J. Akbar

1857-1938 Glimpses of British policy in Punjab: Ian Talbot and David Page

Glendevon (1) 1937  Congress's Office Acceptance Saga over Governor's Powers,   John  Glendevon

Glendevon (2) 1937-1940 Federation, Jinnah,  Congress activism in Princely States John  Glendevon

Glendevon (3) 1939-1942  Linlithgow, Congress, Jinnah,War-time Realignments,   John  Glendevon

1939-1940 India and the War, Anita Inder Singh

1945-1946: The Elections of 1945-46, Anita Inder Singh

1930-1939  Congress in Bengal, John Gallagher

1937 Nehru, Jinnah and Coalition Governments, Bimal Prasad

1939-1947 Jinnah and the Anglo-Muslim League Alliance, Narendra Singh Sarila

CMP(1) - From Ayesha Jalal's 'The Sole Spokesman''

CMP(2) - The Congress League positions on 12 May 1946

CMP(3) - The Cabinet Mission Plan 16 May 1946>

CMP(4) - Jinnah's and Muslim League's responses tto the Cabinet Mission Plan 22 May  and June 6 1946

CMP(5) - Jinnah's meeting with Mission Delegationn on 4 April 1946

CMP(6) -  Jinnah's meeting with Mission Deleegation on 16 April 1946

CMP(7A) -  Maulana Azad's meeting with Missioon Delegation on 17 April 1946

CMP(7) - The Congress unease with parity- it's exxchanges with the Mission  8-9 May 1946

CMP(7B) Jinnah and Azad's responses to the Cabinet Mission's preliminary proposals 8-9 May 1946

CMP(8A) Simla Conference meetings on 5 May 1946 on the powers of the Union

CMP(8) - More exchanges on parity during Simla Coonference meeting  11 May 1946

CMP(9)- Jinnah's Conversations with Major Wyatt(1) on Pakistan and the Cabinet Mission Plan , 8 January and 25 May 1946

CMP(10) - Jinnah's Conversations with Major Wyatt((2) on the interim government, 11 June 1946

CMP(12)- Congress Working Committe resolutions, May-June 1946

CMP(12A) Congress and the Cabinet Mission's arguments over inclusion of a Congress Muslim in the Interim Government June 12 and June 23 1946

CMP(13)- Jawaharlal Nehru's press conference on the Plan, 10 July 1946

CMP(14) - League withdrew from Plan, called Directt Action, Viceroy Wavell talked to Nehru, July-August 1946

CMP(15) - The Viceroy tried to strong-arm Nehru annd Gandhi on compulsory grouping, Pethick Lawrence to Attlee, August-September 1946

CMP(16)- Intelligence assessment on Jinnah's options and threat of civil war, September 1946

CMP(17)- The League's boycott of the Constituent Assembly, Jinnah and Wavell, Mission insisting on compulsory grouping, etc October 1946-January 1947
CMP(17A) Congress "climbdown" on grouping and Jinnah's rejection, January 1947

CMP (A1) - Additional material - Some Plain speaking from Sir Khizr Hayat, Abell on the Breakdown plan, Viceroy to Jinnah

CMP(A2) North West Frontier Province, October-November 1946 and February-March 1947

CMP(A3) Bengal and Bihar, August - November 1946

CMP(A4) Punjab, February - March 1947

CMP (18) - My take

CMP (19) - What did parity and communal veto mean in numbers?

CMP(20) Another summary /take on the Cabinet Mission Plan-with links to the above reference material

CMP(21) Mountbatten discusses the Cabinet Mission Plan with Sardar Patel and M. A. Jinnah, 24-26 April 1947

CMP(22) A reply on the Cabinet Mission Plan

Extra(1) - Speech by Jinnah in March 1941 outlining the case for an independent sovereign Pakistan 

Extra(1A) Jinnah's Speeches and Statements from 1941-1942

Extra(1B) Jinnah's Speeches and Statements from 1938-1940

Extra(1C) Jinnah's speeches and Statements from 1943-45

Extra(2) -  Jinnah's letter to Gandhi during GGandhi-Jinnah talks in 1944 on defining Pakistan

Extra(3)- B.R. Ambedkar quoted from his book 'Pakistan or the Partition of India'  

Extra(4) Congress and Muslim parties' positions on the Communal question 1927-1931

Extra(4A) Excerpts of Motilal Nehru Committee Report 1928

Extra(4B) Nehru, Bose, Jinnah Correspondence 1937-38

Extra(6) Gandhiji's scheme of offering the Prime Ministership to Jinnah in 1947

Extra(6A) Jinnah on Congress's offers of Prime Ministership 1940-43 and Gandhi's 1943 letter to Jinnah from jail

Extra (6B) April-July 1947  Negotiations on Pakistan between Mountbatten and Jinnah

Extra(7) M.A.Jinnah and Maulana Azad on two nation theory

Extra(8) Comments on Separate electorates, Joint electorates and Reserved constituencies

Extra(9) Links to a selection of cartoons on Indian constitutional parleys published in the Daily Mail, UK, in 1942 and 1946-1947, by L.G. Illingworth, from National Library of Wales' online Illingworth exhibition