The mass upsurge offered little opportunity to the Muslim League or Jinnah to consolidate their positions. Jinnah also did not subscribe to the non-constitutional tactics of a mass upheaval or to the use of politics for securing the narrow ends of religion. He resigned from the Congress in 1920. The League also withdrew from the Lucknow Pact in 1922, finding that it inhibited its opportunities for growth. Neither Jinnah nor the Muslim League at this point of time could claim to speak for the Muslims of India. The League’s communal politics had made the leaders of the Muslim community in the country examine the question of whether their Islamic religion conflicted with their Indian nationalism.
“¦the Khilafat movement did not succeed in its objective of preventing the demise of the Caliphate in Turkey and demonstrated that use of Islam as a political weapon could be counter-productive.
Most important Muslims like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were emphatic that no room for such a conflict existed, since religion operated in the personal sphere and nationalism in the political sphere. Their sentiment is best expressed by Maulana Mohammed Ali in the following words: “Where God commands …I am a Muslim first, a Muslim second and a Muslim last and nothing but a Muslim …But where India is concerned, where India’s freedom is concerned, where the welfare of India is concerned, I am an Indian first, an Indian second, an Indian last and nothing but an Indian, …I belong to two circles of equal size but which are not concentric. One is India and the other is Muslim… We belong to these circles… and we can leave neither.”7
While, thus, the nationalist Muslim leaders felt no dilemma between the needs of a personal religion and national destiny, the Muslim League and Jinnah remained bent on exploiting the communal card to secure political power. The Congress leaders were alive to such aspirations and were ready to offer adjustments. The Motilal Nehru Committee set up in 1928 to prepare an outline for an Indian constitution proposed that a balance should be maintained between the Hindu majority and Muslim majority province’s But the League now wanted 33 per cent reservations of all seats for the Muslims. The Nehru Committee was prepared to concede reservations proportionate to population only. Jinnah was dissatisfied by this formulation of the Nehru Committee but did not drive himself to the extreme position which he was to take later in 1940. He had not given up on the “necessity of a Hindu Muslim settlement… and of a friendly and harmonious spirit in this vast country of ours”.9
The results of the elections conducted in 1937 under the 1935 Government of India Act, which gave a Parliamentary democratic set up to the provinces within a federal structure led to an intense soul searching within the League leadership. Congress received absolute majority in all the provinces except Assam, Bengal, Punjab and Sindh. The League could secure only 104 out of the 489 seats under separate electorates. In the Muslim majority state of Punjab it managed to get only one seat out of 86 and in Bengal 37 seats out of 119.10
The poor results clearly proved that the League could not speak for the Muslims of the country, and that its agenda had not stirred the Muslims on the whole.
In keeping with its traditions, the Congress offered to include League representatives in the governments it formed in the provinces, provided they joined the Congress legislature parties. The League rejected the offer fearing ultimate self-liquidation, which would be totally contrary to its desire to capture power on its own. It, therefore, concentrated on using the communal approach to the hilt. It set about convincing the Muslim masses that in an independent India, there would be no way of escaping from an overarching framework, comprehensively dominated by Hindus.
In a report published in 1939, it sought to widen the distance between the Muslims and Hindus by accusing the Congress provincial governments of systematic suppression and oppression of Muslims. When these governments resigned abruptly at the beginning of World War II to protest against the Viceroy’s committing India to the war on the side of the Allies, without any prior consultation with the Indian political leaders, Jinnah called for the occasion to be observed as a day ‘of deliverance and thanksgiving’. The call amounted to a crude attempt to hurt the sentiments of the vast numbers of nationalists in the country, inflame Muslim opinion and convey to the British the support of the Muslims, as represented by the League, in the war against Germany.
To be continued…