SURGE TOWARDS FREEDOM – 05
SURGE TOWARDS FREEDOM – 05
Unfortunately, communal discord was becoming an acute problem in Indian politics. In pursuance of its own creed, the Congress did not find it possible to agree to the formula of a coalition with the Muslim League in each province. M.A. Jinnah who had once been an advocate of the theory of one-nation in line with the view of the Congress, now denounced the policies and activities of the Congress ministries and declared that ‘the Muslims can expect neither justice nor fair play under Congress Government.’ However, his charges against the latter were never sub-stantiated. Jinnah became the undisputed leader of the Muslim League, which claimed to be recognized as the one authoritative and representative organization of the Muslims in India. Jinnah strongly held that ‘the democratic system of parliamentary Government and the conception of a homogeneous nation and the method of counting beads’ was not possible in India. Under his instructions, the Muslim League observed a ‘Day of Deliverance’ as a mark of relief after the resignation of the Congress ministries in the provinces.
When Great Britain declared war against Germany on September 3, 1939, Lord Linlithgow, the Viceroy and Governor-General of India proclaimed that India also was at war with Germany and asked her to play a part worthy of her place among the great nations and the historic civilizations of the world. India entirely disapproved of Fascist and Nazi ideologies and practices, but taking into consideration her tremendous responsibilities, the Congress Working Committee registered a protest against India being drawn into belligenercy ‘without the consent of the Indian people’. The Congress issued terms’ what their ‘War Aims’ were in regard to ‘Democracy’ and ‘imperialism’ and how these aims were ‘going to apply to India’. The Government were also asked to state if India was going to be treated as ‘an independent nation’. In the absence of any satisfactory answer all the Congress ministries resigned in October – November 1939 and Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935, was immediately enforced in these provinces. Under this Section, the Governor by suspending the legislatures, began to exercise the powers of the provincial governments and the Legislatures. As the was taking a menacing turn for the Allies, the Congress offered to co-operate in the war effort, if at least a provisional ‘National Government’ was constituted at the Centre and ‘the right of India to complete Independence’ was acknowledged by Great Britain. The Governments’ response was a statement of the Viceroy on August 8, 1940 known afterwards as the ‘August Offer’. It said that the British Government ‘could not contemplate the transfer of their present responsibilities for the peace and welfare of India to nay system of Government whose authority is directly denied by large and powerful elements of Indi’s national life.’ The statement held out the prospect of a representative body for framing India’s constitution after the war was over. Meanwhile, the British Government it was mentioned would welcome the efforts of ‘representative Indians themselves to reach a basis of friendly agreement’ and they hoped that immediate effect would be given to the enlargement of the Central Executive Council by nominating additional Indian members and to the establishment of a ‘War Advisory Council’ composed of representatives of British India and the Indian states.
The ‘August Offer’ shocked nationalist India and was wholly rejected by the Congress. “it widens the gulf”, remarked Mahatma Gandhi, “between India as represented by the Congress, and England”. “We want independence and not dominion or nay other status” observed Jawaharlal Nehru. As a moral protest against Britain’s policy towards India, the Congress started “Individual Civil Disobedience” in October 1940, under the guidance of Mahatma Gandhi, and it continued for over fourteen months.
The Congress continued to be true to its ideal of a free united India. While the British Government harped on ‘the issue of minorities’ and some talked of the ‘unbridgeable gulf between the Congress and the Muslim League’, Mahatma Gandhi held that it was a domestic problem which would disappear if the British withdrew from India. At the Ramgarh (Bihar) session of the Congress, held in March 1940, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the president emphasized the heritage of a common nationality between the Hindus and the Muslims in India and significantly remarked. “Whether we like it or not, we have now become an Indian nation, united and indivisible”. Various factors fanned communal bitterness and at its annual session, held at Lahore in March 1940, the Muslim League enunciated the theory that the Muslims ‘are not a minority’ but a ‘nation’ and they must have their homeland, their territory and their state. it wanted that, ‘the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the north-western and eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign’. Indeed, the influence of the Muslim League over the Muslims in India had increased much by that time.
The constitutional deadlock continued and the declaration of Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, in this House of Commons on September 9, 1941, that the Atlantic Charter did not apply to India increased the dissatisfaction of the Indians. But the international situation was growing more and more ominous. The success of the Japanese in the Pacific, surrender of Singapore to them on February 15, 1942 and their capture of Rangoon and Mandalay on March 7 and April 29, respectively, brought the war peril to the very door of India. The air raids on Colombo, Vishakhapatnam and Kakinada, also in the month of April, and the presence of Japanese warships in the Bay of Bengal exposed the whole of the eastern coastline of India to attack.