Rediff Logo freedom BANNER ADS Find/Feedback/Site Index


The two 'great evils' -- discontentment and political consciousness which were sought to be avoided by the British -- had crept into the Indian armed forces

pak In January 1942, the pressure on Britain increased further. This was mainly due to the Japanese threat from the East and the consequent US intervention in favour of Indian Independence in order to strengthen resistance against Japan. The British were led to realise that:

  • any step in the constitutional sphere which would alienate Muslim opinion might have the most serious repercussions on India's war effort whereas active assistance of the Indian National Congress would not make much difference to India's fighting strength though it would be of value internally in such matters as civil defence.

    Under the circumstances, the British officials had to cast a favourable glance at the demand for Pakistan, even though they were not yet prepared to commit themselves on the issue of Pakistan. They accepted in principle that the dissident units could opt out of the federation 'for the time being and possibly altogether.' This, they thought, would meet Jinnah's demand and at the same time induce the Congress to come to terms with the Muslims provinces in order to secure a United India.

    The Cripps Mission was sent to India precisely for this purpose. It, however, failed in its purpose because it did not give the Congress and the Muslim League control of Indian defence, nor did it withdraw the provision of the non-accession for the provinces. Perhaps, deep down, the British government was happy at the Mission's failure because it did not like any fundamental change in the service conditions of the Indian troops which could have an 'unsettling effect' on them while the war was in progress.

    But the result of the Cripps Proposals was that the British, for the first time, accepted the principle of the non-accession of the provinces to the Indian Union, giving the demand for Pakistan a touch of acceptable reality. Naturally, the Muslim League came out much stronger than before, especially in the Punjab and Bengal, giving Jinnah a position of pre-eminence.

    In August 1942, the Congress, dissatisfied by the August offer and the Cripps proposals, decided to exert pressure on the British by launching the Quit India movement. The timing of the movement was obviously designed to take advantage of the war situation.

    Japan, which had already conquered Burma, was expected to invade India soon after the monsoon was over in September 1942. The Quit India movement, however, failed. Its failure brought out the fact that no movement could succeed without the support of the Muslim League and the Muslims.

    During the 1943-45 period, when the fortunes of the war turned in favour of Allied victory, the British began to wriggle out of their previous stance vis-a-vis the Muslims and in favour of a united India. But Jinnah could not be deterred from his demand as he had faith in the inherent strength of the Muslim potential and had realised the importance of the military factor in British decision making.

    Early in 1944, the Congress was also forced to acknowledge the importance of the Muslim League which is evident from the initiatives such as the Gandhi-Jinnah talks. It is another matter that the initiatives did not bear fruit as the Congress was not prepared to accede to the demand for Pakistan. In early 1945, fresh moves were made by the Congress for which the Liaquat-Desai understanding was reached. But the basic problem between them remained unresolved as the Congress leadership was not willing to meet the Muslim League on an equal footing.

    Nevertheless, the British government had been obliged to seek greater association of Indians in the councils of the government. The Muslims came out even better because they received a much greater representation than their numerical strength warranted. Obviously, the war had changed the British attitude in which their concern for possible repercussions in the Muslim Middle East played in important role. They were also not unmindful of the Allied interest in the independence of India.

    This naturally strengthened the determination of the Muslim League to fight for the achievement of Pakistan. But then, towards the end of the war, the British began once more to balance their relations with the Congress when the latter showed its inclination to co-operate with the government. A united India again became a popular theme with the British.

    The result was that when the war came to an end, the Muslim League had to struggle even harder, for the British policy was geared to ensuring a united India. The object of the 1945 Simla Conference was, therefore, to by-pass the Pakistan issue and to get the political parties working together in the central government. But Simla could not kill the Pakistan issue.

    Wavell then decided to expose 'the crudity of Jinnah's ideas' and put the Pakistan scheme to examination with counter proposals. The idea was to discover some alternative to Pakistan and make the Muslim participate in the formation of an Indian constitution. But the result of the elections of 1945-46 demonstrated that an overwhelming majority of Muslims wanted Pakistan.

    The British government, however, remained firm on keeping India united and, in March 1946, a British Cabinet Mission came to India which rejected the case of a 'sovereign' Pakistan. Instead, it recommended a three-tier constitution in which an 'autonomous' Pakistan was proposed.

    Initially, the Muslim League accepted the Plan, perhaps as a stepping stone towards a sovereign Pakistan, but later rejected it because the Congress was not prepared to accept the scheme of the grouping of the provinces as envisaged in the Plan. The Cabinet Mission failed, but the Government of India showed a definite tilt towards the Congress. This led the Muslim League to declare its intention of resorting to 'Direct Action.'

    The British government, in order to share responsibility and keep India integrated, announced the formation of an Interim government consisting of the Congress, the Muslim League, and other minorities. Accordingly, on September 2, 1946, an interim government headed by Nehru was sworn in.

    Some seven weeks later, the Muslim League also joined it. But since the arms and objectives of both the parties were divergent, no working co-operation between them could be established. The Congress members demanded the resignation of the Muslim League members of the government on the grounds that the League's working committee had resolved that it would not join the Constituent Assembly of India. This demand was not acceded to by the British, because they thought it would be 'fatal' for the government to keep the League out.

    But the problem remained unsolved. This led the British government to call a conference of important political leaders in London. Consequently, on December 6, 1946, the British government announced that it would not like to force a constitution upon the unwilling parts of the country which shows that the situation had taken such a turn that they just could not dismiss the case of Pakistan.

    In the ultimate analysis, however, much depended on the attitude of the armed forces. The two 'great evils' -- discontentment and political consciousness which were sought to be avoided by the British government -- had crept into the Indian armed forces. The discontentment was caused due to discriminatory treatment meted out to them in terms of service conditions and resettlement schemes after retirement.

    The induction of the educated element in the forces and the acceleration of the process of Indianisation had made them conscious of rapid political change. There had also been a growing feeling that they were being used as mercenaries. There had been instances of mutinies during the war which show the pressure of discontentment and unrest.

    Nehru After the war was over, the hero worship of ex-INA personnel encouraged the troops in believing that mutiny was more rewarding than remaining loyal to the British. The Naval Mutiny in Bombay and Karachi and, later, among the airmen at a number of bases and some elements in the army at Jabalpore were symptomatic of such feelings. The police and the railwaymen also felt the pinch as did the general public which came out into the streets and participated in anti-British riots.

    The revolt of the military could not be allowed to spread and the British quickly reassured them that the subcontinent would be made independent.

    Excerpted from Making of Pakistan: The Military Perspective, by Dr Noor-ul Haq, Reliance Publishing House, 1997, Rs 395, with the publisher's permission. Readers who wish to buy a copy of this book may write to Reliance Publishing House, 3026/7H, Ranjit Nagar, New Delhi 11 00 08.

  • Back


    Tell us what you think of this feature