Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah: Postwar (Episode 12)

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah: Postwar (Episode 12)

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Field Marshal Viscount Wavell succeeded Linlithgow as Viceroy in 1943. In June 1945, following the release of the Congress leaders, Wavell called for a conference and invited the leading figures from the various communities to meet with him at Simla. He proposed a temporary government along the lines which Liaquat and Desai had agreed. However, Wavell was unwilling to guarantee that only the League’s candidates would be placed in the seats reserved for Muslims. All other invited groups submitted lists of candidates to the Viceroy. Wavell cut the conference short in mid-July without further seeking an agreement; with a British general election imminent, Churchill’s government did not feel it could proceed.

The British people returned Clement Attlee and his Labour Party later in July. Attlee and his Secretary of State for India, Lord Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, immediately ordered a review of the Indian situation. Jinnah had no comment on the change of government, but called a meeting of his Working Committee and issued a statement calling for new elections in India. The League held influence at the provincial level in the Muslim-majority states mostly by the alliance, and Jinnah believed that, given the opportunity, the League would improve its electoral standing and lend added support to his claim to be the sole spokesman for the Muslims. Wavell returned to India in September after consultation with his new masters in London; elections, both for the center and for the provinces, were announced soon after. The British indicated that formation of a constitution-making body would follow the votes.

The Muslim League declared that they would campaign on a single issue: Pakistan. Speaking in Ahmedabad, Jinnah echoed this, “Pakistan is a matter of life or death for us.” In the December 1945 elections for the Constituent Assembly of India, the League won every seat reserved for Muslims. In the provincial elections in January 1946, the League took 75% of the Muslim vote, an increase from 4.4% in 1937. The Congress dominated the central assembly nevertheless, though it lost four seats from its previous strength.

In February 1946, the British Cabinet resolved to send a delegation to India to negotiate with leaders there. This Cabinet Mission included Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence. The highest-level delegation to try to break the deadlock, it arrived in New Delhi in late March. Little negotiation had been done since the previous October because of the elections in India. The British in May released a plan for a united Indian state comprising substantially autonomous provinces and called for “groups” of provinces formed on the basis of religion. Matters such as defense, external relations, and communications would be handled by a central authority. Provinces would have the option of leaving the union entirely, and there would be an interim government with representation from the Congress and the League. Jinnah and his Working Committee accepted this plan in June, but it fell apart over the question of how many members of the interim government the Congress and the League would have, and over the Congress’s desire to include a Muslim member in its representation. Before leaving India, the British ministers stated that they intended to inaugurate an interim government even if one of the major groups was unwilling to participate.

The Congress soon joined the new Indian ministry. The League was slower to do so, not entering until October 1946. In agreeing to have the League join the government, Jinnah abandoned his demands for parity with the Congress and a veto on matters concerning Muslims. The new ministry met amid a backdrop of rioting, especially in Calcutta. The Congress wanted the Viceroy to immediately summon the constituent assembly and begin the work of writing a constitution and felt that the League ministers should either join in the request or resign from the government. Wavell attempted to save the situation by flying leaders such as Jinnah, Liaquat, and Jawaharlal Nehru to London in December 1946. At the end of the talks, participants issued a statement that the constitution would not be forced on any unwilling parts of India. On the way back from London, Jinnah and Liaquat stopped in Cairo for several days of pan-Islamic meetings.

The Congress endorsed the joint statement from the London conference over the angry dissent from some elements. The League refused to do so and took no part in the constitutional discussions. Jinnah had been willing to consider some continued links to Hindustan (as the Hindu-majority state which would be formed on partition was sometimes referred to), such as a joint military or communications. However, by December 1946, he insisted on a fully sovereign Pakistan with dominion status.

Following the failure of the London trip, Jinnah was in no hurry to reach an agreement, considering that time would allow him to gain the undivided provinces of Bengal and Punjab for Pakistan, but these wealthy, populous provinces had sizeable non-Muslim minorities, complicating a settlement. The Attlee ministry desired a rapid British departure from India but had little confidence in Wavell to achieve that end. Beginning in December 1946, British officials began looking for a viceregal successor to Wavell, and soon fixed on Admiral Lord Mountbatten of Burma, a war leader popular among Conservatives as the great-grandson of Queen Victoria and among Labour for his political views.

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Qaiser Rizwan Abbasi

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