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Pakistan 1956: History

The following historical review was written by Professor C. G. PHILIPS, Department of History, School of Oriental and African Studies, and appeared in The British Commonwealth 1956 published by Europa Publications Limited, London (1956).

See the Synopsis of Subjects on the left for other items on Pakistan from The British Commonwealth 1956.

History (India and Pakistan)

From their modest trading stations on the coasts of India the English East India Company in the eighteenth century was drawn into the mainland by the collapse of the Mughal Empire. By 1784 the Company had created by force of arms a strong Bengal state in the north-east and, with their policy sharpened by the world-wide struggle against France, the British went on to dominate all India.

By 1825 British paramountcy was securely established against challenge either from Europe or from within India. The Company may have been the agent of conquest, but the whole strength of Britain was committed, a fact to which formal recognition was given in 1858 by the transfer of Indians government from the Company to the Crown.

The British succeeded to a Muslim empire that had rotted away through half a century of growing turbulence. Sustained economic and cultural development had ceased, both among the Muslim rulers and their Hindu subjects, and political morality degenerated with the times. On this chaotic scene the Company gradually imposed order and political unity, establishing standards both in law and conduct which, although not always of the highest, yet were immeasurably higher than those they replaced. With the spread of order came a sense of security and the possibility of a recovery in agriculture which to a country of peasants like India constituted the greatest immediate boon that could be offered. These achievements were deliberately sought by the British, but the most penetrating and widespread changes came rather from the interaction of world forces which the British conquest let loose in India.

For twenty centuries the economic life of India had changed scarcely. The great bulk of the income of the country was provided by the peasant working on the land and raising crops of rice, wheat, barley, millets and pulses, oilseeds and sugar cane, and it was the needs of this weak, small-scale agriculture on a consumption rather than an exchange basis that determined the life of most Hindus and Muslims who made up the population of about one hundred millions. On this basis the Indian economy remained parochial, primitive and slow-changing. Through the ages both Hindu and Muslim rulers had been concerned rather with problems of land than of trade, mainly because they drew the bulk of their revenues in the most convenient form of land revenue, traditionally taken as one-sixth of the crop, though on occasion it may even have been one-third or one-half.

Through the East India Company, the British constituted a ruling power with a vested interest in developing trade, and in the nineteenth century British manufactures penetrated along the main arteries of communication. India became part of the British free-trade area and British trade was carried into the heart of Indian life, disrupting the basic Indian cotton goods industry, along with many of her old trades and crafts. Through the combination of immense British political and economic power, India became a vast dependent market; and her slow-changing economy was quickened arid ultimately transformed.

Just as in trade so also in government India underwent rapid change. After a period of hesitation, misrule and experiment a system of district administration was evolved throughout British India under the Company's Covenanted European servants (later to become the Indian Civil Ser vice). Within each district the Company's officers undertook three essential functions, to keep the peace, to collect the revenues and to administer justice. Throughout British India a rule of law obtained, and the European administration functioned efficiently and honestly. During the anxieties of the conquest many areas had been allowed to remain under native princely rule, but in these, too, British residents were appointed and it was made clear that European standards of administration were to be applied. The Central Government itself reported direct to London, where Parliament in a succession of Acts in 1773, 1784, 1793 and 1855 and 1858 had laid it down that all government was subject to review in a spirit of trusteeship.

It was inevitable that, through a British system of administration, British ideas would exert a determining influence on Indian policy. The ideas of Adam Smith are to be seen in the policy applied by Cornwallis in settling Bengal, the aims of the evangelicals and utilitarians are to be traced in the attempts to Christianize Indians, and to abolish the Hindu practices of sati, and female infanticide and to set up an efficient government. Mission schools, too, were opened, and the Company encouraged education through English and on British lines. But Indian life was built on ancient, strongly-founded cultures whether Hindu or Muslim, and although the new influences made the more responsive Indians question their own superstitions they did not at once go on to accept, as the missionaries had hoped, a Christian framework of life. But European influences, which had already begun to revolutionize the political and economic life of India, began also to change the very texture of Indian thought and belief; and symptoms of unrest became evident, taking violent expression in the great mutinies of the Indian sepoy troops, in 1807 in South India and in 1857 in the north.

These unsuccessful outbreaks brought down the full weight of British policy and administration on Indian society-a process that was facilitated by the growth of quick communications. The completion of the telegraph route in 1870 brought Government in Calcutta more closely under the control of the London Government. The development of the steamship and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 brought India's economy into the world economy as a dependency of Britain. The rule of law in India was reinforced by a rule of economic law in which the advantages of policy, of capital, mobility and skill lay with Britain. By 1870 within India itself, railways, telegraph and postal services linked Calcutta, Lahore in the northwest, Bombay and Madras, and where the railways went there the roads ran to meet them.

The economic consequences of this revolution were profound. Provincial economics were transformed into an Indian economy with local prices giving way to all-India prices. Equally important, heavy crops could be quickly transported abroad and Indian agricultural products began to follow India's raw cotton into international trade. Largely through British capital and initiative new crops were developed and Indian tea, coffee, jute, oil and minerals assumed world importance. The value of her exports rose from 23 million in 1855, to 53 million in 1900, to 137 million in 1910. In India's import trade Britain was dominant, providing, for example, the heavy engineering equipment for the railways, and controlling the Indian market in Lancashire cottons and even towards the close of the century further fortifying her position by preferential tariff treatment.

British initiative and capital also contributed to the growth of large-scale industry in India. The Bengal coalfield was opened to facilitate the growth of railways, jute mills were built around Calcutta, and cotton mills on the west coast around Bombay. By 1900 British investments in India totaled some 400 million, and British-controlled managing agencies guided most of the industrial and commercial activity.

The great mass of Indians earned their livelihood as peasant cultivators. Encouraged by British protective methods of rule the Indian population began to grow rapidly from 206 million in 1872 to 315 million in 1911 and 338 million in 1931. Great irrigation schemes sponsored by the Government were insufficient to meet this increase and a steady pressure on the soil began, which encouraged a competitive bidding for land. Most Indian indigenous capital had long been absorbed in land, a process which was perpetuated by the British command of the industrial field; and the ignorant peasantry began to fall into the hands of Indian moneylenders, who soon discovered how to seek protection in the new systems of law. Government's protective measures were not enough and only a countrywide scientific improvement in agriculture to raise the peasants' income could have broken what had become a vicious circle. This was energetically attempted at the close of the century under Curzon's rule, but the parallel process of teaching improved farming methods to an illiterate and reluctant peasantry was difficult and slow of application; and Indian agriculture therefore tended to remain backward and the peasant amidst rising prices poverty-stricken.

Government, too, which traditionally found most of its income from land revenue, remained impoverished and with famine periodically striking the land every budget became in effect a gamble in rain. The Government in social and economic policy therefore tended to be cautious, but even so the political, economic and social pressures of the west on India were great.

The growth of Government services and the employment of Indians in the civil and legal services, the application of English education in schools and universities, the rise of an Indian press and of industry and commerce, all these led to the emergence in the latter half of the nineteenth century of Indian middle classes predominantly though not exclusively Hindu. With the spread of quick communications they acquired a hitherto unknown class consciousness and with it the power to make a united, countrywide response to the Government's policies. From the start the great majority deliberately copied and wholeheartedly admired the British, but there were groups with divergent interests, both among the Hindus and the Muslims. It was inevitable in a dominantly Hindu society, that the age-old sentiment of Hindu nationalism should persist and that there should be many orthodox Hindus who felt that western education despoiled Hindu culture; and they were reinforced by all those who had had a western training and yet were frustrated in their search for suitable higher employment.

The Muslim upper classes had on the whole reacted differently. On the one hand, looking back to their past glories as rulers and on the other following a dogmatic, clearly defined creed which constituted their whole way of life, they tended to regard western education as inferior and meaningless. Revivalist movements among the Muslims of both north-east and north-west India took place but they were directed as much against Hindu interests as against British rule.

The Muslim disinclination to interest themselves in western learning cost them dear, and nowhere did this become more obvious than in the public services, which only a century earlier they had monopolized. In Bengal, for example, where the Hindu and Muslim communities were broadly equal in numbers, the Muslims in 1871 held only 92 out of 773 appointments. From this swift decline the Muslims were rescued by the remarkable endeavors of the famous Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who- through the second half of the century did not cease to urge and work for the cultural regeneration of his community through education on western lines. Devoting his life to this cause, he founded for this purpose a college at Aligarh (1877) and by numerous tours and speeches began to make his community turn round and face the future.

The future of British rule in India formed a problem which perplexed the British Government. Earlier in the century at the period of the conquest and of the pacification of India, British spokesmen like Munro, Elphinstone and Macaulay had envisaged a time when Britain would leave India. As Elphinstone said, "Education for Indians is our highroad back to Europe." But with the re-conquest of northern India during the Mutiny and the growing realization not only of the economic value of India to Britain but also of the weakness and disunity of Indian society, British policy became more hesitant. On the one hand higher education plans and the policy of creating a free press, which fortified the strength and the claims of the Indian middle classes, were proceeded with; on the other, admission to the senior posts in the Indian Civil Service was made increasingly difficult for Indians; and an alternative line of policy of opening the service to "young men of good family and social position'* was soon abandoned as a failure. When a group of middle class, western-educated Indians, calling themselves the Indian National Congress, met in 1885 at Bombay to organize a native parliament, which was to work for constitutional development, the Government at first encouraged it, and then as the movement began to spread through urban India, grew hostile.

During the governor-generalships of Ripon (1880-84) and Curzon (1898-1905) the extremes of British political policy were defined. Ripon wished to use the Indian middle classes in moving quickly to some form of constitutional government. Curzon at the other extreme denied that the urban Indian middle classes could speak for the great majority of illiterate peasant cultivators. It seemed to him that the Government and the Indian Civil Service were better able to represent the Indian masses, and that the main task of Indian government was to raise their standard of life rather than to promote the political interests of the educated minority, in short that the main immediate problem was economic, not political.

Although Curzon had in reality posed a false dilemma, the growing divisions among educated Indians strengthened the position of the Government. As the years passed and the constitutional agitation in the National Congress achieved meager results, extreme Indian groups emerged, drawing their strength on the one side from revivalist Hindu movements like the Arya Samaj (1879) and the Ramakrishna mission, and on the other side from a growing awareness of the achievements of contemporary revolutionary movements in continental Europe. In western India a Hindu Brahman, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, invoking the power of violence, raised an extremist agitation against both the British and the Muslims, and on the other side of India when Curzon in 1905 sought for administrative I reasons to partition the province of Bengal, the middle classes became alive with resentment and soon showed that they had realized the power of organized propaganda and demonstration; and the swadeshi and boycott movements aimed at encouraging Indian against foreign trade were born. During the agitation some Hindu-Muslim antagonism also developed and Muslim political opinion showed signs of taking a line different from the Hindu. The Congress claim to speak .for the whole of India was denied not only by the British Government but also by Sayyid Ahmad Khan and his Muslim followers who argued that in any constitutional form of government for India Muslim interests would be permanently subordinated to Hindu, an argument which crystallized in the formation in 1906 of the All-India Muslim League to defend Muslim interests.

By this time the British Government had become convinced that political action was needed to take account of these new forces and to strengthen the moderate elements in Indian politics. Hitherto, putting aside the expressed claims of the constitutionalists in the National Congress under G. K. Gokhale, they had taken the line of avoiding any decision that would pre-suppose the development of responsible government in India after the British fashion. By acts of Parliament in 1861 and 1892, for example, Indians had been given the right of advising the Government, and out of the Act of 1892 emerged the principles of election and representation, but it was representation through special interests and not as in Britain through the whole body of voters. In 1909 this line of policy was continued in the Morley-Minto reforms which admitted Indians to the Secretary of State's India Council in London, and to the executive councils in India and which extended the representation of Indians in the central and provincial legislatures, but representation was based on the grant of separate electorates for the Muslims and other communities. The Government took care to retain its official majority in the central legislature, in order ultimately to ensure control from London.

Before the reforms had been long in operation the World War of 1914-18 broke out, and during the exertions and stresses of this period India came of age both economically and politically. She grew to be one of the leading industrial powers of the world, not so much as in the past through the influx of British capital as through the employment of Indian, mainly Hindu, resources, which in the following thirty years began to dominate the Indian economy. India, too, in these years raised the largest volunteer army in the world, and her representatives at international conferences began to realize the importance of India's position in the British Commonwealth. These developments threw into relief the small part Indians were playing in their own home government. The moderates, too, who were still influential in the National Congress, had come to the conclusion that the Morley-Minto reforms had taken them into a political blind alley; and that some other road to responsible government must be sought;
while the more extreme groups decided to strike out for themselves. The British, impressed by the scale of India's war achievement and by the fact that the war had in part been fought for national self-determination, also re-examined their own policy and at the close of the war proclaimed the objective of' "an increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire".

This formed a major reversal of policy in that it assumed that British India was a nation for which responsible parliamentary government was feasible. Accordingly under an Act of 1919 a scheme was devised to provide the constitutional means to this end. The first aim, a responsible system of government, was to be achieved by reorganizing the central and the nine provincial governments. At the centre there was to be a legislature consisting of an assembly and a Council of State with a majority of elected members, and, side by side with it, a Chamber of Princes as a purely consultative body. The Viceroy, however, remained responsible to London. In the provinces the departments of Government were divided into two groups, those "reserved" under the control of officials and those "transferred" to Indian, ministers responsible to the legislatures. The franchise for central and provincial legislatures was much extended, though election still rested on the basis of separate electorates. Indian constitutionalists welcomed the proposals and expressed willingness to work them in the spirit they were offered, but they were in a minority, for both in the National Congress and among Muslim groups more extreme views by this time prevailed.

Indeed, the whole Muslim world within and outside India was rousing itself. The defeat of Turkey, the rise of Arab nationalism and Arab states in the Near East combined to create on the one hand a Khalifat (Caliphate) movement for the restoration of the defeated Sultan and on the other an awareness that some attempt must be made to come to terms with the forces of the modern world, especially those emerging from the West. In India Muslims began more seriously than ever before to examine their political position vis-à-vis the Hindus. Meanwhile the constitutionalists lost control of the Indian National Congress, which soon placed itself under the leadership of a new and little-known member, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. In his person the main impulses of a generation of Indian religious revivalism and of political agitation came to a focus, and within a decade, employing non-violent, non-co-operative techniques which he had previously perfected in South. Africa, Gandhi changed what had been essentially a middle-class constitutional agitation into a mass revolutionary movement to drive the British from India.

The aftermath of war had produced sporadic terrorism throughout northern India, and the British attempt to bring it under control gave Gandhi and the Congress the opportunity to oppose Government and to threaten to destroy the new political experiment. A more unfavorable beginning for the new system could hardly have been devised. The constitutionalists had quitted Congress, and many of them as ministers or members of the new legislatures strove earnestly to work the proposals, but they lacked the backing of strong parties. Indeed, apart from the Indian National Congress, the members showed little tendency to organize themselves into strong parties and therefore one of the essential conventions of the British method, the two-party system, did not materialize. However, in this restricted sense, the system was made to work, and many of the new ministers carried through useful constructive legislation, and in all provinces and states advantage was taken of the fiscal independence which India had gained in 1919. Largely at Britain's expense, the new Indian, mainly Hindu, banking and commercial interests, the Parsis and Gujaratis of western India, the Marwaris of Rajputana, and the Chettiars of Madras, consolidated their hold on India's industrial economy; and great new managing agencies such as the Parsi Tata organisation and the Hindu Dalmia and Biria concerns began to displace the British, incidentally at the same time giving increasing financial and political support to the National Congress.

Gandhi pressed on with his policy, persuading Congress to define its aim as the attainment of self-rule, and discovering in himself a genius for presenting his ideas in popular, symbolic form. Feeling that the western world had little of value to give India, particularly that industrialization was an evil, he sought to develop India as a land of villages. His own simple life and his set daily task of spinning cotton thread on the charkha or home-made spinning-wheel, became the symbol of a free India and of the way in which his countrymen, if they so willed, could get rid of the British. Through the charkha he taught the wearing of homespun khaddar cloth, and the use of India-produced, swadeshi articles. In politics he developed his non-violent, non-co-operative methods to bring the Indian masses into the struggle, and at his command thousands defied the police and went quietly to prison.

At first Gandhi carried some of the Muslim groups with him, but he was too much of a Hindu figure and the Congress itself too obviously dominated by Hindu economic and political interests, for this to continue long. Moreover, the Muslim community was beginning to realize that in the political race it was already outdistanced. Although by this time Indians formed a majority in the public services, including the I.C.S., the Muslims were under-represented. In the economic field 'Hindu interests were outpacing the Muslims, as was revealed by the collapse of the Muslim Currimbhoy Textile Group in western India. Symptoms of this growing sense of economic and political competition were to be seen in the spread of communal rioting, particularly in Calcutta, in the revival of the long quiescent All-India Muslim League, and in the formation by Hindu orthodox groups of a Mahasabha to press Hindu, caste interests, and to oppose the Muslims. , Coincidently a proposal by a group of more moderate politicians, both Hindu and Muslim, to abolish special electorates was at once repudiated by the Muslim League.

This evidence of increasing discord, along with the failure of the Act of 1919 to win general support, led the British in 1928 to embark on a fresh examination of the whole political system and future, and a British commission under Sir John Simon was sent to conduct an inquiry. In its report it faced the situation realistically. Starting with the assumption that the British could not retrace their policy in India, it yet admitted that political developments had not justified the faith inspiring the proposals of 1919. But, in the hope that a greater challenge would evoke a greater response, they proposed more and not less responsible government. A federation was envisaged as the form of an All-India Government and, as a means to this end, responsible government was to be introduced into the provinces.

The Commission was promptly followed by conferences of Indian representatives in' London, at which the Indian princes indicated their readiness to enter a federation and the Indian National Congress, through Mahatma Gandhi, continued to insist that it alone represented all groups and parties in India. The inquiry was then continued in parliamentary committees in London, finally culminating in a new Act, passed in 1935, which engaged all Britain's political energies and talents for months on end.

The Act, broadly speaking, followed the lines indicated by the Simon Commission Report, and dealt with two main subjects, the establishment of a federation and the creation of self-government in the provinces of British India. The federation, however, was not to come into being until a specified number of Indian States had agreed to join.

The more important Indian princes had all along been aware of the important strategic and constitutional position of their states, and in any new system they were bent on maintaining their own privileges. They felt, moreover, that the ruler-subject relationship in their states formed a more satisfactory basis of government than a quick rush into methods of responsible government to which they were not accustomed. The National Congress had no confidence in the Princes even though some of them as, for instance, in Mysore, Travancore and Baroda, had shown by their modest grant of representative institutions to their peoples and by their policies for industrialization and education that they were far from indifferent to western ideas of progress. The National Congress, however, kept up political pressure by constantly threatening that when the British had gone it would "have no patience with the Princes". The latter therefore began to reconsider their promise to join the Federation, and only prompt and strong advice on the part of the British would, have brought them quickly into line. This was not given, for the British, preoccupied in India by the struggle with Congress and in the west by the rise of Hitler's Germany, did not think it right to hurry the Princes, and the outbreak of the World War of 1939 in fact interrupted the negotiations so that this part of the Act of 1935 was never put into practice.

This failure to bring about the federation proved to be important because it formed one of the factors opening the way subsequently to the partition of India. Meanwhile the Central Government remained as constituted in the Act of 1919, with the Viceroy responsible to London.

The second part of the Act of 1935 which provided for Indian self-government in each of the eleven provinces of British India, was carried into effect. All the provincial ministerial departments were to be transferred to elected ministers who were to be responsible to the legislatures. The Governor of each province was to retain powers to safeguard peace and protect the minorities. Lastly, the franchise was extended from the seven million voters of 1919 to about thirty-five million, including six million women and ten per cent of the scheduled castes or untouchables. Separate communal electorates were retained.

The Indian constitutionalists, who had already done their best to apply the 1919 Act, again showed their willingness to co-operate with Government, and the Muslim groups, though cooler, also agreed to take part. But the Congress opposed the Act. They were in no mood to cooperate with the British; and the nature of their reaction may be perhaps best understood from the fact that Mahatma Gandhi, as he later admitted, had not even troubled to read its clauses. In particular. Congress objected to the proposal that the Governors should retain certain "safeguards". However, when in 1937 the time for the general election approached Congress decided to take part "in order to combat the Act and seek the end of it".

At this period two Indian political leaders came to the front, Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Alt Jinnah. Nehru was the son of a famous Congressman, Motilal, whose family, although Hindu and Brahman, was western-educated. Nehru was sent to school and the university in England. On his return he had early entered politics as a supporter of Mahatma Gandhi and soon came to be acknowledged as his right-hand man and likely successor, and with Gandhi's support he became President of the National Congress in 1936 and 1937. It was Nehru's privilege to bring into full action the political machine which Gandhi had created. Jinnah, who came from a well-to-do Muslim trading family in Bombay, had been sent to England, like Nehru, to be trained as a lawyer, and on his return he, too, joined the Congress. He later crossed over to the Muslim League but remained adamant that co-operation with Congress was essential and that the 1935 Act could be worked in the provinces only through coalition governments. On this political platform he fought the general election of 1937.

Under Nehru and Gandhi the well-organized political machine of Congress scored a great, countrywide victory, with clear majorities in six provinces and a remarkable majority in the overwhelmingly Muslim North-West Frontier Province. On this the Congress decided to take office in these provinces, firmly rejecting Jinnah's plea that they should form coalition governments.

This fateful choice, which formed a turning-point in the modern history of India, arose directly from the nature and strength of the Congress. It had Always claimed to be a truly national organisation representing all classes and peoples of India, and indeed its vast membership at this period, numbering three to four million, and its working or governing committee was widely representative of Hindu and some Muslim groups. Its success in 1937 was so sweeping and so remarkable especially among Muslims in the North-West Frontier Province that it could see no reason why it should not go On to absorb the Muslim League, which anyway was. only one and not necessarily the most important of a number of small Muslim parties.

In fact even in the eyes of moderate Muslims, like Jinnah, the Congress was increasingly assuming the color of a Hindu body, and its rejection of coalition government served to reinforce the evidence of a Hindu superiority already evident in the, civil services, in education and in the economy as a whole. Personally humiliated by Congress's decision Jinnah turned to rally the whole Muslim community behind the Muslim League, and the developing policy of Congress played into his hands.

Although the 1935 Act envisaged the new provincial governments as separate entities. Congress quite logically exploited its own countrywide organisation in such a way that the provincial ministries looked to the central Congress working committee for inspiration and guidance; and it was significant that leading Congressmen like Nehru and Rajendra Prasad chose to remain outside the provincial ministries and to direct policy from the Congress headquarters at Wardha.

The actual performance of the Congress ministries, especially in the way they worked with the existing Civil Service, in their firm maintenance of law and order and in their financial management, was impressive. But under their rule relations between the Hindu and Muslim communities rapidly deteriorated. Communal riots increased in both frequency and severity. Muslims everywhere objected in particular to the Congress's educational policy which was based on Gandhian principles, and which they regarded as a challenge to their own culture. General accusations were made that Hindu Congressmen in office were discriminating against Muslims, and between 1937 and 1939 three Muslim reports, purporting to prove this, were published. On a growing wave of Muslim fear, Jinnah and the Muslim League were borne into the position of representing the great majority of the Muslim community. The Muslim prime ministers of the Punjab, Bengal and Assam, who previously had led their own separate Muslim groups, joined the Muslim League, and for the first time, largely through Congress's mistakes of policy, the Muslim League became an effective political force.

Simultaneously Jinnah's own policy changed and from supporting the 1935 Act he swung over to the view that any form of parliamentary government in India based on English practice would permanently subordinate the Muslims to a Hindu-dominated Congress. In 1940 he declared "There are in India two nations" and both he and the Muslim League, taking advantage of policies long canvassed among extreme Muslim groups, finally put forward in March 1940 the demand for a separate, independent state to be called Pakistan (meaning "Land of the Pure"), which was to include the Muslim majority regions of the north-west and north-east of India. With this declaration partition had become the fundamental issue of Indian politics.

Meanwhile, in September 1939, the second World War had broken out and Britain as on the previous occasion in 1914, took India to war with her. Congress had anticipated this possibility and, arguing that a country which was not itself free should not be called on to defend freedom, they demanded independence as the price of their co-operation, and when the British Government merely reiterated the promise of Dominion status, the Working Committee called all the Congress ministries out of office. The Muslim League on its side offered the Government support only on condition that Congress policies for India. should7 be rejected.

This state of political deadlock persisted throughout the war, and whilst the fighting remained remote from Indians frontiers no attempt to resolve it got very far. But when in 1941-42 the Japanese armies advanced through Burma, the British hastily dispatched Sir Stafford Cripps to India to make a new offer of independence to take effect at the end of the war, if so desired with Dominion status, and at the same time, with the Muslim position in mind, it was suggested that any provinces which so wished might contract out of the new state. But the Congress stood firm both against the idea of Muslim separatism and for the policy of at once establishing fully responsible government. With the Japanese on Indians door-step the British Government felt unable to take this bold step. The Congress obviously felt that a point of crisis had been reached. "'A post-dated cheque on a bank that is obviously failing" was Mahatma Gandhi's description of the Cripps offer, and to force the issue he called on Britain to quit India under threat of a new non-violent campaign. The Congress backed him, and the Government promptly interned the Congress leaders but not before an outbreak of sabotage had cut the railway communications of the armies fighting on the frontier. By the close of 1942 order was restored, but the sense of frustration of Indians against Government and of community against community was marked by a crescendo of communal rioting.

The close of the war in Europe gave Britain a much-needed breathing space and the accession to power in the late summer of 1945 of a new Labor Government and the collapse of Japan's war effort produced a calmer situation in which the British cabinet sought a final settlement of the India question. Aware that prolonged negotiations might precipitate a catastrophic civil war they took the bold step of sending to Delhi a mission of three cabinet members. Acting on the long-held British assumption that the division of India into sovereign states could be avoided while giving adequate protection to Muslim interests, the mission were prepared to proceed at a fair and feasible pace to this end, but both the Congress and the Muslim League remained uncompromising.

Meanwhile, to show that Britain was serious in her intention to transfer power, the Viceroy had been instructed to bring the major Indian parties into an interim cabinet in which all the cabinet posts were to be held by Indians. Protracted maneuverings then followed in which first the Muslim League alone and then Congress alone undertook to form the interim Government. Not until October 1946 were they both brought into a coalition government by which time the struggle for power among the leading and middle-class Hindu and Muslim elements had spread throughout their whole communities. Rioting became widespread and within six months in Bengal and Bihar alone over ten thousand people suffered violent death.

It soon became clear that the coalition government would not work. The Muslim League revealed by its policy that it had participated only in order to prevent the Congress from controlling the central government, and when a Constituent Assembly was called together to frame a constitution, the League refused pointblank to take part and condemned the Assembly's proceedings as "invalid and illegal. The British cabinet tried a new approach by inviting India's leaders to London, but the Congress and the League were unyielding in their mutual distrust.

Meanwhile in northern India civil strife mounted to a climax. The worst-affected area was the Punjab where the Unionist ministry's decision to ban private armies was seized on by the Muslim League as their opportunity to take power. Attempts by the Hindus and Sikhs to prevent this soon deteriorated into persistent rioting. The towns of Amritsar and Multan went up in flames, the work of the capital, Lahore, was brought to a standstill and roving armed bands in the countryside fought pitched battles with the troops.

In an attempt to shock India's leaders into a sense of responsibility the British Government declared that the transfer of power must be- completed by June 1948, and to point the moral a new viceroy. Viscount Mountbatten, formerly the Allied Supreme Commander in South-East Asia, was sent out to wind up the British administration. But the Congress and Muslim League did not yield an inch; and the communal war in the Punjab continued and began to spread to other parts of India.

Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru were profoundly shocked especially when they saw for themselves these consequences of "India's mad career of violence"; at the same time it was borne in on the members of the Congress Working Committee that the political unity of India could not be maintained except through widespread civil war and the exercise of force. Moreover, the British had made it clear that they would no longer accept the responsibility and in the last analysis the Congress did not feel equal to it. Prompted by their local parties in Bengal and the Punjab, they therefore proposed in May 1947 the partition of the Punjab as a solution of the struggle there. With this decision the partition of India was brought into the realm of practical politics, and quick to seize the advantage, the new Viceroy got the London Government to accept this as a basis of negotiation, and persuaded the Congress, the Sikhs and the Muslim League to come into line. Swiftly a plan was drawn for the division of the Punjab and Bengal-in each of which there were small Muslim majorities-the final decision being taken by each Legislative Assembly. Boundary commissions were provided to determine the exact frontiers, and the North-West Frontier Province, in which Congress had a hold, and the Muslim majority district of Sylhet in Assam were each to hold a referendum to decide their- political allegiance.

Thankful that with this news the communal rioting promptly fell to manageable proportions, the Viceroy pressed on with great speed to complete the partition. By August 15th, 1947, it was possible for the Houses of Parliament in London to decree the birth of two new sovereign states of India and Pakistan, the latter to consist of a Muslim majority state in the north-west, including Sind and the Frontier Province, and of a Muslim majority state in East Bengal including Sylhet. Both the new India and the new Pakistan elected to become Dominions within the British Commonwealth of Nations. These decisions together, although not representing a complete fulfillment of British rule in India, constituted a remarkable triumph for Britain's post-war policy in India.

As its first Viceroy, India nominated Viscount Mount-batten, Pakistan named its leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah and under them the complicated task of dividing the powers, rights, assets, and not least the Indian army and Civil Service was carried through. But the task was made more difficult by a mass movement of millions of Hindus and Muslims across the international boundaries, creating a vast refugee problem.

In the political settlement the position of the Indian princes was at first left undetermined. British paramountcy had of course lapsed, and the Viceroy had advised them to seek association with one or other of the two new states. Some, like Mysore and the Rajputana states, for communal and geographical reasons promptly joined India, others similarly placed like Bhopal, which yet had a Muslim ruler, hesitated before following suit; and two big states, Hyderabad and Kashmir, both holding key strategic situations, the former athwart central India, the latter in the north-west, held aloof altogether. But the Indian States' Minister, Vallabhai Patel was determined, by a mixed policy of coercion and persuasion, to bring these big states into closer relationship, and the declaration by the Muslim Nawab of Hyderabad that he could accept nothing less than an independent status, forced the Indian cabinet to assert its authority by ordering the invasion of Hyderabad. There was little resistance and Hyderabad soon came under direct rule from Delhi. In Kashmir, the Maharajah, who was a Hindu ruling over a majority of Muslims, leaned to India but hesitated to fate the final decision. Communal strife had spread from India into the state and was intensified by strong governmental action against the Muslims. Taking advantage of this, Muslim tribesmen from the north-west invaded Kashmir and moved on the capital Srinagar, whereupon the Maharajah acceded to India. The Indian Government promptly flew in troops to save Srinagar and drive the tribesmen out of Kashmir, and in reply Pakistan pushed in state forces to prevent an Indian victory by force of arms. Military stalemate was soon reached and a cease-fire, which came under United Nations' authority, was arranged for January 1st, 1949. This left the centre and south, including Srinagar and the upper Jhelum valley and the province of Jammu under India's control. The military struggle was not resumed but politically the future of Kashmir became the great bone of contention between India and Pakistan.

Bound up with this problem was the control of the headwaters of the great Punjab canal and river system of irrigation. Planned as one great integrated system it .was inevitable that the partition of the Punjab should give rise to difficulties, the more serious because the livelihood and life of millions of people were involved. Prolonged drought in West Pakistan in 1952 and 1953 brought matters to a head, and the Pakistan press and people became convinced that India intended to put Pakistan at her mercy by controlling the Kashmir headwaters, and in the spring of 1953 Indo-Pakistani tension grew until war seemed imminent. The timely intervention of the International Bank which proposed to find a way of fairly dividing the waters and, equally important, of generally enlarging the irrigation system took this issue for the time being out of politics. Pakistan, finding that neither the Kashmir problem nor the headwaters question could be settled within the Commonwealth began to look outside for support, and understandably sought to reassure herself by a military alliance with Turkey and by seeking military help from the United States. Simultaneously her domestic political situation showed signs of deteriorating. Under the frustrations of these early years the Muslim League itself began to fall apart. It lost political control of East Bengal, and in West Pakistan, the heart of its power, it was torn by the struggles between the orthodox extremists and the more progressive Muslims. The army and the civil service provided some stability, but whether Pakistan was to develop into a progressive modern state or sink slowly to the lower level of her fellow Islamic countries of the Middle East seemed uncertain. Pakistan stands at the cross-roads.

India since 1947 has consolidated her position as the most orderly, democratic nation in Asia. In the spring of 1952 she carried through the great experiment of a general election involving 175 million voters, a large proportion of whom were illiterate. Two political trends became evident, the first that the National Congress still possessed the confidence of the country, the second that orthodox Hindu groups on the one side and the Communist Party on the other hand gained an all-India and growing status. India's boldness in political and economic experiment- the latter best seen in a vast five-year development plan- was not matched in the social sphere. In international affairs, through the personal contribution of her Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru, she took a line independent of both the West and the U.S.S.R. At the United Nations she became the focus of anti-colonial agitation. In the Commonwealth she became the bridge for western and Asian opinion; and between Asian countries she sought to develop the Commonwealth method of association. India has become a power in international politics; but her domestic social policy and her external relations with Pakistan have still to be developed and strengthened if she is to prove equal to the international responsibilities she has undertaken.

Professor C. G. PHILIPS,
Department of History,
School of Oriental and African Studies.

Source: The British Commonwealth 1956
With a Foreword by the Earl of Swinton P.C., G.B.E., C.H., M.C. Europa Publications Limited, London (1956)

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