Founding of the All-India Muslim League – 1906

Built between 1859 and 1872, the Ahsan Manzil Palace is situated at Kumartoli along the banks of the Buriganga River in Dhaka, Bangladesh and served as the seat of the Nawab of Dhaka.

On the 30th December 1906, almost three thousand delegates from all over India gathered in Dhaka at the Ahsan Manzil Palace for the annual Muhammadan Educational Conference. For the first time, the conference lifted its ban on political discussion. The Nawab of Dhaka, Sir Khwaja Salimullah Bahadur, proposed establishing a political party to safeguard the interests of India’s Muslims: the All-India Muslim League (AIML). In particular, the AIML had three main goals[1]:

  1. To promote among the Muslims of India feelings of loyalty to the British government and to remove any misconceptions regarding government measures.
  2. To advance the political rights of the Muslims of India and respectfully represent their needs and aspirations to the British government.
  3. To prevent any feelings of hostility toward other communities without compromising on the objectives of the League.

At the time, Jinnah was a member of the Moderates faction in the Indian National Congress (INC) led by leaders, such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gokhale would later state, “[Jinnah] has true stuff in him, and that freedom from all sectarian prejudice which will make him the best ambassador of Hindu–Muslim Unity”[2]. Despite this, many may still be surprised to find out that Jinnah was initially against the establishment of the AIML – I know I was.

Before the 1906 Muhammadan Educational Conference, its founders had held a meeting with the Viceroy of India, known as the Simla Deputation, on the 1st October 1906 to assure him of their loyalty in exchange for political representation. They advocated for separate electorates, more Muslim seats in the central legislature, a quota for Muslims in the Indian Civil Service (ICS), increased Muslim representation in universities, and funding for a Muslim university[3].

In response, Jinnah wrote a letter to the Gujarati editor asking what right the non-elected and self-appointed members of the delegation had to speak for Indian Muslims[4]. This elitist nature would prevent the AIML from gaining support among the masses during its early years.

The Aga Khan later stated how he found Jinnah’s opposition “freakishly ironic”. The same man who “came out in bitter hostility toward all that I and my friends had done […][and] said that our principle of separate electorates was dividing the nation against itself” would be the same man that would lead the AIML to Independence[5].

Critics often state the League was founded to divide Congress, thus minimising the Indian Independence Movement’s strength. The League’s loyalty to the British is often interpreted as falling victim to Britain’s overall strategy of “Divide and Rule” that sought to drive Muslims and Hindus apart[6]. However, this narrative overlooks the genuine concerns Muslims had when it came to the shape of an Independent India. Furthermore, it asserts that the INC represented all of India’s religious groups without favouring any specific community over another.

The truth is Muslims received little representation in Congress. The INC’s first session took place on the 20th December 1885 and had 72 members; only 2 were Muslim (less than 3%)[7]. This trend would continue throughout Congress’s pre-independence history. Its percentage of Muslim delegates only reached a height of 10.9% in 1921, before dramatically dropping to 3.6% in 1923[8], despite making up 27.06% of British India’s population according to the 1941 census[9]. Besides, the increased use of Hindu imagery to define Swaraj (“self-rule”) by the INC’s Extremists faction and promises to ban cow slaughter upon independence further alienated Muslims.

With their voices being ignored by Congress, the Muslim elite turned towards the British to address their concerns. It was a lack of confidence in the INC to protect Muslim interests, which led to the AIML’s establishment, not a desire to hinder the Independence Movement.

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Pirzada, S., 1969. Foundations Of Pakistan. All-India Muslim League Documents: 1906-1947. National Publishing House.

[2] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[3] n.d. Simla Deputation (1906).[online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 June 2020].

[4] Singh, J., 2009. Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence. Oxford University Press.

[5] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[6] Katju, M., 2013. The truth about Pakistan. The Nation, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

[7] n.d. Muslims And The Congress. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

[8] Brown, J., 1985. Modern India: The Origins Of An Asian Democracy. Oxford University Press.

[9] British Government of India, 1943. Census Of India 1941. [online] Government of India Press. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 June 2020].

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