Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact – 1923

Postal stamps of Lala Lajpat Rai, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari and Chittaranjan Das.

Following the end of Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement, communal tensions worsened in the Subcontinent. The introduction of religious sentiments into the political sphere did irreparable damage to the fragile relationship between Muslims and Hindus. For a more detailed and contemporary breakdown of the worsening relationship between India’s sister communities, I recommend one reads The riot-torn history of Hindu-Muslim relations, 1920-1940[1] by Dr B. R. Ambedkar.

The reality on the ground inevitably drew a wedge between the Hindu and Muslim leadership. Cooperation between the AIML and INC was a mere shadow of its former self. Within Congress itself, Muslim representation was at an all-time low of 3.6% in 1923[2]. The unprecedented era of Hindu-Muslim unity was taking its final breath. However, there were still some that weren’t willing to give up on the failed dream just yet.

Many attempts had been made at achieving Hindu-Muslim unity throughout India’s history. Before the British Raj, Emperor Akbar attempted to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity by creating a new religion Din-i Ilahi[3], a syncretism of Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Christian, Jain and Buddhist beliefs. Similarly, many Indian saints of both Islamic and Hindu tradition advocated for greater cooperation between the two religious communities, one notable example being Kabir Das[4].

However, all these attempts failed to bring about any meaningful and sustained unity between Hindus and Muslims and largely lived and died with their progenitors. It wasn’t until the advent of the 20th century and India’s modern political awakening that anything close to true Hindu-Muslim unity occurred.

The first example of Hindus and Muslims bridging the political gap can be seen with the implementation of separate electorates under the Minto-Morley Reforms. The Congress Moderates, led by Gokhale, supported the League’s demands for separate Muslim representation despite opposition from those that saw separate electorates as an unnecessary provision, such as Jinnah.

The next and most successful example was the Lucknow Pact of 1916, which precipitated the golden age of Hindu-Muslim unity during the latter half of the First World War. During this period, the Indian political elite became a unified force under the Indian Home Rule Movement, leading to the August declaration of 1917 and the subsequent Chelmsford-Montagu Reforms.

This period of unprecedented Hindu-Muslim unity was brought to an end by mass agitation under the Non-cooperation Movement, which saw Gandhi’s political legitimisation of the Muslim Ulama. During this period, Jinnah went into self-imposed political exile after cutting ties with the INC, and all other political parties save for the AIML.

The majority of Indian opinion was in favour of Gandhi and the Khilafats. To oppose them would be to oppose the will of the Indian people, and so all Jinnah could do was stand by and watch as all the work he did in bringing about an understanding between Hindus and Muslims was undone. As far as India was concerned, mass agitation was the way forward regardless of how much damage it did to Hindu-Muslim unity.

Following this, multiple attempts were made at snatching back what was lost. In this essay, we will look at the first of those attempts.

In March 1923, during their annual session in Lucknow, the AIML passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a national pact ensuring unity between India’s various communities. This went a step further than the Lucknow Pact as it aimed to include a lot more parties than just Congress and the League. In September that year, during their special session in Delhi, the INC resolved to appoint a committee to help prepare a draft for the national pact. In December, the committee’s report was presented to Congress at the INC’s session in Kakinada.

The draft of the Indian National Pact[5] consisted of the following resolutions:

  1. It shall be the firm and unalterable object of the Indian National Pact’s signatories to secure complete Swaraj for India.
  2. The form of government under Swaraj shall be democratic and of the federal type; however, its exact nature will be determined by a national convention.
  3. Hindustani is to be India’s lingua franca written in both the Nastaliq and Devanagari scripts.
  4. Full religious liberty is to be afforded to all of India’s communities as part of their constitutional right.
  5. To prevent any religious community from being given undue preference, no government or public funds will be devoted to any religious institution or purpose.
  6. Once Swaraj has been achieved, it will be the duty of every Indian to defend it against all attack, external or internal.
  7. Minority communities shall have separate representation in the legislatures, both central and provincial.
  8. No cow slaughter to take place except on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, out of respect for India’s Hindu community.
  9. No music is to be played in front of places of worship at such times that may be fixed by local boards.
  10. If two or more religious processions occur on the same day, they shall follow different routes as determined by local boards.
  11. Provincial and local boards will be appointed as arbiters to prevent any conflicts that may arise during religious processions.
  12. India should participate in forming a Federation of Eastern Countries for mutual help in commerce and emancipation from European powers with a view to support oriental culture and foster friendly relations.

The committee’s report was signed by Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, founder of Jamia Millia Islamia University and staunch supporter of the Khilafat Movement, and Lala Lajpat Rai, founder of Punjab National Bank and die-hard nationalist. Lala Lajpat Rai was part of the Lal Bal Pal triumvirate alongside Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal. The three men had led the opposition against the Bengal Partition of 1905. Those who have read the previous essays may recall that Tilak had founded the first Home Rule League in Belgaum.

In regards to separate representation for minority communities, both Dr Ansari and Lala Lajpat Rai held opposing views. Dr Ansari wanted separate representation to be extended to municipalities and local boards. In contrast, Lala Lajpat Rai believed that a time limit should be imposed on separate representation, after which it should be scrapped entirely.

Lala Lajpat Rai further posited that separate representation should be in proportion to the numerical strength of each community with special provisions made for small minorities such as Sikhs, Christians and Parsis. To this, Dr Ansari suggested that larger minorities such as Sikhs and Christians may be given special representation in the provincial legislatures but only very small minorities such as Parsis may be given special representation in the central legislature. Regardless, the electorates will be joint in all cases, and there is to be no distinction based on caste, creed or colour in public services or educational institutions.

In addition to the resolutions already a part of the Indian National Pact, Dr Ansari also wanted the following clause added: No bill/clause/resolution concerning a particular community can be passed if 3/4 of the members from said community oppose it. This very same clause was part of the Lucknow Pact several years prior. Unfortunately, it never made its way into the Indian National Pact, perhaps indicating that relations would never return to what they once were. At least on the national level.

Alongside the Indian National Pact, a second cross-community pact was in development by the Bengal Provincial Congress under the leadership of Chittaranjan Das, founder of the Swaraj Party, with the involvement of Bengal’s Muslim representatives. It, too, was presented to Congress at the Kakinada session.

The draft of the Bengal Pact[6] consisted of the following resolutions:

  1. Representation in the Bengal Legislative Council is to be determined in proportion to population with separate electorates subject to necessary adjustments.
  2. Representation in local bodies is to be in the proportion of 60% for the majority community and 40% for the minority community, with the inclusion of separate electorates to be determined at a later date.
  3. 55% of government posts should be reserved for Muslims.
  4. No resolution or an enactment concerning a religious community can be passed without the consent of 75% of the elected members from said community.
  5. No music is to be played in procession before a Masjid.
  6. No interference is to be made in sacrificial cow slaughter for religious reasons.
  7. No legislation is to be passed concerning cow slaughter in the Bengal Legislative Council.
  8. Cow slaughter is to be carried out in such a way as not to offend Hindu religious sentiments.
  9. Annual representative committees, of which half are Muslim and half Hindu, are to be formed in every sub-division to arbitrate any disputes between the two communities.

One interesting thing to note here is the resolutions in both pacts concerning music outside places of worship, cow slaughter, and religious processions. In the Lucknow Pact, no such resolutions were included. Instead, its resolutions were largely concerning representation rather than actual religious sensibilities. This shows just how much the legitimisation of religious rhetoric had impacted Indian politics. The mere fact that these issues had to be discussed by the political leadership rather than solved by Hindus and Muslims on the ground indicates just how much the communal question had infiltrated Indian politics and how pressing the conflict between the two communities was.

It should be added that there is no religious requirement in Islam to slaughter a cow. In the case of Eid al-Adha, goats and sheep serve just as well, and most Indian Muslims opted for this to avoid unnecessary troubles. At the INC’s Kakinada session, one of the Muslim members boasted that he had reduced the amount of cow slaughter in Aligarh on the occasion of Eid al-Adha from 500 cows to just two[7]. Furthermore, in Hyderabad, a princely state consisting of a majority Hindu population ruled by Muslims, the Nizam had outlawed cow-slaughter on Eid al-Adha entirely. The current draft of the Indian National Pact contradicted that ruling.

Both the Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact were subject to debate at the December session of Congress. A debate that lasted approximately four hours over the course of which many Congress members had their input. It was then decided that a vote would be taken regarding whether each pact should continue being pursued. The overwhelming majority voted in favour of a second report of the Indian National Pact to be presented no later than the 31st March 1924. Unfortunately, no second report ever arrived.

Despite insistence from C. R. Das that the Bengal Pact was still subject to change on account of it being a draft proposal, the Bengal Pact was rejected with 678 votes against 458[8]. The main reason given was that the Bengal Pact was specific to the situation in Bengal, and if other provinces adopted them, it would lead to more frictions between Hindus and Muslims. In contrast, the Indian National Pact was abstract without any hard figures so that it could be implemented in the provinces with respect to each specific situation. In addition, the Bengal Pact directly contradicted the Indian National Pact’s stance on cow slaughter opting to prevent its ban rather than facilitate it.

Other Congress members asked why Muslims should have to enter into an agreement with Hindus before standing under the banner of freedom when other communities didn’t need such concessions. Not only that, but what was wrong with the Lucknow Pact that a new pact needed to be drafted anyway. These were the attitudes of an Indian National Congress that refused to open its eyes to the current state of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Furthermore, regardless of one’s views regarding the relationship between Muslims and Hindus, opting to delete a draft proposal before it was even completed sent the message that the largely Hindu INC refused to even consider the needs and apprehensions of Muslims. For Muslim India, this sent a clear picture of what Indian Independence would look like. A union dominated by Hindu opinion without adequate protection to the Muslim minority. A Hindu Raj.

All in all, the Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact proved to be yet another failed attempt at Hindu-Muslim unity. It was safe to say that things were no longer as simple as back in the days of the Lucknow Pact. For Jinnah, a man who tried his absolute hardest to bring about a fragile understanding between Hindus and Muslims, this must have been a hard pill to swallow.

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

[1] Ambedkar, B. R., 1941. The riot-torn history of Hindu-Muslim relations, 1920-1940. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 8 May 2021].

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

[3] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Dīn-i Ilāhī | Indian religion. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

[4] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Kabir | Indian mystic and poet. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

[5] Mitra, H. N., 1923. Indian Annual Register, 1923. Vol. II. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 8 May 2021]. p.105-108

[6] Ibid. p.127-128

[7] Ibid. p.125

[8] Ibid. p.127

Khilafat Movement and Non-cooperation Movement – 1919-1924

Mehmed VI, Ottoman Caliph (1918-1922)

During the Turkish War of Independence (19th May 1919 – 11th October 1922), many Indian Muslim religious leaders feared for the fate of the Ottoman Caliphate. For many, the Ottoman Empire’s collapse was viewed as a European conspiracy designed to end Pan-Islamism and the ‘united’ Muslim community.

This anxiety eventually led to the Khilafat Movement[1] and the establishment of the All-India Khilafat Committee in 1919. The committee included Muslim leaders from both the AIML and INC as well as members of the Ulama. It called for the Caliphate’s restoration and acted as a gateway for the Ulama to enter politics.

The Muslim political elite needed the Ulama to reach the masses. Muhammad Ali Jauhar, one of the Khilafat’s leading figures, is quoted as saying, “we can reach [the] mob only through religion”[2]. Although he later denied it. Likewise, the Ulama needed the political elite to achieve its own goals. They had repeatedly tried to implement their version of Sharia in the workings of government but failed. Abul Muhasin Muhammad Sajjad, one of the most influential scholars at the time, sums up the need to work with the political elite:

“Until the Ulama takes the reins of politics in their own hands and cross their voices with those in authority, it will be difficult for them to establish their religious supremacy. Moreover, the fulfilment of their higher aims [i.e., the protection of Islam] will remain merely an empty dream”[3].

The Khilafat’s marriage of political and religious influencers allowed the movement to reach a large base of supporters. Making it one of the most memorable movements in the history of modern South Asia. It also marked the formal beginning of South Asia’s tradition of having political parties led by religious scholars. The most notable being the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which has since birthed multiple off-shoots, including Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.

The following year, Gandhi launched the Non-cooperation Movement[4] to unite all Indians in opposition to British rule. He called for the boycott of British goods in favour of Indian goods and implored Indians to cease all co-operation with the British. The goal was to remove the Rowlatt Act, which had led to the horrible events of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

To consolidate Muslim support, Gandhi made the restoration of the Caliphate one of the Non-cooperation Movement’s main objectives. As a result, the Khilafat Movement joined forces with Gandhi and was practically swallowed up by the Non-cooperation Movement. Similarly, to consolidate Hindu support, Gandhi invoked the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) and called for the end of untouchability.

By appealing to both Muslims and Hindus’ religious sentiments, Gandhi was able to rile up the Indian masses in opposition to British rule. So how did Jinnah – “the best ambassador of Hindu–Muslim Unity”[5] – react to all this?

Jinnah was against the formation of the Khilafat Movement from the start. He was a firm believer in secularism and the removal of religious authority from the workings of the state. When Gandhi affirmed the Khilafats by allowing them into the Non-cooperation Movement, he opened a can of worms that would plague South Asia for decades to come.

At the INC’s 1920 Nagpur Session, Jinnah openly spoke out against the Non-cooperation Movement. He denounced Gandhi for causing a schism “not only amongst Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Hindus and Muslims and Muslims and even between fathers and sons […] in almost every institution”, leading to “complete disorganisation and chaos”[6]. Jinnah was weary of the potential implications of allowing religious frenzy into the realm of Indian politics.

This may seem confusing at first, given how Jinnah was a member of the All-India MUSLIM League and was the architect behind the famed Lucknow Pact that had ensured the extension of separate electorates for Muslim candidates. If anyone should be accused of bringing religion into politics, it should be Jinnah.

It is here that a distinction must be made between Muslims as a religious community and Muslims as a minority community in need of political representation. For Congress Moderates like Jinnah, there was a clear line between the religious and political needs of Muslims. It fell to the politicians to see to the political needs of the Muslim community. Meanwhile, the Ulama were tasked with seeing to the religious needs of the Muslim community. For example, the protection of land rights would be something that falls under the jurisdiction of the politician, whereas religious sermons would fall under the jurisdiction of the scholar. Inevitably there would be some overlap, but overall the system worked fine. Politicians stuck to the councils, and scholars stuck to the Masjids.

As already covered in previous essays, the AIML was formed to see to the political needs of Muslims. Implementing separate electorates in the Morley-Minto Reforms was a means to secure political representation for the Muslim minority. Supporting the Partition of Bengal was a way to advance the economic and political interests of the Muslim minority. At no point did the Muslim politicians try to implement their version of Sharia into government. Their fight was a nationalist fight for freedom, not a religious one. Recall when Jinnah addressed the AIML at the end of 1916:

“I see this great communal organisation rapidly growing into a powerful factor for the birth of United India. A minority must, above everything else, have a complete sense of security before its broader political sense can be evoked for co-operation and united endeavour in the national tasks. To the [Muslims] of India that security can only come through adequate and effective safeguards as regards their political existence as a community”[7].

When Gandhi brought the Khilafats under his wing, he set a dangerous precedent. The introduction of the Ulama threatened the existing political advancements in the cause for an independent India. Using religious rhetoric to stir up the masses ran the risk of causing a disconnect between India’s majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.

To Jinnah, Gandhi’s Satyagraha was politically irresponsible. The masses were a powerful force that couldn’t be tamed. Relying on the Indian masses for agitation ran the risk of doing more harm than good. Instead, Jinnah believed that achieving independence was best done via constitutional methods. Unfortunately, the majority of Indian opinion was not on his side, and he was subsequently shouted down by the delegates. Both the INC and AIML endorsed the Non-cooperation Movement.

This was the nail in the coffin for Jinnah’s relationship with Congress. Following the Nagpur Session, Jinnah resigned from the INC and all other positions, excluding his membership in the AIML. He would spend most of the early 1920s in political isolation as events in India took a turn for the worst.

The first sign of weakening relations between Hindus and Muslims was the Hijarat of 1920[8]. When the Khilafat Movement was at its height, several influential Mawlanas issued a fatwa declaring India a Dar-al-Harb. India was a land ruled by non-believers and was an unsuitable place for Muslims to live. As a result, thousands of Indian Muslims migrated to neighbouring Afghanistan.

Another major event that drove a wedge between India’s two sister communities was the Malabar Rebellion of 1921[9]. The Mappila Muslim community of Malabar, under Khilafat influence, rebelled against their British-backed Jenmi Hindu landlords. Thousands of civilians were killed in the ensuing violence as the enraged Muslim peasantry attacked Hindu temples. Forced conversions and sexual violence were widespread.

On the 4th February 1922, a large group of Non-cooperation protesters marched on Chauri Chaura market shouting anti-government slogans. A standoff between the protestors and police led to the deaths of 3 civilians and 22 police officers. The event came to be known as the Chauri Chaura Incident[10] and led to the Non-cooperation Movement’s disbanding on the 12th February 1922.

The Khilafat Movement came to an end in 1924 after Mustafa Kemal Pasha, Turkey’s Atatürk, abolished the Caliphate. Without a rallying cry to stand behind, the movement lost its impetus and eventually collapsed without achieving its primary goal of restoring the Caliphate. However, the damage was already done, and the Ulama became a permanent fixture in India’s political landscape.

The Khilafat Movement and Non-cooperation Movement alliance did not strengthen but strain relations between Muslims and Hindus. Allowing religious leaders into the realm of politics destroyed the delicate Hindu-Muslim Unity Jinnah worked so hard to establish. Regardless, mass agitation did yield results. The Rowlatt Act was repealed in March 1922 as a direct result of the Non-cooperation Movement.

At the end of the day, both movements would have lasting impacts on the Subcontinent. Without mass agitation, the chances are India would still be a British colony. That being said, had Gandhi taken a more measured approach like Jinnah and abstained from religious rhetoric, Hindu-Muslim Unity could have been preserved. In his haste to free India, Gandhi had sown the roots of communalism, forcing Jinnah to play certain cards he didn’t want to in later years.

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

[1] Minault, G., 1982. The Khilafat Movement: The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism And Political Mobilization In India. Columbia University Press.

[2] Qureshi, M., 1978. The Indian Khilāfat Movement (1918-1924). Journal of Asian History, Vol. 12.

[3] ibid.

[4] Bakshi, S., 1983. Gandhi And Non-Cooperation Movement, 1920-22. Capital Publishers.

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

[6] Jalal, A., 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League And The Demand For Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.

[7] Jinnah, M. A., 1916. Presidential Address By Muhammad Ali Jinnah To The Muslim League Lucknow, December 1916. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[8] Qureshi, M., 1979. The ‘Ulamā’ of British India and the Hijrat of 1920. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 13.

[9] Hardgrave, R., 1977. The Mappilla Rebellion, 1921: Peasant Revolt in Malabar. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 11.

[10] Low, D., 1966. The Government of India and the First Non-Cooperation Movement–1920-1922. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 25.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Rowlatt Act, and Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms – 1919

Jallianwala: Repression and Retribution. Painted by twins Rabindra and Amrit Singh.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Rowlatt Act, and Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms – 1919

On Sunday 13th April 1919, on the traditional Sikh festival of Baisakhi, thousands of Indians gathered in Jallianwala Bagh – a seven-acre garden surrounded by walls roughly ten feet high with five narrow entrances located a stone’s throw away from the Golden Temple (the holiest site in Sikhism). Following recent political upheaval, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer[1] imposed an 8 p.m. curfew to prevent any potential protests.

Regardless, by mid-afternoon, the bagh was beginning to fill up in the thousands with protestors as well as casual visitors. Most of the people were pilgrims passing through the bagh on their way home from the Golden Temple. In addition, many farmers, traders, and merchants had also been attending the annual Baisakhi horse and cattle fair.

By late-evening, Dyer arrived at Jallianwala Bagh with a group of ninety British Indian soldiers and two armoured cars fitted with machine guns. The troops started by blocking the narrow exits. Then, without warning the civilians to disperse, Dyer ordered his troops to fire into the crowd. The troops didn’t cease-fire until their ammunition was exhausted.

A total of 1,650 rounds were fired, killing approximately 1,000 men, women, and children, and injuring more than 1,500 others in the ensuing chaos. Those that survived the initial onslaught of bullets would be crushed by others frantically trying to escape. Many would try their luck by jumping into the solitary well located in the centre of the bagh. The youngest victim was a six-week-old baby; the oldest was in his eighties.

The event would come to be known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre or Amritsar Massacre. It came amid large scale political unrest following the passing of the controversial Rowlatt Act on the 18th March 1919. The Rowlatt Act, officially known as the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act 1919, was an indefinite extension of the emergency measures first introduced in the Defence of India Act 1915.

In short, the Act allowed for the censorship of the press, arrests without warrant, indefinite detention without trial, and juryless trials for anyone engaged in acts of revolutionary nationalism. The Rowlatt Act was subsequently invoked to imprison members of the INC and other political leaders. The aim was to curb the growing nationalist sentiment amongst the masses; the effect was the contrary.

Immediately following the introduction of the Rowlatt Act, protests erupted across India, especially in Punjab. By the end of the first week of April, rioting had reached its peak with the disruption of rail, telegraph, and communication systems. It is said that “practically the whole of Lahore was on the streets, the immense crowd that passed through Anarkali was estimated to be around 20,000”[2]. Events over the next few days would also contribute to the heightened tension between British and Indian that led to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

On the 10th April, several protesters were shot and killed outside the residence of Miles Irving, the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. In retaliation, rioters carried out arson attacks on British banks, killed several British people and assaulted two British women.

On the 11th April, Marcella Sherwood was violently attacked by a mob on a narrow street called Kucha Kurrichhan but managed to escape thanks to some local Indians. When Dyer met with Sherwood after the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre on the 19th April, he issued an order requiring every Indian man using Kucha Kurrichhan to crawl its length on his hands and knees as a punishment. He also authorised the indiscriminate, public whipping of locals that came within lathi length of a British policeman. Dyer would later state:

“Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu god and therefore they have to crawl in front of her, too”[3].

On the 12th April, Indian leaders announced that a protest would take place at Jallianwala Bagh the next day, demanding an end to the Rowlatt Act and the release of Congress members Satyapal and Kitchlew. This announcement was believed to have prompted Dyer’s decision to implement an 8 p.m. curfew the following day.

Following the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, many Indian moderates would abandon their previous loyalties to the British becoming nationalists in strong opposition to British rule. The event would also see the radicalisation of Indian freedom fighters such as Udham Singh[4] and Bhagat Singh[5].

Famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore renounced his British knighthood writing in a letter to Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy of India at the time:

“The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilised governments […] The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and I wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings”[6].

The massacre caused a tremendous increase in anti-British sentiments across the Subcontinent. However, to fully understand the impact of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the Rowlatt Act on the Indian Independence Movement as a whole, one requires a brief history of India during World War One.

After the British Empire joined the war on the 4th August 1914, there was division amongst Indians over what India’s response to being dragged into a global conflict should be. Indian revolutionaries were in strong opposition to the war, whereas moderates and liberals backed it in the hopes that their loyalty would be rewarded with more autonomy. Indian Muslims were particularly ambivalent towards the war, considering that the British were fighting against the Ottoman Empire, whose Sultan was considered the Caliph of Islam.

Despite this, both the AIML and INC were supportive of the war effort. The following quote from Gandhi during his WWI recruitment drive illustrates the rationale behind the decision to support the British government during the war:

“If we could but crowd the battlefield of France with an indomitable army of home rulers fighting for the victory of the cause of the Allies, it will also be a fight for our own cause. We should then have made out an unanswerable case for the granting of Home Rule not in any distant or near future but immediately”[7].

The Indian political leadership believed that if they could prove India’s loyalty to the Crown, then Indians would inevitably be given self-governing dominion status within the British Empire. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa had become dominions in 1867, 1901, 1907, and 1910 respectively. If other colonies could do it, why not India?

Despite his own gripes with the British, Jinnah was of the same mind. In response to Muslim dissatisfaction with the war, he would implore his co-religionists to remain loyal to the British government:

“Whatever our grievance, whatever reforms we desire. Everything must wait for a more seasonable occasion. Even if the government were to concede to us all that we ever desired or dreamt we would humbly tell the government this is no time for it and we must for the present decline such concessions with thanks. Concessions are asked for and accepted in peace. We are no Russian Poles. We need no bribes”[8].

So, what did India get in return for her loyalty? Draconian Laws.

During the first year of the war, the British introduced the Defence of India Act 1915. The law’s objective was to prevent Indians from engaging in activities that would hinder the war effort. The Act was mainly aimed against members of the Ghadar Party, a group of Indian ex-pats seeking to overthrow British rule, and the Bengali Anushilan Samiti. In practice, the law could be used against anyone the British considered a nuisance because it bypassed the right to a trial by jury.

During the war, 1,470 Indians were imprisoned under the Act, with another 310 facing minor restrictions[9]. The Defence of India Act 1915 was only to remain valid for the duration of the war and six months thereafter. Therefore, on the whole, it was merely accepted as a reality of war with very little resistance.

However, when it was extended indefinitely under the Rowlatt Act in 1919, it is no wonder that Indians were so outraged. Jinnah subsequently resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council, stating that “a government that passes or sanctions such a law in times of peace forfeits its claim to be called a civilised government”[10].

The Rowlatt Act would also push Gandhi to launch his famous Non-cooperation Movement on the 5th September the following year. It would take another three years of agitation before the British repealed it in March 1922.

As the war progressed, it became clear that the geopolitical shifts brought about by the clash of empires would mean that things would never be the same again. To capitalise on this, India’s political leadership went about securing what little ground they could, resulting in an impressive period of Hindu-Muslim unity for the remaining duration of the war. This was primarily due to the efforts of Jinnah, who established the Lucknow Pact in 1916.

In the latter half of the war, leaders from across the political spectrum formed an alliance kickstarting the Indian Home Rule Movement. Bal Gangadhar Tilak[11], leader of the Congress’ estranged extremist faction, founded the first Home Rule League in Belgaum, which would operate in Maharashtra (except Bombay), Karnataka, Berar, and the Central Provinces. Annie Besant[12], an Irish socialist, founded the second in Madras which would operate throughout the rest of India.

Both leagues worked closely together to campaign for dominion status to be given to India. The Home Rule Leagues consisted of India’s educated upper class with members from both the AIML and INC (both Moderate and Extremist factions), including Jinnah. The leagues organised demonstrations which caused quite a stir leading to Besant’s arrest in June 1917, resulting in nation-wide protests. Besant’s subsequent release in September was shortly followed by a major announcement.

The August Declaration took place on the 20th August 1917 at British parliament and was carried out by Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India:

“The policy of His Majesty’s government […] is that of the increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire”[13].

The declaration was an implicit acceptance, by the British, of the right to Indian self-rule and promised future reforms. Demands for greater autonomy would no longer be considered seditious, opening the door for future negotiations between the British and Indian leadership. Things were looking up for the oppressed people of India.

By the end of the war, a total of 1.3 million Indians would volunteer their service on behalf of the British Empire, and over 74,000 would lose their lives[14]. Many Indian men would go abroad to fight and carry out extreme feats of bravery, such as Khudadad Khan[15], the first Indian to receive the Victoria Cross. The Indian Maharajas and Nawabs also supplied ammunition, men and even their own service, like in the case of 74-year-old Pratap Singh[16].

Following the tragic events of the 13th April 1919, the much-awaited Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms would be put into effect on the 23rd December as the basis of the Government of India Act 1919[17]. Under the new legislation, the following was introduced amongst others:

  1. Diarchy at the provincial level. This meant that the executive branches of the provincial governments would consist of two groups:  The councillors (those appointed by the Viceroy) and the ministers (elected Indians). The councillors would oversee the courts, the police, land revenue, and irrigation. Meanwhile, the ministers would manage education, public health, public works, and agriculture.
  2. The Imperial Legislative Council was now to consist of two houses. The lower house was the Central Legislative Assembly with 145 members, of which 29 had to be Muslim, serving three-year terms. The upper house was the Council of State with 60 members, of which 10 had to be Muslim, serving five-year terms.
  3. Separate electorates for Sikhs, Europeans, and Anglo-Indians.
  4. The budget would be divided into two categories, votable (1/3 of expenditure) and non-votable (2/3 of expenditure).
  5. Those who had property, taxable income, and land revenue of Rs. 3,000 would be entitled to vote.
  6. A statutory commission would be set up in 10 years to assess the new system of government. This would come to be known as the Simon Commission, which I will cover in a later post.

King-Emperor George V summaries the evolution of parliamentary legislation for India up until this point, here:

“The Acts of 1773 and 1784 were designed to establish a regular system of administration and justice under the Honourable East India Company. The Act of 1833 opened the door for Indians to public office and employment. The Act of 1858 transferred the administration from the Company to the Crown and laid the foundations of public life which exist in India today. The Act of 1861 sowed the seed of representative institutions, and the seed was quickened into life by the Act of 1909. The Act which has now become law entrusts the elected representative of the people with a definite share in the government and points the way to full responsible Government hereafter”[18].

While it may seem as though the Government of India Act 1919 was a major victory for the Indian independence movement, it is worth analysing how it fits into the overall British strategy.

The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms were portrayed as being the first step towards Indian self-rule. However, critics, including myself, would argue that it is was instead a ploy by the British to concentrate power in the centre. The implementation of diarchy simply relegated Indians to the less important areas of government. The real power was still with the British.

Furthermore, seats were distributed based on a province’s perceived importance rather than its population, with franchise only being extended to the Indian gentry. Thereby creating an electorate with pro-British inclinations. By granting concessions to the provinces, Britain wasn’t preparing India for self-government but instead sowing the seeds for federalism which would pose a huge obstacle to achieving Jinnah’s dream.

Following the August Declaration, the Home Rule Movement went into decline. Besant’s hunger for self-rule was sated with the promise of future reforms, and Tilak was off in England pursuing a libel case. With a lack of effective leadership and a now seemingly redundant raison d’etre, many of the movement’s members would go on to join Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement – which I will be covering in the next post. Thus, putting an end to the golden age of Hindu-Muslim unity. From this point on, relations would begin to sour. The Home Rule League formally merged with the INC, under Gandhi’s leadership, the following year.

All in all, 1919 represented a watershed moment in the Indian Independence Movement. It laid out new rules for India’s political leadership to play by and awakened her slumbering masses. In a world ravaged by war, India’s future hung in the balance.

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

[1] Collett, N., 2005. The Butcher Of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer. Hambledon Continuum.

[2] Swami, P., 1997. Jallianwala Bagh Revisited. The Hindu.

[3] Talbott, S., 2004. Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, And The Bomb. Brookings Institution Press.

[4] Anand, A., 2019. The Patient Assassin: A True Tale Of Massacre, Revenge And The Raj. Simon & Schuster LTD.

[5] Singh, B., 2007. The Jail Notebook And Other Writings. LeftWord Books.

[6] Tagore, R., 1997. Selected Letters Of Rabindranath Tagore. Cambridge University Press.

[7] Begum, I., 2019. The Muslims of India and the First World War 1914-1918. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Research, Vol. 5.

[8] Qureshi, I., 1967. A Short History Of Pakistan. University of Karachi Press.

[9] n.d. Persons Interned – Hansard. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 November 2020].

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

[11] Bhagwat, A. and Pradhan, G., 2008. Lokmanya Tilak. Jaico Pub. House.

[12] Taylor, A., 1992. Annie Besant: A Biography. Oxford University Press.

[13] Danzig, R., 1968. The Announcement of August 20th, 1917. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 28.

[14] Tharoor, S., 2015. Why the Indian soldiers of WW1 were forgotten. BBC News, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[15] National Army Museum, London. 2020. Khudadad Khan | National Army Museum, London. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[16] Morton-Jack, G., 2018. World War One: Six extraordinary Indian stories. BBC News, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 November 2020].

[17] n.d. Government of India Act, 1919. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[18] Ilbert, C., 1922. The Government Of India. The Clarendon Press.

Lucknow Pact – 1916

Mohammed Ali Jinnah (bottom centre) and others at the time of the Lucknow Pact.

Since the AIML’s establishment in 1906, Jinnah had been mistrustful of its pro-British inclinations. The Muslim League was willing to offer their loyalty to Britain in exchange for more political representation[1]. Ultimately, this loyalty did not stop the British from reversing the Partition of Bengal. A now disillusioned AIML amended its constitution and adopted Indian self-government as its primary goal[2].

In October 1913, with no reason to continue opposing the League, Jinnah joined the organisation yet retained his membership in Congress, stressing that League membership took second priority to the “greater national cause” of an Independent India[3]. Unfortunately for Jinnah, over the next few years, Congress would endure significant blows.

The deaths of Moderate leaders Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehta in 1915 significantly undermined the party and left Jinnah isolated. Not to mention the fracturing of the party several years before in Surat. Nevertheless, Jinnah saw that if India were to achieve freedom, both the INC and AIML would have to work together.

In 1915, Jinnah ensured that both the INC and AIML held their annual sessions in Bombay and organised a joint meeting between the two parties. At this meeting, the Congress and League pledged to work together to put pressure on the British and committees were set up to prepare a common scheme of reforms.

In 1916, the INC and AIML met again in Lucknow and officially endorsed the reforms at their respective annual sessions. The scheme came to be known as the Lucknow Pact[4] and called for the following amongst others:

  1. 4/5 of members of the Provincial Legislative Councils and Imperial Legislative Council should be elected.
  2. Separate electorates for Muslims in Provincial Legislative Councils in the following proportions:
    • Punjab (50%)
    • United Provinces (30%)
    • Bengal (40%)
    • Bihar (25%)
    • Central Provinces (15%)
    • Madras (15%)
    • Bombay (1/3)
  3. No bill/clause/resolution concerning a particular community can be passed if 3/4 of the members from said community oppose it.
  4. Number of members in the Imperial Legislative Council should be increased to 150.
  5. 1/3 of the Indian members of the Imperial Legislative Council must be Muslims.
  6. 1/2 of the Viceroy’s Executive Council must be Indians.

In short, Congress agreed to Muslim demands concerning political representation, and, in exchange, the League agreed to Congress ideas concerning government structure along the lines of Gokhale’s Political Testament[5].

The Lucknow Pact serves as a testament to Jinnah’s adeptness as a political tactician in the cause for an Independent India. By bringing the League and Congress together, Jinnah single-handedly allied both of India’s most influential political parties, creating a joint front against the British. Thereby living up to his title as “the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” and making significant strides in the cause for Indian independence.

The Lucknow Pact served to bring the AIML and INC together, but it also healed the fractured Congress party as both the Extremists and Moderates were on board with the proposed reforms[6]. All in all, the Lucknow Pact signified a turning point in the Indian Independence Movement. It turned the League and Congress from bickering rivals into a united political force to be reckoned with.

On the 31st December 1916, Jinnah gave his presidential address to the AIML during its annual session in Lucknow,[7] where he stated the following:

“In its general outlook and ideal as regards the future, the All-India Muslim League stands abreast of the Indian National Congress and is ready to participate in any patriotic efforts for the advancement of the country as a whole. […] I have been a staunch Congressman throughout my public life and have been no lover of sectarian cries, but it appears to me that the reproach of “separatism” sometimes levelled at [Muslims] is singularly inept and wide of the mark when I see this great communal organisation rapidly growing into a powerful factor for the birth of United India. A minority must, above everything else, have a complete sense of security before its broader political sense can be evoked for co-operation and united endeavour in the national tasks. To the [Muslims] of India that security can only come through adequate and effective safeguards as regards their political existence as a community.”

“The [Muslims] must learn to have self-respect; what we want is a healthy and fair impetus to be given to our aspirations and ideals as a community, and it is the most sacred duty of government to respond to that claim. Towards the Hindus, our attitude should be of good-will and brotherly feelings. Co-operation in the cause of our motherland should be our guiding principle. India’s real progress can only be achieved by a true understanding and harmonious relations between the two great sister communities. With regard to our own affairs, we can depend upon nobody but ourselves. We should infuse [a] greater spirit of solidarity into our society. […] We should not lose the sympathy of our well-wishers in India and in England by creating a wrong impression that we, as a community, are out only for self-interest and self-gain. We must show by our words and deeds that we sincerely and earnestly desire a healthy national unity.”

In summary, Jinnah is saying that the AIML is the vital “political organ” of the Muslim community and necessary for the creation of a “United India”. It is the role of the AIML to see to the internal affairs of the Muslim community while working externally with the other communities of India for the “advancement of the country as a whole”. These are hardly the words of a staunch separatist who seeks to divide India and carve out a new state for himself, as is commonly depicted.

One interesting thing about the Lucknow Pact is that it revealed a lot about Jinnah’s political character. A man who only six years before was dead against the idea of separate electorates[8] was now the architect of a common scheme of reforms in which separate electorates were a key demand.

It is here that a distinction must be made between strategy and tactics. Strategy defines your long-term goals and overarching plan to achieve said goals. Meanwhile, tactics are smaller specific steps and decisions that must be taken to complete your overall strategy.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

The Art of War
Sun Tzu

The inclusion of separate electorates in the Lucknow Pact was a political tactic. Jinnah knew that to free India, he needed the League and Congress to be on the same page. To do so, he had to compromise on his individual opinion when it came to separate electorates because he knew that it would be the only way to get the League on board. He even states so in his address:

“Whatever my individual opinion may be, I am here to interpret and express the sense of the overwhelming body of [Muslim] opinion, of which the All-India [Muslim] League is the political organ.”

Jinnah was also aware that separate electorates would have to be a necessary evil to secure his position in the Imperial Legislative Council. Jinnah’s ability to put aside his personal opinion for the overall strategy would serve him well in the years to come. However, it makes the historian’s job of dissecting and determining said opinion from the annals of history much harder.

In many ways, Jinnah acts against his personal beliefs, the inclusion of separate electorates being a clear example, with many more, albeit subtle examples, to come up in future essays. What is certain, though, is that whatever Jinnah’s strategy was, it involved Muslims and Hindus working together for a common cause.

Unfortunately for Jinnah, events in the next few years would disrupt and eventually put an end to the unity brought about by the Lucknow Pact. Nonetheless, the Lucknow Pact still served to establish fundamentals in the Independence Movement. The agreement on separate electorates made the communal issue a crucial part of Indian politics.

Furthermore, by agreeing with the League, Congress tacitly yielded to the idea that India consisted of two different communities with different interests. This pushed the less relevant AIML into the forefront of Indian politics, alongside the INC, as the political body representing Muslim India. This made it a necessity to have the League involved in any future decisions concerning Indian independence.

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] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Muslim League | Indian Muslim Group. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

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

[4] n.d. The Congress-League Scheme 1916 (INC & AIML). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[5] A History of India. n.d. Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s “Political Testament” (1915). [online] Available at: <,Gopal%20Krishna%20Gokhale%27s%20″Political%20Testament”%20(1915),of%20the%20Morley-Minto%20Reform.&text=He%20specifically%20referred%20to%20the,for%20the%20impending%20Indian%20reform.> [Accessed 21 July 2020].

[6] Ahmed, N., 1987. History Of The Indian National Congress, 1885-1950. Aligarh Muslim University.

[7] Jinnah, M. A., 1916. Presidential Address By Muhammad Ali Jinnah To The Muslim League Lucknow, December 1916. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[8] Jalal, A., 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League And The Demand For Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.

Partition of Bengal – 1905-1911

Map of Bengal, from 1880, prior to the 1905 partition.

On the 20th July 1905, the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, announced what would be his last and most controversial act in office: The Partition of Bengal.

The Bengal Province covered a total area of 190,000 square miles, with a population of 78.5 million[1]. As you can imagine, this proved to be an administrative nightmare. To rectify the issue, Curzon decided to divide the province into Hindu majority West Bengal and Muslim majority Eastern Bengal & Assam on the 16th October 1905 before leaving office in November. It backfired, triggering a political crisis.

Before the partition, Bengali Hindus dominated the province’s commerce, professional and rural life[2] as they were in the numerical majority. Meanwhile, Bengali Muslims were economically side-lined with little education. However, after the partition, Bengali Muslims became the majority in Eastern Bengal & Assam. Meanwhile, non-Bengali speakers became the majority in West Bengal after the inclusion of Orissa and Bihar[3].

For the Muslims of Bengal, the partition presented an opportunity for advancement without Hindu dominance. Soon to be founder of the Muslim League, Nawab Salimullah of Dhaka led Muslims in support of the partition[4]. For the Bengali Hindus, the partition was a fracturing of their motherland and diminished their authority. In the lead up to the partition, Congress arranged protests and collected petitions against the partition. These proved infective against a government that heeded little attention to the sentiments of its subjects.

Sir Surendranath Banerjee, a founder of the INC at the forefront of the protests, began advocating for Swadeshi (a boycott of British goods). The INC Moderates led the protests; however, minor rebel groups began to sprout under its cause[5]. The efforts ultimately proved futile, and the British went ahead with the partition anyway.

In response, the protests grew more violent, awakening a radical nationalism amongst Bengalis. Congress Moderates grew anxious and stopped supporting the boycott because the newly appointed and sympathetic Morley presented an opportunity to reverse the partition[6]. In what became a blend of religious and political feelings, agitated young Bengali Hindus began adopting the use of car bombs, shootings, and assassinations to see their demands for the partition’s reversal realised[7]. Although some prominent Muslim speakers were present at the protests, most Bengali Muslims were indifferent to the movement[8]. Soon, invigorated nationalists all over India began holding protests against the British in Bombay, Poorna, and Punjab, among others[9].

The radical nature of Indian nationalism made it difficult for the INC to gain support for future constitutional reforms and highlighted internal strife within the party. The Extremists faction became increasingly dissatisfied with the Moderates handling of the situation. The Moderates wanted to gain independence via constitutional means and co-operation with the British; however, this proved ineffective as little ground was gained since the INC’s founding in 1885. On the other hand, the Extremists believed the best way to achieve independence was through protest, boycott, and agitation.

The 1907 annual Congress meeting was originally due to be held in Nagpur but fearing the Extremists would dominate the session, Gokhale changed the venue to Surat. In response, the outraged Extremists protested, leading to a physical scuffle in which furniture was flung around the room. This event came to be known as the Surat Split[10].

It was a significant blow to the INC’s reputation and left the party fractured. In the subsequent years, the Extremists were excluded from Congress. Meanwhile, the AIML was able to gain the preference of the British due to their unwavering support of the partition. This paved the way for the introduction of separate electorates in the Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909.

Nonetheless, by 1911, unable to quell the protests and fearing another potential rebellion on the scale of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the British eventually assented and annulled the partition. East and West Bengal were reunited while Assam, Bihar and Orissa were separated from the province. Bengali Hindus were able to dominate Bengali life once again. The status quo was restored.

Bengali Muslims were shocked as the Partition of Bengal was interpreted as British enthusiasm for Muslim interests. By backtracking, the UK government made it clear that it was willing to give in to the demands of Hindus at the expense of loyal Muslims[11]. For the League, failure to prevent the annulment was a massive blow to its reputation as the party that claimed to represent and defend the interests of India’s Muslims.

The Partition of Bengal is a clear example of how what is in the best interests of one community can be at odds with the best interests of another. The Bengali Hindus wanted to have a united Bengal at the expense of the Bengali Muslims. Likewise, the Bengali Muslims wanted a divided Bengal at the expense of the Bengali Hindus.

Thus, highlighting a fundamental issue throughout India that would come to define the Indian Independence Movement in its later years. That issue being that India is a land of many nations. In particular, two nations seem to be most at odds with each other: Hindus and Muslims. This idea is known as the Two-Nation Theory, which I will expand upon in future essays.

The annulment was the first sign that Britain’s iron grip was loosening on its prized possession. However, what would replace the British Raj? An independent India that saw to the interests and advancement of all its communities or one that was dominated by Hindus and reduced to majoritarianism?

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

[1] Stein, B., 2010. A History Of India. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishers.

[2] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Partition Of Bengal | Indian History. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 14 July 2020].

[3] Stein, B., 2010. A History Of India. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishers.

[4] Baxter, C., 1997. Bangladesh: From A Nation To A State. WestviewPress.

[5] Metcalf, B. and Metcalf, T., 2006. A Concise History Of Modern India. Cambridge University Press.

[6] Stein, B., 2010. A History Of India. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishers.

[7] Kulke, H. and Rothermund, D., 1986. A History Of India. Croom Helm Australia Pty Ltd.

[8] Talbot, I., 2016. A History Of Modern South Asia: Politics, States, Diasporas. Yale University Press.

[9] Metcalf, B. and Metcalf, T., 2006. A Concise History Of Modern India. Cambridge University Press.

[10] Talwalkar, G., 2006. Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Rupa & Co.

[11] Robinson, F., 1974. Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics Of The United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860-1923. Cambridge University Press.

Minto-Morley Reforms – 1909

John Morley, Secretary of State for India (1905-1911)

Following the Liberal Party’s whopping success in the 1906 British general election, John Morley became the Secretary of State for India. In contrast to the Conservative Party’s autocratic approach to India, the Liberals were more susceptible to Indian demands for more political representation.

So far, Indians were limited to proposing candidates whom the British could consider for the Imperial Legislative Council – but even then, those candidates could only give speeches and take part in debates rather than vote on legislation – despite the best efforts of the INC[1]. Nonetheless, the new government presented an opportunity for Congress to redouble its efforts. To avoid being left out, the Muslim elite formed the AIML to guarantee Muslim representation.

For the next three years, the AIML campaigned and lobbied London to see the introduction of separate electorates and reserved seats. On the 1st October 1908, draft proposals for future reforms provided Muslims with reserved seats in all councils, resulting in limited Muslim representation in the provincial and imperial legislatures. For the AIML, this was not enough as Morley, who oversaw the reforms, still opted for a mixed electoral college. In response, the League and Muslim press began to protest what they saw as a betrayal of the Simla Deputation discussed in the previous essay.

On the 23rd February 1909, the AIML got Morley to voice his support for separate Muslim representation marking the League’s first victory. Despite this, the reforms still did not meet the League’s demands as they provided an inadequate number of Muslim seats. The League’s London branch opposed the bill, winning some support within parliament, meanwhile back in India, they organised a protest[2].

The Reforms Committee advised Lord Minto, the Viceroy, to seek a settlement with the AIML. Minto believed that the Muslims had already had enough representation. However, Morley was weary of the potential obstacles that dissatisfied Muslims could pose to British rule following the Rebellion of 1857 and Lord Mayo’s assassination in 1872[3].

On the 12th September 1909, the League once again pressed for more Muslim representation. Despite Minto’s ardent opposition, Morley was sure the bill would not pass without the League’s support and opted to sit down with their leadership. The Aga Khan, then President of the AIML, compromised for the inclusion of two additional reserved seats for Muslims in the Imperial Legislative Council. The rest of the League hesitantly agreed[4].

The Indian Councils Act of 1909 (aka the Minto-Morley Reforms) increased the number of members of the Imperial Legislative Council from 16 to 69, of which only 27 were to be elected[5]:

  • Viceroy’s Executive Council (9)
  • Nominated by the Viceroy (33)
    • Officials (28)
    • Non-officials (5):
      • Commerce (1)
      • Punjabi Muslim (1)
      • Punjabi Landowner (1)
      • Others (2)
  • Non-officials elected from provincial legislatures (27)
    • General (13):
      • Bombay (2)
      • Madras (2)
      • Bengal (2)
      • United Provinces (2)
      • Central Provinces (1)
      • Assam (1)
      • Bihar & Orissa (1)
      • Punjab (1)
      • Burma (1)
    • Landholders (6):
      • Bombay (1)
      • Madras (1)
      • Bengal (1)
      • United Provinces (1)
      • Central Provinces (1)
      • Bihar & Orissa (1)
    • Muslim (6):
      • Bengal (2)
      • Madras (1)
      • Bombay (1)
      • United Provinces (1)
      • Bihar & Orissa (1)
    • Commerce (2):
      • Bengal Chamber of Commerce (1)
      • Bombay Chamber of Commerce (1)

The Minto-Morley Reforms in and of themselves did not do much for the everyday Indian. Most of the Indians in the Imperial Legislative Council were not given official status and could not vote on legislation. However, they could discuss the budget, present resolutions, and ask questions[6]. Furthermore, it also made it a requirement to have Indian members on the council. Before, it was only a courtesy[7].

The reforms provided a platform for Indian politicians to build upon. In essence, they were getting a foot in the door for independence. For the League, in particular, it ensured a limited amount of representation in government to see to the interests of India’s Muslims. That being said, the main takeaway from the reforms was separate electorates.

In a separate electorate system, a certain number of seats in a constituency are reserved for a particular community. For example, a total of 7 seats were reserved for Muslims in the Imperial Legislative Council. The candidates that occupy those seats must belong to that community. The voters that get to vote for which candidate occupies the seat must also belong to that same community. Other communities do not get to participate in the elections that determine who occupies the reserved seat.

In short, Muslims and only Muslims got a say in who occupied Muslim seats in government. If a party wanted to win a Muslim seat, they had to put forward a Muslim candidate, and that candidate must win the support of the Muslim community in that constituency.

A separate electorate system meant that Muslim politicians could give proper representation to their Muslim constituents without fear of being ousted by a non-Muslim majority. The alternative, a joint electorate, would have meant Muslim politicians got swamped out of government. Those who did get elected would be very watered-down to avoid upsetting the majority. The reforms allowed Muslims to get into government and rock the boat without fear of being tossed overboard. However, not everyone was happy.

The Quaid-i-Azam, for one, was not pleased. Still a firm believer in Congress, Jinnah moved the resolution deploring the extension of separate electorates to local boards at the 1910 annual INC session even though he had directly benefited from them[8]. Jinnah was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council as the Muslim candidate from Bombay.

The introduction of separate electorates is often interpreted as another successful attempt by the British to divide Hindus and Muslims[9]. And while there is merit to this argument, one must still be mindful of the already existing lack of Muslim representation in government and Congress. If the INC were not willing to see to the interests of Muslim India, it would fall to the AIML to do so with separate electorates.

Today, Muslims make up 14.2% of India’s population[10] but less than 4% in the Lok Sabha, India’s 545 seat lower house of parliament[11]. Given the current situation facing India’s Muslim minority, I would argue that a lack of Muslim political representation is more detrimental to Hindu-Muslim unity than the introduction of separate electorates. Had separate electorates for Muslims not been scrapped upon independence, I am confident India’s current communal landscape would be vastly different.

For the next three decades, separate electorates would continue to play a critical role in Indian politics and the direction of the Indian Independence Movement. Despite Jinnah’s objections, he would continue to utilise the separate electorate system to his strategic political advantage.

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

[1] Kulke, H. and Rothermund, D., 1986. A History Of India. Croom Helm Australia Pty Ltd.

[2] Robinson, F., 1974. Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics Of The United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860-1923. Cambridge University Press.

[3] Robb, P., 2002. A History Of India. Palgrave Macmillan.

[4] Robinson, F., 1974. Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics Of The United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860-1923. Cambridge University Press.

[5] n.d. Indian Constitutional Documents, 1773-1915. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 July 2020].

[6] Gul, S. and Neelam, M., 2018. M.A. Jinnah in the Imperial Legislative Council of India, 1910-13 and 1916-19. Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, [online] 66(3/4). Available at: <> [Accessed 9 July 2020].

[7] Chandra, B., Mukherjee, M., Mukherjee, A., Panikkar, K. and Mahajan, S., 1988. India’s Struggle For Independence. Penguin.

[8] Jalal, A., 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League And The Demand For Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.

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

[10] Firstpost, 2015. India has 79.8% Hindus, 14.2% Muslims, says 2011 census data on religion, Firstpost, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 July 2020].

[11] Wolfe, D., Kopf, D. and Thaker, A., 2019. Why is Muslim political representation declining in India?. Quartz India, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 July 2020].

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].