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: <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Muslim-League> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

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

[4] Constitutionofindia.net. n.d. The Congress-League Scheme 1916 (INC & AIML). [online] Available at: <https://www.constitutionofindia.net/historical_constitutions/the_congress_league_scheme_1916__inc___aiml__1st%20January%201916> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[5] A History of India. n.d. Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s “Political Testament” (1915). [online] Available at: <http://cw.routledge.com/textbooks/9780415485432/33.asp#:~:text=(1938-1940)-,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] Columbia.edu. Available at: <http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00islamlinks/txt_jinnah_lucknow_1916.html> [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: <https://www.britannica.com/event/Partition-of-Bengal&gt; [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] Archive.org. n.d. Indian Constitutional Documents, 1773-1915. [online] Available at: <https://archive.org/stream/indianconstituti00mukeuoft#page/306/mode/2up> [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: <https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P4-2224908890/m-a-jinnah-in-the-imperial-legislative-council-of> [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: <https://nation.com.pk/02-Mar-2013/the-truth-about-pakistan> [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: <https://www.firstpost.com/india/india-has-79-8-percent-hindus-14-2-percent-muslims-2011-census-data-on-religion-2407708.html> [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: <https://qz.com/india/1617067/indian-election-2019-why-few-muslims-make-it-to-the-lok-sabha/> [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] Historypak.com. n.d. Simla Deputation (1906).[online] Available at: <https://historypak.com/simla-deputation-1906/> [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: <https://nation.com.pk/02-Mar-2013/the-truth-about-pakistan> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

[7] Historypak.com. n.d. Muslims And The Congress. [online] Available at: <https://historypak.com/muslims-and-the-congress/> [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: <http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/ideologie/data/CensusIndia/CensusIndia1941/Census%20of%20India%201941.pdf> [Accessed 26 June 2020].

Was the British Raj good or bad for the Subcontinent?

The Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, the governor of Bengal, which transferred tax collecting rights in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company on 12 August 1765.

The following piece is a short essay that I wrote at the end of year 12 as part of a geography assignment. It details some of tactics used by the British Empire to rob South Asia of its riches.

Please note that the numbers in red boxes are footnotes where as those in regular boxes are references.


The question of the British Empire’s involvement in South Asia and other parts of the world is one that is often debated. American Historian Will Durant wrote, in 1930, upon visiting India:

The British conquest of India was the invasion and destruction of a high civilization by a trading company [The British East India Company] utterly without scruple or principle, careless of art and greedy of gain, over-running with fire and sword a country temporarily disordered and helpless, bribing and murdering, annexing and stealing, and beginning that career of illegal and “legal” plunder which has now [1930] gone on ruthlessly for one hundred and seventy-three years” [1]

On the other hand, Scottish historian Niall Ferguson writes:

“For better or worse — fair and foul — the world we know today is in large measure a product of Britain’s age of empire. The question is not whether British imperialism was without blemish. It was not. The question is whether there could have been a less bloody path to modernity. Perhaps in theory there could have been. But in practice?” [2]

It is clear to see that opinions differ wildly when it comes to the British Empire and whether it hindered development or facilitated development. In this essay I will attempt to provide an overview of Britain’s involvement in India (1757-1947)[1] and determine whether the Empire’s involvement was necessary for India to modernize. I will primarily be focusing on the economic impacts of British rule, however it is important to note that British involvement had profound effects in all areas of development, and for the purposes of this essay ‘India’ will also encompass both modern day Pakistan and Bangladesh[2].

Share of the World’s GDP (%) from 1600 to 1950 [3]

 160017001820187019131950
India22.424.416.012.17.54.2
Britain1.82.95.29.08.26.5
Angus Maddison, Development Centre Studies The World Economy Historical Statistics: Historical Statistics, 2003, p.261

Thanks to Angus Madison’s extensive work on the world’s economic history, we now know that in the year 1600 during the Mughal era[3], India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) accounted for 22.4% of the World’s economy. This increased to 24.4% in 1700, making India the largest economy in the world ahead of both China and Western Europe. Meanwhile, Britain accounted for a measly 1.8% (1600) and 2.9% (1700). However, by the year 1820, after 63 years of company rule, Britain’s share rose to 5.2% while India’s share fell to 16%. This trend of British economic growth and Indian economic decline continued and by 1950, 3 years after the end of the British Raj, India was a left a shadow of its former glory at 4.2%.

Similarly, India was also a leader in global manufacturing, before British rule, with key industries of: textiles, shipbuilding, and steel. Mughal goods and cash crops were sold throughout the world, including Europe[4]. European powers had to export vast amounts of gold and silver to India to pay for Mughal imports as there was little demand for European products in India – Mughal India was largely self-sufficient – resulting in a significant trade imbalance[5] [4]. This period of industrial growth is often referred to as being a state of proto-industrialization like that of 18th century Western Europe prior to the Industrial revolution. By the year 1750, India accounted for 24.5% of the global manufacturing, however in 1800, after only 43 years of Company rule, India’s share fell to 19.7% and by 1938, it was left at 2.4%[6] [5]. Furthermore, economic historian Paul Bairoch highlights how India had a higher GNP per capita than Europe up until the late 18th century [6].

So the question must be asked: What happened during those 190 years of British rule?

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India (2017), written by Indian Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, outlines various methods employed by the British during their era of rule over India that have contributed to its economic decline. Tharoor also mentions Britain’s impact in other spheres of life within India, including: law, politics and media. However, for the purposes of this essay we will examine Tharoor’s explanations for how the British went about destroying India’s key industries resulting in the subcontinent’s decline as a global economic superpower [7].

For centuries, India had been an important player in global trade. The Indian Subcontinent had been conducting international trade from as early as the 1st century according to Periplus of the Erythraean Sea which describes navigation and trading opportunities from Roman Egyptian ports, such as Berenice Troglodytica, along the coast of the Red Sea, and others along the Horn of Africa, the Sindh region of modern day Pakistan, along with south-western regions of India during the 1st century [8]. However, Tharoor brings to light Britain’s efforts in limiting India’s trade ultimately replacing the Subcontinent’s role in global trade:

“British-based businesses simply could not compete [with Indian-based businesses], and so they petitioned Parliament for a ban on Indian shipbuilding. The first legislative act in their favour came in 1813 with a law that prohibited ships below 350 tonnes from sailing between the Indian colonies and the United Kingdom. That took 40 per cent of Bengal-built ships out of the lucrative India-England trade. A further Act in 1814 denied Indian-built ships the privilege of being deemed ‘British-registered vessels’ to trade with the United States and European continent. Though they could still, in theory trade with China, that sector had become unprofitable, since the previous practice had been to sail from Calcutta with Indian goods to China, load up on tea there for London, and return to Calcutta with British goods; with the London sector banned to them, these ships could only sail from Calcutta to China and back, but there was no market for Chinese goods in India (Indians were not yet tea drinkers) and the ships, denied access to London, often had to return empty”

During the early 18th century, India enjoyed a 25% share in the global textiles industry [9]. British cloth manufacturers couldn’t compete with the cheap prices and low labour costs of India. However, once the Company took over, East Indian Company Soldiers went about destroying the looms of weavers[7] [10], lowering the supply and production of goods, as well as imposing tariffs of 70-80% on Indian textiles, making exporting unviable. As a result, Indian textiles were no longer cheaper than their British counterparts, which then began to flood the Indian market. Indians couldn’t impose retaliatory tariffs on British goods since the British controlled both the ports and the government. In turn, the Indian textile industry was sent into decline meanwhile British imports soared to over 1 billion yards of cotton by 1870 [11]. It is important to note that while India no longer manufactured cotton goods the subcontinent still grew cotton to send to Britain. And so began a trend of shipping primary[8] goods to Britain for manufacturing, into secondary[9] goods, and then back to India and the rest of the world to be sold; essentially moving India away from a secondary sector economy into a primary sector economy. Meanwhile kick starting the Industrial revolution in Britain. Tharoor highlights how this method of moving secondary industry from India to Britain was applied across the board, thus explaining Britain’s rise as a global superpower at the expense of India’s economy.

In addition, many artisans whom were forced out of the secondary economy went into agriculture. This huge influx of disenfranchised people into the agricultural sector decreased the rural wages thus forcing rural areas into poverty. During the Mughal era, real wages and living standards in Bengal and South India were higher than in Britain [12]. In fact, during the early 17th century, the primary sector accounted for 64%[10] of India’s workforce with the secondary and tertiary[11] sectors accounting for 11% and 25% respectively [13] each contributing to 52% (primary), 18% (secondary) and 29% (tertiary) of India’s economy [14]. However, during British rule, the secondary sector’s contribution fell to 11% during the early 20th century. Thus, highlighting the Subcontinent’s shift from a secondary focused economy to a primary focused economy. If we were to take Rostow’s model[12] into account, then India was, in effect, being forced to move away from stage 2 (developing manufacturing industry on the verge of intense activity) and back to stage 1 (subsistence farming or hunter-gathering).

On the contrary, B. R. Tomlinson presents the idea that the textiles industry’s decline was instead a direct result of the Industrial Revolution [15]. Indian textiles were handmade just like the rest of the world prior to the advent of machinery. Therefore, it could instead be argued that the textiles industry in India was wiped out by the technological superiority of Britain. Thus, Indian weavers were victims of technological obsolescence instead of deliberate British policy. Tharoor notes, however, that had India not been colonized, “the weavers would’ve been replaced within 50 years by Indian textile mills using modern machinery”. It is of course no doubt, that even in a free India, Indian textiles would’ve not been able to compete with the mass-produced textiles in Britain. That being said, a free India would be able to impose tariffs on British imports thus softening the blow against India’s economy. Furthermore, India would also be able to import technology[13] and compete with Britain’s textile industry. Therefore still experiencing a decrease in its share of the global economy but not the dramatic economic decline we saw during the late 18th century to early 20th century.

One often cited argument during debates about British colonialism is the idea that Britain helped India modernize by building infrastructure in the form of railways and irrigation systems. By the late 19th century, Britain had built, what was then, the world’s 4th largest railway network in India[14]. This totaled 25,495 km of railway in 1880 [16] and radiated inland from the major port cities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Thus, significantly speeding up the transport of primary materials from their inland plantations and mines to the coastal ports where they would then be shipped abroad, primarily to England, to be used in manufacturing.  Furthermore, Britain also heavily invested in irrigation infrastructure and by 1900 India had the world’s largest irrigation system[15]. Take, for example, the Ganges canal which reached 560 km from Haridwar to Cawnpore, suppling thousands of miles of distribution canals. Or even the case of Assam, which in 1840 was a jungle but by 1900 had around 4 million acres under cultivation. By 1947, about 22 million hectares of British India was under cultivation [17]. In North-western British India region alone, 2.2 million hectares of previously barren land was irrigated by the 1940s, most of which is now part of Pakistan. British historian David Gilmour also points out the impact of the new irrigation systems:

“By the 1870s the peasantry in the districts irrigated by the Ganges Canal were visibly better fed, housed and dressed than before.” [18]

There, of course, is no denying the legacy of British infrastructure and its significance in shaping the modern day economy of the Indian Subcontinent.  Take the modern state of India which is now among the one of the fastest growing economies in the world (BRICS[16]) thanks largely in part due to its inherited infrastructure from the British Raj. Today, Indian railways provide a net income of US$930 million [19]. Meanwhile, irrigation systems that have since been expanded[17] help improve food security, improve agricultural productivity and create rural job opportunities. In addition, dams that are used for irrigation projects also produce electricity, provide drinking water supplies to a growing population, control floods and prevent droughts. This has helped India become the world’s 2nd largest agricultural producer, behind China, with a total agricultural output worth US$354 billion. Similarly, both Pakistan and Bangladesh are ranked at 7th (US$65 billion) and 19th (US$31 billion) respectively [20].

In conclusion, it is clear to see that British imperialism displaced the Indian Subcontinent from its number one position in the global economy. Even today, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh collectively hold a share of 8.344% (2015) of the world’s global GDP [21] compared to the Mughal era height of 24.4%. However, there is also no denying that British colonial era infrastructure has played a big role in the Subcontinent’s current economic growth. That being said, this current economic growth has occurred in the last 72 years since partition in 1947. Therefore, it should be attributed to the efforts made by the native governments, and their expansions of British infrastructure, rather than British colonial rule itself. Had Britain truly proved to be the catalyst of Indian economic growth then there should never have been an economic decline during British governance in the first place. Furthermore, British governance may not have been needed in the first place to provide infrastructure due to the fact that many countries did not need to be colonized by Britain in order to build railways[18]. Therefore, it is safe to say that overall, British imperialism had negatively affected economic development in the Indian Subcontinent despite its investment into Indian infrastructure[19].


References

  1. Will Durant, The Case for India, 1930, p.7
  2. Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, 2003
  3. Angus Maddison, Development Centre Studies The World Economy Historical Statistics: Historical Statistics, 2003, p.261
  4. Karl J. Schmidt, An Atlas and Survey of South Asian History, 2015, p.100
  5.  Jeffrey G. Williamson and David Clingingsmith, India’s Deindustrialization in the 18th and 19th Centuries, 2005, p.34
  6. Paul Bairoch, Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes, 1995
  7. Shashi Tharoor, Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, 2017, ch.1
  8. Unknown, Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 40-70 AD
  9. P. Bairoch and M. Levy-Leboyer, Disparities in Economic Development since the Industrial Revolution, 1981
  10. William Bolts, Considerations on Indian Affairs: Particularly Respecting the Present State of Bengal and its Dependencies, 1772
  11. Jon Wilson, India Conquered: Britain’s Raj and the Chaos of Empire, 2016, p.321
  12. Prasannan Parthasarathi, Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia Did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600–1850, 2011
  13. Kaveh Yazdani, India, Modernity and the Great Divergence: Mysore and Gujarat (17th to 19th C.), 2017, p.120
  14. Shireen Moosvi, The economy of the Mughal Empire, c. 1595: a statistical study, 1987
  15. B. R. Tomlinson, The Economy of Modern India 1870-1970, 1996, p.15
  16. John Hurd, Railways, 2005
  17. United Nations, AQUASTAT – FAO’s Information System on Water and Agriculture [online], Available at: http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/countries_regions/ind/index.stm, 2015
  18. David Gilmour, The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj, 2007, p.9
  19. Ministry of Railway, Indian Railways Budget Documents 2018–19, 2018
  20. The Economist, World in Figures – Agriculture Rankings [online], Available at: https://worldinfigures.com/rankings/index/103, 2015
  21. Economy Watch, GDP Share of World Total (PPP) Data for All Countries [online], Available at: http://www.economywatch.com/economic-statistics/economic-indicators/GDP_Share_of_World_Total_PPP/, 2015

[1] Note that this time period also includes British East India Company rule, which occurred between 1757 and 1858, following which the Company’s remaining powers were transferred to the Crown following the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

[2] In 1947, the Indian Subcontinent was partitioned into the modern states of India and Pakistan. East Pakistan then seceded from West Pakistan in 1971, forming the modern state of Bangladesh.

[3] Founded in 1526 by Emperor Babur, the Mughal Empire went on to control the majority of the Indian sub-continent, except for its southern tip, by 1700, before its eventual decline and fall in 1857.

[4] In early modern Europe, there was significant demand for products from Mughal India, particularly cotton textiles, as well as goods such as spices, peppers, indigo, silks, and saltpetre (for use in munitions). European fashion, for example, became increasingly dependent on Mughal Indian textiles and silks.

[5] The Mughals could easily afford European goods but Europeans couldn’t easily afford Mughal goods.

[6] Note that this was an increase from 1.4% in 1913 which can be explained by the fact that India experienced multiple famines from 1870 to 1921 which significantly impacted population growth and ultimately had an effect on India’s manufacturing industries.

[7] According to many contemporary accounts, Company soldiers may have even gone about breaking the thumbs of Indian weavers.

[8] Primary refers to industry, such as mining or agriculture, which is concerned with obtaining or providing natural raw materials for conversion into commodities and products for the consumer.

[9] Secondary refers to industry that converts raw materials provided by the primary industry into commodities and products for the consumer.

[10] During this time, 65-90% of Europe’s workforce was based in the primary sector.

[11] Tertiary refers to industry concerned with the provision of services.

[12] Rostow’s Stages of Economic Growth model is one of the major historical models of economic growth. It was published by American economist Walt Whitman Rostow in 1960. The model postulates that economic growth occurs in five basic stages, of varying length.

[13] The Mughal Empire used and produced an extensive array of gunpowder weaponry, gunpowder of course being invented in 9th century China, and therefore Indians were indeed capable of attaining and mastering the use of foreign technology.

[14] India still holds 4th place with a total of around 65,000 km of railway, the majority of which was built after independence.

[15] Much of the increase in irrigation during the British colonial era was targeted at dedicated poppy and opium farms in India, for exports to China.

[16] BRICS is the acronym coined for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

[17] India’s irrigation had expanded to a potential covered crop area of 90 million hectares between 1947 and 1995.

[18] Thailand had built its first railway in 1894, known as the Paknam Railway, despite never being colonised by European powers.

[19] Most of these infrastructure projects were built to serve British business interests in the first place.