A new book by Ishtiaq Ahmed, Swedish political scientist of Pakistan origin has tried to refute certain common impressions about Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The book was launched on the eve of his 72nd death anniversary on September 11.
Ahmed argues that Jinnah ceased to be a “secular Indian nationalist” from 1920. His much quoted speech on August 11, 1947 advocating secularism was a sham: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples….you may belong to any religion”. Reason? He did not want India to expel 35 million Muslims still left in India.
The author also supports the theory that Britain had agreed to partition India as the Socialist minded Congress government would not have supported British imperial interests. Instead, they could lean on Pakistan. Ahmed also tries to prove that Jinnah helped Britain by encouraging minorities like Sikhs, Dalits and Dravidian parties to demand separate states.
My own research has led me to believe that Britain was trying to sow seeds for disintegration of India right from the 1927-30 with Simon Commission. Jinnah had then demanded autonomy for the provinces and one third Muslim presence in all ministries. That was the beginning of the games played by the British in capitalizing on the fears of Muslims, Sikhs, Depressed classes and princely states in India. These games were played well during the three “Round Table Conferences”.
V.P.Menon had said that the Congress’s decision to boycott the First Round Table Conference (17 November 1930) was a tactical mistake. The British government were able to manipulate other delegates like Princes, Muslims, Depressed Classes, Indian Christians, and Anglo-Indians to take a separate stand. At the conclusion of this Conference, Labour Party’s Ramsay MacDonald announced that the future Indian Central government would be a federation of Indian and British States. This was a trap.
Congress realized their mistake and decided to attend the Second Round Table Conference (7 September, 1931). Gandhiji was their sole representative. Even he could not persuade the minorities to agree on a common statement with him. He admitted “with deep sorrow and deeper humiliation” his failure in finding a solution to the communal problem. V.P.Menon says: “The initiative thus passed on from the Congress to His Majesty’s Government, to whom the minorities henceforward looked for the protection of their rights.” The Indian princes chose to “sit back and watch developments” by quoting our communal disharmony.
After the Third Round Table Conference (November 1932), which was of no significance, the Whitehall published a White Paper which was the basis of the Government of India Act 1935.
What was the British motive? Professor David Steinberg, celebrated Jewish history expert and Oxford professor who was earlier a Canadian civil servant was forthright on the real British intention on the 1935 Government of India Act. He says in his essay “The Government of India Act 1935”: “That by giving Indian politicians a great deal of power at the provincial level, while denying them, responsibility at the Centre, it was hoped that Congress, the only national party, would disintegrate into a series of provincial fiefdoms”.
Fortunately, the 1935 Act was not fully implemented because of several reasons including the British slide into the Second World War. However, the Act had provided a hair splitting formula of a 3 tier Federation (major British Indian provinces, small states under chief Commissioners’ Provinces and 562 princely states) which would have different rules on integration into Indian federation. For example princely states could not accede individually. No accession would be accepted by London unless rulers representing half the total population of all the 562 princely states applied for accession, which had to be first accepted by the British Parliament who would appeal to His Majesty.
The British perfidy did not stop here. V.P.Menon mentions that during the War another blow was given to a united India. Their declaration of 30th March, 1942, gave the right to even the British provinces to accede or not accede to the Union and to form a separate Union or Unions. “This was really the death blow to Indian unity”. Had this happened even British provinces could have broken away.
How the Partition intervened and saved us from further disintegration is another story.
The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. (Views expressed are personal.)