Author, Burning for Freedom

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Whither Congress . . . ?

"Those who seek power are not to be trusted with it."

Hi, Everyone! In 1939, with the WWII well under way, Viceroy Linlithgow was trying to keep all parties of India happy. He met fifty-two leaders of the various parties of India as a “thorough way of hearing a cross-section of opinion at a vital moment.” He was also thinking along the lines of having an all-party meeting in an attempt to ease the situation toward making the Central Federation work and getting cooperation for his war efforts.

He first met the Congress leaders, one by one. With the Congress controlling eight out of the eleven provinces and being such a powerful party of India, their cooperation was essential.

What did the Congress High Command do?

They angled for total control at the center and threatened resigning from the ministries and boycotting of the all-party meeting as a way of twisting the Viceroy’s arm.

Here is how the meeting between Gandhi and the Viceroy proceeded.

“Gandhi then asked the Viceroy for a declaration by Government of what he called ‘a really satisfying kind: Congress were in a special position and could alone achieve results.’ He wanted a declaration of British intentions and an arrangement by which Congress could share power at the Centre with the Government”[1]

The Viceroy was not going to entertain the Congress demand for total control at the center! He needed the Muslim cooperation much too much for that. The army—so critical for running the Empire and Britain’s war efforts—was made up mostly of Muslims. But the Congress never grasped that, they still set themself against the Central Federation since their demands were not being met.
“The Viceroy pointed out that the essential preliminary to such a government was that measure of agreement between parties, communities and interests which he had been so anxious to foster, but to which the excessive claims and the totalitarian ambitions of the Congress and its leaders had been so consistently an obstacle.”[2]

“‘I [Linlithgow] was bound to remind him [Gandhi] that to most thinking men they appeared to make the attainment of Dominion Status, or of complete self-government difficult to a degree, if not wholly impossible at this stage.’. . .

The Viceroy said that he had been thinking of all possible ways of easing the situation. He had thought of an All-parties meeting.”[3]

But the Congress High Command were unanimous in their stand against an All-Party meeting. For them it was Congress and only Congress who should be considered in the politics of India.

“Gandhi thought that an All-Parties conference should be avoided at all costs. . . .

As for an All-Parties Conference, he [Rajendra Prasad] was resolutely against the idea. . . 

Nehru, too, was against an All-Parties Conference, which both he and Prasad thought the Congress would boycott.”[4]

Here was the stand Jinnah took:

“Jinnah did not like the idea of a declaration as it would only increase communal tension. He saw no chance of unity unless Congress gave up the claim to speak on behalf of all parties and recognized the Muslim League as spokesman for the Muslims.”[5]

Status quo was maintained. Congress wanting to be the only party in Indian politics, Jinnah most determined that that will not happen. He wanted the Muslim League to be the only party to represent the Muslims.

So what happened next? Find out tomorrow.


[1] The Viceroy at Bay, John Glendevon, page 142.
[2] Transfer of Power, V. P. Menon, page 148.
[3] The Viceroy at Bay, John Glendevon, page 143.
[4] The Viceroy at Bay, John Glendevon, page 144-147.
[5] The Viceroy at Bay, John Glendevon, page 150.

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