Muslim Politics in British India: 1924-1935

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Under this topic we will be discussing 6 major developments.

  • Delhi Muslim Proposals
  • Nehru Report
  • Quaid-e-Azam,s Fourteen Points
  • Simon Commission
  • Round Table Conference
  • Constitutional Proposals

These 6 major developments have to be studied against the backdrop of the political developments that were taking place in mid 20s from1924 to onwards. One significant development was the end of the Khilafat Movement that had come to an end, and then the efforts to promote Hindu Muslim unity had also suffered but the Muslim leaders were still trying if some how some kind of understanding can be developed with the Congress leadership some kind of arrangements that could guarantee Muslim rights but provide a formula for cooperative action. So this was the 2nd basic consideration of backdrop of all these developments.

The 3rd backdrop was the efforts to evolve a package of constitutional reforms because the British were planning to make constitutional changes in the next couple of years and both the Congress and ML wanted that they were together and evolve some kind of proposals which may be presented to the British govt.So it is against the backdrop of these developments that you can understand the today’s topic. Let’s take up the 1st major development of this period.

Delhi Muslim Proposals: March 1927:

From 1924 onwards the Khilafat Movement became very weak, the Khilafat Committee existed but now it was a weak body and a host of Muslim organizations began to come up, the ML which has been pushed back to the periphery during the days of the Khilafat Movement was now coming back on the front of the political stage. There were a couple of other organizations also and they were all considering the issue how to deal with the issues and concerns which are of primary importance to the Muslims. Now all these leaders and organizations that were there at that time decided to meet in Delhi and prepare an outline of a plan to be presented to the British govt.So they met in Delhi in March 1927 and I may mention some of their main demands.

  1. In case of Punjab and Bengal Muslim majority must be retained.
  2. No weightage should be given to the minorities in the provinces.
  3. Sind should be separated from Bombay because at that time Sind was a part of Bombay and it was administered by Bombay and the Muslim demand was that Sind should be separated from Bombay and made into a separate province. This was the demand and their next demand was that.


  1. Their should be constitutional reforms in NWFP.I may mention here that the NWFP came into existence in 1901 before that the province of Punjab extended from the Afghanistan border to Delhi and all this area was Punjab. In 1901 the British India govt decided to crate a separate province called as NWFP of today. This was produced by the British govt because they thought that the whole province of Punjab was too large and unwieldy, so the NWFP was created and the Delhi Proposals demanded that there should be more constitutional reforms for this province so that gradually this province comes at par with other Indian provinces and NWFP was a Muslim majority province. And in addition to this these proposals demanded that.
  2. One-third seats for the Muslims should be reserved in the central legislature although their population was less than one third. The Muslim population at that time, it’s a round about figure was about 25 percent and they demanded one third representation in the central legislature.
  3. Another important recommendation or proposal was that if there is something, some legislation that pertains to a particular community Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and any other community, if three-fourth of its elected members in the house say that his particular legislation is to the disadvantage of that community or will heart that community then that legislation will not be pursued.

In a way Delhi Proposals were a kind of safeguard which the Muslims wanted for the protection of their political interests in this part of the world. They felt that if these guarantees are given then the Muslims will be willing to surrender their demand of separate electorate. In 1906 a deputation of Muslim elite met the viceroy at Simla and demanded that the Muslims representatives should be elected by the Muslims only that is what is separate electorate and this system of separate electorate was incorporated into the Indian system in 1909.From 1909 onward separate electorate was one of the main demand which the Muslims were making. However here you see a kind of flexibility with the part of the Muslim leaders and they argued that if Delhi Proposals are accepted the proposals which I have very briefly outlined to you then the Muslims will surrender their demand of separate electorate.

In other words the surrender of separate electorate was conditional, subject to acceptance of those demands. This also shows an other thing that separate electorate was a strategy not a goal. It was a way of achieving goal it was a method. Goal did not change what they were talking about was a strategy, goal continued to be the same protection and advancement of Muslin identity and their rights. So they thought that if all those guarantees are made available then Muslims could show flexibility because the Congress party was opposed right from the beginning to the principle of separate electorate for the Muslims.

So in a way it was a gesture that the Muslims were making the reason was that at that time while on the one hand formulating their proposals the proposals which they thought are needed to advance their interests. They were also willing to cooperate with the other communities’ desire for working together. Desire for creating an agreed set of proposals for constitutional changes was very strong and that is why you see this kind of flexibility in 1927 that if these conditions are met then they would be flexible on the issue of separate electorate.

Therefore, the Delhi Proposals are important not only for this reason but also for an other reason that after the Khilafat Movement when Muslim Organization began to become active in the political forum, when Khilafat Movement and Khilafat Committee were pushed into the background this was the 1st joint and shared effort to create a set of principles which were shared by all kinds of Muslims, different organizations that were existing at that time. It was a kind of multiple organizations that was prevalent at that time. So this desire was very much there.

However, somehow some different aroused within the ML, Punjab ML and the central ML.Infact the Punjab ML under the leadership of Sir Muhammad Shafi diverged from the central ML which was being led by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. and then the people began to talk about he Jinnah League and the Shafi League and these two groups diverged primarily on 2 major points. One issue was separate electorate should Muslims surrender if certain conditions are made or not this was one issue and the 2nd issue was how to deal with the Simon Commission.

I will be discussing Simon Commission very shortly and when the Simon Commission came most of the political organizations boycotted the Commission but Punjab League under Sir Muhammad Shaffi wanted to cooperate with the Simon Commission. So because of these differences they diverged however Quaid-e-Azam continued to work for bringing the Muslims together and also for evolving and for promoting Hindu-Muslim cooperation.

This cooperation was important because it was very much known that very soon the British would introduce new constitutional order. The last constitutional order came in 1919 and it was expected that 10 years after that they would start working towards giving new constitutional arrangements to India and since that thing was in their mind both Congress on their own and the ML on their own were working to formulate constitutional proposals.

Quaid-e-Azam and a no. of other leaders thought that why don’t the Congress and ML discuss those things and may be able to evolve some kind of shared arrangements and then that could be presented to he British which the British may be asked to incorporate in the new constitutional system which the British were expected to give to India.

The Nehru Report: 1928:

The 2nd issue we are going to discuss here is the Nehru Report of 1928.NR can be understood with reference to what I said that the Congress leadership like Muslim leadership was also giving a serious thought to preparing some proposals for the new constitution of India which could be presented to the British govt.Now in view of that the Congress party appointed a 10 member committee to prepare those proposals. This committee was headed by Motilal Nehru and the secretary of the committee was Jawaharlal Nehru (father and the son) and Jawaharlal Nehru the son secretary of the committee ultimately become PM of India after Independence in 1947 and he remained PM of India until 1964. And that, why this report was named as Nehru Report because it goes on the name of the chairman of the committee the father of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. This committee deliberated on constitutional issues and prepared a report which was presented to all parties’ conference. This was different from all parties’ Muslim conference. This was all parties’ conference dominated by the Congress party. This report was accepted as approve proposal for future constitution of India. Now if we look at the proposals of this Nehru report. It had certain recommendations which had direct relevance to Muslims; we were not discussing all what was in the NR but I will discuss some of the issues raised in the conference that directly affected the Muslims or you can say that I will talk about those issues which dealt with the Hindu-Muslim question in British India. The recommendations which were in a way in negative sense the Delhi proposals which we have discussed. Let me mention some of the recommendations of the NR that threatened the interests of the Muslims.

  • Principle of separate electorate was rejected by the NR.
  • NR also turned down the Muslim suggestion that one-third seats in the Central Legislature should be reserved for the Muslims. It said there cannot be reservation of seats at the ratio of one-third because their population was not one-third.
  • Then there are other proposals which they made for example one proposal was that there would be no reservation of seats for the Muslims in Punjab and Bengal on the basis of population. However in the Hindu majority provinces seats may be given to Muslims on the basis of population.
  • Another proposal was that yes Sind may be made province provided it is established that it had sufficient resources to cope with the expenses of a separate province. In a way it was a conditional kind of acceptance not rejecting it but not accepting it either. Similarly for NWFP and Baluchistan they proposed that some constitutional reforms can be done under certain conditions.

If you look at these proposals of the NR pertaining to Hindu-Muslim question you will find that this report has hit the Muslim interests directly, in a way this report was negation of what the Congress party had agreed to in the Lucknow Pact of 1916.In the Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the ML both had agreed on the principle of separate electorate, for a reservation of one-third seats and also for the principle of weightage they had agreed in 1916 but now in 1928 twelve years later The Congress simply rejected, turn downed of what it has accepted in 1916 and this set of recommendations swearly undermined the relationship between the ML and the Congress party.

Jinnah’s Fourteen Points: 1929:

Quaid-e-Azam still tried for some changes in this NR so that it is acceptable to the Muslims. He even at that time did not loose hope and he thought that he will be able to convince the Congress that if hey show flexibility and accommodation then both communities can come closer and prepare a shared formula for the future constitution of India; therefore he took up the matter with the Congress and he participated in the all parties conference towards the end of 1928.In that conference he presented the Muslim demands and concerns primarily from Delhi proposals and his idea was that if some of those demands are accepted or accommodated ,if NR is modified then this report could be accepted to the ML and the Muslims as a whole.Unforttunately the efforts of the Quaid-e-Azam did not succeed, despite his best efforts the Congress party especially the hard liners in the Party there were some members who were ready to accommodate the Muslim demands but predominantly the hardliners were not willing to accommodate and as a result Quaid-e-Azam did not succeed in bringing about changes in the NR and this was a disappointment because he saw an opportunity is being lost because some hardliners in the Congress were not willing to accommodate the Muslims and their demands. In fact after that it is reported to have said that it is the parting of the ways. This is the point where in the political domain Muslims and Non-Muslims are now going to different parts. Although we will see that in the later years even in the early 30s he tried to convince the Congress party to agree on certain basic principles so that there is cooperation but even in the early 30s in the Round Table Conferences that effort did not succeed so it was in a way a parting of the way.

It is against the backdrop of the NR and refusal of the Congress to accommodate the Muslim concerns that we can talk about the Fourteen Points of Jinnah which is the 3rd major development that we are discussing.

Actually it was a speech which he delivered in 1929 keeping in view all those developments in Delhi Report and NR and in that Report he raised certain points in order to present Muslim perspective and ideas on the future constitution .These points can be describe as the charter of Muslim demands in British India. It was a concise and compact statement on what the Muslims were looking for in the future constitutional arrangements. It was a presentation of the safeguards, guarantees, and constitutional assurances and commitment on the part on the part of the majority community and the British govt.that they would fully protect the interests of the Muslims and accommodate their political concerns that was to be evolved by the British govt.

Now let me mention some of the major features of the fourteen points so that you have an idea of what the Quaid was saying. Now before describing the Fourteen Points you should kept the NR in your mind only then you can understand how 14 points were different and how these points can be describe as a rejoinder to the NR.

  • The most important point that he raised was that India should have a federal system with the residuary or remainder powers with the provinces.
  • The 2nd point which he made that the provinces should be given provincial autonomy. The reason why he was talking about provincial autonomy, because he thought that if provinces are given more powers then position of provinces will strengthen then it would be possible for Muslims in Muslim majority provinces to run their affairs on their own. In their majority provinces they will have a lot of powers to run their administration therefore he talked about the federalism and the autonomy of the provinces.
  • He also emphasized that the principle of separate electorate should be given to the Muslims. This was not something new, this was what the Muslims had been demanding earlier and now they demanded again because the NR had rejected this principle.
  • There should be effective representation of minorities in the provinces but majority should not be reduced to minority, give representation to the minority in such a way that the majority community could not be adversely affected.
  • In the central legislature Muslims must have one-third representation.
  • In the cabinets at the federal level, all India level and at the provincial level Muslims should must have at least one-third representation.
  • No change in the boundaries of Punjab and Bengal that would adversely affect the Muslim majority. Let me explain this point because this is complicated thing. In Punjab and Bengal Muslim population in Punjab was approximately 55 percent and in Bengal it was 56 percent so it was marginal majority which the Muslims had and this majority could be reduced by changing the boundaries of the Punjab and Bengal with some other provinces to change the majority into minority that’s why the Quaid-e-Azam was emphasizing here that the boundaries should not be changed in a manner that the majorities are lost in these provinces.
  • Religious freedom to all this was not only for the Muslims but also for all those people who were living there.
  • No law will be passed if three-fourth elected members of a community declare that it is against their interests.
  • This point pertain to the province of Sind that Sind to be made a separate because Sind was at that time a part of Bombay.
  • Constitutional Reforms should be introduced in NWFP and Baluchistan especially in Baluchistan which was from constitutional point of view very backward. Similarly there was a need of constitutional changes in the frontier province.
  • Muslims should be given adequate representation in govt jobs and there should be adequate safeguards for the Muslim culture, civilization and their heritage, language and education. All these points pertain to the identity of the Muslims developed over a period of time.
  • No constitutional amendment would be made unless all constituent units of a federation agree to that, if you want to change the constitution then you must agree all the provinces.

So these were the 14 Points which outlined the demands of the Muslims.

The Simon Commission:

This was a commission set up by the British to seek the opinion of the Muslim leaders on the future constitution of India. This commission first came to India in 1928 then in 1929 and then in 1930 Simon Commission released its report. It was a 2 part report, 1st part talk about the political and constitutional history of India very comprehensively and the 2nd part includes the constitutional change it purposed.

The Simon Commission put forward some proposals but the problem was that these proposals could not make headway. The reason was that the Indian leaders boycotted the Simon Commission. They objected to it because this Commission did not included any Indian, all three members were the British and the demand of the Indian parties, Congress ML the Jinnah group they boycotted it but the ML in Punjab under Sir Shaffi agree to cooperate with this Commission.

However most of political groups boycotted it therefore its proposals for federal system for a strong centre for 2 houses and abolition of Diarchy.

  • Federal system of government with strong centre
  • Two Houses.
  • Abolition of Diarchy system in provinces
  • More powers to provincial governments.
  • Governor not to interfere in day to day affairs.
  • Constitutional changes in NWFP

These proposals were not very much welcomed by the Indians. Since Simon Commission did not achieved what it wanted to achieve. The objective was to create a consensus to bring in Indians on constitutional proposals. Since that did not happened the British decided to call Round table conferences in London where Indian leaders were invited to discuss the Indian political and constitutional questions.

5: Roundtable Conferences: 1930, 1931, and 1932

First Session of the Conference

In the first session, a number of prominent Muslims like M. A. Jinnah, Sir Shafi, Maulana M. A. Jauhar, and Zafarullah Khan participated and the Congress leaders were also there but the problem was the gap between the two communities They emphasized federalism, self-government, safeguards for minorities, separate electorate, preferential representation in central legislature, secure majorities in Punjab and Bengal. The Hindu leaders were not willing to accept the Muslim demands and this session did not achieve much.

Second Conference

By that time Maulana M. A. Jauhar had died after the first conference and here Allam Iqbal was added in the Muslim delegation.Iqbal, Jinnah and others participated in the second conference. Gandhi represented the Congress. The key issues of the session were ‘Federation’ and ‘Minorities. They again did not achieve anything.’

The Communal Award, August 1932

Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald announced the Communal Award:

Separate electorate for all minorities of India. Weightage to minorities

No Muslim majorities in Punjab and Bengal as was followed in Lucknow Pact

One third representation for Muslims in Central legislature

One fourth representation for Muslims in services

Sind to be made a province

The Congress was very much upset and Gandhi started fastening onto death against this decision that the British were giving more. When the condition of Gandhi worsen the Congress surrender the demand of separate electorate in order to save the life of Gandhi and then the 3rd RTC was held.

Poona Pact, September 1932

The Congress expressed strong reaction against the right of separate electorate to the Indian minorities, especially to low caste Hindus whom Gandhi named Harijan (sons of God). Dissonance in Gandhi is conspicuous that he observed fast unto death on the right to the ‘sons of God.’ An agreement with low caste to surrender the separate electorate right was concluded to save Gandhi’s life.

3rd Roundtable Conference: Nov. 17-Dec. 24 1932

The main issues had been discussed in the first two conferences and now the rest of them were to be discussed. It was poorly attended conference. Quaid did not participate despite living in London. Gandhi did not attend as he had been detained. The conference brought no change in party positions and widened Hindu-Muslim gulf.

White Paper on Constitutional Proposals: March 1933

The British government issued a small document in the form the White Paper. It included detail of working basis of the Indian constitution with Diarchy in the centre and full responsible governments in the provinces. After the 3rd RTC the British govt issued a white paper on constitutional proposals which was taken up by the select committee of the British parliament and then the British govt passed the govt of India Act of 1935

Government of India Act, 1935

And that became the new constitution of India

Approved by the King: August 1935

Despite these efforts the communal problems could not be settled as satisfactory to the nations living in India particularly the Muslim. Therefore the key issues remained unchanged:

Hindu Muslim Relations

Failure to arrive at settlement

Muslim demands transmuted from safeguarding rights to complete independence---Pakistan.

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