Cripps Mission and the Muslim League

Excerpts from Wali Khan’s ‘Facts are Facts’ contributed by Rashed Aurakzai

When the Congress resigned from eight provinces, pursuant to Section 93, the Governor’s rule was established. Jinnah requested the Viceroy to appoint political, unofficial advisers in each one of these eight provinces. This meant that the Muslim League would assume an advisory role in each one of the provinces vacated by the Congress Government. According to Jinnah’s proposal, “Hindu provinces” should also have been handed over to the Muslim League. Not only did the League have no official status in any of these provinces, it had never won a single election! Therefore, by making this demand, Jinnah finally incurred the displeasure of the British. The Viceroy wrote on 10 July 1940:

I hope that Jinnah will not continue to press his extravagant claim. If he does, I think myself, that we may definitely have to consider whether we should continue the efforts which I so far made to keep the Muslims together, whether we should not let the balance of the Muslim League as represented by Sikander and Fazlul Haq have their break with Jinnah. But I don’t want to see such a break, if we can reasonably avoid it.

The British knew that behind the facade presented by Jinnah, the Muslim League was a shambles. On 28 August 1940, he wrote, “I hope that Sikander and Fazlul Haq will be able to bring pressure on Jinnah to make him toe the line; if he does not, I shall go without him.”

The British were well aware that the Muslim Leaguer lacked any foundation; he leaned heavily upon English crutches. If those were pulled from under him, he would fall on his face. The British had no doubt that there would always be a sufficient number of sycophants among Muslims who they could count upon. When the word got around that the British were annoyed with Jinnah, every Muslim leader started offering his services. The Viceroy wrote about such an offer by the Chief Minister of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Sir Akbar Hydari. The letter is dated 29 August 1940:

You may be amused to hear that Hydari, during our conversation a few days ago, coyly hinted to me, that if there should be trouble with Jinnah and Muslim League, there was, at any rate, a very prominent Muslim, who could steer the country through the troubled waters that may lie ahead.

The Viceroy said that he thanked him, saying that the Nizam’s leadership was more suited to Hydari of Hyderabad. These were “lover’s quarrels”, an old habit of political gamesters’! The British were deliberately giving so much importance to Jinnah and the Muslim League because they were convinced that if ever there was any talk of a settlement between the Congress and the Muslim League, Jinnah having reached a point of no return, would never agree. He knew that the Muslim League drew its entire strength from British support. On their part, the British had agreed that either Jinnah would implement their policies or they would implement them on their own, without Jinnah:

I still think it important to hold the Muslim League together if we can do so. And in those circumstances, there is nothing for it but to be patient with Jinnah, though one’s patience is beginning, definitely, to run out.

During this time Jinnah made the following demand:

The Muslim League should be taken into full and equal partnership with His Majesty’s Government in the ruling of this country, and authority shared with them. [Viceroy’s letter, dated 5 September 1940].

This implies that all Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Harijans, should be bypassed and the Muslim League and the British become equal partners in governance. The Muslim League had now claimed representation of the entire country.

The Viceroy was about to appoint an Advisory Council which would exclude the Congress. He had already, spoken to the leader of the scheduled castes, Dr Ambedkar. and the leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Aney. Jinnah, however, refused to participate because he was not given full control of this Council. The scheme collapsed and the Viceroy had to personally apologize to Ambedkar and Aney. At that time the Viceroy did not consider it necessary to ask Jinnah what was his representative status in the 1937 election? On 11 September
1940 the Viceroy wrote:

He [Jinnah] is subjected to very considerable criticism from various sections of the community. He had against him the Prime Ministers of the two majority Muslim provinces. The line he had taken is unsympathetic to large numbers of Muslims of position, even in Muslim minority provinces such as Bihar and U.P.

In addition to Bengal and Punjab, the two Muslim majority provinces, Sind and NWFP had very strong organizations opposing Jinnah. Despite this the Viceroy said,

“Indeed I am sure Jinnah is the man to deal with on the Muslim side.”

The British had decided to sort out one by one the problems of keeping the Muslim League on a healthy track. For example, Punjab. Here the Unionist Party had formed the Government under the leadership of Sir Sikander Hayat. The Party included Hindus and Sikhs. Sikander Hayat was finding the Punjab situation steadily deteriorating due to the Muslim League’s insistence upon partition. These conditions prompted the non-Muslim Indians’ demand that the British articulate their policy regarding Pakistan. The Viceroy was strongly opposed to a public announcement. On 1 March 1941 he wrote, “It should not only be a mistake but it would be very near a breach of faith were we to do anything of the sort.”

In the same letter the Viceroy wrote that Sikander Hayat told him that there was a difference of opinion between him and the Muslim League Working Committee on the question of Pakistan. He expressed his desire to resign from the Committee. The Viceroy sent a message to the Punjab Governor, Sir Henry Craik, to stop Sikander Hayat from resigning, “This is not the moment at which I want to see any split in the Muslim League. I think it is very important [tiresome, as its activities may be in some ways] to maintain it as a solid political entity.” He then spells his interest in keeping the party intact:

That is more desirable since we are moving into the next phase of Gandhi Satyagraha Campaign, and any fissure in the Muslim ranks, more particularly over this vital question of Pakistan … ‘ would be a very great encouragement to the anti-war party and might well make our position in dealing with Satyagraha more difficult.

The British were indifferent to the condition of the Muslims, and skeptical about the viability of Pakistan. They were using the League as an anti-Congress missile, hoping, that in case of an open challenge, they would be able to fire it at the enemy.

Sikander Hayat made a statement which aimed at pacifying his Unionist Party. The Secretary of State, Amery, refers to it in his letter dated 8 October 1941. Sikander Hayat proposed that the British make an official statement that if, after a given date, the various political parties were unable to arrive at a decision about a unanimous constitution, then the British Government would have no choice but to formulate a constitution of their own choice. In the margin of this letter is a brief note in the Viceroy’s handwriting, “…and make it perfectly certain that the Muslims would refuse to play till they brought us in.”

The Viceroy could not have declared his policy in clearer words. He was successfully creating a climate which would enable the Muslims to hold out against a unified stand, unless the ultimate control was left in British hands. In this regard there is an incident concerning Allah Baksh Somru, the Chief Minister of Sind. Earlier, Somru had chaired a Convention of the Nationalist Muslims. Since he had no sympathies with the Muslim League, he had incurred the displeasure of the Viceroy. As the representative of an elected State Assembly, Somru was a member of the Viceroy’s Defence Council. In response to the Viceroy’s request, he presented some proposals to the Defence Council, which were an effort to forestall communal discord. He suggested that Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad be freed from the prison. In his letter dated 11 October 1941, the Viceroy wrote an account of their altercation on this issue: “He asked me, when am I likely to hear about your decision?” I replied. “You will hear nothing. You are not one of my Advisers, but the Prime Minister of Sind… I have not the least intention of telling you how I propose to handle my business and I trust you understand that.” He said, “You are very frank.” I said, “I am bound to be frank. This is my business and my responsibility.”

It was ironical that the Viceroy of India did not allow a member of his own Defence Council the right to receive feedback on his proposals. On the contrary, he personally consulted the leaders of the Muslim League on national and political issues. His manner of speaking to a national leader was most offensive. The British spared no effort to make it clear to all Muslims that unless they paid homage to Jinnah, they would remain non-entities for them.

The British wanted to parade Jinnah and the Muslim League before an international audience. An opportunity arose when on the invitation of the British, the Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek visited India. He expressed interest in meeting Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru. The Viceroy wrote back saying that since he was not on speaking terms with these leaders it would be difficult to arrange a meeting. On 26 January 1942 he wrote to the Secretary of State for India, “I know you would at once take the point of his seeing Jinnah as well as the other two. I shall have to coax him to receive the Head of the Muslim League whether he feels inclined or not.”

Chiang Kai-shek insisted on finding a solution to the Indian problem. He was worried about the growing influence of Japan. First Britain, then the occupation of Singapore and Burma, and now India! Both Chiang Kai-shek and the President of the U.S. were pressurizing the British to solve the Indian problem.

The Americans found it strange, that, despite the fact that the Congress had formed the Government in eight provinces, today, there was Governor’s rule in each one of them. Thus the real power rested with the British. The United States, however, insisted that today’s wars could not be fought without the cooperation of the nation.

The British realized that whatever they had lost in Europe could be multiplied many times over in Asia. But for the first time they felt that they might lose India. In the light of’ these new circumstances the British, once again, reviewed their Indian policy. So far they had supported a united and federated India. The only reason for strengthening the Muslim League was to make it a worthy opponent to the Congress. Ambedkar, too, supported the political split while the power remained in British hands.

“He [Ambedkar] was perfectly content himself, he said, with that state of things, and in favour of the Pakistan idea, because it meant that the British will have to stay in India.” [Viceroy’s letter dated 19 November 1940]. When the British realised that they may have to leave India, they stopped insisting upon the creation of a Federated Union. And the partition proposal, originally conceived as an irritant and a bargaining tactic with the Congress, was now sent in all seriousness through the good offices of Sir Stafford Cripps. This was the year 1942. The demand for Pakistan had gathered no momentum, the Muslim League had taken no initiative. Meanwhile, the British were single-mindedly pursuing their own interests. Had the U.S. not insisted, they would have used the World War as an excuse and never agreed to hold talks with the Congress. To appease the U.S., Stafford Cripps was sent forth. The following letter written on 23 March 1942, is an example of their self-serving attitude.

“I now have considerable hope that whether the scheme succeeds or fails, that is to say it is accepted or rejected, they may be looking at the propaganda value involved in the face of American opinion, a balance of credit to our side.”

The Secretary of State for India, Amery, was looking at the same situation from another angle. He explained his view in his letter dated 10 March 1942, “Consequently the entire way out and incidentally a way of gaining a little time was to send someone to discuss and negotiate.”

This tactic served several purposes. First, it bought a little time. Secondly, the United States became convinced that the British were serious about finding a solution to this problem. The proof was that a responsible Minister of the Government was sent only for this purpose. In their hearts, however, the British were convinced about the impossibility of reaching any agreement. The Viceroy wrote, “After all, once it is laid down that there must be agreement, and no coercion of important minorities, then, the only conclusion is that things must wait indefinitely.”

The Secretary of State for India in his letter dated 24
March 1942, makes his position clear, “Jinnah, I shall have thought, will be content to realise that he has now got his Pakistan in essence, whether something substantive, or a bargaining point.”

Having been thus assured that he would get his Pakistan, why would Jinnah bother reconciling with the Congress? The British had laid a couple of strict conditions. First, the Muslim League and the Congress had to affect a reconciliation agreement, and secondly, they had to protect the rights of the minorities. Since these conditions could never be fulfilled who was the loser? Jinnah would never get Pakistan and the Congress would lose their eight over provinces. The British had won hands down!

In his letter to Viceroy Linlithgow, Amery assured him that whatever proposals they had sent through Cripps were favourable to the British;

(1) The Viceroy will have to remain not merely as constitutional Governor General but as a representative of broader Imperial aspect of Government for a good long time to come.

(2) Supposing that Pakistan does come off, there will possibly be two Muslim areas, the whole of the State,
Hindu British India [if that does not divide itself] and finally, at least one important primitive hill tribal area.

When the entire country is thus broken up and there is no strong Central Government, it would be impossible for the various units to maintain their military, naval and air strength. Therefore, once again, they will become dependent on the British. In this frame of mind Amery wrote. “There will, therefore, have to be someone in the absence of a Central Self- Governing Federal Scheme, to take control of these matters.”

Amery further assured the Governor General that until and unless the Congress and the Muslim League arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement, the question of transfer of power does not arise. And even if the impossible becomes possible, it would further the British cause.

“So whatever you do or agree to, you will better keep in mind the desirability of retaining Delhi and a considerable area around it, as an ultimate federal territory of an eventually united India, and not let it pass in the hands of any one of the Dominions, that may temporarily emerge out of the first experiment in Constitution making.”

This was the essence of the Cripps Mission. The Viceroy assured the Secretary of State that during the Cripps Mission he had maintained contact with Jinnah. On 14 April
1942, he wrote, “However, I was at pains, without delay, and before Cripps left, to sound Jinnah through Feroz Khan Noon, who has been a most useful intermediary, with the result which I have already reported to you by telegram.”

It was an absurd situation. The British had accepted the principles of partition, but the Congress was violently opposed. And how could the Congress be overlooked? It were the Congress’ efforts which had shown up all the way, Congress movement, Congress protest, Congress sacrifice, Congress
work and the Muslim League got all the plaudits! The Muslim League remained a party minus a movement, minus sacrifices, minus seats in the Elected Assemblies and minus any political power. The Stafford Cripps Mission was successful. On 6 July
1942. the Viceroy wrote to the Secretary of State giving him good news, “Jinnah’s statements in the last few days have brought out, emphatically, the continued reluctance of the Muslim League to see any compromise reached except on their own terms.”

Blinded by their self-interest, the British lost all sense of principle or fair play. Despite the fact that the Muslim League was a political non-entity, the British regarded it the sole representative of all Muslims. Another fact worth noting is that out of a population of 40 crores, the Muslims constituted only
25 per cent.

On what principle did the British agree to uphold the position of the minority over the majority? How could the British try to impose Jinnah upon the non-Muslim provinces? Would Jinnah have allowed the Congress the same right in the provinces which had a Muslim majority? The British had lost all sense of right or wrong. The truth was that the British cared neither for Muslims nor Hindus. They only cared for the Empire. An impasse between the Congress and the Muslim League was a great advantage to the British. Therefore, they prevented the Muslim League from affecting a conciliation with the Congress. Unfortunately for them, the Muslim League got entangled in its own mesh. The power remained securely lodged with the British. The net gain from the League’s dog-in- the-manger attitude was that India fell ‘smack’ in the British lap.

Excerpts from Wali Khan’s ‘Facts are Facts’. The book can be found at  :

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