This is the term paper I wrote for my course requirements at Ashoka University.

Is it possible that a cosmopolitan, urbane, law abiding jurist of repute was looking to find that equitable representational framework within a United India, but faced with Hindu extremist intransigence, was forced to push for the extreme solution of Partition?

Muslim politics in India from 1858 to 1947 is a narrative of the demand for protected or disproportionate representation in legislatures for the Muslim minority. Right through from the first Council elections in 1892, to 1909, then the Provincial and Central Legislative Council elections in 1919 and after, until the 1935 watershed elections – this is the skeleton on which the entire body of Muslim politics hangs. It ultimately resulted in Partition through the agency of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The two-nation proposition that Jinnah is credited with was not something that he created. Rather, Muslim fears about being swamped by a Hindu majority surfaced when elected representation in Legislative Councils was first mooted in 1883 as a way of bringing Indians into administration.

When it began, the Indian National Congress consisted of largely English-speaking Indians, most of whom were Hindu. Starting with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in 1888, Muslims were told that in the event the British ever left India, a vengeful Hindu majority will extract vengeance for 700 years of Muslim rule. He argued that the Muslims were not just a minority but a nation. And the safety of that nation can be only guaranteed by loyalty to the Crown. This argument was supported and amplified by men like Theodore Beck, Principal of the Mahomedan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh and his successor Theodore Morrison.

To counter Hindu domination several attempts were made to create Muslim organizations. Finally, with full British connivance that can only be attributed to the desire to Divide et Impera, the Muslim League was born in 1906. The League claimed to speak for all Muslims, loyal to the Crown, and committed to British Rule. The main plank of the League? Electoral and employment preferences in the form of nominated seats, reserved seats, separate electorates and employment reservations.

A friend of Tilak and a disciple of Gokhale, Jinnah entered politics around the time British hostility towards Ottoman Turkey brought League and Congress together. The League adopted resolutions on national goals of self-government since the Congress backed the League’s position on Turkey.

At the 1913 session of the League Jinnah positioned himself as a nationalist first, thereby acting as a bridge between the national and the communal interest, and declared himself a votary of Hindu Muslim unity.

The Lucknow Pact concluded in 1916 ushered in greater harmony between Congress and League. Jinnah was an enthusiastic Congressman as much a member of the League. The Rowlatt Act in 1919 and the Khilafat Movement further united Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi assumed leadership of the movement and Jinnah was supportive but disapproved of the law-breaking tactics of the Congress.

The Chauri-Chaura incident in 1922 not only ended non-cooperation, it also put a brake on the momentum of Hindu Muslim relations. Soon after that, the behavior of the Moplah rebels against Hindus during their Rebellion inflamed Hindu opinion. Right from 1921 to 1924 the country suffered a series of Hindu Muslim riots which British police officers are suspected to have sparked.

Hindu communal forces reappeared in the form of Swami Shraddhananda’s “Shuddhi” movement, and the Hindu Mahasabha emerged from the shadows. Lala Lajpat Rai emerged as a vocal and extreme mouthpiece of Hindu fears. Even the great Tagore voiced fears that Muslims could not be counted on to confine their patriotism to one country.

The League never abandoned its raison d’etre throughout this entire period. In 1924, while insisting that self government and nationalist convergence with the Congress was the goal, Jinnah continued to move resolutions for electoral protections against the Hindu majority. Despite attempts to preserve agreement on representational schemes, by 1925 the Lucknow Pact was dead.

Jinnah continued to be a nationalist. In 1926 he broke ranks with the Muslim League to join Congress in the boycott of the Simon Commission. In 1927 he participated in the Convention to prepare the Swaraj Constitution. A combination of communal obstinacy by the League and the Hindu Mahasabha left the convention struggling for consensus and it foundered on the issue of whether or not Muslim Majority provinces like Bengal and Punjab should have open electorates or reserved seats. He tried again in 1928 to get the League’s objectives

Jinnah attended the 1928 Convention to conclude the Swaraj Constitution and made a case for Muslims getting one-third of seats, reserved seats, proportional representation in Muslim Majority provinces, and residuary powers with provinces. Every one of his amendments was defeated. Nevertheless, in 1929, he tried to argue for the Nehru Report in the League and did not succeed. Instead he prepared his own Fourteen Points, which incorporate the League’s demands but also articulates a federal vision for United India.  This was ignored by Congress and excorciated by factions in the Muslim League. It died a natural death.

Jinnah’s departure from India at this juncture was a result of his distaste for the politics of mass agitation preferred by Gandhi, and frustration at the inability of the parties to compromise. During his attendance at the Round Table Conference in London in 1931, he showed willingness to be constructive even as the rest of the Conference descended into noisy haggling. Sir Mohammad Iqbal’s clear call for a division of India[1] was ignored by Jinnah. The Communal Award was the result of the parties failing to compromise.

The watershed for Jinnah was the 1936 elections following the passage of the Government of India Act 1935. Jinnah returned to India to take charge of the League’s campaign. The League program was very similar to that of the Congress[2] except in respect of restrictions on property.  However, the League lost badly, not just in the open seats which the Congress decisively won, but also in the reserved seats where they won just 108 out of 485. Jinnah’s political career was rescued by the Prime Minister of Punjab Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, who was a Unionist and opposed to the League[3].

Congress should have recognized there was an opportunity to bridge the gap with the League and include them in government. Rather, Nehru’s speeches claimed that the Congress had a better emotional link with the Muslim poor than the landlords who supported the League[4]. The League lost badly.

Behaving like a political party, the Congress ignored the League and formed governments. Since the Congress was largely Hindu, the Treasury Benches were Hindu. The Muslim opposition would never be able to replace the Congress thanks to the communal voting system. Though the electorate was still restricted, it served as an illustration to Muslims of what could happen – just as Sir Syed had warned.

Failure to form governments with the League has been described as a catastrophic error of judgement[5].

The decisive actions Jinnah undertook from here on were designed to make the League an organization with a mass base. The Congress, resorting to behavior akin to a political party than a national movement, undertook populist measures that upset the Muslim minority albeit unintentionally[6]. A series of reports alleged that there were atrocities against Muslims though none of them were properly substantiated[7]. Meanwhile the Hindu Mahasabha accused the Congress ministries of Muslim appeasement[8]!

As War loomed, it was convenient for the British to consider Jinnah to be the spokesman of the Muslims from which community a bulk of the Indian Army was drawn.

The resignation of the Congress Ministries in late 1939 in response to Linlithgow’s Declaration of War was a windfall to Jinnah. In March 1940 he delivered his address to the Lahore session of the Muslim League, declaring unequivocally that Hindu and Muslim were separate nations, and that if the British were going to leave the country, they must leave it as two states and not as one.

It is difficult to prove that this intransigence was due to Hindu extremists in the Congress. The Congress was always in a difficult position – it allowed the League to address the Muslims because the Hindu Mahasabha was able to raise the spectre of Hindu communalism. For most Muslims the Congress was a Hindu party despite its strenuous efforts to be secular.

The contortions that the British went to favour and accommodate Jinnah only served to enhance his sense of destiny. By the time Wavell was in Delhi, very little could be salvaged. The only man who could do so was Jinnah. May be it was his sense that his own life was running out, or that the iron had entered his soul somewhere. He did not compromise to the end.

The State of Pakistan today stands as a monument to the failure to reach a compromise.  The true victims of Jinnah’s stubbornness are the Indian Muslims today – forever condemned to be the other, with loyalties suspect and patriotism questioned.


1     French, Patrick: Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division. Harper Collins, London 1997

2     Gopal, Ram: Indian Muslims: A Political History 1858-1947, Asia Publishing House, Delhi 1959

3     Wolpert, Stanley: Jinnah of Pakistan, Oxford University Press, New York, 1984

4     Jalal, Ayesha: Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994

5     Sarkar, Sumit: Modern India 1885-1947. Palgrave MacMillan. New York, 1989

[1] The Times, October 12 1931

[2] Wolpert, Stanley: “Jinnah of Pakistan”, pp 144.

[3] Jalal, Ayesha: “Sole Survivor”, pp 39.

[4] Wolpert, pp 147

[5] Wolpert, pp 148; Jalal, pp 38

[6] Aziz, ed. Muslims Under Congress Rule, Vol I pp191

[7] Sarkar, Modern India, pp 355

[8] Gopal, Ram: Indian Muslims: A Political History (1858-1947) ,  pp 258

3 thoughts on “Jinnah – Was His Hand Forced?

  1. Don’t know enough to comment ; and I know that you have had a scholarly deep dive into this phase of history and so I will defer to your views. I will only say that whenever religion has been the plank of creating a state , or state policy, it has only led to misery, irrespective of which religion was the base. Religion ought to be confined to individual lives and never brought into the public sphere.

    I will gently disagree with your last statement. Irrespective of religion, in today’ India a person who wants to keep his or her faith in the private domain and be a normal citizen with no religious factor in the public domain, stands equal. Anybody, who is a Hindu or a Christian, or a Muslim , or of whatever faith, who drags this outside his house or place of worship, will forever be at a disadvantage. Period.


  2. Excellent presentation of the waves and troughs that cemented Jinnah’s political views on the need for a separate nation.

    There are two aspects of a humans relationship with religion that intersect with their sense of

    A civilisational bond, imbued in religion, faith, art, culture, social habits – that builds a deep sense of love and gratitude to one’s motherland for the manner it which it guides us through the transmission of accumulated wisdom.

    A socio-economic bond forged around the altar of the aforesaid shared milieu, but directed towards economic / political / social empowerment of the community amidst a competitive external environment.

    Democracy operates on the consensus of the majority vote. The modern capitalist economy operates on the outcomes of competitive effort.

    Neither have adequate intrinsic mechanisms to allow for compromise, selflessness and sharing.

    All these qualities undermine or run into direct conflict with some of the elements that fuel the economy.

    These external challenges reflect the inner confusions and conflicts of humans. A more enlightened architecture from economic and political activity can nudge society in a more constructive direction.

    An underlying principle of the same should be the ability to secure the basic needs of all under the most harsh economic conditions and the willingness to sacrifice individual private comforts to this end.

    For humans to embrace this needs a change of heart because the zeitgeist is centred on profit and the individual as a cornerstone for innovation and growth and the needs of the collective are seen as inimical to this growth that is deemed as fundamentally important to alleviate poverty. It is a compelling knot that has been bound, that will take time to unravel.


  3. Hi pops ,painstakingly put together and thoroughly researched,am sure .
    Am still at a loss to understand why there were no dissident voices in the League that could challenge Jinnahs version and vision of a country ,founded exclusively on the basis of religion…
    Was an isolated event like Chauri Chaura enough to polarise the Muslims that their future could and should be trusted to the League as their sole guardian angel?
    It’s my opinion that all countries founded on the basis of isolated themes of colour,caste,tribal primacy or religion are the biggest losers as are their people ,who lose out on the mutually enhancing opportunities to thrive and grow and prosper together


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