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TWENTY-EIGHT years ago, in the autumn of 1916, representatives of Hindus and Moslems met at Lucknow and concluded what was known as the Lucknow Pact, in an attempt to settle the differences between the two major Indian communities. This agreement, which among other matters accepted the principle of separate electorates for Hindus and Moslems, beyond doubt helped to bring about the British Government's declaration of August 1917, that its policy was "the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire," and the Government of India Act of 1919, which ushered in the first stage of this program. For the next twenty years the two communities gradually drifted apart. As it became more and more obvious that Dominion status for India was the logical end of British policy, so the question who was to succeed to the British authority in India became more and more pressing, not unnaturally engendering suspicion between the possible heirs. In 1935 the new Government of India Act became law. Another long step forward toward self-government had been taken and the end of the journey was in sight. In 1936, just before the first elections under the new constitution, the Moslem League published a manifesto which contained a clear offer of coöperation with the Indian National Congress Party. If the Congress leaders had accepted the offer, the subsequent course of Hindu-Moslem relations and of the whole constitutional controversy would have been very different. For reasons which doubtless seemed to them good, they rejected it.
The League took this as a declaration of war and formal relations between the two parties ceased and have never been renewed. There was one man, however, who was not content to drift. Mr. Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (affectionately -- and conveniently -- known throughout India as C. R. or Rajaji) had been one of the leading men of the Congress Party for many years. He was second only to Jawaharlal Nehru in general Indian esteem and without rival in his own south. As Premier of the Congress Party's Ministry which governed Madras from 1937 to 1939, he had shown outstanding administrative ability. He had led the minority in the Congress Working Committee which had fought for the acceptance of the Cripps plan. In the summer of 1942, he had made a great effort to win over the Congress Party to a policy of conciliating the Moslem League by accepting in principle the claim for a separate Moslem state. He believed that an accord between Hindus and Moslems was an indispensable preliminary to any further negotiations with the British Government and he held that if India was to take her rightful share in the postwar settlement, it was essential that the end of the war should find her governed de facto, if not de jure, by Indians. He failed to convert his colleagues, and his failure was emphasized by the passing of what is known as the Jagatnarain Lal resolution, which declared that "any proposal to disintegrate India by giving liberty to any component state or territorial unit to secede from the Indian Union or Federation will be highly detrimental to the best interests of the people of the different States and Provinces and the country as a whole and the Congress, therefore, cannot agree to any such proposal." Thereupon, C. R. resigned from the party, which for most of a long life he had served and guided, in order that he might be free to "convert the Congress and the people of India" to his views. His campaign for conversion met with little success, though "The Way Out," the pamphlet in which in November 1943 he published his creed, is perhaps the ablest and most realistic Indian political document of modern times. However, perseverance presently had its reward and in the early summer of 1944, 28 years after the Lucknow Pact, Mr. M. A. Jinnah, the President of the Moslem League, received a letter from C. R. saying he had been authorized by Mr. Gandhi (who had lately been released from detention) to put forward a formula for a Congress-League agreement, which he hoped Mr. Jinnah would be able to see his way to endorse and lay before the Council of the League. Mr. Jinnah did not, for various reasons, see his way clear to do this, but he did shortly afterward accept an invitation to meet Mr. Gandhi and discuss the matter.
The two men met in September at Mr. Jinnah's house in Bombay, while India waited with mixed feelings for the result. Hindus, for whom India means Hindustan, were frankly apprehensive. They were vehemently opposed to any splitting up of India and some enthusiasts even picketed Mr. Gandhi's lodgings as a protest against the meeting. Congressmen, to whatever community they belonged, were nervous lest Mr. Gandhi should prejudice the cause of Indian independence and the Party's own position by going too far in meeting Mr. Jinnah's demands. The Moslem League watched, confident in their President's ability to hold his own. Opinion generally was pessimistic about the chances that the conversations would achieve much. The pessimists were right. On September 26, after discussions lasting nearly three weeks, Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah announced that they had been unable to reach any agreement; the discussions were postponed sine die, but not, they hoped, finally. The two men parted with protestations of friendship, but it seems with some underlying feeling of bitterness. They have since been busy in explaining to their followers their respective positions in terms studiously polite but not always very conciliatory.
It appears that at the first meeting on September 9, after some preliminary exposition of their views by both, Mr. Gandhi invited Mr. Jinnah to "formulate in writing" the points which he thought required explanation and clarification. Out of this grew a voluminous correspondence, to which the two men began to attach more and more importance as a record of the conversations. This correspondence, consisting of 21 letters, has been released.
In the last letter (September 26) Mr. Jinnah writes: "If a break comes, it will be because you have not satisfied me in regard to the essence of the Lahore Resolution." This was a resolution of the full session of the Moslem League at Lahore in March 1940, at which 100,000 Moslems were estimated to have been present. The essence of it was the "two nation" theory and everything which flows from its adoption. The resolution set forth the meaning of Pakistan, though the word Pakistan was not to be found in it. Once Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah disagreed about the two nation theory, they disagreed inevitably on Pakistan and on every other point which came up in their discussion.
Mr. Jinnah expounded the Moslem position in the following words:
We maintain that Moslems and Hindus are two major nations by any definition or test of a nation. We are a nation of a hundred million, and what is more we are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of value and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and traditions, aptitudes and ambitions. In short, we have our own distinctive outlook on life and of life. By all canons of international law, we are a nation.
To this Mr. Gandhi replied:
I can find no parallel in history for a body of converts and their descendants claiming to be a nation apart from the parent stock. If India was one nation before the advent of Islam, it must remain one in spite of a change of the faith of a very large body of her children. You do not claim to be a separate nation by right of conquest but by reason of the acceptance of Islam. Will the two nations become one if the whole of India accepted Islam? Will Bengalis, Oriyas, Andhras, Tamilians, Maharashtrians, Gujaratis, cease to have their special characteristics if all of them become converts to Islam?
For practical purposes, there was no more discussion. Mr. Gandhi remarked that the mere assertion that Hindus and Moslems were two nations was no proof. No more, of course, was an assertion to the contrary. So while he continued to declare that he saw nothing but ruin for the whole of India, if the theory were accepted, and Mr. Jinnah continued to maintain that the true welfare not only of Moslems but of the rest of India lay in such a division of India, and that this was the road to the achievement of freedom and independence for all, the matter was really taken no further. It is, of course, a proposition which is hardly susceptible of proof; creeds rarely are.
Once we grasp the importance which the two nation theory has for Mr. Jinnah, and the finality of Mr. Gandhi's rejection of it, the rest of the discussion, as revealed in the letters, becomes comprehensible. A number of points were taken up, most of which arose directly or indirectly out of Mr. Rajagopalachari's original formula, or an alternative to it which Mr. Gandhi propounded in his letter of September 24. Mr. Jinnah commented that the two formulas had a family resemblance and in essence were much the same. It will be sufficient to examine the fundamentals of Mr. Gandhi's own formula and Mr. Jinnah's objections to them.
What we may call the preamble laid down two assumptions: (1) That India is not to be regarded as two or more nations but as one family consisting of many members. (2) That the Moslem members of the family living in Baluchistan, Sind, North West Frontier Province and that part of the Punjab where they are in an absolute majority and in those parts of Bengal and Assam where they are in an absolute majority, desire to live in separation from the rest of India.
On these assumptions, Mr. Gandhi proposed: (1) That the claim to separation should be accepted. (2) That the areas eligible for separation should be demarcated by a joint Congress-League Commission. (3) That there should be a plebiscite of all the inhabitants of these areas. (4) That where the vote was in favor of separation, separate states should be formed "as soon as possible after India is free from foreign domination and can therefore be constituted into two sovereign independent states." (5) That there should be a treaty of separation providing for the administration "of foreign affairs, defense, internal communications, commerce and the like, which must necessarily continue to be matters of common interest between the contracting parties," and for safeguarding the rights of minorities. (6) That the Congress and the League should, "Immediately on the acceptance of this agreement" [i.e., Mr. Gandhi's formula, not the treaty in clause five], decide upon a course of common action for the attainment of independence for India, but that the League would not be bound to join the Congress in any "direct action."
How with this preamble, which directly denied the fundamental principle of the Lahore Resolution -- the two nation theory -- Mr. Gandhi hoped to obtain acceptance of the rest of his proposal is not clear. Mr. Jinnah's letter of September 25 is a detailed rejection of it, which for practical purposes closed the conversations, though there were two or three subsequent letters. Mr. Jinnah was consistent. Since the Moslems were a separate nation, the right of self-determination rested in them and them alone. In an earlier letter, he had claimed for Moslems the right of self-determination as a nation and not as a territorial unit. "Ours," he wrote, "is a case of carving out two independent sovereign states by way of settlement between two major nations, Hindus and Moslems, and not of severance or secession from any existing union." In another letter he wrote that no progress was to be made along the lines of differing on the question of "two nations" and solving the problem on the basis of "self-determination," a suggestion which Mr. Gandhi made on September 19. Consistent with this attitude, Mr. Jinnah refused a general plebiscite and maintained his position that in Baluchistan, Sind, North West Frontier Province, Punjab, Bengal and Assam, where Moslems were in a majority and which must therefore be considered their homelands, it was for Moslems, and Moslems alone, to decide whether they wished to separate from the rest of India. If they did so decide, they would take their homelands with them, though subsequent territorial adjustments, to avoid including in Pakistan predominately Hindu districts, were not ruled out.
Mr. Jinnah also rejected clause five, which laid down that a treaty should be concluded to "provide for the efficient and satisfactory administration" of foreign affairs and other "matters of common interest." Apparently what Mr. Gandhi had in mind was some joint administrative body, to be settled upon between the Congress and the League and set up simultaneously with, or before, the actual separation. The letters are not clear on this point. On September 14 Mr. Gandhi had asked what provision was contemplated under the Lahore Resolution for "defense and similar matters of common interest." On September 21 Mr. Jinnah had replied that there could be no "defense and similar matters of common concern;" this was a question to be settled by the constitution-making body chosen by Pakistan, negotiating with a similar body from Hindustan and both representing sovereign states.
In the letter of September 25, he implies that Mr. Gandhi had some central machinery in mind (perhaps this had been suggested verbally) and goes on to affirm that "these matters, which are the lifeblood of any state, cannot be delegated to any central authority or government;" they will have to be dealt with on the assumption that Pakistan and Hindustan are two independent states. Probably here we have the two nation theory working again: Mr. Jinnah is going to make no concessions at this stage which might later on be brought up against him in argument against the strict application of this principle which is fundamental with him. Mr. Gandhi is equally firm: "I can be no willing party to a division which does not provide for simultaneous safeguarding of common interests." It is the "simultaneous" which Mr. Jinnah cannot swallow; it may be interpreted as a diminution of Pakistan's absolute sovereign status.
The remaining clauses of Mr. Gandhi's offer may be summed up, in effect, as a suggestion that, since the two negotiators had come to some preliminary agreement on how India is to be divided, Hindus and Moslems should combine to force the British to declare India independent and hand over authority to a provisional national government. At their leisure they could then frame the new constitution and settle the details of the division between Hindustan and Pakistan, if they still decided that a division was for the best; in other words, independence first and separation afterward. One can understand that Mr. Jinnah was logically bound to reject the preliminary agreement in the form in which it was put to him. But why was he so insistent on reversing Mr. Gandhi's order of things and putting separation before independence? He never moved from this position. As early as September 11, he told Mr. Gandhi that it was putting the cart before the horse to put the achievement of independence before the exercise of the right of self-determination by Moslems, and on September 25 he wrote with a tone of finality that the Moslems proposed to come to a complete settlement first and then to do everything possible "to secure the freedom and independence of the people of India on the basis of Pakistan and Hindustan."
Why is Mr. Jinnah so suspicious of the Congress Party that he will not join with it to gain that independence, which is as much an essential part of the creed of the League as it is of the Congress, until he has got in his pocket security for Moslems, which is what Pakistan means? That this mistrust exists comes out very clearly in his letter of September 23, when he is dealing with the August resolution (in which the Congress Party issued its famous threat of mass civil disobedience, if the British did not hand over power at once). He charges that that resolution meant "establishing a Hindu Raj;" he asserts that the Congress planned a constituent assembly "composed of an overwhelming majority of Hindus, nearly 75 percent;" he talks of these demands being made enforceable "at your [Gandhi's] command and when ordered by you as sole dictator of the Congress Party." He finishes thus:
. . . this demand is basically and fundamentally opposed to the ideals and demands of Moslem India, and if you succeed in realizing this demand it would be a death-blow to Moslem India. I see from the correspondence and talks between you and me, you are still holding fast to this fateful resolution.
When, later on, Mr. Gandhi attempts to reassure him by pointing out that the resolution was aimed only against Britain, he retorts, "I am not at present concerned with Britain." He is also worried by the Jagatnarain Lal resolution. The fact is that the policy of the Congress Party, between the time that Congress Ministries took office in the Provinces in 1937 and the passing of the August resolution in 1942, created suspicion and alarm among Moslems. Whether this was justified or not is beside the point. We have to reckon with the state of things as it exists.
The rest of the correspondence, though interesting, is of minor importance. One notes Mr. Gandhi's insistence on the impossibility of a settlement in the presence of a "third party," the British (September 13). "I do hold that unless we oust the third party we shall not be able to live at peace with one another." After the discussions were over, he said to a press conference on September 30: "The presence of a third party hinders a solution. A mind enslaved cannot act as if it was free." On this Mr. Jinnah commented on October 4: "No power can enslave the mind and soul of men and I am sure that Gandhi is the last person to allow his mind to be enslaved;" he wished Mr. Gandhi would get over this obsession.
Mr. Jinnah also had his King Charles's head, which was Mr. Gandhi's unrepresentative capacity. Mr. Jinnah, of course, as President of the Moslem League, would have been bound to press upon the League any agreement to which he and Mr. Gandhi might put their hands. Mr. Gandhi, for his part, made it clear that he was speaking only for himself and not for the Congress Party or for Hindus, though he considered himself pledged to use all his influence with the Congress Party to ratify an agreement. Mr. Jinnah took the position that this was not enough; he was bound and Mr. Gandhi was not; they were not negotiating on equal terms and this was unfair to him. Mr. Gandhi was at times a little irritable on this subject, but in the end Mr. Jinnah said clearly that the discussions did not break down on the point of Mr. Gandhi's unrepresentative capacity. It is rather surprising that Mr. Gandhi never took the position that he could not act in a representative capacity as long as the leaders of the Congress Party were in detention and the Party therefore immobilized. One would have expected an appeal to Mr. Jinnah for joint action to urge their release.
Looked at from this distant range, there seem to have been two main reasons why no definite results came out of the discussions. The first was that Mr. Jinnah demanded the acceptance in full of the two nation doctrine and Mr. Gandhi knew he could not carry his followers with him in accepting this demand. The second was that the weaker party, the Moslems, is deeply suspicious of the stronger party, the Hindus, and Mr. Jinnah will not give up his strongest lever, Moslem aid in bringing pressure on the British Government to accelerate transfer of power to a national Indian Government, until he has the price in his hands -- Moslem security, or Pakistan.
There was never, it seems, any real hope that the conference would produce concrete results. It was the first time the two men had met, there had been no preliminary examination of the very complicated issues and there was consequently no fixed agenda, and one of the parties at least was not authorized to promise delivery of the goods, if there had been an agreement. But something, however, has been gained: First, the principle of discussion across a table has been established. This is a great advance on the previous procedure of longrange bombardment. Second, the Moslem League is recognized as the party representing Moslems, with which the Congress Party must deal. This removes the stumbling block erected by the Congress Party's previous attitude that it, and it alone, represented India. Third, the nature and depth of the differences between the two parties have been revealed. This has cleared away the stupid pretense that differences existed only in the imagination of evilly-disposed persons. And fourth, the failure of the "Grand Old Men" to find the smallest spot of common ground may encourage a move by other Indians, who have a livelier sense of the importance of compromise in politics.