The birth of Muslim League, AMU and the Command Performance
By R. Balashankar
IN spite of the sudden change of venue for the Congress session at Surat, the Tilakites appeared in good numbers. Tilak, Lajpat Rai and Aurobindo Ghose were present. Motilal Nehru, who had come for the first time, remained aloof. Tilak proposed a reasonable compromise, but he was not even allowed to speak. This caused a tumult. Even more unusual was the fact that the British police had to be called in to restore order. That Gokhale chose to split the party must have been for reasons which were not then apparent. Looking back, we see now that this split distinctly favoured British interests, because so long as both groups belonged to the same Congress, the group enjoyed the protection of an organisation recognised by the British; and every measure against one group would be resented as a measure against Congress. But a separate group could be persecuted by the Viceroy with impunity, and this did happen. (India'sRoad to Nationhood, p. 492).
Tilak was deported to Burma for six to eight years. Pal, who had already been jailed for six months, left India. Pandit Brahma Upadhyaya died in prison in 1907. Nine leaders of the Bengal movement were deported, and the same fate threatened to overtake 50 more if Morley, who realised that the action against Tilak was misconceived, had not intervened in time. The British took revenge for the Bengal disturbances and for the fiery speeches and writings of Tilak. The actions of the Moderates at the Surat Congress must have been influenced strongly by the British. The numerous secret conferences that the Moderate leaders had with the Viceroy led to the inference that the most attractive promises must have been made to them. As often happens in politics, nothing was committed on paper and all such communications and agreements were made orally (ibid, p. 493).
This inference is strengthened by the personal actions of Viceroy Minto. In 1906, he had already driven a wedge between the Hindus and the Muslims. Now he used the tactics of ?divide and rule? in respect of the Congress itself. Many Indians accused Gokhale of treachery to the national cause. In any case those who split from Congress after the Surat session were dealt with very severely by the government. Even Aurobindp Ghose, who afterwards presided over the group that had split away, was later imprisoned.
Tilak was deported to Burma for six to eight years. Pal, who had already been jailed for six months, left India. Pandit Brahma Upadhyaya died in prison in 1907. Nine leaders of the Bengal movement were deported, and the same fate threatened to overtake 50 more if Morley, who realised that the action against Tilak was misconceived, had not intervened in time. The British took revenge for the Bengal disturbances and for the fiery speeches and writings of Tilak.
Under these circumstances, the radicals and liberals in the Indian national Congress came into sharp conflict. Lord Curzon had in 1903, first suggested a Partition of Bengal into Muslim Bengal and Hindu Bengal to create a divide between the Hindus and Muslims. A second step for stabilising the British rule was to see that the Muslim vested interests aligned themselves with the British rule. Lord Minto in 1906 tried ?to combine British constitutionalism with the loyal and the aristocratic elements in India who would range on the side of the government and oppose any further shifting of the balance of power and any attempt to democratise Indian institutions.? To that end a Muslim, delegation of nobles, zamindars and Aligarh loyalists was organised under the leadership of the Aga Khan to wait on Lord Minto Maulana Muhammad Alt disclosed in 1923 that ?there is no harm now in saying that the deputation was a command performance.?
The Aga Khan, who was the leader of the delegation has disclosed in his Memoirs (1954) that ?in 1906, we boldly asked the Viceroy to look facts in the face; we asked that the Muslims of India should not be regarded as a mere minority, but as a nation, whose rights had to be guaranteed by statute.? Lord Minto ?sympathised? with their demands, agreed with their arguments and gave a solemn pledge that ?the political rights and interests of the Muslim community would be safeguarded in any change in the administration that might occur.? The Muslim delegation emphasised the ?political importance of the Muslim community? and based their demands on the basis of a separate nationality. The Muslims claimed separate electorates because they were a separate nation and explained in the memorandum submitted to Lord Minto that they opposed joint electorates because ?with joint electoral bodies only Muhammadans sympathetic to the Hindus would ever be elected.? As a separate nation, such a thing could not be tolerated. Writes Sir Theodore Morison: ?The grounds on which the Muslims based their claim for weightage was that they did in fact command an amount of influence which was greatly in excess of their ratio to population?they owned much of the landed property in India, they still formed a very large element in the public service and Muslim soldiers constituted a large proportion of the Indian Army. By the geographical distribution of Muslim population, they were the gatekeepers of India! These claims were accepted as valid by the Government of India? (Islam in India'sTransition to Modernity, p. 161).
The Command Performance was followed by the formation of the All India Muslim League in 1906. Maulana Azad, who was present on the occasion, noted in India Wins Freedom, that the aims and objects which the founders had in mind were to ?develop a feeling of loyalty to the British Government among the Mussalmans of India and to advance the claims of the Muslims against the Hindus.? The British recognition for loyalty came in the form of the Partition of Bengal to create a Muslim Bengal and granting of the demands of the Muslim delegation in the reforms, now famous as the Mor1ey-Minto Reforms.
Under the British rule the position of the Muslim community underwent a change. The first Muslim reaction was that of antagonism which took a religious form. It was destined to collapse as it lacked ideological fervour and the support of the common masses. It turned out to be a regional and emotional outburst rather than an all-India movement. It was, according to M. Mujeeb, ?a disintegrating rather than a unifying influence.?
The Command Performance was followed by the formation of the All India Muslim League in 1906. Maulana Azad, who was present on the occasion, noted in India Wins Freedom, that the aims and objects which the founders had in mind were to develop a feeling of loyalty to the British government among the Mussalmans of India.
When a section of the Muslim leadership decided to cooperate with the British and accept the modem system of education, it felt the necessity of change in the socio-political and religious outlook.
Islam was also destined to play an important role in the politics of the Muslim community as it was more prone to accept the authority of religion and the Ulema. Notwithstanding the desire of a section of the elite for separating religion from politics, the stresses and strains of the situation unfolded the utility of uniting religious faith with political interests. After all, no community can be oblivious of its milieu and the larger setting of the community within the nation as a whole. In a competitive polity, the principle of religious grouping as an instrument of pressure pays dividends because it ultimately leads to Islamisation and political communalism. Engineered by the religious group and exploited by the political elite, Islamisation separated ?Muslims from the cultural ties existing with Hinduism.? (Politics of Minorities)
Gandhiji'sattitude towards the Muslim question in Indian politics is an instance in point. He had come to realise right from the beginning that the participation of the Muslims and all other communities in freedom struggle was essential. The liberals failed because their efforts were confined only to the educated people.
The foreign policy of the British government and the annulment of the Partition of Bengal in 1911 disillusioned the Muslim League. They suspected the virtues of justice and fair play of the British. This temporarily provided a basis for the unity between Muslim League and the Congress.
(To be continued)