This chapter tells you about the various Acts passed by the Brits to give the Indians control over their own destiny. The first act was passed in 1858 and the last in 1947. It also tells you how the Brits accentuated the Hindu Muslim divide by supporting the separatists tendencies of the Aligarh Muslim Movement and creation of Separate Electorates for Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc. Brit decisions like these put the makers of the Constitution under Undue Pressure to make constitutional provisions for protection of minorities that do not exist in U.S.A. or England.
1. For our purpose we shall start from the year 1858 when the British Crown assumed imperial control over India and their Parliament enacted the Government of India Act, 1858. The Act serves as a starting point because it was dominated by the principal of absolute imperial control without any popular participitation in the administration of the country. The Indian Council Acts of 1861 introduced a grain of popular element in so far as it provided that the Governor-General’s Executive Council, which was so far composed exclusively of officials, to include certain non-official members, while transacting legislative business as a Legislative Council. However, the Council was neither representative nor deliberative in any sense.
2. The Indian Councils Act of 1892 introduced two changes. One non-official members of the Legislative Council were to be nominated by the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and in Provincial Councils they were to be nominated by certain local bodies such as universities. Two Councils were to have the power of discussing the annual statement of revenue and expenditure.
3. The first attempt at introducing a representative and popular element was made by the Morlry-Minto reforms that were implemented by the Indian Councils Act, 1909. The size of Provincial Councils was enlarged by including elected non-official members so that the official majority was gone. An element of election was also introduced in the Legislative Council at the Center but the official majority was maintained.
On one hand there was a positive system of election provided by the Act of 1909 but on the other, for the first time was provided a separate representation for the Muslims, sowing or feeding further the seeds of separatism. It cannot be overlooked that this idea of separate electorates for Muslims was just after the formation of the Muslim League as a political party in 1906.
Now lets digress a wee bit to understand why did the Brits create separate electorates? (go to History section and read full article titled The Aligarh Movement).
The Muslims had taken an active part in the Mutiny of 1857 because of which the British were suspicious / did not trust them. Also their economic condition deteriorated with the loss of political power to the British and reluctance to take to modern education. People like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (founder of the Aligarh Muslim University) realized the need for education, political awareness. As soon as the Muslims became politically conscious they started separate organizations of their own. A Muhammadan Association was started in Calcutta before 31/01/1856. The Hindus regarded this separatist tendency as quite natural since they were a separate unit. Gradually the Muslim leaders realized the value of English education. Although Muslims took to modern education in larger numbers the gap between the two communities continued to exist, rather large actually.
The differences got accentuated in connection with the legislation for local self-government on elective basis. It is on this occasion that for the first time a demand was made for separate representation of the Muslims. Said Muhhammad Yusuf on 3/05/1883 “But it would be an advantage and more fit recognition of the claims of the Muslim population if provision could be made in the Bill for the election of Muslims by reserving a certain number of membership for that community”.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan took upon himself the responsibility of bridging the gulf, bringing about a political rapprochement between the Brits and Muslims. To achieve the first objective he urged the Muslims to give up their fruitless, vindictive and sentimental opposition to the British. He gradually convinced them that their future interests depended entirely on favors from the govt, which could happen only if they cooperated with the Brits. On the other hand he persuaded the Brits that the Muslims were not disloyal to the crown and the Muslims got swayed in 1857 by leading the war against the Brits but with a little tact, generous forgiveness by the Brits could change the Muslims into Brit supporters.
This offer by Syed Ahmed was perfectly timed. Happy to get rid of Muslim rule, the Hindus welcomed Brit rule that made the rulers favor the Hindus initially. But two generations of Western education had aroused revolutionary ideas in the Hindu mind called anti-Brit. Divide and rule was the Brit mantra. So they seized the offer by Syed Ahmed of enlisting the support of the politically undeveloped Muslim community. They decided to hold it as a counterpoise to the progressive Hindu community. A fair idea of the nature and extent of Brit thought is given by Hunter’s book, The Indian Musalmans, published in 1871.
At a speech at Meerut on 16/03/1888 Syed Ahmed referred to Hindus and Muslims not only as two nations, but as two warring nations who could not lead a common political life if ever the Brits left India. He said, “Now suppose that all the Brits were to leave India, then who would be the rulers of India? Is it possible that under these circumstances these nations, the Muhammadan and the Hindu could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power. Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down. To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and the inconceivable”. Sachin Sen pg 42.
These thoughts are fuelled with the appointment of a Brit Principal of the Aligarh Muslim College. The principal Theodore Beck gave up a life in England to serve the Indian Muslims. He took charge of the Institute Gazette, the literary organ of the Aligarh College and edited it on behalf of Syed Ahmed.
Beck poured forth venom against the Bengalis for their advanced political and social ideas. In issue after issue he published articles whose central idea was that India contained two or more nations that the Parliamentary govt was unsuited to India, and in the event of it being granted, the Hindus, who formed the majority “would be absolute masters as no Muhammadan Emperor ever was”. Muslim League pg 4.
So friends what I am saying is that the announcement of Separate Electorates in 1909 was a culmination of the grand British plan to divide India into two camps Hindus and Muslims. The divide already existed they added fire to it. Part of Brit strategy. In 1947-50, they did a repeat in Jammu and Kashmir. To know read ‘Who created the Jammu and Kashmir Mess’ by Claude Arpi, section Wars and Foreign Affairs.
4. The next landmark was the Montage-Chelmsford Report, which led to the enactment of the Government of India Act, 1919. The main features were -
• Dyarchy in the Provinces whereby Responsible government in the Provinces was sought to be introduced without impairing the responsibility of the Governor (through the Governor General).
• Relaxation of Central Control over the Provinces – there were state and central subjects, revenue was divided too. However, this was not a federal distribution of powers since the Central Legislature retained power to legislate for the whole of India.
• The Indian Legislature was made more representative. There was an Upper House (Council of State) consisting of 60 members of whom 34 were elected and a Lower House (Legislative Assembly) composed of 144 members of whom 104 were elected. The electorates were divided on communal lines.
5. Due to various shortcomings of the 1919 Act, the Brits appointed a commission in 1930 headed by Shri John Simon. The Report was discussed by a Round Table Conference consisting of delegates from Britain and India. A White Paper prepared based on the results of the Conference was examined by a Joint Select Committee of the British parliament and the Govt of India Bill was drafted thereafter and passed as the Government of India Act, 1935.
This Act went another step in accentuating the Hindu Muslim Divide by prescribing separate electorates on the basis of the ‘Communal Award’, which was issued by Mr Ramsay MacDonald, the Brit PM on 4.8.1932 on the ground that the two communities had failed to come to an agreement. From now on the agreement between Hindus and Muslims was continuously hoisted as a condition for any further political advance.
The Act of 1935 provided separate representation for Muslims, Sikhs, Europeans, Christians and Anglo-Indians. Also the word Scheduled Castes had its origin in Para 2 of the Scheduled Castes Order, 1936 which had been issued in pursuance of the direction in Para 26 of Sch I of the Government of India Act, 1935 – to determine the classes who were depressed classes. (called Harijans by Gandhi). It was an environment that created a serious hurdle in the way of building national unity, which the makers of the Indian Constitution found it almost impossible to surmount even after the Muslims had partitioned for a separate country. You see the Brits divided India vertically, a division that has only compounded with time and problem after problem thereafter. In the last decade or so backward classes have begun to be called Dalits. Wonder who conned this word.
6. Lastly was the Indian Independence Act of 1947 that provided for India and Pakistan with a Constituent Assembly for each Dominion that had unlimited powers to frame or repeal any Act. The Constituent Assembly which had assembled for the first time on 9/12/1946 reassembled on 14/8/1947 as the sovereign Constituent Assembly for the Dominion of India. The third and final reading of the Constitution was finished on 26/11/1949. It came into force on 26/1/1950.
Friends these are only a few instances of how the British encouraged / supported separatist tendencies amongst Muslims. If the British are so concerned about Minority rights why have they not, within their own country, created separate electorates for Muslims, Roman Catholics, Hindus and Irish Protestants to name a few!