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Indian National Congress-INC

Congress and the Making of the Indian Nation

 Towards Freedom
Wavell Plan
In the last year of the War, the Viceroy formulated a new political plan known as the Wavell Plan. It was only when the war ended in Europe in May 1945 that he was allowed to put forward this proposal to the Indian leaders. 
The Congress leaders were now released to participate in the Simla Conference held in June 1945 to discuss the Wavell plan. The scheme was to constitute a politically representative Executive Council which would include all major political interests. However, very soon, Jinnah declared that all Muslim representatives to the Conference would be League nominees. He also demanded that only a two-third majority in the Council could take decisions on matters objected to by Muslims. 
While the Viceroy found Jinnah’s demand unacceptable, he did not wish to put the whole onus of failure on the League. The Viceroy’s objection to Jinnah’s claim to be the sole spokesman of all Muslims did not imply an acceptance of the Congress position but was motivated by an unwillingness to alienate the Unionist Party members who had supported the British during the War. The Congress rejected Jinnah’s claim and asserted its right to nominate a Muslim member to the Council. Due to persistent disagreement, the Simla Conference failed to reach any political compromise.

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 By then, the Labour Party had gained power in England defeating the Conservatives at the polls. This was, indeed, a good augury. The King, in his speech to the new Parliament, promised to do the utmost to promote, in conjunction with the leaders of Indian opinion, early realization of full self-government in India. 
This reflected the priority accorded to the Indian problem. Soon thereafter, Lord Wavell was summoned to England for consultations and fresh elections were announced in India both to the Central and the Provincial Legislatures. On his return from England, Lord Wavell announced the Government intention to convene a Constitution making body as soon as possible and said that, immediately after the elections, he would discuss with the representatives of the Legislative Assemblies in the Provinces to ascertain whether the proposals made earlier were acceptable or any alternative scheme was preferable. 
He said he would have discussions with the representatives of Indian States to ascertain in what way they could participate in the Constitution making body. The British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee too explained the Government intentions in a broadcast on September 19, 1945. These announcements, however, were received with a feeling of disappointment by all sections of Indian public and by the Congress in particular.

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 The reason was that the proposals did not contain any declaration of independence to India. Besides this, the latest announcement contained other shortcomings. The AICC considered these at its Bombay session and declared them to be inadequate and vague. The new Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick-Lawrence clarified the Government’s intentions and followed it up with a Parliamentary delegation which was really in the nature of a goodwill mission. 
Indian National Army
At the end of the War, an important issue achieved significance. This was the trial of the officers and soldiers of the Indian National Army (INA). The INA had been established by Indian officers of the British Indian army who went over to the Japanese for assistance after the latter captured Malaya and Singapore. The fall of Singapore resulted in the capture of 45,000 Indian soldiers by the Japanese. 
Along with the officers and soldiers, members of the Indian community in these regions also joined the INA. The INA looked to the Congress and the Indian people for direction. The INA became a part of the Japanese army when the latter decided to invade India. However, they only wanted a token force of 2,000 men whereas the INA leaders wanted to take 20,000 men along. Subhas Bose came to Singapore in July 1943 with the help of the German and the Japanese armies.

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 In October 1943, he set up the provisional government of free India which declared war on the Allies and was recognized by the Axis powers. A hope emerged among Indian civilians: funds were collected and young men and women enrolled into INA. Subhas Bose called upon Gandhiji to bless this army in its ‘holy war of India’s liberation’. Only one battalion was allowed to accompany the Japanese army to India. 
On the way, they faced ill-treatment and discrimination from the Japanese which resulted in demoralization. They could not reach India and had to retreat to South-East Asia where, at the end of the War, they surrendered to the British army who, in turn, put them on trial for treason. 
In 1945, three officers of the INA, Shahnawaz Khan, Gurdayal Singh Dhillon and Prem Sehgal were put on trial at the Red Fort. The charge was a serious one—treason and disloyalty to the Crown. 
The Government hoped that conducting this trial publicly in Red Fort, public opinion would turn against INA upon learning of its brutalities during the war. Nehru stated that these men were misguided patriots and called for leniency towards them, especially in the context of British professions of extending self-government in India. Other Congress leaders also took up the issue. The AICC session in Bombay held in September 1945 passed a resolution supporting the cause of the INA and calling for lenient treatment of these officers.

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 Legal luminaries like Bhulabhai Desai, Tej Bahadur Sapru, K.N. Katju and Asaf Ali appeared in defence of the officers. Nehru donned his lawyer’s robes after many years to plead their case in court. The Congress organized an INA Relief and Enquiry Committee which gave some money and food to the men on their release and tried to secure employment for them.
 The INA was the main issue highlighted during Congress election campaigns for 1945-46 elections. The press took it up in a major way and editorials were published daily praising the INA men and condemning the British government. Public meetings were held in many cities to express popular resentment against the British and in solidarity with the officers, an INA Day and an INA Week was observed. The Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army conceded in November 1945 that the general feeling amongst army men was in favour of leniency and given this, recommended minimal punishment. 
Students demonstrated in support of the INA men. Two of the more well-known protests were in Calcutta, the first in November 1945 and the second in February 1946. In November, Communist and Forward Bloc students marching to Dalhousie Square, the seat of the government in Calcutta clashed with the police whereupon two died and 52 were injured.

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 In February 1946, the procession was led by Muslim League students along with Congress and Communist students. Here again, there were arrests, defiance of Section 144 and a lathi-charge. Later, troops were called in and 36 civilians were killed in the firing. Due to public pressure, the sentences of the three officers were commuted to cashiering and forfeiture of pay. 
Mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy 
Another manifestation of popular resentment against continued British rule was the mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy. This began on 18 February 1946 when 1,100 Indian naval ratings of HMIS Talwar struck work at Bombay in protest against racial discrimination and poor food. One of the ratings, B.C. Dutt, was arrested for writing ‘Quit India’ on the walls of the ship. The next day saw ratings from other establishments join the strike. Congress, League and Communist flags were hoisted on the masts of the ships. Ratings left their ships and went around Bombay in lorries, waving Congress flags. 
The common people showed sympathy with the strikers, joining them in putting up barricades, attacking Europeans, fighting pitched battles from house-tops, burning police stations and other symbols of authority. In Bombay, 30 shops, 10 post offices, 10 police posts, 64 food grain shops and 200 street lamps were destroyed. Lakhs of workers came out into the streets in response to the call for a strike.

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 Two hundred twenty-eight civilians died while 1046 were injured. Shopkeepers showed their support by hartals and public transport services came to a halt. There was a display of solidarity all over the country and there were sympathetic strikes by naval establishments in Karachi, Madras, Vishakapatnam, Calcutta, Delhi, Cochin, Jamnagar, the Andamans, and also in Bahrain and Aden. 
Seventy-eight ships and 20 shore establishments involving 20,000 ratings were affected. The government sent out troops to crush the revolt in Bombay. On the advice of the leaders of the Congress and the League, the ratings eventually surrendered and were subjected to a naval enquiry. 
Labour and Peasant Unrest
During the war, workers’ and peasants’ discontentment had not found any expression. After the war ended, the anticipation of freedom was expressed in an unprecedented mass upsurge. Labour unrest now became widespread in the country. Post and telegraph workers struck work all over India in July 1946. Railway workers went on strike in South India in August 1946. In all, 1,629 strikes occurred in 1946 involving nearly 2 million men and the loss of more than 12 million man-days. The main issue was working conditions and decrease in real wages.

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 One of the most well-known peasant movements was the Tebhaga movement in Bengal in which the sharecroppers vowed to pay only one-third and not the prior demand of one-half of the produce to the landlords. The struggle of the Warli tribals in Maharashtra was directed against illegal exactions, exploitation and low wages by the landlord-moneylender-official nexus. 
The Kisan Sabha supported the demands of the tribals. Further, there were no-rent struggles by peasants in different areas of Punjab like Patiala, Una, Kangra, Ferozepur and Pathankot. In Travancore, agricultural workers were mobilized by the Communist party in support of the people’s struggle against the feudal autocracy. This was known as the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt. 
In the meantime, elections to the Central and provincial assemblies were announced in September 1945. This turned into a contest between the Congress with its ideal of a united free India and the League with its Pakistan demand. The election was projected as a popular vote on Pakistan by the League campaign. In Punjab, the League campaign received the support of religious leaders and involved vilification of the Unionist Party as well as the Congress. In the Central Assembly elections, the Muslim League won all the reserved Muslim seats, securing 89 per cent of the Muslim vote.

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 Elections to the provincial legislative assemblies were held in the beginning of 1946. Ninety per cent of the general seats were won by Congress candidates. The Muslim League secured the reserved Muslim seats.
Cabinet Mission
The decision to send a mission to India to negotiate a political settlement was taken by the Cabinet in London on 22 January 1946. The mission came with the objective of setting up a national government and putting into motion the machinery for transfer of power. The ministers, Stafford Cripps, A.V. Alexander and Pethick-Lawrence, were given powers to take decisions without referring back to England. On 15 March 1946, Prime Minister Attlee declared that a minority would not be allowed to place a veto on the progress of the majority, indicating a shift away from the pro-League stand adopted earlier by the British government. 
After consulting the Indian leaders, the ministers came around to the view that Pakistan was not viable and that safeguards for minorities must be within the framework of a united India. The ministers came up with a scheme announced on 16 May 1946 for establishment of a three-tiered constitution for India.

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 Provinces were divided into three sections: Section A comprised Madras, Bombay, United Provinces, Bihar, Central Provinces, and Orissa; Section B was made up of Punjab, Sindh and NWFP; and Section C comprised Bengal and Assam. There would be a common Centre supervising defence, foreign affairs and communications. 
A province could come out of a section only after the first general elections. After 10 years, a province could ask for a reconsideration of the section or union constitution. The Congress did not want to wait till the first election for any province to leave the section. It wanted that any province should have the option not to join the section in the first place. 
Here, they were expressing the concerns of Assam and the NWFP who did not want to be part of their respective sections which were dominated by states with Muslim majority. The League wanted that the union constitution could be questioned at the very outset by any province rather than after a period of 10 years. The lack of clarity about whether these sections were binding upon the provinces comprising them generated a lot of controversy and intensified Congress-League disagreement. The Congress eventually decided to accept the 16 May statement while maintaining its opposition to compulsory grouping.

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 The League accepted the plan primarily because compulsory grouping conceded the principle of Pakistan. However, the continuation of ambivalence about the nature of grouping led to the withdrawal of League acceptance at the end of July 1946. 
Interim Government and Communal Violence 
In early September, Nehru was sworn in as the vice-president of the Interim Government. There were debates on the sovereignty and the status of the Constituent Assembly. But the Legislatures started electing their representatives to the Constituent Assembly. The Muslim League refused to participate in this exercise and observed August 16 as “Direct Action” Day to achieve Pakistan through non-constitutional means. 
Direct Action Day witnessed orgies of violence in Calcutta. The Muslim League government of Bengal abetted these riots in which over 5,000 people were killed and many rendered homeless. A judicial enquiry was demanded by the Congress. Nehru compared the Bengal government to the fascist regime of Hitler. In October, riots broke out in Bihar as a reaction to the Calcutta killings. This led to widespread attacks on Hindus in Noakhali and Tipperah in East Bengal in October. Thousands were rendered homeless and looting, abduction of women, forced conversion and killings were rampant. The Bengal government did little to control the situation.

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 Gandhiji went on a peace mission to Noakhali in early November 1946. He walked barefoot through the villages of Noakhali. The idea was to persuade the Muslims to reassure the Hindus about their safety and ask them to return to their homes. Many Muslims in Noakhali wanted him to go and see the destruction which had occurred in Bihar and the state of the Muslims there. He went to Bihar in March 1947 where he saw his task as getting the Hindus to repent for their deeds. The Congress ministry of Bihar was energized by his presence and it took up relief and rehabilitation in a big way.
The Viceroy insisted on incorporating League members in the Interim Government arguing that else, civil war would become inevitable. On 25 October 1946, League members entered the government, barely 15 days after the Noakhali riots. From the very beginning, it was clear that the League nominees in the Interim government had not forsaken direct action. Rather, they saw the Interim government as one of the fronts of the direct action campaign for Pakistan. 
Within the Interim government, the League members adopted a method of non-cooperation intended to render the exercise redundant. Later, they participated in civil disobedience campaigns against elected ministries in Punjab, NWFP and Assam.

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 Constituent Assembly
The League stayed away from the Constituent Assembly and when it was convened in December 1946, Jinnah remarked that it was a move to appease the Congress. This deadlock was sought to be resolved by talks in London in December 1946. However, these talks did not yield any results and the statement by the British government issued on 6 December 1946 adopted an interpretation of grouping favourable to the League. The Congress decided to accept this interpretation but even that failed to bring the League into the Constituent Assembly. At the end of January 1947, the League passed a resolution at its session in Karachi calling for a boycott of the Constituent Assembly and dissolution of the Cabinet Mission plan. Congress members of the Interim government pointed out that it was now clearly unacceptable for League members to continue in the government without coming into the Constituent Assembly. 
However, this did not affect the functioning of the Constituent Assembly and League members continued to be in the Interim government. On 20 February 1947, the British Prime Minister Attlee issued a new statement in the Parliament regarding the future of India. The terms of this statement temporarily shifted political focus away from the issues which had so far occupied the Congress leadership and the League. It was announced for the first time that the British would leave India by June 1948 and that Mountbatten would be the new and the last Viceroy of India.

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 This statement was positively received in Congress circles as proof of British intention to leave India. Partition of the country was implied in the proviso that if the Constituent Assembly was not found adequately representative, power would be inherited by more than one Central government. The Congress was relieved that at least the Constituent Assembly could carry on its work of framing the constitution for free India. Nehru’s appeal to Liaquat Ali Khan to work out some political compromise given the forthcoming departure of the British did not receive any constructive response.  
Last Viceroy
Lord Mountbatten came to India on 22 March 1947 as the new Viceroy. The few weeks before his arrival had witnessed widespread rioting in Punjab which the government was struggling to control. Muslim League had launched an anti-ministry movement in Punjab bringing down the Unionist-Akali coalition ministry at the beginning of March. Given the collapse of law and order in the province and the active involvement of League volunteers in attacks on non-Muslims, the CWC was forced to pass a resolution demanding that Punjab must be partitioned if the country was divided. This was the situation which met Mountbatten on his arrival in India. He had been instructed in London to explore the possibilities of union and division in India after which he was to advise the government in England about the form which the transfer of power to India should take.

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 This statement was positively received in Congress circles as proof of British intention to leave India. Partition of the country was implied in the proviso that if the Constituent Assembly was not found adequately representative, power would be inherited by more than one Central government. The Congress was relieved that at least the Constituent Assembly could carry on its work of framing the constitution for free India. Nehru’s appeal to Liaquat Ali Khan to work out some political compromise given the forthcoming departure of the British did not receive any constructive response.  
Last Viceroy
Lord Mountbatten Within two months of his arrival, he realized that the Cabinet Mission plan could not work for India. He found it impossible to convince Jinnah to accept anything other than a sovereign Pakistan. The administrative situation of the country had deteriorated further and the cooperation of the political parties was vital for the functioning of the Interim government. 
The Mountbatten Plan, as the 3 June plan was called, advanced the date of departure and stated that India would achieve Dominion Status in August 1947. According to this, the country would be divided but maximum unity retained. This implied the partition of Punjab and Bengal so that the Hindu majority areas of these provinces would be retained in India. Two boundary commissions, overseen by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, would be set up to demarcate the boundaries of the two Dominions in Punjab and Bengal. 
The NWFP was to choose either Dominion through a referendum and a plebiscite was to be held in Sylhet district of Assam for the same purpose. The Princely States were given the choice to join either of the two Dominions. India’s membership of the British Commonwealth was a top priority for the government on account of future defence interests in the subcontinent.ame to India on 22 March 1947 as the new Viceroy. The few weeks before his arrival had witnessed widespread rioting in Punjab which the government was struggling to control. Muslim League had launched an anti-ministry movement in Punjab bringing down the Unionist-Akali coalition ministry at the beginning of March. Given the collapse of law and order in the province and the active involvement of League volunteers in attacks on non-Muslims, the CWC was forced to pass a resolution demanding that Punjab must be partitioned if the country was divided. This was the situation which met Mountbatten on his arrival in India. He had been instructed in London to explore the possibilities of union and division in India after which he was to advise the government in England about the form which the transfer of power to India should take.

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 Communal Massacres
Meanwhile, communal riots broke out in Punjab leading to widespread arson, rioting, killings and the beginning of the migration of people. Refugee camps came up in Rawalpindi, Delhi, Panipat, Kurukshetra, Wah and many other places. Congress reluctantly accepted the partition of the country despite its long-term commitment to unity of India in the hope that it would stem civil war and contain communal violence. Many leaders and people hoped that when the passions had subsided, the two countries would once again come together. Thus, while the country did achieve freedom through a phase of negotiations with the communal leadership and the British government, communalism as a mass phenomenon could not be uprooted. 
The League was also not entirely happy with this Plan. Jinnah felt that it did not concede Pakistan in full and that what they had inherited was a moth-eaten version of their demands. Nonetheless, the Plan was formally accepted by both the parties as the best solution under the circumstances and on 23 June 1947, the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Bengal voted in favour of the division of the two provinces.

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 Even Gandhiji, who had once declared that India could be partitioned only over his dead body, now expressed his helplessness in the face of the overwhelming public acceptance of partition. He advised people not to accept the demarcation of political boundaries as a division in their hearts and keep alive the hope for a union of the two countries in the future. 
Congress and Partition
For Congress leaders, acceptance of partition was the last resort for avoiding civil war. It did not amount to an acceptance of the two-nation theory since India was visualized as a multi-religious and multi-cultural entity. In any case, the number of Muslims who stayed back in India exceeded those who constituted Pakistan. Any talk of India following Pakistan and declaring itself as a Hindu state was summarily dismissed by the nationalist leadership. 
It was a brave task indeed to frame a secular constitution and build a secular polity in the backdrop of the communal violence and the formation of Pakistan. Even Jinnah, when asked for advice by Muslims who chose to stay in India after independence, told them to be loyal citizens of India. In an address to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947, he argued for a state divorced from considerations of religion, caste or creed.

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 However, these ideas did not guide the formulation of state policy in Pakistan. It was a nation founded upon the principle of safeguards for religious minorities, and yet, it did not provide these same safeguards to the non-Muslim minority populations now within its territory. The worst predicament was faced by the pro-Congress Pathans in NWFP who boycotted the referendum as they were not given the option of independence that they desired. Instead, the province was to choose between India and Pakistan. Their fate was linked to a regime which continued to be hostile towards them.
The Indian Independence Act was passed by the British Parliament in July 1947. On 15 August 1947, in a midnight session of the Constituent Assembly in New Delhi, Nehru took over as the Prime Minister of India. Multitudes greeted this occasion with joy and celebration while countless others were too stricken with the wounds of communal violence to rejoice. In Calcutta, Gandhiji preferred to spend the day in silence, spinning, fasting and praying for an end to the carnage. In New Delhi, the new government with Nehru at the helm started out on the difficult and challenging task of rebuilding free India.

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