Lord Linlithgow : Governor General and Viceroy of India (1936-1944)

Lord Linlithgow was Viceroy of India from 1936 to 1944 and this eight years period was longest reign as Viceroy of India. During this period, parts of Government of India Act 1935 came into force in 1937. Other events included – Resignation of Congress Ministries to protest the involvement of Indians in world war-II; Start of World War-II (1939), resignation of Subhash Chandra Bose and foundation of “Forward Block”; Escape of SC Bose from India, Jinnah’s two nations theory; Atlanta Charter; August Offer (1940); Foundation of Indian National Army; Cripps Mission (1942); Launch of Quit India Movement; Demand of divide and quit; Bengal Famine of 1943).

Government of India Act 1935

With 321 section and 10 schedules {but without a preamble unlike GOI Act 1919}, this was the longest act passed by British for governance in India. The act was later split into two parts viz. GOI Act, 1935 and Government of Burma Act, 1935.

This act ended the system of Dyarchy introduced by GOI Act 1919 and provided for establishment of a federation of India to be made up of provinces of British India and some or all of the Princely states. Since it also did not provide the dominion status {as recommended by Simon Commission}; and also preserved the separate electorates for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Europeans, Anglo Indians, Indian Christians etc., it proved to be further an instrument of disintegrating India. There was no provision of any fundamental right. It perpetuated the sovereignty of the British parliament over India.

Reactions to GOI Act

It was over obstructing and Nehru called it “all breaks, no engine”. Similarly Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya said:  “the act is somewhat democratic in its appearance but completely hallow from inside“. Jinnah commented it as “thoroughly rotten, fundamentally bad and totally unacceptable“. Jinnah’s point of view was that it would substantially increase Hindu majority at the center. However Jinnah was ready to accept the provincial scheme, as it seemed that it would ensure Muslim control of the four Muslim majority provinces. Only two parties supported the act viz. National Liberal Federation and Hindu Mahasabha.

Provincial Elections 1937

The federation of India did not materialize because required number of Princely states did not join it. However, some parts of the act related to British provinces had come into force and as per these provisions; elections were carried out in 1937 for British provinces. Out of 256 million population {1931 Census}, only 11.5% people were eligible to vote.

Congress and other parties launched their election campaign. The Congress kept “demand for constituent assembly” at top of its election manifesto. Muslim league also participated under Jinnah, who had become its President in 1936.

The elections were swept by Congress. It either won with absolute majority {in five provinces} or emerged as largest party. It could not gain majority in Bengal, Punjab and Sind. In Bengal and Punjab, Muslim league formed the provincial governments by coalitions while in Sind, non-congress, non-Muslim league government was formed.

The Congress governments remained in offices for close to two years. In these two years, they passed some laws in provinces and tried to lift its image from a political party to a party of governance.

In some states, Congress had refused to make coalition government with Muslim League. They accused congress of oppressing the Muslims. The middle and lower class Muslims were told that if they remain in united country, they would be unable to compete with Hindus who would not allow them to get into the higher jobs and prospects.

Further, they also rejected and resented the Wardha Scheme of Education devised / proposed by Gandhi in which there was emphasis on training the youth in Handicrafts and no place was there for religious education. Muslim league made it an issue and championed for the cause of Pakistan.

Begin of Second World War 1939

On September 3, 1939, the Second World War broke out and on the same day Lord Linlithgow declared India as belligerent and at war. While Subhash Chandra Bose advocated a campaign of mass civil disobedience to protest against Viceroy Lord Linlithgow’s decision to declare war on India’s behalf without consulting the Congress leadership; it was Congress idea to support the British on condition that India should be declared an independent nation immediately after the war and a responsible government must be placed at the centre.

However, India’s entry into the war as a belligerent became a political issue. In September 1939, a Congress Working Committee passed a resolution that issue of war or peace with India must be decided by the Indian People. However, Government did not pay heed to this resolution. The Congress then decided that the Congress ministries in provinces must resign. On the other hand, Muslim league supported British on its war decisions, and due to this, it was pampered by British hereafter.

Jinnah’s Two Nations Theory, March 1940

As early as 1938, the Muslim league had created a committee under Nawab of Pirpur to investigate the tyranny and oppression of the congress ministries in provinces ruled by them. This committee came with a one-sided report and charged the congress for interference with the religious rites, suppression of Urdu and propaganda of Hindi, denial of legitimate representation and suppression in economy of the Muslims.

On March 20, 1940, the Muslim League met at Lahore where Fazlul Haq { premier of Bengal province} moved a resolution which said:

the areas in which Muslims are numerically in majority, as in north-western and eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute the Independent States in which the Constituent units would be autonomous and sovereign”.

This resolution was passed and then Jinnah {in his presidential address} gave the two nation theory by saying: “India cannot be assumed today to be Unitarian and homogenous nation, but on the contrary, there are two nations in the main- the Hindus and the Muslims”.

Although Jinnah had still not used the word Pakistan in this address. The two nation theory was rejected by Gandhi who said: “My whole soul rebels against the idea that Hinduism and Islam represent two antagonistic cultures and doctrines. To assent to such a doctrine for me is denial of God”.

August Offer 1940

In Ramgarh Session of March 1940, the congress passed a resolution in which it offered Government support in war if a provisional National Government is set up at centre. The Government responded in sort of a proposal by Lord Linlithgow, which is called August Offer. In this offer, the demand to set up a provisional National Government was turned down but it proposed that immediately after the war a Constitution Making Body would be appointed. This was rejected by Congress.

Individual Satyagraha 1940-41

In the state of confusion, there was a call for a mass movement. But this time, Gandhi did not launch a mass movement but insisted on individual Satyagraha to affirm the right to speech. It was possible that a mass movement may turn violent. The individual satyagrahis were carefully chosen from among the most un-radical people. The first individual satyagrahi Acharya Vinoba Bhave gave a speech against the war and was sent to jail.Second Satyagrahi was Jawahar Lal Nehru; third was Brahma Datt, one of the inmates of the Gandhi’s Ashram. Each of them was sent to jail.

However, individual Satyagraha did not attract much enthusiasm. Gandhi suspended the movement in December, 1940. It was again launched in January 1941 with more vigour.

Cripps Proposals 1942

In 1942, the Japanese forces had advanced towards west and occupied Andaman Islands. There was a threat of Japanese invasion on Indian mainland.

Further, there was a pressure from the American President F. Roosevelt and Chinese premier Chiang Kai-Shek to concede the real political power to the people of India. The public sentiment in England was also in favour of reconciliation in India.

However, Congress did not want to support to British against anyone. To buy the political support for war in India, on March 11, 1942, British PM Winston Churchill sent a mission under Stafford Cripps {leader of House of Commons}.

The main proposals of the Cripps mission were as follows:

  • Immediately after war, steps would be taken up to set up an elected body charged with the task of making the constitution for India
  • Provisions would be made so that the Indian princely states could participate in the framing of the constitution.
  • India would be given Dominion status after the War.

In summary, these proposals were aimed to appease the Congress, Muslim League and Princely states, all at once. But all of them rejected it.

Congress wanted immediate dominion status, but the proposals promised it after the war. For congress, “one bird in hand was equal to two in bush“, and thus it rejected it. Gandhi called the Cripps Proposals as “Post date cheque drawn on a failing bank“.

Further, the proposals gave right to non-accession to princely states, which was not acceptable to Congress. Congress demanded a full control over defense “stating that a slave country cannot have any inspiration.

Muslim league wanted a separate Pakistan; it said there was inadequate representation of Muslims.

Sikhs rejected because of the view that they would not allow seperation of Punjab. Depressed Class opposed the proposals on the ground that there was no provision for safeguarding their interests.

Quit India Movement: August 1942

In July 1942, the Congress Working Committee met at Wardha and passed a resolution that demanded immediate end of British rule in India.  This is called “Quit India Resolution”. It was ratified in the All India Congress Committee at Bombay on August 7, 1942. Here, a nonviolent mass struggle under the leadership of Gandhi was sanctioned in the Gowalia Tank Maidan {which was hereafter also known as August Kranti Maidan}. In a speech on 8th August, Gandhi gave the famous “do or die” speech.

After the end of the 8th August meeting, government started arresting the congress leaders and within a week stuffed most leaders including Gandhi in Jails.

The arrests of key leaders led to spontaneous outburst of mass anger and widespread disturbance in Bombay, Ahmadabad, Poona, Delhi etc. Soon after it was launched, it lost its original character and merged itself into revolutionary / terrorist movement. Thus, the movement proved to be a metaphor. It was launched as a non-violent movement but there was widespread violence. It was launched in leadership of Gandhi but Gandhi could not lead it because he along with other key leaders was put behind bars. Further, it was not planned and spread spontaneously. The common people were attracted to this movement mainly because of frustration due to rising inflation and the acute shortage of food stuffs. Labour Unions under Communist influence had apparently decided against participation in the movement, but labor class participated in it and there were large-scale strikes in mills at Kanpur, Jamshedpur and Ahmadabad.

The movement was suppressed in three four months by ruthless use of force by the Government. For next two and half years, there was no political movement.

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