"India," said Jawaharlal Nehru recently, "is on the brink of a mighty revolution." The mutiny and rioting in Bombay haye underscored his warning. The showdown is coming.
From January 7 to April 12, 1946, the Indian provinces are voting in the last elections to be held under the Constitution of 1935. When the results are known, the lower houses of the Provincial Legislatures will elect from their members a constitution-making body to frame the Constitution of Independent India. India will then take her place on an equal footing with the other self-governing Dominions of the Empire. That is Britain's offer. It all sounds so simple. Then why the revolution?
The most powerful figure in Indian politics today is not the Viceroy, nor Mahatma Gandhi, nor Jawaharlal Nehru. It is a lean, gray-haired, impeccably dressed Karachi lawyer, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Moslem League. Upon his attitude depends the success or failure of the present attempt to solve the Indian problem.
Ten or twelve years ago, Jinnah was an obscure but wealthy lawyer. He is a former member of the All-India Congress, which he now vehemently attacks. By astute political maneuvering, he has made himself the leader of a political party which commands the support of the majority of Indian Moslems, and can block any move by the British government to confer self-government on India.
Britain has often been taunted with employing "divide and rule" tactics in India, but the cleverest attempt at dividing and ruling is that of Jinnah. Moslems number only 94.5 millions according to the census of 1941. Compared with the 255 million Hindus, they will always be in a minority in any system of democratically elected bodies.
To counter this disability the Moslems, as long ago as 1909, pressed for and secured the electoral device of separate Hindu and Moslem electorates, with seats "reserved" in the legislature on a communal basis. This procedure ensured to Moslems a political representation in excess of their numerical proportions. But it did not satisfy them for long.
When Congress ministries took office in seven out of eleven provinces in 1937, Moslem Leaguers (who had polled only 4.6 per cent of the total Moslem vote) were denied any share in the spoils of office. Moslem League propagandists have represented this situation as a denial of their legitimate rights, and as proof of a Hindu determination to dominate India. Tactically, it may have been unwise of Congress, but under a party system of government it is difficult to see how it could have done otherwise. Congress did not refuse office to Moslems as such, but to Moslems who were not members of Congress.
For Congress is not, as League followers claim, a Hindu organization. The Hindu Mahasabha is the party of orthodox Hindus. Congress is, and always has been, open to Moslems, and has a notable Moslem president, the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Mr. Asaf Ali is another Moslem member of the Working Committee. To expect Congress to present ministerial offices to its political rivals is as if the British Labor Party, after its recent overwhelming victory, should be invited to give Cabinet posts to members of the insignificant Independent Labor Party, which had opposed it at the polls.
The experience of one election convinced Jinnah that his party could never hope to enjoy a ruling majority. In 1940 he accordingly resurrected the theory of Pakistan, claiming that Hindus and Moslems are two separate nations.
Before 1940 no one outside the Moslems, and few among them, took Pakistan seriously, but by persistent advocation in season and out, Jinnah has made of it the central issue before India today. He has made of the League a real political party, and in the recent elections to the Central Legislative Assembly it won all the Mohammedan seats (30), polling 86.6 per cent of the total Moslem votes. These elections were based on the extremely restricted franchise of the 1919 Act, and the total number of votes cast was only 586,647, representing almost exclusively the propertied classes.
In the provincial elections now taking place, with an electorate of over 30 millions, the League is unlikely to repeat its 100 per cent success, but there is little doubt that it will gain a decisive majority of Moslem votes for a policy of Pakistan.
The real problem starts from this point the League is pledged not to make the new Constitution work unless it starts from the basic assumption of Pakistan. There must be not one but two constitution-making bodies, says Jinnah -one for Hindustan and one for Pakistan. Hindus naturally are not willing to submit, in advance of the elections, to the dictation of a minority.
Allegations of corrupt practices and official interference have been made by the League and Congress in the Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. Doubtless many are true. The greatest curse of Indian political and administrative life is corruption running like a putrefying streak from top to bottom. Election returns from the North-West Frontier Province show, however, that the majority of Moslems in their traditional home are opposed to the vivisection of India.
Jinnah wrecked the Simla Conference - called by the Viceroy, Lord Wavell -in July, 1945. He can wreck the elections. All he has to do is to stall, and the longer he stalls, the stronger he grows.
The British government, which most Indians are now convinced is genuinely anxious to hand over power, is thus faced with a quandary. Britain's offer of August, 1940, guaranteed minorities against forcible inclusion in any future Indian Union or Federation; the undertaking was reiterated in the Cripps offer of March-April, 1942, and at the Simla Conference.
Jinnah asks the British government to guarantee his Pakistan scheme; he does not ask the people of India, and is quite oblivious to the 30 millions who would be a Hindu minority in the six provinces which he claims: Sind, Baluchistan, the North-West Frontier Province, the Punjab, Bengal, and Assam. Of these, only the first three have a decisively Moslem population. In the Punjab, Moslems number 57
per cent; in Bengal 54 per cent; while in Assam they are actually in a minority. Even under this plan, about one fifth of the Indian Moslems would remain outside Pakistan.
Nevertheless Jinnah insists on acceptance of the present boundaries of those provinces for the hypothetical state of Pakistan. Exchange of populations and frontier adjustments, he says, could follow. No one with the least knowledge of India could suppose that these provincial boundaries correspond to any national, ethnic, or linguistic delineation. The principle of self-determination, which is of the essence of democracy, applies to nations, not to the fortuitous divisions of a subcontinent conquered by an alien power.