Freedom papers

Published : Mar 28, 2008 00:00 IST

The story of the Independence movement, through documents.

THESE volumes provide indispensable source material for a period in a single volume. Part II of 1939 will be published shortly. There is, in each case, a General Editors Preface by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya. Mushirul Hasan writes the Editors Introduction. Unfortunately, this contribution is missing in the volume on 1945.

The year 1939 saw the resignation of Congress Ministries following the declaration of war by the British without reference to Indias leaders.

The 1939 volume has a most interesting section on Jammu and Kashmir comprising 29 documents, which reveal the divide between the National Conference headed by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and the Muslim League led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The breach might have been narrowed, if not closed, during Jinnahs visit to Srinagar in 1944. Instead, Jinnah widened it. He was given a heros welcome by both the National Conference and the Muslim Conference. Jinnah, however, asked the National Conference to fold up and join the less-popular Muslim Conference. In a speech in Lahore on April 4, 1939, Sheikh Abdullah strongly criticised Jinnah and the League for not standing by the people of the princely States.

This was the very fundamental on which Jinnah differed with Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah in 1947 with fateful consequences.

The 1945 volume covers the phase that began at the end of the Second World War. It provides comprehensive documentation on the Indian National Army (INA) and Subhas Chandra Bose, the Sapru Committees moves for conciliation, the Wavell Plan, the Simla Conference, the Congress-CPI controversy, the INA trials, and the Bombay Plan of Economic Development for India.

Sabyasachi Bhattacharyas preface explains the events concisely. On the Desai-Liaquat Ali Khan Pact, he is unfair to Bhulabhai Desai. Gandhis caution to Desai was administered on June 11, 1945. Bhattacharya cites Pyarelal Nayyars Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase, Vol. 1, to suggest that Desai did not heed the caution. But as late as on July 29, 1945, Gandhi fully backed Desai and refuted the charge of stabbing the Congress in the back.

In a thorough survey M.C. Setalvad refutes Pyarelals charge. It bears quotation in extenso. There is no doubt, as shown by Gandhis repeated statements that, in the matter of entering into and completing the negotiations, Bhulabhai acted with the consent and approval of Gandhi. Nor has it ever been suggested by Gandhi that Bhulabhai, in any manner, exceeded his authority or acted contrary to his instructions in the matter.

The only publicist who has asserted that, in negotiating the Pact, Bhulabhai exceeded Gandhis instructions is Pyarelal. After quoting a number of statements of Gandhi on Bhulabhai and others, he concludes, But, in view of Gandhijis repeated warnings that he should get everything reduced in writing before committing himself to anything, and further to see to it that it had Jinnahs approval. Bhulabhai, it seems, allowed his over-eagerness for results to get the better of the legal acumen and foresight and failed to take the elementary precautions that had been suggested to him. He chose to follow the line of least resistance.

On a careful perusal of the various statements quoted by Pyarelal as having been addressed to Bhulabhai, it is difficult to find support in them for the conclusion reached by him. Curiously enough there is no reference anywhere by Pyarelal to the public statements by Gandhi which have completely exonerated Bhulabhai. Pyarelal omits to take note of the very important circumstance that Gandhi had at no time suggested anywhere what Pyarelal suggests about Bhulabhais conduct. One cannot help having a feeling that Pyarelal has been led to put forward in a somewhat halting manner a point of view which may serve as a remote justification for the attitude of the Congress Working Committee in Bhulabhais action in entering into the Pact, which Gandhi was either unable or unwilling to persuade them to alter. (Bhulabhai Desai, Publications Division.)

Neither Pattabhi Sitaramayyas History of the Congress nor D.G. Tendulkars Mahatma (Vol. 7) supports Pyarelals charge. Bhulabhai was refused the Congress ticket for the Central Assembly, with Gandhis support, for personal reasons. The episode did not do credit, either to the Working Committee or to Gandhi, the action of the Working Committee in excluding Bhulabhai from the legislature had Gandhis complete support.

Bhulabhai won fame as defence counsel in the INA trial. Yet, repudiated by Congress leaders, he died a broken man.

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