Turning point

Published : Jul 04, 2008 00:00 IST

A volume on the documents on 1939, the year that proved to be a watershed in Indian history.

THE year 1939 marked a turning point in Indias march for freedom. The Congress Ministries in the provinces resigned shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War because India had been dragged into the war by the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow without even a pretence of consultation with its popular leaders. In 1939, Mohammed Ali Jinnah propounded the two-nation theory and began groping for alternatives to a federal India. He had not made up his mind on the partition of India.

The volume on the documents on 1939, which Professor Mushirul Hasan, Vice-Chancellor of the Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, has edited, is, therefore, of particular interest. It is the sixth in the series that Murli Manohar Joshi, Human Resource Development Minister of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led regime, had all but terminated abruptly. It was resumed shortly after the electorate put him out to pasture. The earlier volumes, edited by historians of note, covered the years 1938, 1940, 1943-44, 1945 and 1946. Mushirul Hasan has adhered to the format and contributed a brief introduction which, he informs the reader with becoming modesty, was drafted at Bedford Hotel, Paris.

The volume is divided into four chapters on the Ministries at Work, War, Repression and Political Radicalism, Princely India and the Kisan Movement. The All India Congress Committee (AICC) had passed resolutions to curb unwelcome agitations. First, to enjoin Provincial Congress Committees not to interfere in the day-to-day administration of the Ministries and second, to instruct Congressmen not to offer satyagraha against provincial governments without authorisation from the party.

The General Editor, Professor Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, writes: While there was this satisfaction that Congress was capable of governance, perhaps a good augury for the future, there was also dissatisfaction with the incompleteness of what the Congress ministries had achieved. As expected, many blamed the bureaucracy. Not only were there strident critics of the actions or inaction of the Congress Ministers among non-Congress politicians, but even the Congressmen among Muslims felt aggrieved and alienated in some provinces; in this respect a note, translated from Urdu, from Maulana Muhsin Sajjad to the Congress Working Committee is very revealing.

Nepotism was rife. None other than Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to the Prime Minister of Central Provinces N.B. Khare on August 21, 1939, recommending the case of Ratanchand Hirachand of Indian Hume Pipe Co. for a contract. Sarojini Naidu wrote to Khare recommending Walter Dutt for a High Court judgeship. It was at this time that many bad precedents were set which affect us to the present day.

Congressmen in office were intoxicated with power. Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru wrote to B. Shiva Rao, correspondent of The Hindu, on November 16, 1940: You at Delhi, where there has been no responsible government, probably cannot have any idea of the experience we have had of party dictatorship or of Congress Ministries wherever they have existed and particularly in the U.P. and Bihar so long as these people were in power they treated everybody else with undisguised contempt and asserted the weight of their majority.

This drove Jinnah to the extreme. He demanded Pakistan. The Congress was in power in U.P., Bihar, Orissa, the Central Provinces, Bombay, Madras, Assam and the North West Frontier Province.

There are some interesting disclosures. For instance, the Secretary of State for India, the Marquess of Zetland, wrote to the Viceroy on May 9, 1939, after meeting Nehru: I have been struck by the moderation and good sense of some at least of Nehrus public pronouncements on difficult political questions, notably, for example, his pronouncement in connection with the labour troubles at Kanpur sometime ago. I think that it is quite likely that if Nehru was willing to consider the possibility he might make a very good Prime Minister and Kidwai as one of his colleagues. He did not impress as a revolutionary.

Sheikh Abdullah attacked Jinnah and the Muslim League in a speech at Lahore on April 4, 1939, for supporting the princes. They were reconciled momentarily in 1944, when Jinnah visited Srinagar, but fell apart within a few days. That breach proved fateful.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment