Chapter 24

National Landscape After World War II

Arora IAS Class Notes

National Upsurge in Final Years of British Rule (1943-1947)

Two Main Forces:

  • Political Negotiations:
    • Tortuous discussions between British, Congress, and Muslim League.
    • Escalating communal violence.
    • Culminated in independence and partition.
  • Mass Action:
    • Localized, militant movements by workers, peasants, and regional populations.
    • Took the form of strikes and revolts.
    • Examples: INA Release Movement, RIN Revolt, Tebhaga Movement, etc.


Shifting British Policy (1945-1947):

  • Reason for Change:
    • Contrary to expectations, Indians remained defiant after leaders’ release (1945).
    • Wavell Plan failed to resolve the deadlock.
    • Labour Party’s victory in UK elections (July 1945).
  • New British Government & Approach:
    • Clement Attlee (Prime Minister) and Pethick-Lawrence (Secretary of State for India).
    • Announced elections and a Constituent Assembly (August-September 1945).
    • More open to Indian demands due to:
      • Weakened post-war Britain.
      • Rise of US and USSR as superpowers, both favoring Indian independence.
      • Labour Party’s socialist leanings.
      • Anti-colonial movements across Southeast Asia.
      • Fear of renewed Indian unrest, including from the INA.
      • Need to hold elections (last ones in 1934-37).


Congress Campaign and INA Trials (1945-1946)

Nationalistic Aims in Election Campaign (Winter 1945-46):

  • Focus: Mobilizing Indians against British rule, not just seeking votes.
  • Highlighting nationalist sentiments:
    • Glorifying martyrs of the 1942 Quit India Movement.
    • Condemning British repression.
    • Setting up memorials, collecting relief funds for victims.
    • Threatening punishment for guilty officials.
  • Devastating impact on British morale, especially government services.
  • Heightened fears of Congress ministries’ return, particularly in provinces with harsh repression.


Mass Pressure and Shift in British Policy:

  • Public outcry against INA POW trials, likened to “an edge of a volcano.”
  • Initial British plan: Public trials for hundreds of INA prisoners, dismissal from service for others, and detention without trial for thousands more.
  • Red Fort trials (November 1945) further inflamed tensions.
  • Deployment of Indian troops to reinstate French and Dutch colonial rule in Southeast Asia fueled anti-imperialist sentiment.

Congress Support for INA Prisoners:

  • Strong resolution at the first post-war Congress session (September 1945) backing the INA cause.
  • Legal defense organized by prominent figures like Bhulabhai Desai and Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • INA Relief and Enquiry Committee provided financial and employment assistance.
  • Fundraising initiatives launched.


The INA Agitation: A Widespread Movement

  • Unprecedented intensity and publicity through:
    • Extensive press coverage with editorials.
    • Distribution of pamphlets, sometimes threatening.
    • Graffiti expressing similar messages.
    • Public meetings and celebrations (INA Day, INA Week).
  • Geographical spread: Major cities (Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta) to smaller towns and remote areas.
  • Diverse participation:
    • Film stars, municipal committees, Indians abroad, religious institutions.
    • Shopkeepers, political parties, student groups, farmers’ conferences.
    • Women’s organizations.
  • Support from a wide ideological spectrum:
    • Congress, Muslim League, Communist Party, regional parties, religious groups.
  • Pro-INA sentiments even in traditionally loyal sections:
    • Government employees raising funds.
    • British officials and military personnel expressing sympathy.
  • Central theme: Questioning Britain’s right to judge Indians in this matter.
  • Growing perception of the issue as a conflict between “India vs. Britain.”

Three Nationalist Upsurges (Winter 1945-1946)


  • Nov 21, 1945:Student procession (Forward Bloc, SFI, Muslim League, Congress) protesting INA trials.
  • Clash with police, lathi charge, stone throwing, firing (2 deaths).
  • Feb 11, 1946:Muslim League students protest against 7-year sentence for INA officer Rashid Ali.
  • Joined by Congress & communist students.
  • Defied Section 144, arrests, lathi charge.


  • Feb 18, 1946:RIN ratings’ strike on HMIS Talwar.
  • Demands:
    • End racial discrimination (equal pay for Indians and white soldiers).
    • Better food.
    • Stop abuse by superiors.
    • Release arrested rating.
    • End INA trials.
    • Withdraw Indian troops from Indonesia.
  • Raised tricolour, crescent, and hammer & sickle flags.
  • Spread to other ships, processions with Congress flags.
  • Public support – food, supplies.

Three-Stage Pattern:

  1. Defiance and Repression:
    • Initial protests and clashes with authorities.
  2. Citywide Unrest:
    • Anti-British sentiment, strikes, hartals, attacks on infrastructure.
  3. National Sympathy and Solidarity:
    • Strikes in military establishments across India.
    • IAF strikes in Bombay, Poona, Calcutta, Jessore, Ambala.

Significance and Impact:

  • Showcased mass militancy and defiance.
  • Weakened British morale, particularly in armed forces.
  • RIN revolt seen as a turning point against British rule.
  • British concessions:
    • Limited INA trials (Dec 1, 1946).
    • Reduced sentences for first batch (Jan 1947).
    • Withdrawal of Indian troops from Southeast Asia (Feb 1947).
    • Parliamentary delegation to India (Nov 1946).
    • Cabinet Mission to India (Jan 1946).

Limitations and Unanswered Questions:

  • Violent nature limited participation.
  • Short-lived and geographically concentrated.
  • Communal unity more tactical than widespread.
  • British infrastructure for control remained.
  • Uprisings controlled by authorities (Maratha battalion in Bombay).

Congress Strategy:

  • Leftist view: Congress missed a revolutionary opportunity.
  • Congress perspective: Uprisings were an extension of earlier nationalist activities.
  • Official Congress disapproval due to tactics and timing.
  • Negotiations prioritized over mass movements before British withdrawal.
  • Gandhi opposed the RIN mutiny, advocating patience for leadership guidance.


Election Results

Congress Performance

  • Non-Muslim votes: 91%.
  • Central Assembly: Won 57 out of 102 seats.
  • Provincial elections: Majority in most provinces, excluding Bengal, Sindh, and Punjab. Included NWFP and Assam.

Muslim League Performance

  • Muslim votes: 86.6%.
  • Central Assembly: Captured all 30 reserved seats.
  • Provincial elections: Majority in Bengal and Sindh.
  • Established dominance among Muslims, unlike in 1937.

Significant Features

  • Communal voting due to separate electorates.
  • Limited franchise: Less than 10% could vote in provinces, less than 1% in Central Assembly.


The Cabinet Mission Plan (1946)

British Withdrawal Seems Imminent

  • The success of nationalist movements by the end of WWII.
  • Nationalism penetrated new sections and areas.
  • Bureaucracy and loyalist sections showed signs of nationalism.
    • Paucity of European recruits in ICS.
    • Policy of Indianisation ended British domination in ICS by WWI.
    • British-Indian parity existed by 1939.
  • Long war caused weariness and economic concerns.
  • Depleted, war-weary bureaucracy remained.
  • Limitations and contradictions of the British strategy:
    • After Cripps’ Offer, there was little left to offer except full freedom.
    • Repressing non-violent resistance exposed the government’s force.
    • Not clamping down or offering truces showed weakness.
    • Efforts to woo Congress dismayed loyalists.
  • Constitutionalism or Congress Raj boosted morale and spread patriotism.
  • Demands for leniency for INA prisoners and the RIN ratings raised fears of unreliable armed forces in a future Congress movement.
  • An all-out repression of a mass movement or entirely official rule were impractical.
  • British policymakers aimed for a graceful withdrawal with a settlement.

On the Eve of Cabinet Mission Plan

  • Congress demanded power transfer to one center and minority demands to be worked out later.
  • British wanted a united, friendly India as a defense partner in the Commonwealth.
  • British policy shifted to favoring a united India in 1946.
  • Prime Minister Attlee said the minority cannot veto the majority’s advance.

Cabinet Mission Arrives (March 24, 1946)

  • Discussed interim government and principles for a new constitution.
  • Presented their own plan in May 1946 due to disagreements between Congress and the League.

Cabinet Mission Plan – Main Points

  • Rejected a full-fledged Pakistan due to:
    • Large non-Muslim populations in the proposed areas.
    • The principle of communal self-determination could lead to further division.
    • Deep-seated regional ties would be disturbed by partition.
    • Economic and administrative problems would arise.
    • Dividing the armed forces would be dangerous.
  • Grouped existing provincial assemblies into three sections:
    • Section A: Hindu-majority provinces.
    • Section B: Muslim-majority provinces.
    • Section C: Bengal and Assam (with Muslim majorities).
  • Three-tier executive and legislature at provincial, section, and union levels.
  • A 389-member constituent assembly elected by provincial assemblies.
  • Assembly members from groups would decide the constitution for provinces and groups (if possible).
  • The whole assembly would then work on the union constitution.
  • A common center would control defense, communication, and external affairs (federal structure).
  • Communal questions in the central legislature decided by a simple majority of both communities present and voting.
  • Provinces to have full autonomy and residual powers.
  • Princely states would be free to make arrangements with successor governments or the British.
  • Provinces could come out of a group after the first general elections.
  • An interim government to be formed from the constituent assembly.

Different Interpretations of the Grouping Clause

  • Congress: Grouping was optional, one assembly was envisaged, the League had no veto.
  • Muslim League: Grouping was compulsory, implying Pakistan.

Main Objections

  • Congress:
    • Provinces should not have to wait to come out of a group.
    • Compulsory grouping contradicted provincial autonomy.
    • No elected members from princely states in the assembly.
  • Muslim League:
    • Grouping should be compulsory, leading to Pakistan.

Acceptance and Rejection

  • League accepted the long-term plan on June 6, 1946.
  • Congress accepted on June 24, 1946.
  • League withdrew its acceptance on July 29, 1946, due to Nehru’s statement and called for “direct action” for Pakistan.

Wavell’s ‘Breakdown Plan’ (May 1946)

  • A middle course between “repression” and “scuttle”.
  • British withdrawal to Muslim provinces and handing over the rest to Congress.
  • Evidenced British recognition of the impossible task of suppressing a Congress rebellion.
  • Desire to create a “Northern Ireland” of Pakistan in some official circles.


Communal Holocaust and the Interim Government

Massive Communal Riots

  • From August 16, 1946, large-scale communal riots erupted across India, leaving thousands dead.
  • Worst-hit areas: Calcutta, Bombay, Noakhali, Bihar, and Garhmukteshwar.

Changed Government Priorities

  • Viceroy Wavell prioritized bringing Congress into the Interim Government, even without the League.
  • This marked a shift from:
    • Wavell’s stance at the Shimla conference.
    • Encouraging communal forces.
    • Denying legitimacy to nationalism and Congress.

Formation of the Interim Government

  • Fearing Congress mass action, a Congress-led government headed by Nehru was formed on September 2, 1946.
  • Despite the title, it held limited power under Wavell.
  • The League joined the government on October 26, 1946 with several concessions:
    • Not abandoning “direct action.”
    • Rejecting the Cabinet Mission plans.
    • Insisting on compulsory grouping with section-wise majority votes (disadvantageous to opponents of Pakistan in Assam and NWFP).


Interim Government (September 2, 1946 – August 15, 1947)

  1. Jawaharlal Nehru: Vice President of Executive Council, External Affairs and Common Wealth Relations
  2. Vallabhbhai Patel: Home, Information and Broadcasting
  3. Baldev Singh: Defence
  4. John Mathai: Industries and Supplies
  5. Rajagopalachari: Education
  6. H. Bhabha: Works, Mines and Power
  7. Rajendra Prasad: Agriculture and Food
  8. Jagjivan Ram: Labour
  9. Asaf Ali: Railway
  10. Liaquat Ali Khan (Muslim League): Finance
  11. Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar (Muslim League): Commerce
  12. Abdur Rab Nishtar (Muslim League): Communications
  13. Ghazanfar Ali Khan (Muslim League): Health
  14. Jogendra Nath Mandal (Muslim League): Law


League’s Obstructionist Approach

  • The League boycotted the Constituent Assembly’s first meeting on December 9, 1946.
  • The Assembly passed a general “Objectives Resolution” outlining an independent, democratic republic.
  • The League:
    • Refused informal cabinet meetings.
    • Questioned Congress decisions and appointments.
    • Restricted other ministries’ functioning through Liaquat Ali Khan (Finance Minister).
  • The League aimed to use the government as a platform to pursue Pakistan.

Congress Frustration and Demands

  • Congress demanded the British get the League to cooperate or leave the government.
  • In February 1947, Congress ministers threatened to resign if the League didn’t change its behavior.
  • The League’s demand to dissolve the Constituent Assembly further heightened tensions.


Birth and Spread of Communalism in India

Emergence of Communalism

  • Arose around the end of the 19th century alongside nationalism.
  • Posed a major threat to Indian unity and the national movement.

Characteristic Features

  • Communalism evolved in three stages:
    • (i) Communal Nationalism: Shared religion leads to shared secular interests.
    • (ii) Liberal Communalism: Different religions have different secular interests.
    • (iii) Extreme Communalism: Religious interests are incompatible; coexistence is impossible.

Comparisons to Other Ideologies

  • Indian communalism is similar to phenomena like Fascism, anti-Semitism, and sectarian conflicts.
  • It bypasses economic realities to focus on invented group interests.

Roots of Communalism

  • A modern phenomenon arising from:
    • Mass mobilization in modern politics.
    • The need for wider social identities.
    • Spread of ideas of nation, class, and cultural identity.
  • Religious consciousness transformed into communal consciousness in some parts of India.

Social Roots

  • Blamed on the rising middle class:
    • Used imaginary communal interests to advance their own economic interests.
    • Communalism as a “bourgeois question” (according to the Left).

Colonial Role

  • The British administration:
    • Supported communalists to expand their social base.
    • Benefited from the alignment of religious and socio-economic divides.

Religion and Education

  • Religion itself is not inherently communal.
  • Lack of education and awareness made religion susceptible to manipulation.

Reasons for Growth

  • Clash between old and new social identities.

Socio-economic Reasons

  • Religion did not always define economic and political interests.
  • Commonalities existed within religious communities based on:
    • Language
    • Culture
    • Caste
    • Social status
    • Customs
  • Both Hindus and Muslims were victims of British imperialism.

Uneven Educational Development

  • Slower growth of modern education among Muslims compared to Hindus, Parsis, and Christians.
  • Fewer Muslims participated in trade and industry.

Political and Economic Disparity

  • Educated Muslims faced limited job opportunities, leading to dependence on government employment.
  • British officials and some Muslim leaders:
    • Incited tensions between educated Hindus and Muslims.
    • Promised government jobs and favors to loyal Muslims.
  • Competition for a limited number of jobs fueled communal tensions.

Colonial Divide-and-Rule Tactics

  • The British used concessions and reservations to exploit communal and separatist tendencies.

Delayed Political Consciousness

  • Slower development of modern political awareness among Muslims.
  • Dominance of traditional elites hindered progress.

Misguided Nationalism

  • Concepts of Hindu and Muslim nationalism emerged.
  • Many Hindus and Muslims failed to recognize the root causes of their problems (British rule, underdevelopment).


British Policy of Divide and Rule

  • Initial Suspicion of Muslims:
    • Repression and discrimination after Wahabi and 1857 revolts.
    • Decline of Muslim education and economic opportunities due to neglect of Arabic and Persian.
  • Shifting Policy After 1870s:
    • To counter rising nationalism, British supported Muslims with concessions and reservations.
    • Sir Syed Ahmed Khan:
      • Initially reformist, later aligned with British.
      • Advised Muslims to stay away from Congress and avoid politicization.
      • Promoted the idea of separate Hindu and Muslim interests.

Communalism in History Writing

  • Imperialist and Chauvinist Interpretations:
    • Portrayed Indian history as a Hindu-Muslim conflict.
    • Ignored economic and political realities behind conflicts.
    • Denied the existence of a composite Indian culture.
  • Hindu Communal View:
    • Glorified ancient India and denigrated medieval period under Muslim rule.
    • Ignored cultural and societal advancements during the medieval period.

Side-effects of Socio-religious Reform Movements

  • Militant Reform Movements:
    • Wahabi Movement (Muslims) and Shuddhi Movement (Hindus) with extremist views.
    • Made religion more susceptible to manipulation for communal purposes.
    • Reforms seen as attempts to isolate communities from each other.

Side-effects of Militant Nationalism

  • Early Nationalist Efforts:
    • Dadabhai Naoroji (1886): Congress wouldn’t address religious issues.
    • 1889: Congress avoided issues opposed by Muslims.
  • Shift Towards Hindu Nationalism:
    • Tilak’s Hindu festivals and anti-cow slaughter campaigns alienated Muslims.
    • Aurobindo’s concept of an Aryanised India and Swadeshi movement rituals discouraged Muslim participation.
    • Communal elements in Lucknow Pact (1916) and Khilafat movement (1920-22).
    • Focus on religious grounds (Khilafat) instead of broader national interests.

Communal Reaction by Majority Community

  • Response to Minority Communalism:
    • Hindu zamindars, moneylenders, and middle class expressed anti-Muslim sentiments.
    • Claimed British rule liberated Hindus from Muslim oppression.
    • Gave Hindi a Hindu communal color by downplaying Urdu’s historical significance.
  • Rise of Hindu Communal Organizations:
    • Punjab Hindu Sabha (1909): Opposed Congress and advocated siding with British against Muslims.
    • All-India Hindu Mahasabha (1915)
    • Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) (1925) – Gained influence later.
  • Comparison of Hindu and Muslim Communalism:
    • Modern, secular Hindu intelligentsia initially held more sway, limiting Hindu communalism’s strength.
    • Muslim communal elements (landlords, religious leaders, bureaucrats) held greater influence.
    • Competition between communalisms hindered effective countermeasures.

Evolution of the Two-Nation Theory

Early Seeds (1887):

  • Viceroy Dufferin and Lt. Governor Colvin opposed the Congress.
  • Syed Ahmed Khan discouraged Muslim participation in Congress.
  • Some Muslims (Badruddin Tyabji, Mir Musharraf Hussain) joined Congress anyway.

1905-1909: Growing Divide

  • 1906: Muslim delegation led by Agha Khan demanded separate electorates and weightage beyond population.
  • 1906: All-India Muslim League founded to promote loyalty to British and counter Congress influence.
  • 1909: Separate electorates granted under Morley-Minto Reforms.
  • 1909: Punjab Hindu Sabha founded to oppose Congress and side with British against Muslims.

1912-1928: Nationalism with a Communal Bent

  • 1912-1924: Younger Muslim nationalists dominated the League, but with a communal outlook.
  • 1916: Lucknow Pact: Congress accepted separate electorates, presenting joint demands with the League.
  • 1920-1922: Muslims participated in nationalist movements, but with a communal element in their perspective.
  • 1920s: Rise of communal movements:
    • Arya Samajists (Hindu): Shuddhi (reconversion) and Sangathan (organization) movements.
    • Muslims: Tabligh and Tanzeem movements in response.
    • Some nationalists turned communal (e.g., Swarajists).
  • 1928: Jinnah’s 14 Points demanded separate electorates, reservations, and self-governing Muslim bodies.

Nehru Report and Beyond (1928-1934)

  • 1928: Nehru Report on reforms opposed by Muslim hardliners and Sikh League.
  • Jinnah’s 14 points exposed issues with Congress’s approach:
    • Legitimized separate community politics.
    • Undermined secular, nationalist Muslims.
    • Encouraged similar demands from other communities.
    • Hindered effective countermeasures against communalism.
  • 1930-1934: Lower Muslim participation in Congress movements compared to Khilafat agitation.
  • Communalists attended all three Round Table Conferences on constitutional reforms, while Congress boycotted two.
  • 1932: Communal Award accepted all Muslim demands in Jinnah’s 14 points.

Emergence of Extreme Communalism (After 1937)

  • After poor performance in 1937 elections, the Muslim League adopted extreme communalism.
  • Early 1930s: Idea of a separate Muslim nation emerged (developed by Rahmat Ali and poet Iqbal).
  • Communalism became a mass movement targeting middle and upper classes with leaders like Z.A. Suleri and F.M. Durrani.
  • This extreme version thrived on fear, hatred, and violence.
  • Previously, “liberal communalism” focused on safeguards and reservations within a national framework.

Reasons for Extreme Communalism

  • Increased radicalization among reactionary elements who used communalism to build a social base.
  • British exhaustion of other divide-and-rule tactics.
  • Emboldened communal forces due to earlier failures to challenge them.

1937-1947: Escalation and Partition

  • Jinnah demanded the Congress declare itself Hindu and recognize the League as the sole Muslim representative (an impossible demand).
  • 1940: Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution called for a separate Pakistan.
  • During WWII, the League held veto power over political settlements.
  • The League achieved its goal of Pakistan’s creation in 1947.










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