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Jinnah – Gandhi Talks (1944)

The passing of the Resolution on 23rd March by the All India Muslim League at its Lahore session created a serious situation for the Congress leadership. Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi wrote in Harijan on 6th April 1940, “I admit that the step taken by the Muslim League at Lahore creates a baffling situation…the Two Nations theory is an untruth. The vast majority of Muslims of India are converts to Islam or are the descendants of converts. They did not become a separate nation, as soon as they converted. C. Rajagapalachari, a liberal congress leader, who had to resign from the Congress because of his views, however, realised the necessity for Hindu-Muslim reconciliation as a pre-requisite for the attainment of independence. On 23rd April 1942, Rajagapalachari addressed a small gathering of his old Congress supporters in the Madras legislature and had a resolution passed for submission to the All India Congress committee, recommending the acceptance of partition in principle.

On 2nd May 1942, he mooted his proposal on Pakistan in the AICC at Allahabad, which stated, “…it has become necessary to choose the lesser evil and acknowledge the Muslim League’s claim for separation.” The proposal was rejected by 120 to 15 votes. Rajaji did not give up hope, but kept on negotiating with Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad All Jinnah during April 1944, when Gandhi and other Congress leaders were in jail. The correspondence was released to the press on 9th July 1944, and contained what came to be known as the “Rajaji Formula”. It was intended to form the basis of the talks between Jinnah and Gandhi for a settlement of the Hindu-Muslim problem. Rajaji declared that he had already obtained Gandhi’s approval for the formula.

Jinnah placed the formula before the Working Committee of the Muslim League on 30th July 1944, but personally considered it unsatisfactory. He told the committee that Mr. Gandhi is offering a “shadow and a husk, a maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten Pakistan.” Though, in his private capacity Jinnah expressed his pleasure at Gandhi’s acceptance at least of “the principle of Pakistan.”

Meanwhile Allama Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi, leader of the Khaksar Movement also addressed letters to Jinnah and Gandhi urging them to meet to discuss the Hindu-Muslim problem. Gandhi took the initiative and wrote to Jinnah, “Let us meet whenever you wish, do not disappoint me.” The Muslim League Council meeting at Lahore invested Jinnah with full powers to negotiate with Gandhi on its behalf Jinnah accepted the offer and suggested a meeting between the two and offering his residence at Bombay as venue for discussion.

It is worthwhile noting that while Jinnah had full powers to negotiate on behalf of the Muslim League, Gandhi was undertaking this enterprise on his own behalf without the official sanction of the Congress. Many members of the Congress expressed disapproval at Gandhi’s move. The Mahasabha young men shouted anti-Pakistan slogans at Gandhi’s prayer meeting at Panchgani. The meeting took place between the two leaders at Bombay from 9th September to 27th September. They met almost daily, and sometimes even twice in a day. On 27th September, Jinnah announced the termination of talks after the failure of the two leaders to reach an agreement saying, “We trust that this is not the final end of our effort.” While Gandhi commented,”the breakdown is only so- called. It is an adjournment sine die.” In the course of the seventeen day discussions, they exchanged 24 letters which were later on made public.

The discussion as well as the correspondence can be divided into three distinct stages. The first stage when Jinnah asked Gandhi for clarification of various points in the Rajaji formula. The second stage started when Gandhi, on account of obvious difficulties, shunted the Rajaji formula, and attempted to apply his mind to the Lahore Resolution. Eventually Gandhi made some new proposals and after this the final breakdown took place.

An analysis of the correspondence dearly shows that the talk failed because Gandhi simply refused to accept the Lahore Resolution as interpreted by Jinnah. He did not believe in the two nation theory which was the fundamental basis of the Muslims’ demand, and totally rejected the Muslims right of self- determination. On 4th October Jinnah in a press conference at Bombay said, “In one breath Gandhi agrees to the principle of division and in the next he makes proposals which go to destroy the very foundation on which the division is claimed by Muslim India.”

On one hand Gandhi wanted a League-Congress agreement, and on the other denied the League’s representative character and authority to speak on behalf of the Mussalmans of India. In his letter of 25th September 1944, Jinnah summed up Gandhi’s attitude to the Lahore Resolution, thus “You have already rejected the basis and fundamental principles of Lahore Resolution: 1) You did not accept that the Muslims of India are a nation. 2) You do not accept that the Muslims have an inherent right of self-determination. 3) You do not accept that they alone are entitled to exercise this right. 4) You do not accept that Pakistan is composed of two zones, north-west and north-east, comprising six provinces, namely, Sindh, Baluchistan, the North-West Frontier provinces, the Punjab, Bengal and Assam subject to territorial adjustments.”

Gandhi wanted that first the people of India should oust the British with their joint action. When India was free then by mutual settlement and agreement two separate states could be created. Jinnah was not prepared to trust the words of Gandhi or the Congress. He said separation must come first and then matters of common interest between the two states would be settled by a treaty.

Lord Wavell expressed his disappointment at the failure of the talks. He stated that “Gandhi-Jinnah talks ended on a note of complete futility. I must say I expected something better. The two great mountains have met and not even a ridiculous mouse has emerged. This surely must blast Gandhi’s reputation as a leader. Jinnah had an easy task, he merely had to keep on telling Gandhi he was talking nonsense, which was true, and he did so rather rudely, without having to disclose any of the weakness of his own position, or define his Pakistan in any way. I suppose it may increase his prestige with his followers.”

The majority of the Hindus, especially the Mahasabhaits received the news of the breakdown of these talks with utmost relief and joy, for they were anxious lest their leader should commit himself to the ‘vivisection of Mother India’. It was the Muslims who were most bitterly disappointed when the talks failed.

Matlubul Hasan Saiyid has stated, ‘Gandhi’s circuitous argumentation, shifting from Rajagopalacharia’s formula to Lahore Resolution of the League and then back again and then over again to League Resolution, punctuating the discussions by his own suggestions and those of others whom he did not claim to represent, had made the breakdown of the these talks inevitable.

Jinnah had called this breakdown unfortunate, ‘Dr. Tara Chand gives the following reason for the break down, ‘A perusal of the letters exchanged shows that the two parties came very near to one another. What prevented them from concluding a settlement was not the apparent differences between their standpoints, but the distrust and fear which, lay behind the spoken and written word.

Gandhi’s apparent purpose in holding these talks seemed to be to discredit the Muslim League and to appear before the Muslims as a friend doing all he could to concede to their demands, while in fact he was merely weaving a deceptive web of words to fool the public and to impose upon the Lahore Resolution a meaning quite different to what was intended by the framers of the resolution.- The failure of these talks, on the other hand, enhanced the prestige of the Quaid and he was able to consolidate his position as the leader of the Indian Muslims.

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