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General Election (1945-46)
The 1945-46 elections were, by far, the most critical at all levels in the annals of the history of the Indian sub-continent. The first Simla Conference had broken down on July 14, 1945, on the controversial issue of the representative culture of the All India Muslim League (AIML). Also, once World War II was over the new government in Britain took control. The new government gave some new instructions to the Viceroy of India. So, on August 21, 1945, the Viceroy Lord Wavell announced that elections to the central and provincial legislatures would be held in the coming winter. As for the first phase, it was decided that election to the central legislative assembly would be held to be followed by the election to the provincial assemblies.
The Muslim League announced that it would fight the elections on the two clear-cut issues –
Pakistan is the national demand of the Muslims of India and the Muslim League is their sole representative organization. Soon after the announcement regarding the general election, the Muslim League started preparation to contest them. The League’s position in 1945 was entirely different from what it had been at the time of the previous election held in1937. It was now well established as a mass organization with branches in every province, district, tehsils, and village. To cope with the finance of the election Quaid-i-Azam asked the Muslims in his characteristic style “give us the silver bullets and we will finish the job.”
For Jinnah and the Muslim League election campaign was urgent and also extraordinarily hectic and brisk. He suffered bouts of serious illness at the time. However, Quaid-i-Azam did not slacken his pace and in a mere 24 weeks, between mid-July and the end of December 1945 “addressed thousands and had talks with hundreds,” as he stated. During this short period, he spoke at more than twenty-six gatherings across the provinces of Bombay, Sindh, Baluchistan, and the Frontier, gave out thirty-two press statements and interviews, met several delegations, and received and answered a great deal of political correspondence. In this endeavor, Jinnah was helped by a team of highly committed deputies. He had formed the All India Muslim League Committee of Action in December 1943 and later the Central Parliamentary Board whose proceedings are also printed in this volume. These small bodies of dedicated office-holders selected Muslim League candidates, settled differences and appeals over the award of League tickets, distributed funds, coordinated elections work from their Delhi head office, and travelled and supervised election activity all over India. In this, they were supported admirably by the All India and Provincial Muslim Students Federations whose members, especially at Aligarh, set examples of selflessness, sacrifice and dedication.
Elections for the Central Legislature were held in December 1945. Though the franchise was limited, the turnover was extraordinary. League’s performance was even more impressive as it managed to win all the 30 seats reserved for the Muslims. The results of the provincial election held in early 1946 were not different. Congress won most of the non-Muslim seats while Muslim League captured approximately 95 percent of the Muslim seats. On the other hand, the League celebrated January 11, 1946, as the Day of victory and declared that the election results were enough to prove that the Muslim League under the leadership of Quaid-i-Azam was the sole representative of the Muslims of the region.
All said and done, it was the last variable that made Pakistan possible. Indeed, the massive electoral verdict in Pakistan’s favor during 1945-46 was the most important development between 1940 and 1947 between the adoption of the Lahore Resolution and the emergence of Pakistan. By all standards, this verdict represented the most critical step in the establishment of Pakistan. It was clear to the Congress that the Muslim League was the authoritative representative of an overwhelming majority of the Muslims in India, but it neither accepted it openly nor challenged its position.
For both the Congress and the League, the prime issue in the 1945-46 elections was the creation of Pakistan as opposed to the idea of Akhand Hindustan. Hence, the elections represented a referendum of sorts, as suggested by Gandhi, to ascertain the declared and established will of Muslims on the nationhood and separation issues. Once that will was given in Pakistan’s favor, its emergence (in some form or another) could no longer be resisted or delayed.