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Simla Conference (1945)
After World War II Lord Wavell became the Viceroy of India. To unite the sub-continent and form a coalition interim government of Congress and Muslim League at the center, he convened a meeting of all political parties of the India sub-continent in June 1945 at Simla.
Quaid-i-Azam represented Muslim League and Congress nominated Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as its representative. The objective of sending Maulana Azad was to give the message to the world that Congress also represented the Muslims. The conference started on June 25, 1945, and continued for several days. In the opening remarks at the first session of the conference, Lord Wavell explained the purpose and scope of the proposals embodied in the British Government’s offer, the Wavell Plan, and asked the conference to accept his leadership until an agreed change in the constitution was possible. He added that their cooperation regarding the proposals was to make the long-term solution of the Indian constitutional problem easier. The Viceroy also expressed the hope that if the Conference was successful, ministries would again be formed in the provinces and that such ministries would be on a coalition basis.
The Plan suggested reconstitution of the Viceroy’s Executive Council in which the Viceroy was to select persons nominated by the political parties. Different communities were also to get their due share in the Council and parity was reserved for Cast-Hindus and Muslims. While declaring the plan, the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs made it clear that the British Government wanted to listen to the ideas of all major Indian communities. Yet he said that it was only possible if the leadership of the leading Indian political parties agreed with the suggestions of the British Government.
So far as the general framework of the proposed changes was concerned, the Congress had no serious objection. It may be recalled that a similar offer had been made by Sir Stafford Cripps in 1942 but the Congress had rejected it.
The Congress climbed down on all important issues in 1945 was motivated by one desire to get on the right side of the British Government to capture power under British aegis and torpedo the demand of Pakistan under cover of interim arrangements. The whole attention and efforts of the Congress representatives in the conference were, therefore concentrated on one point – how to render Muslim representation in the proposed Executive Council ineffective and unreal and maneuver Muslim India into a position where it would find it impossible to work for Pakistan.
It may be mentioned that Lord Wavell had arranged this Conference to bypass the Pakistan scheme; he thought that once the two principal parties began to work together, the idea of Pakistan might evaporate with time.
On the other hand, on the very first day of the conference, Jinnah told Viceroy Lord Wavell that the League would not agree to any constitution except on the fundamental principle of Pakistan.
These different standpoints developed a tense situation in the conference so informal meeting out of the conference was suggested between Muslim League and Congress.
Thereupon, Quaid-i-Azam demanded general elections in the country to decide as to who represented the Muslims. Due to the negative attitude of Congress, the conference was unsuccessful. But the parties other than Congress supported the demand of Quaid-i-Azam for general elections. On this occasion, most of the Muslim religious leaders supported the Muslim League. Their support strengthened the Muslim league and made it a very popular representative body of Muslims in India.
However, differences arose between the leadership of the two parties on the issue of representation of the Muslim community. The Muslim League claimed that it was the only representative party of the Muslims in India and thus all the Muslim representatives in the Viceroy’s Executive Council should be the nominees of the party. Congress, which had sent Maulana Azad as the leader of their delegation, tried to prove that their party represented all the communities living in India and thus should be allowed to nominate Muslim representatives as well. Congress also opposed the idea of parity between the Cast-Hindus and the Muslims. All this resulted in a deadlock. Congress and the League had failed to sort out their differences.
The Congress President said that they could not accept the League as the sole representative and authoritative organization of the Muslims of India using the plea that there was a Congress ministry in the N.W.F.P.; in Punjab, it was a Unionist ministry; in Sind Ghulam Hussain depended upon the Congress support and much the same position was in Assam. The Viceroy now asked each party to send its list of members that they would like to include in the Council. The Quaid did not approve of this procedure. Wavell knew it too well that Jinnah would not send him any list. But the Congress held a meeting of its Working Committee and a list was sent on June 7, to the Viceroy. On the same day, the Quaid informed the Viceroy that the working committee of the League had decided that all Muslim members of the Council must belong to the League and that Jinnah must be taken into confidence. On the next day, a meeting took place between Jinnah and the Viceroy in which the League leader once again insisted on his stance on the question appointment of Muslim members of the Viceroy Council. Wavell also stuck to his guns but Jinnah refused to cooperate with him on the condition he considered harmful to the League.
The fact of the matter was that the two principal political parties, Congress and the Muslim League, that were responsible for the failure. They had taken up positions that admitted no compromise. If Congress had allowed the Muslim League to have a monopoly of Muslims, it would have been tantamount to accepting that it was itself purely a Hindu body.
And if the League had permitted Congress to nominate Muslims, it would have thereby accepted the Congress claim that it represented all the communities in India. The Viceroy’s efforts to relegate the demand for Pakistan did not succeed. On the contrary, the League’s image and popularity of Jinnah amongst the Muslims received a tremendous boost. The general impression was that no constitutional plan would succeed without getting approval from Jinnah. Soon some important Muslim leaders including prominent supporters of the Congress crossed over to the Muslim League.
On the other hand, the failure of the Simla conference had a great impact in London; it was noticed that some influential Labor leaders were convinced that in their opinion the time had arrived whereby a permanent solution for Indian deadlock was essential.