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Communalism in Nationalist Politics: Formation of All India Muslim League

Formation of All India Muslim League

On 1 October 1906, a 35-member delegation of the Muslim nobles, aristocrats, legal professionals and other elite sections of the community mostly associated with Aligarh movement gathered at Simla under the leadership of Aga Khan to present an address to Lord Minto, the viceroy. They demanded proportionate representation of Muslims in government jobs, appointment of Muslim judges in High Courts and members in Viceroy’s council, etc. Though the Simla deputation failed to obtain any positive commitment from the Viceroy, it worked as a catalyst for the foundation of the All India Muslim League (AIML) to safeguard the interests of the Muslims in 1907. A group of big zamindars, erstwhile Nawabs and ex-bureaucrats became active members of this movement. The League supported the partition of Bengal, demanded separate electorates for Muslims, and pressed for safeguards for Muslims in Government Service.

Objectives of All India Muslim League

The All India Muslim League, the first centrally organized political party exclusively for Muslims, had the following objectives:

  • To promote among the Muslims of India feelings of loyalty to the British Government, and remove any misconception that may arise as to the instruction of Government with regard to any of its measures.
  • To protect and advance the political rights and interests of Muslims of India, and to respectfully represent their needs and aspirations to the Government.
  • To prevent the rise among the Muslims of India of any feeling of hostility towards other communities without prejudice to the aforementioned objects of the League.

Initially, AIML was an elitist organization of urbanized Muslims. However, the support of the British Government helped the League to become the sole representative body of Indian Muslims. Within three years of its formation, the AIML successfully achieved the status of separate electorates for the Muslims. It granted separate constitutional identity to the Muslims. The Lucknow Pact (1916) put an official seal on a separate political identity to Muslims.

Separate Electorate or Communal Electorate: Under this arrangement only Muslims could vote for the Muslim candidates. Minto-Morely Reforms, 1909 provided for eight seats to Muslims in the Imperial Legislative Council, out of the 27 non-officials to be elected. In the Legislative Council of the provinces seats reserved for the Muslim candidates were: Madras 4; Bombay 4; Bengal 5.

Separate Electorates and the Spread of Communalism

The institution of separate electorate was the principle technique adopted by the Government of British India for fostering and spreading communalism.

That the British did this with ulterior motive was evident from a note sent by one of the British officers to Lady Minto: ‘I must send your Excellency a line to say that a very big thing has happened to-day. A work of statesmanship, that will affect Indian History for many a long year. It is nothing less than pulling of 62 million people from joining the ranks of seditious opposition.’

The announcement of separate electorates and the incorporation of the principle of “divide and rule” into a formal constitutional arrangement made the estrangement between Hindus and Muslims total.

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