Election 1937 (History)

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Article Upload Date: Sat 03 Feb 2018
2018-02-03 13:04:29Election 1937
The Government of India Act 1935 did not please either the Congress or the Muslim League but they both decided that it was worth contesting the elections in 1937 due to be held according to the 1935 Act. Muhammad Ali Jinnah had been persuaded to return for the Muslim cause by Liaquat Ali Khan and in 1934 had been sworn in as permanent president of the Muslims League. At a Muslim League meeting in Lucknow in 1936, a motion was passed protesting against the imposition of the 1935 Act but, at the same time, it was recognized that provincial autonomy would be useful in Muslim majority provinces.
      
  • Event
  • Type:

    Pre-partition election

  • In English:

    Election 1937

  • In Urdu:

    الیکشن 1937

  • Location:

    India

  • Proposed By:

    British government

  • Appreciated By:

    none

  • Disregarded By:

    Congress and Muslim League

  • Importance:

    Firstly, the Muslim League did better in those provinces in which the Muslims tended to be in the minority. In provinces where there was a Muslim majority, there was no need for autonomy was guaranteed under the 1935 Act. Secondly, the Muslim League was still a poorly organized party. In the era of mass politics, the League needed to improve its organizational structure and planning, Thirdly, the majority of the Muslim League leaders tended to be seen as aristocrats and princes who had little in common with the majority of Muslims, who were poor and illiterate, This perception could have Could have done little to win votes for the Muslim League.

Muslim League manifesto

Jinnah during elections 1937
Jinnah during elections 1937
The Muslim League manifesto laid down two major principles. 
  • Firstly, the present constitution, with all its limitations, should be replaced by a system of self- government. 
  • Secondly, it would support greater provincial autonomy and safeguard the interests of minority communities
The other points in the manifesto were more national and called for:
  • The repeal of repressive laws
  • The nationalization of the army
  • Increased social fund for the rural poor

Nehrus furious statement

Nehru infuriated Muslims
Nehru infuriated Muslims
On the above mentioned points, the manifesto of Muslims League and Congress was not very different and Jinnah hinted that the League would work with Congress to press the British for greater change. Jawaharlal Nehru did not help relations between the two parties by declaring that there were only two parties India, the British and the Congress. Jinnah immediately stated that the third party, the Muslims League, would refuse to be ignored. 

Iqbals letter to Jinnah

An excerpt from Iqbal's letters to Jinnah
An excerpt from Iqbal's letters to Jinnah
Iqbal was furious with Nehru’s statement and wrote to Jinnah to urge him to prove Nehru wrong and to encourage the Muslim League to throw off its image as a party of rich Muslims and to promise greater help to all Muslims according to Islamic principles.

Emphasis

It is significant that in this letter of 1937, Iqbal emphasized that, as far as he could see, Islamic sharia was impossible to develop unless the Muslims had a fully independent state of their own. This is significant as the Muslims League had not yet adopted the resolution calling for an independent Muslims state.

Election Results

Elections result
Elections result
The election results for the Muslims League were not as good as hoped, but Jinnah was not too disappointed or discouraged as the League was contesting its first major election as a mass party and was still recovering from the damaging internal dissensions of the early 1930s.
  • The Muslim League captured around half of all the Muslims seats and did well in the United Provinces, Madras and Bombay. 
  • Of the 11 provinces of the British Raj, the Congress won an outright majority in five and managed to form governments in another three. 
  • The Muslim League learned valuable lessons from the elections, which highlighted the fact that its support lay more in Muslims minority rather than majority provinces.

Coalition governments with support of Muslim League

Sir Sikandar Hayat
Sir Sikandar Hayat
The most crucial provinces for the Muslim League were the Punjab and Bengal as they needed support in these areas to have real bargaining power to fight the British and the Congress. 
  • In the Punjab, it was the Unionist Party led by Sir Iskandar Hayat which won 96 seats out of 175 and formed the government. 
  • In Bengal, the chief minister was now Fazl-ul Haq, who was from a regional party but had Muslim League support to form his government. 
  • In the North West Frontier Province, Dr Khan Sahib, an ally of the congress, was success full under the banner of “Redshirts”
  • In the other Muslim Provinces of Sindh and Assam, unstable coalitions were formed with Muslims League support.

Behavior of Congress after winning the elections

Congress refused to corporate with muslims
Congress refused to corporate with muslims
The Congress was invited to form ministries in 8 out of 11 provinces but they initially refused unless the governors of the provinces promised not to use their special powers under the constitution to protect minority rights. Lord Linlithgow, the viceroy, promised that the governors’ emergency powers would only be used in the case of an emergency. This assurance was enough for the Congress agreed to Muslims forming the government, as long as they were not in the Muslim League, to help refute the claim that the Congress was the representative of all Muslims. 

Arrogance of Congress

The Congress became even more arrogant in its dealing with the Muslim League after the election results and in areas where the Muslims League was the single largest party, the Congress refused to corporate. The terms for corporation the Congress leadership put forward were so unreasonable that it was obvious that they were calculated to insult: Muslims League members should resign their membership of the League and join the Congress to carry out Congress Party orders. It is significant that the Congress Party’s claim to represent the whole of India was certainly not proved by this election. The Congress Party’s candidates were overwhelmingly Hindu in composition and had won votes mainly from caste Hindus.

Lessons learned by Muslim League from election 1937

Many lessons could be drawn from the results of the elections.
  • Firstly, the Muslim League did better in those provinces in which the Muslims tended to be in the minority. In provinces where there was a Muslim majority, there was no need for autonomy was guaranteed under the 1935 Act.
  • Secondly, the Muslim League was still a poorly organized party. In the era of mass politics, the League needed to improve its organizational structure and planning. 
  • Thirdly, the majority of the Muslim League leaders tended to be seen as aristocrats and princes who had little in common with the majority of Muslims, who were poor and illiterate. This perception could have done little to win votes for the Muslim League.
These lessons were soon learnt by Muslim League and were later rectified.

Congress as vote catcher for Muslim League

Gandhi's portrait
Gandhi's portrait
The best possible vote catcher in the next few years for the Muslim League, however, was the Congress Party itself. The behavior of the Congress ministries from 1937-39 convinced millions of Muslims that Jinnah, the Quaid-i Azam, as he has now popularly called, had not been exaggerating when he spoke of the dangers of Congress rule. It seemed to many that Congress was aiming at nothing short of drowning Muslims identity and culture in a wave of Hindu nationalism. 
  • A series of moves, including the compulsory adoption of singing Hindu nationalist songs such as the Vande Matram, alienated and worried Muslims.
  • A ’Basic Education’ scheme was launched by Gandhi at Wardha, later known as the Wardha scheme, and was introduced in all Congress educational ministries. 
  • Spinning cotton by hand was made a part of the curriculum
  • Teaching was to be in Hindi with no religious education which meant that Muslim students were at a disadvantage.
  • School children were also required to show reverence for Gandhi’s portrait which was hung up in their schools.

Emergence of Jinnah as Quaid

From Jinnah to Quaid
From Jinnah to Quaid
All this provided a perfect opportunity for the Jinnah to remind Muslims that this would be their fate in a Congress dominated India at the Muslim League meeting at Lucknow in October 1937. 
  • He stated that the Congress had shown that ‘ Hindustan was for Hindus’.
  • He pointed out that British were failing in their promises to safeguard the minorities in Congress-run provinces.
  • The League decided on a programme of mass contact to build up support from the grass roots and noted that wherever local Muslim League branches had existed before 1937, the Muslim League candidates had won. The Lucknow session of the Muslim League meeting was to be a landmark for Muslim politics. The chief ministers of Punjab, Bengal and Assam all formally joined the Muslim League and accepted the Quaid-I Azam as their leader


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