Seventy Years Today Since the British Government Politically Empowered MA Jinnah

Seventy Years Today Since the British Government Politically Empowered MA Jinnah


Subroto Roy

The bloated armies of Indian and Pakistani historians and pseudo-historians have failed to recognize the significance of the precise start of the Second World War upon the fortunes of the subcontinent.  Yet, twenty years ago, in the book I and WE James created at an American university, Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, one of our authors, Professor Francis Robinson of the University of London, had set out the principal facts most clearly as to what flowed from the September 4 1939 empowerment of MA Jinnah by the British Government.

Germany invaded Poland on September 1 1939 and Britain declared war on Germany on September 3. The next day, Linlithgow, the British Viceroy in India, started to treat MA Jinnah’s Muslim League on par with the Congress’s nationalist movement led by MK Gandhi. Until September 4 1939, the British “had had little time for Jinnah and his League. The Government’s declaration of war on Germany on 3 September, however, transformed the situation. A large part of the army was Muslim, much of the war effort was likely to rest on the two Muslim majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal. The following day, the Viceroy invited Jinnah for talks on an equal footing with Gandhi” (Robinson, in James & Roy (eds) Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy 1989, 1992).

Jinnah himself was amazed by the new British attitude towards him: “suddenly there was a change in the attitude towards me. I was treated on the same basis as Mr Gandhi. I was wonderstruck why all of a sudden I was promoted and given a place side by side with Mr Gandhi.”

Jinnah’s political weakness had been made obvious by the electoral defeats the Muslim League had suffered in the 1937 elections in the very provinces which more or less came to constitute West Pakistan and today constitute modern Pakistan. Britain, at war with Germany and soon Japan, was faced with the intransigence of the Congress leadership.  It was unsurprising this would contribute to the British tilt empowering Congress’s declared adversary, Jinnah and the Muslim League, and hence make credible the possibility of the Pakistan that they had demanded:

“As the Congress began to demand immediate independence, the Viceroy took to reassuring Jinnah that Muslim interests would be safeguarded in any constitutional change. Within a few months, he was urging the League to declare a constructive policy for the future, which was of course presented in the Lahore Resolution. In their August 1940 offer, the British confirmed for the benefit of Muslims that power would not be transferred against the will of any significant element in Indian life. And much the same confirmation was given in the Cripps offer nearly two years later…. Throughout the years 1940 to 1945, the British made no attempt to tease out the contradictions between the League’s two-nation theory, which asserted that Hindus and Muslims came from two different civilisations and therefore were two different nations, and the Lahore Resolution, which demanded that ‘Independent States’ should be constituted from the Muslim majority provinces of the NE and NW, thereby suggesting that Indian Muslims formed not just one nation but two. When in 1944 the governors of Punjab and Bengal urged such a move on the Viceroy, Wavell ignored them, pressing ahead instead with his own plan for an all-India conference at Simla. The result was to confirm, as never before in the eyes of leading Muslims in the majority provinces, the standing of Jinnah and the League. Thus, because the British found it convenient to take the League seriously, everyone had to as well—Congressmen, Unionists, Bengalis, and so on….”(Robinson in James & Roy (eds) Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy,  pp. 43-44).

Even British socialists who were sympathetic to Indian aspirations, would grow cold when the Congress seemed to abjectly fail to appreciate Britain’s predicament during war with Germany and Japan (Gandhi, for example, dismissing the 1942 Cripps offer as a “post-dated cheque on a failing bank”).

By the 1946 elections, Muslim mass opinion had changed drastically to seem to be strongly in favour of the creation of a Pakistan. The intervening years were the ones when urban mobs all over India could be found shouting the League’s slogans: “Larke lenge Pakistan; Marke lenge Pakistan, Khun se lenge Pakistan; Dena hoga Pakistan; Leke rahenge Pakistan” (We will spill blood to take Pakistan, you will have to yield a Pakistan.)

Events remote from India’s history and geography, namely, the rise of Hitler and the Second World War, had contributed between 1937 and 1947 to the change of fortunes of the Muslim League and hence of all the people of the subcontinent.

The British had long discovered that the mutual antipathy between Muslims and Hindus could be utilised in fashioning their rule; specifically that the organisation and mobilisation of Muslim communal opinion in the subcontinent was a useful counterweight to any pan-Indian nationalism which might emerge to compete with British authority. As early as 1874, well before Allan Octavian Hume, ICS, had conceived the Indian National Congress, John Strachey, ICS, was to observe “The existence side by side of these (Hindu and Muslim) hostile creeds is one of the strong points in our political position in India. The better classes of Mohammedans are a source of strength to us and not of weakness. They constitute a comparatively small but an energetic minority of the population whose political interests are identical with ours.” By 1906, when a deputation of Muslims headed by the Aga Khan first approached the British pleading for communal representation, Minto the Viceroy replied: “I am as firmly convinced as I believe you to be that any electoral representation in India would be doomed to mischievous failure which aimed at granting a personal enfranchisement, regardless of the beliefs and traditions of the communities composing the population of this Continent.” Minto’s wife wrote in her diary that the effect was “nothing less than the pulling back of sixty two millions of (Muslims) from joining the ranks of the seditious opposition.” (The true significance of MAK Azad may have been that he, precisely at the same time, did indeed feel within himself the nationalist’s desire for freedom strongly enough to want to join the ranks of that seditious opposition.)

If a pattern emerges as to the nature of the behaviour of the British political state with respect to the peoples of this or similar regions, it is precisely the economic one of rewarding those loyal to them who had protected or advanced their interests, and penalising those perceived to be acting against their will. It is wishful to think  of members of the British political state as benevolent paternalists, who met with matching deeds their often philanthropic words about promoting the general welfare of their colonial wards or subordinate allies. The slogan “If you are not with us you are against us” that has come to be used by many from the Shining Path Maoists of Peru to President George W. Bush, had been widely applied already by the British in India, especially in the form “If you dare not to be with us, we will be certainly with your adversaries”. It came to be used with greatest impact on the subcontinent’s fortunes in 1939 when Britain found itself reluctantly at war with Hitler’s Germany.

British loyalties lay with those who had been loyal to them.

Hence in the “Indian India” of the puppet princes, Hari Singh and other “Native Princes” who had sent troops to fight as part of the British armies would be treated with a pusillanimity and grandeur so as to flatter their vanities, Sheikh Abdullah’s rebellion representing the Muslim masses of the Kashmir Valley would be ignored. And in British India, Jinnah the conservative Anglophile and his elitist Muslim League would be backed, while the radicalised masses of the Gandhi-Bose-Nehru Congress would have to be suppressed as a nuisance.

(Similarly, much later, Pakistan’s bemedalled army generals would be backed by the United States against Mujibur Rehman’s impoverished student-rebels, and India’s support frowned upon regardless of how just the Bangladeshi cause.)

Altruism is a limited quality in all human affairs, never more scarce than in relations between nations. In “Pakistan’s Allies”, I showed how the strategic interests of Britain, and later Britain’s American ally, came to evolve in the Northwest of the subcontinent ever since the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar as long as a Russian and later a Soviet empire had existed. A similar evolution of British domestic interests in India is distinctly observable in British support for the Pakistan Movement itself, leading on August 14 1947 to the creation of the new Dominion of Pakistan.

Sheikh Abdullah’s democratic urges or  Nehru’s Indian nationalism or the general welfare of the subcontinent’s people had no appeal as such to the small and brittle administrative machinery in charge of Britain’s Indian Empire — even though individual Britons had come to love, understand and explain India for the permanent benefit of her people. This may help to explain how Britain’s own long democratic traditions at home could often be found so wonderful by Indians yet the actions of the British state abroad so incongruent with them.



Why did Manmohan Singh and LK Advani apologise to one another? Is Indian politics essentially collusive, not competitive, aiming only to preserve and promote the post-1947 Dilli Raj at the expense of the whole of India? We seem to have no Churchillian repartee (except perhaps from Bihar occasionally)

Yesterday the PM is reported to have been asked by someone travelling on his aeroplane from Moscow “whether he had forgiven Advani for calling him a ‘weak Prime Minister’”.

The question was absurd, almost ridiculous, typical of our docile ingratiating rather juvenile English-language press and media, as if any issue of forgiveness arises at all about what one politician says during an election campaign about another politician’s performance in office.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s answer was surprising too: “I was compelled to reply to what Advani said…On May 16 when (Advani) telephoned me, he told me that he was hurt by some of my statements. He said he was hurt and regretted his statements… I apologised to him if I have hurt him. I am looking forward to a close relationship with the Leader of the Opposition.”

So LK Advani appears to have apologised to Manmohan Singh and Manmohan Singh to LK Advani for what they said about each other during the recent general election campaign! What is going on? Were they schoolboys exchanging fisticuffs in a school playground or elderly men battling over power and policy in modern Indian politics?

What would we have done if there was a Churchill in Indian politics today – hurling sarcastic insults at domestic opponents and foreign leaders while guiding a nation on its right course during turbulent times?

Churchill once famously said his parents had not shown him “The Boneless Wonder” in PT Barnum’s circus because it was too horrible a sight but now he had finally seen such a “Boneless Wonder” in his opponent on the Treasury Benches, namely, Ramsay MacDonald. Of the same opponent he said later “He has the gift of compressing the largest number of words into the smallest amount of thought”.

When accused of being drunk by a woman MP he replied “And you are very ugly, but tomorrow I’ll be sober”. Today’s politically correct world would scream at far less. Field Marshall Montgomery told Churchill, “I neither drink nor smoke and am 100% fit,” to which Churchill replied, “I drink and smoke and I am 200% fit”. That too would be politically incorrect today.

Churchill described Prime Minister Clement Attlee as “a modest man with much to be modest about”; also about Attlee: “If any grub is fed on Royal Jelly it turns into a Queen Bee”. Yet Attlee had enough dignity and self-knowledge and self-confidence to brush it all off and instead respect and praise him. In the 1954 volume Winston Spencer Churchill Servant of Crown and Commonwealth Attlee added his own tribute to his great opponent: “I recall…the period when he was at odds with his own party and took a seat on the Bench below the Gangway on the Government side. Here he was well placed to fire on both parties. I remember describing him as a heavily armed tank cruising in No Man’s Land. Very impressive were the speeches he delivered as the international horizon grew darker. He became very unpopular with the predominant group in his own party, but he never minded fighting a lone battle.”

Stanley Baldwin, who as PM first appointed Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer, once said “There comes Winston with his hundred horsepower mind”. Yet Churchill was to later say harshly “I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better had he never lived.”

Of Lenin, Churchill said, he was “transported in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus from Switzerland into Russia”. Of Molotov: “I have never seen a human being who more perfectly represented the modern concept of a robot.” Of Hitler, “If [he] invaded hell I would at least make a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”. Of De Gaulle, “He was a man without a country yet he acted as if he was head of state”.” Of John Foster Dulles, “[He] is the only bull who carries his china shop with him”. Of Stafford Cripps, British Ambassador to the USSR, “…a lunatic in a country of lunatics”; and also “There but for the Grace of God, goes God”.

Decades later, that great neo-Churchillian Margaret Thatcher was on the receiving end of a vast amount of sarcasm. “President Mitterrand once famously remarked that Thatcher had ‘the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe’. Rather less flatteringly, Dennis Healey described her as Attila the Hen. She probably took both descriptions as compliments.” (Malcolm Rifkind in Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant edited by Subroto Roy and John Clarke, 2005).

Politics is, and should be, grown up stuff because it deals with human lives and national destinies, and really, if you can’t take the heat please do not enter the kitchen. The slight Churchillian sarcasm that does arise within modern Indian politics comes very occasionally from Bihar but nowhere else, e.g. about the inevitability of aloo in samosas and of bhaloos in the jungle but no longer of Laloo being in the seat of power. In general, everyone seems frightfully sombre and self-important though may be in fact short of self-knowledge and hence self-confidence.

What had Manmohan Singh said about LK Advani that he felt he had to apologise for? That Advani had no substantial political achievement to his credit and did not deserve to be India’s PM. Manmohan was not alone in making the charge – Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and numerous other spokesmen and representatives of their party said the same. Has Manmohan’s apology to Advani been one on behalf of the whole Congress Party itself?

Was Advani’s apology to Manmohan one on behalf of the whole BJP too?

What had the BJP charged Manmohan with that Advani felt he had to apologise for?  Being a “weak PM”.

Hmmm. Frankly, thinking about it, it is hard to count who has not been weak as a PM in India’s modern history.

Certainly Vallabhai Patel as a kind of co-PM was decisive and far from weak back in 1947-48.

Lal Bahadur Shastri was not weak when he told Pakistan that a Pakistani attack on Kashmir would result in an Indian attack on Pakistan.

Indira Gandhi was not weak when she resisted the Yahya Khan-Tikka Khan tyranny against Bangladesh.

Had he not been assassinated, Rajiv Gandhi in a second term would have been decisive and not weak in facing up to and tackling the powerful lobbies and special interest groups that have crippled our domestic economic policy for decades.

But the number of such examples may be counted by hand.  Perhaps VP Singh might count, riding in an open jeep to Amritsar, as might AB Vajpayee’s Pokhran II and travelling on a bus to Lahore. In general, the BJP’s charge that Manmohan was “weak” may have constructively led to serious discussion in the country about the whole nature of the Prime Ministership in modern India, which means raising a whole gamut of issues about Indian governance – about India being the softest of “soft states”, with the softest of “soft government budget constraints” (i.e., endless deficit finance and paper money creation) etc.

Instead, what we have had thus far is apologies being exchanged for no real political reason between the leaderships of the Government and the Opposition. If two or three sellers come to implicitly carve up a market between themselves they are said by economic theory to be colluding rather than being in competition. Indian politics may be revealing such implicit collusive behaviour. The goal of this political oligopoly would seem to be to preserve and promote the status quo of the post-1947 Dilli Raj with its special hereditary nomenclatura, at the expense of anonymous diffused teeming India.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

Postscript July 15 2009: Churchill’s mature opinion of Baldwin was one of the fullest praise at the 20 May 1950 unveiling of a memorial to him.  See his In the Balance, edited by Randolph S Churchill, 1951, p. 281

Modern World History


by Subroto Roy

First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article May 7 2006

MUCH as we in India might like to think we were the central focus of Britain’s national life in the 19th and 20th Centuries, we were not. India’s matters were handled mostly by a senior cabinet minister to whom the governor-general or viceroy reported. Though possession and control of India gave the British a sense of mission, self-importance and grandeur, and events in India (mostly bad ones) could hog the newspapers for a few days, it was never the case that India dominated Britain’s political consciousness or national agenda for any length of time. British prime ministers and diplomatists, from Pitt through Canning, Palmerston, Peel, Gladstone, Granville, Disraeli and Salisbury, mostly had other concerns of foreign policy, mostly in Europe and also in the Americas, Africa, and the Near and Far East. India was peripheral to their vision except as a place to be held against any encroachment.

A French historian used to begin lectures on British history saying “Messieurs, l’Angleterre est une ile.” (“Gentlemen, Britain is an island.”) The period of unambiguous British dominance of world diplomacy began with Pitt’s response to the French Revolution, and unambiguously ended in 1917 when Britain and France could have lost the war to Germany if America had not intervened. Since then, America has taken over Britain’s role in world diplomacy, though Lloyd George and Churchill, to a smaller extent Harold Wilson, and finally Thatcher, were respected British voices in world circles. Thatcher’s successor Major failed by seeming immature, while his successor Blair has failed by being immature to the point of being branded America’s “poodle”, making Britain’s loss of prestige complete.

Between Pitt and Flanders though, Britain’s dominance of world affairs and the process of defining the parameters of international conduct was clear. It was an era in which nations fought using ships, cannon, cavalry and infantry. The machine-gun, airpower and  automobile had been hardly invented. Yet it is amazing how many technological inventions and innovations occurred during that era, many in Britain and the new America, vastly improving the welfare of masses of people: the steam-engine, the cotton gin, railways, electricity, telecommunications, systems of public hygiene etc. The age of American dominance has been one of petroleum, airpower, guided missiles and nuclear energy, as well as of penicillin and modern medicine.

It was during the period 1791-1991, between the French Revolution and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that world diplomacy created the system of “Western” nation-states, from Canning’s recognition of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia etc to the emergence of the European Union. There is today peace in Europe and it has become unthinkable there will be war between e.g. France and Germany except on a soccer pitch. Even the unstable Balkans have stabilised. The transition from British to American dominance occurred during and because of the 1914-1918 World War, yet that war’s causes had nothing to do with America and hence America’s rise has been somewhat fortuitous. The War superficially had to do with those unstable Balkans in the summer of 1914 and the system of alliances developed over the previous 100 years; beneath was the economic rise of the new Germany.

Austro-Hungary went to war against Serbia, causing Germany its ally into war with Russia, Serbia’s ally. Belgium’s neutrality was guaranteed through British diplomacy by the Treaty of London in 1839 signed by Austria, France, Britain, Russia and Prussia. This “scrap of paper” Germany tore up to invade Belgium on 4 August 1914, because it was easier to attack France through Belgium than directly as most French generals had expected. Though Germany had no dispute with France, France was Russia’s ally, and the Germans had long-feared fighting on two fronts against larger but more slowly mobilising forces. Violation of Belgian neutrality caused Britain into war with Germany. So all Europe was at war from which it would fail to extricate itself without American intervention. This arrived in 1917 though it too had been provoked by German submarines sinking American ships in the Atlantic. The actual impact of American forces entering the battlefields was small, and it was after the Armistice, when the issue arose of reparations by Germany to everyone and repayments by Britain and France to America, that America’s role became dominant. New York took over from London as the world’s financial capital.

Woodrow Wilson longed to impose a system of transparent international relations on the Europeans who had been used to secret deals and intrigues. He failed, especially when America’s Senate vetoed America’s own entry into the League of Nations. America became isolationist, wishing to have nothing more to do with European wars ~ and remains to this day indifferent towards the League’s successor. But the War also saw Lenin’s Bolsheviks grab power after Russia extricated itself from fighting Germany by the peace of Brest-Litovsk. And the Armistice saw the French desire to humiliate and destroy German power for ever, which in turn sowed the seeds for Hitler’s rise. And the War also had led to the British making the Balfour Declaration that a Jewish “National Home” would arise in Palestine in amity and cooperation with the Arabs. The evolution of these three events dominated the remainder of the 20th Century ~along with the rise and defeat of an imperialist Japan, the rise of communist China, and later, the defeat of both France and America in Vietnam.

Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. The next day in faraway India, the British in a panic started to place Jinnah on an equal footing as Gandhi ~ astounding Jinnah himself as much as anyone since his few supporters had lost the 1937 elections badly, especially in the provinces that today constitute the country he wished for. After the defeat and occupation of Germany and Japan, America’s economic supremacy was unquestionable. Utterly exhausted from war, the British had no choice but to leave India’s angry peoples to their own fates, and retreated to their fortified island again ~ though as brown and black immigration increased with the end of Empire, many pale-skinned natives boarded ships for Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  America came to have much respect for its junior British ally during the fight against Hitler and later in the political battle against the USSR. It was Thatcher who (after battling Argentina in the South Atlantic) led Reagan to make peace with Gorbachov. With the end of Soviet communism, Germany would be unified again. All across Christendom there was peace for the first time ever, and a militarily powerful nuclear-armed Israel had been created too in the old Palestine. In this new period of world history, the Security Council’s permanent members are the modern version of the “Great Powers” of the 19th Century. The American-led and British-supported destruction of Baathist Iraq, and threatened destruction of Khomeinist Iran mark the final end of the League of Nations’ ethos which had arisen from the condemnation of aggression. In Osama bin Laden’s quaint idiom, there seems a battle of “Crusaders” and “Zionists” against Muslim believers. Certainly Muslim believers (which means most Muslims as there are relatively few agnostics and atheists among them) think that it is obvious that the Universe was created, and that its Creator finally and definitively spoke through one human being in 7th Century Arabia. Many people from North Africa to the Philippines are not often able to conceive how things might have been otherwise. The new era of history will undoubtedly see all kinds of conversations take place about this rather subtle question.

Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant

Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant, edited by Subroto Roy & John Clarke, London & New York: Continuum, 2005, 2006.

“Freedom, Reason & Wealth in India & the West”: A course I designed but am yet to teach

Preface June 28 2009:  Sometime in the last decade (probably about 2001 or 2002),while a “full professor” at an “institution of national importance”,   I was invited by a purported  liberal/libertarian group in New Delhi to write a course I might like to teach in an academic but non-institutional setting.   From my files today it would seem that I penned the following lines and sent it to them — no further reply was received and it would not surprise me in the slightest if my ideas were simply stolen and used without acknowledgement by some or other nefarious character keen to spend some foreign donor’s funds.  I have had a lot of things stolen over the years by a lot of nefarious characters,   emerging mostly out of  New Delhi,  intellectual property only being one such  class.   (A notorious example was back in 1981-1982 when  a person who had been sent my Cambridge doctoral thesis to read  anonymously by a prominent British press, decided to alter his professional life based upon what he  read; an even earlier example was when I was a visiting assistant professor in Delhi and yet to finish my doctoral thesis — a colleague  who had been asked by me to read  a chapter of  my work  on “dual economies” and comment on it, instead copied it and built a career  thereupon!)   A full and proper inventory  of all this has yet to be made; in the meantime, here is the course I might have taught but never did, which may still be usefully read and made practical subject to the normal “fair use” rule that governs this site.   I have taught so many academic courses at different universites over 30 years that I am quite happy to  gradually release them all publicly as time permits.  In this particular case, any close student of my published writings may easily surmise  perhaps the  contents of  several of the putative lectures, especially 9-13.

“Freedom, Reason & Wealth in India and the West

The aim of this course will be to introduce Indian teachers (perhaps high school teachers, perhaps college teachers, perhaps a mix of both) and/or perhaps young(under 40) Indian legislators (members of provincial legislatures or parliament) to some of the major landmarks of the best of Western classical liberal thought in economics and political philosophy, and to re-examine Indian economic and political experience in its light. India, though rich in religious traditions, has not herself had notably strong traditions in economics or political philosophy. It is expected the course will be one-semester long, and consist of about 14 sessions of perhaps three hours each. If circumstances do not permit this, a course for 7 or 14 days may be planned as an alternative, with greater preparation expected of the participants….. The model for the course may be…(liberal/libertarian)…  seminars attended at Oxford, England (1980); Blacksburg, Virginia (1981); Menlo Park, California (1983).

The proposed sessions are as follows:

01. Ancient Indians & Ancient Greeks: Differences in the Quest?

02. Freedom and Intolerance in India’s Religions

03. Western Renaissance and Enlightenment during India’s Dark Ages: from scholasticism to mercantilism to the physiocrats and Adam Smith, to JS Mill to Alfred Marshall, Wicksell and Von Mises

04. Western political freedom in India’s Enlightenment and Nationalist Movement, 1835-1947

05. Western socialism and communism and their impact on Indian Nationalism in the 20th Century

06. Socialist Economics in Practice in India: Did Economic Inequality Decrease?

07. Liberal Dissenters in India: Rajagopalachari, Shenoy, Masani, the Forum of Free Enterprise

08. The Resurgence of Western Classical Liberalism after World War II: Hayek, Friedman, Buchanan

09. The Origins of the 1991 Economic Liberalization in India

10. Successes and Failures in the Transition Towards a Liberal Society in India, 1991-2001

11. The Corrosive Effect of Corruption in Modern India: is Government too Weak or too Strong or both?

12. Fiscal and Monetary Problems in Modern India: the Monetisation of Inefficient Government Spending

13. Towards Liberal Solutions to the Conflict between India and Pakistan: the Problem of Jammu & Kashmir

14. Freedom, Reason and Wealth in India and the West: Overview and Conclusions

Tentative Reading List: To be sent tomorrow”