Routledge

From a letter of Jawaharlal Nehru to M. A. Jinnah (6 April 1938)

Introduction: After the elections to the provincial legislative councils in 1936/37 in which the Muslim League did not win many seats, Jinnah was fighting for his political survival and attacked the policies pursued by the Congress ministries. Jawaharlal Nehru who was Congress President at that time corresponded with Jinnah so as to controvert his criticism. His letter to Jinnah of 6 April 1938 summed up all points which had been covered by the correspondence. At Nehru’s request, the correspondence was then published by the General Secretary of the Indian National Congress.
(see also AHOI, Ch.7, section: Election campaigns and office acceptance)

Dear Mr. Jinnah,
                        ...........I am glad that you have indicated in your last letter a number of points which you have in mind. .... As far as I can make out from your letter and the enclosures you have sent to me you wish to discuss the following matters:

  1. The Fourteen Points formulated by the Muslim League in 1929.
  2. The Congress should withdraw all opposition to the Communal Award and should not describe it as a negation of nationalism.
  3. The share of the Muslims in the State services should be definitely fixed in the Constitution by statutory enactment.
  4. Muslim Personal Law and culture should be guaranteed by Statute.
  5. The Congress should take in hand the agitation in connection with the Shahidganj mosque and should use its moral pressure to enable the Muslims to gain possession of the mosque.
  6. The Muslims’ right to call Azan and perform their religious ceremonies should not be fettered in any way.
  7. Muslims should be free to perform cow-slaughter.
  8. Muslim majorities in the Provinces, where such majorities exist at present, must not be affected by any territorial redistribution or adjustments.
  9. The Bande Mataram song should be given up.
  10. Muslims want Urdu to be the national language of India and they desire to have statutory guarantees that the use of Urdu shall not be curtailed or damaged.
  11. Muslim representation in local bodies should be governed by the principle underlying the Communal Award, that is separate electorates and population strength.
  12. The tri-colour flag should be changed or, alternatively, the flag of the Muslim League should be given equal importance.
  13. Recognition of the Muslim League as the one authoritative and representative organisation of Indian Muslims.
  14. Coalition ministries.

............ I have carefully looked through the various matters to which you have drawn attention in your letter and enclosures and I find nothing in them which refers to or touches the economic demands of the masses or affects the all-important questions of poverty and unemployment. For all of us in India those are the vital questions and unless some solution is found for them, we function in vain. The question of State services, however important and worthy of consideration it might be, affects a very small number of people. The peasantry, industrial workers, artisans and petty shopkeepers form the vast majority of the population and they are not improved in any way by any of the demands listed above. Their interests should be paramount.
            Many of the ‚demands’ involve changes in the constitution which we are not in a position to bring about. Even if such changes are desirable in themselves, it is not our policy to press for minor constitutional changes. We want to do away completely with the present constitution and replace it with another for a free India.
            ......
            I now deal withe the various matters listed above:

  1. The Fourteen Points, I had thought, were somewhat out of date. Many of their provisions have been given effect to by the Communal Award and in other ways, some others are entirely acceptable to the Congress, yet others require constitutional changes , which, as I have mentioned above, are beyond our present competence. Apart from the matters covered by the Communal Award and those involving a change in the constitution, one or two matters remain which gave rise to differences of opinion and which are still likely to lead to considerable argument.
  2. The Congress has clearly stated its attitude towards the Communal Award and it comes to this that it seeks alterations only on the basis of mutual consent of the parties concerned. I do not know how anybody can take objection to this attitude and policy. If we are asked to describe the Award as not being anti-national, that would be patently false. Even apart from what it gives to various groups, its whole basis and structure are anti-anational and come in the way of the development of national unity. As you know it gives an overwhelming and wholly undeserving weightage to the European elements in certain parts of India. If we think in terms of an independent India we cannot possibly fit in this Award with it. It is true that under stress of circumstances we sometimes have to accept as a temporary measure something that on the face of it is anti-national. It is also true that in the matters governed by the Communal Award we can only find a satisfactory and abiding solution by the consent and good-will of all parties concerned. That is the Congress policy.
  3. The fixing of the Muslims’ share in the State services by statutory enactment necessarily involves the fixing of the shares of other groups and communities similarly. This would mean a rigid and compartmental state structure which will impede progress and development. At the same time it is generally admitted that State appointments should be fairly and adequately distributed and no community should have cause to complain. It is far better to do this by convention and agreement. The Congress is fully alive to this issue and desires to meet the wishes of various groups in the fullest measure, so as to give all minority communities as stated in No.11 of the Fourteen Points „an adequate share in all the services of the State and in local self-governing bodies having due regard to the the requirement of efficiency“. The State today is becoming more and more technical and demands expert knowledge in its various departments. It is right that if a community is backward in this technical and expert knowledge, special efforts should be made to give it this education to bring it up to a higher level

.......

  1. As regards protection of culture the Congress has declared its willingness to embody this in the fundamental laws of the constitution. It has also declared that it does not wish to interfere in any way with the personal law of any community.
  2. I am considerably surprised at the suggestion that the Congress should take in hand the agitation in connection with the Shahidganj mosque. That is a matter to be decided either legally or by mutual agreement. .... I am glad that the Premier of the Punjab has suggested  that this is the only satisfactory way to a solution of the problem.
  3. The right to perform religious ceremonies should certainly be guaranteed to all communities. The Congress resolution about this is quite clear......
  4. As regards cow-slaughter there has been a great deal of entirely false and unfounded propaganda against the Congress suggesting that the Congress was going to stop it forcibly by legislation. The Congress does not wish to undertake any legislative action in this matter to restrict the established rights of the Muslims.
  5. The question of territorial redistribution has not arisen in any way. If and when it arises it must be dealt with on the basis of mutual agreement of the parties concerned.
  6. Regarding the Bande Mataram song the Working Committee issued a long statement in October last to which I would invite your attention. First of all it has to be remembered that no formal national anthem has been adopted by the Congress at any time. It is true, however, that the Bande Mataram song has been intimately associated with Indian nationalism for more than thirty years and numerous associations of sentiment and sacrifice have gathered around it. Popular songs are not made to order, nor can they be successfully imposed. They grow out of public sentiment. During alle these thirty or more years Bande Mataram was never considered to have any religious significance and was treated as a national song in praise of India. Nor, to my knowledge, was any objection taken to it except on political grounds by the Government. When, however, some objections were raised, the Working Committee carefully considered the matter and ultimately recommended that certain stanzas, which contain certain allegorical references, might not be used on national platforms or occasions. The two stanzas which have been recommended by the Working Committee for use as a national song have not a word or phrase which can offend anybody from any point of view and I am surprised that anybody can object to them. They may appeal to some more than to others. Some may prefer another national song: they have full freedom to do so. But to compel large numbers of people to give up what they have long valued and grown attached to is to cause needless hurt to them and injure the national movement itself. It would be improper for a national organisation to do this.
  7. About Hindi and Urdu I have previously written to you and have also sent you my pamphlet on „The Question of Language“. The Congress has declared in favour of guarantees for languages and culture. It wants to encourage all the great provincial languages of India and at the same time to make Hindustani, as written both in nagri and Urdu scripts, the national language. Both scripts should be officially recognised and the choice should be left to the people concerned. In fact this policy is being pursued by the Congress Ministries.
  8. The Congress has long been of the opinion that joint electorates are preferable to separate electorates from the point of national unity and harmonious cooperation between different communities. But joint electorates to have real , value must not be imposed on unwilling groups. Hence the Congress is quite clear that their introduction should depend on their acceptance by the people concerned. This is the policy pursued by the Congress Ministries in regard to local bodies. Recently  in a bill dealing with local bodies introduced in the Bombay Assembly, separate electorates were maintained but an option was given to the people concerned to adopt a joint electorate if they so chose. This principle seems to be in exact accordance with No.5 of the Fourteen Points which lays down that „Representation of communal groups shall continue to be by means of separate electorate as at present, provided that it shall be open to any community at any time, to abandon its separate electorate in favour of joint electorate.“ It surprises me that the Muslim League group in the Bombay Assembly should have opposed the Bill with its optional clause although this carried out the very policy of the Muslim League.

May I also point out that in the resolution passed by the Muslim League in 1929, at the time it adopted the Fourteen Points it was stated that “the Musalmans will not consent to joint electorates unless Sind is actually constituted into a separate province and reforms are in fact introduced in the N-W.F Province and Baluchistan on the same footing as in other provinces.“ Since then Sind has been separated and the N-W. F. Province has been placed on a level with other provinces. So far as Baluchistan is concerned the Congress is committed to a levelling up of this area in the same way.
12) The National tri-colour flag was adopted originally in 1920 by the Congress after full and careful consultation with eminent Muslim, Sikh and other leaders. Obviously a country and a national movement must have a national flag.representing the nation and all communities in it. No communal flag can represent the nation. If we did not possess a national flag now we would have to evolve one. The present national flag had its colours originally selected to represent the various communities, but we did not like to lay stress on this communal aspect of the colours. Artistically I think the combination of orange, white and green has resulted in a flag which is probably the most beautiful of all national flags. For these many years our flag has been used and it has spread to the remotest village and brought hope and courage and a sense of all India unity to our masses. It has been associated with great sacrifices on the part of our people, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, and many have suffered lathi blows and imprisonment and even death in defending it from insult or injury. On innumerable occasions Maulana Mohammed Ali, Maulana Shaukat Ali and many leaders of the Muslim League today have associated themselves with this flag and emphasised its virtues and significance as a symbol of Indian unity. It has spread outside the Congress ranks and has been generally recognised as the flag of the nation. It is difficult to understand how anybody can reasonably object to it now.
Communal flags cannot obviously take its place for that can only mean a host of flags of various communities being used together and thus emphasising our disunity and separateness. Communal flags may be used for religious functions but they have no place at any national function or over any public building meant for various communties.
May I add that during the past few months, on several occasions, the National Flag has been insulted by some members or volunteers of the Muslim League. This has pained us greatly but we have deliberately avoided anything in the nature of conflict in order not to add to communal bitterness. We have also issued strict orders, and they have been observed, that no interference should take place with the Muslim League Flag even though it may be inappropriately displayed.

  1. I do not understand what is meant by our recognition of the Muslim League as the one and only organisation of the Indian Muslims. Obviously the Muslim League is an important communal organisation and we deal with it as such. But we have to deal with all organisations and individuals that come within our ken. We do not determine the measure of importance or distinction which they possess. There are a large number, about hundred thousand, of Muslims on the Congress rolls, many of whom have been our close companions, in prisons and outside, for many years and we value their comradeship highly. There are many organisations which contain Muslims and non-Muslims alike, such as Trade Unions, Peasant Unions, Kisan Sabhas, Debt Committees, zamindars associations, Chambers of Commerce. Employers Associations etc. and we have contacts with them. There are special Muslim organisations such as the Jamiat-ul-Ulema, the Proja Party, the Ahrars and others, which claim attention. Inevitably the more important the organisation the more the attention paid to it, but this importance does not come from outside recognition but from inherent strength. And the other organisations, even though they they might be younger and smaller, cannot be ignored.

14) I should like to know what is meant by coalition ministries. A ministry must have a definite political and economic programme and policy. Any other kind of ministry would be a disjointed and ineffectual body, with nor clear mind and direction. Given a common political and economic programme and policy, cooperation is easy. You know probably that some such cooperation was sought for and obtained by the Congress in the Frontier province. In Bombay also repeated attempts were made on behalf of the Congress on the basis of a common programme. The Congress has gone to the Assemblies with a definite programme and in furtherance of a clear policy. It will always cooperate with other groups whether it is in a majority or minority in an Assembly, in furtherance of that programme and policy. On that basis I can conceive of even coalition ministries being formed. Without this basis the Congress has no interest in a Ministry or in an Assembly.
..... You will remember that I took the initative in writing to you and requesting you to enlighten me as to what your objections were to the Congress policy and what, according to you, were the points in dispute. I had read many of your speeches, as reported in the press, and I found to my regret that they were full of strong attacks on the Congress which, according to my way of thinking, were not justified. I wanted to remove any misundertstandings, where such existed, and to clear the air.
.....We have corresponded for some time and many vague rumors float about as to what we have been saying to each other. Anxious inquiries come to me and I have no doubt that similar inquiries are addressed to you also. I think we might take the public  into confidence now for this is a public matter in which many are interested. I suggest therefore that our correspondence  might be realeased to the press. I presume you will have no objection.
                                                            Yours sincerely
                                                            Jawaharlal Nehru

(Nehru-Jinnah Correspondence, published by the General Secretary, AICC, Allahabad, 1938)

 

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