Lawrence, Marquess of Zetland’s Correspondence with Lord Linlithgow on Indian Federation (1938-1940)

Introduction: Lawrence, Marquess of Zetland (1875-1961) was Secretary of State for India (1935- 1940). Earlier, when he was still the Earl of Ronaldshay, he had been Governor of Bengal (1917- 1921). In Bengal he encountered the phenomenon of revolutionary violence which caused him to study the ideas which motivated the revolutionaries. His book „The Heart of Aryavarta“ (1925) shows his deep insight into Indian aspirations. It was even translated into Sanskrit. Zetland also published biographies of Lord Curzon and Lord Cromer. As Secretary of State he had to deal with the Indian Federation envisaged in the Government of India Act of 1935. The idea of federation was opposed by the Indian National Congress, the Indian Princes and the Muslim League for different reasons. Zetland felt early on that the Muslim opposition might be the most serious problem and he wrote about this to the Viceroy,
Lord Linlithgow:
(see also AHOI: Ch. 6, section: Federalism and the Government of India Act, 1935)

28 March, 1939 (after a visit of two Indian Muslims, Mr. Siddiqi and Mr.Khaliquzzaman)
They talked a little bit vaguely about the Palestine problem and then turned to what they obviously really wished to discuss with me, namely the position of the Muslim community in India in the event of a scheme of federation in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1935 coming into existence. They spoke very strongly on the question and told me that they did not think that it would be possible for the Muslims to acquiesce in the introduction of the scheme. I asked them whether in these circumstances they had any alternative suggestion of a constructive character to put forward? They replied that they had, and what they would propose would be the establishment of three to four federations of Provinces and States which would be coordinated by a small centre of some kind or another. The whole object was, of course, to give the Muslims as great a measure of control at the centre as the Hindus. They were very vague when they came to the details of the scheme, but, I rather gathered that what was in their minds was a federation of the Muslim Provinces and States in North-West India, a further federation of Bengal and Assam and possibly Bihar and Orissa in the East, and a further federation, or possibly more than one, of the other Provinces and States in the remaining parts of India. It was clear that they had failed to consider the practical difficulties  in the way of such a scheme; but I gathered from them that many Muslims were thinking on these lines, and what they told me confirms to some extent the view which I expressed to you not very long ago to the effect that we would probably have greater difficulty in bringing the Muslims into the Federation than the Congress. And I must say that as we get nearer to the date, when all the parties will have to lay their cards upon the table, the difficulties of bringing the Federation into existence seem to be gaining in magnitude.

9 May 1939
The deep-seated dislike and fear of Hindu domination on the part of 90 million Muslims is a thing which we cannot possibly brush aside.
You will, perhaps, think that I have been harping unduly upon this particular problem; but as I have mentioned I think on more than one occasion, I am becoming steadily confirmed in my view that it will be the Muslims rather than the Congress that will provide the biggest obstacle to the early achievement of the Federation.

17 June 1939 (after being informed by the Viceroy about a resolution of the Princes to reject federation)
Like you I am at a loss to understand the tactics of the Princes. They seem to be singularly blind to the view which will assuredly be taken by British India of the terms of our offer when they come to be published and that they should have publicly denounced terms so favourable to them does, indeed, appear to be the height of folly.....

19 August 1939 (on being informed by the Viceroy that Jinnah may have influenced the Nizam in his rejection of the federation)
What you say, particularly as to the probability of Jinnah having been working on the communal sympathies of the Nizam is certainly discouraging. I have always feared that it was in this way that Muslim opposition to the Federation might make itself most effectively felt.

(Lawrence, Marquess of Zetland, „Essayez“, Memoirs (London, 1956), p. 248 f.)


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