Durga Das 1

Durga Das(1)   1919-1931,  Jallianwala Bagh to Bhagat Singh
Quotes included
  • Jallianwala Bagh and aftermath                                                
  • Noncooperation Movement, Jinnah and Lala Lajpat Rai
  • Bhagat Singh
It is good to rediscover the amazing diversity in the Indian independence movement in Durga Das's India From Curzon to Nehru and After.  The independence movement's many fervent participants were committed to the same cause though they spanned different time periods, espoused different and often conflicting philosophies, came from different regions of India and were of different religious faiths.

Some were pre-Gandhi, some were pro-Gandhi and some were anti-Gandhi. Some sat in the imperial-era legislatures fighting for the cause and some boycotted the legislatures fighting for the cause.

Durga Das was a journalist who witnessed and reported on many key events and spoke to many key players on the Indian political scene over many decades.

Jallianwala Bagh and aftermath
In 1919 the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place in Amritsar. There were other disturbances in Punjab which were ruthlessly put down by the British including by aerial bombardment in Gujranwala. To pacify an outraged India, a Royal Commission led by Lord Hunter was appointed to enquire into the incidents.

Durga Das writes:
The battle against bureacratic ruthlessness now shifted to the Imperial Legislative Council at its summer session in Simla. I deputised for a senior reporter who had suddenly taken up work elsewhere. The proceedings were stormy, for on the agenda was the Indemnity Bill, seeking to give Government officials immunity from prosecution for their actions during the Punjab disturbances and the martial law regime.

I had already reported the proceedings of the Hunter Commissions. To the thrill of listening to Titans like C. R. Das, Motilal Nehru and Madan Mohan Malaviya, top counsel for the Congress, was added the fascination of watching Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, who as member of the Commission subjected General Dyer to a gruelling cross examination and extorted from him an admission-more in the spirit of bravado-that he had intended not merely to restore order but to terrorise the inhabitants of the Punjab.

Pinned down by skilful questioning, the general admitted to his men having fired 1605 rounds and mustered armoured cars which could, if they had passed through the narrow alleys of the locality, have wrought great carnage. To Sir Chimanlal therefore goes much of the credit for exposing in its nakedness the Amritsar tragedy. Indeed, the Minute of Dissent he signed with Jagat Narain Mulla virtually nullified the Hunter Commission report.

[Narasimha]Sarma was later made a member of the Viceroy's Executive Council in preference to Sir Chimanlal Setalvad. The custom at the time was that the outgoing member recommended his successor. Sir George Lowndes had originally proposed Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, but when the latter signed a minute of dissent to the Hunter Report on the Punjab disturbances, he fell from grace, and the Viceroy agreed to Sarma's being rewarded for his "courageous act" [of being the lone Congressman opposing the Congress's resolution demanding recall of Viceroy Chelmsford ] .

It seems that in every era, brave and principled people have to take stances to prevent the government in office from misusing its executive power against the people it rules. This holds very true in today's India too.

Durga Das writes
[One of three Indian members of the Viceroy's Executive Council] Narasimha Sarma was the very antithesis of his two colleagues. A lawyer of modest ability, he had little aptitude for anglicised social ways. At the fortnightly dinners at the homes of the Executive Councillors in rotation, he was ill at ease. An orthodox Brahmin, he would call on the services of a European caterer when his own turn to entertain came. Making a pretence of eating at the common table, he would settle down to a South Indian meal all by himself after the guests had left.

Sarma earned some notoriety through the studied insolence of his manner of greeting Europeans. Having once suffered a grievous affront at the house of a European Collector, where he had been reprimanded by the Sahib's valet for sitting on a bench while awaiting an interview, he was resolved to get his own back. He made it a habit, therefore, to merely raise his walking-stick by way of acknowledgement of a white man's salution...

He further flouted tradition by visiting the Princely State of Udaipur. No Indian member of the Viceroy's Executive Council had dared enter this white man's preserve. The British Resident strove to prevent his meeting the Maharana. But Sarma ran into the ruler while on a stroll, and had the unexpected thrill of listening to the latter's whispered remark, "Rid the country of these devils," before the Resident could catch up with them.

Other interesting tidbits:
"Odd as it might appear, Delhi, the capital, was without a nationalist daily worth the name until September 1924, when funds allegedly provided by the Ghaddar(revolution) men in San Francisco helped the setting up of the Hindustan Times"
[The Ghaddar Party was established by immigrant Sikhs in the US in 1913 in support of the Indian independence movement].

"This was my first visit to Madras[ in 1922, Durga Das was from Punjab]. Here was the India of Vedic lore - simple living and high thinking. Even High Court judges walked barefoot. Life centered on the temples, and sustenance was cheap. The people one met were very intelligent and patriotic, and in contrast to the North, ate and dressed alike, whether they were Hindus, Muslims or Christians. This to my mind was Indian India.

The educated devoured their newspapers. While papers elsewhere were content to carry my 4000-word summary of the day's evidence before the Commission[the Lee Commission which eventually set off the Indianisation of the civil and armed services ], the Madras dailies supplemented this with verbatim reports of questions and answers filling twenty columns.

Besides enjoying South Indian meals served on plaintain leaves at the homes of Gopalaswami Ayyangar and Gandhi's Madras host, G. A. Natesan, I had the benefit of talks with leaders of the anti-Brahmin movement and with Annie Besant. In the peaceful surroundings of her mansion in Adyar, headquarters of the Theosophists, she exploded against Gandhi and almost endorsed Sankaran Nair's view that the Mahatma was leading the country to anarchy.

Sir Sankaran Nair had been the lone Indian member of the Viceroy's council when Lord Chelmsford first became Viceroy. Sir Nair filed a dissent to a despatch which Viceroy Chelmsford was sending to Whitehall on the general infeasibility of Indian self-government.

Durga Das writes:
"The Viceroy tried to cajole and then threaten Nair to make him withdraw it or not to attach it to the despatch. He was further told that in urging reforms[for greater self government for India] not on the strength of India's loyalty during the war[World War I] but on the universal discontent of the people he was only corroborating the German propaganda that India was seething with discontent.
Nair not only did not yield but suggested to Bhupendranath Basu, a former Congress President who was staying with him, that he back his stand. Basu and Narasimha Sarma(who later succeeded Nair) prepared a memorandum at the Simla residence of Nair. They took it to Jinnah, and after his approval got the other elected members of the Imperial Legislative Council, in all nineteen, to endorse it. .."

"Chelmsford considered Nair's conduct improper and to his mortification, when the despatch reached the India Office, Sir Austen Chamberlain remarked that he must take account of public opinion in India and accepted the principle underlying Nair's note of dissent. "

After the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, Sir Sankaran Nair resigned from the Viceroy's Executive Council in protest. His "action marked the culmination of disagreement with the Viceroy over constitutional and administrative issues. "

Noncooperation Movement

Durga Das writes:
In December 1920, "the Indian National Congress turned its back on constitutional methods of agitation and handed over the reins of the freedom struggle to Gandhi" "He persuaded the Congress to adopt a new constitution, which declared the attainment of Swaraj(self rule) by "peaceful and legitimate"(replacing the word "constitutional") means as the aim of the Congress, and spelled out his programme of non-violent non-cooperation. "

The President of the session, Mr Vijayaraghavacharya, known as the Grand Old Man of the Congress, pleaded in vain for a conciliatory gesture to strengthen Montagu's hands.

The only one who had the courage to oppose Gandhi was Jinnah. "With great respect for Gandhi and those who think with him," he declared, "I make bold to say in this Assembly that you will never get your independence without bloodshed"..

The constitution he[Gandhiji] drew up [for the Congress Party] created a mass base and an infrastructure. Its provincial units were realigned linguistically to make it possible to communicate with the inert rural masses. ..

Intrigued by Jinnah's defiant demeanour at the session, I interviewed him after the day's sitting. "Well, young man," he remarked, "I will have nothing to do with this pseudo-religious approach to politics. I part company with the Congress and Gandhi. I do not believe in working up mob hysteria. Politics is a gentleman's game."..

Jinnah particularly deplored the Khilafat agitation, which had brought reactionary mullah elements to the surface. He was surprised, he said, that the Hindu leaders had not realised that his movement would encourage the pan-Islamic sentiment that the Sultan of Turkey was encouraging to buttress his tottering empire and dilute the nationalism of Indian Muslims.

He recalled how Tilak and he had laboured to produce the Lucknow Pact and bring the Congress and the League together on a common political platform. The British, he added, were playing a nefarious game in by-passing the pact and making it appear that the Muslim could always hope for a better deal from them than from the Congress.

"Well," he concluded, "I shall wait and watch developments, but as matters stand I have no place in Gandhi's Congress."

Another person whose attitude baffled me was Lala Lajpat Rai. He privately expressed his diffidence about the Gandhian programme, but he would not go against the current. "Do you realise,", he said, "that in our effort to carry the Muslims with us we have adopted the Khilafat programme which, if successful, will make them more fanatical? I have this conflict in mind. We have to get rid of the British; we have to carry the Muslims with us. Maybe this gamble of the Mahatma will pay off. I shall watch and decide my course of action later."

Blogger's Comment
I am at a loss to pinpoint where in the future did the so-called "Gandhi/Khilafat-awakened fanaticism" of Muslims force Muslim or Hindu politicians into positions they did not want to espouse?
The discussions and negotiations on the Hindu-Muslim communal award in the '20s, '30s and even the early '40s between Hindus and Muslims were not constrained by "awakened" Muslim fanaticism. Nor were political alliances between Hindu and Muslim politicians/ parties in pre-independence provincial legislatures of Bengal and Punjab constrained by Muslim fanaticism.
Hindu and Muslim fanaticism was confined to the street in the form of communal riots, which were admittedly severe and bloody. But it was only when the Muslim League by its own choice invoked religion as a mass rallying cry in the early to mid '40s that Muslim fanaticism actually got to play a role in influencing politics. This is my understanding and I am open to anyone differing with it.

To continue, the Gandhi call for noncooperation put India into a ferment for better or worse. The wide spectrum of people enthused by it is noteworthy.

Durga Das writes:
"..India was in the throes of a mass upsurge, a revolt that spread even to the remotest village. Lawyers suspended practice in their hundreds...Boys left school by the thousands.

Two particular targets of attack were the Banaras Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University, which represented the highest seats of learning for the two communities. Both universities refused to disaffiliate themselves from the State educational system and survived the challenge. Many of their students, however, went over to national institutions."

[Notable among them were Lal Bahadur Shastri and Zakir Hussain.]
"Lal Bahadur passed the Shastri examination from Banaras Vidyapeeth, set up against the Banaras Hindu University, and this degree was later affixed to his name. [Zakir] Husain was one of the founders of Jamia Millia, the national college, in Delhi.
At the time of Gandhi's call for boycott, he was in the final year of the law course at Aligarh. He happened to visit Dr. Ansari at Delhi for a medical consultation and learned of Gandhi's arrival at Aligarh. Husain, a former Vice-President of the Student's Association, immediately returned to Aligarh. His group, defying detractors, arranged a hearing for Gandhi, whose speech touched his heart and that of many others.

Recalling this incident, Dr Husain later told me "That one decision changed the whole tenor of my life. I forgot all about career and about law practice, about everything in fact. The die was cast. I met Dr Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan and the Ali brothers and Gandhiji. I got my instructions from them. We started the Jamia Millia..."

Bhagat Singh
Durga Das quoted Lala Lajpat Rai's discomfort with the agitational agenda of Gandhi. Ironically, it was while participating in a demonstration against the Simon Commission that Lala Lajpat Rai fell prey to a British policeman's baton and eventually lost his life.

In 1928, Viceroy Irwin welcomed the Simon Commission, an all-white parliamentary commission which Durga Das writes, was "to report on India's fitness for another installment of constitutional reforms."

Durga Das writes:
Congressmen, Liberals and Jinnah's followers combined to boycott it. Indian antipathy to the Commission headed by Sir John Simon, was evident from the fact that the very announcement was the signal for a countrywide hartal. When the commission began its tour of the major cities, it had to face a massive boycott, accompanied by angry demonstrations.

At Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai, leading the demonstrators, was among the victims of a police assault and sustained injuries and a severe shock which, as was stated in the Central Assembly later, hastened his death on 17th November 1928.

At Lucknow, Jawaharlal [Nehru] and Govind Ballabh Pant, who later became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and subsequently Home Minister of the Indian Union, were among those hurt in the police attack. Pant was so badly shaken that he bore the marks of nervous damage all his life.

Bhagat Singh and others resolved to avenge Lala Lajpat Rai's death and a police officer Saunders was shot to death in Lahore on 17 December 1928.

The Central Assembly met early in 1929 in an atmosphere of tension. The Government had brought forward a Public Safety Bill to deal with terrorist crimes. On 8th April, [the Speaker] Vithalbhai Patel got up to deliver his ruling on whether the bill was in order.
Before he could do so, a bomb was hurled on the Assembly floor and a couple of shots rang out... [Durga Das was present on the scene and scored a news scoop by managing to send out a message to news agencies before all communications were cut].
The police authorities closed the doors of the Council House in order to search visitors and arrested Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt... The bomb fell near the Finance Member. Fortunately, he and others escaped injury. Most Members rushed out. Some took cover under benches. The Speaker, standing amidst the smoke engulfing the chamber adjourned the House immediately after the incident.

[The Speaker] Vitalbhai ruled three days later that the Bill was out of order. The issues it raised, he said, were sub judice in the Meerut conspiracy case against certain Communists. A debate on the Bill would therefore be prejudicial to a fair trial. The Viceroy did not agree with this view and issued an ordinance enacting the measure.

Of Vitalbhai Patel Durga Das writes elsewhere:
Outstanding among the legislators of the time was Vitalbhai Patel the first Indian to become Speaker of the Central Assembly... Vitalbhai's mental equipment was formidable;there was not the smallest detail of British parliamentary lore he had not mastered. Distrusting the bureacratic advice of the British secretary of the Legislative Department, he demanded a separate secretariat for the Assembly[which Irwin agreed to]..

Vitalbhai refused to allow the Public Safety Bill to be introduced on the ground that it was unconstitutional. Irwin had the rules amended to ensure that the Speaker could not throw out a Bill as being unconstitutional, an authority which only the judiciary was empowered with.

To continue, Bhagat Singh and his companions were brought to trial and death sentences pronounced on Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in the 'Lahore conspiracy case'. Many prominent leaders appealed for commutation of the sentences, including Jinnah.

Durga Das writes:
Gandhi met [Viceroy] Irwin on 19 March[1931] and pleaded for the reprieve of Bhagat Singh and his two colleagues from the death sentences to which they had been condemned. He reinforced this oral request with a powerful appeal to the charity of a "great Christian" in [the journal] Young India.

Irwin rejected the appeals.

On 23rd March, the three young men were hanged in jail and their bodies cremated on the bank of the Sutlej. Two days later, Sir Abdur Rahim, Leader of the Opposition and Sir Cowasji Jehangir, Deputy Leader of the Independents, walked out of the Central Assembly as a protest against the executions, showing that the non-Congress parties were equally indignant. Jawaharlal Nehru declared that "the corpse of Bhagat Singh shall stand between us and England."

Subhas Bose's protest took a more extreme form. His group, named the Nawajawan Sabha(Youth Association) waved black flags with the legend "Gandhi go back" as the Mahatma arrived at Karachi railway station for the Congress session. Later, waiting in deputation on Gandhi, they demanded a workers and peasants Free Republic of India.

As Viceroy Irwin departed India in 1931, he said of his detractors in the UK, "They call me a defeatist. They do not realise that we are up against rising nationalism and not just the growls of the intelligensia."

Bhagat Singh popularised the slogan 'Inquilab Zindabad' or 'Long Live Revolution'.
"In a letter to an Indian publication, The Tribune of December 24, 1929, Bhagat Singh explained beautifully the meaning he and fellow socialists tried to convey by the phrase, Long Live Revolution. He wrote that by revolution, they did not so much mean violence, as "the spirit, the longing for a change for the better." Since people generally get accustomed to the established order of things and begin to tremble at the very idea of a change, they needed to be roused from their lethargy and the revolutionary spirit had to be instilled in them."


CMP(1) -  From Ayesha Jalal's 'The Sole Spokesman'

CMP(2) -  Congress and Muslim League positions on 12 May 1946

CMP(3) -  The Cabinet Mission Plan 16 May 1946

CMP(4) - Jinnah  and ML  responses to the CMP 22 May  and June 6 1946

CMP(5) -  Jinnah's meeting with Mission Delegation on 4 April 1946

CMP(6) -  Jinnah's meeting with Missiion Delegation on 16 April 1946

CMP(7A) - Maulana Azad's meeting with Mission Delegation on 17 April 1946

CMP(7) -  The Congress unease with parity  8-9 May 1946

CMP(7B) - Jinnah and Azad responses to preliminary proposals 8-9 May 1946

CMP(8A) - Simla Conference meetings on 5 May 1946 on the powers of the Union

CMP(8) -  More exchanges on parity, Simla Conference meeting  11 May 1946

CMP(9) -  Jinnah and Wyatt(1) on Pakistan and CMP, 8 Jan. and 25 May 1946

CMP(10) -  Jinnah and Wyatt(2) on the interim government, 11 June 1946

CMP(11) -   Congress opposition to grouping. Gandhi, Patel and Azad, May 1946

CMP(12) - Congress Working Committee resolutions, May-June 1946

CMP(12A) - Arguments over inclusion of a Congress Muslim, June 1946

CMP(12B) - Behind the scenes-Gandhi, June-July 1946

CMP(12C) - Behind the scenes-Jinnah, June-July 1946

CMP(13) - Jawaharlal Nehru's press conference on the Plan, 10 July 1946

CMP(14) - League rejected Plan, called Direct Action,  July-August 1946

CMP(15) - Viceroy strong-arming Nehru, Gandhi on compulsory grouping, Pethick-Lawrence to Attlee, Aug -Sept 1946

CMP(16) - Intelligence assessment on Jinnah's options and threat of civil war, Sept. 1946

CMP(17) - League Boycott of the Constituent Assembly Dec. 1946

CMP(17A) - Congress "climbdown" on grouping and Jinnah's rejection, January 1947

CMP (A1) - Plain speaking from Sir Khizr Hayat, Abell on the Breakdown plan, Wavell

CMP(A2) - North West Frontier Province, Oct-Nov 1946 and Feb-March 1947

CMP(A3) - Bengal and Bihar, August - November 1946

CMP(A4) - Punjab, February - March 1947

CMP (18) - My take

CMP (19) - What did parity and communal veto mean in numbers?

CMP(20) - Another take -with links to reference material

CMP(21) - Mountbatten discussing CMP with Patel and Jinnah, 24-26 Apr 1947

CMP(22) - A reply on the Cabinet Mission Plan

Extra(1) - Jinnah's speech in March 1941 on independent sovereign Pakistan

Extra(1A) - Jinnah's Speeches and Statements from 1941-1942

Extra(1B) - Jinnah's Speeches and Statements from 1938-1940

Extra(1C) - Jinnah's speeches and Statements from 1943-45

Extra(2) - Gandhi-Jinnah talks in 1944 on defining Pakistan

Extra(3) - BR Ambedkar quoted from his book 'Pakistan or the Partition of India'

Extra(4) - Congress and Muslim parties' on the Communal question 1927-1931

Extra(4A) - Excerpts of Motilal Nehru Committee Report 1928

Extra(4B) - Nehru, Bose, Jinnah Correspondence 1937-38

Extra(5) -  BR Ambedkar on Communal Representation 1909-1947

Extra(6) - Gandhiji's scheme of offering the Prime Ministership to Jinnah in 1947

Extra(6A) - Jinnah on Congress's offers of Prime Ministership 1940-43

Extra (6B) - Apr-Jul 1947 Negotiations on Pakistan between Mountbatten and Jinnah

Extra(7) - M.A.Jinnah and Maulana Azad on two nation theory

Extra(8) - On Separate electorates, Joint electorates and Reserved constituencies

Extra(9) - Links to cartoons on Indian constitutional parleys from the Daily Mail, UK, 1942 and 1946-1947, by L.G. Illingworth

Extra(10) -Nehru Report 1928 (10 MB pdf)
Extra(11) -Iqbal's letters to Jinnah, May-June 1937

Extra(12) -Jinnah, Linlithgow, Sikander Hayat, Pakistan rumblings 1942-43

Durga Das (1) 1919-1931, Jallianwala Bagh to Bhagat Singh

Durga Das (2) 1931-1936, Crescent Card: Jinnah in London to Fazli Husain in Punjab

Durga Das(3) 1937-1940, Provincial Autonomy to Jinnah gets the veto

Durga Das(4) 1940-1945, The War Years: India's War Effort-Pakistan on a platter

Durga Das(5) 1945-1947, The Cabinet Mission to Divide and Quit

1937-1940(2)  Congress and Jinnah fall out in U.P., Jinnah's anti-Congress campaign and the Viceroy gives Jinnah a Veto: Ayesha Jalal, Sarvepalli Gopal and Stanley Wolpert

1937: Congress-Jinnah tussle over coalition government in U. P., M.J. Akbar

1937: Nehru, Jinnah and Coalition Governments, Bimal Prasad

1939-1940: India and the War, Anita Inder Singh

1945-1946: The Elections of 1945-46, Anita Inder Singh

1857-1938 Glimpses of British policy in Punjab: Ian Talbot and David Page

1930-1939 Congress Decline in Bengal, John Gallagher

Glendevon (1) 1937: Congress's Office Acceptance Saga over Governor's Powers

Glendevon (2) 1937-1940: Federation, Jinnah, Congress activism in Princely States

Glendevon (3) 1939-1942: Linlithgow, Congress, Jinnah,War-time Realignments

1939-1947: Jinnah and the Anglo-Muslim League Alliance, Narendra Singh Sarila

1944: Gandhi-Jinnah talks, Jaswant Singh

1830s-1898: British Forward Policy(1)

1899-1947: British Forward Policy(2)

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