Communal Holocaust and the Interim Government

Outbreak of Communal Carnage

  • After withdrawing its support to the Cabinet Mission plan, the Muslim League decided on “Direct Action” for winning its Pakistan demand.
  • It announced 16 August 1946 as “Direct Action Day” to give concrete expression to its post election slogan, Ladke Lenge Pakistan ("we shall have Pakistan by force")
  • On this day, Muslim communal groups provoked communal frenzy in Calcutta. Hindu communal groups retaliated in equal measure.
  • Thus riots broke out in Calcutta, lasting several days and leaving several thousand people dead.
  • This incident in Calcutta started a chain reaction. Soon the violence spread to other parts of India.

Communal Holocaust

By March 1947, violence spread to other areas of the country, notably in Bombay, eastern Bengal and Bihar, a certain part of the U.P., NWFP and Punjab. The communal riots continued to blaze very high throughout 1947 and the earlier part of 1948, resulting in deaths and injuries to several lakhs of people, abduction and rape of countless women, immense destruction of personal properties and innumerable desecration of religious places. Millions had to become refugees, and whereas in some localities (like Punjab) a wholesale exchange of population took place, in others (like Bengal) people continued to leave their places in waves for a long time to come.

Interim Government

The Cabinet Mission had proposed that, while the work of Constitution making would proceed, the government should be carried on by the Governor-General with the help of representatives of the major parties. It was coinciding practically with the outbreak of the communal carnage that an Interim Government at the centre - the one which the Cabinet Mission proposed as a short-term measure in its plan - came into existence in September 1946.

Dilemma before the Government

  • The declaration of “Direct Action Day” by the league and its withdrawal from acceptance of the cabinet mission plan created a constitutional deadlock.
  • Now, the Government faced the dilemma whether to go ahead and form the Interim Government with the Congress or await League agreement to the plan.
  • Wavell, who had opted for the second course at the Simla Conference a year earlier, preferred to do the same again.
  • But His Majesty’s Government, especially the Secretary of State, argued that it was vital to get Congress cooperation.
  • Thus, the Interim Government was formed on 2nd September 1946 with Congress members alone with Nehru as de facto head.
  • This was against the League’s insistence that all settlements be acceptable to it.

This was a completely different stance taken by the British from their earlier posture of encouraging communal forces and denying the legitimacy of nationalism and the representative nature of the Congress.

British revert to Policy of Conciliating the League

Communal riots had left everyone surprised in the country. The British were frightened by Jinnah’s ability to unleash civil war. Wavell quickly brought the League into the Interim Government on 26 October 1946. The league was allowed to join though

  • It had not accepted either the short or long term provisions of the Cabinet Mission Plan
  • It had not given up its policy of Direct Action.

Jinnah had realized that it was fatal to leave the administration in Congress hands and had sought a foothold in the Government to fight for Pakistan. For League, what was at stake was power, not responsibility to run the country.

Composition of the Interim Government

After a prolonged discussion it was agreed that there should be a Cabinet of 14 and the names of 6 Congressmen, 1 Sikh, 1 Indian Christian, 1 Parsi and 3 out of 5 Muslims were agreed upon.

Congress’ members in the cabinet

  1. Jawahar Lal Nehru – Vice President of Executive Council, External Affairs and Common Wealth Relations
  2. Vallabhbhai Patel – Home, Information and Broadcasting
  3. Baldev Singh – Defence
  4. John Mathai – Industries and Supplies
  5. Rajagopalachari – Education
  6. H. Bhabha – Works, Mines and Power
  7. Rajendra Prasad – Agriculture and food
  8. Jagjivan Ram – Labour
  9. Asaf Ali – Railway

Leagues’ members in the cabinet

  1. Liaqat Ali Khan – Finance
  2. Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar – Commerce
  3. Abdur Rab Nishtar – Communications
  4. Ghazanfar Ali Khan – Health
  5. Jogendra Nath Mandal – Law

Interim Government – Another Arena for Struggle

League’s entry into the interim government did not end the conflict. In fact it opened another arena of struggle. The interim government was seen as a foothold which will help the league to advance towards its goal of “Pakistan”. For Jinnah, the Interim Government was the continuation of civil war by other means.

  • The League refused to participate in the Constituent Assembly which met on 9th December 1946
  • League ministers questioned actions taken by Congress members, including appointments made
  • They refused to attend the informal meetings which Nehru had devised as a means of arriving at decisions without reference to Wavell.
  • Their disruptionist tactics convinced Congress leaders of the futility of the Interim Government as an exercise in Congress-League cooperation

The Congress leaders had raised the objection (right after the League members were sworn in) that the League could not join the Interim Government without accepting the Cabinet Mission Plan. Later, when non-cooperation of the League both inside and outside the Government became clear, the Congress members demanded that the League either give up Direct Action or leave the government. On 5th February 1947 the Congress members of the Interim Government sent a letter to Wavell with the demand that the League members should be asked to resign. A crisis was imminent. The League’s demand for the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly that had met for the first time on 9th December 1946 had proved to be the last straw.


  • This developing crisis was temporarily defused by the statement made by Attlee in Parliament on 20 February, 1947,
  • The date for British withdrawal from India was fixed as 30 June 1948 and the appointment of a new Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, was announced.
  • The hope was that the date would shock the parties into agreement on the main question and avert the constitutional crisis that threatened.
  • Besides, Indians would be finally convinced that the British were sincere about conceding independence
  • The Congress responded with a gesture of cooperation to the League.
  • But Jinnah's reaction to Attlee's statement was entirely different.
  • The League was on the war path and Jinnah was obdurate that he would accept nothing less than a sovereign Pakistan.
  • He was confident that now he only needed to stick firmly to his position in order to achieve his goal of Pakistan.
  • After all, the declaration made it clear that power would be transferred to more than one authority if the Constituent Assembly did not become a fully representative body, i.e. if the Muslim majority provinces did not join it.

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