Desai-Liaqat Pact

Desai-Liaqat Pact was concluded between Bhulabhai Desai of the Congress and Liaqat Ali Khan of the Muslim League. It was to find out the way out of the 1942-45 political impasses.

In the year 1945, prevailed a rumour that an alliance had taken place between the Congress and the Muslim League. Particularly Bhulabhai Desai, the leader of the Congress parliamentary party and Liaquat Ali Khan, the de facto leader of the Muslim League assembly party were said to be working in close harmony. Desai met Sir Evan Jenkins, private secretary to the Viceroy on 13th January and on 20th January a meeting was held between Desai and Viceroy. The terms of what later came to be known as Desai-Liaqat Pact were conveyed to the Viceroy in this meeting.

By considering the League as a Muslim majority and making an effort to give equal representation to Muslims along with the Hindu majority, Desai tried to construct an ideal Indian alliance which will bring independence faster as well as end the Quit India Movement.

However, it was never formally endorsed either by the Congress or the Muslim League.

 

Contents of the Desai-Liaqat Pact

Bhulabhai Desai was the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party in the Central Assembly and also a personal old friend of the Deputy Leader of the Muslim league, Nawabzar Liaqat Ali Khan, who was also the General-Secretary of the Muslim League since 1937. Desai and Liaquat Ali Khan held a series of discussions and drew the following private and confidential proposals for cooperation between the Congress and the League. Both of them came up with the draft proposal for the formation of an interim government at the Centre, consisting of:

  • an equal number of persons nominated by the Congress and the League in the central legislature.
  • 20% of the seats reserved for minorities.
  • The Commander-in-Chief.
  • The Government would function within the framework of the existing Government of India Act, 1935.

For the implementation of these recommendations some steps were also suggested. First of all if the Viceroy agrees to the suggestions for an interim government in the Centre in accordance with the agreement between the Congress and the Muslim League, then he might invite Jinnah and Desai either jointly or separately. After they come to an understanding, they would declare that they were prepared to join the Government. The next step would be withdrawal of section 93 in the provinces and form provisional governments on the lines of a coalition.

The Viceroy forwarded these proposals to the Secretary of State for India with the opinion that now they could move forward in the political and constitutional spheres. But the British Government raised some important questions such as what was the guarantee that the interim government would support the war? Would the Congress support Desai? What about the minorities, the non-Congress Hindus and the non-Muslim Leaguers? Was not the pact aimed at depriving the Governor General of his power to select the members of the Council?

File Photo of Bhulabhai Desai

 

Aftermath of the Desai-Liaqat Pact

No settlement could be reached between the Congress and the League on these lines, but the fact that a part of parity between the Congress and the League was decided upon had far-reaching consequences.

Thus Desai - Liaquat Pact came as sudden event filling the vacuum during this period when Indian politics was at a halt having all its leaders behind the bars. This pact added some level of humiliation on the side of the Congress party which was at a very sensitive rather crucial moment of politics. Any slightest mistake on any side of the party meant total ruin for the entire freedom struggle. Nevertheless, this pact has still been mentioned and holds a relevant position in Indian politics which highlighted the strong role played by the then Congress leaders in Indian politics.

While Desai executed all this without the knowledge of Gandhiji as well as Jawaharlal Nehru, Liaqat on his side too kept the deal a secret without the knowledge of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It was only through the press that both the parties came to know about the pact which resulted in huge disagreement among the leaders. While Desai was condemned by all prominent leaders and was refused the tickets for Constitutional Assembly Elections on the health grounds; Liaquat Ali on the other hand rejected the entire pact and ridiculed it as a story. Bhulabhai Desai was also held responsible for loosing the war budget and was also rejected any support from the party which ruined his political carrier which came as fallout of Desai-Liaquat Pact.

But the so-called Desai-Liaquat Pact was not an utter failure because of the fact that it paved the way for the Simla Conference.

The next article in this series explains about the Simla Conference and the Wavell Plan.

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