Nehru: Expansion of the Muslim League: 1943

Nehru: Expansion of the Muslim League: 1943

During the period when all the Congress leaders were in jail, the Muslim League under Jinnah grew in power. In April 1943, the League captured the governments of Bengal and, a month later, that of the North-West Frontier Province.

In none of these provinces had the League previously had a majority—only the arrest of Congress members made it possible. With all the Muslim dominated provinces except Punjab under Jinnah's control, the concept of a separate Muslim State was turning into a reality. However, by 1944, Jinnah's power and prestige were waning.

A general sympathy towards the jailed Congress leaders was developing among Muslims, and much of the blame for the disastrous Bengal famine of 1943–44 during which two million died had been laid on the shoulders of the province's Muslim League government.

The numbers at Jinnah's meetings, once counted in thousands, soon numbered only a few hundred. In despair, Jinnah left the political scene for a stay in Kashmir. His prestige was restored unwittingly by Gandhi, who had been released from prison on medical grounds in May 1944 and had met Jinnah in Bombay in September.

There, he offered the Muslim leader a plebiscite in the Muslim areas after the war to see whether they wanted to separate from the rest of India. Essentially, it was an acceptance of the principle of Pakistan—but not in so many words.

Jinnah demanded that the exact words be used. Gandhi refused and the talks broke down. Jinnah, however, had greatly strengthened his own position and that of the League.

The most influential member of Congress had been seen to negotiate with him on equal terms. Other Muslim League leaders, opposed both to Jinnah and to the partition of India, lost strength.

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