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The Election of 1937 and the formation of Congress ministries: Part II

The Election of 1937 and the formation of Congress ministries: Part II

Rule of Congress Ministries (1937-39)

Impact of formation of Congress Ministries:

  • The formation of the Ministries by the Congress changed the entire psychological atmosphere in the country.
    • Rule of Congress ministry aroused many expectations among almost all classes. selfstudyhistory.com
    • There was all around increased civil liberty and many legislations regarding land reform, industry reform, social reform etc. were passes in many provinces.
  • There was an immense increase in the prestige of the Congress as an alternative power that would look after the interests of the masses, especially of the peasants.
  • At the same time, the Congress had got an opportunity to demonstrate that it could not only lead the people in mass struggles but also use state power for their benefit.
  • However, there were limitations on the Congress Ministries’ power and financial resources.
    • They could obviously not change the basically imperialist character of the administration; they could not introduce a radical era.
    • But, within the narrow limits of their powers, and the time available to them (their tenure lasted only two years and four months), they did try to introduce some reforms, take some ameliorative measures, and make some improvement in the condition of the people — to give the people a glimpse of the future Swaraj.
  • The Congress Ministers set an example in plain living.
    • They reduced their own salaries drastically from Rs. 2000 to Rs. 500 per month.
    • They were easily accessible to the common people.
    • And in a very short time, they did pass a very large amount of ameliorative legislation, trying to fulfil many of the promises made in the Congress election manifesto.

Work of congress as Provincial government:

  • In political area:
    • Defence and extension of civil liberties:
      • All emergency powers acquired by the provincial governments during 1932, through Public Safety Acts and the like, were repealed;
      • Bans on illegal political organizations such as the Hindustan Seva Dal and Youth Leagues and on political books and journals were lifted.
        • Though the ban on the Communist Party remained, since it was imposed by the Central Government and could only be lifted on its orders, the Communists could in effect now function freely and openly in the Congress provinces.
      • All restrictions on the press were removed.
        • Securities taken from newspapers and presses were refunded and pending prosecutions were withdrawn.
        • The blacklisting of newspapers for purposes of government advertising was given up.
      • Confiscated arms were returned and forfeited arms licenses were restored.
    • Police powers were curbed:
      • Of all the British functionaries, the ones the people were most afraid of, as also hated, were the police.
      • After the formation of the Ministries, Gandhiji wrote, ‘the triumph of the Congress will be measured by the success it achieves in rendering the police and military practically idle. . . The best and the only effective way to wreck the existing Constitution is for the Congress to prove conclusively that it can rule without the aid of military and with the least  possible assistance of the police . . .’
      • In the Congress provinces, police powers were curbed and the reporting of public speeches and the shadowing of political workers by CID (Central Investigation Department) agents stopped.
    • Release political prisoners and detenus:
      • One of the first acts of the Congress Government was to release thousands of political prisoners and detenus and to cancel internment and deportation orders on political workers.
      • Many of the revolutionaries involved in the Kakori and other conspiracy cases were released.
      • But problems remained in U.P. and Bihar where several revolutionaries convicted of crimes involving violence remained in jails.
        • Most of these prisoners had earlier been sent to kala pani (Cellular Jail in Andamans) from where they had been transferred to their respective provinces after they had gone on a prolonged hunger strike during July 1937. Their release required consent by the Governors which was refused.
          • But the Congress Ministries were determined to release them. The Ministries of U.P. and Bihar resigned on this issue on 15 February.
          • The problem was finally resolved through negotiations. All the prisoners in both provinces were released by the end of March.
      • The difference between the Congress provinces and the non-Congress provinces of Bengal and Punjab was most apparent.
        • In the latter, especially in Bengal, civil liberties continued to be curbed and revolutionary prisoners and detenus, kept for years in prison without trial, were not released despite repeated hunger strikes by the prisoners and popular movements demanding their release.
    • In Bombay, the Government also took steps to restore to the original owners lands which had been confiscated by the Government as a result of the no-tax campaign during the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930.
      • It, too, had to threaten resignation before it could persuade the Governor to agree.
      • The pensions of officials dismissed during 1930 and 1932 for sympathizing with the movement were also restored.
    • There were, however, certain blemishes on the Congress ministerial record in this respect.
      • In Madras (with C. Rajagopalachari, a right wing leader, as Premier of Madras):
        • In July 1937, Yusuf Meherally, a Socialist leader, was prosecuted by the Madras Government for making an inflammatory speech in Malabar, though he was soon let off.
        • In  October 1937, the Madras Government prosecuted S.S. Batliwala, another Congress Social leader, for making a seditious speech and sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment.
        • The affair proved to be an exception; but it bred a certain suspicion regarding the future attitude of the Congress Right wing.
      • Much worse was the mentality of a few of the right-wing Congress ministers.
        • For instance, K.M. Munshi, the Home Minister of Bombay, used the CID to watch the Communists and other left-wing Congressmen, earning a rebuke from Jawaharlal Nehru.
        • The Madras Government, too, used the police to shadow radical Congressmen.
      • These blemishes have, however, to be seen in the larger context of the vast expansion of civil liberties even in Bombay and Madras.
      • Moreover, the mass of Congressmen were vigilant on this question. Led by the left-wing, they exerted intense pressure on the right-wing Congress ministers to avoid tampering with civil liberties.
  • In economic area:
    • The Congress Ministries tried to give economic relief to the peasants and the workers as quickly as possible.
    • Agrarian reforms:
      • The Congress was committed by its election manifesto and the election campaign to a policy of agrarian reform through reform of the system of land tenures and the reduction of rent, land revenue and the burden of debt.
      • Why the Congress could not attempt a complete overhaul of the agrarian structure by completely eliminating the zamindari system?
        • According to the constitutional structure of the 1935 Act, the provincial Ministries did not have enough powers to do so.
        • They also suffered from an extreme lack of financial resources, for the lion’s share of India’s revenues was appropriated by the Government of India.
        • The Congress Ministries could also not touch the existing administrative structure, whose sanctity was guarded by the Viceroy’s and Governor’s powers.
        • The strategy of class adjustment also forbade it.
          • A multi-class movement could develop only by balancing or adjusting various, mutually clashing class interests.
          • To unite all the Indian people in their struggle against colonialism, the main enemy of the time, it was necessary to make such an adjustment.
          • The policy had to be that of winning over or at least neutralizing as large a part of the landlord classes as possible so as to isolate the enemy and deprive him of all social support within India.
          • This was even more necessary because, in large parts of the country, the smaller landlords were active participants in the national movement.
        • There was also the constraint of time.
          • The Congress leadership knew that their Ministries would not last long and would have to quit soon as the logic of their politics was to confront imperialism and not cooperate with it.
          • The time constraint became even more apparent as war clouds gathered in Europe from 1938 onwards.
          • The Congress Ministries had, therefore, to act rapidly and achieve as much as possible in the short time available to them.
        • Further, nearly all the Congress-run states (that is, U.P., Bihar, Bombay, Madras and Assam) had reactionary second chambers in the form of legislative councils, which were elected on a very narrow franchise.
          • These were dominated by landlords, capitalists and moneylenders, with the Congress forming a small minority.
          • As a majority in the lower house was not enough, in order to get any legislation passed through the second chamber, the Congress had to simultaneously pressure their upper class elements and conciliate them.
          • Thus the Bihar Government negotiated a compromise with the zamindars on its tenancy bills while the U.P. Government conciliated the moneylender and merchant members of its upper house by going slow on debt legislation so that their support could be secured for tenancy legislation.
        • Finally, the agrarian structure of various parts of India had developed over the centuries and was complex and complicated.
          • There was not even enough information about its various components — land rights, for instance.
          • The problem of debt and money lending was also integrated with peasant production and livelihood in too complex a manner to be tackled by an easy one-shot solution.
          • Consequently, any effort at structural reform was bound to be an extremely formidable and time-consuming operation.
      • Within these constraints, the agrarian policy of the Congress Ministries went a long way towards promoting the interests of the peasantry.
        • Agrarian legislation by these Ministries differed from province to province depending on
          • differing agrarian relations,
          • the mass base of the Congress,
          • the class composition and the outlook of the provincial Congress organization and
          • leadership and the nature and extent of peasant mobilization.
        • In general, it dealt with questions of tenancy rights, security of tenure and rents of the tenants and the problem of rural indebtedness.
        • Achievements of the Ministries:
          • The tenancy bills were passed in U.P, Bihar and Orissa which gave multiples rights to tenants and placed several restriction on Zamindar.
          • In Madras, Assembly was in process of enacting a drastic legislation, but before a bill could be drafted, the Ministry resigned.
          • Measures of tenancy reform, usually extending security of tenure to tenants in landlord areas, were also carried in the legislatures of Bombay, the Central Provinces and the North-West Frontier Province.
      • The agrarian legislation of the Congress Ministries thus improved and secured the status of millions of tenants in zamindari areas.
        • But the basic system of landlordism was not affected.
        • Furthermore, it was, in the main, statutory and occupancy tenants who benefited. The interests of the sub-tenants of the occupancy tenants were overlooked.
        • Agricultural labourers were also not affected.
        • This was partially because these two sections had not yet been mobilized by the kisan sabhas, nor had they become voters because of the restricted franchise under the Act of 1935.
    • Regulation of the moneylenders’ business:
      • Except for U.P. and Assam, the Congress Government passed a series of debtors’ relief acts which provided for the regulation of the moneylenders’ business. Provisions of the acts included the cancellation or drastic reduction of accumulated interest
      • These Governments also undertook various rather modest rural reconstruction programmes.
        • In Bombay 40,000 tied serfs were liberated.
        • Grazing fees in the forests were abolished in Bombay and reduced in Madras.
      • While the tenancy bills were strongly opposed by the landlords, the debtors’ relief bills were opposed not only by the moneylenders but also by lawyers, otherwise supporters of the Congress, because they derived a large part of their income from debt litigation.
    • Works related to workers:
      • The Congress Ministries adopted, in general, a pro-labour stance.
      • Their basic approach was:
        • to advance workers’ interests while promoting industrial peace,
        • reducing the resort to strikes as far as possible,
        • establishing conciliation machinery,
        • advocating compulsory arbitration before resorting to strikes, and
        • creating goodwill between labour and capital with the Congress and its ministers assuming the role of intermediaries,
        • striving to improve the conditions of the workers and secure wage increases.
      • This attitude alarmed the Indian capitalist class which now felt the need to organize itself to press the ‘provincial governments to hasten slowly’ on such matters.
      • In Bombay, Ministry appointed a Textile Enquiry Committee which recommended the increase of wages. Despite mill owners protesting against the recommendations, they were implemented.
      • In November 1938, the Governments passed the Industrial Disputes Act which was based on the philosophy of ‘class collaboration and not class conflict,’ as the Premier B.G. Kher put it.
        • The emphasis in the Act was on conciliation, arbitration and negotiations in place of direct action.
        • The Act was also designed to prevent lightning strikes and lockouts.
        • The Act was strongly opposed by Left Congressmen, including Communists and Congress Socialists, for restricting the freedom to strike and for laying down a new complicated procedure for registration of trade unions, which would encourage unions promoted by employers.
      • In Madras, too, the Government promoted the policy of ‘internal settlement’ of labour disputes through government sponsored conciliation and arbitration proceedings.
      • In U.P., Kanpur was the seat of serious labour unrest as the workers expected active support from the popularly elected Government.
        • A major strike occurred in May 1938.
        • The Government set up a Labour Enquiry Committee, headed by Rajendra Prasad.
        • The Committee’s recommendations included
          • an increase in workers’ wages with a minimum wage,
          • formation of an arbitration board,
          • recruitment of labour for all mills by an independent board,
          • maternity benefits to women workers, and
          • recognition of the Left- dominated Mazdur Sabha by the employers.
      • A similar Bihar Labour Enquiry Committee headed by Rajendra Prasad was set up in 1938. It too recommended:
        • the strengthening of trade union rights,
        • an improvement in labour conditions, and c
        • ompulsory conciliation and arbitration to be tried before a strike was declared.
    • The Congress Governments removed impediments in the path of indigenous industrial expansion and actively attempted to promote several modern industrial ventures such as automobile manufacture.
  • In social area:
    • Prohibition was introduced in selected areas in different states.
    • Measures for the advancement of untouchables or Harijans (children of God), as Gandhiji called them, including:
      • the passing of laws enabled Harijans to enter temples,
      • to get free access to public office, public sources of water such as wells and ponds, roads, means of transport, hospitals, educational and other similar institutions maintained out of public funds, and restaurants and hotels.
    • No court or public authority was to recognize any custom or usage which imposed any civil disability on Harijans.
    • The number of scholarships and freeships for Harijan students was increased.
    • Efforts were made to increase the number of Harijans in police and other government services.
    • The Congress Ministries paid a lot of attention to primary, technical and higher education and public health and sanitation.
      • Education for girls and Harijans was expanded.
      • Ministries introduced basic education with an emphasis on manual and productive work.
      • Mass literacy campaigns among adults were organized.
    • Support and subsidies were given to khadi, spinning and village industries.
    • Schemes of prison reforms were taken up.
  • The Congress Governments also joined the effort to develop planning through the National Planning Committee appointed in 1938 by the Congress President Subhas Bose.

Some problems before Congress Government:

  • It was a basic aspect of the Congress strategy that in the non-mass struggle phases of the national movement, mass political activity and popular mobilization were to continue, though within the four-walls of legality, in fact, it was a part of the office-acceptance strategy that offices would be used to promote mass political activity.
  • Activity outside the legislature was to remain and legislative activity was to be coordinated together.
    • For example, in case of U.P., this co-ordination was quite successful. e.g.
      • setting up popular organs of authority in form of Congress police stations and panchayats dispensing justice under leadership of local Congress committees,
      • setting up Congress grievance committees in district to hear local grievance and mass literacy campaigns to explain the people the working of the ministries, etc.
    • Not all Congress Government were able to coordinate administration with the popular mobilization, especially where right-wing dominated the provincial Congress and Government.
  • The dilemma arose in a question. Could a party which ran a government be simultaneously the organizer of popular movements and enforcer of law and order?
  • While many Congressmen agitated within the perspective of accepting the Congress Ministries as their own and their role as one of strengthening them and the Congress through popular agitations and refrained from creating situations in which punitive action by the Government would become necessary, many others were out to expose the ‘breaches of faith and promises’ by these Ministries and show up the true character of the Congress as the political organ of the upper classes.
    • Moreover, Congressmen like C. Rajagopalachari and K.M. Munshi did not hesitate to use their respective state apparatuses in a politically repressive manner.
  • The formation of Congress Ministries and the vast extension of civil liberties unleashed popular energies everywhere.
    • Kisan sabhas sprang up in every part of the country and there was an immense growth in trade union activity and membership.
    • Student and youth movements revived and burgeoned.
    • A powerful fillip was given to the state peoples’ movement.
    • Left parties were able to expand manifold.
      • Even though it was under a Central Government ban, the Communist Party was able to bring out its weekly organ, The National Front, from Bombay.
      • The CSP brought out The Congress Socialist and several other journals in Indian languages.
    • Of particular interest is the example of Kirti Lehar which the Kirti Communists of Punjab brought out from Meerut, U.P., because they could not do so in Unionist-ruled Punjab.
  • Inevitably, many of the popular movements clashed with the Congress Governments.
    • Peasant agitations usually took the form of massive demonstrations and spectacular peasant marches.
      • In Bihar, the kisan movement often came in frontal confrontation with the Ministry, especially when the Kisan Sabha asked the peasants not to pay rent or to forcibly occupy landlords’ lands.
      • There were also cases of physical attacks upon landlords, big and small, and the looting of crops.
    • In Bombay, the AITUC, the Communists, and the followers of Dr. BR. Ambedkar organized a strike on 7 November 1938, in seventeen out of seventy-seven textile mills against the passage of the Industrial Disputes Act.
      • There was some ‘disorder’ and largescale stone throwing at two mills and some policemen were injured. The police opened fire, killing two and injuring over seventy.
    • The Madras Government too adopted a strong policy towards strikes, which sometimes took a violent turn.
    • Kanpur workers struck repeatedly, sometimes acting violently and attacking the police.
  • Congress Ministries did not know how to deal with situations where their own mass base was disaffected. They tried to play a mediatory role which was successful in U.P. and Bihar and to a certain extent in Madras, but not in Bombay. But, in general, they were not able to satisfy the Left- wing critics.
    • Quite often they treated all militant protests, especially trade union struggles, as a law and order problem.
    • They took recourse to Section 144 of the Criminal Code against agitating workers and arrested peasant and trade union leaders.
    • The Left was highly critical of the Congress Governments’ handling of popular protest; it accused them of trying to suppress peasants’ and workers’ organizations.
  • Gandhiji too thought that the policy of ministry formation was leading to a crisis.
    • But his angle of vision was very different from that of the Communists.
    • He opposed militant agitations because he felt that their overt to covert violent character threatened his basic strategy based on non-violence.
    • At the beginning of office acceptance, he had advised the Congress Ministries to rule without the police and the army. Later he began to argue that ‘violent speech or writing does not come under the protection of civil liberty.’
    • But still Gandhiji objected to the frequent recourse to colonial laws and law and order machinery to deal with popular agitations.
    • He wanted reliance to be placed on the political education of the masses against the use of violence.
    • While criticizing Left-wing incitement to class violence, he constantly sought to curb Right-wing confrontation with the Left.
    • He also defended the right of the Socialists and the Communists to preach and practise their politics in so far as they abided by Congress methods.
    • Gandhiji was able to see the immense harm that the Congress would suffer in terms of erosion of popular support, especially of the workers and peasants, because of the repeated use of law and order machinery to deal with their agitations. This would make it difficult to organize the next wave of extra-legal mass movement against colonial rule.
    • He thus perceived the inherent dilemma in the situation. This was one major reason why he began to question the efficacy of continuing with the policy of office acceptance.
    • He wrote in December 1938 that if the Congress Ministries ‘find that they cannot run the State without the use of the police and the military, it is the clearest possible sign, in terms of non-violence, that the Congress should give up office and again wander in the wilderness in search of the Holy Grail.’

Achievements of the Congress ministries during two years frustrated all groups who voted for Congress (Industrial working class, peasants, Dalits):

  • Dalits:
    • Dalits and their leaders were not impressed by the few caste disabilities removal and temple-entry bills by Congress ministries that constituted the token legislative programmes of the Congress ministries, offering nothing more than mere window dressing.
  • Industrial working class:
    • When the Congress formed ministries in eight provinces, it evoked jubilation and expectations from both labour and capital and the party had to continually balance between the two contradictory interests.
    • Compulsions to seek labour votes in the provincial elections of 1937 had forced the Congress to include in its election manifesto some promises for labour welfare programmes.
      • Its subsequent victory, therefore, aroused great enthusiasm and expectations among the working classes, as a number of trade union leaders became labour ministers in congress cabinets.
      • Trade union membership increased by 50 per cent particularly in the Congress ruled provinces during this time, leading to a spectacular rise in industrial unrest in 1937-38, causing panic among the Indian industrialists.
    • The Congress ministries had to adopt a number of resolutions implementing the labour welfare programmes, which it had promised during the election.
    • This irritated the capitalists no doubt, but what further added to it were the conservative economic and fiscal policies of the provincial governments.
      • Faced with financial stringency, these governments had very little choice but to increase taxes, like the property tax or sales tax, which the business did not quite like.
    • They now closed ranks and this alarmed the Congress high command. Therefore, by the spring of 1938, there was a remarkable change in Congress policies, as it tried to placate capitalist interests.
      • The most authentic manifestation of this shift was in its labour policy, which resulted in the passage of the notorious Bombay Trades Disputes Act, passed in November 1938.
        • It aimed at preventing both strike and lockouts, but was tilted heavily in favour of capitalists. This resulted in a anti-labour shift in Congress policies.
        • All parties except Congress condemned it and the passage of the bill was immediately greeted with a general strike in Bombay.
    • This new anti-labour mood was visible in other provinces too, where industrial disputes gradually began to decline from 1939.
    • This marked shift in Congress ideology and policy towards industrial relations dispelled capitalist fear and brought about a rapprochement between the two.
    • In a non-Congress province like Bengal, the Congress leaders were only too happy to support the general jute mill strike in 1937, as it was an ideal opportunity to discredit the to discredit the Fazlul Huq ministry and to hit at the “white bosses” of the IJMA.
      • Nehru even went so far as to claim it to be “a part of our freedom movement.
      • Yet at the same time, in the Congress provinces like Bombay, Madras and UP, their governments were using similar strong-arm tactics to control industrial unrest.
    • But it is difficult to generalise about business attitudes, as some businessmen in the United Provinces and Madras still had their reservations about Congress, while the Muslim businessmen on the whole remained alienated.
  • Peasant:
    • On the peasant front, the rising militancy before the elections were harnessed by the Congress to win the race; but later it found it difficult to rise up to the expectations of its kisan voters who were hoping for some radical changes in the existing agrarian relations.
    • Right wingers like Vallabhbhai Patel, Bhulabhai Desai, C. Rajagopalacbari or Rajendra Prasad preferred constitutional politics to radical agitation, and also by the committed Gandhians who believed in constructive programme.
      • However, with the election approaching, they could hardly ignore the organisational bases created by the provincial kisan sabhas, and under leftist pressure in some provinces they had agreed to include abolition of zamindari in their election manifesto.
      • In the election of 1937 the socialists and the right-wing leaders acted in unison, and reaped its benefits in the spectacular Congress victories, which were quite unexpected in some provinces.
      • So when after July 1937 the Congress ministries began to take over office in the eight provinces, it was hailed by the rural masses as an emancipatory experience marked by the institution of an alternative authority.
    • But while the ministry formation raised great expectations and brought in greater militancy among the peasantry, it also brought the right-wingers back to power and they now tried to retrieve the Congress from the clutches of the socialists.
      • In the province of Bihar, where the Kisan Sabha began to organise a powerful peasant movement around the issue of bakasht land where permanent tenancies had been converted into short-term tenancies in recent years, the conservative Congress leadership renegotiated their alignment with the landlords and entered into formal “agreements” with them.
        • When the proposed tenancy legislations of the Congress were significantly watered down because of landlord pressure, the peasants were not impressed and they staged in 1938-39 a militant movement under the leadership of the Kisan Sabha for the restoration of the bakasht lands.
      • In UP, the Kisan Sabha activists were disillusioned with the Uri Congress ministry that significantly blunted the teeth of a 1938 tenancy legislation, which was originally expected to reduce rents by half.
      • In Orissa also the kisan leaders were frustrated when the Congress ministry allowed pro-landlord amendments to the proposed tenancy legislation.
        • Even this diluted legislation was blocked by the governor until there was a mammoth Kisan Day rally on 1 September 1938.
  • Another dilemma of Congress leadership was visible regarding princely India (to support Prajamandal movement or not)

Overall record of the congress ministry:

  • In the balance, the legislative and administrative record of the Congress Ministries was positive.
  • Nehru, a stern critic of the Congress Ministries in 1938- 39, wrote in 1944: ‘Looking back, I am surprised at their achievements during a brief period of two years and a quarter, despite the innumerable difficulties that surrounded them.
  • Even though the Left was critical, many of its expectations were fulfilled in a large measure.
  • One of the great achievements of the Congress Governments was their firm handling of the communal riots.
    • They asked the district magistrates and police officers to take strong action to deal with a communal outbreak.
  • The Congress leadership foiled the imperialist design of using constitutional reforms to weaken the national movement and, instead demonstrated how the constitutional structure could be used by a movement aiming at capture of state power to further its own aims without getting co-opted.
    • Despite certain weaknesses, the Congress emerged stronger from the period of office acceptance.
    • Nor was the national movement diverted from its main task of fighting for self government because of being engaged in day-to-day administration.
    • Offices were used successfully for enhancing the national consciousness and increasing the area of nationalist influence and thus strengthening the movement’s capacity to wage a mass struggle in the future.
    • The movement’s influence was now extended to the bureaucracy, especially at the lower levels.
      • The morale of the ICS (Indian Civil Service), one of the pillars of the British Empire, suffered a shattering blow.
      • Many ICS officers came to believe that the British departure from India was only a matter of time.
    • In later years, especially during the Quit India Movement, the fear that the Congress might again assume power in the future, a prospect made real by the fact that Congress Ministries had already been in power once, helped to neutralize many otherwise hostile elements, such as landlords and even bureaucrats, and ensured that many of them at least sat on the fence.
  • The people were able to perceive the shape of things to come, if independence were won.
  • There was also no growth of provincialism or lessening of the sense of Indian unity, as the framers of the Act of 1935 and of its provision for Provincial Autonomy had hoped.
    • The Ministries succeeded in evolving a common front before the Government of India.
    • Despite factionalism, the Congress organization as a whole remained disciplined.
  • When it came to the crunch, there was also no sticking so office.
    • Acceptance of office thus did prove to be just one phase in the freedom struggle.
    • When an all-India political crisis occurred and the central Congress leadership wanted it, the Ministries promptly resigned. And the opportunists started leaving.
  • The Congress also avoided a split between its Left and Right wings — a split which the British were trying to actively promote since 1934.
  • Above all, the Congress gained by influencing all sections of the people. The process of the growth of Congress and nationalist hegemony in Indian society was advanced.
  • If mass struggles destroyed one crucial element of the hegemonic ideology of British colonialism by demonstrating that British power was not invincible then the sight of Indians exercising power shattered another myth by which the British had held Indians in subjection: that Indians were not fit to rule.

Period of the Congress Ministries witnessed the emergence of serious weaknesses in the Congress:

  • There was a great deal of factional strife and bickering both on ideological and personal bases.
    • For e.g. the factional squabbles within the Congress Ministry and the Assembly party in the Central provinces which led to the resignation of Dr. N.B. Khare as premier.
  • The practice of bogus membership made its appearance and began to grow.
  • There was a scramble for jobs and positions of personal advantage.
  • Indiscipline among Congressmen was on the increase everywhere.
  • Opportunists, selfseekers and careerists, drawn by the lure of associating with a party in power, began to enter the ranks of the Congress at various levels.
    • This was easy because the Congress was an open party which anybody could join.
    • Many Congressmen began to give way to casteism in their search for power.
  • Gandhiji began to feel that ‘We seem to be weakening from within.’
    • Gandhiji wrote in the columns of Harijan against the growing misuse of office and creeping corruption in Congress ranks.
    • He said, ‘I would go to the length of giving the whole Congress organization a decent burial, rather than put up with the corruption that is rampant.’
    • He, therefore, advised giving up of offices and starting preparations for another phase of Satyagraha.
  • Jawaharlal too had been feeling for some time that the positive role of the Ministries was getting exhausted.
    • He wrote to Gandhiji on 28 April 1938: ‘Congress ministeries are adapting themselves far too much to the old order and trying to justify it. We are sinking to the level of ordinary politicians..’

Pirpur Committee:

  • It was established in 1938 by the All India Muslim League to prepare a detailed report regarding the atrocities of the Congress Ministries (1937-1939) formed after the elections under the 1935 Government of India Act in different provinces.
  • Its report charged the congress for interference with the religious rites, suppression of Urdu and propaganda of Hindi, denial of legitimate representation and suppression in economy of the Muslims.

Resignation of Congress Ministries:

  • Viceroy Linlithgow declared India at war with Germany on 3 September 1939. The Congress objected strongly to the declaration of war without prior consultation with Indians.
  • The Congress Working Committee suggested that it would cooperate if there were a central Indian national government formed, and a commitment made to India’s independence after the war.
  • The Muslim League promised its support to the British, with Jinnah calling on Muslims to help the Raj by “honourable co-operation” at the “critical and difficult juncture,” while asking the Viceroy for increased protection for Muslims.
  • Linlithgow refused the demands of the Congress.
  • On 22 October 1939, Congress ministries tendered their resignations.
    • Both Viceroy Linlithgow and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were pleased with the resignations.
    • On 2 December 1939, Jinnah put out an appeal, calling for Indian Muslims to celebrate 22 December 1939 as a “Day of Deliverance” from Congress.
    • Gandhiji welcomed the resignations for another reason: they would help cleanse the Congress of the ‘rampant corruption.’
      • He wrote to C. Rajagopalachari on 23 October 1939: ‘It is a bitter pill I know. But it was needed. It will drive away all the parasites from the body.’
    • The resignations produced another positive effect. They brought the Left and the Right in the Congress closer because of a common policy on the question of participation in the war.

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