GS Mains History Q&A: 7

Q.7 ​“The 1906 Simla conference was the beginning of an explicit British policy of divide and rule in India”. Analyze.


The 1906 Simla conference as the beginning of an explicit British policy of “divide and rule” in India. By encouraging Muslims to see themselves as a separate political entity – one defined in opposition to Congress – the British hoped to prolong British rule. 

After 1893, communal conflict escalated in north India as revivalist Hindu groups demanded cow protection and the Hindi language, and political festivals in Maharashtra defined Hindus as a separate communal and political entity. 

Protests against the partition of Bengal only alienated Muslim leaders further as many east Bengali Muslim leaders could see greater benefits for themselves and their communities in a separate Muslim majority province. 

In 1906 at the height of partition conflicts, as rumours circulated of possible new British constitutional reforms, a deputation of 35 elite Muslims, most from landed United Province families, met the viceroy, Lord Minto, at Simla. Their leader was Aga Khan. The deputation demanded separate electorates for Muslims. They argued that only separate electorates could guarantee Muslims a voice among elected representatives. As the Hindus were the majority, they would vote only Hindus into office. Neither Muslim interests nor the Indian Muslim population, the Simla delegation insisted, could be adequately represented by non-Muslim candidates. The deputation also demanded representation in excess of their numerical strength in view of the ‘value of the contribution’ Muslims were making ‘to the defence of the empire’. 

The viceroy assured the Simla deputation that Muslim interests would be considered in any new reforms. Encouraged by this support, the Simla delegates and an additional 35 Muslims from all provinces in India met at Dacca several months later and founded the All-India Muslim League. Later, the Morley-Minto reforms provided for separate electorates for Muslims.

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