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Tide turn United we fell

  • KIPS Bureau
  • May, 2019
  • 229
  • Subcontinent sketches


The Lucknow pact in 1916 is considered as a significant event in the political constitutional history of India. It is regarded a high water marked of the Hindu Muslim unity. It was the first and last pact signed between the Congress and the Muslim League.

The Lucknow agreement took a new twist with change in the Muslim League’s political doctrine. The Quaid-e-Azam inclusion in the Muslim League was a historic event, which gave a new direction to the Muslim League’s political struggle. Self-rule for India brought the Muslim League and the Congress closer to each other. The leaders of the both parties agreed that they should cooperate with each other to make the British accept their demands.


In spite of the concessions given by the Morely-Minto Reforms to the Muslims, relations between the Muslim League and the British government were strained. The Muslim League was outraged at what they viewed as British capitulation to Hindu demands in Bengal and the language issue. They had believed repeated British assurances that the partition of Bengal was final and that there was no possibility of a reversal. Such serious and blatant backtracking by the British placed a question mark in Muslim minds over the credibility of future promises.


In the next session of the Muslim League, held between December 1912 and January 1913, the role of the League was redefined from promoting loyalty to the government to a form of self-government suitable to India. Ironically, it was exactly this shift away from the British over the language question and Bengal, which moved the League closer to the Congress Party. The Congress now accepted that the Muslim League was not just a British front but an organisation designed to protect Muslim interests.

Mr. Jinnah in his early career was a member of both the Congress and the Muslim League and well-known as a man free of any religious prejudice as well as a brilliant advocate and debater. In 1915, the Muslim party with the urging of Mr. Jinnah had included the demand for self-rule in their programme for the first time. This delighted the Congress and committees comprising the Congress and Muslim League were formed to try to reach some common grounds of understanding.


There was a simultaneous recognition within the British government that a further set of reforms needed to be implemented before the political situation deteriorated. In October 1916, 19 elected members of the Councils addressed a memorandum to the viceroy on the question of reforms. Amongst the proposals put forward were that

a) the executive councils should have at least half their members popularly elected

b) the legislative council should have a majority of elected members

c) all legislative councils should have fiscal autonomy and the right to vote on the sending of supplies to the armed forces

d) India should be given the same rights as a dominion

The Muslim League was led by Mr. Jinnah and the Congress was led by Ambeka Charan Mahajan. The Lucknow Pact is significant as it marked some major concessions the Congress Party made to the Muslim League, most notably the acknowledgement that the Muslim had the right to a separate electorate. This was significant as the Congress had previously claimed that India was one indivisible nation and should be shown by whichever group could win the most votes. Muslims, it was agreed, had the right to be elected to the Imperial and provincial legislative councils by separate electorates. The Muslims were also to be given one-third of the seats, even though the Muslim community was one-fourth of the population.


This was the first time that a set of political demands had been made by the two main political organisations in the subcontinent to the British. Unfortunately, they were also to be the last. The Muslims were delighted that the questions of weightage and separate electorates had finally been accepted by the Congress and were pleased by the promise to press for greater provincial autonomy, which would benefit the Muslim provinces. Two points, however, regarding the Lucknow Pact are worth noting. First, the Muslim League realised for the first time that the Muslims, if they wished to safeguard their political rights, had to work with all parties. Secondly, some Hindus became convinced that Hindu-Muslim problems were so deep-rooted that some form of partition would be inevitable.

It was for this reason that some members of Congress agreed to the Lucknow Pact, as it increased their own chances of eventual independence.

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