Brief notes on the Lucknow Session of the Congress (1916)

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The nationalists soon saw that disunity in their ranks was injuring their cause and that they must put up a united front before the government.

The growing nationalist feeling in the country and the urge for national unity produced two historic developments at the Lucknow session of the Indian National Congress in 1916. First, the two wings of the Congress were reunited.

The old controversies had lost their meaning and the split in the Congress had led to political inactivity. Tilak, released from jail in 1914, immediately saw the change in the situation and set out to unify the two streams of Congressmen. To conciliate the moderate nationalists, he declared:

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I may state once for all that we are trying in India, as the Irish Home- rulers have been all along doing in Ireland, for a reform of the system of administration and not for the overthrow of government; and I have no hesitation in saying that the acts of violence which have been committed in the different parts of India are not only repugnant to me, but have, in my opinion, only unfortunately retarded to a great extent, the pace of our political progress.

On the other hand, the rising tide of nationalism compelled the old leaders to welcome back into the Congress Lokamanya Tilak and other militant nationalists. The Lucknow Congress was the first muted Congress since 1907. It demanded further constitutional reforms as a step towards self-government.

Second, at Lucknow, the Congress and the All India Muslim League sank their old differences and put up common political demands before the government.

While the War and the two Home Rule Leagues were creating a new sentiment in the country and changing the character of the Congress, the Muslim League had also been undergoing gradual changes. We have already noted earlier that the younger section of the educated Muslims was turning to bolder nationalist politics.

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The War period witnessed further developments in that direction. Consequently, in 1914, the government suppressed the publication of the Hilal of Abul Kalam Azad and the Comrade of Maulana Mohamed Ali.

It also interned the Ali Brothers Maularias Mohamed Ali and Shaukat Ali and Hasrat Mohani and Abul Kalam Azad. The League reflected, at least partially, the political militancy of its younger members.

It gradually began to outgrow the limited political outlook of the Aligarh school of thought and moved nearer to the policies of the Congress.

The unity between the Congress and the League was brought about by the signing of the Congress-League Pact, known popularly as the Lucknow Pact.

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An important role in bringing the two together was played by Lokamanya Tilak and Mohammad Ali Jinnah because the two believed that India could win self-government only through Hindu-Muslim unity. Tilak declared at the time:

It has been said, gentlemen, by some that we Hindus have yielded too much to our Mohammedan brethren. I am sure I represent the sense of the Hindu community all over India when I say that we could not have yielded too much. I would not care if the rights of self-government are granted to the Mohammedan community only.

I would not care if they are granted to the lower and the lowest classes of the Hindu population. When we have to fight against a third party, it is a very important thing that we stand on this platform united, united in race, united in religion, as regard all different shades of political creed.

The two organisations passed the same resolutions at their sessions, put forward a joint scheme of political reforms based on separate electorates and demanded that the British government should make a declaration that it would confer self-government on India at an early date.

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The Lucknow Pact marked an important step forward in plindu-Muslim unity. Unfortunately, it did not involve the Hindu and Muslim masses and it accepted the pernicious principle of separate electorates.

It was based on the notion of bringing together the educated Hindus and Muslims as separate political entities; in other words, without secularisation of their political outlook, which would make them realise that in politics they had no separate interests as Hindus or Muslims. The Lucknow Pact, therefore, left the way open to the future resurgence of communalism in Indian politics.

But the immediate effect of the developments at Lucknow was tremendous. The unity between the moderate nationalists and the militant nationalists and between the National Congress and the Muslim League aroused great political enthusiasm in the country.

Even the British government felt it necessary to placate the nationalists. Hitherto it had relied heavily on repression to quiet the nationalist agitation.

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Large numbers of radical nationalists and revolutionaries had been jailed or interned under the notorious Defense of India Act and other similar regulations.

The government now decided to appease nationalist opinion and announced on 20 August 1917 that its policy in India was “the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of Responsible Government of India as an integral part of the British empire.”

And in July 1918 the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms were announced. But Indian nationalism was not appeased. In fact, the Indian national movement was soon to enter its third and last phase the era of mass struggle or the Gandhian Era.

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