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Direct Action Day August 16, 1946

"We want peace. But if war is forced upon us, we accept it." With this telling
couplet from the immoral Firdausi did the Quaid close his memorable speech
to the Muslim League Council meeting in Bombay on July 29,1946. And, to be
sure, this couplet represented the bitter Muslim mood at the British
acceptance at the Congress's distortion of the Cabinet Mission plan (1946).
Muslim bitterness at Congress "duplicity" and British "dishonesty" led to
revoke of their earlier decision to accept the Plan, revert to their original
demand and reaffirm their faith in a sovereign, independent Pakistan. Earlier
that evening, the League Council had taken a bold decision: it said good-bye
to constitutionalism and sanctioned Direct Action for the first time in all its
annals, and this to wrest Pakistan. "...Now the time has come" so ran the
League resolution, "for the Muslim nation to resort to Direct Action, to
achieve Pakistan, to assert their just rights, to vindicate their honour and get
rid of the British slavery and contemplated future caste-Hindu domination."
The resolution had also called on its members to return British titles, which it
characterised as "tinsels of slavery". The response was immediate: member
after member went up the rostrum to renounce his title and affirm his
preference for a plain Mr instead. And from now, more than over, it was"
Pakistan or perish". Except for the monumental decision to adopt Pakistan as
the league's supreme goal on March 23-24, 1940, nothing so momentous
had the League embarked upon in its long chequered history. Nor anything
so revolutionary had it launched upon. No wonder, the call to Direct Action
stirred Muslim India to its depths: it started Fire Prairie-like. Even so
inveterate a critic of Jinnah and the League as the Blitz (Bombay) was
constrained to concede: "The worst enemies of the Muslim League cannot
help envying the leadership of Mr Jinnah. Last week's cataclysmic
transformation of the League from the reactionary racket of the Muslim
Nawabs, Noons, and Knights into a revolutionary mass organisation
dedicated, by word if not be deed, to an anti-Imperialist struggle, compels us
to express the sneaking national wish that a diplomat and strategist of

Jinnah's proven calibre were at the held of the Indian National Congress.
There is no denying the fact that by his latest master-stroke of diplomacy
Jinnah has outbid, outwitted and outmaneuvered the British and Congress
alike and confounded the common national indictment that the Muslim






Not unexpectedly, the Direct Action decision sent a wave of fear and
indignation in the Congress circles. In a strongly-worded speech, Sardar
Patel, "the iron man" of the Congress, whipped up his Hindu audience to
frenzy and violence, saying that the League's contemplated Direct Action
was in fact directed towards the Congress and the Hindus since they would
be heading the Interim Government in a short while. Nehru, on his part
declared more sophistically that "if the government is strong the Direct
Action will go under, and if the government is weak will go under". In his own
inimitable manner, Gandhi prognosticated. "We are not yet in the midst of a
civil war. But we

are near it, at present we are playing

at it."

These pronouncements explain why and how the Direct Action Day in
Calcutta on August 16 was turned into a day of orgy, violence and
bloodshed. In fixing August 16, 1946 as the Direct Action Day, the League's
object was not to start a direct action movement on that day but to explain
to the people the implications of the League Council's Bombay resolution.









pronouncements of the League leaders, including that of Jinnah. Also

emphasised was the non-violent and entirely peaceful nature of the Direct
Action. It was also made clear that, when finally launched, Direct Action
would not be directed against anyone in particular, and definitely not against
the Hindus, but would be specifically meant to create among Muslims the














As of then, Bengal along had a stable League Ministry, the other one in the
Sindh being shaky and a victim of intrigues, from both within and without.
This Bengal ministry was, of course, an eyesore to the Congress, which

understandably was bent upon discrediting it, leading to its dismissed, if

possible. And so Calutta, where Muslims constituted barely 23 per cent of the
population, was chosen as the venue to teach Muslims and the League a
bitter lesion and to bury the League's contemplated Direct Action in an
avalanche of violence and bloodshed. In the result: while the day passed of
peacefully in the rest of the Sub-continent, even in other more predominantly
Muslim majority provinces, it sparked the beginning of a civil war between
Hindus and the Muslims - the long-awaited civil war, so confidently predicted
by Sardar Patel when the Muslims had discomfited the Congress attempts to
drown the League at the Central Assembly polls, in January 1946. In the
Calcutta carnage about five thousand people lost their lives and greater
number were injured, the loss of property was immense and frightful. Never
before had any communal riot caused such a heavy toll. Seen afterward, the
Congress set itself in motion, blamed the League ministry all the way, and
tabled no confidence motion, to get it discredited. The League, on the other
hand, characterised the holocaust as an organised and premeditated Hindu
attempt to get the League ministry discredited and make a shambles of the
Direct Action programme. Summing up the Muslim mood, in his Eid message
on August 28,1946, Jinnah said: "Today, the horizon is dark for us... we are
vilified, misrepresented and threatened from every direction. Muslim league
is ignored and by-passed, tremendous false propaganda is carried on to
throw the blame on Muslim League for which there is no iota of justification;
the Viceroy and the British government have surrendered to the Congress
and it only remains for them now to make a declaration that they have
abdicated and are about to hand over to the Fascist caste Hindu Congress,





"... This has created a very great and dangerous situation for us and we must
face it as a united nation also go through the test and fire of being
surpassed, oppressed and persecuted. However, I am confident that if the
hundred million Muslims stand united all the maneuvers and machinations
and designs of our opponents will fail miserably and we shall emerge out of

this struggle triumphantly..." "We have argued; we have reasoned; we have

supplicated; and we have made great concessions but all to no purpose.
There remains in front of us a struggle and we must face it boldly and






And at that bleak juncture, the Muslims direly stood in need of such words of
courage. The Calcutta holocaust was followed by riots in Bombay and
Ahmedabad, which presently spread to several cities, towns and villages like
UP, CP, Bihar and Madras. Of prime significance was the fact that the earliest







In mid-October, however, when the news of the death of a large number of

Muslim boatmen from Noakhali in the Calcutta carnage reached their folks at
home. There was a sudden flare-up in Noakhali in which, according to the
Governor of Bengal, the GOC, and the District Magistrate of Noakhali, less
than 200 persons were killed and "cases of rape, abduction and forcible
marriage were rare". But these incidents came in handy to lay the blame for
the now spreading civil war at the League's door and to demand, on that
basis, its exit from the Interim Government, which the League had joined on
October 25, at the Viceroy's persuasion, in order to control the increasingly
deteriorating situation. The Hindu leaders, including Gandhi and Kripalani,
issued statement after statement, grossly exaggerating the casualties; the
Congress press frantically engaged itself in spreading tendentious and telltale stories, even after neutral sources had nailed them to the counter.
As a result of this campaign of hatred, and further instigation by "well-know
Congress leaders and members of the legislature" in neighbouring Bihar,
Hindus of the five districts of Saran, Patna, Gaya, Monghyr, and Bhagalpur
rose en masse against the Muslims, slaughtering some 30,000 Muslims
(including women and children), and clearing about 300 square miles of
territory of all Muslims. More shocking, while all this was going on, the
Congress ministry in Bihar did not even call in the Army for one full week.
Alibis were presented to cover up the foul crimes against the Muslims, and






And in a subtle attempt to divert attention, Gandhi who had earlier gone to
Noakhali, stayed put over there and tried to focus attention on the "plight" of
the Hindu minority in Eastern Bengal. Neither he nor any other Congress
leader had any tear shed on the plight of the Bihar Muslims. Nor would the
Congress ministry agree to hold an impartial inquiry, while the League
government in Bengal had readily agreed to appoint one under Chief Justice
Sir Patrick Spend of the Federal Court.About a week later occurred the threeday holocaust in Garhmukhteswar, in the Meerut District, about 55 miles
from Delhi. About 2,000 Muslims were killed and property worth lacs of
rupees was either destroyed or looted. Not a shot was fired by the police; the







Of utmost significance in fathering the causes and extent of the then raging
civil war was a revealing pronouncement by Sardar Patel "the Iron Man" of
the Congress. In his address to the Meerut Congress session in the late
November, he made an oblique reference to the number of Hindus and
Muslims killed in Bengal, Bihar and the UP, and called on the Muslims to
"examine the balance-sheet", and to reflect. And he capped his call by an
ultimatum: "The sword will be met with sword". Meantime, the initial fissures
in the improvised edifice of the Interim Government developed into visible
cracks, portending a virtual breakdown. The Congress forced the Viceroy to
call the first session of the Constituent Assembly on December 9, 1946. The
League, however, refused to withdraw its Bombay Resolution, arguing that
the Congress reservations about certain vital causes in the Cabinet Mission
Plan had made no sense of the plan. A hastily improvised conference
between the Congress, League and the Sikhs under the aegis of His Majesty's
Government in December 1946 failed to savage the situation either,
although HMG's Statement of December 6, upheld the League's stand vis-avis the grouping principle. The Statement also laid down that "should a
constitution come to be framed by the Constituent Assembly in which a large
section of the Indian population have not been represented, His Majesty's
Government could not, of course, contemplate forcing such a constitution

upon any unwilling part of the country". One result of the post-Direct Action
Muslim resurgence was that whenever and wherever their rights were
trampled upon, the Muslim refused to take it lying down. This was most
amply demonstrated in the Punjab, the Frontier and in Assam.In January,
Muslim Punjab, now resurgent and indignant at being denied its right to
administer the province, came into clash with the reactionary Tiwana
government. The Tiwana-Glancy-Sachar axis had denied the people even
civil liberties. In January 1947, it went further, and banned the Punjab Muslim
National Guards and ordered a search of its headquarters. This touched of a
province-wide movement for the restoration of civil liberties. Although
provoked on numerous occasions, the Muslims refused to turn it into a




The Khan of Mamdot, Mian Iftikharuddin, Malik Feroz Khan Noon, Sardar
Shaukat Hayat Khan, Mian Muhammad Mumtaz Daulatna and others courted
Thousands upon thousands of Muslim men and women defied the
government 's order on processions and meetings. For the first time in the
annals of Muslims movements, women came out into the open and branched
all odds; it was a teenage girl that climbed and hoisted the League flag atop
the Secretariat Building. A rebel paper was printed and circulated.
The jails were filled to capacity soon enough, and the government was forced
to release those arrested for want of accommodation. After such measure of
popular indignation and resistance, the discredited ministry could not
possible survive for long: it collapsed finally in early March when Khizar








Dr Khan Sahib, the Congress Chief Minister in the NWFP, had adopted similar
tactics to suppress the Muslims and the Muslim League in the Frontier and to
keep himself in power. To all who could see, it was evident even as early as
October 1946 when Nehru went on a tour in the Frontier that the Khan
brother's popularity had hoisted tremendously. Maulana Azad reports that
when Nehru arrived in Peshawar, the airport was swarming with a large

number of police, which had been placed there to give protection to the
unpopular Chief Minster and defend him and his guests against the hostility



By February 1947, a stage was reached when the Pathans' bitterness against
Dr Khan Sahib spilled over into a movement of civil liberties. All the
prominent Leaguers, including Khan Abdul Qaiyyum Khan, Pir Sahib of Manki
Sharif and Pir Sahib of Zakori, were hauled into god. By the end of March
over six thousand people had been arrested; by the first week of April the
number rose to twenty thousand. A clandestine radio station in the tribal belt
went on the air. Betimes, their fury and indignation reached new heights. In
spite of the tremendous odds, the movement continued for four long months
and was called of only after the announcement of the June 3rd Plan. In the
wake of the Punjab and Frontier came the civil disobedience movement in
Assam. The Bardoloi ministry had imposed a sort of Ghetto Act against
Muslim Bengali immigrants, who had settled there for some three decades.
The Muslim cultivators of the neighbouring districts of Bengal had been
encouraged in the 1920s to migrate to Assam, and cultivate the land,
transforming the fearful jungles into smiling cornfields. By mid the 1940s
however, the communal feeling of Bardoloi and his henchmen work up. It
saw in the settlement of these Bengali immigrants the establishment of
Pakistan in their paternal, homeland. Their "remedy" was the Line System
the lawless law, which had never been passed by any legislature, and they
resorted to eviction, setting elephants to pull down and raze huts to the
This inhuman law sparked the Assam Muslims to launch a civil disobedience
movement under the energetic leadership of Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan
Bhashani. He courted arrest, followed by others. This movement also
continued with varying fortunes till the announcement of Partition Plan of 3rd
Thus, the Direct Action resolution had sparked revolutionary activity among
Muslims. It prepared the ground for the disobedience movements in three

provinces, and these in part convinced the British that Muslims would not
bargain for anything less than Pakistan. In perspective, then, the Direct
Action decision influenced, more than anything else, the course of Indian
politics during the final stage of British rule, and led directly to the
emergence of Pakistan within a year.