An important step forward in achieving Hindu-Muslim unity was the Lucknow Pact 1916.
Why? Firstly, the Muslims were dissatisfied with the treatment of Turkey by the British. Secondly, annulment of the partition of Bengal was seen as betrayal of the Muslims interests. The discussions for unity and possible course! of action continued for 3 years; and culminated in 1916 at Lucknow, where both the League and the Congress held simultaneous sessions. Both passed resolutions separately for a joint scheme of constitutional reforms and to cooperate in the political field on the basis of a common programme. The Pact put forward the demand for conferring self-government to India at an earlier date.
The Muslims raised a united outcry against the dismemberment of Turkey. The Muslim League at its Lucknow session on March 22, 1913, adopted a new constitution demanding self-government under the British and promotion of national and co-operation with other communities. The Congress in order to show support for the League’s decision appointed Nawab Syed Muhammad, a Muslim leader, as its President or Karachi session of 1913. Though a positive step by the Muslim League, it however, in no way erased its separatist tendencies. Muhammad Ali during the Presidential address at INC session in 1923, made the conditionality of the Muslim League joining hands with the Congress amply clear when he pointed out that the annulment of the partition of Bengal and treatment of Turkey had alienated the Muslims and left them feeling betrayed.
The Congress accepted the separate electorates, and both organizations jointly demanded dominion status for the country. This acceptance of separate electorates for Muslims by the Congress was to later haunt it as such an acceptance by an organisation that proposed to represent India served to validate the belief that the Muslims represented a separate community. Its acceptance later lent credence to the two-nation theory.
Hindu-Muslim unity weakened the British attitude and forced the government to announce its future policy. In 1916 a British policy was announced whereby association of Indians was increased and there was to be a gradual development of local self-governing institutions.
The first step towards national solidarity and common action was taken by Jinnah and some of his associates. They invited the League to hold its annual session at Bombay in December 1915 where the congress was holding its own session. The League session was attended among others, by Malviya, Sarojini Naidu and Gandhiji. The Congress and the League decided to co-operate in formulating a common scheme of post-war reforms and in pressing its adoption by the British authorities. The common agreed programme between the Muslim and INC was:
- In the Central Legislature, one-third of the elected Indian members should be Muslims.
- The principle of separate electorates for Musulmans was accepted. In Bengal and the Punjab, where the Muslims were in a majority, they were to have slightly less than their proportion of population might justify, that is 40 per cent against a population proportion of 52. 7 per cent and 50 per cent against the population proportion of 54. 8 per cent of the elected seats respectively. In other provinces where they were in a minority they were allowed representation much in excess of the proportion for instance, in UP, they were given 30 per cent seats against a population of 14 per cent, and in Madras 15 per cent against a population of 6. 6 per cent.
This scheme became the basis of a pact between the Congress and the League a year later, i. e. December 1916. Both the parties held their annual session at Lucknow and accepted the scheme without any substantial change.
The Congress-League pact was hailed as a significant step towards national solidarity. Tilak said: “The Lucknow session has become the most important session of the Congress”. The then President of the Congress commented that “it was the Indian National Congress Hindus and Muslims have been brought together”. Nobody then realized that the Lucknow pact involved the abandonment of a principle dear to Congress both before and after 1916. That principle was that Hindus and Muslims jointly comprised the Indian Nation. The acceptance of the system of communal representation, of the principle of weightage, as also on ‘communal veto’ in legislation proved to be the most fatal blunder of the Congress leadership.