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June 24, 2014

Efforts of the British Government Towards “Divide and Rule”

6:18 PM

When Europe came into contact with South and South-East Asia after Vasco da Gama’s successful trip to Calicut, the word Indies was applied to a much larger area than the subcontinent. Indonesia, a collection of many islands, some of which have their own characteristics, was included. To the European trader or colonist, it sufficed that the people, so different among themselves, were not European and possessed some common characteristics being the inhabitants of a region that had been subject to certain Indian influences. Europeans and Indians themselves got used to the idea of India being in fact or potentially a single political unit.  

The establishment of British rule in subcontinent and its expansion to its farthest corners brought the territories into much closer contact with Europe. When the officers of British India Government returned to England and bought rotten boroughs with wealth accumulated in India, the fame of the subcontinent spread all over Europe. Thus India became the source of British wealth and power and Europe was dazzled with the brilliance of the brightest jewel in the British crown.

First World War produced a new sense of liberty and freedom. It gave a new meaning to nationalism bound on oneness of the territory, language, race, and common traditions etc. on that basis a number of such national states came into existence in European Asia. In between the two World Wars the concept of the nationalism changed from the territorial-socio-cultural concept to the aggregation of men on moral consciousness. Second World War brought the defeat of the racist worship of national character where nation was identified with biological entity; the race. That defeat has resulted in the emergence of states on moral consciousness like India and Pakistan, and later Bangladesh. It became more evident with British India after the war. The British Indian Empire has been split up in religious states of Islamic Pakistan, Secular India, and Buddhist Sri Lanka and Burma.

It has often been said that the British played Hindus and Muslims off against each other in order to preserve their rule in India but it is also true that Congress and Muslim League leaders did very little to frustrate British government plan. British Government made many efforts, which helped to successfully implement their “Divide and rule” policy in British India, which is ultimately responsible for the two Separate States in British India.

Difference between Hindus and Muslims (Two Nation Theory)
It is a fact that Muslims and Hindus are two entirely different nations. Al-Beruni who visited India in 1001 gave earliest account of distinction between the Hindus and the Muslims. “The Hindus entirely differ from the Muslims in every respect… All their fanaticism is directed against those who do not belong to them- against all foreigners (Muslims). They call them mleccha, i.e., impure, and forbid having any connection with them, be it by intermarriage or any other kind of relationship, or by sitting, eating, and drinking with them, because thereby, they think, they would be polluted” (Sacha, 1910: ; p.22).
Hinduism and Islam represented two distinct and separate civilizations and were in fact so disparate from one another in origin, tradition, and manner of life that the two religions hardly reconciled at any point. To the Muslim, the world is unity and his role in the world is self-affirmation and self-assertion with a view to establish the supremacy of moral values derived from the concept of oneness and greatness of God. To Hindu, the world is Maya, an illusion. The Maya concept leads the Hindu to the pursuit of wealth. To the Hindu, wealth is God. To the Muslim, it means nothing. To the Hindu, cow is a sacred deity to be worshiped. To the Muslim, it is meant for the human service and comfort. Likewise, their legal system and personal laws differ. They even differ in language, tradition, history, customs, manners, dress and even food. In short, they differ from their birth to their death. To the Muslims, every child is born a Muslim, which to the Hindu the baby is made Hindu through a religious ceremony. Hindus burn their dead, while Muslims bury theirs. To the Hindu, India is Bharat Mata. To the Muslims, Islam is nationalism. Their histories are also different. For the Hindus, their war and peace were for self-preservation and personal ego. For the Muslims, their war and peace were to create the Kingdom of God to embrace humanity in order to free man from slavery in all aspects of his life and to lead mankind to a free world.

This was the perfect situation for British to implement their “divide and rule” policy as Hindu and Muslim religions were not religions in the Western sense of the term for the social and political lives of their followers were intertwined with their religious practices. It was not easy for such cultures to coalesce to produce a united Indian nation. British government did nothing but ignited the differences between these two nations, which prolonged their rule in United India. This paper discusses some of such efforts of British.

Indian National Congress

A.W. Hume, a retired member of the Indian Civil Service, laid the foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. This body had three objects. First: the synthesis of the varying, and till recently discordant, elements that constituted the Indian population into one united nation; second: “the gradual regeneration along all lines, mental, moral, social and political, of the nation thus evolved”; and third: the amalgamation of the “union between England and India, by securing the modifications of such of its conditions as may be unjust or injurious to the latter country” (Philips, 1962).

The most important point to be noticed here is that the congress was founded by an Englishman, a retired official of the Indian Government, and had the blessings of the then Governor-General of India, Lord Dufferin. The first president of Congress W. C. Bonnerjee said, “The Indian National Congress, as it was originally started and as it has since been carried on, is in reality the work of the Marques of Dufferin and Ava when that nobleman was the Governor-General of India” (Bonnerjee, 1898: p. vii). When Hume took his scheme to the Governor-General, the latter amended it and gave his blessings to the effort of organizing the Congress.

Syed Ahmed Khan asked the Muslims not to join the Congress. The vast majority of his people followed this advice. He never wavered in his opposition to the congress and declared that even if he was told that the Viceroy, the Secretary of State and the whole House of Commons had openly supported the Congress, he would still remain firmly opposed to it, and he earnestly begged all Muslims to remain away from it. “It is my deliberate belief that should the resolution of the native Congress be carried into effect, it would be impossible for the British Government to preserve the peace, or control in any degree the violence and civil wars which would ensue” (The Times, 1888).

Hume was not pleased by this criticism. The sight of his creation being strongly opposed was too much for him, and he lampooned Syed Ahmed Khan and his followers in intemperate language. He called them “fossils”, wanting in understanding, men who in their hearts hate British rule or are secretly in the employ of England’s enemies. He said them timeservers who hoped to be paid for their opposition to the Congress. He did not believe that the Muslim opposition represented genuine feeling, and called it artificial and mischievous. But even he admitted that active Congress propaganda had stirred up religious rivalries, which had, more or less, been dormant for sometime (Wedderburn, 1913).
William Lilly recorded that all Muslims stood contemptuously aloof from the Congress (Lilly, 1902). Colonel Ward, a district officer of long experience, declared that no Muslim of any standing or position would have a word to say in favor of the Congress (Ward, 1896). Sir George Chesney went to the extent of asserting that the more sober and sensible of the educated Indians were astonished at the fact that the Government suffered the Congress to go on (Chesney, 1894).

Contemporary Muslim press in India was full of criticism of the Congress. Newspapers like the Muhammadan Observer, The Victoria Paper, The Muslim Herald, and the Imperial Paper spoke with one voice against Congress (Bahadur, 1954). The Aligarh Muslim Gazette, the venerable and powerful organ of Muslim India, was a source of strength to the Muslims in this controversy. Among the Muslim organizations and institutions, which denounce the Congress and appealed to the Muslims not to lend their ear to its blandishments, were: the Central National Muhammadan Association, the Muhammadan Literary Society of Bengal, the Anjuman-I-Islam of Madras, the Dindigal Anjuman, and the Muhammadan Central Association of the Punjab.

Thus the foundation of Indian National Congress was one of such efforts of British to create a gulf between Hindus and Muslims and they succeeded in their effort.

Partition of Bengal

Lord Curzon found the Bengal presidency too large a charge for one Governor and decided to redraw its boundaries. In the year 1905 “the provinces of Bengal and Assam were reconstituted so as to form two provinces of manageable size: Bengal with a population of 54 million, of which 42 million would be Hindus and 9 million Muslims, and Eastern Bengal and Assam, with a population of 31 million of which 18 million would be Muslims and 12 million Hindus. The territories to be transferred from Bengal to the new province consisted of the districts of Chittagong and Dacca divisions”, those of Rajshahi division except Darjeeling, and the district of Malda (British Government of India, 1905).
This scheme was sent to London by Curzon in February 1905. It was sanctioned by the Secretary of State for India, St. John Brodrick, in June “and the proclamation of the formation of the new provinces was issued in September”. The province of Eastern Bengal and Assam officially came into being on October 16 1905.

This modification of the boundaries of Bengal was made an occasion for unprecedented agitation by the Hindus-first of Bengal and later of other parts of India. Ulterior motives were imputed to Curzon: he had deliberately tried to divide the Hindus and the Muslims by drawing the line between Hindu and Muslim halves of Bengal, he had favored the Muslims by giving them a new province in which the majority constituted of Muslims; he had “vivisected” the Bengali homeland; “he had struck a deadly blow at Bengali nationality”; he had sought to weaken the “nationalist” and “patriotic” movement of the people of India, which had its strongest center in Bengal; he was the upholder of the devilish official policy of divide and rule.

Thus ran the indictment against Curzon and his government. On the other hand, Muslims welcomed the partition. On 22nd October 1905 a large Muslim meeting at Dacca appreciated the boon conferred on the people by the change. Two days later another big gathering offered thanks to God for the partition and declared that under new scheme, the Muslims would be spared much oppression, which they had hitherto had to endure from the Hindus. The Hindu agitation against the partition was condemned (Ali, 1907).

The most serious result of the Hindu agitation was a steep rise in Hindu Muslim riots. The Swadeshi movement led to the boycott campaign, and this, in its turn, resulted in communal clashes. Muslim dealers in foreign cloth refused to shut their business in support of the Hindu boycott. When zealous Hindu volunteers forced the Muslim shopkeepers to declare a boycott, bloodshed was unavoidable. This political agitation appealed to Hindu religious antipathy against the Muslims. Muslim meetings were broken up, Muslim workers were assaulted, and Muslims who refused to participate in the agitation were bitterly persecuted.

Since 1908 the Congress leaders had been spreading the story that the Government was contemplating the repeal of the partition of Bengal. They had succeeded finally and in the Delhi Durbar of 1911 partition of Bengal were annulled. Muslim reaction to this decision was naturally bitter. This decision again gave rise to agitation and riots but this time from Muslims of India. British Government first made a decision to part Hindus and Muslims and then reverse it. This had provided an impartial and unbiased image of the Government while on the other hand; it increased the distance between Hindus and Muslims. This was another victory of “Divide and rule” policy of British Government.

All India Muslim League

The Indian Council Act of 1892 had, introduced the principles of representation and election in India. The coming of another installment of reforms was now indicated in which the elective principle would be extended. Muslim leaders drew up a plan of separate electorates for their community and presented it to the viceroy, Lord Minto, at Simla on 1st October 1906. The Simla deputation made two fundamental demands. First, in all local and provincial elections Muslim must be separately represented and their representation must be separately elected by purely Muslim electorates. Secondly, Muslims be given weightage in all elected bodies, i.e. they should have more seats than their ratio of population warranted. Viceroy in his prepared reply to the Deputation’s address accepted both the demands (Minto, 1934).

The Simla Deputation occupies a crucially important place in the history of modern Muslim India. For the First time the Hindu Muslim conflict was lifted to the constitutional plane. The rift in the society was now to be reflected in legal and political institutions.

Rajendra Prasad had tried to prove that the delegation was engineered by Mr. Archbold, the British Principal of Aligarh College (Prasad, 1947). This was quite understandable. Sir Syed had tried to promote understanding between Muslims and the British Government and Mr. Archbold was, after all, a Principal of a Muslim college.  

In persuasion of this political effort, Muslim leaders met in Dacca in December 1906. Nawab of Dacca moved a resolution for establishing a Muslim organization to be called the All India Muslim League. Nawab Vaqarul Mulk delivered the presidential address. The League adopted as its objects: (a) to promote among the Muslims of India feelings of loyalty to the British Government and to remove any misconception that may arise as to the intentions of Government with regard to any of is measures; (b) to protect and advance the political rights and interests of Muslims of India and respectfully to represent their needs and aspirations to Government; (c) to prevent the rise among Muslims of India of any feelings of hostility towards other communities without prejudice to other objects of the League.

To show that the Simla delegation was engineered by the British Government or officials is to suggest that Muslims were being supported by the British. This was quite true. It had been argued that it was Lord Minto who inspired the establishment of a Muslim organization so that he could use it to break the Congress and thus to minimize the strength of the Indian freedom movement.  British were first established Indian National Congress; they knew that the Congress would largely be a Hindu organization for after all Muslims were nowhere in the political scene that time. But when British Government felt the presence of Muslims in political scene they engineered to establish a political party for Muslims too. Similarly British Government’s decision of separate electorate for Muslims was a deliberate attempt to sow the seeds of conflict between Hindus and Muslims. A British official is reported to have remarked at the time the Viceroy assured the Muslim delegation that they would get separate electorate, “it is nothing less than the pulling back of sixty-two millions of people from joining the ranks of the seditious opposition” (Minto: 47-48).

Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (Government of India Act of 1919)
Edwin Montagu, the Secretary of state for India, visited India from November 1917 to April 1918 and in cooperation with the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, held discussion with Indian leaders of all opinions. The result of these conversations and the Viceroy-Secretary of State deliberations was the Montagu-Chelmsford, which was published on 8th July1918. The proposal of the report were supported by all the members of the Council of the Secretary of State and of the Viceroy’s Executive council, and were welcomed by the non-official members of the Imperial Legislative Council but were severely criticized by the Muslim League and the congress. The Report’s plan was so far removed from that of the Congress. League had not tried to make any attempt to arrange a compromise, and the official recommendations were drafted into a Government of India Bill, which passed through Parliament in November 1919 and received the Royal Assent on 23rd December.

This report suggested that the outstanding new device applied to India was diarchy. Certain subjects in each province were to be transferred to the control of Ministers chosen from and responsible to the majority in the legislative council. In this sphere Governor was normally to act on the advice of the ministers. The other subjects were to reserved o remain under the control of the Governor and his Executive council, whose members would be officials responsible, not to the provincial legislative council, but to the Secretary of State. The Governor was empowered to enact any bill, including a money bill, over the head of the legislative council if he certified that it was essential (Coupland, 1942).

Elections of 1920 were held under this new Act, but Congress took no part in it. National Liberals participated in the elections and took offices as ministers in most of the provinces In 1923 Congress decided to contest the next elections, not with a view to working the constitution but to destroying it from. Muslims, on the other hand, did not disapprove the Act of 1919. Thus this Constitution widened the gap between Hindus and Muslims.

Muslims and Hindus were enjoying complete unity at the time when this Act was implemented. British Government knew that this scheme would not work because Government at the center remained under the control of the British officials, who were responsible to the British Government. Implementation of this Act was nothing but another effort of British Government to apply its “Divide and rule” policy.   


British had ruled on the Subcontinent for almost hundred years. They, from the very beginning, knew that it was not easy to control such a huge population; so they adopted a clear policy of “Divide and Rule”. It had also said that the Separatism in Muslims really started when British conceded separate electorate to Muslims in 1909. It was the deliberate act of British Government to divide the electorate and thus disrupt the growing Indian National movement.
Thus it can be concluded that British Government made many efforts to implement their divide and rule policy but Indian National Congress and All India Muslim League did not do any serious effort to frustrate British government plan, which was actually the exact purpose of their foundation.



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