- General elections were held in British India in December 1945 to elect members of the Central Legislative Assembly and the Council of State.
- The hopes for some political advance, dashed by the failure of the Simla Conference, once again revived with the coming to power of the Labour Party in Britain.
- An important initiative taken by the Labour Government was the declaration that elections to the central and provincial assemblies would be held in 1945
- Thus, on 19 September 1945, the Viceroy Lord Wavell announced that elections to the central and provincial legislatures would be held in December 1945 to January 1946.
- It was also announced that an executive council would be formed and a constitution-making body would be convened after these elections.
- Although the Government of India Act 1935 had proposed an all-India federation, it could not take place because the government held that the Princely states were unwilling to join it.
- Hence the elections to the central legislature were held under the terms of the Government of India Act 1919.
- The main parties in the contest were the Congress and the Muslim League. The elections were particularly important for the League in its quest for Pakistan.
- The election campaign became a massive exercise in the mobilisation of the people. And the following two major issues were taken up:
- A major issue taken up in the election campaign related to the unprecedented repression witnessed against the 1942 movement.
- Many, including ordinary people and cadres, had been martyred in the cause.
- A typical election speech would relate the tale of repression with all details of brutality, move on to condemning the officials who were guilty and end with the promise (or threat) that Congress governments would enquire into these cases and mete out punishment to the guilty officials.
- The second issue taken up in the election campaign was that of the fate of the members of Subhas Bose’s Indian National Army taken prisoner by the Allies and put on trial for brutalities and war crimes
- Jawaharlal Nehru hailed them as misguided patriots and called for leniency given that big changes were imminent in India.
- Congress followed this up by passing a resolution in support of the cause.
- In addition to legal help, Congress organised relief funds and arranged employment for the INA men.
- Congress election meetings were often indistinguishable from INA meetings
- In the elections to the central assembly in December 1945, out of 102 seats, Congress won 57, League 30, Independents 5, Akalis 2 and Europeans 8.
- In the elections to the provincial assemblies, Congress won 923 of 1585 seats, and 23 of 38 labour seats but was defeated by the Muslim League in the Muslim seats. ‘
- The elections of 1946 were a watershed.
- The results made it clear that the Congress represented the large masses of the country.
- It was equally clear, however, that the Muslim League spoke for most Muslims.
- The Congress was to go on to form governments in the provinces of Madras, Bombay, United Provinces, Bihar, Orissa, Central Provinces and Berar and NWFP.
- The League formed ministries in Bengal and Sind.
- In Punjab, after the elections of 1946, some negotiations between Muslim League and Akalis were carried out with a possible coalition in mind. This had been unsuccessful and Akalis joined with Unionists and Congress to form a coalition ministry.
Significance of these Elections
- The election coupled with the provincial one in 1946 proved to be a strategic victory for Jinnah and the partitionists.
- Even though Congress won, the League had united the Muslim vote and as such it gained the negotiating power to seek a separate Muslim homeland as it became clear that a united India would prove highly unstable.
- The elections witnessed communal voting in contrast to the strong anti-British unity shown in various upsurges due to separate electorates and limited franchise, as for the provinces, less than 10 per cent of the population could vote and for the Central Assembly, less than 1 per cent of the population was eligible.
- Also, these were the last general elections in British India; consequent elections were held in 1951 in India and 1970 in Pakistan.
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