Nehru Report, Muslim Demands and the Hindu Mahasabha: Elusive Consensus on Future Constitution

Date01 December 2020
Published date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Nehru Report, Muslim
Demands and the Hindu
Mahasabha: Elusive
Consensus on Future
Bhuwan Kumar Jha1
The Nehru Report of August 1928 presented the blueprint of a Swaraj Constitution.
Encapsulating the demands of the Indians to the colonial government as opposed
to the latter’s insistence on seeking opinion through an all-whites commission,
the report also presents the historical roots of our present Constitution. Amid
opposing claims, consensus over the communal issues in the report, which
appeared possible until late 1928, became elusive from the end of December
1928. It was mainly due to the closing of the ranks of significant Muslim leadership
behind Jinnah, and an ever-increasing vigilant attitude of the Hindu Mahasabha in
not allowing any change beyond what had already been agreed upon. The failure
of the report meant an end to the hope of finding a consensual solution to a future
Indian Constitution made by the Indians and for the Indians. This, in turn, pro-
vided the colonial government with an excuse to impose its scheme through the
Communal Award, White Paper and subsequently the Government of India Act
of 1935. So, the most elaborate constitutional framework prepared by the leading
nationalist leaders during the pre-Independence era finally crumbled under the
weight of communal deadlock. This article studies the processes through which
the differences over communal representation became so overpowering that they
rocked the entire boat. The widening of communal fault lines precipitated by
contesting claims over the recommendations of the Nehru Report left serious
repercussions over the trajectory of future Indian politics.
Nehru Report, Hindu Mahasabha, Muslim League, Motilal Nehru, Jinnah, Moonje
Indian Journal of Public
66(4) 534–551, 2020
© 2021 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0019556120980879
1 Satyawati College, University of Delhi, Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Bhuwan Kumar Jha, Department of History, Satyawati College (University of Delhi), Ashok Vihar,
Delhi 110052, India.
Jha 535
The Nehru Report was an exceptional document through its early envisioning of
social and economic rights (Jayal, 2013, p. 139), a ‘close precursor’ of the
Fundamental Rights of the Indian Constitution (Austin, 1966, p. 55),1 envisaging
a parliamentary system, recommending dominion status to secure a lowest
common measure of agreement among groups (Nanda, 2010, p. 127) and standing
out as the first major national initiative towards constitutionalising India
(Chakrabarty, 2018, pp. 164–167). However, as Coupland points out, the ‘frankest
attempt’ by Indians to wriggle out of the difficulties of communalism failed
mainly due to the Hindu–Muslim split and the ‘painstaking efforts of the Nehru
Committee to close the communal breach seemed to have widened it’ (Coupland,
1944). Though there were sufficient safeguards for protection of the rights of the
minorities to prevent one community domineering over another, the report, posit-
ing the widest possible nationalist consensus, did not endorse either the idea of
separate electorates or the set of communal demands of the Muslim leadership as
an alternative to separate electorates. A close examination of the course of politics
after October 1928 reveals Muslim leadership of significance falling for Jinnah’s
sudden demand for expanding the scope of the report on communal representa-
tion, with equally intense opposition from the Hindu Mahasabha leadership. By
mid-1929, all hopes of a consensus had almost disappeared, leaving the field wide
open for the colonial government to mediate and decide.
Hindu Mahasabha’s Growing Intervention in Politics
Many leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha had graduated to constitutional politics
through the Swarajist, and later, the Responsivist route. This witnessed, in the fol-
lowing years, the organisation’s increasing intervention in the debates on consti-
tutional programme and progress. This became conspicuous during the period
1927–1929 when the leaders of the party grew extremely vigilant about these
developments vis-à-vis the demands raised by the Muslim leadership, in general,
and the Muslim League, in particular. The Nehru Report onwards, it was aptly
clear that the organisation had adopted a largely uncompromising posture on
issues involving constitutional progress and the more intricate issue of representa-
tion of various communities in the legislatures.
The schism within the Swaraj Party came out in the open during 1925–1926
led chiefly by Moonje, Jayakar, Kelkar and Aney from Maharashtra who styled
themselves as Responsivists, advocating acceptance of office if they were offered
one on honourable terms. From the North, these leaders received support from
Malaviya and Lajpat Rai, both prominent leaders of the Congress as well as of
the Hindu Mahasabha. These ruptures within the Swarajist rank had deeper roots,
as the Responsivists, who had drifted more towards the Mahasabha, increasingly
made their displeasure clear on any constitutional arrangement likely to give in to
the communal demands of the Muslim leadership. The Punjab provincial Hindu
Sabha, as compared to the All-India Hindu Mahasabha, had all along presented
a more distinct anti-Congress approach. It strongly resented the Lucknow Pact

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