- In 1946, Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared 16 August as ‘Direct Action Day’ and called for Muslims all over the country to ‘suspend all businesses’. This was to put pressure on the British government to relent to the Muslim League’s (headed by Jinnah) demand of dividing the country on the basis of religion, thereby allowing the creation of a Muslim-dominated Pakistan.
- Direct Action Day perhaps marks the crux of the nationalistic struggle which finally led to India’s partition.
- Direct Action Day (16 August 1946), also known as the 1946 Calcutta Killings, was a day of nationwide communal riots.
- It led to large-scale violence between Muslims and Hindus in the city of Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) in the Bengal province of British India.
- In 1946, the Indian independence movement against the British Raj had reached a pivotal stage.
- British Prime Minister Clement Attlee sent a three-member Cabinet Mission to India aimed at discussing and finalizing plans for the transfer of power from the British Raj to the Indian leadership.
- Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the onetime Congressman and now the leader of the Muslim League, had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan of 16 June, as had the central presidium of the Congress.
- On 10 July, however, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress President, held a press conference in Bombay declaring that although the Congress had agreed to participate in the Constituent Assembly, it reserved the right to modify the Cabinet Mission Plan as it saw fit.
- Fearing Hindu domination in the central government, the Muslim League politicians pressed Jinnah to revert to “his earlier unbending stance”.
- Then, Jinnah rejected the British Cabinet Mission plan for transfer of power to an interim government, which would combine both the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress, and decided to boycott the Constituent Assembly.
- In July 1946, Jinnah held a press conference at his home in Bombay. He proclaimed that the Muslim league was “preparing to launch a struggle” and that they “have chalked out a plan”
- Further later, Jinnah announced 16 August 1946 would be “Direct Action Day”.
- Since the 11–14 February 1946 riots in Calcutta, communal tension had been high. Hindu and Muslim newspapers whipped up public sentiment with inflammatory and highly partisan reporting that heightened antagonism between the two communities.
- ‘Direct Action Day’ marked the beginning of several acts of violence spread over a couple of days in what came to be known as the ‘Week of the Long Knives’.
- While it was ostensibly established none of the politicians had expected the violence to reach as massive a scale as it did, it went ahead to become a brutality-ridden microcosm of the political struggle that had the entire country in its throes later in 1947.
- Muslims became more determined in their fight for a separate nation where they would feel safe from communal violence, a decision from which both Jinnah as well as the Congress’ elite politicians would stand to benefit.
- As members of one community rounded up members of another and murdered them in cold blood, 6 August 1946 was forever etched in history as the day which saw the surfacing of the most primeval human instinct of violence.
- There was criticism of Suhrawardy, Chief Minister in charge of the Home Portfolio in Calcutta, for being partisan and of Sir Frederick John Burrows, the British Governor of Bengal, for not having taken control of the situation.
- The Hindu press blamed the Suhrawardy Government and the Muslim League.
- According to the authorities, riots were instigated by members of the Muslim League and its affiliate Volunteer Corps, in the city in order to enforce the declaration by the Muslim League that Muslims were to ‘suspend all business’ to support their demand for an independent Pakistan.
- Further, members of the Indian National Congress, including Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru responded negatively to the riots and expressed shock.