The Muslim League was founded in 1906 as an alternative political group to the Indian National Congress. It was created with the aim of representing the interests of Indian Muslims in a country made up of mostly Hindus. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was also a member of Congress, was elected as president in 1916.
Following the First World War (1914-18) the Muslim League joined forces with Congress to advocate for Home Rule within the British Empire. Home Rule had already been granted in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In 1920, influenced by Mohandas Gandhi who began a civil disobedience campaign following the massacre of civilians in Amritsar, Congress launched a movement to boycott British rule. The Muslim League opposed this policy of non-cooperation because they deemed this approach too radical. It was this same year that Muhammad Ali Jinnah resigned from Congress.
From their inception, the Muslim League continually called for unity in an independent India but began to fear that it would be dominated by Hindus, who made up the majority of the population. Although a minority in comparison to the number of Hindus living in India, Muslims made up a quarter of the population. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Jinnah consolidated the views of Muslims in India into 14 points. These included proposals to form a federal government and to have a one third representation of Muslims in the central government.
The British Government passed the Government of India Act in 1935 introducing elections and self-government to the provinces of India while keeping overall control. Ahead of elections in 1937, Jinnah approached Congress to formulate a power-sharing agreement with the Muslim League. Congress rejected this offer maintaining that they represented all of India - many Congress leaders were concerned that if they recognised the special interests of Indian Muslims many more groups and communities would ask for special representation and the subcontinent would become too divided to challenge British rule. Congress won a majority and did not include the Muslim League in forming provincial governments
When Britain declared war with Germany in 1939 it did so on behalf of India as well. The Congress refused to support this declaration because their representatives hadn’t been consulted. In contrast, whilst the Muslim League remained critical of British rule, they agreed to support India’s participation in the war in the hope of gaining a better vantage to negotiate independence.
In 1940, in what became known as the ‘two-nation theory’, Jinnah began to demand for the creation of a separate Muslim state from territories that were currently in British India. Jinnah’s speech was very vague about the legal nature of this state or how it would relate to other parts of British India, but to many it seemed to be a demand for complete Muslim independence. The idea of a separate state of Pakistan began to gain popularity with Muslims across India.