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Indian-Egyptian nationalist interaction on the cusp of war: domestic, colonial, and international agendas, 1937-1939
Between 1937 and 1939, a series of extraordinary encounters took place in Cairo, London, Bombay, and Delhi. They involved an overlapping cast of Egyptian and Indian politicians: Christians, Muslims, and Hindus; the leaders of their countries’ preeminent political blocs. What they all had in common was the cause of national emancipation from British rule. Beyond this, their interests and ideologies were frequently divergent—that is, when they were not in open conflict. This paper traces the arc of relations between three nationalist movements operating within the context of the British Empire in the late 1930s and early '40s: the Egyptian Wafd, the Indian National Congress, and the All-India Muslim League. It describes the involvement of the Muslim League in Egyptian-led diplomatic efforts surrounding the Palestine crisis; the burgeoning personal friendship and political alliance between Mustapha al-Nahhas, leader of the Wafd, and Jawaharlal Nehru, President of the INC; and the month-long tour of India undertaken by a Wafd delegation in the spring of 1939, during which they met with both Mohandas K. Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. I argue that domestic politics in Egypt and India contributed to shaping the dynamics of these transnational relationships, as did the shifting character of their interactions with the British imperial state in the years immediately preceding the Second World War. The paper concludes with a comparative reflection on the ways in which these three political parties saw their destinies transformed in the crucible of that global conflict. Research for this paper has included extensive consultation of British archival collections (primarily Foreign Office, Colonial Office and India Office Records), as well as Indian state archives; Egyptian and Indian newspaper archives; private papers; and published memoirs and biographies. It draws on and extends the work undertaken by historians of Egyptian-Indian nationalist collaboration, and interwar Indian pan-Islam, while demonstrating, through original research and analysis, the ways in which Indian sources can enrich our understanding of Arab history—and vice-versa.
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19th-21st Centuries