Yasser Latif Hamdani
(Jinnah’s role as the main leader of the Pakistan Movement 1940 onwards has overshadowed his other numerous contributions to India in the independence struggle and as a mediator between communities. Jinnah, who even in the mid 1930s, was denounced as “more Congress than Congress” on numerous occasions intervened in inter-communal disputes and resolved them, which tragically have been forgotten because of the partisan approach to India’s partition. Indians have since 1947 painted Jinnah as an insufferable communalist and similarly Pakistanis have painted him a champion of Muslims, forgetting that Time and Tide of London in its introduction to Jinnah’s famous article spoke of most Congressman having a soft spot for Jinnah who not long ago was a leader in their ranks… Today more than ever Pakistan needs a conciliator and a peacemaker like him. It is also important for Indians and Pakistanis to see Jinnah’s record in entirety instead of using his caricature for their national projects. – Author)
People who claim that liberals only quote Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech to prove their contention that Jinnah wanted a modern secular democratic state have not bothered to read Jinnah’s record as one of the frontline leaders of the Indian independence movement, especially on civil rights, civil liberties, religious freedom, women’s rights, rights of minorities, the role of religion, etc, from 1910 to 1946 in the Indian legislature. They would see that Jinnah’s words spoken on August 11, 1947 were consistent with his lifelong views and his belief in liberal democratic constitutionalism. These speeches would also lay down the vision he had for India as a whole and not just Pakistan, which in any event he saw as a subset of an overarching Indian political unity.
Jinnah’s politics was liberal, modern and cosmopolitan. He was steeped in the pluralistic traditions of the Khoja Ismaili background as well as the Bombay experience. While he imbibed the finest traditions of liberalism of his time in London, it was at Bombay that Jinnah in real terms came into his own. He was the quintessential British Indian with strong nationalist fervor and ardor for political, cultural, social and religious reform. He said repeatedly that the march of humanity could not be impeded by the considerations of religious orthodoxy. Jinnah was always the voice of reason:
“I thoroughly endorse the principle that while this measure should aim at those undesirable persons who indulge in wanton vilification or attack upon the religion of any particular class or upon the founders and prophets of a religion, we must also secure this very important and fundamental principle that those who are engaged in historical works, those who are engaged in bona fide and honest criticism of a religion, shall be protected.” Jinnah on the passage of 295-A of the Indian Penal Code (also Pakistan Penal Code).
There is a common tendency to tarnish Jinnah’s memory by saying that because Jinnah was lawyer in appeal (for a fee and purely in a professional capacity) for Ilam Din who was accused and later convicted of murdering Raj Pal for publishing a scurrilous publication on the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), he some how would have endorsed the blasphemy law as it exists today. There is no doubt that in retrospect, this was a mistake on part of Mr. Jinnah (and the Pratap newspaper was right in criticizing Jinnah there and then) but it is important to note that unlike all major Muslim leaders from all sides of the spectrum, Jinnah did not use this for political capital at any point.
There is a tendency on part of revisionist Islamists as well as his detractors to approach Jinnah’s life piecemeal. For example, everyone from all sides of the spectrum claim that Jinnah disowned his daughter for marrying a Parsi (not true in the least – she was not disowned) but without exception all of them forget that Jinnah, till the end of his life, continued to support the bill to allow inter-marriage between people of different communities without the mandatory renunciation of the parent faith.
Some people have attempted to give Jinnah’s alleged opposition to his daughter’s marriage to Neville Wadia a religious colouring. The truth is that not only did Jinnah not make any attempt to stop his daughter’s marriage to Mr Wadia, he also sent a bouquet of flowers as well as a letter of congratulation to Dina Wadia. It is true that this wedding in 1939 put Jinnah in an awkward situation vis-à-vis Congress-backed Islamists in the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Hind and Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam Hind who were publishing propaganda against Jinnah’s credentials as the Muslim League leader, but the fiction that we have invented about Jinnah forbidding the marriage itself is just a figment of someone’s overactive imagination. Jinnah supported a bill that would allow intermarriage between Hindus and Muslims because Jinnah felt that educated people of any religion should not be hindered by the religious clergy.
On the issue of inter marriage Jinnah, speaking as a member of the Viceroy’s council, asked: “May I ask the honourable member, is this the first time in the history of the legislation of this country that this council has been called upon to override the Musalman Law or modify it to suit the times? This council has overridden and modified the Musalman Law in many respects.” He went on to state the various occasions in which the council had abrogated Islamic law before declaring, “This is an entirely optional character of legislation and it is not at all compulsory that every Muhammadan shall marry a non-Muhammadan or that every Hindu shall marry a non-Hindu. Therefore, if there is fairly a large class of enlightened, educated, advanced Indians, be they Hindus, Muhammadans or Parsis, and if they wish to adopt a system of marriage, which is more in accord with the modern civilisation and ideas of modern times, more in accord with modern sentiments, why should that class be denied justice?” (Page 369 of the Collected Works of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Volume I, published by the National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University.).
This was a lifelong position. Jinnah, speaking on September 11, 1929, said: “If we are going to allow ourselves to be influenced by public opinion that can be created in the name of religion when we know religion has nothing to do with the matter, we must have the courage to say ‘no we are not going to be frightened by that’.” He was speaking on the Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929, which orthodox Muslims had opposed on the basis of religion.
Jinnah’s role as the main leader of the Pakistan Movement 1940 onwards has overshadowed his other numerous contributions to India in the independence struggle and as a mediator between communities. Jinnah, who even in the mid 1930s, was denounced as “more Congress than Congress” on numerous occasions intervened in inter-communal disputes and resolved them, which tragically have been forgotten because of the partisan approach to India’s partition. Indians have since 1947 painted Jinnah as an insufferable communalist and similarly Pakistanis have painted him a champion of Muslims, forgetting that Time and Tide of London in its introduction to Jinnah’s famous article spoke of most Congressman having a soft spot for Jinnah who not long ago was a leader in their ranks.
Jinnah’s role as the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity is known but not emphasized. Even less known is his contribution to the betterment of various communities of India including Sikhs, Dalits, Christians, etc. In 1936, Jinnah spent close to three weeks in Lahore in order to resolve the longstanding Shahidganj dispute between Sikhs and Muslims. This dispute pertained to a Mughal era mosque in Lahore in which a Gurduwara had been built during the Sikh times. On 7 July 1935, the Mosque was demolished by Sikhs leading to widespread disorder and violence. Muslims started a civil disobedience campaign led by Zafar Ali Khan and his blue shirts. A dozen Muslims died in gunfire by the police. The communal situation spiraled out of control and the city was under curfew. Majlis-e-Ahrar and Unionist Party formed the “Majlis-e-Tahafuz-e-Masjid” as well as “Majlis-e-Itehad-e-Millat”. There was another more perfidious angle to it. Sir Fazl-e-Hussain, the great Unionist leader, is accused by Sajjad Zaheer in “Light on League-Unionist Conflict” of having masterminded the whole Shahidganj dispute to embroil the pro-Congress Ahrar in it and thereby sideline them during the coming elections.
Jinnah arrived in Lahore on the morning of 21st February 1936 via the Frontier Mail train. Immediately upon arrival, Jinnah spoke to the Muslim crowd that had gathered to welcome him and said:
“My task is purely that of a conciliator and a peacemaker. I have arrived in Lahore in the full hope that the leaders of the various communities will help me bring about a settlement because the general and greater interest of the Punjab and particularly the city of Lahore will be best served by the three important communities, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims working together and cooperating in a friendly spirit.
There are much bigger issues which the Punjab will have to tackle than Shahidganj and it is only by unity that we can tackle the various problems facing us and will continue to face us from time to time. Therefore my earnest appeal to all leaders of different communities is to help me. I can assure the people of Lahore and the Punjab in general that I have not come to Lahore in a partisan spirit.”
Later in the day speaking at the Badshahi Mosque, Jinnah told leaders of the Muslim civil disobedience movement:
“I also felt that you cannot carry on war and negotiations for a settlement at the same time. I, therefore, of my own accord asked you to stop civil disobedience. By stopping this movement in deference to my wishes you have proved yourself to be a disciplined community. You have raised your prestige and shown that you can act in cooperation with each other…. I appeal to you to maintain a helpful attitude and do nothing which may hurt the feelings of the other communities.”
February 22-24, Jinnah engaged in important dialogue with Sikh and Muslim leaderships, impressing upon them the need to cooperate at all costs. On 23 February, the Tribune carried the following news story:
“Mr. M A Jinnah met the Hindu and Sikh leaders today and discussed with them the Shahidganj situation. In the morning he went to the Badshahi mosque and talked with the Muslim dictator (Malik Inayatullah) who is directing the Shahidganj agitation, for about an hour. He met the Hindu leaders and journalists at lunch. .. In the afternoon he met Master Tara Singh, S Harnam Singh, Advocate and other Sikh leaders and had prolonged conversations with them for about 3 hours and a half”.
Speaking to the gathering of the Muslim students league, Jinnah spoke of the Sikhs in detail:
“I cannot perhaps account for it, but I have always considered the Sikhs a very fine community. I have rendered them whatever service I could, not for a fee, but out of regard for them in connection to Jaito developments and in connection with the deposition of the Maharaja of Nabha.”
Again speaking to Muslims on February 29, Jinnah said about the Sikhs:
“They are a great and brave community and I think I am voicing the true feelings of Muslims when I say that nothing will please the Muslims more than an honourable settlement between the two brave communities in Punjab.”
Later responding to Barkat Ali’s address, he advised the Muslims to adopt constitutional and legal means and said that “we are going to make every possible effort to come to an amicable understanding with the Sikhs”. He then urged the Muslims to remain calm and peaceful under all circumstances so that he could do his job.
Jinnah left for Delhi on the 29th of February and returned to Lahore on the 1st of March. A press report meanwhile had claimed that Jinnah had promised the Muslims that Sikhs were ready to regret their role in the demolition of the mosque. Through a press statement, Jinnah put the record straight and said that the communications between him and Sikh leaders were for now undisclosed.
On the evening of 1st March, Jinnah addressed a gathering of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims at the Town Hall in Lahore. The proceeding started off with Nanak Chand Pandit – a legislator from the Punjab Assembly- paying a glowing tribute to Jinnah and his leadership and expressing confidence in him on behalf of the Hindus of Lahore. Sardar Ujjal Singh, the prominent Sikh leader, reposed confidence and assured Jinnah of complete support from the Sikhs. K.L.Rallia Ram of the Indian Christian Community spoke on behalf of the Christians and expressed total confidence in him. If anyone would have told them that one day Jinnah would be the apostle of Muslim separatism who would carve out a new country in a decade’s time, they would have laughed him out.
Jinnah spoke last. He said
“Believe me, I have not come here as a Muslim leader. I have not come to champion the cause of the Muslims. I have only one object before me and that is to find a fair and just solution of the problem and if it is fair and just it will be honourable and lasting… I am convinced that there is not a single thinking Muslim who does not desire friendship and brotherhood with Sikhs and Hindus. As I have said before, we have got much bigger problems to tackle in the Punjab and the greater interests of the Province demand complete unity.”
In response to Nanak Chand’s reference to the work he did at the roundtable conference, Jinnah remarked that he was the most individualistic member of the conference.
“I displeased the Muslims. I displeased my Hindu friends because of the famous 14 points. I displeased the princes because I was deadly against their underhanded activities and I displeased the British parliament because I felt right from the beginning and I rebelled against it and said that it was all a fraud. Within a few weeks I did not have a friend left there. But whatever I have done, let me assure you that there has been no change in me, not the slightest since the day when I joined Indian National Congress. It may be I have been wrong on some occasions. But it has never been done in a partisan spirit. My sole and only object has been the welfare of my country. I assure you that India’s interest is and will be sacred to me and nothing will make me budge an inch from that position.”
On March 5th Jinnah was the Chief Guest at the annual meeting of the Speakers’ Union of Dyal Singh College Lahore. Professor Lajpat Rai, the president of the Union, welcoming the guest said:
“Sir you have come to this province on a mission of peace and goodwill. We, in this institution, which is completely non-communal and non-sectarian, are doing our humble bit for the evolution of Indian nation. “
Professor Das Gupta lauded Jinnah’s services to the Indian people and described as a “red letter day” for the college.
Jinnah’s reply was most instructive:
“I feel myself among kindred spirits. This College does not believe in any creed and I too feel that the salvation of India lies in the non-sectarian feelings. It was this creed which I had in the past, which I have at present and which I will have in future dearest to my heart”.
Rejecting the idea that India should have dictators like Hitler and Mussolini, he referred to Gokhale and said
“Give me more Gokhales”.
Jinnah concluded that
“India has everything, God has given her everything but man has not served her well. Let man serve India and you have bright days ahead of you.”
The next day speaking at the Rotary Club about the Shahidganj issue, Jinnah said that the need was to prevent unscrupulous leaders from exploiting the masses. Later on in the day speaking to a meeting of Servants of India association at Lajpat Rai Hall, Jinnah drove home that both for independence of India and for the dispute of Shahidganj dispute, they had to come together as politicians and statesmen and not as Hindus, Christians or Muslims. He also spoke about his 14 points and said that he had been proposing joint electorates and that the 14 points were welcomed by many Congress leaders.
His fortnight in Lahore brought about the conciliation committee that Jinnah appointed. This included Iqbal, Abdul Qadar Kasuri, Mian Abdul Aziz, Raja Narendra Nath, Nanak Chand Pandit, S B Buta Singh, Sardar Ujjal Singh and Sardar Sampuran Singh. Consequently the communal situation improved and the situation died down.
Today more than ever Pakistan needs a conciliator and a peacemaker like him. It is also important for Indians and Pakistanis to see Jinnah’s record in entirety instead of using his caricature for their national projects.
This brings me to the question of partition. After all Jinnah is the man who “divided” India according to the late Professor Rafiq Zakaria and is universally hated by Indians for his alleged role. The result of the partition has been that we have two majoritarian states that refuse to talk to each other and while India is a secular democracy and Pakistan is not, recent news from India suggests India is about to take a decidedly communal terms of the kind Pakistan experienced under the brutal military regime in the 1980s. I would like to make two points in this regard:
1. Modi’s Hindu Nationalist India is the natural and logical outcome of a) Gandhian cultural nationalism which emphasized ancient “dignity” of India, caste Hindu consciousness and invocation of Gita and Ram Rajya; and b) Congress Party’s obsession with majoritarianism during the freedom struggle. This is borne out of a desire to get recognition of “Hindu cultural life” as an essential part of Indian cultural ethos, a trend that was started by Gandhi and carried on by Congress party under his watch. Just as Pakistan fell victim to Muslim majoritarianism slowly and steadily during the 67 years of its existence, India too has always been a Hindu majoritarian state and Modi Sarkar has merely taken the mask off.
2. Given the argument above, it is further argued that a mutually beneficial solution for Pakistan, India and Bangladesh would have been the federated secular Indian state that would have emerged out of Jinnah’s 14 points or later on through the Cabinet Mission Plan which Jinnah accepted.
Let us consider the first argument:
A. Gandhi, despite saintly protestations, was first and foremost the vakeel of the caste Hindus i.e. the four castes which fall under the varna classification. I do not mean this as an insult. As a politician that is where Gandhi drew his support from and it was this section of society that funded him. To this end, Gandhi’s politics was socially conservative and he walked the delicate balance of his role as modern day Christ and a Machiavellian politician. He therefore argued the irrational position of caste systems being a divine organization of humanity while also arguing that all castes were equal. The best critique of the Gandhian fallacies on caste system has been Dr. B R Ambedkar’s book “Annihilation of Caste”.
B. It was Gandhi, Nehru and Patel who were final executors and architects of India’s partition. Cabinet Mission Plan had for all practical purposes delivered a unified India to the Congress – supposedly the stated aim and objective of the party. Anyone who fairly and honestly reads the plan would only get to this conclusion. Maulana Azad – in his famous khutba castigating the Muslims for choosing Pakistan said that the Cabinet Mission Plan scheme preserved the good points of the Pakistan demand while ditching its obvious weaknesses. It was only in parts of his book posthumously published that he very honestly ascribed the causes of the failure of the scheme to Nehru and Patel. So why did Congress reject a plan that gave it what it wanted? What it did not give Congress was the majority rule and that was a deal breaker for the Caste Hindu base of the party. The difference between the Congress position and the position of Hindu Mahasabha was one of language. To use a more contemporary expression: Congress was the good looking Hindu Mahasabha with a few Muslims thrown in who if they dared disagree – as Azad did- paid with retribution. Azad was removed as the President of Congress precisely because of his stance on the Cabinet Mission Plan.
C. After all Congress represented the will of Hindu majority – so logically it was in the right to reject what it deemed an unacceptable compromise – i.e. unity without unfettered majority rule. Granted but then the responsibility ought to rest with the Congress for partitioning India.
Now coming to the second argument, there are several postulates of this:
A. Jinnah’s 14 points and before that his 4 amendments to the Nehru report gave the blue print for a federated democratic Indian state which was rejected by the Congress at the behest of Hindu Mahasabha. Jinnah’s original four amendments provided for joint electorates with mandatory reservation for Muslims elected through a mixed electorate i.e. Hindus and Muslims electing Muslim reserved candidates. Nothing would have dissolved Hindu-Muslim differences faster while simultaneously providing Muslims safeguards against Hindu majoritarianism than this proposal. By suggesting this clause, Jinnah had taken considerable political risk. Sir Fazle Hussain and Sir Muhammad Shafi of Punjab were trenchant opponents of the idea that Muslims be elected by Hindu votes. Jinnah by comparison was amongst the most popular leaders who enjoyed as much if not more support from Hindus. Leading Hindu citizens had both funded and facilitated Jinnah’s election campaigns through out his career. According to Kanji Dwarkadas, as many as 200 motor cars were provided to Jinnah in the 1924 elections by his Hindu supporters to transport Muslim voters. Therefore Jinnah was vested in the idea because Muslims elected through a mixed electorate would give him and likeminded secular nationalist Muslims weightage against both right wing Hindu fundamentalists on the one hand and the pro-British Muslims like Aga Khan, Fazle Hussain and Sir Muhammad Shafi on the other hand. Imagine an India that would have emerged from those proposals- a United States of India with nationalist Muslims and minorities united with Congress under Motilal Nehru. This proposal was, however, ditched at the insistence of the Hindu Mahasabha.
B. The second opportunity at achieving the goal of an inclusive India was squandered when the Congress torpedoed the Cabinet Mission Plan. I have already discussed this above but for more on this, ‘Sole Spokesman’ by Ayesha Jalal and ‘Partition of India; Legend and Reality’ by H M Seervai must be read. It was the Congress that sacrificed unity for absolute rule. It was Congress under Gandhi, Nehru and Patel that partitioned India.
C. Here one must discuss the issue of the two nation theory and what it meant. Jinnah never claimed that all Muslims every where were a nation or that Muslims were “unIndian” as claimed by the less discerning students of history. He said that only for Muslims in undivided India who he felt constituted a nation within the subcontinent and were therefore entitled to an equal say in Constitution-making regardless of their numbers. He made it clear when he said that Muslims had demanded self-determination on the basis of India for Indians and that Muslims were Indians. In other words, their claim to the right of self-determination was based on the principle that Muslims were the sons and daughters of India and not outside its milieu. When Jinnah termed Indian Muslims as a nation, it was consociationalism that served as a counter to the Congress party’s claim to speak for all Indians. Jinnah pointed toward — and he was not the first — the superficiality of Hindu-Muslim interaction. Regrettably for Jinnah, Hindus and Muslims had failed to forge a common Indian identity on a mass level and instead had formed communal identities that had been rendered non-negotiable by the Khilafat and Non-cooperation Movements. The former ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity argued therefore that Hindu-Muslim interaction had been limited to the educated upper classes, and while Hindus and Muslims lived together, they did so in silos. In an all India context, the two nation theory was to be the effective safeguard against Hindu majoritarian nationalism.
D. Finally when one argues that Jinnah’s objectives were different from the maximum claim that he was making, one is met with expressions of incredulity. First of all, the use of maximum demands with Plan B Nationalism are not that uncommon in history or geography of the world. Quebecois in Canada have milked the threat of separatism effectively for many years to get better advantages from the Canadian state. Scotland’s recent near departure is another example of how nationalism is used for purposes more than mere straightforward separatism. Secondly what is more incredulous? The idea that Jinnah demanded a separate state for seven years as a maximum demand or that Jinnah, who for 33 years stood unwaveringly for a united India and who was the bane of the British and the Punjabi Muslims at the roundtable conferences, began in the 61st year of his life to believe in Muslim separatism? In any event there is enough evidence that has come out especially with regards to Jinnah’s own nod to H V Hodson’s description of two nation theory as not being an attempt to create Ulsters that suggest that Jinnah’s Pakistan was always envisaged in a confederation or treaty relations with rest of India and that his idea of India was atop Pakistan and Hindustan. Even so, the undeniable fact of history is that when given a chance Jinnah did accept the Cabinet Mission Plan and effectively gave up the demand for Pakistan.
The answer to the Jinnah puzzle lies as much in the pre-1940 period as it does in the post-1940 period. It stretches back to the Nehru Report where Jinnah’s original proposals, which contained an agreement on the basis of joint electorates, were rejected by Congress under pressure from the Hindu Mahasabha. To understand Jinnah better, one has to read the proceedings of the Roundtable Conference where Jinnah was a party of one pitted against one and all with his vision for a federal and democratic India at once cognizant of its diversity and non-sectarian in its approach, a vision that ran counter not just to the princely states that poisoned the British government against him but also to the Muslims of Punjab who forwarded the notorious Punjab thesis, and the Congress, which refused to accept the ground reality that it did not represent all Indians. To understand how the break with Congress came finally, you have to investigate how Congress, with its simple majority through a limited electorate in the United Provinces (UP), decided to exclude its election ally, the Muslim League, which had won the largest number of Muslim seats in UP, from its government. Every attempt at Hindu-Muslim unity, every appeal for a united Indian national front that Jinnah forwarded to Gandhi and Nehru was arrogantly rebuffed.
It is argued that Congress stood for one man one vote and therefore could not come to terms with the Muslim League. This overlooks a few very important facts. A democratic universal franchise with regional autonomy is exactly the demand Jinnah had put up through the famous Delhi proposals in 1927. These asked for the following:
(i) Sindh was to be made into a separate province.
(ii) NWFP and Balochistan would be treated on the same level as other provinces of British India.
(iii) Punjab and Bengal should have representation in accordance with the population.
(iv) 33 percent Muslim reserved seats at the central legislature. This was to be through joint electorate i.e. Hindus and Muslims would vote to elect these 33 percent Muslim seats.
(Ref: Ian Bryant Wells, Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity; Jinnah’s Early Politics, Page 161)
We need to understand what necessitated the fourth demand. Jinnah – the only politician in South Asia to be called an Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity – had long played the role of a bridge builder between Indian Nationalists on the one hand and the Muslim elite on the other. It is often forgotten that Muslim League’s manifesto was changed to include self rule at Jinnah’s behest. The Muslim elite had gotten the principle of separate electorate accepted under the Minto-Morley Reforms. Amongst the earliest objectors to the separate electorates was Jinnah. Jinnah had since 1913 acted as the go between and had very successfully brought Congress and the Muslim League on a single platform – a historic triumph that was called the Lucknow Pact. The Lucknow Pact was not without controversy within the Muslim community. Jinnah was seen by many Muslims of Punjab and Bengal as having sold them out for the interests of the minority Muslims in UP etc because he had agreed to a reduction of Muslim majorities in Bengal and Punjab. The demand for 33 percent representation at the central legislature therefore was to rope in those Muslim elites who mistrusted the Congress. To Congress’ credit, and the credit of Pandit Motilal Nehru – one of the greatest statesmen produced by the Indian Subcontinent- these proposals were initially accepted by the Congress committee. Not only that but Pandit Motilal Nehru went a step forward and introduced the idea of a communal veto i.e. issues affecting a particular community would have to have the support of 75 percent of its legislators. This was called the Delhi-Bombay Compromise. (Ref: Indian Quarterly Register Vol I 1927 Pages 39-40). Ultimately there were two groups in the broader Congress and the Indian Nationalist movement that led to a defeat of the move. The first group was the Hindu Mahasabha under Pandit Malaviya which was in no mood to give any concessions to the Muslims. The second group was the Indian Nationalists under Jawaharlal Nehru which believed that communal differences could be papered over with a strong centralized Indian state.
Then there was the question of Congress’ decidedly Hindu turn. Congress since the ascendancy of Gandhi had — its tokenism of having a few Muslim maulanas in its ranks notwithstanding — become a largely caste Hindu party. The myth of Mahatma Gandhi, the great non-violent icon, is certainly greater than the man Gandhiji was. Gandhi’s vision for India was essentially anti-modern, a religious vision drawing its basis from ancient India. To understand how Gandhi wanted to model India, one must read Dr Ambedkar’s, ‘Annihilation of Caste’, now available in an annotated edition with an introduction by Arundhati Roy. Gandhi’s vision was of a Hindu society with varna and avarna castes and outcasts. Those who want to read more on Gandhi’s vision vis-à-vis a caste-based organisation of Indian society should read his 1921 article in Navajivan (a Gujurati journal) where he described in no uncertain terms the western European ethos as essentially alien and fundamentally destructive to Hindu society, which was to be based on caste and caste alone. It was a vision that greatly vexed Jinnah and Ambedkar respectively as representatives of the Muslims (the outcastes) and untouchables (the avarna castes).
Congress paradoxically also encouraged and supported the Majlis-e-Ahrar in its use of the vilest religious propaganda against Jinnah, Muslim League, Shias and Ahmadis so long as their objective of weakening the League was met. Ayesha Jalal writes on pages 457 in her classic, ‘Self and Sovereignty’:
“There was something peculiar about a ‘secular’ nationalist party counting on the vocal support of anti-imperial cultural relativists of Ahrar and Madani to claim a Muslim following. A spate of pamphlets published by Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and Ahrar delighted in exposing League’s lack of Islamic credentials, pointing to Jinnah’s emphatic assertions about Pakistan being a democracy in which Hindus and Sikhs would have an almost equal population. Substantiation that pro-Congress Muslims did much to weaken the Muslim League’s case on equal citizenship rights is the rejection by Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and Ahrar laity of any possible equation between a democratic and an Islamic government….Throughout the run-up to the 1945-1946 elections and beyond, Punjabi leaders like Shaukat Hayat and Mumtaz Daultana not to mention Iftikharuddin and Communists tried reassuring Hindus and Sikhs that their citizenship rights would be protected in Pakistan. They had considerable backing from the Punjab League and the Press.”
And then on bottom of page 457 and then on Page 458 Ayesha Jalal writes:
“Yet it (Ahrar) felt no pangs of conscience spreading sectarian hatred amongst Muslims. While Bashiruddin Mahmud was excoriated for being a ‘drunkard’ and a ‘womaniser’, Ahmadis were ‘warned’ that they would cease to exist once the British quit India. Mazhar Ali Azhar’s threat to restart the Madha-i-Sahaba against the Shias of Lucknow aimed ‘at retarding Muslim League by creating internal religious differences.’… Hailing Dr Khan sahib’s ministry as a step in the direction of Hukumat-e-Illahaya, Ahrar demanded more emphatic evidence of Shariat rule in the province. The Frontier Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind also claimed to be the only representative Muslim party. It believed that ‘Hindus and Muslims belonged to the same race” but it still wanted the Congress to sanction a department of Qazis to prove its Islamic credentials”.
Congress’s biggest Islamist supporter Madani did not attack Jinnah personally but attacked him for having supported the right to civil marriage between Hindus and Muslims and for watering down Shariat bills. On Pages 459-460 ibid Jalal says:
“He (Madani) recalled how the lawyer turned leader of India’s Muslims had consistently watered down Shariat bills in the Central Assembly. During the debate on Child Marriage Act, Jinnah had supported the right of educated Hindu and Muslim youth to contract a civil marriage. He had dismissed the contention that this was contrary to the principles of Islam, noting that laws were constantly being passed which ran counter to the Quran… Intrepid in the face of his religious opponents, Jinnah’s attittude is a reflection of the crisis of moral authority in the Muslim community. Hoping to lead it in some unison on the negotiating table, he was not ready to give quarter to men who could live with the contradictions in the Congress but not with those of a political party trying to extract maximum benefits for Indian Muslims.”
Congress’ unholy alliance with the Islamists and religious fascists with which its political ideas could not be reconciled is a fact of history. This had started with the Khilafat Movement where Gandhiji had chosen to reach out to the Mullahs instead of the modernists. In the heat of battle Congress therefore was ready to use every Muslim organization that attacked Jinnah. Unfortunately those who criticize the Muslim League for resorting to the use of Pirs and Mashaikh in the elections forget that they were up against the vilest of religious propaganda which sought to divide Muslims along sectarian lines. Ahmadis and Shias were thus acceptable collateral damage to the Congress.
Now what if there was no partition. One view is that India would have emerged as one country from the Khyber Pass to the border of Burma and that, within this country, Muslims today would have been about 510 million out of a total population 1.6 billion people, i.e. slightly less than one third of the United Indian population. It is contended that not only would India have emerged as the greatest nation on earth but also within that nation, Indian Muslims would have been ascendant. Within this federation, Muslim majority provinces would always want greater autonomy and rightly so. Consequently, the entire constitutional machinery of this mighty state would have been absorbed in resolving disputes between the centrifugal and centripetal tendencies of the provinces, making the dream of a great United India next to impossible. Instead, there would have been far greater violence that would have consumed Hindus and Muslims more than what they experienced at the time of partition. The position of Muslims in this federation would not have been as rosy as is made out. Pakistan, despite its problems and constant failures, managed to create an indigenous Muslim middle class in what were formerly the Muslim majority provinces of British India. It is forgotten that the conditions of Muslims — a majority of whom constituted the lower peasantry in Punjab and Bengal — was pitiful before partition.
The 1930 census reveals that there were no more than 30,000 industrial workers in all of Punjab, compared to 400,000 in Bombay alone. The trend after independence would have been an accumulation of capital in Hindu majority provinces. It was Pakistan that turned Karachi from a sleepy port town to a major world city and it was Pakistan that transformed the tract along the Grand Trunk Road from a poverty stricken rural agrarian society to the booming semi-urban middle class populated area that it is today. The rigours of operating a new nation state created mass participation in the economy and commerce, not just of Muslim men in this region but also of Muslim women. The huge numbers of women entering the workforce in Pakistan today would have likely remained in purdah (isolated). Obviously, if Pakistan would have put its house in order as a modern inclusive democracy, the benefits to its people would have been much greater and more obvious but this does not discount the real difference in livelihoods it made.
In India, even today, Indian Muslim women are victims of community leaders’ whims, which are entertained by ‘secular’ parties like Congress, as is so painfully evident in the fact that Muslim personal law is not codified, leaving Indian Muslim women wholly dependent on the All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board. The lack of women’s empowerment along with the fact that the Muslims of what is now Pakistan would have remained aloof from commerce, banking and the modern economy and would have slowly but surely indebted the entire Muslim community to the Hindu community. This process had started long before independence and even the British were forced to pass such laws as the Land Alienation Act in Punjab to prevent Muslims from being gobbled up economically by their more advanced and economically astute Hindu brethren. This process would have accelerated. All in all, this would have ultimately led to mass scale civil disturbances between Hindus and Muslims on purely economic issues and would have brought the entire federation to a standstill.
If this scenario were not frightful enough, the more likely scenario of India breaking up into several — even hundreds of — smaller states could have created an even more dangerous situation. Those who are familiar with the history of the roundtable conferences know that a federation of British India and princely India was proving to be an impossible task because the princely states wanted to come in on their own terms, a demand rejected by both Congress and the Muslim League. Meanwhile, both Punjab and Bengal resisted tooth and nail the idea of a centralised government as proposed by Congress. A United Punjab and a United Bengal would have meant that a federation on any uniform principles would have been a non-starter. The Two Nation Theory sought to unite the Muslims of Hindu majority provinces with the Muslims of Muslim majority provinces and, in doing so, cut across regional and provincial parochialisms, which were simmering underneath. Thus, Indian nationalism and its ‘other’ — Muslim nationalism — in the end managed to together deal a deathblow to more regional and local ambitions. Had this not happened, India would not have been divided into the three states it is today but into 300 states. Perhaps some of these states would have come together in European Union-style arrangements but that would have happened after a long process of trial and error.
Congress realised that an India with five Muslim majority provinces all of which display tendencies towards autonomy, if not outright independence, would never allow a strong central government in Delhi. This sentiment for autonomy predates the Pakistan Movement as we understand it. Punjab, for example, was ruled by the Unionists, which was a cross-communal alliance of the landlords of Punjab. The Unionists and the Muslim elite of Punjab hated both Congress and Jinnah with equal disdain. Congress, they felt, would impose a Hindu-dominated Centre on them, while their grievance against Jinnah was that he had bartered Muslim majorities in Punjab and Bengal through the Lucknow Pact of 1916.
However, 1937 onwards, the Unionists in Punjab who had soundly beaten the Muslim League arrived at a pact with Jinnah whereby they would be free to proceed as they please but would vest representative status on Jinnah at the Centre. The Lahore Resolution in 1940 was an attempt to unite the interests of Muslims of Muslim majority areas with those of the Muslims in UP, Bombay and other Indian heartlands. This was the reason Jinnah refused to define Pakistan, keeping his opponents guessing. At times, Jinnah and his followers spoke of a limited Centre and, at other times, they spoke of treaty relations between two federations. When the opportunity presented itself in the form of the Cabinet Mission Plan, Jinnah jumped at it. He felt that, in terms of political power and projection, the best possible position that Muslims would have would be in the form of the Cabinet Mission Plan where they would be able to run their de facto Pakistan(s) group federations within an Indian union and threaten the Hindu majority to leave if they were to mistreat them.
It was precisely for this reason that Congress leaders like Nehru and Patel did not want the Muslim majority provinces in the federation of India though that may that have meant the denial of the ideal of United India. A smaller centralised India was preferable to them than a larger de-centralised three-tier federation or even a federation where they would be held hostage to political blackmail by a very large minority community, which also enjoyed majorities in at least five provinces. Nehru also feared that Muslim majority provinces would collaborate with the princely states in India and forge a large oppositional block to the Congress-led Indian union. Balkanisation of India would then have become a very real possibility. The federation of India may well have been a non-starter.
That Muslims would have formed a very large and substantial minority in India is not in doubt. It may have allowed Muslim leaders certain leverage on an India level but would it have created an indigenous middle class in the previously regulated Muslim majority areas? The answer is ‘no’, it would not have. The rigour of running a nation state has its own economic and political dimensions, the advantages of which cannot be outweighed by any advantages of having a large 25 to 30 percent minority in a federation that may or may not have existed. Already, with only 13 percent Muslim minority, India has been unable to fulfil its constitutional directive vis-à-vis a uniform civil code. The Congress Party government historically overturned even the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano Case because it was held hostage by its Muslim supporters.
But did this deter unity? The way the UK went out of its way to persuade Scotland to remain in their mutual union shows how much the common English cherish the UK as an idea and how much they, being in an absolute majority, are willing to sacrifice to keep the 16 percent non-English members of Great Britain in that union. Scotland today has its own parliament, will soon have its own taxation powers and, as things stand, Scots can vote on issues that pertain exclusively to the rest of the UK.
It is important to remember that those identifying themselves as Scots and only Scots form about six percent of the total population of the UK. The total percentage of the British who identify themselves as English are only 51 percent. Close to 20 percent of UK nationals identify themselves as British only. The actual number of the English living in the UK is 84 percent. We who had been fed on the idea that the UK is a unitary state have been disabused of our naïve notions. The UK’s system of government defies classification. It is parliamentary and unitary, but it is also federal, just like it is a monarchy but is also one of the greatest de facto republics on earth, just as it is an Anglican state and yet perfectly secular in its politics.
Here is the basic point: the partition of India in 1947 — if it is to be considered a tragedy as some do — was the consequence of the sheer paucity of imagination on the part of the leaders of India’s Hindu majority, in particular the two most recognisable faces of India, Gandhi and Nehru. The apologists for these two great men argue that the reason why they were so adamant about sabotaging the Cabinet Mission Plan in 1946, which the “separatists”, i.e. Jinnah and the Muslim League, had agreed to, was because the Muslim League ultimately wanted to use the plan as a first step to Pakistan. Even if we were to completely ignore the fact that Jinnah had, till a few years earlier, been pleading for cooperation between Congress and the League, and assume that the Muslim League planned on declaring independence later, would not the Congress leaders have had an opportunity to convince them otherwise through good conduct? Did the unionists in the UK hide behind the excuse that Scottish nationalists have not given up the demand for an independent Scotland?
Now here is where the statistics begin to matter. Muslims constituted close to 28 percent of the population of undivided India, as opposed to just a paltry six to eight percent as Scotland does. Muslims constituted majorities in five provinces. What the leadership of the Muslims consistently asked for, right from the 1920s, was a federal structure that the leaders of Congress considered incompatible with the principle of democracy. It seems that Nehru and company had not even bothered to study the constitutions of the US and Canada that provided for federations. Had they conceded residuary powers to the provinces in 1928’s Nehru Report, as was argued by Jinnah, the issue may have been resolved there and then. Even the Cabinet Mission Plan, which every Congress apologist considers an absolutely unworkable plan, gave less to the Muslims than what has now been conceded to Scotland by the UK. Interestingly, David Cameron speaks of a dual majority principle, i.e. a matter concerning solely the English people in the UK would be decided by a majority in the Westminster parliament and a majority of English MPs. This is precisely what Jinnah had suggested for all communities in his famous 14 points. It was derisively put down as a “communal veto” by Congress leaders.
Unlike the English people in the UK today, the leaders of Congress and therefore the great majority of caste Hindus who voted for them did not care too much if the Muslims of India remained in or left the federation. Muslims could remain in India so long as they were willing to buy Congress’ idea of a centralised Indian state imposed top down, which inevitably meant imposing Hindu majority rule on all of India, including Muslim majority areas. All middle grounds, federal solutions and alternatives were shot down and finally Nehru buried the idea of a united India when he declared that Congress being the majority party would go into the Assembly unfettered by any agreements, barely two months after having inked the Cabinet Mission Plan. Gandhi for his part called it a solution worse than partition itself. Within Congress only Maulana Azad remained clearheaded throughout. Even in his famous Jamia Masjid Khutba — said to be a scathing critique of the Pakistan idea — he says clearly that the Cabinet Mission Plan would have preserved the benefits of the Pakistan scheme while jettisoning its obvious disadvantages. His book, ‘India Wins Freedom’, is a grudging admission of how the idea of united India was let down by Nehru, Patel and above all Gandhi himself.
It was this, all or nothing approach, that set the stage for the partition of India. Lord Mountbatten put the final nail in the coffin when, in April 1947, he chose, whimsically and impulsively, to share his plan for transfer of power to independent provinces with Nehru, in a sheer breach of faith. Nehru threw what could only be described as a tantrum and insisted instead on the partition of Punjab and Bengal, precluding any chance of a federal settlement even in 1947. In other words, while united India could have had large Muslim majority areas, leaving non-Muslim East Punjab and West Bengal in Muslim-dominated Punjab and Bengal, whether independent or in Pakistan, this was completely unacceptable to Congress. So much for the much touted composite nationalism of the Congress Party.
These are inconvenient facts both for Indian nationalists and the Pakistani Islamic Project. It is also an inconvenient fact of history for those who want to typecast Jinnah as the villain of the piece. This is why it is important to read history for what it is rather than what the powers that be want it to be. The Subcontinent missed the bus twice. First when Jinnah’s manifold attempts at compromise were summarily rejected and second when West Pakistan rejected Mujeeb’s 6 points for much the same reason. History would have been quite different and so would the three states that exist in the subcontinent today if that had happened. What is done is done but what was true of pre-partition India is truer of Pakistan today. Pakistan is a federation of provinces and the only way it will exist as a federation is by consensus and compromise. The Punjabi majority in Pakistan must emulate the UK model and in particular the English example. Demonising the separatists can only go so far. Ultimately, one must address genuine concerns and grievances that lead to separatism. There can never be any union between unwilling partners. There is no substitute for consensus ad idem and for that to happen, there have to be winners all around.