KARACHI: A book titled ‘Wavell and the Dying Days of the Raj — Britain’s Penultimate Viceroy in India’ by Dr Muhammad Iqbal Chawla was launched at the library of the Pakistan Study Centre, the University of Karachi, on Friday.
Welcoming the speakers and guests of the event, Prof Dr Jaffar Ahmed said the book was a sign that a shift in historiography was taking place. In the past 50 years, most historians had discussed a majority of leaders of the freedom movement. For example, there were studies on M.A. Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan and in India the likes of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel were the historians’ focus. The shift from ‘total narratives’ to ‘parts of India’ in history was now being witnessed and other actors in the political theatre were being brought into focus, he said. He told the audience largely comprising students of the Pakistan Study Centre that the book was basically Dr Chawla’s doctoral thesis and the author had selected a very important figure (Archibald Wavell).
He mentioned that review of a literature representative of that time period could also be read in the book.
Dr Ahmed put two questions to Dr Chawla. (1) Why was history always written about individuals (Mr Jinnah, Mr Gandhi, etc), and why can’t the role of socioeconomic factors in shaping history be discussed? (2) With reference to the title of the book, what were the global factors that caused the demise of colonialism?
Dr Chawla, who teaches history at Punjab University, said while Dr Ahmed’s point about the socioeconomic factors was valid, he’d been studying Lord Wavell for the past 20 years. He explained that there were studies aplenty on leaders such as Mr Gandhi and Mr Jinnah therefore he had thought he should inquire the role of British viceroys. He remarked though Churchill had tried to use Lord Wavell as the nightwatchman, Wavell turned out to be a thinking being and tried to settle disputes between Hindus and Muslims. He said much had been written on Mountbatten and Linlithgow, and there was scope to inquire about Wavell. There was a research gap and Wavell had not been studied by prominent historians.
On the second question, Dr Chawla answered that when the British were leaving India, the Cold War had just begun. The US was putting pressure on Britain to grant independence to India. British economy had become so weak that it couldn’t afford to remain in power in India, which was why they left Sri Lanka despite the fact that there was no resistance.
Responding to a question asked by a member of the audience, Dr Chawla emphasised that the British did not make or engineer Pakistan. It was the power of vote that resulted in its creation.
In response to yet another query, he argued the Cripps Mission had failed because the Congress wanted, among other things, to have control over the defence aspect of the country, which the British couldn’t allow because a World War was on.
Prof Shariful Mujahid was the last speaker of the event. He commended Dr Chawla for his work and commented it was a result of painstaking research and analytical vigour. “He has filled an important gap in our historic narrative.” He asked, if a plethora of books on Mr Jinnah could be written in India, why couldn’t books on Mr Gandhi be penned in Pakistan? On the issue of the votes cast in the 1945-46 general election, he said it was a unanimous verdict.
Highlighting the importance of the book, Prof Mujahid said all the major events in Indian constitutional history took place in the four years when Lord Wavell was viceroy (1943-47). Wavell wanted to do justice to Muslims and Mr Jinnah. Lord Mountbatten followed up on whatever had happened before him, he added.
Prior to the speeches and the question-and-answer session, Oxford University Press Managing Director Ameena Saiyid introduced the author to the gathering.
Three students of Pakistan Study Centre — Sajjad Haider, Ammar Ahmed and Tariq Husain — read out their reviews of the book.