Before Pakistan came into being, a great politician helped ensure that Punjab was educationally advanced, politically aware, its rural sector vibrant, its industries modernised, its political structure secular, yet ensuring that its Muslim population was adequately represented.
Few leaders in their lifetime have achieved more. Today in communal Pakistan this genius is vaguely known, if not ignored. His companions saw him as “the tallest leader of the land” while his foes said he was a “fair, yet feared man”. Mr Jinnah described him as “a logical gentleman if there ever was”. Allama Iqbal, his school, college and Cambridge colleague described him “unbeatable who stretched logic to its limit”. The British knighted him.
Sir Mian Fazl-e-Husain was such a person who constantly kept Mr M A Jinnah at bay till he passed away in Lahore in 1936. For that matter he kept Nehru’s Indian National Congress at bay in Punjab. Acknowledging the situation in Punjab, Jinnah offered the Presidency of the Muslim League to him in 1936. Before he could respond Jinnah himself took over the post. It must have surely broken the spirit of the great and fair man.
Today our historians tamper with analysis by failing to connect the sequences of affairs as they unfolded. History, it is said, is never stray events flashing forth without reason. One sequence leads to another. Yet this outstanding champion of Indian Muslims, especially of Punjabis, predicted that communal solutions would lead to violent religious fragmentation in which Muslims would face the wrath of Hindu extremism.
He died 84 years ago in Lahore, and today the condition of both Pakistan and India in terms of a secular dispensation is before our readers to judge. So let us return to the man and his beliefs, and examine the opposition he faced from the Indian National Congress, as well as the Muslim League, in 1925.
He stood his ground. Jinnah on the subject of separate electorates for Muslims, responded: “I am not a communalist, I am a nationalist first and last, and a secular nationalist till the end”. Sir Fazl’s response was: “I am opposed to communal politics, but the down-trodden peasants of Punjab can only be represented in political establishment if a separate electorate is accepted”. The rest our readers know full well.
Given the communal creation of Pakistan on the 14th of August, 1947, Sir Fazl-i-Husain had been dead for 11 years and his Punjab National Unionist Party had disappeared. At Lahore’s Bradlaugh Hall on Rattigan Road, on the 19th December, 1929, the Indian National Congress passed the ‘Total Independence’ Resolution, also called ‘Purna Swaraj’. Exactly 11 years later the ‘Pakistan Resolution was passed in nearby Minto Park on 22-24 March, 1940.
That he confronted Jinnah over the question of Muslim majority rule in Muslim majority states has been distorted beyond measure. If any one person can be identified as the initial catalyst of the Pakistan Movement, it was Sir Fazl-i-Husain. His stand on Muslim majority rule where they had a majority, thus leading to separate electorates based on the population census, was opposed by everyone, especially the Indian National Congress.
It is a fact that it was Sir Fazl-i-Husain who lay the idea of Muslim rule in Muslim majority states of British India, and the idea can be seen from his papers and diaries which are part of the Cambridge University Library archives. At such an early stage he had reached the conclusion that Muslims can only rise if they were appropriately educated and politically aware.
On the other hand, if we also look up the complete papers of Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, handed over to the Cambridge University in 1933, it is clear that the chain of thought, even the maps, follow the logic of Sir Fazl-i-Husain. There is a reference to him in those papers.
The papers have mention of his discussions with Allama Iqbal, who was his old class-fellow from Sialkot, Government College, Lahore, and then Cambridge University, where Iqbal was at Trinity College. Iqbal thought that Husain’s ideas would lead to a communal solution. Fazl-i-Husain argued that by accepting separate electorates a communal solution would be avoided. Much later we see Jinnah disagreeing with him, only to after his death agreeing, rather reluctantly, that separate electorates were the answer.
The tragedy was that the Indian National Congress refused to accept this solution, leading to a bloody partition. Even today both states are on religious extremist trajectories. That is why understanding why Pakistan came into being needs our historians to join the links of events that led to separate freedoms. That is why the role of Sir Fazl-i-Husain as the person who understood the dynamics of communal hatred best, especially among rural populations of Punjab, has been misunderstood.
The political role of the man started after his return from Cambridge. Born in Peshawar in 1877, where his father was a bureaucrat, he came to Lahore in 1894 and joined GC, Lahore, completing his BA in 1897. The next year he joined Cambridge and studied law and Oriental languages, and was called to the bar at Gray’s Inn, returning to the Punjab in 1901. For four years he practiced law in Sialkot and in 1905 came to Lahore to practice in the Lahore High Court. In that year he joined the Indian National Congress.
His first concern was for the political apathy of the people of Punjab and after being elected to the Punjab Legislative Council in 1916 on a Punjab University seat, he set about working to assist Punjabis to be more interested in the affairs of government. This led him to clash with Congress leaders and in 1920 he left them for supporting the Non-Co-operation Movement. He felt the movement would effectively exclude Muslims from education and the political process. He was convinced that Gandhi’s political moves were ‘disguised’ communal that would harm the poor.
In 1926 he was re-elected to the council and became the minister of education, health and local government. He was to undertake pioneering schemes, abolishing a ban on ‘untouchables’ in every sphere. That was the beginning of a constant clash with the Congress, as well as Gandhi, and to his utter surprise even senior politicians of the Muslim League.
Given such conditions in 1923 he formed the Punjab National Unionist Party with the aim of organising the peasants of Punjab, and of bringing equality and modernisation to urban areas. For its time it was a revolutionary stand, and one whose fruits we in Punjab still enjoy.
Given the influence of caste politics he found urban Muslims and rural influentials supporting him. It was then that he set into motion, in 1923, separate electorates at every level. This set off alarm bells across India, but with support from Bengal and the Frontier Region (now KPK). Hindus thought that Muslims were over-represented. Sir Fazl-e-Husain pointed out that they were equal to their population ratio.
With Jinnah aspiring to be seen as the representative of the Muslims, he challenged Jinnah’s position as the sole representative of Muslims, at least in Punjab. On that basis he was invited as a ‘Muslim Representative’ to the London Round Table conferences, leading to the Communal Award and Government of India Act, 1935. Punjab and Bengal were big gainers.
The idea of Pakistan was born out of the tensions between Muslims and Hindus in Hindu majority states, not otherwise. Jinnah then realised that Fazl-e-Husain’s solution was the only workable one. The stature of the man had risen to such an extent that Jinnah offered him the post of President of the Muslim League in 1936. But as Muslim League’s support among Muslims in Hindu majority areas increased, Jinnah played the card of becoming the President even before Fazl-i-Husain could accept.
Four years after Fazl’s death the Pakistan Resolution was passed, and the Unionist Party supported the Partition Plan. It was a tied vote with the British pressurising the speaker to vote for Pakistan. Thus ended the legacy of Sir Fazl-i-Husain, a giant Punjabi politician who fought for Muslim majority rule, ending discrimination against ‘untouchables’ and revolutionised Punjab’s rural progress. There is a need to study this great man more so that a balanced view comes forth.
Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2020