THIS year shall mark the 75th anniversary of the partition of the subcontinent that led to the creation of Pakistan and India as independent states. Historians believe, and rightly so, that the political struggle towards obtaining freedom for Muslim polity gained traction after Lahore Resolution that was adopted by the All-India Muslims League (AIML) on March 23, 1940; known today as the Pakistan Resolution.
The resolution provided the basis of a plausible political option, addressing the collective woes of the Muslims of subcontinent. Geographically contiguous units, demarcated regions, territorial readjustments, North-Western and Eastern zones in British India, numerical majority of Muslims as well as independent, autonomous and sovereign states were the key attributes that defined the construct of the Lahore Resolution.
The governments led by the Indian National Congress (INC) in various provinces of the subcontinent caused enormous challenges to the Muslims during 1937-39. Better prepared for electoral mobilisation, the Congress showed political acumen and triumphed by keeping the Muslim League at bay from accessing power in any of the provinces.
Even those who opposed the idea of attaining independence later became its biggest supporters which underlines the success of the idea of Pakistan.
Feeling alienated, the Muslim League began focusing on popular contacts and succeeded in convincing a sizable number of Muslims that it can better represent them in the future. The Congress ministries, however, resigned in 1939 when Viceroy Lord Linlithgow declared India at war with Germany without consulting the Congress leadership.
According to many historians and political analysts, Muslim League’s demand for partition of Indian subcontinent gained substantial momentum due to the refusal of the Congress to support the British administration in its World War II efforts. In contrast, the League extended cooperation to the British. Thousands of Muslim soldiers recruited from different locations across the country fought shoulder to shoulder with the allied forces.
The idea of ‘separate states’ for Muslims had been voiced earlier as well. Allama Iqbal had presented a rudimentary outline of separate homeland for Muslims along the Northern and Western zones of India. The pamphlet by Chaudhary Rehmat Ali in 1933, titled Now or Never also deserves a mention. When successive Round Table Conferences in London could not bear fruit, Chaudhary Rehmat Ali wrote this important document as a possible solution. He is believed to be the first person to coin and use the term ‘Pakistan’.
Being a lawyer, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali also suggested a federal status for the proposed state. He founded the Pakistan National Movement as a platform to promote this idea. He attempted to articulate the idea in substantial detail so that his comrades could consider it as a proper political demand. However, these proposals were not given much importance by the contemporary Muslim politicians.
Interestingly, when the Muslim League adopted the Lahore Resolution in 1940, the press tilted towards the Congress and Sikh Khalisa orientation, dubbing the Lahore Resolution as the ‘Pakistan Resolution’. Based in Cambridge, Chaudhary Rehmat Ali emphasised the importance of ‘rescuing’ Muslim polity from what he considered Hindu nationalism.
In very strong language, he criticised the various Muslim delegates to the Round Table Conference for not doing enough to safeguard the political interest of the Muslim peoples. Chaudhry Rehmat Ali opined that India was home to several nations, including the Muslims. He also criticised the British and Hindus for their joint efforts to downscale Urdu, which was commonly perceived as a binding language of the ordinary. He proposed the creation of various autonomous Muslim states, including ‘Usmanistan’ along the Hyderabad Deccan state which was ruled by the Nizam.
Ironically, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali did not engage with the active political struggle of the Muslim League. While the Lahore Resolution had many ideas that were outlined by Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, it was generally illustrated as the political outcome of Muslim League’s political deliberations.
While Chaudhary Rehmat Ali was not directly connected with the League’s politics and political leaders, he attempted to make his views and ideas noticed. His pamphlet was widely circulated, and the Indian press took significant notice of it. Political analysts and writers, such as Khalida Adeeb Khanam, wrote about the various dimensions of the proposal. Muhammad Sharif Toosy, a well-known writer who contributed commentary in support of the League’s thoughts and ideas in different dailies, dilated on Chaudhary Rehmat Ali’s ideas on Pakistan. He also gave credit to Chaudhry Rehmat Ali for coining the term ‘Pakistan’ and its important role in adding a worthwhile slogan in the Muslim political struggle.
Certain factors led the Muslims to take the Two Nation Theory and the Lahore Resolution seriously. As stated earlier, the Indian nationalism, under the overall stewardship of the Congress, made the party win elections and form ministries in several provinces in 1937.
The Congress had in its fold many Muslim leaders who possessed substantial political acumen, stature and visibility. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew, Dr Syed Mahmood, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, Abbas Tyabji were some of the leading ones. However, the Muslims found that the façade of Indian nationalism would not safeguard their basic rights, as evidenced on many occasions.
The attempts to bulldoze cultural and religious sanctity of the Muslims caused enormous concern among them. Fiddling with common curricula with a certain religious bias and other such attempts caused alarm on many an occasion. Reform movements, such as Arya Samaj, were also looked upon by Muslims with suspicion. It was a polarised and charged environment in which the Congress ran its government.
Very little effort was made by government functionaries to diffuse the tensions, address genuine grievances of Muslims and other communities, or engage with those who differed from the majority political view. Many commentators are of the firm analysis that Congress rule of 1937-39 caused such political schism under the overall mandate of majority rule that most Muslims dreaded the idea of Indian self-rule under them.
They believed that if the British would adopt the over-simplistic formula of majority-based political solution in a territory as vast and diverse as the subcontinent, it shall cause anarchy and chaos of unprecedented level. The extraordinary peculiarities of this region required a separate, unique and open-ended assessment.
The Congress was quite satisfied using the simple majority approach to determine the future course of political options for British India. But within the larger Hindu polity, there were many differences among the Hindus that were also based upon hard evidence. Religious and social outcasts, such as the Avarna communities, faced tremendous repression.
Many attempts to acquire an acceptable social status for them failed repeatedly. Scattered similar outcaste entities eventually became part of the Namasudra movement to attain an acceptable social status. Jogendranath Mandal, a comrade of Jinnah, belonged to this very community.
The Sikhs of Punjab and elsewhere were also sceptical of Congress’s intentions. They aspired to acquire optimum political autonomy in the Punjab where their holy places existed. They often raised objections to Congress’s policies and political conduct, and, when the Lahore Resolution was adopted, Akali Dal, a party representing the interests of the Sikhs, put across its demand of ‘Khalistan’ as a state separate. It is, however, interesting to observe that some scholars, like Professor Harjot Singh Oberoi, did not consider Punjab as a central entity in Sikh self-definition.
In addition, capitalists and industrialists in the subcontinent feared that, once in power, the Congress would take drastic measures to promote its socialist manifesto. They also expected that large manufacturing and industrial enterprises would be put under state supervision and control. The landlords feared the land reforms with prohibition on large landholdings would be enacted. Ironically, many a Muslim landlord and landed aristocrat supported the Muslim League because they believed that Pakistan may not implement drastic land reforms and that their interest would be safeguarded. Times and happenings proved that their assessment was not wrong!
Many Muslim groups opposed the idea of partition. Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam, under Syed Atta Ullah Shah Bukhari, Mazhar Ali Azhar and many others, was staunchly averse to the idea of Pakistan and policies of the League. It believed that the League represented the feudal interest of the subcontinent and was tilted towards British imperialism.
The Khaksaar Movement, under Allama Inayatullah Khan Mashriqi, did not favour the partition either. The Allama often indulged in heated arguments with the League leadership and workers. However, close to partition in July 1947, Allama Mashriqi disbanded the movement as he observed that the bulk of Muslim polity had favoured the idea of Pakistan.
Maulana Abul Alaa Maududi and his Jammat-i-Islami also opposed the idea of Pakistan. having serious reservations as it did not coincide with their interpretation of the concept of Ummah. The Jamiat-i-Ulama-i-Hind was in the same boat.
Most of these political outfits now exist in Pakistan with or without the same nomenclature. Many now appear to be the self-appointed custodians of the nation, extending their role to being the guardians of moral and ideological frontiers.
Political thoughts, ideas and directions are not static entities. They change with emerging situations and contexts around them. While one can critically examine the role of various entities during the freedom struggle, it may not be apposite to demonise the outfits that viewed the Pakistan Movement differently. Similarly, political space of discourse and debate must remain all-inclusive. Violence, extremism and non-parliamentary approaches to dealing with differences in thoughts and opinions must be crushed with absolute force.
The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi