THE formulation, the several drafts, and then the introduction of the agreed text on March 23, 1940, and the actual, formal adoption by the Muslim League of the Lahore Resolution on a day later took place at the back of four tumultuous, eventful decades. In those 40 years, from 1900 to 1940, there were cataclysmic events and multiple factors of change on a global scale that affected continents, countries and communities, including the peoples of the Muslim faith.
On the occasion of the 82nd anniversary of this milestone today, it may be relevant to take brief note of conditions and elements that shaped the flow of world history in that period.
Major trends and episodes indirectly or directly raised mass awareness of political rights in South Asia. Those epochal events, far away or close-by, encouraged Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the principal leaders of the Muslim community to gradually, incrementally crystallise the latent reality of Muslim national identity as being a distinct phenomenon in its own right. The reality of this identity in the third and fourth decades of the 20th century was well-articulated by Allama Iqbal, Rahmat Ali, A.K.M. Fazlul Haq and others, which was then decisively brought into form as a nation-state by Mr Jinnah.
Cataclysmic events as well as multiple and diverse factors on a global scale shaped the world in which the struggle for Pakistan began in earnest.
FROM 1860 TO 1900: In the four decades between 1860 and 1900, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan initiated the odyssey. He established the principle that education, particularly in English, and in contemporary knowledge would alone enable the Muslims to overcome the trauma of 1857 when the Muslim minority rule came to a brutal end with the cold-blooded killing by an English officer of the two sons of Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Sir Syed strove to equip the community with the skills for self-empowerment as an essential step to regain self-confidence in a changed age.
Though the sun did set on the British Empire in stages after 1940, the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1922 and the abolition of the caliphate on March 3, 1924, had an emotionally devastating impact on the Muslim psyche in general. This disquiet also affected Arab peoples who had been conquered and ruled by the Turks. The replacement of the centuries old caliphate — notwithstanding the fact that its power had been steadily declining over the preceding century — by almost the polar opposite in the form of a secular, aggressively modernist Turkish national identity personified by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk raised hopes for new possibilities of Muslim emancipation elsewhere — as nostalgia lingered for a romanticised memory of past glory.
Unlike the British and Ottoman empires, which controlled vast territories outside the location of their origins, the impact of the end of the Russian empire soon began to have a fallout, both in terms of territory, and, more importantly, ideology, far beyond the remit of royal rule from St. Petersburg and Moscow before 1917.
IMPACT OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION: Inspired by socialism but shaped by its own distinct additions, communism energised the Russian Revolution to radiate a new message of proletarian power that rippled across Europe and northern Asia. This created, firstly, the huge Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and it also fuelled political or armed struggles in South Asia, Western Europe, Africa and South America at different stages of the 20th century.
So potent was the message of the Russian Revolution that it inspired a communist mass movement in China, adapted to Chinese conditions, and in Vietnam and Korea. It also established a foothold in South Asia — for instance, in Bengal and Kerala — despite the strong, deeply-rooted religious creeds and practices of Hindus and Muslims. Some prominent communist leaders were Muslims. The demise of the USSR in 1991 does not diminish the pioneering role rendered by the Russian Revolution in shaping a new consciousness.
No part of South Asia, Africa, North and South America became a theatre of operations during the First World War of 1914-18. That conflagration remained primarily a European war. Yet, perhaps because of the earlier East Asian entanglement between a Japanese empire seeking expansion and Russia, the event came to be termed a ‘World War’.
FROM THE FIRST TO THE SECOND: The British recruited soldiers from most of the major faiths in South Asia to fight for them in the terrible first big conflict of that century. Deaths and casualties suffered by Muslims became mere small statistics in the staggering figure of 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded which resulted from the insanity of prolonged trench-embedded static warfare in Western Europe. The world had never before witnessed the destruction or the maiming of human lives on such a scale in so short a period.
Repercussions went far beyond the Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919. This ostensibly brought post-war stability and peace though the League of Nations soon became ineffective. But the pact also planted the poison-seeds that led almost directly to the Second World War. Just 10 years later, Nazi Germany was enflamed in the 1930s by humiliation, and a quest for revenge led to the search for a larger living space.
So intense was the German reaction to the Treaty that just six months before March 1940, the die had been cast for the repeat of a World War. Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west on September 1, 1939. The USSR followed suit by invading Poland from the east on September 17.
RISINGS AGAINST COLONIALISM: Whether it was the end of a Muslim Ottoman empire 15 years earlier or the start of a new intra-Christian states’ conflict, the Muslims of South Asia were aware of the geopolitical ramifications of the turmoil that was enveloping Europe from where colonialism emanated.
In Southeast Asia, tens of millions of Indonesian Muslims were beginning to mobilise against centuries of Dutch colonialism under the leadership of Sukarno and Hatta which eventually came to fruition on August 17, 1945. Milder in comparison, Malaysian Muslims were also beginning to voice demands for self-rule and the end of British colonial control. In close-by Iran, the contestations in history between the Russian and the British empires for influence over Tehran — without outright colonial rule — had brought forth Reza Shah (1878-1944), an officer of the Iranian Army. He claimed legitimacy as a royal ruler through disputed ancestry, but nevertheless represented an indigenous quest for autonomy from foreign control.
In other Muslim countries, such as in West Asia and North Africa, the stirrings of a new assertiveness against British and French colonialism and the rise of old and new national markers became evident. In 1926, by creating a British Commonwealth of Nations, ‘Dominion Status’ was bestowed on Australia, New Zealand and Canada because they were white-settler colonies. This gave them independence in both internal and external affairs which was reciprocated by their abiding loyalty to the British Crown.
However, with blatant discrimination on the basis of race and religion, similar status was not given to the black and brown-skinned people living in the colonies of Africa and South Asia. The sharp contrast was justified on the specious basis that some parts of the Commonwealth did not yet possess the capacity for self-governance.
The secret 1916 Sykes-Pico pact on behalf of the two European colonialists drew arbitrary, self-serving lines on a map to create Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia became a monarchical state in September 1932. Another monarchy continued to reign in Egypt with external imperial support. Initially restive and eventually sustained political movements were taking shape in Tunisia, Algeria and to the southeast in Sudan.
WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE AND NEW CREATIVITY: A substantive advancement in the status of women that first took place in Britain stimulated slow and painful, but determined progress to sanctify the right of women to vote. Commencing in 1868 with local elections in Britain when women voted for the first time, and staggered acceptance thereafter by Scandinavian countries over the following two decades — with France, where ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ had been the rallying cry in the French Revolution nevertheless delaying the same right up to 1944 — awareness of the right to political equality among Muslim women, particularly in South Asia rose to a new height. This aspiration was reflected in the active, visible participation of women in the Pakistan Movement.
Ferment and radicalism in arts, literature, music, painting and poetry in the first 40 years brought up a wealth of bold new forms and frontiers of creativity. These ranged from cubism to jazz, from stream-of-consciousness writing to the glamour of movie stars. The vast majority of Muslims in South Asia was still mired in poverty and not immediate beneficiaries of the new trends and advances. But through radio, word of mouth and verbal discourse based on print media content, many were becoming aware of startling new disruptions of conventional modes. Over 80 years before the instant connectivity of social media, a new globalisation of political and social awareness, primarily enabled by radio, had also entered South Asia.
FOUR DECADES OF DAZZLING DISCOVERIES AND INVENTIONS: Soon after the end of the First World War, there were critical new economic challenges for both Europe and the United States. Yet, concurrent to such uncertainties and political turbulence in the colonies of Asia and Africa, the first four decades of the 20th century were also dominated by the invention and steady proliferation of new technologies that amazed millions of people. They brought fundamental changes to mass communication and mass transportation, to lifestyles and to socio-cultural patterns.
Commencing with increasing access to radio sets and limited but increasing access to airplanes, followed by tungsten-based light bulbs and tractors in the first few years of the new century, there came the radical new Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein in 1905. The Theory’s implications would become comprehensible on a popular level only later through mass education, but its impact was pivotal.
Colour photography’s first glimpse in 1907 was followed by the first example of automated assembly-line mass production of automobiles when the first Model T vehicle by Ford was sold in 1908. Cellophane and plastic had simultaneously become known as new synthetic materials. The cinema that had been ‘silent’ thus far acquired sound when Thomas Edison introduced celluloid with decibels in 1910. Hand-cranked cameras were replaced by motorised movie cameras in 1912. As a reflection of the fact that in later decades the defence sector of major nation-states would spur new inventions with both military and civil applications, Australian inventor De La Mole patented the first military tank in 1912. In a kind of macabre premonition of lethal new ways to conduct the killings of humans but with the aim of protection, the Morgan gas mask was introduced in 1914 on the eve of the First World War.
Between 1921 and 1923, came the first form of artificial life when the first robot was displayed. In the same phase, in preparation for thousands of cars that would begin to clog roads, the traffic signal was invented by Derek Morgan. What was later to become the media menace of television was presaged in a mechanical version by John Baird in 1925. In the very next year, liquid-fuelled rockets were invented by Robert Goddard.
New machines and methods for mass destruction — and for mass consumption — were also accompanied by life-saving discoveries of mass benefit, such as of penicillin in 1908 by Alexander Fleming. The value of such discoveries and the invention of vaccines assumed a special significance when, just 10 years later, the Great Flu pandemic killed about 20 million people around the world. And the electron microscope with the scope for new vital data on health-related aspects came in 1931.
A year earlier, Dr Hans Von Ohain and Frank Whittle had invented the jet engine which promised to take air travel to a totally new level of speed. Magnetic recording became possible with the first tape recorder invented by Joseph Begun in 1934. This opened exciting prospects for preservation of voices, music and the wonders of simple sounds. The path-breaking invention of radar came just a year later.
The wide circulation and sharing of documents began a new phase with the launch of the first photocopier in 1937. This was followed soon after by the invention of the ballpoint pen. In the same year, as strobe lighting spread illumination, the first successful flight of a helicopter, as invented by Igor Sikorsky, became visible in 1939.
Here was a panorama of unprecedented products and possibilities altering long-entrenched patterns of usage and movement, defining new horizons and promising fundamental changes for humanity.
The path to Pakistan: Parallel to these remarkable never-before-seen technologies and tools, which were reaching millions of Muslims in South Asia either only through the mass media of radio, print and cinema or already beginning to be seen first-hand on the streets and in the cities of South Asia, there was unfolding the steady progress on the political level that culminated with the adoption of the Lahore Resolution.
In his painstakingly-researched classic study A History of the Idea of Pakistan, eminent scholar K.K. Aziz presented a total of 170 steps that began in 1858 and ended in 1940. It is notable that the first step in his list of landmarks is a speech by John Bright, a Member of the House of Commons in London. Speaking on June 24, 1858, barely a year after the crushing of the War of Independence, this prescient Englishman foresaw “five or six large presidencies with complete autonomy, ultimately becoming independent states” in the British empire in South Asia. Though, curiously and inexplicably the list of landmarks omits mention of the founding of the Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906, the 154 landmarks in the first 40 years of the 20th century notably begins with a statement attributed to a Hindu figure named Bhai Pramanand by Humayun Kabir, in turn, cited by Waheeduzzaman, through which the Hindu leader explicitly called for the “Division of India on Hindu-Muslim lines”.
That early expression in 1904 by a Hindu personality of Muslim-Hindu distinctness was the first recorded one in the 20th century. But there had been earlier hints as also explicit indications of this differentiation by both Hindus and Muslims in the preceding century as well.
Shaping the momentous passage to Lahore in 1940 from afar and near were also numerous individuals, institutions, inventions, insurrections, factors and forces, some clearly directly related, many ostensibly distant yet generating a formative social, cultural global impact with local connotations, that emerged across 40 years. Cumulatively, they contributed in indiscernible yet unmistakable ways to the irresistible demand for separate homelands in Muslim-majority areas of South Asia. Eventually, all this came together in a singular form as the uniquely-named new nation-state of Pakistan.
The writer is a former Senator and Federal Minister, and is the author of, among other books, ‘What is Pakistaniat?’.