The long road to Pakistan

AIML leaders with the Quaid-i-Azam after arriving at the venue of the ‘Pakistan Resolution’ session in Lahore.
AIML leaders with the Quaid-i-Azam after arriving at the venue of the ‘Pakistan Resolution’ session in Lahore.

The British made their first connection with India through the East India Company (EIC), which had been established in the early seventeenth century. The company established its first trading post in 1612 at Surat, soon after it was granted a charter by Queen Elizabeth. Eventually, it began to expand, taking control of Bombay in 1671. The initial purpose was to trade with India, not conquer it by taking over political and administrative control. However, the absence of a sovereign authority, a power vacuum created by the decline of the Mughal Empire, weak local political leadership and the shrinking power structure of the local princes motivated the British to seize an opportunity.

The power struggle between the EIC and local rulers intensified as their interests began to clash more extensively. Their fights sparked several bloody wars, including the Battle of Plassey in 1757, from which Robert Clive emerged victorious. He laid the foundation of the British Raj in India. Soon came the Regulating Act of 1773, under which the EIC was made accountable to the British parliament. However, there arose a need for the EIC to take overall control of business and trade if it wished to benefit from the enhanced productivity brought about by the Industrial Revolution. The India Act of 1784 split powers between the EIC and the British government, giving the latter powers to oversee the company’s functioning. Thus, the exercise of absolute power by the company was protected by legal sanction from London.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British took Delhi. For commercial and strategic reasons, they desired to annex several other parts of India as well. However, they remained unable to connect to the people whose lands they had conquered and struggled to bring about social change. The machine-like character of the EIC administration was exposed by its inability to engage socially and provide justice. In his memoirs, Keith Young explained how justice was done by the British in India, including in Sindh. “The prisoner was probably guilty, but there was not a little evidence against him. The sentence was hanging, and the poor wretch was executed. The rope broke, and he asked for a drink of water and to be hung again immediately. Poor devil, my blood ran cold when I read his trial and saw the evidence that convicted him. Far better, no trials at all. It was a mere mockery of justice.”

Meanwhile, the British also began to interfere in the religious affairs of the major communities in India. In a bid to ‘religiously transform’ the subcontinent, they encouraged Christian missionaries to promote their beliefs and values. This caused considerable resentment among the masses. The abolition of religious rituals, the westernisation of education, the transformation of communication and promotion of the English way of life, and the use of the English language to teach Western ideas and philosophies slowly turned the people against the British. These ‘innovations’ were considered by locals as mere tools of political domination and imposing imperial supremacy. The British were seen to be producing a class of people to be Indian in blood and colour and English in tastes, opinions, intellect, morals, and manners.

The British had complex reasons for their distrust of Indian communities and were confused, too, because, for the most part, they did not think the indigenous cultures were worth preserving. They also sparked considerable anger among the people due to a system of compulsory taxation. The lands of local rulers were seized, and the doctrine of lapse was used to deprive natives of their ownership rights.

The empire was being built on the plenitude of native labour without considering the needs of the local population. The cold superiority of the imperialist forces provided common motivation to all communities to join the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1857. However, the uprising failed due to the inherent divisions within the Indian communities. The freedom fighters were not properly guided, motivated, and led by their leaders, and thus the British easily overwhelmed them. There was dreadful violence and bloodshed, brutal killing, war crimes and massive destruction in the aftermath of the 1857 uprising. The cruel treatment of Indians fostered a huge gulf between the British and the natives, which was never truly bridged till Independence. After the 1857 uprising, the British blamed the Muslims as the real troublemakers. The Muslim community suffered cruel punishments. It lost its status and position as Muslims were pushed out of traditional jobs in the army, police, judiciary, and civil administration.

Amidst this decline, a Muslim thinker and leader, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, began to work to improve the strained relations between the British and Muslim communities. He attempted to bridge the differences through mutual respect and appreciation. He wrote out the causes of the Indian revolt and outlined what he saw as the reasons for the uprising. He argued that the British failed to acknowledge Indian culture and distanced themselves from their subjects, who, according to the British point of view, lacked steadfastness, fairness, courage, and a sense of duty. Thus, native wisdom was not appreciated, which prevented the rulers from developing a symbiotic relationship with the communities. The failure to understand the sentiments and feelings of the people and the colonisers’ terrible treatment of the masses caused this event, he argued. Sir Syed, meanwhile, tried to give hope to the Muslim community and urged them to rise above their depressed economic and social conditions by building their strength through education.

The Quaid-i-Azam at his residence in Malabar Hills, Bombay, after a working committee meeting (1940). Mr Jinnah was able to establish a country in 1947 based on the concept of nationhood he had defined so eloquently in 1940 and defended so forcibly that the INC and the British could not afford to deprive the Muslims of a state of their own.
The Quaid-i-Azam at his residence in Malabar Hills, Bombay, after a working committee meeting (1940). Mr Jinnah was able to establish a country in 1947 based on the concept of nationhood he had defined so eloquently in 1940 and defended so forcibly that the INC and the British could not afford to deprive the Muslims of a state of their own.

He championed mass education and made Aligarh, a town in Uttar Pradesh, a centre for learning and educational activities. In 1875, the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College opened its doors to teach mathematics, science and English. Sir Syed firmly believed that education was the only way forward to deal with the daunting challenges faced by his community. Muslim leadership in the fields of education, politics and literature emerged as an outcome of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s efforts.

Muslims could finally compete in the Indian Civil Services examinations by developing the required level of educational competence. Sir Syed advised the Muslims to be loyal to the British, advising them that they would be able to restore their position in society through cooperation.

The crystallisation of his thought has been credited for the formation of the Two-Nation Theory, which mirrored Muslim expression of political and social consciousness and underpinned the idea of their distinctiveness. Muslims were advised not to join the Indian National Congress (INC) established in Bombay by Scotsman Allan Octavian Hume in 1885. Instead, they formed their own political party, the All-India Muslim League (AIML), in 1906 to promote loyalty to the British, protect the political rights of Muslims and prevent the Muslims from fostering any feelings of hostility towards other communities.

A few years later, however, after the annulment of the partition of Bengal in 1911, the AIML changed that policy and renounced its loyalty to the British. The partition of Bengal, enacted by Lord Curzon, had greatly upset the Hindu community. However, the Muslims, too, were greatly disappointed after the decision was reversed. Quite paradoxically, all it managed to achieve was to unite both communities in their distrust of the British Raj.

When the Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, joined the AIML in 1913, he found the time suitable for an attempt to bring the two communities together. Soon after World War I broke out, an effort was made to put forward a demand to the British for self-government. Motivated by a deep understanding of the changing political dynamics of British India, Jinnah, an intuitive and consummate politician, knew that a joint struggle by the AIML and the INC could force the British rulers’ hand. Forging unity between the Hindus and Muslims through the Lucknow Pact of 1916 was a tremendous achievement for Jinnah. The remarkable point about the pact was that the Hindus recognised the separate status of the Muslim community by accepting the separate electorates already promised by the British in 1909.

The British intended to give Indians a much greater say under the Government of India Act of 1919, which provided for a Council of State and Legislative Assembly with 144 members. However, the viceroy continued to enjoy undemocratic veto powers. In the same year, violent protests were organised against the repressive measures introduced under the Rowlett Act. One of these led to the massacre of hundreds of innocent people at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, by soldiers under the command of General Dyer. Under draconian laws, protesters could be arrested without a warrant and had no right to appeal and be defended in a court of law. Jinnah resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council in protest because, in his opinion, such laws forfeited the claim of the British to be called a “civilised government.”.

Matters began to change when the British realised they had failed to influence the outcomes of the events to their satisfaction. Both Muslims and Hindus remained annoyed with the British, and consequently, the political process became meaningless. Further, the British lost the Muslims’ trust by failing to live up to the pledges they had made. The empire had given assurances to protect the institution of Khilafat in Turkey during the first World War but could not keep that promise.

Jinnah, who was a staunch believer in achieving objectives through constitutional means, was disillusioned with Congress’s policy of non-cooperation because he knew that the Khilafat movement would fail to accomplish any worthwhile results. During the Khilafat movement, Congress could not stop Hindu-Muslim riots, which increased fear among the Muslims that they would be dominated. The Khilafat was eventually abolished in 1924, but the Muslims had suffered huge economic losses by then due to a tragic plan to migrate from India to Afghanistan. There was great demoralisation.

Any hope of Hindu-Muslim unity was dealt a final blow by the Nehru Report, which was drafted after the failure of the White commission led by Sir John Simon in 1928. The Nehru Report was unacceptable for the Muslims as it did not concede separate electorates. Mr Jinnah took a strong position and, after careful consideration, prepared 14 points focused on securing the core rights of Muslims through legal procedures and setting the constitutional basis for a Muslim struggle. These fourteen points synthesised practical ideas and worked as the ruminative principles for Muslim politics in undivided India.

It was due to Mr Jinnah’s new vision that Muslims, by and large, did not subscribe to the idea of civil disobedience launched by Gandhi in the year 1930, which would create a situation marked by the threat of violence. Instead, the Muslims began to materialise the idea of a separate homeland, as conceived by Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal in his address at Allahabad, as the final destiny of Muslims.

The British Labour Party, led by Ramsay McDonald, decided to hear from the Indian leadership on the roots of the communal problem through a series of three peace conferences starting in 1930. However, Congress boycotted the first roundtable conference, and Mr Gandhi continued with his civil disobedience. Mr Gandhi’s stubborn attitude infuriated Muslim leaders and led to the failure of the debate and discussions.

During the second-round table conference, Mr Jinnah himself concluded that there was no hope of unity, mainly due to the Hindu majority’s anti-Muslim sentiments. The Hindus’ hostile attitude proved a blessing for the Muslim community, as it further strengthened the determination of the Muslim leadership to seek a separate homeland. During the third roundtable conference in 1932, the British prime minister announced the Communal Award, which was again rejected by Congress mainly because it approved a separate electorate for Muslims.

The last piece of British legislation enacted by members of the British parliament came in the form of the Government of India Act of 1935, which was approved neither by the INC nor by the AIML. However, the Act provided an opportunity for the two parties to contest elections. Congress rule in India was established in the wake of the elections of 1937. The period exposed the Congress’s drama of democracy, as its policies proved to be most inimical to the interests of Muslims. This further strengthened the argument presented in the Two-Nation Theory. The Muslims believed in their customs, traditions, beliefs, values, and philosophies and derived inspiration from their history. Therefore, they were “a nation by any definition.”

Mr Jinnah argued through an article titled ‘The Maladies of India’ that democracy was not workable in India, where various communities were living under distinctive identities. Thereafter, Jinnah led Muslims on a new path of freedom, advancing his mission through this line of argument whenever it became necessary to refute the constitutional propositions offered to him.

Considering the AIML’s unsatisfactory performance, he reorganised the party under his leadership. He created unity among its discordant factions, and eventually, his leadership, understanding, and unwavering commitment created a mass movement soon after the Lahore Resolution was passed on March 23, 1940. The resolution transformed the political landscape of the subcontinent, and the AIML formally orchestrated a demand for a separate country for the Muslim nation. The path was clear now, and Muslims enthusiastically joined the struggle led by their trusted leader, who had demonstrated exceptional talent and wisdom and used extraordinary skill to motivate and guide the scattered community.

The Lahore Resolution articulated Jinnah’s vision and judgement of the situation created by World War II, which had created great nervousness among people about their future. It was now clear that the British would no longer be in a position to sustain their power in India. The Congress made frantic attempts and used several tactics to put political pressure on the British to transfer all power to it. Nonetheless, the AIML stood strong as the ‘sole representative’ of the Muslim community. Stafford Cripps, in his interview with Jinnah on March 25, 1942, was impressed with the immense popularity and growth of the Pakistan movement. The tremendous progress of the AIML was also acknowledged by Mr Gandhi, who did not accept the Cripps document just because he said he believed that it was an invitation to the Muslims to create Pakistan.

In February 1946, after the war, the British parliament sent a group of cabinet ministers to India to build consensus on a future constitutional framework. The cabinet plan contemplated a weak Centre dealing with a few subjects. Despite the plan’s shortcomings, Jinnah could see the room for Pakistan as an inherent part of its structure; thus, he accepted it as a first step on the road to Pakistan.

Achieving a sovereign state for Muslims became the unalterable goal of Jinnah and was made an irreversible policy of AIML. Eventually, with his gallant effort, brilliant strategy and willpower, Mr Jinnah established a country in 1947 based on a concept of nationhood that he had defined so eloquently and defended so forcibly that the INC and the British could not afford to deprive the Muslims of a state of their own.

The author is a professor and director of the Pakistan Study Centre, University of Sindh, Jamshoro

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