Emphasis on Muslims as a Distinct Entity
Thanks to the efforts of Syed Ahmed Khan, separate electorates and the political ambitions of League leaders including Jinnah, some academic interest had already been generated about Muslims being a distinct entity on their own. In the 1930s, a few Muslim students of Cambridge University coined the name Pakistan to refer to the contiguous Muslim areas of Punjab, Afghanistan (Le. Pakhtoons), Kashmir, Sindh and Baluchistan. This name, born intellectually abroad, did not refer to Bengal, suggesting that no ideological underpinnings were at the roots of the idea and the concept was largely of an academic significance only.
Mohammed Iqbal had echoed a similar concept in 1930 at the time of his presidential address to the Muslim League annual session:
“I would like to see the Punjab, NWFP, Sindh and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Self government within the British Empire or without the Empire, the formulation of a consolidated northwest Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims at least of North West India.”11
Absence of Bengal from this formulation, even though Bengal had a larger number of Muslims, indicated that Iqbal’s interests were confined only to a cultural contiguous majority area of Muslims and not where large number of Muslims lived but were not in a majority as in Bengal or the south. His declaration that “The life of Islam as a cultural force in this country very largely depends on its centralisation in a specified territory”.12
Islam was not used to define the goals or the political organisation of the entities sought to be created. It contained not even a hint of rebellion against composite Indian nationalism.
Use of phrases like ‘within the British Empire’ or ‘as a cultural force in this country’ rule out the possibility that Iqbal had a specific model of governance for this cultural entity or was looking at the Muslim masses of India as a separate political unit. His concerns were autonomy not political independence. The political framework he envisaged was either British India or Independent India. His Muslim India was thus to function from within India and religion was not the idiom of its foundation as a state. At best it could be said that Iqbal’s vision constituted an extension of the principle of separate electorate, i.e. to carve out a cultural area where local power would largely be in the hands of the Muslims.
Jinnah’s thinking was evolving somewhat on the same lines. He had convinced himself that the best interests of Muslims would not be served if participation in power was governed by the communal ratio of Hindus and Muslims. He wanted the Muslims to have their own distinct space in power. In an article in a British publication, he expressed his views that “A constitution must be evolved that recognises that there are in India two nations who must both share in the governance of their common motherland.”13 It should be noted that the emphasis was on the splitting of ‘governance’, not on splitting ‘the common motherland’. The focus was not on an Islamic nation, but on an Islamic cultural home where Islam could be practiced by its adherents whichever way they wanted.
The question of nationhood was hardly ever mentioned but the spectre of Hindu repression was magnified out of all proportions.
The Lahore Resolution which was adopted on March 23, 1940 at the annual conference of the Muslim League and which became known as the Pakistan Resolution projected this idea in a more concrete form, albeit without using the word Pakistan. It said that “no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to Muslims unless it was designed on the following basic principles, viz. that geographically contiguous units were demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial adjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which Muslims were numerically in a majority as in the north-western and eastern zones of India, would be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign.”
This formulation was neither Islamic nor nationalistic. It relied only on contiguity and numbers but it left out from its ambit a very large number of Muslims who lived in India in areas other than east or northwest. Islam was not used to define the goals or the political organisation of the entities sought to be created. It contained not even a hint of rebellion against composite Indian nationalism. The people whom it referred to shared only one common characteristic, religion, but no other characteristic which identify people as a nation i.e. language, culture or ethnicity. The Lahore Resolution was, thus, born not out of an overwhelming or all pervasive sense I of common identity. Its roots lay in the political frustration of League leaders who were convinced that political power would otherwise continue to elude them. Their claims of a two-nation theory being at play was no more than use of “a tool of political expediency.”14
The British Approach
The British Government in London was not taken in by such posturing. Aware that it would be very difficult to maintain a colonial empire after World War II and mindful of the strong adverse sentiment generated by the Quit India movement of 1942, London was now in a mood to give self rule to India as early as possible.
The arrangements for the British departure from the subcontinent and transfer of power to the Indians were to be made in consultation with them. Since they did not recognise Muslims in India to be a nation, the federal framework was the point of their framework. The British regarded Muslims only as a minority, which could not be allowed to place a veto on the advance of the majority.15 This was the conviction of the British Labour Government, which came into power in 1946. The earlier government of Winston Churchill had other plans, which will be referred to in Chapter V.
League Gains Support
The provincial elections had become overdue and were held in 1946. The League leaders, Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan, Choudhary Khaliquzzaman, etc. all came from Muslim minority provinces. They realised that they must at all cost build up support in the Muslim majority areas and such support would only be obtained through an intense campaign on communal lines. The political format was kept in a low profile and the religious idiom given the pride of place in the electioneering campaigns. The question of nationhood was hardly ever mentioned but the spectre of Hindu repression was magnified out of all proportions.
Jinnah gave up the veneer of constitutional approach and called for a Direct Action Day to be observed on August 16, 1946 to force the pace of events in his favour.
The strategy worked. The League won 428 seats out of 492 Muslim seats in the provinces and all the Muslim reserved seats in the Central Assembly. The League, formed governments in Sindh and Bengal but in Punjab this honour went to the Unionists who had 88 seats against the League’s 87. The newly enhanced stature of the League made its leaders more intransigent and determined to split the country unless a formula could be devised which would place governance in key sectors of Muslim majority areas in their hands.
The new Labour Government in UK, on assuming power in 1946, announced its readiness to grant independence to India and sent a Cabinet Mission of three ministers to work out a constitutional scheme for transfer of power, while maintaining the integrity of India as a nation. The Mission proposed a loose union with its centre administering defence, foreign affairs and communications, of provinces in communal groupings, which were largely to be autonomous. Also proposed was an interim government at the centre, with five members each from Congress and League, till a Constituent Assembly could be elected. Both parties accepted the proposals but had fundamental reservations, which ultimately led to the rejection of the Cabinet Mission plan. The League’s acceptance was in the hope that it would pave the way for the ultimate creation of Pakistan. The Congress objection was to the parity in the government at the centre. Besides, it insisted that the Constituent Assembly should be free to have the last word on all issues on merits.
Jinnah now gave up the veneer of constitutional approach and called for a Direct Action Day to be observed on August 16, 1946 to force the pace of events in his favour. The Muslim League government in Bengal announced this day to be a public holiday. The League leaders could sense that the British would now not take too long to leave India, and were ready to create mayhem to press their point. On this day Calcutta suffered in communal riots with 20,000 casualties and 5,000 dead. This was followed by massive killings in Noakhali. The carnages established that the League had become a force to be reckoned with in certain parts of the country.
The British Government announced June 1948 as the deadline for its departure from India but partition or Pakistan was not yet mentioned. Lord Mountbatten was sent as the Viceroy in March 1947 to execute the mandate. Mountbatten advanced Independence Day to August 15, 1947. No protracted negotiations were now possible to work towards a political compromise. Congress leaders became resigned to accept partition since the British were considering transferring power province by province if an agreement on some kind’ of a federal structure for India still eluded them.
“¦latched on to Islam only when they discovered that it was the only tool they had to carve out an area where their personal ambitions of political domination could be fulfilled.
Pakistan, thus, came into existence on August 15, 1947. With the partition of India, Jinnah was later to claim that he achieved Pakistan for its people single-handed, with the assistance only of his typewriter and secretary.16 If Jinnah had not been born or if the whole of India had been converted to Islam following conquests by Muslim conquerors, perhaps there would be no Pakistan today. Was Pakistan the logical end of what has been called the two-nation theory? The Pakistan movement was neither a secessionist movement nor a separatist movement.
It was basically just an anti Hindu movement in its final phases. League leaders including Jinnah were by and large secular in personal outlook. They latched on to Islam only when they discovered that it was the only tool they had to carve out an area where their personal ambitions of political domination could be fulfilled. Prior to that, from the time of Syed Ahmed Khan, Muslim aspirations were limited to being a special interest group only, whose purpose was to give the Muslims a common identity and help it to claim a role in the unfolding arena of politics and self-rule.
Validity of Two-Nation Theory
To explain how an interest group developed dramatically into a state, the ‘two-nation theory’ was invented. It was claimed that Hindus and Muslims living in India constituted two nations. The theory stood effectively exploded when Bangladesh came into existence. Emergence of Bangladesh was entirely the result of Bengali nationalism and Islam had no role whatsoever in it. Furthermore, on achieving independence, Bangladesh jettisoned the notion that nationalism was religion based and adopted secularism as its creed. More shocks may be in the offing for Pakistan.
Pakistans claims to the J&K state can be traced to their belief in this theory. The two-nation theory has a built-in component of deep-rooted antagonism towards the other “˜nation, Hindus, now symbolised as India.
The Muhajir Quami Movement leader Altaf Hussain has said at a meeting in London, with support from Sindhi, Baluch and Pakhtoon leaders that partition was one of the biggest blunders of mankind.17 There is a vocal class of intellectuals in Pakistan who have not hesitated in expressing that the theory was an artificial creation.
Events in J&K state as a freedom struggle began within the state in the 1930s provide further proof that the two-nation theory had no validity. The population of the Valley was predominantly Muslim. From 1931, Sheikh Abdullah had started championing their demands and spearheading a political movement based on their grievances. In 1932 Sheikh Abdullah founded the All Jammu & Kashmir Muslim Conference to fight for the establishment of responsible government in J&K. He realised that to secure this objective, all the communities in the state must have a united and non-communal front. To facilitate this, in 1939, the Muslim Conference was converted into a National Conference, which then functioned as a secular party. In India the Muslim League was to adopt its Lahore Resolution just a few months later in March 1940. It was thus clear that the politics of communalism had little attraction by and large for the Muslims of the Valley.
Ghulam Abbas revived the Muslim Conference in 1941 with the support of the Muslim League. Approaches by Jinnah to Sheikh Abdullah to align with the revived party to present a single front of Muslims were rejected by Sheikh Abdullah. In 1944, he came out with his ‘New Kashmir’ programme, which placed its faith in secular politics rejecting the Muslim League philosophy of a communal approach. The question arises: if a two-nation theory operated in India, why did it fail to make an impact in J&K state? The answer is that no such theory was operating.
Yet in Pakistan, awareness was generated that its birth was entirely due to the phenomenon of the two-nation theory. Its acceptance has penetrated the psyche of the people, particularly the ruling classes. Pakistan’s claims to the J&K state can be traced to their belief in this theory. The two-nation theory has a built-in component of deep-rooted antagonism towards the other ‘nation’, Hindus, now symbolised as India. There has been no mellowing of this antagonism during the 53 years that India and Pakistan have existed as independent countries. It seems difficult, therefore, not to come to a conclusion that a change for the better will not come about without a modification in the perceptions of Pakistan policy makers of this unnatural theory.
- S Irtiza Hussain: 'Genesis of Pakistan in Historical Perspective', Dawn, August 14, 2000.
- Romila Thapar: A History of India Vol. I P. 303, as quoted in 'India Pakistan, The History of Unsolved Conflicts' Vol. 1, Lars Blinkenberg, Odense University Press, 1998, p. 22.
- Saroosh Irfani: 'Progressive Islamic Movement', p.37 as quoted in 'Islam, Politics and the State: The Pakistan Experience', Ed. Asghar Khan, Zed Books Ltd. 1985.
- Percival Spear: 'A History of India' p. 225, quoted by Blinkenberg, p.31.
- Jawahar Lal Nehru: Discovery of India, p. 347, as quoted by Blinkenberg p. 31.
- The Encyclopaedia Britannica: 1962 Ed. Vol. 12, p. 173.
- Mohd Ali: 'Life: A Fragment' (Lahore: S.H. Ashraf 1946, p. 17-18) as quoted in 'Pakistan, A Nation in Making', Shahid Javed Burki, West View Press: Boulder and London, p. 16.
- Durga Das: 'India from Curzon to Nehru & after', pages 127-128 as quoted in Blinkenberg p. 34.
- Hector Bolitho: 'Jinnah, Creator of Pakistan' Oxford, 1954-69 p. 94, vide Blinkenberg p. 35.
- SJ Burki: 'Pakistan, A Nation in Making', p. 16.
- AM Zaidi: 'Evolution of Muslim Political Thought in India' Vol IV, p. 67, quoted in 'Islam, Politics and the State', ed. Asghar Khan, p.78.
- Time and Tide: March 9, 1940 as quoted by Blinkenberg, p. 38.
- Qureshi: 'Pakistan Nationalism Reconsidered', Pacific Affairs (Winter 1972-73) p. 561, as quoted in "Politics in Pakistan: The Struggle for Legitimacy", West View Press, 1984, p. 50.
- Statement March 15, 1946, of Prime Minister CR Atlee quoted in "Pakistan Resolution to India" ed. Latif Ahmed Sherwani, Daya Publishing House, Delhi, p. 96.
- CH Phillip and MD Wainwright: 'Partition of India', p. 32, quoted from 'Islam, Politics and State' ed. Asghar Khan, p. 169.
- Times of India, Sept. 19, 2000.