Heretic, Communist, Muslim Leaguer
By Yasser Latif Hamdani
I have been receiving non-stop mail in response to my article “Two Nation Theory” which has now necessitated that I further develop my thoughts on the complex political scenario that 1940s’ British India presented and which ultimately led to two distinct events which are often interlinked partition of India and creation of Pakistan. That these were two distinct events is amply demonstrated when one considers the menu of choices that were open before the leaders of British India of which a completely separate and sovereign Pakistan was the last and least viable.
Leaving aside the notes of praise as they tend to make one complacent, I’d like to address some of the points raised by those who were critical of my point of view. Indeed broadly defined, the first group consisted of nationalist-minded folk on both sides of the border who took umbrage with the idea that Jinnah would have settled for a watered down federation or a confederation with India after 1940. They demanded, quite angrily, that I produce a single “public statement” by Jinnah where he spoke of United India after 1939. In my earlier article I had quoted Jinnah’s comment on H V Hodson’s note where he said that Hodson had finally understood what the League actually wanted should be enough. This demand for a “public statement” is rather ironic when Jinnah was putting up a maximum demand for negotiation. Still his famous statement that “if you ask for 16 annas, there is always room for negotiation”, shows that Jinnah did not expect and did not want the Congress to concede a sovereign Pakistan. Congress ultimately did because it didn’t want to negotiate with Jinnah any more.
The second and more important matter is this point of view that Pakistan was created for communal reasons exploited by Jinnah and the League for their own politics. A corollary of this view is that League’s use of Islam was unbridled and poisoned the prevailing atmosphere in the Punjab in the 1946 elections. Both statements are at best half truths. That Muslim League appealed to Islamic solidarity and that in Punjab at the grassroot level it deployed Barelvis to capture the imagination of the masses are all well known facts of history. However, what is often forgotten is that Barelvis constituted the low church of Islam i.e. the popular Islam of sufis, pirs and dargahs. Arrayed against the League were the ulema and pillars of Islamic orthodoxy – the Deobandis i.e. the high church of Islam. It is for this reason that even the most secular politicians in Punjab on all sides became gaddi nashins.
This was not one sided though nor did Muslim League start it. In Punjab the Unionists had deployed their own ulema against the Muslim League and elsewhere the Congress and its Islamic allies, the Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind under Madni, resorted to choicest abuse against Jinnah calling him “Kafir-e-Azam”, the League “Kafir League” and Pakistan “Kafiristan”. Other Islamic groups like Khaksar Tehreek and Jamaat-e-Islami also attacked Muslim League alternatively for being too westernized, too worldy, a bastion of Qadiyanism and being in bed with the British. In NWFP Maulana Mufti Mahmood, an ally of the Congress, started nefarious propaganda against the Muslim League and even made the lack of purdah on part of Muslim League women during the 1946-1947 civil disobedience movement an issue. The blatant use of Islam had been very much a part of Indian politics since Mahatma Gandhi encouraged Muslim divines to come into politics during the Khilafat Movement. At the time, we must repeat it as long as necessary, Jinnah was the lone voice of dissent in the Congress.
There are two gaping holes in this persistent myth on both sides of the border. The first is the fact that the only religious group that supported Muslim League enmasse was Jamaat-Ahmaddiya and it did so consistently from 1930 onwards. Anti-Ahmaddiya bigots have latched onto Munir Report’s ambiguous statement about Ahmadis being initially reluctant to join the Pakistan Movement till Sir Zafrulla was won over by Jinnah. Ironic that these same people ignore the presciptions of that fine document completely but rely on this one statement out of context. The truth is that Sir Zafrulla had been the president of the Muslim League as early as 1931 and according to Wali Khan’s book “Facts are sacred” was the author of the Lahore Resolution itself. Therefore by Munir Report’s assertion and depending on what you place as the start date for the Pakistan Movement, the Ahmadis either joined the Pakistan Movement in 1931 or in 1940. That means ofcourse that those latter day “heretics” were the earliest community to join the Pakistan Movement.
The second hole is that Communist Party of India – that most secular and non-communal institution in South Asian polity- wholeheartedly supported the Muslim League and the Pakistan movement during the 1940s.
PC Joshi, one of the tallest leaders of the Communist Party of India wrote explaining the communist position:
“We were the first to see and admit a change in its character when the League accepted complete independence as its aim and began to rally the Muslim masses behind its banner. We held a series of discussions within our party and came to the conclusion in 1941-1942 that it had become an anti-imperialist organization expressing the freedom urge of the Muslim people that its demand for Pakistan was a demand for self determination and that for the freedom of India, an immediate joint front between the Congress and the League must be forged as the first step to break imperialist deadlock. A belief continues to be held that League is a communal organization and what Mr. Jinnah is Pro-British. But what is the reality? Mr. Jinnah is to the freedom loving League masses what Gandhiji is to the Congress masses. They revere their Qaid-e-Azam as much as the Congress does the Mahatma. They regard the League as their patriotic organization as we regardthe Congress. This is so because Mr. Jinnah has done to the League what Gandhi did to the Congress in 1919-1920 i.e., made it a mass organization.” Congress and the Communists, PC Joshi, People’s Publishing House Bombay, p 5.
The Communist Party of India not only supported the Muslim League but gave its own people like Sajjad Zaheer, Abdullah Malik and Daniyal Latifi to the League. Daniyal Latifi, who was trained in law by Jinnah himself, authored the Punjab Muslim League’s manifesto for the 1945-1946 elections which was one of the progressive manifestos in the history of this region. The same Daniyal Latifi then went onto represent Shah Bano in the Indian Supreme Court long after independence winning her a historic verdict, which was overturned by the secular Congress. But I digress; the point is that League’s entire election campaign in 1945-1946 elections was stage managed in Punjab by the Communist Party of India. They would not have done so if they had thought the League was operating on a narrow communal agenda. Indeed, Sajjad Zaheer described the Muslim League as a great progressive liberationist force declaring further that “the task of every patriot is to welcome and help this democratic growth which at long last is now taking place among the Muslims of Punjab. The last strong hold of imperialist bureaucracy in India is invaded by the League. Let us all help the people of Punjab capture it.” Zaheer, Sajjad, Light on League Unionist Conflict, People’s Publishing House, Bombay, July, 1944, pp 26-33
Therefore the complex and nuanced set of events that led to partition of India do not quite gel with the ideological and nationalist mythologies that people of India and Pakistan have been subjected to. For Pakistan it continues to be a matter of life and death for until and unless we take everything in entirety and resolve our identity crisis, we shall continue to be in a limbo.
Mr. Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer. He is also blogs at pakteahouse.wordpress.com