A History of the Left in Pakistan – 17

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan – (Continued)

Pakistan Movement

As we noted earlier in Chapter 3, the Indian Muslims separate political consciousness evolved in early 20th century during their struggle for obtaining administrative autonomy in East Bengal and minority protective rights in Hindu majority provinces of UP, CP, Bihar, Madras, and Bombay.

The Muslims first spoke about their “national interests at the mercy of an unsympathetic majority” in their joint deputation to the Viceroy of India, Lord Minto, in 1906, at Shimla. The peculiar international situation developing before and during First World War also worked in raising Indian Muslim’s political consciousness. The Indian Muslims whole-heartedly joined in the struggle for Indian independence movement. M.A. Jinnah, an avowed liberal barrister from cosmopolitan Bombay and an active member of both Indian National Congress and Muslim League, helped craft the ‘Lucknow Pact’ between the two parties, ushering in a unique phase of unity and cooperation between Hindus and Muslims. He was acknowledged as ‘ambassador of unity between Hindus and Muslims’. This rare communal harmony and the spirit of cooperation was achieved based on mutual recognition of minority rights and obligations, separate electorate, reservation of quotas and special weightage for representation of Muslims and other minorities and providing structural assurances for protection of these rights. After the First World War, Muslims were particularly agitated against dismemberment of Turkish Empire and for the protection of Ottoman Caliphate. Appealing to their acute sense of injustice meted out to Muslims and their strong resentment against aggression of the European powers in Muslim lands, the Muslim religious and communal leaders whipped up an emotional campaign in support of Khilafat and even calling for Muslim Jihad and migration (see Chapter 1). Gandhi and Indian National Congress supported the Muslim agitation (albeit, with strong reservation from certain sections within Congress and opposition from Hindu fundamentalists represented by Hindu Mahasabah) to bring Muslims in Non-Cooperation movement against British government launched in Apr 1919. M.A. Jinnah and Muslim League, however, stayed away from this agitation. Jinnah strongly opposed mass agitation at this stage and injecting raw religious beliefs and archaic cultural symbolism in the Khilafat and non-cooperation agitation to whip up public emotions. He felt that rousing of rabble to religious frenzy was bound to explode the fragile communal unity and that it will pit Hindus and Muslims against each other, both brandishing opposing religious and historical narratives. Due to strong opposition from Gandhi, Jinnah resigned from the Home Rule League that he had once led (30). At the Indian National Congress session in December 1920 at Nagpur where Jinnah stood up to oppose Gandhi’s prescription for the future course of action, he was shouted at for his ‘want of courage’ and ‘howled down with cries of ‘shame, shame’ and ‘political impostor’. Gandhi held complete sway and Jinnah was rejected by the Congress and “reviled by fellow-Muslim Khilafat leaders even more than by the Mahatma’s devoutest Hindu disciples” (31).

Unfortunately, as was expected, without a solid foundation of agreement on constitutional safeguards for the minorities the dream of communal unity and harmony in Indian politics indeed proved short lived. M.K. Gandhi finally called off his Satyagrah agitation after the shocking incident of 22 policemen burnt alive in Chaura Chauri police station in UP by an angry mob in February 1922. But, the damage was done. The Hindus and Muslims turned against each other. The collapse of non-cooperation agitation and Khilafat movement was followed by unprecedented series of riots and killings between Hindus and Muslims across India. The Congress, Hindu and Muslim communal leaders had mobilized Hindu and Muslim masses around their respective religious beliefs, mythology, and historical narratives. The competing economic interests fueled by conflicting Hindu and Muslim idiom of political narrative and fiery rhetoric of communal leaders created a wedge between Hindus and Muslims. The gulf between the two communities only widened over time and was exacerbated due to uncompromising attitude on both sides, especially the Hindu majority leaders who were expected to step forward to allay the fears and apprehensions of minorities. The first major political breach was witnessed in August 1928. While Jinnah was abroad, the Congress and some leaders of the All Parties Conference formed a committee for preparing a draft nationalist constitution to counter Simon Commission proposals for the future constitutional arrangement of India. The Committee (headed by Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru as its secretary) under increasingly belligerent pressure from Hindu Mahasabah formulated its draft report in July 1928— commonly known as ‘Motilal Nehru Report’. It ignored the basic principle of agreement between Hindus and Muslims (Lucknow Pact of 1916) of separate electorates and proposed a strong centre with all residuary powers. Also, no meaningful safeguards were offered in compensation to satisfy the apprehensions of Muslim minority. With a clear Hindu majority population in the country, a strong centre was anathema to the Indian Muslims and other minorities due to fears of the tyranny of majority. But, the Muslim demands of continuing with separate electorate, constitutional safeguards and weightage for minorities were thorny issues for Hindu Mahasabha and for increasingly aggressive Hindu leaders of Indian National Congress. To escape from this impasse and find some common ground, Jinnah had crafted an ingenious constitutional scheme in March 1927. Working out a mutually acceptable compromise formula, Jinnah accommodated Congress’ insistence of restoring joint electorate for both Muslim and Hindu population, provided certain guarantees are ensured in the proposed constitution to adequately protect Muslim minority interests, and Muslim majority control is granted over three new proposed provinces of Sindh, NWFP, and Balochistan. At that time, Sindh was still a part of Bombay province and NWFP and Balochistan were not yet given status of full provinces and were governed by Chief Commissioners. Twenty-nine leading Muslim leaders had agreed to Jinnah’s scheme called Delhi Muslim Proposals. The proposals were ‘substantially’ accepted by the Congress in May 1927 and again a hope appeared to see Hind-Muslim unity on the road to independence. Meanwhile, the 1921 census figures had revealed “rapid growth among Muslims in both wings of the north that they were now a majority in the Punjab (54.8 percent) and in Bengal (52.7 percent). This development stimulated demands for renegotiating the Lucknow Pact formula, with many League leaders from both Muslim-majority provinces no longer willing to rest content with the prospect of mere minority council seats” (32). In this backdrop of rising hopes and expectations of Muslims and corresponding rise of Hindu’s fears and apprehensions, Nehru Committee Report as finalized in August 1928 plainly ignored and repudiated the compromise formula acceptable to all communities at this critical juncture. Upon his return from abroad, Jinnah was angry at his friend Chagla and other Muslim leaders who had acquiesced to Nehru’s proposals effectively undermining Jinnah’s position on the issue and thereby encouraging Indian National Congress to ignore a weakened Jinnah’s objections. At All Parties Convention at Calcutta in December 1928 convened to discuss the Nehru Report, “Jinnah’s proposed amendments were rejected and he felt deeply ‘hurt’. He believed his proposals were reasonable. He wanted separate electorates to continue; one-third of the seats to be reserved in the provincial and central legislatures for Muslims; and the residuary powers to be vested in the provinces and not at the centre. Jinnah wanted a federal system with a weak centre” (33). The breach had occurred. It was a major turning point between Muslims and Hindu national aspirations and the foundation of a major political breach had been laid. This effectively sealed the prospects of a meaningful and sustainable compromise between the two communities so vital for a future united India. It was, as Jinnah had put it, ‘a parting of ways’ from ‘Motilal Nehru and his lot’ (34). For a while, Jinnah stood alone rejected by both Congress and Muslims and proceeded to London and lived there in isolation. He observed in London, as per his friend, Durga Das, “The Congress will not come to terms with me because my following is small. The Muslims don’t accept my views for they take orders from the Deputy Commissioners” (35).

Undoubtedly, other factors also played their role in this breach. In a political triangle of contest between the British imperial interest on one hand and Hindu and Muslim nationalist interests on the other, the third party, the British, could not have been expected to sit quietly, twiddling their thumbs. Clearly, the British imperialist interests were at play in maneuvers and exploiting the conflict between Hindus and Muslims by making them forward empty promises of promoting communal harmony and raise platitudes but preventing them from laying the foundation of a real and meaningful consensus built on concrete constitutional safeguards for mutual confidence. Maintaining elements of political breach and distrust between two major communities was to enable imperialist rulers continuing their hold over a prized trophy of Indian Empire (36). When British government had sent Sir John Simon’s Commission in February 1928 to evaluate and recommend constitutional reforms in India, Congress had opposed it on the grounds of its all white members and no Indian representation in it. Muslim League was divided and a group in Punjab headed by Sir Mohammad Shafi and Dr Muhammad Iqbal had separated a faction of the League deciding to welcome the Simon Commission. However, despite his differences with Congress leaders on method and strategy, Jinnah had strongly opposed the Commission. Simon’s boycott in Bombay led by Jinnah was so effective that even Gandhi had congratulated him on this singular performance (37). But, cleverly playing a double game of feigning to side with Muslims and frightening Hindus to take an uncompromisingly hostile position and thereby securing a breach between the two, Secretary of State Lord Birkenhead had urged the Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin, to undermine the position of M.A. Jinnah. He wrote, “I should advise Simon to see at all stages important people who are not boycotting the Commission, particularly Moslems and the depressed classes. I should widely advertise all his interviews with representative Moslems.” He then announced, as baldly as it had ever been put into writing by a British official, the ‘whole policy’ of divide et impera, advising that Simon’s ‘obvious’ goal was “to terrify the immense Hindu population by the apprehension that the Commission is being got hold of by the Moslems and may present a report altogether destructive of the Hindu position, thereby securing a solid Moslem support, and leaving Jinnah high and dry” (38). The stratagem seems to have worked well. But, at the end of the day, the blame of failing to reach an amicable agreement squarely lies at the doors of Hindu and Muslim leaders themselves for not displaying sufficient far-sighted vision to develop a compromise among themselves based on mutual respect, and for allowing a third party to successfully manipulate their intrinsic differences.

Unlike Europe and Americas, the Global Depression and economic downturn of 1930s did not cause universal stagnation in India nor did it affect all spheres of Indian economy uniformly. While export-oriented industries had suffered considerably and their output declined, some other industries that were more oriented towards domestic market were not greatly affected. In fact, the aggregate industrial output of India during 1930s grew at a faster rate than the average growth of rest of the world. The industries that the economic slump had hit hard were jute and cotton manufacturing, mainly based in Calcutta and Bombay respectively in which budding Muslim capitalists also had built their interests. The combined value of these industries fell from 51.2% to 37% of the total industrial output. To remain competitive, the Indian textile manufacturers tried to cut wages and production costs resulting in labour unrest. Although, initially, the big Indian bourgeoisie including Muslim capitalists were highly cosmopolitan and generally free from communal prejudices but as the competition grew more intense the polarization of bourgeoisie along social and communal dividing lines also became apparent. On the other hand, the demand for some new import-substitution industries like sugar, paper, cement, wool, iron, steel, and safety matches increased significantly. This gave rise to a new breed of Hindu Marwari and Gujarati capitalist ‘marketeers’ who had a mindset different from the cosmopolitan outlook of the old breed of industrialists. These new rising Hindu businessmen tended to organize themselves along communal and caste lines for much needed intra-caste credit facilities or credit from special communal funds, exchange of business intelligence or a joint united effort against competition. Muslim trading castes— Memons, Khojas and Bohras— had only limited access to this type of ‘communal’ credit facilities compared to their Hindu counterparts. As Levin observed, “the division of the Hindu bourgeoisie into isolated caste and religious-communal groups has already and in itself created favorable conditions for capitalist competition to take the form of inter-caste competition and religious-communal conflicts” (39). The Second World War brought immense profits and influence to large sections of Indian capitalists by expanding war business, reduced foreign competition for domestic industry as a result of cessation of imports from Germany and Japan, lucrative war supply contracts of food and materials for a greatly enlarged British army (the British army personnel increased to 160,000 and the number of Indian soldiers expanded to over two million), and ‘marketeers’ widespread speculation in food grains and commodities had provided opportunities for making extra-ordinary profits. But the war also created an economic dislocation. The additional and increasing requirement of food and other supplies for the army in expanding war fronts in East Asia resulted in shortage of essential food commodities. Millions died of famine and starvation in Bengal. Wheat requisition by the government and hoarding of its stock by the profiteers caused these commodities to disappear from the market. Not only Bengal but for the first time the farmers of otherwise relatively prosperous Canal Zone in Punjab were also hit hard. The Muslim capitalists felt the impact of intense competition from the Hindu capitalists more than ever. They were reaching to a point of no return and this led the Muslims to rethink and reset their political identity in the independence movement.

It was at this stage when slowly the idea of Pakistan evolved from an earlier position of fighting for autonomous Muslim-majority provinces within a united Indian Union to ‘independent and sovereign’ Muslim-majority ‘states’ as a last resort. Indications are that initially Jinnah had taken the posture for ‘independent sovereign’ states more as a negotiation ploy for obtaining greater and meaningful ‘autonomy’ for Muslim minority than as a primary objective of his political struggle (Ayesha Jalal). By now, Muslims were in majority in Bengal, Punjab, Sindh, NWFP, and Balochistan. With gradual introduction of political reforms in British India electoral system of public representation was introduced for local, provincial and central government legislatures for limited governing functions. In Bengal, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and NWFP, Muslim landed aristocracy together with a few representatives from their co-religionist urban middle classes had been able to share elected government positions in their respective provinces with Hindus but most of the economic power, trade & industry, urban property, bureaucratic positions, and influential professions, other than those held by Europeans, were still pre-dominantly occupied by Hindu merchant castes and Hindu middle classes. In Bengal, even much of the landed estate was owned by Hindu landlords. Therefore, despite their common heritage of language, culture, and customs the Muslims political struggle against Hindus was essentially for getting economic independence and governance largely in their own hands.

On the other hand, there also was developing a strong case of reasoning among some Hindu leaders that it was, perhaps, better for big Hindu bourgeoisie and upper castes’ political and economic interests that a major part of Muslims in the borderlands are separated from India rather than trying to keep them in. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, himself a converted Buddhist from Hindu Scheduled caste origin, had argued that a Hindu India would rather gain, instead of losing anything, in terms of net revenue income, and at the same time getting rid of a potentially dangerous and disproportionately large Punjabi Muslim army and a permanently hazardous counter balancing Muslim voting power in a united India. He said, ‘it is better that they should be without and against rather than within and against… That is the only way of getting rid of the Muslim preponderance in the Indian army’. He further argued that, ‘but in the N.W.F.P. and Sind, owing to the scattered state of the Hindu population, alteration of boundaries cannot suffice for creating a homogenous State. There is only one remedy and that is to shift the population…That the transfer of minorities is the only lasting remedy for communal peace is beyond doubt.’ Eventually, this idea prevailed among real power brokers in Indian National Congress and the fate of a united India was sealed.

In the beginning, Muslim League had a narrow and limited support base confined to the Muslim elite in the urban centres of Muslim minority provinces of India. Out of 144 resolutions passed by Muslim League during 1924-26, only 7 had barely touched upon social and economic problems of common Muslim men. Its Council decisions were taken by an extreme minority quorum of 10 out of 310. Muslim League was conspicuous by its absence in the Muslim majority provinces of Punjab, NWFP, Sindh, and Balochistan. In 1927, Muslim League’s total membership was said to be 1,330. Its 1930 session at Allahabad where Dr. Muhammad Iqbal delivered his famous presidential address wherein he suggested the vision of a Muslim state in the North-West comprising of Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, and NWFP had barely managed to get the quorum of 75 members. Muslim League didn’t do well in 1937 elections, particularly in the Muslim majority provinces. It had secured 43 out of 272 Muslim seats, obtaining only 4.8 per cent Muslim votes. Muslim League won 37 out of 117 seats allotted to Muslims in Bengal and that was the best performance; it won only 3 seats out of 33 in Sindh. It chose to contest only 7 seats out of 84 Muslim seats in Punjab but barely managed to win 2. Punjab’s Unionist Party emerged again as the major party in the province. By now, Muslim League had only built an appeal for the upstart Muslim bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie of mainly Muslim minority areas. But despite its growing support among Muslim urban intelligentsia and artisans, in terms of modern electoral politics it had serious numerical limitation in Muslim minority provinces. With the idea of Pakistan gradually crystalising into some concrete shape, it was getting clearer that the Muslim League would eventually lose its territorial base in the Muslim minority areas to India. Its attention was turned to Punjab.


30. In reply to a letter from Gandhi seeking his return, asking him to take ‘his share in the new life that has opened up before the country, and benefit thye country by your experience and guidance’, Jinnah wrote back in the autumn of 1920, ‘if by “new life” you mean your methods and your programme, I am afraid I cannot accept them; for I am fully convinced that it must lead to disaster… that your methods have already caused split and division in almost every institution that you have approached hitherto, and in the public life of the country not only amongst Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Hindus and Muslims and Muslims and even between fathers and sons; people generally are desperate all over the country and your extreme programme has for the moment struck the imagination of mostly of the inexperienced youth and the ignorant and the illiterate. All this means complete disorganisation and chaos. What the consequences of this may, I shudder to contemplate; … I do not wish my countrymen to be dragged to the brink of a precipice in order to be shattered.’ M.H. Saiyid, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, S.M. Ashraf & Co., Lahore, 1945, p.264-265 as quoted by Stanley Wolpert in Jinnah of Pakistan, Oxford University Press, New York, 1984, p. 70.
31. Stanley Wolpert, p. 72.
32. Stanley Wolpert, p. 87.
33. D.N. Panigrahi, India’s Partition-The story of imperialism in retreat, Routledge, New York, 2004, p. 23.
34. Durga Das, India from Curzon to Nehru and After (London:1969), p. 154 as quoted by D.N. Panigrahi p. 24.
35. Durga Das, India from Curzon, p. 154 as quoted by D.N. Panigrahi, p. 35.
36. Outgoing Viceroy of India, Lord Reading, offered Jinnah the honour of knighthood but Jinnah firmly declined the offer writing back in Dec 1925, ‘I prefer to be plain Mr. Jinnah. I have lived as plain Mr. Jinnah and I hope to die as plain Mr. Jinnah.’ Fazal Haque Qureshi in Every Day with Quaid-i-Azam (Karachi: Sultan Ashraf Qureshi, 1976), p. 394 as quoted by Stanley Wolpert, p. 87.
37. Gandhi wrote to ‘tender my congratulations to the organisers for the very great success they achieved…it did my soul good to see Liberals, Independents and Congressmen ranged together on the same platform.’ M.K. Gandhi, Young India, February 2, 1928, as quoted by Stanley Wolpert, p. 92.
38. Second Earl of Birkenhead, F.E. The Life of F.E. Smith, First Earl of Birkenhead (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1960), p. 516 as quoted by Stanley Wolpert, p. 93.
39. Quoted in Syed Nesar Ahmed, Origins of Muslim Conciousness in India: A World-System Perspective, Greenwood Press, Connecticut, 1991, p. 230.

Chapter 4… To be Continued

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