Pakistan, one must not forget, was less a territorial than an ideological concept. It was not the sum-total of a number of demands for self-determination for Muslims scattered all over India; it was inspired by the feeling, whatever the sentiments of the Bengalis today, that the Muslims of India constitute one single nation. The Muslims of Bengal identified themselves wholly with their co-religionists elsewhere and lent their full and whole-hearted support to this theory.
What we continually discussed, debated and analysed was the nature of Muslim nationalism. None of us in the Azad group, or for the matter of that in the Dacca University Circles, were fanatics in the religious sense. Some of us, I confess, were not regular in the observance of the prescribed rituals, and we resented being maligned as obscurantist. Of course, we believed in religion, and strongly rejected the myth that religion itself was an antiquarian matter. Most Hindus or nationalist Muslims, such as they were, did not dare attack religion; they themselves professed religious beliefs. Where they differed with us was in maintaining that religion could not form the basis of nationhood in India.
This refusal to accept religion as the criterion of nationhood arose partly from semantic confusion, partly from perversity, partly from hypocrisy and selfishness, Nationalism was a new concept unknown in India before. We heard from the West that its constituents were language, race, religion, traditions and territory. Europe had split up into fragments on account of nationalism, but none of the fragments answered to a single description. None had features reproduced in their entirety elsewhere. The fact was, as European writers themselves recognised, that each national state in Europe was the end-product of a long historical process in which race, language, religion and tradition had played a part sometimes jointly, sometimes severally. The Netherlands had split off from Spain, of whose empire it had once been a part, for religious, economic and political reasons. Switzerland mosaic of linguistic nationalities was originally brought together by religion. Most of these nations took shape gradually in the course of the eighteenth century; a few frontiers were redrawn after Napoleon's overthrow early in the nineteenth. Although wars and revolutions continued throughout the nineteenth century to alter the configuration of Europe’s map, the salient points have not changed much since. Another. important fact demanding emphasis is that with the weakening of religion in Europe, particularly because of the rise of Protestantism, as R.H. Tawney has demonstrated m his Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, there gradually occurred a dissociation between the spiritual and the secular, the like of which India had not experienced. Lending money at interest or usury was once viewed with disfavour on religious grounds; the treatment of industrial workers was considered a matter that concerned the Church vitally. Now-a-days nobody in Europe is prepared to give the ministers of the Church a say in either of these matters. Whether this represents progress or retrogression is a point that posterity will decide. I would admit that a large number of people in the modern world are inclined to consider the restriction of religion to strictly personal matters as a sign of progress.
The problem in India, we felt, was different. The dissociation between the spiritual and the secular which characterised Europe’s modern history was unknown here. Religion among both Hindus and Muslims signified really a complete code of life, governing every aspect or individual and social behaviour. No Hindu felt at home among Muslims, no Muslim among Hindus. This did not mean that either individually or as a group they were continually at war with one another but it meant certainly that there existed between them deep differences on every level of their being which made perfect assimilation impossible. The exclusiveness of the Hindu caste system was an additional difficulty.
Now nationhood could only be the expression of a pre-existing unity. It could not be imposed from above upon a multiplicity of disunited groups who had no sense of internal cohesion among themselves. Some of the people who desired India to be one politically might have had entirely idealistic motives; they were not all thorough-bred knaves. But what they desired was to ignore facts and construct a political fabric which they thought would correspond to their vision of the future.
As I have said earlier, the demand of separatism had evolved gradually and represented the climax of a long historical process. The problem that bothered us in Calcutta was how the future State of Pakistan was to be organised. We realised that there was little or no hope of Muslim pockets scattered over being granted the right of self-determination. They would not have been viable either politically or economically. The real issue was how the principal Muslim areas in the West and in the East and also Hyderabad in the south were to be fitted into the framework of a Muslim national state. The Muslims of Bengal, surrounded by Indian territory, could not by themselves form a separate independent state unless Assam to the east could be claimed for the Muslims. Some of us in the Azad Circle tried to make out a case for the inclusion of Assam in the Pakistan State on the grounds that with a Muslim Bengal intervening between it and the rest of India, it could not have any physical links with the Indian. state. Besides, the most important group in Assam were the Muslims. The rest of the population consisted of aborigines and tribals who neither ethnically nor culturally were Hindus. They had either to be given the right of self-determination or if they had to be incorporated in either of the two proposed successor states, Hindu and Muslim, they could as well be grouped with the Muslims as with the Hindus.
Left to themselves, the tribal population of Assam who disliked the Hindus, might have favoured incorporation in Pakistan. The idea of a viable eastern state with the Hindu and Muslim communities fairly balanced might even have appealed to the Hindus of Assam. But the greatest stumbling-block in the way was the Congress attitude. The Congress did everything conceivable to decry the idea of partition---which is not surprising---but also to convince the Hindus that Pakistan would be synonymous with race hatred, religious bigotry and political repression. It saw nothing unreasonable or unethical in Muslim minorities living in India, but the thought of a substantial number of Hindus being subjected to Muslim rule was unacceptable to it.
Those amongst us who feared that the demand for the inclusion of the whole of Assam had little chance of being accepted, argued cogently that the Bengali-speaking areas of that province which were contiguous to Bengal and where the Muslims were numerically preponderant had at least to be allowed to join Pakistan. These areas included the district of Sylhet, Goalpara, Kachar and Cooch Behar.
When it became clear that under no circumstances would the Hindus voluntarily agree to accept Pakistan's citizenship, some of us concluded that the best course would be to carve out as homogeneous a state as possible from Bengal and Assam. In the pamphlet issued by the East Pakistan Renaissance Society, which has been mentioned before, it was proposed to exclude parts of Burdwan Division from East Pakistan. These parts were overwhelmingly Hindu. But a claim was staked out to such Bengali-speaking areas of Bihar as Purnea, where the Muslims preponderate.
About this time, the Pakistan idea began to be examined seriously by the Hindus. Articles and books were written on the subject. Dr Ambedkar’s analysis of the demand for Pakistan and Dr Rajendra Prasad’s India Divided set forth facts and figures calculated to show that Pakistan would not be economically viable and politically stable. Our retort was that these arguments were a subterfuge designed to counteract the Pakistan movement, and that we would have Pakistan even if it turned out to be economically and politically weak. We were convinced that the data advanced by these writers were ‘slanted’ in a particular way from motives of political enmity. The Azad started publishing a different set of facts and figures, and each day in the editorials that we wrote we sought to rebut the criticism of the opponents of Pakistan. It was our group who were concerned with theories, who constantly tried to justify the case for Pakistan intellectually. No Muslim politician, either in Bengal or outside, wrote anything that could be pitted against the books by Ambedkar and Rajendra Prasad. As a matter of fact most of the Muslim politicians considered intellectual exercises of this kind useless. Mr Abul Hashem and Mr Suhrawardy in Bengal were possibly capable of writing books. Mr Hashem did write books later but on different subject. Sir Muhammad Azizul Huq who was the author of the book ‘The Man behind the Plough’ on Agriculture in Bengal had the right kind of mental outlook, the kind that usually leads to self-expression in writing. But he died at an early stage in the Pakistan movement’s history and we in Bengal were left to fend for ourselves as best we could. The first book on Pakistan by a Muslim in Bengal was Mr Mujibur Rahman’s ‘Pakistan’ in Bengali. It was an able exposition of the political background of the movement and contained also an analysis of the economics of the Muslims areas. It also sought to outline the politics which Pakistan was expected to follow when established. I am not aware of any comparable work in English published from any part of India. Mr Noman,s book on Muslim India came later, and dealt with a slightly different issue, it was in the main an examination of the historical forces operating behind the emergence of what ultimately crystallised into the Pakistan movement but it contained no direct reference to the movement itself. I write from memory but I think what I have said is correct.
Most political movements originate in the way the Pakistan movement originated, out of a common urge shared by millions of people; they do not develop out of copy-book maxims. But at one stage or another a thinker or theoretician comes forward, rationalises the tendencies reflected in them, propounds theories to explain their genesis and forecasts their evolution. These theories, once formulated, provided the formulation-is correct and realistic, acquire an autonomous importance, becoming in their turn significant factors -worth reckoning with in the movement’s growth. The labour movement in England grew in this way. The Fabians of the eighties-nineties to whom the movement owes so much were not its founders, but were theoreticians who advanced rationalisations, in terms of contemporary political thought, of the impulses whose manifestation the labour movement was. The communist movement was itself no exception to this rule. The movement did not owe its origin to Karl Marx and Engels. They nursed it and formulated theories about it and provided philosophical framework which, as is well known, has acquired a strength all its own and given rise to movements of various kinds all over the world.
Intellectual formulations of this sort are necessary, for without them, a movement begins to decay. The reason, it seems, is that after the onrush of feeling which expresses itself in a desire for political action has been exhausted, people start thinking and looking for intellectual justification for their desires. If the justification is not forthcoming from the thinkers, the movement generated by their desires languishes for lack of intellectual nourishment.
This explanation may sound much too simple. It may very well be objected that if a movement has sprung out of a popular impulse, it should not for its continuance need intellectual nourishment of this kind. This is very true, but the trouble is that many movements have shallow roots, and, however, violent they may appear, represent nothing but passing fancies. Those who have studied the psychology of crowds know how whimsical, mercurial crowds are. A distinction must consequently be made between a temporary sensation, a sudden violent upheaval in the public mood caused by an entirely unimportant incident, and a real, far-reaching movement.
It is the latter that calls for nourishment. Such movements do not die away, nourishment or no nourishment, but they are apt to weaken or languish temporality and suffer a set-back.
In the case of the Pakistan movement, the absence of a philosophical formulation of its basis continued from the beginning to be a handicap. The writings of Iqbal apart (and he died before the Lahore Resolution was adopted in 1940) there was, as I have said, very little that the intellectuals received by way of a rationalisation. Simple arguments drawn from the usual European definitions of nationalism found many of us gasping for breath; they did not know the answers. The answers were simple but no one had taken the trouble of recording them in the kind of idiom that intellectuals understand.
There were two kinds of arguments that we were called upon to refute. First, there were the people who, confused by the Western definition of the word religion and also out of sheer political perversity, kept repeating that religion was a private concern and should not be mixed up with politics. Almost equally troublesome was the attitude of a section of the Ulama or Muslim theologians who opposed the Pakistan movement on the ground that it was, in their view, the expression of an inferiority complex. The Muslims, they said, were destined to triumph and subjugate the whole world, India included. Why then should they seek to withdraw from the broader Indian scene and look for safety in Partition? The whole idea, they argued, was contrary to the militant spirit of Islam. This was the simplicity of faith carried to the extremes, but the Congress found it useful and exploited it. It was this argument that was the principal stock-in-trade of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. It is difficult to suppose that he himself believed in it sincerely; but in his addresses to fellow theologians, he employed it effectively.
To get bogged down in abstract arguments over the exact place of religion in politics would be, however, to give an entirely wrong impression of the issues facing us in India. It was the intractable communal problem, occasionally and lately frequently exploding into riots and violent upheavals which compelled the Muslims ultimately to demand Partition. Circumstances had forced upon them the conclusion that the two nationalities, Hindu and Muslim, could not live together.
Our adversaries always sought to confound the world by trying to distract attention from the realities towards abstractions and theories. Those who approached the problem theoretically played into their hands, for theoretically, it admitted of different answers, and the answer favoured by the modern West was that religion ought to be relegated to the background. We said that in fact in most countries in the West, in the United Kingdom certainly, religion kept its importance, and no one could get away unscathed if it were assailed frontally. But so thick is the hypocritical smokescreen concealing the facts of British social life that it was difficult to get anyone to see the truth if he chose to be obstinate. England had expelled James II in 1688 because it did not want a Catholic monarch, and although today the whole story appears somewhat unreal in the light of the indifference towards religion that most Englishmen display, how would they react if a ruling king or Queen proposed to embrace Catholicism or better still, any of the other religions, Islam or Buddhism or Judaism? There could be no doubt that the outcome of such a decision by the monarch would be an upheaval leading to an abdication. Theoretically, England is a theocracy, the Head of State being also the Head of the Church.
These facts notwithstanding, we found it difficult to convince most Britons that the basis of nationhood in India could be none other than religion.
I attempted an analysis of these issues in an article I wrote for Morning News in 1945 or 1946, entitled "Tests of Nationhood"; it attracted the attention of my colleagues at the Islamia College and also of my friends outside. I was concerned to rebut Mr Gandhi’s thesis that the Muslims of India, the majority of whom were converts from Hinduism, could not claim to be a nation apart. I said, if I remember what I wrote then, that given the circumstances that obtained in India, a change of faith amounted to a change of nationality, and that if the idea of a person changing his nationality were not considered absurd, in spite of the fact that in most cases such a change between, say, England and France, or Germany and France, entailed no change of dress, food, religion or culture, one could not logically object to the Muslims regarding themselves as a nation apart when conversion from Hinduism to Islam had necessarily to be accompanied by so great a change in the convert’s life. My premise was that the differences between the way of life of the Muslims and the way of life of the Hindus were fundamental and far-reaching. When a Hindu decided to leave the fold of Hinduism and join the fraternity of Islam, he must needs renounce the whole of his past life, not only his ideas about God and the hereafter, but his faith in untouchability and the caste system and had also to adapt himself to a whole series of revolutionary changes in the pattern of his conduct. He had to learn to live differently, eat and dress differently, change his ideas about marriage and reorganise his home differently. These transformations carried him further away from his past life than a change of nationality ever did anywhere.
I would again emphasise that what we were concerned with was not an abstract problem as to whether it was possible to conceive of an ideal political system under which Hinduism and Islam could coexist. The problem before us was whether in the face of the insoluble difficulties that the history of India presented, and the obstinacy of the caste Hindus, there could be an alternative to the solution in the Muslim proposal, namely, division of the subcontinent into a Hindu and a Muslims state.
All the arguments or nearly all, that came from the other camp dealt with theories, ideals, might-have-beens, and other fantasies. The age demanded an urgent end to the strife that was turning India into a waste land, and this was not recognised. Of course, in saying the real nature of the problem was side-tracked, I am understating the truth. The Hindus knew what was at stake. They wanted, in their heart of hearts, to impose a solution on the Muslims forcibly, and this, they thought, they could do once the British got out of the way. The Hindu Mahasabha made no secret of their intentions. The Congress, more circumspect and cautious, aimed at the same consummation but by different methods. And I would add that there were in the Congress some self-deluded idealists who probably thought that a common nationality could be forged out of the two feuding groups.
My article in “Morning News” was one among many that we in the Azad group wrote trying to combat the theories put forward by the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha. In the meantime, events marched inexorably towards a crisis, a showdown. When the war ended in 1945, we in India thought that the crisis would not take long to arrive. The Labour Government in England under Attlee had promised India independence, and now that England had time to turn to the problem of post-war reconstruction, it proposed to tackle the Indian issue in right earnest. The Cripps offer of 1940 in the midst of the war had not evoked much of a response; it had been hedged round with far too many reservations. But from the Muslim point of view it had represented a land-mark, the first acknowledgment that a new and drastic approach to the communal problem was called for. But although Cripps was a member of the Labour Party, the offer he carried to India in 1940 had been made under the auspices of a Conservative Prime Minister, Churchill and there was no knowing whether Labour would resile from that position. We felt rather apprehensive about the future.
About this time, Muslim opinion in eastern India had reached near-unanimity on the question of Pakistan. The Muslims of Hindu-majority provinces like Bihar, the United Provinces, the Central Provinces, Bombay and Madras were equally unanimous. Of course, the so-called nationalist factions represented by such persons as Maulana Azad and Mr. Asaf Ali continued to oppose the demand for Pakistan. But by 1944 or 1945 they had ceased to have any following. It was the governments in Muslim-majority provinces that gave us a great deal of trouble. The Unionists in the Punjab, the Khudai Khidmatgars under Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan in the Frontier Province and various groups in Sind were proving both recalcitrant and hostile. Public opinion in these provinces used to be solidly with the Muslim League but the Governments continued in the face of the change in the political climate to pursue a sterile and unimaginative course. The elections held in 1946 led to a change in the Punjab and Sind, but the League failed to win the N.W.F. Province. The Khan brothers, that is, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and his brother Dr Khan Saheb proved hard nuts to crack. This was a serious disappointment to us.
In Bengal the 1946 elections practically swept Mr A. K. Fazlul Huq off from the political scene. He had dissociated himself from the League in 1941 following a dispute with the Quaid-i-Azam over his membership of the Viceroy’s War Council and had since stood aloof, occasionally issuing ridiculously vituperative statements against Mr Jinnah. But these actions increased his own isolation from the Muslim masses. How deeply the Muslims of Bengal were committed to the Pakistan movement was demonstrated fully by the results of the 1946 polls. Mr Huq had been for nearly a half a century before a kind of uncrowned king in Bengal, unassailable, invulnerable. Parties formed and reformed around him, and he loved to reshuffle them, changing his label and ideology, and choosing whatever designation he pleased. The emergence of the League with a definite ideal and programme unnerved him, and as people realised that Mr. Huq had nothing but his own eccentricities mid egoism to offer as a substitute for a clear political programme, they moved away from him, leaving him high and dry, at liberty to posture and clown as he liked.
Mr Huq’s defeat could not be credited to any local politician. None equalled him in personal talent, and but for the Quaid-e-Azam and the League, Mr Huq would have continued for many years to play the same game. He was able to stage what we call a comeback only after the deaths of Mr Jinnah and Mr Liaquat Ali Khan when there was no one who could outmatch him and when the Muslim League itself became embroiled in internecine dissensions. Judged historically, the defeat and later the re-emergence of Mr Huq constitute two milestones in Muslims history, the first event marking the beginning of their temporary reawakening from the usual stupor in which they he perennially imprisoned and the second their capitulation to the ancient forces of evil.
The decks having been cleared of nationalist Muslims and such other elements as helped confuse the issues, the League demanded in authoritarian tones that it alone had the right to speak for the Muslims, and that the demand for Pakistan had behind it the support of an overwhelming majority of them. This claim could no longer be ignored or brushed aside. The usual pretexts used against it had all been swept off. We felt that we were fast moving towards a climax.
One of the most important acts of the Labour Government in Britain was to appoint a New Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, a much younger person than Lord Wavell, more energetic and imaginative, with connections with the British Royal family. The decision to dismiss Lord Wavell must have been prompted to a large extent by the failure of the Cabinet Mission in the summer of 1946.
The Cabinet Mission episode is both a disgraceful and a remarkable chapter in British-Indian history. It represented the last and most imaginative attempt by the British to preserve Indian administrative unity; its failure was due to the obstinacy of the Congress in refusing to accept any arrangement which appeared to conciliate the Muslims. Its record is however marred by deceit and trickery to which the Cabinet resorted in their dealings with the Muslim League. Were it not for the Mission, some Muslims might have nursed the illusion that in staking the future of the Muslims on Pakistan the League was taking unnecessarily large risks. The unsavoury Cabinet Mission interlude convinced the most hard-boiled skeptics that the Muslims were up against a formidable combination---Britons and Hindus, and removed that last residue of doubt about the correctness of the Muslim League’s stand.
First there was the tangle over the formation of the Viceroy’s Council. Lord Wavell had declared on 16 June 1946 that he would proceed to form a Council with the co-operation of those patties which accepted the Cabinet Mission’s statement of 16 May 1946 and while he sought the assistance of all, he announced that he would not hesitate to go ahead even if some of the parties declined to join the Council. When it turned out that the Congress itself was not cooperating he went back upon his public announcement and let the other parties, especially the League, down. Even the Calcutta Statesman owned by the British felt constrained to protest and term Lord Wavell’s recantation an instance of bad faith.
Secondly there was the controversy over the interpretation of the grouping clause in the Cabinet Mission’s statement of 16th May. According to the original Mission Plan, anyone of the three groups of provinces, A, B, and C could opt out of the Union. The Congress agreed to this at first, but the moment the Muslim League accepted the Mission Plan, it started saying that the groups once formed could not have the right to opt out. This interpretation was contrary to the language of the proposals and also to the explanation offered by the Mission. But the Congress insisted that they were right. A final attempt was made by the British Government in December 1946 to resolve the issue; a conference was held in London and attended by Mr Jinnah, Mr Nehru and Sardar Beldev Singh on behalf of the Sikhs. The Government upheld the League’s view but the issue of the Conference proved politically abortive, because the Congress was not prepared to accept this interpretation.
What followed was again a betrayal of the Muslims. Instead of proceeding with the Plan, the Government abandoned it. From the League’s point of view, this was a moral triumph for it. The responsibility of wrecking India’s unity could now be fastened squarely on the Congress. The League had demonstrated that in the interest of the peaceful settlement it was prepared to compromise on the Pakistan issue i.e. to sacrifice its principles but this had proved no good.
The real reason why the Congress backed out of the grouping plan was the fear that it might enable the Muslims of Bengal and Assam to secede from the Union with the entire block of eastern India, the Muslims having numerically a slight edge over the non ¬Muslim population of the two provinces taken together. Rather than expose India to the risk, the Congress decided to plump for what it thought was lesser evil, Partition, which would mean the exclusion from the Union of only Muslim majority areas. It is also clear in the light of subsequent developments that they must already have thought of countering with a demand for the partition of Bengal should the British Government decide in favour of Pakistan.
To the Mussalmans of Bengal the shifts and twists in Congress policy came as a salutary shock. The Congress, it was now clear beyond all doubt, was less interested in India’s unity than in blocking the Muslims’ chances of economic and political survival. It was not prepared to take any risks: the eastern group might or might not have opted out of the Union, but so intense was the Congress’s distrust of the Muslims that it would not even contemplate the possibility of a movement of this kind.
It is sad to reflect that in after years, in spite of the Congress’s role in the period immediately preceding August 1947, our enemies accused the League of having been intransigent and obstinate. It was the Muslims of Bengal who were charged by the Awami League and its supporters with the crime of dividing the so-called Bengali people.
To go back to the main story however. The arrival of Lord Mountbatten lent a new urgency to the situation. Britain, it seemed, was anxious to wriggle out of the Indian tangle and might throw the minorities to the wolves if no settlement was reached. First, the new Viceroy had a round of discussions with the leaders. He impressed on them the supreme importance of a peaceful settlement, sounded them out about the possibility of an understanding within the framework of a united India and emphasised that the Labour Government was determined to end British rule in India. These discussions produced no positive results and the Viceroy flew home to report on the Indian situation to the British Cabinet. We awaited the next acts in the drama with baited breath.
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