VIEW: Heretic, communist and Muslim Leaguer —Yasser Latif Hamdani
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, Jinnah was the lone voice of dissent in Congress
I have been receiving a plethora of e-mails in response to my article ‘Two Nation Theory’ (Daily Times, June 7, 2010), 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 that are often interlinked: the partition of India and the 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.
Leaving aside the notes of praise, I would 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 folks 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 a 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 that what the League actually wanted should be enough. This demand for a ‘public statement’ is rather ironic as Jinnah put up a maximum demand for negotiation. Still, his famous statement, “If you ask for 16 annas, there is always room for negotiation,” shows that Jinnah did not expect Congress to concede to a sovereign Pakistan.
The second, and more important, matter is the 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 the League’s use of Islam was unbridled and poisoned the prevailing atmosphere in Punjab in the 1946 elections. Both statements are at best half-truths. The Muslim League appealed to Islamic solidarity and in Punjab, at the grassroots level, it deployed Barelvis to capture the imagination of the masses. However, what is often forgotten is that the 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 nor did the 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 the 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 the Muslim League for being too westernised, too worldly, a bastion of Qadiyanism and bedding the British. In NWFP, Maulana Mufti Mahmood, an ally of Congress, started nefarious propaganda against the Muslim League and even made the lack of purdah on part of the Muslim League’s 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, Jinnah was the lone voice of dissent in 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 the Muslim League en masse was Jamaat-e-eAhmediyya and it did so consistently from 1930 onwards. Anti-Ahmediyya bigots have latched onto the Munir Report’s ambiguous statement about Ahmedis being initially reluctant to join the Pakistan Movement till Sir Zafarullah was won over by Jinnah. Ironically, these people ignore the prescriptions of that fine document completely but rely on this one statement out of context. The truth is that Sir Zafarullah had been the president of the Muslim League from as early as 1931 and, according to Wali Khan’s book, Facts are Sacred, was the author of the Lahore Resolution itself. Therefore, by the Munir Report’s assertion, and depending on what you place as the start date for the Pakistan Movement, the Ahmedis either joined the Pakistan Movement in 1931 or in 1940. That means that those latter-day ‘heretics’ were the earliest community to join the Pakistan Movement.
The second hole is that the 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. P C Joshi, one of the tallest leaders of the Communist Party, 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 organisation expressing the freedom urge of the Muslim people that its demand for Pakistan was a demand for self-determination...A belief continues to be held that the League is a communal organisation and that Mr Jinnah is pro-British. But what is the reality? Mr Jinnah is to the freedom loving League masses what Gandhi ji is to the Congress masses...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 organisation.”
The Communist Party not only supported the Muslim League, but also 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 most progressive manifestos in the history of this region. But the point is that the League’s entire election campaign in the 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.
Therefore, the complex set of events that led to the partition of India do not quite gel with the ideological and nationalist mythologies that the people of India and Pakistan have been subjected to. For Pakistan, it continues to be a matter of life and death, for until we take everything in entirety and resolve our identity crisis, we shall continue to be in limbo.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer. He also blogs at pakteahouse.wordpress.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org