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Pak Tea House » Colonialism, History, North-West Frontier Province, Peshawar » History is Not a Farce: The NWFP Referendum

History is Not a Farce: The NWFP Referendum

Pak Tea House’s contributor Yasser Latif Hamdani has been posting articles on the Pakhtuns and NWFP province. In response to his latest piece, Shaheryar Ali, looks back at the NWFP referendum held in 1947 and presents an alternative view- We welcome myriad points of view at this forum only to ensure that history’s linearity and constructed versions are unpacked for a better understanding of the past and the present. (Raza Rumi-ed)

“History is the memory of states,” wrote Henry Kissinger in his first book, A World Restored, in which he proceeded to tell the history of nineteenth-century Europe from the viewpoint of the leaders of Austria and England, ignoring the millions who suffered from those statesmen’s policies. From his standpoint, the “peace” that Europe had before the French Revolution was “restored” by the diplomacy of a few national leaders. But for factory workers in England, farmers in France, colored people in Asia and Africa, women and children everywhere except in the upper classes, it was a world of conquest, violence, hunger, exploitation-a world not restored but disintegrated.
My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been, The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners”

Howard Zinn

This is my favorite passage from one of my favorite books, “A Peoples History of United States”. Pakhtoon territory has been a victim of this “statist” history which has served to further the imperialist goals in this region. First British Empire used it to divide Pakhtoons, and later, American Imperialism adopted the same policy.

Under the British, a vast scholarship appeared on Pakhtoons which to this day is serving its purpose. All such scholarship must be re-examined under light of Edward Said’s “Orientalism”.

What happened in Pakhtoonkhawa is not the memory of State, its lament of a people, those who  are the  direct victims  o f two imperialist powers, and whose case, history, sociology, anthropology all acted in the same as Edward Said says, in aid of the White Man.

History is Not a farce

A fellow writers at the Pak Tea House has started this beautifully crafted series of articles on Pakhtoonkhawa, this latest article on the referendum. It demands a response. The article presents a partial, unilateral  view. Over time, in the mainstream discourse, the official position of the democratic representatives of the area has been largely ignored and colonial version of history along with Muslem league’s view point have been projected.

I would indicate here the position of Khudai Khidmatgars , the precursors of NAP and ANP to balance the issue -

Why Referendum??he historian must ask a simple question: why referendum was called by the colonial masters in NWFP, when an elected assembly was in place. NWFP, was a province of India, it had an elected assembly. Its counterparts like Bengal and Punjab were divided, their geography was changed but referendum was not called. Though the situation demanded it, whether Bengalis or Punjabis wanted to be partitioned or join any state as whole. But NWFP was asked to go to polls. Why? because NWFP had progressive assembly, and there was a need to subvert the public opinion. Muslim League and their British masters wanted a democratic cover for their action.

Khan Abdul Wali Khan writes in “Facts are Facts”

” Khudai Khidmatgars’ first objection was that since the Congress and the Muslim league had both agreed on Partition, and since they considered themselves bound by the congress decisions (Bacha Khan himself used to represent Khudai Khidmatgars in the Congress working Committee), and since the congress had accepted that NWFP had to be part of Pakistan, then why hold a referendum? The exercise would only exacerbate the existing communal and political tension and political tension and create an atmosphere of confrontation.

The  Muslim League and the British had their own purpose behind the design. Muslim league was keen to convey the impression that Pakistan was formed its demand and its demand alone; and that the Khudai Khidmatgars had opposed Pakistan which was why a referendum had become necessary. There was another purpose in singling out NWFP for a different treatment from other provinces. In the rest of India, only the assembly members of the Muslim majority provinces were asked to give their vote. Bengal and Punjab assemblies voted for the partition and thus the provinces were divided. Sindh assembly was asked to vote for Pakistan. Why not then NWFP assembly also? The reason was obvious. Here the Khudai Khidmatgars were in Majority in the assembly. If they opted for Pakistan the decision would have been that of the Khudai Khidmatgars. The Muslim League was not prepared to concede that credit. Nor were the British.”hy the progressive forces boycotted the dubious referendum. As Wali Khan has mentioned, BachaKhan considered himself bound by the Congress decision. There was no need of a referendum. The elected assembly was being subverted to give Muslim League political advantage in future government in Pakhtoonkhawa. The only meaningful  purpose of this referendum would have been if it would have included the option of “Pakhtoonistan”. When the elected representatives of a state were demanding it , such an option should have been considered. A referendum is only meaningful if it gives a genuine choice to the electorate. But when its clear that its purpose is to bypass the public opinion, it becomes a futile exercise . Which it became. It was boycotted by the elected representatives of the state.
Khan Abdul Wali Khan further writes:

Why Boycott:

” For their part the Khudai Khidmatgars decided that if the British were insistent on holding the plebiscite despite the general acceptance that NWFP would go to Pakistan, then following the same principle of self-determination the province should also have the freedom to a third option, of an in dependent Pukhtoonistan. Mountbatten, however, refused to include this alternative. The Khudai Khidmatgars then decided that since between the available two options the decision had already been taken and the referendum was there fore pointless they would boycott it”have already mentioned that any referendum is only meaningful if it gives a meaningful valid choice to the electorate. Here we are seeing that the demand of the most popular political party who had won an election and was in government in the state was ignored. It was solely being conducted to give the Muslim League a political credibility in NWFP. It was boycotted by a major political force. It was any thing but fair. It was to use the standard British term a “White Wash”.

The Referendem : Fair or Farce

A farce and a shameful farce , this referendum was. And the key reasons were:

A: It was not based on adult franchise, Voting was restricted
B. Not all Pakhtoons were allowed to participate in the referendum that would seal not only their fate but that of their brothers in Afghanistan
C. The tribal Pakhtoons were not allowed to vote. In the population of 3.5 Million only 0.6 Million were allowed to vote
D. 6 Tribal agencies were barred from it
E. The States of Sawat, Dir,Amb, and Chitral were also not allowed to participate

Any referendum that disenfranchises such a large number of population can never be called a legitimate exercise of “self determination”. It has no political, legal and moral authority whatsoever.

Progressive Position on Referendum:ali Khan writes:

” Anyway, the government of India started preparing for referendum. Olaf Carore was replaced by Sir Robb Lokhart as the NWFP governor and the vote was held under his supervision. Although the Khudai Khidmatgarshad announced boycott of the exercise and its result had been a foregone conclusion,yet the Muslim Leaguers made extraordinary efforts. They brought their leaders from all corners of the country including students from the Aligarh University, who all fanned out in the province to incite hatred against the Pukhtoons.

For all that, on the polling day they resorted to such rigging that it is hard to find a parallel. Ballot boxes were freely stuffed and even the votes of Khudai Khidmatgar leaders were cast. Let me cite two instances, one told to me by Sikandar Mirza himself who was former deputy commissioner in Hazara. Touring the polling booths he reached the one at the gullies. The staff proudly told him: “This is mountainous area. We have just 200 voters on the list here. But, Sir, we have already polled 210.”espite a virtually unopposed Referendum , and monumental effort by the Moslem League what was the result?

The Results:
Number of votes 5,72,799
Polled votes (51%) 2,92,118
For Pakistan (51.5%) 2,89,244
For India 2,874

51.5% of the allowed Voters , Voted for Pakistan.Is this the result of a referendum that sealed the fate of Millions of Pakhtoons? With the disenfranchisment, it can’t even be called a majority vote.

My honorable and learned friend, Ysser Hamdani, has written that the referendum was free and fair unlike those conducted by the Military dictatorships in Pakistan. Alas, it was the same story.

Wu referendem tha ya jin tha shaher mein hoo ka alam tha—-emocracy is about “equal opportunities”. Here the elected representatives were suppressed, and an escape route of “referendums” was taken. Why?

Again lets ask those who were debarred , whose parliament was subverted:

Wali Khan writes:

” In the ends, thus, one keeps coming back to the same conclusion that the British were keen on putting an Islamic halter round the socialist order in the north and were not prepared to permit any hurdle,Khudai Khidmatgars’ or whatever, in their way. In fact they were convinced that unless they removed all the nationalist and anti imperialist forces from their path would not be able to consummate their design.”

This all was to block progressive forces in the area, to make NWFP a“Petri dish”for imperialist agenda to block Socialism. The Saur Revolution was snuffed out using NWFP, the Islamists madness was spread, the Frankenstein that  is now playing havoc from New York, from Islamabad to Bara.

All this was result of this “Referendum”.

“Lamhon ne Khata ki , sadiyon ne saza payi”

History is Not a Farce——




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