Splitting Errors I


By Yasser Latif Hamdani

(This article is the first in a series of articles which will address the issues raised by Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed in his eight part series in The Friday Times. This rebuttal series has been written exclusively for the PakTeaHouse. Please credit PTH for any republication.)

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed’s series “Splitting India” was fraught with historical inaccuracies and misconceived straw man fallacies some of which I will attempt to show in a series of articles. To be fair to Dr. Ahmed, he did admit in his Part IV that some of the more glaring errors he made were because he had left his books in Stockholm. However there are others still which make the whole push of Ishtiaq Ahmed’s scholarship quite questionable to say the least.

There are no two opinions about the fact that partition of Punjab and Bengal was not an ideal situation. I do not think any party involved thought it ideal. The British did not. Mr. Jinnah and the Muslim League did not. The Congress certainly did not.  Ishtiaq Ahmed is right again when he states a united India with a democratic dispensation and regional autonomy would have been the best solution. Yet in what seemed like a deliberate exercise in obfuscation Isthiaq Ahmed made no effort to trace out how that democratic dispensation with regional autonomy was repeatedly shot down by the Congress leadership starting with the rejection of the Delhi proposals and onwards. Congress’ idea of a United India throughout the 1930s and 1940s was of a highly centralized state, with residuary powers remaining with the center.  A democratic universal franchise with regional autonomy is exactly the demand Jinnah had put up through the famous Delhi proposals in 1927. These asked for the following:

(i)                  Sind was to be made into separate province.

(ii)                NWFP and Balochistan would be treated on the same level as other provinces of British India.

(iii)               Punjab and Bengal should have representation in accordance with the population.

(iv)              33 percent Muslim reserved seats at the central legislature. This was to be through joint electorate i.e. Hindus and Muslims would vote to elect these 33 percent Muslim seats.

(Ref:  Ian Bryant Wells, Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity; Jinnah’s Early Politics, Page 161)

Jinnah and Bose

We need to understand what necessitated the fourth demand. Jinnah – the only politician in South Asia to be called an Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity – had long played the role of a bridge builder between Indian Nationalists on the one hand and the Muslim elite on the other.  It is often forgotten that Muslim League’s manifesto was changed to include self rule at Jinnah’s behest.  The Muslim elite had gotten the principle of separate electorate accepted under the Minto-Morley Reforms. Amongst the earliest objectors to the separate electorates was Jinnah.   Jinnah had since 1913 acted as the go between and had very successfully brought Congress and the Muslim League on a single platform – a historic triumph that was called the Lucknow Pact.  The Lucknow Pact was not without controversy within the Muslim community. Jinnah was seen by many Muslims of Punjab and Bengal as having sold them out for the interests of the minority Muslims in UP etc because he had agreed to a reduction of Muslim majorities in Bengal and Punjab.  The demand for 33 percent representation at the central legislature therefore was to rope in those Muslim elites who mistrusted the Congress.  To Congress’ credit, and the credit of Pandit Motilal Nehru – one of the greatest statesmen produced by the Indian Subcontinent-  these proposals were initially accepted by the Congress committee. Not only that but Pandit Motilal Nehru went a step forward and introduced the idea of a communal veto i.e. issues affecting a particular community would have to have the support of 75 percent of its legislators.  This was called the Delhi-Bombay Compromise. (Ref: Indian Quarterly Register Vol I 1927 Pages 39-40). Ultimately there were two groups in the broader Congress and the Indian Nationalist movement that led to a defeat of the move. The first group was the Hindu Mahasabha under Pandit Malaviya which was in no mood to give any concessions to the Muslims. The second group was the Indian Nationalists under Jawaharlal Nehru which believed that communal differences could be papered over with a strong centralized Indian state.

Completely contrary to what Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed claimed erroneously, the property qualifications affected voting patterns but not the distribution of proportional representation.  It is precisely because of this reason, that Muslim League had also asked for universal adult franchise- something which Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed denied- in 1936.  The Bombay session of the Muslim League in 1936 under Jinnah’s leadership had asked for the following:

  • A democratic responsible government with adult franchise to take the place of the present system.
  • Repeal of all exceptionally repressive laws and the granting of the right of free speech, freedom of the press and organization.
  • Immediate economic relief to the peasantry, State provision for educated and uneducated employment with fixed minimum wage for workers
  • Introduction of free compulsory primary education.

(Ref:  Page 140 Stanley Wolpert “Jinnah of Pakistan”)

Not only was this a vision that Jinnah the liberal democrat had for India but it also served another purpose:  It would bring Congress and the Muslim League together on one platform of a secular United India based on universal adult franchise.  Durga Das in his book “Curzon to Nehru and after” writes very clearly of pro-Congress Hindu businessmen funding the Muslim League through 1936 and 1937. The election results of 1937 are instructive.  Both Congress and the Muslim League failed to dent the pro-British alliances in Muslim majority provinces.  In UP and Bombay Muslim League won a majority of the Muslim seats.  Congress swept the Hindu majority provinces but failed to grab more than one Muslim seat in UP.  Given the tacit alliance between the Muslim League and the Congress before the elections, a golden opportunity presented itself to the Congress leadership to make a truly inclusive government in provinces such as UP on the basis of Hindu-Muslim Unity.  What India lacked then was a statesman of the mold of Motilal Nehru. Congress – and in particular Jawaharlal Nehru-  having gotten more than a simple majority however could choose to comfortably ignore the Muslims. The Congress put humiliating conditions – Muslim League was asked to merge with it. When Jinnah refused,  the Congress began playing extreme religious groups like Majlis-e-Ahrar and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind against it.

The events of UP convinced the Muslim salariat to use Hamza Alavi’s phrase that they would not get a fair deal from the Congress and a Hindu majority.  Their fears were confirmed by two other very strange decisions on the part of the Congress.  The first was the decision to adopt Hindi as the national language instead of Hindustani.  Hindustani was a broad name for both Hindi and Urdu. In other words it was one language two scripts idea. Congress’ adoption of Hindi and not Hindustani was seen as a cultural imposition by the Muslims from Barabanki to Lucknow.  The second strange decision was to adopt Bande Mataram as the national anthem.  The main Muslim objection was Bande Mataram was that it was from a novel called Anandmath by Bankim Chandra Chatterji which was decidedly Hindu in character conflating Hinduism with Indian Nationalism. More frighteningly its villains were Muslims and at times the British are seen as liberators from Muslim tyranny.  All of this convinced the Muslim intelligentsia that in a Hindu dominated India, their cultural identity would be at risk and that they needed some sort of device to even the odds and defeat the arithmetic of Hindu Majority v. Muslim Minority.  It is in these circumstances that the Two Nation Theory was to become an instrument of a consociationalist compromise between the two  largest communities of India.

In the coming parts I will write about the Lahore Resolution, Sir Zafrullah Khan’s role and the breakdown of the final constitutional negotiations that led to the creation of Pakistan.

To be continued

Comments are closed.