Ahrar-ul-Hind IV: Indian National Congress’ unholy matrimony with Islamists of Ahrar and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

Continuing from Part I,  Part II and Part III,  I will address a few other claims that apologists for the Congress and its trenchant alliance with the Islamists of Ahrar and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind have put up.  Most notable was this article by one B R Singh writing in Greater Kashmir.

He writes:

The Majlis e Ahrar ul Islam was born in Lahore in 1929. It comprised Deobandi Muslims dissatisfied with the way the Khilafat movement had turned out. Taking Maulana Azad’s advice, they set up their own organization. The Ahrars supported Congress and the Motilal Nehru Report that had rejected the Muslim demand for separate electorates. The Ahrars felt that joint electorates had worked well in Punjab and they need not hold up Muslim negotiations with Congress for political rights. India’s Ulema at the time were resolutely hostile to British rule and wanted no part of the All India Muslim League. The League whose membership in those days comprised upper class Muslims saw British rule as a defender of their interests. In those days, Jinnah was not on the scene, having abandoned India to practice law in England. When he returned to lead the AIML in 1935 and later when he demanded Pakistan, the Ahrars, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Congress on a united secular independent India, opposed Jinnah as well.

Several historical inaccuracies in this paragraph:

1.  Jinnah’s response to the Nehru report is well documented. His original four counter-proposals included the acceptance of joint electorates (he himself had always opposed separate electorates on principle) on the condition that there would be reservation of 33 percent where both Hindus and Muslims could vote together to elect Muslim reserved candidates.  The Nehru report had wanted to limit the reserved constituencies to 25 percent which was a non-starter. Mr. Jinnah had wanted 33 percent to escape the 3/4ths requirement for a Constitutional amendment.  The reserved constituencies in any event would come with an expiry date.

2. It is unfair to say that Muslim League comprised only those who looked to the British to protect their interests. Most notably within the Muslim League there were two factions.  The first faction was Shafi League based out of Punjab primarily. This faction was pro-British and pro-Simon Commission. The larger faction was Jinnah-League which was pro-Congress and in favour of the Nehru Report albeit with the four counter-proposals. Muslim League had as a body adopted the Swaraj/self rule as a demand as early as 1913.

3. Mr. Jinnah did not leave for England till 1931. To say that he was not on the scene in 1929 is therefore a fabrication.

4. The reason why Ahrar was founded was to have a body of Muslims that would be “nationalist” and in support of the Congress.  The idea was to have a pliable religiously motivated party that would not ask for secular things such as a share in the government or a quota in jobs and the like.

The Ahrars included notorious Mullahs which included :

1. Mazhar Ali Azhar: A religious minded fanatical lawyer who claimed to be a Shia but was also responsible for engineering anti-Shia riots in Lucknow with the express purpose of dividing the Muslim League in that city.  He famously declared Jinnah to be “Kafir-e-Azam” or the Great Infidel.

2.  Maulana Ataullah Shah Bokhari : A rabid firebrand cleric who imagined himself a national leader at par with Jawaharlal Nehru. With Nehru he shared a vitriolic dislike for Jinnah and the Muslim League.

3.  Maulana Daud Ghaznavi:  The founder of the Ahrar. A deobandi cleric who later also led the Congress party in the Punjab.

The vanguard of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind comprised:

1. Maulana Hassan Madani:  Another opponent of Jinnah. His opposition has been documented in part III of the series. Chief among his objections was that Jinnah had forwarded the attempt to have a civil law that would allow Hindus and Muslims to marry each other without renouncing their faith.

Therefore it was indeed an irony that Jinnah who embraced modernity and was secular in outlook was seen as an implacable enemy of Indian secularism but those who had stood in the way of modernity were being coopted by the Congress for their own political ends.  Jinnah and the Congress should have natural allies but Congress wanted unwavering obedience and Jinnah was not the kind of person who would give it to them.  The Maulanas, including Maulana Azad, were willing to toe the Congress line and were therefore embraced with open arms.

Here it is important to also discuss Bacha Khan and the Pushtun Nationalists who had thrown their lot with the Congress. Theirs was a position much more understandable than the Maulanas, emanating out of a parochial Pushtun identity.  Bacha Khan was the tallest leader in the frontier. Indeed it was Jinnah who had first nominated Bacha Khan’s name to represent NWFP in the Roundtable conference. It is also true that Bacha Khan and the Congress also played footsie with the Faqir of Ipi after he announced a Jehad against the Kafir government of Pakistan.  Bacha Khan’s allegiance however was to the Pushtun cause and it would be unfair to say – as some in extreme Shia camp have said- that Bacha Khan’s hostility to Jinnah was sectarian given Bacha Khan’s own Sunni faith.  Bacha Khan was a tolerant Pushtun and his Islam was of a non-violent variety, with some exceptions.

Nor was Bacha Khan hostile to Jinnah per se. A recent article in the Friday Times states that he spoke positively of Jinnah. That much is clear also from the letter he wrote to Jinnah in December 1947. The feeling was reciprocated by Jinnah, who as I mentioned above, was the first person to nominate Bacha Khan to the Round Table Conference.  When Bacha Khan took the oath of allegiance to Pakistan finally February 1948, Jinnah embraced him and said that “I feel today my dream of Pakistan is realized”.  Jinnah also gave as many as 200 spinning wheels to the Khudai Khidmatgars acknowledging the social work especially vis a vis the cottage industries that was being done by them.  Things came to ahead in April 1948, when another ex-Khudai Khidmatgar now in the ML  Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan- according to Ghaffar Khan – created disturbances at Jinnah’s public meeting and accused the Khudai Khidmatgars of being behind it.  Contrary to the impression that Jinnah refused to meet Bacha Khan, at Sir Ambrose Dundas’ reception in Peshawar Jinnah and Bacha Khan as well as Dr. Khan sahib spent considerable time discussing the future of the province and Pakistan. It is also worth pointing out that according to Raj Mohan Gandhi, Bacha Khan was the only person in the Congress who had agreed to Gandhi’s proposal to offer premiership of United India to Jinnah.  All of this information can be verified from the book Ghaffar Khan, the Non-violent Badshah of the Pakhtuns by Raj Mohan Gandhi. 

Therefore the narrative of Jinnah’s implacable hostility to Bacha Khan, Pushtun Nationalists and Congressmen in Pakistan is a work of fiction.  He did order the Governor to dismiss the ministry in the fortnight after partition but that constitutional action had its reasons – namely Congress had lost its majority and Dr. Khan sahib till then had not taken an oath of allegiance to Pakistan. Furthermore, Bacha Khan had been in contact with Faqir of Ipi and the Afghan government.  However Jinnah’s relations with Bacha Khan remained cordial and it was only when Jinnah lay dying in Quetta that the NWFP government moved against Bacha Khan and his party.

The point of this exercise that I have conducted is not to apportion the blame for Islamic militancy to Congress but if the blame has to be located in the fact Jinnah’s “racist two nation theory” had gotten us “Pakistan” as the “Indian born in Pakistan” polemicist-from-Canada Tarek Fatah likes to remark so casually – and quite inaccurately- and which is a narrative that is spun by many on the Indian side as well, then it is only fair that we have the complete picture. The picture starts with Gandhi’s preference for Maulanas over moderates in the Khilafat Movement and it reaches its nadir with Congress’ unholy matrimony with Islamists of Ahrar and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind.  As A. Patwardhan of the Congress Party noted so articulately:

‘It is, however, useful to recognise our share of this error of misdirection. To begin with, I am convinced that looking back upon the course of development of the freedom movement, THE ‘HIMALAYAN ERROR’ of Gandhiji’s leadership was the support he extended on behalf of the Congress and the Indian people to the Khilafat Movement at the end of the World War I. This has proved to be a disastrous error which has brought in its wake a series of harmful consequences. On merits, it was a thoroughly reactionary step. The Khilafat was totally unworthy of support of the Progressive Muslims. Kemel Pasha established this solid fact by abolition of the Khilafat. The abolition of the Khilafat was widely welcomed by enlightened Muslim opinion the world over and Kemel was an undoubted hero of all young Muslims straining against Imperialist domination. But apart from the fact that Khilafat was an unworthy reactionary cause, Mahatma Gandhi had to align himself with a sectarian revivalist Muslim Leadership of clerics and maulvis. He was thus unwittingly responsible for jettisoning sane, secular, modernist leadership among the Muslims of India and foisting upon the Indian Muslims a theocratic orthodoxy of the Maulvis. Maulana Mohammed Ali’s speeches read today appear strangely incoherent and out of tune with the spirit of secular political freedom. The Congress Movement which released the forces of religious liberalism and reform among the Hindus, and evoked a rational scientific outlook, placed the Muslims of India under the spell of orthodoxy and religious superstition by their support to the Khilafat leadership. Rationalist leaders like Jinnah were rebuffed by this attitude of Congress andGandhi. This is the background of the psychological rift between Congress and the Muslim League’


This statement is without prejudice to the good works done by Gandhiji and especially the non-violence of Bacha Khan who is a great figure in Pushtun, Pakistani and Indian history.  Jinnah’s Pakistan will always be incomplete without Bacha Khan and his followers. This is after all what Jinnah said himself.

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