By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Venkat Dhulipala’s book is not an academic work. It is a polemic with footnotes. The effort Dhulipala has put into distorting the facts surrounding partition and especially Jinnah comes from a deep malice borne out of nationalist feeling. Those who want to understand just subjective the exercise is should listen to his YouTube lecture at Azim Premji University in addition to ready his cleverly argued piece of historical obfuscation which “Creating a New Medina”. Fully cognizant of the irony that this book may well have been written by Safdar Mahmood or Orya Maqbool Jan, through this blog post, I will attempt to point out the glaring omissions that Venkat Dhulipala has deployed to distort the narrative on partition apart from considering some blatant distortions etc in the book.
1. 1937 Congress and League coalitions and Jinnah’s repeated attempts at Hindu Muslim Unity
Venkat Dhulipala skips over the whole issue of coalition ministries of UP as well as attempts at Hindu Muslim Unity that were initiated by Jinnah in the aftermath of 1937 elections. This he does after writing a chapter on how the main 1937 provincial elections had seen essentially a coinciding of interests between the Muslim League and the Congress and that even Nehru had campaigned in places for the Muslim League candidates. Even if one was to set aside the high politics of communal pacts and Hindu Muslim Unity Jinnah wanted resurrect, in UP the way Muslim League was not allowed to join a coalition ministry unless its members resigned from the League and became Congress members was shortsightedness that laid the foundation for the subsequent mobilizations of the two parties which were also at cross purposes. Dhulipala of course knows that it is not possible to defend the indefensible and therefore skips over it by saying that “far greater attention needs to be paid” to how Muslim League gained strength after being rebuffed.
2. The claim that Deoband was split down the middle
A deliberate impression created in the book is that somehow Deoband Ulema were central to the Pakistan Movement. There can be no greater deception than this claim. Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind (JUH) was formed in 1924 and except for a brief period on Muslim Unity Board, it was never affiliated with the Muslim League. First of all, the number of Deobandi Ulema of Darul-Uloom Deoband who supported the Congress and its Maulana Azad far outnumbered the breakaway section of Deobandi Ulema led by Ashraf Ali Thanwi and later by Shabbir Ahmad Usmani. What later became the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) did not register as a major party till 1949 when remnants of pro-Congress JUH left behind in Pakistan led by Mufti Mahmood merged with JUI. The significance of Ashraf Ali Thanwi and later Shabbir Ahmad Usmani is greatly exaggerated. Dhulipala places reliance on various books of Deobandi authors to make this case. It so happened I had read one of them and therefore I jumped up when Dhulipala so blatantly distorted even those Urdu books of questionable veracity that he has used. I reproduce the original Urdu text which Dhulipala claims to have relied upon. His version of the story is that a delegation of Deobandi Ulema went to Jinnah and asked for congregational prayer at the Muslim League rally. Jinnah said that this would lead to dissension about who would lead such a prayer. The Ulema said that whoever Jinnah would stand behind the people will accept. So the next day at 1 pm the Muslim League broke for prayers and Jinnah then deliberately went up and stood behind the Qazi of the city (Page 106). Everybody prayed behind him.
Now compare this to the original:
قائداعظم سے ہم نے یہ بھی کہا کہ ہم یہ مطالبہ نہیں کرتے کہ اہل سیاست بڑے متقی اور پرہیز گار بن جائیں مگر یہ درخواست ضرور کریں گے کہ مسلم لیگ کے ذمہ دار ارکان نمازی ضرور بن جائیں اور کل نماز جماعت کے ساتھ ادا کریں۔ قائداعظم نے کہا کہ اس پر جھگڑا ہوگا کہ امام دیوبندی ہو یا سنی یا شیعہ۔ ہم نے کہا آپ صرف یہ اعلان کردیں کہ ہم نماز باجماعت پڑھیں گے چنانچہ ایسا ہی ہوا۔ مسلم لیگ کا اجلاس دو بجے یہ اعلان کرکے ملتوی ہوگیا کہ نماز ظہر کے لئے اجلاس ملتوی ہوتا ہے۔ چنانچہ قاضی شہر امام بنے قائداعظم نے تقریباً ایک لاکھ مسلمانوں کے ساتھ نماز ادا کی۔مکتوب ظفر احمد عثمانی بنام راقم مورخہ ۱۲ ربیع الاول ۱۳۸۷ھ۔
This is the letter by Zafar Ahmed Usmani dated 12 Rabbi-ul-Awwal 1385 AH that Dhulipala has relied on. The translation varies in very significant ways. One the Ulema did not say that whoever Jinnah would choose would be acceptable. Nor did Jinnah leap up to stand behind the Qazi. Dhulipala even has the time wrong. What is more is that it is clear that Dhulipala is very cleverly mixing up his facts with fiction to produce a completely different product. The more serious question of course is of the veracity of these Urdu sources. Anyone familiar with the religious literature that is commonplace is often extremely unreliable, contradictory and erroneous. Given that for most of his narrative, Dhulipala has relied exclusively on these accounts makes one wonder how accurate any of the transmission is. There is a reason why there is a tendency amongst partition historians to try and limit themselves to official papers.
3. Omissions vis a vis Ambedkar Plan
Dhulipala has discussed at length Ambedkar’s ideas contained in his classic “Pakistan or Partition of India”. His attempt has been to show that Ambedkar at least viewed partition as a necessary evil to primarily rid India of its Muslim problem or even to allow Dalits to replace Muslims as India’s main minority. What Dhulipala deliberately leaves out is any discussion of Chapter XV of Ambedkar’s book. It can be accessed here: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/ambedkar_partition/515.html#part_3.
Now why is this significant. What we forget is that Ambedkar too was a politician attempting to practise the art of the possible. In this chapter Ambedkar gives his solution for the impasse between Indian National aspirations and Muslim separatism. In very real terms this conformed to Jinnah’s inward looking strategy and objectives vis a vis partition. Ambedkar points out that his plan is community based (as opposed to region based) and therefore more realistic than the Cripps Plan. Given that Dhulipala’s obsession has been the differentiation between UP Muslims and the Muslims of the majority region – a closer analysis of Ambedkar’s plan would lend credence to the thesis by Ayesha Jalal of what Dhulipala naively and contemptuously dismisses as “secret” strategy or the elite conspiratorial models. Therefore Dhulipala’s omission of any reference to Ambedkar Plan seems deliberate.
4. Raja of Mahmudabad’s relations with Jinnah
Perhaps the most cunning use of this technique of omission to make his point is Dhulipala’s treatment of Raja of Mahmudabad. Raja of Mahmudabad, the Shia from UP. Dhulipala relies on the thoughts and ideas of Mahmudabad to prove that Jinnah’s closest lieutenants had Islamist ideas. What he misses out of course is that it was for this reason that Mahmudabad was asked to distance himself from the Muslim League.
“My advocacy of an Islamic state brought me into conflict with Jinnah. He thoroughly disapproved of my ideas and dissuaded me from expressing them publicly from the League platform lest the people might be led to believe that Jinnah shared my view and that he was asking me to convey such ideas to the public. As I was convinced that I was right and did not want to compromise Jinnah’s position, I decided to cut myself away and for nearly two years kept my distance from him, apart from seeing him during the working committee meetings and on other formal occasion. It was not easy to take this decision as my associations with Jinnah had been very close in the past. Now that I look back I realize how wrong I had been” (Mushir-ul-Hasan’s edited book, India’s Partition-Process, Strategy and Mobilisation, pages 415-426).
This too finds no reference in Dhulipala’s account because it would have detracted from his main claim which is fallacious to begin with. Needless to say this was a very important reference that Dhulipala missed out on or perhaps that was the point.
5. 1943 Delhi Session
Dhulipala makes mentions of moots like the one supposedly organized by Nawab Ismail Khan where Muslim divines like Sulaiman Nadwi discussed the constitution making for an Islamic state. What he leaves out (surprise) is the Delhi session of Muslim League where certain sections attempted to commit Muslim League to an Islamic form of government. Jinnah in his famous speech at the session where he castigated the Landlords and Capitalists for having forgotten the lessons of Islam nonetheless declared that a resolution of the sort (i.e. Hukoomat-e-Illahaya) would amount to a “censure on every Leaguer”. The resolution was roundly defeated. Dhulipala ofcourse did not find to mention this fact either.
6. Omission of the Congress backed Majlis-e-Ahrar and its sectarian propaganda
Another major omission in Dhulipala’s narrative is that Majlis-e-Ahrar – beyond passing references- has not been dealt with at all. Madh-e-Sahaba is dedicated a sentence or two but nothing more. Majlis-e-Ahrar -e Islam – Congress’ foremost favourite nationalist Muslim organ was responsible for not just anti- Ahmadi and anti-Shia rhetoric but outright incitement. Ataullah Shah Bukhari the fire brand cleric is mentioned only in passing when discussing that the talented rabble-rouser was not available to lend fiery Islamic rhetoric to Congress’ campaign in Jhansi in 1938. Majlis-e-Ahrar’s Mazhar Ali Azhar is entirely left out.
By the same token there is hardly any reference to Sir Zafrullah Khan (there is a solitary reference) , the great Ahmadi stalwart and his unique role as Quaid-e-Azam’s go to man in the struggle.
7. Left wing of the Muslim League
Another omission is the support of the Communist Party of India to the Muslim League. It is mentioned that Sajjad Zaheer was sent to Pakistan to form the communist party there but no mention is made of his and communist party’s earlier support to the Pakistan Movement. Daniyal Latifi Abdullah Malik and other leftist Leaguers find no mention in this narrative that Dhulipala wants to spin. P C Joshi of the Communist Party wrote, explaining the communist position, that:
“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, 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 simplistic narrative that Dhulipala wants to subject us to.