Minoritarianism v. Majoritarianism; Muslim League and the BJP

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

Two recent articles have come to my attention which I think represent two important points of view about partition and Muslim League’s role which ought to be considered dispassionately. The first is an article by Ajaz Ashraf, a journalist and novelist from New Delhi, ostensibly a supporter of the Congress Party and a believer in the idea of Indian nationalism as an inclusive and pluralistic construct based on composite nationalism.  The second is an article by Shayan Shaukat a young academic from Lahore which is a response to the first one.  Ajaz Ahraf essentially argues that BJP’s political rise mirrors that of Muslim League from 1937 onwards, where Muslim League rallied around Islam and Muslim identity and gained political success. Shayan Shaukat gives context to the Muslim League’s politics by delving into the life and times of Mahomed Ali Jinnah, Muslim League’s principal leader who had started off as the Best Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity and had till very end retained a notion of India above communal differences.

There is one other main difference at least so far as the Muslim League before partition is concerned:  It was never a majoritarian party at least so long as Jinnah lived. It was a party of a minority community on an all India level which aimed at finding a solution that would ensure Muslim community a share in power over the subcontinent.  Unfortunately Ajaz Ahraf has relied on “Creating a New Medina” by Venkat Dhulipala which has been denounced as a book written in bad faith by impartial academics.  Faisal Devji’s review of the book should illustrate the point. Another review by Adeel Hussain of Cambridge also argues similarly here.  On this blog too we addressed the obvious mistakes and omissions of the said book in my blogpost.  History cannot be written in this manner and reduced to sound bites. That is what Mr. Dhulipala did. He deliberately ignored all other voices and chose to amplify the few voices that spoke of an Islamic polity in UP. Muslim League was a big tent party which had all kinds of Muslims in them, including Shias, Ahmadis, Ismailis as well as left leaning ideologues like Daniyal Latifi and right wingers including those that might be termed as political Islamists. Yes the Muslim League did deploy Islamic imagery – it was a minority party trying to unite its constituents. What was clear however was that Jinnah held the final balance and he never proposed a New Medina.

All India Muslim League throughout the Pakistan Movement repeatedly spoke of minorities’ rights in the proposed Pakistan areas. This is clear from the language of the Lahore Resolution that was passed in 1940. Not only that but when in 1946, the interim government was formed, Muslim League appointed a scheduled caste Hindu as its representative to that body. The same scheduled caste Hindu, Mr. Jogindranath Mandal, became the first law minister of Pakistan.  Jinnah’s speeches – numerous- always spoke of inclusion of minorities in Pakistan. Pakistan was never envisaged as an exclusivist state. The most famous of Jinnah’s speeches is the 11 August speech which dispels any notion of “creating a new Medina” or an exclusivist Muslim state.

[6]] I know there are people who do not quite agree with the division of India and the partition of the Punjab and Bengal. Much has been said against it, but now that it has been accepted, it is the duty of every one of us to loyally abide by it and honourably act according to the agreement which is now final and binding on all. But you must remember, as I have said, that this mighty revolution that has taken place is unprecedented. One can quite understand the feeling that exists between the two communities wherever one community is in majority and the other is in minority. But the question is, whether it was possible or practicable to act otherwise than what has been done. A division had to take place. On both sides, in Hindustan and Pakistan, there are sections of people who may not agree with it, who may not like it; but in my judgement there was no other solution, and I am sure future history will record its verdict in favour of it. And what is more, it will be proved by actual experience as we go on that that was the only solution of India’s constitutional problem. Any idea of a united India could never have worked, and in my judgement it would have led us to terrific disaster. Maybe that view is correct; maybe it is not; that remains to be seen. All the same, in this division it was impossible to avoid the question of minorities being in one Dominion or the other. Now that was unavoidable. There is no other solution. Now what shall we do? Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste, or creed, is first, second, and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.

[[7]] I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit, and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community — because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalees, Madrasis and so on — will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence, and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls, in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State. The people of England in [the] course of time had to face the realities of the situation, and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country; and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain, and they are all members of the Nation.

[[8]] Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

Venkat Dhulipala has no answer to this speech. He, therefore, much like Pakistan’s Islamist ideologues shoves it under the rug. Of course this is not to say that Muslim League did not become a majoritarian party. It did in March 1949, six months after Jinnah’s death, when it chose to pass the Objectives’ Resolution. This was a departure from the minoritarian politics Muslim League had hitherto followed and a departure from Jinnah and his ideals.

To look for origins of the BJP, Ajaz Ashraf should look elsewhere. If cow politics of today concerns him, then he should begin by understanding who made cow politics the central feature of the discourse in India. An honest investigation would lead to Mahatma Gandhi who said in no uncertain terms that cow protection was the central facet and plank of Hindu religion and that religion and politics could not be separated. Indeed emphasis on religion this is what initiated the rift between Gandhi and Jinnah especially when Gandhi chose to promote religious clerics from the Muslim community over its secular leaders.  What Gandhi said on Cow Protection is on the record:

The central fact of Hinduism is cow protection. Cow protection to me is one of the most wonderful phenomena in human evolution. It takes the human being beyond this species. The cow to me means the entire sub-human world. Man through the cow is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives. Why the cow was selected for apotheosis is obvious to me. The cow was in India the best companion. She was the giver of plenty. Not only did she give milk, but she also made agriculture possible……..

Cow protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world. And Hinduism will live so ling as there are Hindus to protect the cow…… Hindus will be judged not by their TILAKS, not by the correct chanting of MANTRAS, not by their pilgrimages, not by their most punctilious observances of caste rules, but their ability to protect the cow. (YI, 6-10-1921, p. 36)

On another occasion Gandhi had this to say:

But let me reiterate….that legislative prohibition is the smallest part of any programme of cow protection. …People seem to think that, when a law is passed against any evil, it will die without any further effort. There never was a grosser self-deception. Legislation is intended and is effective against an ignorant or a small, evil-minded minority; but no legislation which is opposed by an intelligent and organized public opinion, or under cover of religion by a fanatical minority, can ever succeed. The more I study the question of cow protection, the stronger the conviction grows upon me that protection of the cow and her progeny can be attained only if there is continuous and sustained constructive effort along the lines suggested by me. (YI, 7-7-1927, p. 219)

Gandhi for better or for worse brought the religious question into the scheme of things. Congress’ stock rose after Gandhi made fervent appeals to religion and religious ideals. There was a right wing within Congress that was even more radical. A fair analysis would no doubt conclude that BJP’s politics and the general Hindutva politics is an outgrowth of Gandhi’s religious politics which emphasized the wisdom of ancient India and the Hindu peasant. Like BJP it spoke of a majoritarian future, determined by the will of the majority.  Gandhi perhaps would never have envisaged lynching, but that too is the logical result of bringing religion into politics.

  • Hegelman

    Who really cares, any more? What is done is done, and three quarters of a century have gone by. India was in fact very lucky in 1947 that two thirds of its Muslims went off to another country. Muslims never live peacefully in any place, and when they are a large minority raise Cain. Partition was cruel in its human costs, but it saved the Hindus.

  • Hegelman

    I looked up the Pak Tea House after a gap of many years and was not surprised to see YLH still chewing the same old cud.

  • Kamath

    It seems to me YLH will never rest unless he believes that he has raised Mr. Jinnah to the rank of George Washington+ Jefferson of Pakistan. He has years ahead of him. So let us wait and see. M.A. Jinnah is his security-blanket!