Ambedkar’s advice to Hindus before 1947 was to “let them go”. One wonders what he would suggest today, when the Muslim question remains largely unresolved even in truncated India, and non-Muslim minorities have been systematically cleansed from both Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Some myths die hard. One relates to the circumstances in which Pakistan was carved out of undivided India in 1947. Some have blamed Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s power play with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru for the creation of this theocratic state. Others have blamed Hindu chauvinists for frightening the Muslim minorities in northern India, pushing them to support the Muslim League’s politics of separatism. Yet others have pinned blame on the Congress’ “perfidy” in excluding the League from power after it won a majority on its own in the 1937 provincial elections in United Provinces (UP). Since the Congress and the League were in tacit arrangement to defeat the landlords’ party, the National Agriculturist Party (NAP), the Congress’s decision to rule on its own was the spark that enabled the League to talk about betrayal by Hindus.
Another myth was the one about Jinnah’s secular credentials. Not only did he abandon his outward Englishman’s dress and adopt the Sherwani, but – in the late 1930s, when Pakistan was far from a likelihood – he was talking about Pakistan being the centre of global Islamic revival. When the Pakistan flag was first unveiled in Mumbai in 1938, he talked of it as the flag for Muslims to rally under, as it was “given to us by our Prophet”. On another occasion, after a visit to Mohammad Iqbal’s grave in 1942, Jinnah is said to have remarked that “Pakistan holds the key to the liberation of the entire Islamic world.” These are not words of a secular politician. If Jinnah was secular, he had left those ideas far behind in the mid-30s. His claims to holding the secular flag ended when he adopted the Islamic standard, and too much has been read into his speech to the Pakistan constituent assembly in August 1947, where he said that in due course “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.”
This myth has been fanned by post-Partition historians, who again claimed that Jinnah was essentially secular. His obdurate demand for Pakistan was nothing but a bluff created to extract more concessions from the Congress party, even though the man himself repeatedly claimed Pakistan was non-negotiable. This bunkum was repeated by no less a person that L K Advani when he went to Pakistan in 2005, a year after the NDA’s shock defeat, and called Jinnah “secular” and “an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”. This statement cost him his relationship with the Sangh leadership, but the lie that Jinnah was not really bargaining for Pakistan when his Muslim League demanded vivisection refuses to die.
It was essentially restated in Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal’s own book on Jinnah (The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League, and the Demand for Pakistan). Jalal claimed that Jinnah did not want a separate Pakistan, but merely used it as a bargaining chip to obtain parity for Muslims with Hindus in India. This line has been bought hook, line and sinker by India’s Left-Liberals, who like to use this as a stick to beat down the BJP-Sangh view that Jinnah was “communal”.
You only need to read Venkat Dhulipala’s monumental work, Creating a New Medina (Cambridge University Press, paperback, 530 pp) to resolve the issue.
Dhulipala, who teaches history at the University of North Carolina, has delved deeply into the debates and political developments of the late 1930s and 1940s to show that Pakistan was not an accidental creation enabled by poor Congress manoeuvres or Hindu machinations against Muslims. Pakistan was articulated, explained, and nurtured in present-day North India, especially in the region that now constitutes Uttar Pradesh. There was nothing accidental about its creation, and there was no confusion in the minds of the Indian Muslims who backed the idea to the hilt in the years before independence. Pakistan is the creation of UP Muslims, even though it was finally brought into existence by carving out states in western India and eastern Bengal.
Dhulipala emphasises that “far from being a vague idea that accidentally became a nation-state, Pakistan was popularly imagined in UP as a sovereign Islamic state, a new Medina, as it was called by some of its proponents. In this regard, it was not just envisaged as a refuge for the Indian Muslims, but as the Islamic Utopia that would be the harbinger for renewal and rise of Islam in the modern world”.
In short, Pakistan was essentially constituted to create the basis for global Islamism, much like what ISIS and Al Qaeda have tried to do now. Even though the ulama of Deoband have been portrayed as being opposed to Partition, they were split on tactics, and many influential maulanas, including Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, founder of the Jamiatul Ulama-i-Islam, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi, and Abul Ala Maududi were deep votaries of Muslim separatism, an idea propounded first by poet Mohammad Iqbal.
It was only the faction headed by Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani, who was aligned with the Congress, that talked of muttahida quamiyat (composite nationality), an idea that Muslims of UP decisively rejected when they backed Jinnah’s Muslim League in all elections after 1937. The Jamiatul Ulama-i-Hind too was against Pakistan, but it could not move the Muslim masses in UP against the idea of creating “a new Medina” in a sovereign Pakistan.
Dhulipala’s book, which has seven core chapters, starts in chapter 1 with the background of Muslim League and Congress politics that led to the latter’s win in the 1937 provincial assembly elections. The next chapter deals with the League’s mass contract programme to decimate the Congress’ hold on UP’s Muslims, while Chapter 3 deals with the debates over Pakistan in the public sphere, proving that Pakistan was not an idea that developed by chance. This chapter is particularly interesting, for it elaborates on Babasaheb Ambedkar’s backing for the idea of Pakistan’s right to separation from India. But he did more than that. Not only did he say that Muslims are a separate nation, but he also spent three-quarters of his book (Thoughts on Pakistan) to convince Hindus that Partition was in their interests, and that if India remained united, it would be ungovernable and become “the sick man of Asia.”
He was particularly trenchant in his attacks on the Muslim League’s ever escalating demand for remaining part of India, where, at one point it wanted a 50 per cent share in everything. An exasperated Ambedkar remarked that “Muslims are now speaking the language of Hitler and claiming a place in the sun which Hitler has been claiming for Germany”. He warned Hindus not to be sentimental about carving out Pakistan, for the “realist must take note of the fact that the Mussalmans look upon Hindus as Kaffirs, who deserve more to be exterminated than protected.”
After Partition, Ambedkar accepted the title of being the philosopher of Pakistan, adding that he was “glad that India was separated from Pakistan… A merely independent India would not have been a free India from the point of view of the Hindus. It would have been a government of one country by two nations and of these two the Muslims without question would have been the ruling race, notwithstanding the Hindu Mahasabha and the Jana Sangh. When the Partition took place, I felt God was willing to lift his curse and let India be one, great and prosperous.”
Chapter 4 deals with how the Muslim League built on the idea of Pakistan after it had established its sway over the masses, while Chapter 5 delineates the role of the ulama in shaping the idea of a theocratic Pakistan, and Chapter 6 elaborates on how the Urdu press drummed up the idea of the Pakistan.
Chapters 7 and 8 deal with the fusing of Islam with state power in the quest for Pakistan. It shows how the Muslim League used the elections to the central and provincial assemblies in 1945 as a referendum on Pakistan, and comprehensively won the argument. Students and faculty of the Aligarh Muslim University played a crucial role in taking the idea of Pakistan to the masses, enabling the League to win its self-proclaimed referendum.
The conclusions that Dhulipala reaches are the following: that Pakistan and Muslim separatism were not a last-minute idea thrust on us by Jinnah’s obstinacy; that even Muslims in UP were convinced that their co-religionists needed a separate nation of their own even though it was clear they would remain with India as a minority; that Pakistan was always imagined as a theocratic state in order to create a new Medina – just as the prophet did when he and his followers initially faced opposition in Mecca. Medina was the sanctuary where the Muslims built their strength before taking Mecca.
The implications of Dhulipala’s research are as follows:
One, many Muslims are not comfortable living as minorities anywhere. They want to live under Muslim rule.
Two, syncretism is something they are afraid of, since it means bringing down the walls that separate the Muslim nation from the rest in any country. We can see this in Muslims’ opposition to a uniform civil code, a refusal to treat country (wataniyat) as sacred, opposition to yoga or Vande Mataram, and efforts by Muslim NGOs to fight “shirk” – syncretic practices that are labelled unIslamic.
Three, the debates in UP in the 1930s and 1940s make it clear that many Muslims yearned for a right-minded caliph to lead Muslims in the world – something that was evident during the ill-fated Khilafat movement under Gandhi. This yearning may be latent right now in India, but is surely not dead.
Fourth, the idea of a safe haven Medina is appealing to Muslims if they are not in power. We have seen this in Kashmir, where the minorities were systematically cleansed from the Valley to make Islamism the driving force of the separatist idea; we can see this in some districts of West Bengal, where Islamists under attack by Sheikh Hasina have found a safe haven; and we can see this is the formation of Muslim ghettos in several parts of India.
Fifth, after backing Congress and various regional parties, new Muslim-led parties are taking shape in India, from the Assam United Democratic Front in Assam to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen in Hyderabad and Maharashtra. New mini-Jinnahs are being created inside India. We have to guard against the building of new Medinas inside India.
We will probably live the Partition debates again in secular India. Dhulipala’s book is a must-read for anyone who wants an insight into what drove – and still drives – Muslim politics in India.
Ambedkar’s advice to Hindus before 1947 was to “let them go.” One wonders what he would suggest today, when the Muslim question remains largely unresolved even in truncated India and non-Muslim minorities have been systematically cleansed from both Pakistan and Bangladesh.