The Demand for Pakistan and the Partition of India

“It is a mistake to equate the demand for Pakistan with the partition of India”
Ayesha Jalal, Pakistani historian and author of The Sole Spokesman, picks through the tangle of the Jinnah controversy with Shoma Chaudhury
By Shoma Chaudhury,, September 5, 2009

What strikes you, personally, as the sharpest irony of the Jinnah- Jaswant Singh controversy and its fallout in India?

What strikes me as most ironic is the extent to which the '''secular' Congress and the 'communal' BJP end up subscribing to the same common idioms of Indian nationalism when it comes to Pakistan and its most potent symbol, Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Jinnah of the 1916 Lucknow Pact where Sarojini Naidu hailed him as the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”; Jinnah of the 1940 Lahore Declaration and two-nation theory; Jinnah who wanted Pakistan to be a “laboratory of Islam”; the secular Jinnah of the August 11 1947 address. And the Jinnah of the personal domain: a Parsi wife, smoking, drinking. How is one to reconcile all these? Were these all stages in the evolution of Jinnah’s political thinking, or were they expedient positions?

Like any other successful politician, Jinnah changed tactics without losing sight of his ultimate strategic objectives in response to shifting political dynamics during a career spanning several decades. Only a most superficial and politically tainted understanding of Jinnah can lead to the conclusion that there was an irreconcilable contradiction between his early career when he was hailed as the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’ and his later years when he orchestrated the demand for a Pakistan in order to win an equitable share of power for Muslims in an independent India.

As for the presumed contradiction between his personal lifestyle and championing of a Pakistan in which Islam would play a role, the problem again lies with an insufficient understanding of what Jinnah meant by Islam. The Islam he advocated was neither bigoted nor narrow-minded, but one based on principles of equity, justice and fairplay for all, regardless of caste or creed. Jinnah never abandoned his secular and liberal vision for purposes of expediency. This is amply in evidence from the speeches he gave in the aftermath of partition on the place of religion and the minorities in the Muslim state of Pakistan.

Your own book The Sole Spokesman argues that Partition was a gross miscalculation and Jinnah never wanted it till the end. How is one to read his demand for two nations then? And what, according to you, did Jinnah really want?

What I argued in The Sole Spokesman was that it was a mistake to equate the demand for Pakistan with the partition of India as it took place in 1947. After 1940, the demand for Pakistan was intended by Jinnah as a means to stake a claim for the Muslim share of power in India once the British quit. He argued that the unitary centre of the raj was a British construction and would stand dissolved at the moment of decolonization. Any reconstitution of the centre would have to be based on the premise that there were ‘two nations’ in India – the Muslim nation represented by the Muslim-majority provinces in the north-west and north-east (Pakistan) and the Hindu nation represented by the Hindu-majority provinces (Hindustan). Once the Congress and the British conceded the principle of a Pakistan, Jinnah left it an open question whether the two parts of India would arrive at treaty arrangements on matters of common concern as two sovereign states or enter into a confederal arrangement on the basis of equality. Jinnah always insisted that ‘Pakistan’ had to be based on undivided Punjab and Bengal and resolutely opposed the partition of these two provinces along ostensibly religious lines until the bitter end. By insisting on a wresting power at a strong center with only the most nominal concessions to the provincial autonomy demanded by the Muslim-majority provinces, by endorsing the Hindu Mahasabha’s call to partition Punjab and Bengal and, above all, by refusing to grant Muslims the share of power at the all-India level demanded by Jinnah, the Congress led by Nehru and Patel foreclosed the possibility of keeping India united. Jinnah did miscalculate in believing Gandhi’s voice was still dominant in the Congress.

Was the idea of an eminent Muslim domain within a sovereign Indian Union a tenable idea? Indian states were in any case carved along linguistic lines, would a Muslim State have been in keeping with this principle? And if so, why were the Congress stalwarts so against it?

This is a counterfactual question. However, the irony is that it was Jinnah and the Muslim League who wanted undivided Punjab and Bengal and the Mahasabha-Congress combine that insisted on their division along lines of religion. The Congress stalwarts were against such a Muslim state because it entailed diluting their control over the centre and gave far too much power to Jinnah and the Muslim League. Linguistic states in a federal union was not incompatible with Jinnah’s vision.

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