To understand the condition of communally charged times we today live in we need to trace our steps back as historians to the time when it all started. To ask the question if it all started at the same time or is the communal atmosphere a culmination of various processes that pull India apart. When did it become inevitable for “muslims” to have a separate nation of their own and was that nation the true manifestation of dreams of people who fought for it. Why would Ram Chandra Guha call independent India an unnatural nation? What is so unnatural about it?
Here I’ll try to make sense of the events that led to the freedom of united India into two separate nations, divided on the lines of religious affiliations.
The elections of 1937:
It has been said that most of the communalists before 1937 operated within a liberal framework, only after 1937 did the Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim League and RSS veered towards extreme or fascist communalism. The question arises of the reason of this shift, which can be searched in the elections and results of elections of 1937. In 1936 All India Congress Committee decided to contest elections but left the decision of office acceptance for later. While the Socialist Party members were averse to the acceptance of office, the right wingers wanted Congress to accept office and form the ministries. While office acceptance raised great expectations it also brought power to right wingers who tried to rid congress of the clutches of socialists. And it was due to the pressure of these right wingers that not a single muslim representation was there in these 1937 congress ministries in 8 provinces. This became the basis of the idea of muslim Alienation by the Congress, which had until now been subtly expressed in the absence of major muslim participation in Civil Disobedience and Quit India Movement. Moreover it has been noted that Congress and Hindu Mahasabha shared their cadres till the 1930s which would have made muslims apprehensive of the actions of Congress.
Dismal performance of Muslim League in these elections in muslim majority areas of Punjab and Bengal due to the presence of class based parties like Unionist Party and Krishak Praja Party, led Muslim League to launch a mobilization plan on the lines of religion. The passage of Shariat Application Act 1937 with spirited advocacy by Jinnah in the Central Legislative Assembly provided a symbolic ideological basis for Muslim Solidarity on a national scale, transcending all divisive internal political debates.
Thus we see that when protesting against India’s drawing into World War 2 the Congress ministries resigned in 1939, Jinnah celebrated it as a “Deliverance day”.
The blurred idea of Pakistan:
In theory communalists, both majority and minority bank on the concept of a homogenous identity of a community which overshadows all other identities. And it can be said that the idea of the utopic land of Pakistan was to some extent an elite manipulation of the masses, the intensity of emotions involved had more to do with the political and economic anxieties of various classes than with a profound urge to create an Islamic state. Pakistan was presented as “a peasant utopia” which would bring in liberation for the Muslim peasantry from the hands of the Hindu zamindars and moneylenders, here again the basic reason was of social and economic in character. Moreover, it has been argued that Jinnah’s stand though belligerent was still inclined towards negotiation with Congress, his major public pronouncements in 1938 were ‘a model of communal moderation’. In an article published on 19th January 1940, he did not refer to Hindus and Muslims carving out their separate destinies, but commented ambiguously on two nations ‘who both must share the governance of their common motherland’.
Thus it can be positively concluded here that the idea of Pakistan as a separate nation sovereign in itself was not very clear, because viceroy Linlithgow could find no genuine enthusiasm for Pakistan among the muslim Leaguers even in 1942, he concluded that they would be content with Pakistan within some sort of a federation.
The Fateful Conference at Shimla:
Prior to the conference at Shimla that sealed the fate of the millions of muslims calling themselves Indians, in 1944 there was a huge blunder on part of congress that was that of the recognition of the demand of Pakistan as legitimate, where in April 1944 C. Rajagopalachari had proposed a plebiscite of the adult Muslim Population in muslim majority areas to assess if they wanted to join Pakistan and in July 1944 Gandhi proposed talks with Jinnah on the ‘Rajaji formula’ which amounted to an acceptance of Pakistan demand. But the talks failed due to non-compliance of Jinnah.
Thus the British intervention in June 1945 to start negotiations led to the Shimla conference, where Jinnah claimed for Muslim League the exclusive right to nominate all the Muslim members in the cabinet of an entirely Indian executive council, with the viceroy and commander-in-chief as the only British members. Congress, which then had Abul Kalam Azad as the president, however, refused Jinnah’s demand for that would amount to an admission that Congress was a party only of the caste Hindus.
The misinterpretations of the cabinet mission of 1946:
Ayesha Jalal argued that at no point between 1940 and the arrival of Cabinet Mission in 1946 did either Jinnah or Muslim League ever coherently define the Pakistan demand. But it was the very vagueness of the demand that made it an excellent instrument for a muslim mass mobilisation campaign in the 1940s, where everyone could interpret it in its own terms, where for peasants it was freedom from Hindu overlords , for the corporates it meant ending of Hindu competition.
The cabinet mission arrived in India to discuss two issue:
- The principles and procedures for the framing of a new constitution for granting independence.
- The formation of an interim government based on widest possible agreement among Indian political parties.
But it was seen that the two political parties had become more intolerant about their contradictory political agendas, with Muslim League Legislator’s Convention defining Pakistan as a “sovereign independent state” consisting of the muslim majority provinces and congress declaring that complete independence for united India as its demand.
After wide consultation across political spectrum a three tier structure of loose federal government for the Union of India, including both the provinces and the princely states was offered. Constitution would be settled for three levels of Union, Group and Province, the provinces would have the right to opt out of any particular group but not out of the Union. On July 6th, Muslim League accepted it on the assumption that the basis and foundation of Pakistan was inherent in the plan. Congress announced conditional approval to this on July 6th but on 10th of July it declared that congress agreed to nothing else other than participation in the Constituent Assembly.
This event marks the shift of League from constitutional politics to agitational one. This was the beginning of the frenzy and madness with which Partition is today remembered.
Looking at the series of events that led to the ultimate division of a colony into two nations we can conclude here that religious fervour was basically a cloak in the guise of which many political and social ends were served by the people in position of power to manipulate masses, not all the muslims of undivided India dreamt of a Pakistan. The clever mixture of the propagation of terror and fear, the incapability of secularists, the economic and social desperations and the political manoeuvring were some of the reasons behind the creation of Pakistan but one can never truly find reasons for the inhuman massacres that were associated with it. Violence was both the cause and consequence of Partition and this Partition was to haunt Indian nation was a long unending time.