Blue Flower

MOHAMMAD ALI JINNAH AND THE PARTITION OF INDIA

par Jérôme Grimaud

The 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan appears to be one, if not the major event, one of the major events in South Asian’s twentieth cientury history. As a matter of fact, the human tragedy following Partition still remains in every mind. Fifty years after the creation of India and Pakistan as two separate states, misunderstandings, distrust and even hatred between the two Nations are very much present.

When studying the origin of partition, there appears a huge problem to determine which party, the British, the Indian National Congress (INC), the All Indian muslim League (AIML) or even the communities (Hindu, Muslims and even Sikh) should be regarded as the main actor and the determinant factor. Il is clear that actually, all these actors seem to have played a role, conscious or not, in the course of events leading to Partition. As Wali Khan described it in Facts are Facts. The untold story of the partition of India1, the British constitutional reform of 1909 launched the principle of a separate electorate in each Indian province, and hence introduced communalism in the Indian political landscape. This could therefore be regarded as the first step leading towards Partition. Likewise, as Sumit Sarkar wrote it in « Modern India », the unprecedented lethal riots between the communities in the years 1945-1946 have certainly hastened the creation of Pakistan by putting the British, the Congress and the League before the emminent break-out of a civil war. Thus, it appears an impossible task to isolate one factor or one actor among so many, and to charge that party with the whole responsibility of Partition. Nevertheless, the two nations’ theory was embodied by a single man. In that sense, we can argue that Mohammad Ali Jinnah played a major role in the creation of Pakistan.

Politically speaking, two main questions arise in connection with Jinnah. The first one deals with the approach of Jinnah to the communal issues : how did Jinnah tackle the issue of communalism and its most radical outcome : Partition ? The second question deals with the political career of Jinnah : how to explain that Jinnah, politically isolated during almost forty years, influenced the destiny of the Subcontinent in such a decisive way ?

In The Sole Spokesman2, Ayesha JALAL clearly shows that, at the beginning of his political career, Ali Jinnah was known to be a « staunch congressman, » who had « no love for sectarian cries ». She describes him as the ambassador of the Hindu-Muslim unity. At that time it seemed that Jinnah only saw the struggle for freedom in a secular perspective. He decided, for example, to resign from the Congress in 1920 after Gandhi’s launch of the Non Cooperation Movement which was joined by the Khilifat Muslims. Indeed, it was an occasion for him to denounce « the zealots, both hindu and muslim, who are harming the national cause ». Moreover, when in 1934 the Congress proposed him an agreement at the centre on the basis of the refusal of separate electorate, he simply agreed to pronounce himself against the election he has never favoured. (These examples show that, till 1937 at least, Ali JINNAH was really opposed to any form of communalism. He believed on the contrary that the real security for Muslims, especially in the minority provinces, lays not in the application of separate electorate but in a good position in a strong centre in a federal government for example). Another example provides us with the idea that Jinnah was not, at the beginning of his career at least very keen on dealing on a communal basis. In the 16th August 1932, the Macdonald’s Communal Award inspired him this thought : ’religion should not enter politics ». As Ayesha Jalal puts it : « this confirms that Jinnah did not consider communal differences to be an obstacle to agreement at the all-India level, and his solutions to the communal problem were cast in political, not religious terms ».

The above appears to be true until the great defeat of the Muslim League at the 1937’s elections. Despite his campaign in Punjab, Bengal and other Muslims majority provinces, the League was defeated almost everywhere except in the Muslim minority provinces. The victory of the Congress allow itself to govern without any coalition. At that time, Jinnah and the League appeared to be more politically isolated than ever. As it is underlined in The sole spokesman, it would be henceforth « Jinnah and the League’s search for survival ». It is amazing to see how, from that year onwards, Jinnah’s speeches shift from a secular to a communal basis. In December 1930, the famous poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqlal pronounced himself in favour of the creation of a Muslim India in the North-West, consisting of the Muslim-Majority regions of the Punjab, Sindh, the North-West Frontier province (NWFP), and Baluchistan. Jinnah was too secularist to share Iqlal’s ideology of the « law of Islam » or the « Muslim separate state », but nevertheless he gradually adopted it after 1937. He began to describe the Congress as a threat to the muslim despite the fact that, two years earlier, he was ready to make an agreement with the Congress on an anti-imperialism basis). He argued that the flying of the Congress tricolor flag, the singing of bandemataram, the Vidhya Mandir Scheme in the Central Provinces and the Wardha scheme of education were all proofs of the « Congress atrocities » which henceforth no Muslim could ever trust again. As Anita Inter SINGH wrote in The Origins of the Partition in India3, the Congress refusal to admit League representatives to a share in ministerial power in the United Provinces after the 1937’s election gave him another arguing to denounce the Congress as a Hindu hegemonistic party. Despite the unfavourable results of the elections, Jinnah wanted the league to be in complete equality with the Congress at the centre so that he could protect the interest of the Muslims in the minority provinces.

But even this new rhetoric that still favoured a weak centre in a federal system was not sufficient to win the support of provinces with a majority of Muslims. Jinnah had not yet won full legitimacy among the Muslim community itself. As we will see in the second part, it is only after the Second World War broke out that Jinnah succeeded in being recognized as the « Sole Spokesman » of the whole Muslim Community. As a matter of fact, the wartime necessities would force the British to negotiate. Jinnah has therefore a new card to play in the political game. Here was for him the opportunity to achieve his political goal but his position remains fragile. He had to find a new policy to be credible in the eyes of the British, the Congress and the Muslim community. Otherwise he could soon be rejected as no representative of the Muslim community. Jinnah was searching a consensus between the desire of Muslim Majority provinces to become strong autonomous provinces and the necessity to protect the Muslims in the area where they were in minority. « What Muslims needed was a quite different basis to overcome the fatal defect of being a minority in India » wrote Sumit Sarkar in Modern India4 Indeed as a community, Muslims were confined to being a perpetual minority in an united India. The league’s answer to this dilemma was henceforth to consider the Muslim people as a nation and no more as a community, a nation separate from the Hindu nation. And here emerges the idea of a separate Pakistan endorsed by Jinnah and the League with the « Lahore Resolution » in 1940

From that time, Jinnah took the logic of the provincial demand to its extreme and decided to espouse, in appearance at least, the separation scheme until pushing for direct action that would lead to communal riot. Indeed, the post 1937’s election period is marked by a great turn in Jinnah’s political strategy.

It is however difficult to believe that an ideological change in the mind of Jinnah took place. How this man, deeply attached to the idea of secularism, could have become within 3-4 years, the champion of communalism ? one should actually see the adoption of the « Lahore Resolution » by Jinnah and the League more as a bargaining chip in the coming negotiations with the British and the Congress in the future Defense Council of Indians, which would become the Constituent Assembly. To quote Ayesha Jalal, « Everybody knew it was a perfectly impracticable scheme, but it had. the merit of having exposed the Congress pretensions tu represent the whole of India ». Moreover, a contradiction in the Lahore Resolution clearly shows that Jinnah could not really envisage the perspective of a separate state. In its fourth paragraph, the Resolution assumed that it would leave the Muslims in the minority provinces outside Muslim « autonomous and sovereign areas ». Regardind to his past position, it was unacceptable for Jinnah who had always claimed the right of the Muslims minorities.. Therefore, the idea of Pakistan, Jinnah achieves to become the sole spokesman of the Muslims, which had always been his main goal. What is more probable is that Jinnah was keeping options open for a constitutional arangement which would cover the whole of India. It appears therefore clearly that his use of the communal factor was a political tactic, not an ideological commitment. According to the evolution of Jinnah’s rhetoric before and after 1937, according to his statements on relation between religion and politics, one could assume that Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan was neither a matter of conviction nor of faith but of interest. Pakistan had gradually become the only way for Jinnah to achieve his political aim.

But with his rhetoric, he played a dangerous game. Calling Muslims to resort to direct action was dangerous in its implication because it was never defined. The religious feeling came The religious feeling was politicized to the point where partition became inevitable. The human repercussion would be dramatic and, as described in « Origins of the Partition of India », « the final result was so different from the one Jinnah had so skillfully planned and fought so hard to achieve ».

But how is it possible to understand that a politically isolated leader will become the « sole spokesman » of the Muslim community ?

As a matter of fact, as far as the political career of Ali Jinnah was Concerned, it appears that he had been politically isolated, even among the Muslim Community. The main reason of of this isolation was the deep difference of perception between him and the Muslim majority provinces’ leaders : Jinnah favoured a federation with a strong centre in which he could play a major role to protect Muslims’ interests. both in the provinces where they were in minority or in majority. On the other hand, Sikander in Punjab or Huq in Bengal (two muslim majority provinces) favoured a federation with a great degree of autonomy for the province. As we can read in « The Origin of the Partition of India », Jinnah did not get any great influence in the indian political landscape until 1939.

We can perhaps conclude that after the defeat of 1937, Jinnah realized that he could not become « the sole spokesman » by democratic means. He had to find another strategy to become the necessary negociator. And here, his interest and the British interest will converge.

Indeed, we shoud bear in mind the British obsession with using the league as a counterweight to the Congress. In his book, Facts are Facts, the Untold Story of Partition of India, Wali Khan clearly esplains that, from the beginning of the century, the British realized that their position would considerably be weakene if the two communities, hindu and muslim, got together and presented an united opposition. To counter this, the British decided to introduce reforms based on communalism. The first of these reforms, the Minto-Morley reforms, introduced separate electorate in the provincial elections. It made communalism afoundation-stone of the

Indian democracy. Later, during the First World War, when the British attacked Turkey, the Indians united to oppose the attack. Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress party joined Maulana Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali in this movement (Khilafat Committee). For the British, this union was a new potential threat. Thus, they manipulated the fact that the Khilafat Committee had proposed the Muslims to resign from the Government Post or from the Army and reinterpreted this as a hindu plot to throw the Muslims out of the Government functions. In that context, the British were ready to support anyone who could play a role to dtvtde the united hindu-muslim front.

After 1937, both the League and the British had to face the victory of the Congress in the elections of 1937. The way in which the Muslim vote was split (lent : ce mot n’existe pas et si c’est un verbe, il prend un s à la troisième personne du singulier) reduces the credibility of secularism for the old Congress party. Therefore jinnah could be marginalised. On the other hand, the British were obliged to make concessions. After 1937, Jinnah was in search of an audience and the British were (searching) looking for a solution to counter the Congress. The result was that both will work together henceforth. With the outbreak of war in 1939, the exigencies of the situation drove The British to concessions to the Indians. For Jinnah who was on a weak position, it was an opportunity to get back on track. He had not gained a large democratic legitimacy, except in the Muslim minority provinces. Though Huq in Bengal and Sikander Hyat Khan in Penjab appeared to adhere nominally to the League in all India matters, Jinnah found them utterly intractable when it came to representing the League’s policies at the provincial level. He decided thus to win the backing of the British. He helped the Viceroy to reject the Congress demands for independence and he pronounced himself for the war effort (League’s Resolution. September-October 1939). The League provided the British with the pretext to tell the Congress that the demand for independance must be weighted against the interest of the minority. The demand for Pakistan as a separate state came after a rebuff to the charge that in opposing the demand for independance, he was the servant of impertalism. From that time, he became to the British at least « the sole spokesman » However, it was not the point of view of the other Muslim leaders. In 1940, Fazlul Huq moved the Pakistan resolution at Lahore, attacked Jinnah for preaching separatism. As Anita Inter Singh puts it : « Linlithgow himself could find, at the beginning of 1942, no genuine enthusiasm for Pakistan among Muslims leaguers whom he had met, and concluded they would be content with Pakistan within a sort of federation ». After 1940, Jinnah did not have a great popular or democratic legitimacy. In fact, if he could have played a role on the political scene, it was only because the British allowed him to play the counterweight to the Congress. The prestige thus acquired from the British helped to make Jinnah’s League the only plausible representative of Muslims at all India level.. Jinnah was received by the Viceroy on an equal footing with the members of Congress, despite only : the latter had a democratic legitimacy. Therefore the League gained a political platform and from that time the League logically became popular among the Muslim community. In the 1945-46 elections, the League won 76% of the Muslim vote which offered the first convincing evidence of its support among Muslims in the Majority provinces. But one could assume that, between 1937 and 1944, Jinnah’s coming back is due thanks to the British policy. We can also argue that without the help of the British, Jinnah’s Two nations’ theory would not have had such an influence

Neither the British nor Jinnah seemed to have really wanted the Partition. The British just hoped or thought that the League’s hostility to the Congress would make the latter more pliable to their intentions. Nothing more. But « there is no evidence that the British thought out the logical implications of their tactics » which resulted in Partition.

Discussing Jinnah on the basis of his ideological conviction and his political influence, we can say that Pakistan has never been an ideal for Jinnah. It was only used as a political bargaining chip. On the other hand we can also argue that without the help of the British who gave Jinnah his right to speak in 1939, the idea of Pakistan would certainly have remained marginal phenomena. What is really amazing is certainly the political skill of Jinnah to manage perfectly in order to be recognised as the « sole spokesman » though he did not get a real democratic support. One sentence of Jinnah is really significant of his political ambition : justifying his meeting with the acting Viceroy Lord Brabourne in August 1938, Jinnah said « It is not because we are in love with imperialism but in Politics one has to play one’s game as on a chessboard ». But the decisions and actions of the leaders cannot be understood without including the pressure of the mass, of the people, in the frame of communalism riots. « Popular action above all made continuance of British Rule untenable ; fear of popular « excesses made Congress leaders cling to the path of negotiation and compromise, and eventually even accept Partition as a necessary price » wrote Sumit Sarkar. Hence, we can suppose that after the direct actions were launched in Calcutta (16th August 1946) and Noakhali (10th October 1946) the domestic situation became out of control neither by the Congress nor by the British, not even by the League and Jinnah. Civil war on this way, Partition would follow.

Morever, there is something ironic in the fact that the Muslim League’s leader who was thoroughly secularist and who had never claimed religious leadership will fight for a separate Muslim state while Mahatma Gandhi who had always presented himself as a Hindu, would stick to his secularist philosophy and opposed himself to the Partition until the end5.