Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part VI)

The Government of India Act 1935 was a product of the three Round Table Conferences held in London and years of bureaucratic labour by the Indian political forces. The Act proposed a federal India of political provinces with elected local governments, but British control over foreign policy and defence. These concessions were made by the British to contain the rising wave of nationalism. The Act was practically implemented in 1937 and provincial elections were thus held in the beginning of 1937. At that time, the Muslim League was not very organised and the masses were not very familiar with its leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Muslim League’s disastrous performance in the 1937 elections further proved that it was not very popular among the masses, either Hindu or Muslim.

Out of a total of 485 seats reserved for Muslims in the Indian Subcontinent, the Muslim League only won 108. “The total Muslim votes cast nationwide were 7,319,445 and the Muslim League could obtain just 321,772 of these, which was barely 4.4 percent of the total Muslim votes cast” (The Aligarh Movement and the Making of the Indian Muslim Mind, Tariq Hasan). The Congress emerged as the majority party in the over-all elections and formed its ministries in eight out of eleven provinces while the Muslim League formed ministries in two provinces only. These elections changed the contours of Indian politics.

The Muslim League and the Congress had cooperated during the implementation of the Government of India Act 1935, but after the landslide victory of the Congress, there emerged a widened gulf between the Muslims and the Hindus. This was triggered by the uncooperative attitude of the Congress after the formation of its ministries. The Muslim League performed rather well in the United Provinces (UP). It secured 29 seats out of 64 Muslim seats, while the Congress secured 134 seats out of 164 general seats. The Muslim League showed an interest in having a coalition with the Congress. Maulana Azad was of the opinion that the Muslim League’s offer should be taken seriously in order to create goodwill. The Muslim League sought two seats for Nawab Ismail Khan and Choudhry Khaliquzzaman in a Cabinet of six. They assured the Congress of full support, but Jawaharlal Nehru informed them that only one of them could be taken in the Ministry. The Muslim League considered it a breach of faith on the part of the Congress. Therefore, none of them joined the Ministry.

Maulana Azad considered this to be a big blunder as he wrote in India Wins Freedom: “If the UP League’s offer of cooperation had been accepted, the Muslim League party would for all practical purposes have merged in the Congress. Jawaharlal’s action gave the Muslim League in the UP a new lease of life…It was from the UP that the League was reorganised. Mr Jinnah took full advantage of the situation and started an offensive which ultimately led to partition.” Nehru maintained that the reason he did not want the Muslim League to be inducted into the Cabinet was because the Congress wanted to introduce land reforms in the UP, but since the Muslim League represented some big landlords, it would not have been a feasible coalition. Whatever the reasons for the non-inclusion of the Muslim League members in the UP Cabinet, the Congress was now labelled as an enemy of the Muslims for sidelining Muslim interests.

The Hindu right wingers also came into full force during the time when the Congress ministries were formed and some decisions taken by the Congress then took a communal turn. In the UP, Bihar, Central Provinces and Bombay, the Muslims complained of aggressive Hindu nationalism being spread by the Congress. The use of the name ‘Hindustani’ for both Hindi and Urdu; the hoisting of the Congress flag on public buildings and on ceremonial occasions (symbolically giving it the status of the national flag); the foisting of Vande Mataram as the national anthem; introduction of the Wardha system of education in schools that said that people living in India were Indian and thus belonged to one nation; the introduction of the Vidya Mandar (Temple of Learning) Scheme in Bihar and Central Provinces according to which Mandar education was made compulsory at elementary level; forcing children to pay reverence to Mahatma Gandhi’s portrait at school; the policy of cow protection and other such policies were considered as an attack on the civil and cultural rights of the Muslims. Vande Matram was characterised as “positively anti-Islamic and idolatrous in its inspiration and ideas” in view of some of its stanzas that can be translated as: “Thy dreadful name”, a reference to the Goddess Kali, and, “Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen.” The Muslims protested against performing these un-Islamic practices that were against their religious beliefs.

To investigate Muslim grievances, the Muslim League formulated the ‘Pirpur Report’ under the chairmanship of Raja Syed Muhammad Mehdi of Pirpur. The Report declared: “The Muslims think that no tyranny can be as great as the tyranny of the majority…The conduct of the Congress governments seems to substantiate the theory that there is something like identity of purpose between the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha…We Muslims feel that a vast number of the Congress members are Hindus who look forward to the re-establishment of a purely Hindu Raj.”

There were two other reports along the same lines, the Shareef Committee Report about the plight of the Muslims of Bihar under the Congress rule and the Fazlul Haq Report. Both reports talked of the sufferings of the Muslims under the Congress (read Hindu majority) rule and were a justification for the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims to avoid persecution at the hands of the Hindus. The seeds of partition were thus sowed along religious lines and the development of religious polarisation began.

Having suffered at the hands of Congress, which goaded by Hindu radicals enacted the worst repression against the Muslims during its rule, the Muslims were left with no other option than to reorient their thinking in terms of adding a Muslim discourse to the movement for their rights. This resulted in occupying of the space in Muslim League politics of those espousing religious sentiments and symbols to create Muslim identity. Thus, a convergence of Islamic symbols and slogans became a major plank of the Muslim League in the elections of 1946.


Danish said…
It is true that there was a loss of confidence after the Congress refused to share power in the United Provinces. In another post you spoke about the support of the Ulema. Except for Maulana Shabbir Usmani and Ashraf Ali Thanvi most of the Ulemas were not in favour of Pakistan. In India the blame for Pakistan is squarely on Jinnah!

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