Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part VII)

During the rule of the Congress ministries, communal riots broke out across the Indian Subcontinent and Punjab became an important hub of communal violence in the years leading up to the Partition.

Due to the pressure of the orthodox Muslims, the Muslim leaders associated with the Khilafat Movement in Punjab distanced themselves from the Congress in 1931 and formed a separate organisation known as the Majlis-e-Ahrar Islam. In his first presidential address at the Ahrar’s first session, Maulvi Habib-ur-Rehman Ludhianvi said that the Muslims were not ready to live as achoot (outcasts) in Hindustan. The organisation attracted a major portion of the Muslims, especially those belonging to the middle class and the lower class. This greatly affected the Congress support in Punjab. Other events, such as the Shahid Ganj Movement, also led to communal violence and fomented greater animosity between the Sikhs and the Muslims in Punjab.

“In 1925, the Sikh Gurdwaras Act was enacted. On December 22, 1927, a notification was made under it listing the old mosque building and adjacent land as belonging to the Sikh Gurdwara ‘Shahid Ganj Bhai Taru Singh’. Among other objections to this came one by the Anjuman Islamia of Punjab on March 16, 1928. The Sikh Gurdwara Tribunal rejected all the claims on January 20, 1930. The Anjuman did not appeal. Other claimants did. The Lahore High Court dismissed the appeals on October 19, 1934. The judgment records: ‘In the result the property and building were given into the custody of the defendants, and on the night of July 7, 1935, the building was suddenly demolished by or with the connivance of its Sikh custodians under the influence of communal ill-feeling. ‘Riots and disorder ensued, and much resentment was felt and expressed by the Muslims’ (‘Ayodhya in reverse’, A. G. Noorani, Frontline).

While these communal riots were going on, not only in Punjab but also in many provinces where the Muslims felt themselves being persecuted at the hands of the Congress, the Congress Ministries came to an end in 1939 after there was a disagreement between the British government and the Congress over Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. The British announced that India being a colony of Britain was also at war with Germany, while the Congress demanded that the Indian people should be able to decide this. This resulted in the Congress ministries handing in their resignations in October 1939. Following the resignations, the Viceroy of India held negotiations with the Congress and the Muslim League and offered that if the two parties reached an agreement in the provincial field, they could devise means by which the representatives of both parties could participate in the central government as members of the Executive Council.

The Congress and the Muslim League could not reach an agreement because the Congress was not willing to agree to Jinnah’s terms and conditions, which included an establishment of coalition ministries in the provinces; if two-thirds of the Muslim representatives in a provincial Lower House were against a legislation that affected Muslims, it could not be passed; Congress would not fly its flag on public institutions; an understanding regarding the singing of the controversial Vande Matram; and the Congress should stop its anti-Muslim League campaign. When no agreement could be reached between the two parties, the Muslim League celebrated December 22, 1939, as ‘Deliverance Day’ throughout India. The Muslims offered a prayer of thanks for being rid of Hindu tyranny and oppression during the past couple of years. In its resolution that was passed on the Day of Deliverance, the Muslim League declared that the Congress Ministries did their best to “…flout Muslim opinion, destroy Muslim culture, interfered with [Muslim] religious and social life, and trampled upon their economic and political rights...” The resolution further said that when there was a difference of opinion or when settling disputes, the Congress ministries always advanced the cause of the Hindus.

The political differences between the Congress and the Muslim League widened as never before, further solidifying the gulf between the Hindus and the Muslims. This gave the Muslim League a chance to win over the support of a large section of the Muslim masses. The demand for the creation of Pakistan was thus formally raised for the first time in March 1940 at the Lahore session of the Muslim League. The Resolution declared: “No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary. That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign” (A Short History of Pakistan, I. H. Qureshi). Though the Muslim League was in favour of partition, the orthodox Muslims were against the very idea of partition.

The nationalist Muslims formed the Muslim Majlis in 1943 under the aegis of Abdul Majeed Khawaja, then chancellor of the Jamia Millia. This was an umbrella organisation of various Muslim social, political and religious organisations and had the backing of the Subcontinent’s most influential Islamic theological school – the Darul Uloom Deoband. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind was the most significant constituent of the Muslim Majlis. The Muslim nationalists were against the partition of the country, as against the Muslim League. The Muslim League now had the backing of the Muslim landed gentry, i.e. the feudals. Ironically, to win elections in 1946 to establish itself as the sole spokesman of the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent, the Muslim League used religion as an instrument to win the elections in the Muslim majority Punjab, which was under the rule of the Khizer Hayat government. Thus the Muslim League changed tack and adopted a Muslim slogan to win independence, introducing religiosity in the polity in its wake.

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