Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part VIII)

On numerous occasions, Jinnah criticised Gandhi for introducing religion into politics by using Hindu symbolism, but Jinnah himself was compelled to incorporate religion into the movement for Pakistan later. The failure of the Congress ministries in addressing the grievances (in fact, aggravating those grievances) of the Muslim populace in the Indian Subcontinent paved the way for the Muslim League’s new ‘Islam in danger’ theme and saving it from the infidels. This was the Muslim League’s ticket to popularity among the Muslim masses who now felt threatened despite assurances from Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and other Congress leaders. During the actual run-up to Pakistan’s independence, the Muslim League under Jinnah’s leadership succumbed to religious rhetoric. “…Jinnah’s resort to religion was not an ideology to which he was ever committed or even a device to use against rival communities; it was simply a way of giving a semblance of unity and solidity to his divided Muslim constituents” (The State of Martial Rule, Ayesha Jalal). Yet it cannot be denied that Jinnah, despite being a secularist and someone who had always rejected the notion of a theological ‘Islamic’ state, himself opened the door inadvertently for religion to enter politics in Pakistan.

The Muslim League endorsed religious slogans such as ‘Pakistan ka naara kya? La Illaha Il-Lallah’ (What is the slogan of Pakistan? There is no God but Allah) and ‘Muslim hai tau Muslim League mein aa’ (If you are a Muslim, then come join the Muslim League) to garner the support of Muslims all over the Subcontinent. The other religious denominations, especially the Hindus and the Sikhs, were labelled as infidels and plunderers. The die of ‘politics in the name of religion’ was cast and there was no turning back the tide.

The religion card paid off, as the Muslim League had its decisive victory in the 1946 election. “…Support was solicited from Sunnis, Shias, the Ahmadis, Muslim Communists and anyone who was registered in the census records as a Muslim…Congress secured 905 general seats out of a total of 1,585 while the gains of the Muslim League were even more impressive. It won 440 seats out of a total of 495 reserved for Muslims. It is to be noted that Muslims in the Hindu-majority provinces also voted massively in favour of the Muslim League” (State, Nation and Ethnicity in Contemporary South Asia, Ishtiaq Ahmed).

In Punjab, the Sikander-Jinnah pact (between the Unionist Party and the Muslim League) started to unravel following the Lahore Resolution (1940) because the Unionists supported the idea of a united Punjab and not a religiously divided one. After the death of Sikander Hayat in 1942, Khizer Hayat took over as the premier of Punjab. Jinnah and Khizer Hayat developed some differences when Hayat thought that the Muslim League was interfering in the internal politics of Punjab. Hayat feared the Muslim League as a threat to the Unionist Party, therefore he declared the Muslim League as an enemy of the state, the same thing he had done with the Hindu extremist party, the Rashtriya SwayamSevak Sangh (RSS). Both parties were banned from any public activities. But during this time, it became clear that an independent Muslim state, Pakistan, was to materialise sometime in the near future, which led the opportunist Muslim elites in Punjab to change sides.

The Muslim League was now more tempting to them as it offered them more power and patronage. Thus with the support of the influential Punjabi Muslims, the Muslim League gained strength in Punjab. Khizer Hayat’s Sikh and Hindu supporters feared that the Muslim League had planned a putsch in Punjab. The Sikhs led by the Sikh Akali Dal leader Master Tara Singh and the Hindus by the RSS, went for an all-out confrontation with the Muslims. The Muslims retaliated by attacking a number of Sikh and Hindu villages. The ensuing communal riots resulted in thousands of deaths, leading Khizer Hayat to resign in March 1947 after he was unable to control the law and order situation.

It is important to note here that the Muslim League, now supported by some pirs and sajjada nashins in Punjab, gave a subliminal message that Pakistan would have Shariat and be governed according to Islamic injunctions. The Jamiatul Ulema-e-Islam was then constituted in Punjab. Communal trouble also started in Bengal in 1946, following Jinnah’s call for ‘Direct Action’ day on August 16 after Nehru made an allegedly anti-minority statement. Chief Minister of Bengal Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy is reported to have told a large Muslim crowd that the British wanted to make Nehru rule Bengal and he would not let that happen. He encouraged the Muslims to take action, which concluded in “the worst communal riot in India’s history” (The Statesman, Calcutta, August 20). Thousands of Bengalis are said to have been murdered between August 16-20, 1946, in what is known as the ‘Great Calcutta Killing’. The religious card had once again taken the lives of thousands of innocents.

In the NWFP too the Muslim League started the propaganda that the new Muslim state would have an Islamic form of government. With the help of the Pir of Manki Sharif, the Muslim League gained strength in the NWFP. During one of his speeches there, Jinnah said, “…if you want Pakistan, vote for the League candidates. If we fail to realise our duty today, you will be reduced to the status of Shudras (low-caste Hindus) and Islam will be vanquished from India. I shall never allow Muslims to be slaves of the Hindus.”

The Muslim League persuaded several notable ulema to campaign for it, as can be evidenced from the fact that a revered religious leader and scholar of his time like Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani is said to have delivered a sermon that “…any man who gives his vote to the opponents of the Muslim League must think of the ultimate consequences of his action in terms of the interests of his nation and the answers that he would be called upon to produce on the Day of Judgement” (Pakistan: The Formative Phase, Khalid bin Sayeed).

After the June 3 Plan (also known as the Mountbatten Plan), the British finally conceded the demand for independence and partition of India, and the Indian Independence Act 1947 was passed by the British Parliament. Punjab and Bengal were divided along religious lines, making the two most significant provinces relatively insignificant. In August 1947, the Indian Subcontinent was divided into two independent dominions, Hindustan and Pakistan, and the princely states were left to accede to either of their choice.

Pakistan was born on August 14, and no sooner had it come into being than theocracy started to make inroads into the polity, starting with the Objectives Resolution.


*free* views said…
I love Gandhiji and think he was the answer to South Asian and even world's problems - Non violence and against hate of any form, even against Britishers. Because he is too great to realize that hate cannot be controlled. That is one thing that both Pakistan and India forgot. Pakistan was created by instilling fear and hate against non-muslims, now you see that same hate turning against Pakistan and ready to eat it up. In India the hindu fundamentalists tried hate against non-hindus exploiting fear in people. It (will) soon turned into regionalism and can one day grow into caste violence. Hate cannot be controlled, it will turn against you. That is exactly why Gandhiji refused to use hate and fear against the Britishers, that is exactly why he stopped Quit India movement after Chauri Chaura incident.

I am not aware of the Hindu image that Gandhiji gave that made Muslims threatened. I think the man's real greatness is that fanatics in both religions hated him.


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