One of the least researched aspects of the Partition of India has been the role of Muslims who opposed the Partition. We are indeed informed about the strong opposition by Congress stalwart Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and the leader of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam, Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madni, to the demand for a separate Muslim state made by the All-India Muslim League, but the general impression in both India and Pakistan is that Indian Muslims as a whole supported the Partition. While in India right-wing Hindus blame Muslims for being traitors to the nation and constantly doubt their loyalty, in Pakistan the national narrative thrives on projecting the demand for Pakistan as rooted organically in the Islamic psyche and ethos – to create the Islamic state as part of religious obligation. Consequently, in Pakistan the creation of Pakistan is considered inevitable.
Dr Shamsul Islam’s path-breaking work is a most welcome corrector of this false perception prevalent in both countries. The book covers a great deal of ground and a very useful chapter entitled, ‘Muslim Patriotic Individuals and Organisations’ provides an inventory which can be very handy for further research on this theme. Another chapter presents poetry written by Muslims who opposed Partition.
Muslims Against Partition
By Shamsul Islam
Pharos Media & Publishing Ptv Ltd: New Delhi, 2015
Shamsul Islam views descriptions such as ‘nationalist Muslims’ (for those Muslims who opposed the Partition) and ‘Muslim nationalists’ (for those who supported the Partition of India to create Pakistan) as sectarian and communal since they imply that such divisions existed only amongst Muslims and not amongst Hindus.
The author highlights that right-wing Hindus were as much supporters of the Two Nation theory as was the Muslim League. Thus for example, Hindu Mahasabha leaders such as Sarvarkar and RSS leaders such as Gowalkar as well as Arya Samaji stalwarts such as Lala Lajpat of Lahore were in favour of Hindus and Muslims being considered separate nations. However, their supporters and admirers only criticise the Muslim version of communal nationalism represented by the Muslim League and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Islam presents several pertinent quotations from Gowalkar in which the guru of Hindu extremism painted Indian Muslims as a fifth column. In other words, the Partition had rendered India weaker and prone to internal subversion by the Muslim minority which the Muslim League’s politics left behind in India. The solution to such a problem was to send them to Pakistan. That idea keeps coming up in contemporary Indian politics from time to time.
Right-wing Hindus were as much supporters of the Two Nation theory as was the Muslim League
However, the book is a tribute to the role of one Muslim leader who steadfastly opposed the Partition of India: the Sindhi leader Allah Bakhsh Soomro. Allah Bakhsh belonged to a landed family. He founded the Sindh People’s Party in 1934, which later came to be known as ‘Ittehad’ or ‘Unity Party’. After Sindh was separated from Bombay in 1936, Allah Bakhsh was elected premier of Sindh twice, first from March 23, 1938 to April 18, 1940 and again from March 7, 1941 to October 14, 1942. He resigned to protest the British policy of repression which had been let loose in the wake of the Quit India movement that Mahatma Gandhi had started.
Allah Bakhsh was totally opposed to the Muslim League’s demand for the creation of Pakistan through a division of India on a religious basis. Consequently, he established the Azad Muslim Conference. In its Delhi session held during April 27-30, 1940 some 1400 delegates took part. They belonged mainly to the lower castes and working class. The famous scholar of Indian Islam, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, feels that the delegates represented a ‘majority of India’s Muslims’. Among those who attended the conference were representatives of many Islamic theologians and women also took part in the deliberations. Allah Bakhsh said in his address:
“Whatever our faiths we must live together in our country in an atmosphere of perfect amity and our relations should be the relations of the several brothers of a joint family, various members of which are free to profess their faith as they like without any let or hindrance and of whom enjoy equal benefits of their joint property.”
The author quotes from the presidential address of Allah Bakhsh extensively to assert that he countered the Two Nation Theory effectively and described communalism as a creation of upper-caste Hindus and Muslims. He also took to task the British for masterminding the rise of the Muslim League to counter the influence of the Indian National Congress.
Shamsul Islam argues that the All-India Muslim League sometimes used intimidation and coercion against opposition
Allah Bakhsh was assassinated on May 14, 1943 on the outskirts of Shikarpur, Sindh. The outpouring of grief all over India was immense and many political leaders denounced that murder. The origins of the assassins remain a matter of speculation. One theory was that since during Allah Bakhsh’s tenure Pir Syed Sibghatullah had been hanged (for his anti-British stance) and so his disciples, the Hurs, killed him. However, Sindhi Muslim League leader Mohammad Ayub Khuhro and his brother were charged with murder. No conclusive evidence was found and they were acquitted. However, Justice B. B. Paymaster made the following observation:
“No criminal offence has been proved against any of the accused, though I do not agree with them that the whole prosecution case is necessarily false and concocted. I have only held the charges to be not proven and have given the accused the benefit of the doubt.”
Shamsul Islam argues that the All-India Muslim League at times used intimidation and coercion to silence any opposition among Muslims to its demand for Partition. He calls such tactics of the Muslim League as a ‘Reign of Terror’. He gives examples from all over India including the NWFP where the Khudai Khidmatgars remain opposed to the Partition of India. Equally, communalist Hindus did their utmost to prevent Hindu-Muslim unity. Interestingly, he takes to task the Congress leaders for extending recognition to the Muslim League as the representative body of Muslims while ‘patriotic Muslims’ were taken for granted and ignored. Caste Hindus such as Pandit Malaviya offended Muslim sensibilities by their strict caste behaviour. A well-known Ahrari leader who was in jail with Malaviya said, “I have been with Malaviyaji in Delhi jail. He was kind and considerate but awfully tough a Brahman [sic]. What to speak of a Musalman he would not like to see the shadow of a Hindu in his dining place.”
In his concluding remarks the author sums up the tragedy of Partition in the following words:
“The Muslim Right has long been on the ascent in Pakistan and Bangladesh; one suspects that even their founders, Jinnah and Sheikh Mujibur-Rehman, would be horrified with the sectarian brutality on display. And with the ongoing Hindutva politics led by RSS in India, one fears that communal elements have won out on all sides of partitioned India.”
I suggest that in his next edition he should devote more space to the very special case of Punjab. Here, not only anti-colonial Muslims were opposed to the Partition – and there were many all over Punjab – but also those who considered the continuation of British rule good for the country – Sir Fazl-e-Hussain, Sir Sikander Hyat and Sir Khizr Hayat Tiwana for instance – were opposed to the Partition. The campaign against Sir Khizr during the Muslim League agitation was most intimidating and the worst type of abuse was hurled at him. Ultimately he resigned on 02 March, 1947. Thereafter, communal rioting became endemic and finally it resulted in not only the Partition of India but also of Punjab and Bengal. On the whole, this is a very important contribution to understanding the multifaceted nature of the Partition of India.
Ishtiaq Ahmed is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Stockholm University, Visiting Professor at Government College University in Lahore and Honorary Senior Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore
The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at: email@example.com