The standard narrative about the Partition, actively propagated by the Hindu communalists and innocently believed by most Hindus, puts the onus on the Muslim masses that supported the Muslim League’s demand for a separate country. It is not uncommon to hear people referring to an area where Muslims live in substantial numbers as “Pakistan”. However, as a recently published book tells us, the reality is very different.
“Muslims Against Partition”, written by Shamsul Islam, the multi-talented theatre activist, anti-communal propagandist and political scientist, and published by Pharos Media and Publishing Pvt. Ltd., offers an eye-opening account of the way a large number of Muslim political leaders, thinkers and organisations opposed the idea of Pakistan and actively worked against it. Renowned historian Harbans Mukhia has penned a thought-provoking foreword wherein he praises the writer for drawing our attention to the ambivalent attitude of the Congress to the question of communalism as it had many leaders who were sympathetic to the “exclusivist Hindu cause”.
All of us know about prominent Muslim leaders like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, M. A. Ansari, Asaf Ali and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who fiercely opposed the communal politics of the Muslim League. However, since they were in the Congress, their opposition to the creation of a separate homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims is generally ignored. What is remembered is the fact that the Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah was successful in mobilising the Muslim elite as well as Muslim masses in support of its Pakistan demand and had won most of the Muslim seats in the 1946 election to provincial assemblies.
However, most people remain unaware that this fact conceals a vital aspect of reality. The Sixth Schedule of the 1935 Act had restricted the franchise on the basis of tax, property and educational qualifications, thus excluding the mass of peasants, the majority of shopkeepers and traders, and many others. Thus, as Shamsul Islam informs us quoting from Austin Granville’s book on the Indian Constitution, only 28.5 per cent of the adult populations of the provinces could cast their votes in the 1946 provincial assembly elections. This makes it amply clear that the Pakistan demand was not supported by the majority of Muslims because only a small percentage of the Muslim population was eligible to vote.
Nationalist Muslims had started expressing themselves as early as 1883 when the Congress was not even born and nationalism was in the early stages of its inception. Shamsul Islam’s book contains a very informative chapter on Muslim patriotic individuals and organisations. It tells us the inspiring story of Shibli Nomani who established a National School in Azamgarh in 1883 and actively opposed the Muslim League agenda of cooperation with the British and opposition to the Hindus. Nomani, who died a year after Jinnah’s entry into the League in 1913, castigated the organisation because “everyday the belief which is propagated, the emotion which is instigated is (that) Hindus are suppressing us and we must organise ourselves.” In a chapter titled “Two-Nation Theory: Origin and Hindu-Muslim Variants”, Shamsul Islam underlines the fact that much before the Muslim League came up with the two-nation theory, leaders such as Madan Mohan Malaviya, B. S. Moonje and Lajpat Rai were championing the cause of a Hindu nation. Much before them, Raj Narain Basu (1826-1899), maternal grandfather of Aurobindo Ghosh, and his close associate Naba Gopal Mitra (1840-1894) had emerged as the co-fathers of Hindu nationalism. Eminent historian R. C. Majumdar has remarked that “Naba Gopal forestalled Jinnah’s theory of two nations by more than half a century”. So, the onus for spreading the belief that Hindus and Muslims constituted two separate nations that could not peacefully co-exist with each other should first be placed at the door of Hindu leaders.
Of all the Muslim leaders who were opposed to the idea of Partition, the case of Allah Bakhsh seems to be most interesting.
When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a derogatory reference to the Indian freedom struggle and Quit India Movement, Allah Bakhsh, who as head of the Ittehad Party was the Premier (chief minister) of Sind, decide to return his titles of Khan Bahadur and Order of the British Empire (OBE). Consequently, he was dismissed by the Viceroy. Later, he was assassinated by supporters of the Muslim League and his murder paved the way for the entry of the separatist organisation into Sind. The rest, as they say, is history.