Revisiting Pakistan’s origins

Swaran Singh

Historians examining the root causes of Pakistan’s continuing chaos locate these in the ‘insufficiency’ of its national origins: that Pakistan did not have any ‘positive’ national imagination but only a ‘negative’ anti-India identity. The two-nation theory — the very basis of Pakistan — stood busted by its bifurcation in 1971 unleashing processes of Islamisation and nuclearisation, making terrorism an acceptable creed of its state policies with disastrous consequences.

By unearthing enormous evidence of overwhelming support for Pakistan especially in the United Provinces of Agra and Audh (U.P.) this book debunks the mainstream historiography of Pakistan as a sudden emotive construct. It contends that while strands of it can be traced far earlier, the Lahore Resolution of 1940 had finally started a rich debate on Pakistan and shows how Islamic canons gradually overran secular formulations.

Elections to provincial assemblies during the winter of 1936-37 had begun with both the League and Congress displaying tacit understanding with regard to their common enemy: the landlords’ National Agriculturist Party (NAP). Nehru even supported UPML candidates where Congress was not contesting and it won 133 out of 159 general seats it contested, while the League won 29 of the 66 Muslim seats. But what confounds historians is the Congress failure to include the League in a coalition ministry, which fuelled mutual suspicion.

The League was furious with the use of Hindu symbols by Congress. Gandhi’s Wardha Scheme of Education which privileged vocational training around spinning came under fire and the League charged Congress with trying to convert Muslims. It opposed flying of the tricolour by government institutions and the singing of Vande Mataram in schools, claiming these were alien to Muslim culture. It questioned if India constituted a single nation, which laid the basis for its claim for a separate nationhood for Muslims.

The October 1937 Lucknow session of ML elevated Jinnah to the position of Qaid-i-Azam and laid claim for being the ‘sole representative organisation of the Indian Muslim’. Sceptics were emboldened by quirk of fate when Rafiuddin Ahmad was by mistake delivered a letter that Nehru had sent to Rafi Ahmad Kidwai in Jhansi. League candidates brandished it all over and Urdu newspapers carried its translation, as Nehru allegedly discussed in it details of payments to be made to the ulama in return for their support for Congress candidates.

The fact that the Pakistan debate was led by U.P. makes it the centre of Dhulipala’s investigations. Even Jinnah, on return from London in 1934, had started his innings from U.P. rather than Muslim-majority Punjab. Jinnah felt it easier to propagate Pakistan in U.P. than either in Punjab or Bengal where Sikander Hayat Khan and Fazlul Haq were lukewarm, or in Sind, where Allah Bakhsh was hostile to it.

Even within UPML, president Ismail Khan, outwardly supporting Pakistan, had strong faith in Hindu-Muslim unity. After the Lahore Resolution he was tasked to begin talks with the ulama and prominent Muslim intellectuals to draft a blueprint for Pakistan. Raja of Mahmudabad was initially preoccupied with his troubled Shia community and their fate in Sunni Pakistan but was made chairman of the Pakistan wafd. The UPML constituted another committee, under the chairmanship of Syed Sulaiman Nadwi, for the purpose of crafting an Islamic constitution. The same Nadwi was invited by Pakistan in 1949 to head the ‘body of experts’ to help Constituent Assembly in framing its Constitution.

Pakistan as New Medina

The League called for Pakistan Day on April 19, 1940 to contest the Congress claim that it did not have support beyond the 50,000 who had congregated at Lahore. Liaquat claimed that nearly 10,000 meetings were held to affirm Pakistan. Congress leaders like Rajagopalachari tried to change tack and this view was openly supported by several prominent Muslim Congress leaders like K. M. Ashraf, Mian Iftikharuddin, Sajjad Zaheer, Shah Omair and Abus Sattar.

On the eve of the 1945 elections, a section of the ulama broke away from the mainstream Deobandi ulama to provide ML with theological justification. Shabbir Ahmad Usmani glorified Pakistan as the new Medina. He denounced the Muttahida Qaumiyat (composite nationalism) thesis of Mualana Hasain Ahmad Madani and stoutly defended the ilk of Jinnah, even though debunking their western atheist lifestyles. Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman was another influential alim to propagate Pakistan as the new Medina that will protect the Islamic world.

On August 21, 1945, when Viceroy Lord Wavell declared elections for the Constituent Assembly, the League announced this to be a referendum on Pakistan. This heralded an unprecedented debate on all aspects of Pakistan and produced wide-ranging recommendations including suggestions of the League converting 50 million untouchables to completely change Pakistan’s demographic profile.

Ambedkar’s role

Finally, Dhulipala makes a pioneering attempt to bring out the role of Ambedkar in the moulding of Pakistani nationalism. While the debate on both sides was primarily between the League and Congress Muslims, nobody singularly did more to shape it than Ambedkar’s Thoughts on Pakistan dated December 28, 1940. This 400-page monograph was his original report of August for the Independent Labour Party. Produced within four months of the Lahore Resolution, it contained suitably coloured maps showing the borders of Pakistan. During their historic 1944 talks, Gandhi and Jinnah cited the book as an authority on the subject. Ambedkar had supported the League’s demand but also outlined how Hindustan will benefit from such a separation.

The book details how it was on the eve of the famous Lahore session that another book titled Pakistan was authored by Anis al Din Ahmad Rizvi of U.P. presenting a cogent case for a separate state for Muslims. Anis credited poet Muhammad Iqbal for conceptualising Pakistan during his speech to the 1930 Allahabad League session. Outside U.P., however, the word ‘Pakstan’ (with the ‘i’ missing) had appeared much earlier in a pamphlet titled “Now or Never: Are We to Live or Perish Forever”, dated January 28, 1933 that was circulated by its Cambridge-based author, Choudhary Rahmat Ali, at the last Round Table Conference.

Taking the same tradition of iconic writings forward, this encyclopaedic work makes a valuable addition to the ever-expanding literature on Pakistan.