Partition harmed the Indian Muslims most, but to put the blame on Mohammad Ali Jinnah for that, or the Muslim League, is not necessarily a correct historical reading
Whenever Mohammed Ali Jinnah is in the news, Indian Muslims tend to pander to the insecurities of their Hindu co-nationalists, and come out and criticize the founder of Pakistan for harming the nation and the community. It happened when LK Advani visited his tomb in 2005. Over a decade later, it is happening again in the case of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
In order to demystify Jinnah and to resolve some contradictions, a fuller discussion of Partition should have been a part of our educational setup. However, it has been made impossible to know such a historic figure by attributing violence of Partition to him. This as an attempt by the Congress to hide its failures to accommodate genuine Muslim demands for political proportional representation.
CONGRESS V/S MUSLIM LEAGUE
The most important points on which there was contention between Congress and Muslim League were about Muslim representation, electorates and Centre-province relations. These were the issues around which most Muslim parties were seeking assurance from the Congress for more than two decades. Even after Jinnah returned from London and took charge of the Muslim League in 1934, he was hopeful of reaching an agreement with the Congress on these issues. Jinnah attempted to repose his faith in the Congress leaders to come to an agreement which would have avoided disillusionment of Indian Muslims with the Congress leadership.
However, these three heads are rarely discussed in relation to Partition, and phantasms such as communalism, pan-Islamism or ‘new Medina’ are given more attention in the Indian narrative of Partition. Most Muslim parties demanded a guarantee for Muslim representation in legislature, services and military. A share in administration was sought to be fixed so that they are not left behind because of discrimination, which was a real danger in the context of repeated anti-Muslim mob violence.
Some backward Muslim parties, like Momin Conference, sought further safeguards and reservations within the Muslim space for backward communities. More importantly, Jinnah as the ML President demanded that Congress agree to fix the Muslim share in military constitutionally, as he believed that “political rights emanate from political might”. If the two communities do not learn to ‘respect and fear each other’, then no agreement is worth more than just a piece of paper.
The third important issue was of the relative importance given to the Centre in future India. Muslim-majority provinces argued for more provincial powers, while Congress argued for a strong centralized state in Delhi. The issue of veto is linked to this Centre-province issue. If Hindus outnumbered Muslims three to one in the parliament with a strong Centre, and a bill is introduced for which all Hindus vote, and none of the Muslims votes, it will still pass with a three-fourths majority. Hence, a law could be passed affecting the whole system of this vast subcontinent even if no Muslim representatives vote for it.
British India was inhabited by innumerable communities who did not intermarry with each other divided vertically and horizontally. Muslims and Hindus were two such vertical divisions among others, as there were horizontal caste divisions. Jinnah argued that we would be able to become a nation only if we could make the minority community feel secure. Congress twisted the meaning of ‘communal’ and made it into a contemptuous term. Similarly, it misappropriated and abused the term secularism and gave it a new meaning, making it a tool to deny any constitutional powers and rights to the Muslims. Hence, these issues of sovereignty, the debate around the relation between community and nation, or whether ‘qaum’ translates to community or to nation, are at the heart of the Partition debate.
JINNAH AND MUSLIM LEAGUE
After having taken charge of Muslim League, Jinnah led the party in two elections. Congress consolidated the Hindu electorate in 1937 by receiving more than 70 percent Hindu votes, but the Muslim vote was split into a number of regional parties such as Unionist Party, Muslim Independent Party and Krishak Praja Party among other.
However, the Muslim League was the only party which received votes all over India and received around 10 percent of Muslim votes. At this juncture, the Congress rejected any chance of an alliance with Muslim parties, and even many Congress and Jamiat Muslims have written about it. Their two-year rule in Muslim minority provinces like Bihar and UP saw a spike in anti-Muslim violence, and Muslim League’s popularity grew among Muslims.
It is also worth recalling that the Muslim League had to defeat other Muslim parties, as Congress rarely received any Muslim votes. During these years, Jinnah sought and made alliances with tribal parties such as in Jharkhand and with Scheduled Caste representatives such as BR Ambedkar. By 1946, as the British were preparing to leave, the Muslim electorate had swung behind Jinnah and ML received around 80 percent of Muslim votes across British India. This was the possibility which Congress was afraid of, as it still claimed, despite receiving almost no Muslim votes, to represent Muslims.
Hence, in the final negotiations, Jinnah emerged as the united leader of almost all Muslim political factions and repeated the demands which had been on the table for decades. Most of these demands were not acceptable to the Congress, and they rejected Cabinet Mission Plan even after accepting it, a fact which Maulana Azad refers to in his book India Wins Freedom.
JINNAH POST PARTITION
The standard tropes which have dominated discussions on Jinnah in post-Partition India revolve around: his lack of religiosity, his communalism, how he was used by the British to divide and rule policy and how he harmed Indian Muslims by further enfeebling them.
The charge of being irreligious is difficult to hold, as there is no standard scale of measuring such mentalities. It would be enough to read his speeches, and the reforms he proposed in his long legislative career to gauge his understanding of Islamic law as well the social structures that Islam engenders, or that of the geopolitical situation of Muslim nations. His colonial education is often given as the reason of his aloofness from Indian reality. However, this charge is difficult to hold as most top politicians were educated abroad.
Jinnah’s communalism is positive communalism as discussed above, and need not be understood through the contemporary meaning of the word. He did not believe that India was a nation, as is shown by the frequent use of term ‘continent’ and ‘subcontinent’. He was merely representing one community in this grand ocean of communities, and in this process, he was trying to secure rights for all numerically inferior communities.
Finally, the complain by the Indian Muslim. Firstly, it is true that Partition harmed the Indian Muslims most, but to put the blame on Jinnah, or Muslim League is not necessarily a correct historical reading. Jinnah argued that it does not matter if we are 15 percent or 25 percent, unless we receive safeguards, they have all the resources to monopolies power.
Secondly, the suffering of Indian Muslim after Partition is not Jinnah’s doing. Muslims have been killed in India by right-wing Hindu forces, and the oppressive state, who denied them representation in every field from the very start. Even the separate electorates, which Jinnah’s Pakistan had for Hindus, Muslims were denied in India. It is not Jinnah who has harmed us, it is Congress and their successors like BJP who are the oppressors.
Jinnah raised questions which are still relevant. The AMU portrait of Jinnah must not go. If anything, we need thousands more.