By Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed
April 07, 2015
Creating a New Medina:
State Power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India
Author: Venkat Dhulipala
Publisher:Cambridge University Press, 2015;
In the liberal-Marxist intellectual environment in which I received my political grooming in the Lahore of the late 1960s, the standard view was that the Muslim League, especially its supreme leader, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, wanted a separate state for the Muslim nation to escape exploitation at the hands of the Hindu moneylenders. On the other hand, the Ulema (as a whole) were opposed to such a state because it was set forth as a secular nation state instead of an Islamic state. A greater deception and distortion of truth cannot be imagined in the light of the evidence that has been emerging in recent years.
Venkat Dhulipala’s exhaustive study, meticulously researched and intelligently argued, pushes the origins of the Islamist foundations of the Pakistan idea by another five to 10 years into the past. Not surprisingly, it was in the stronghold of the Muslim ashraaf (elite), the United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh) of North India, that such an idea was first tried in the elections. The Deobandi Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (JUH) and its leader, Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, steadfastly opposed the demand for Pakistan on the grounds that Hindus and Muslims should join hands to liberate India from the yoke of British colonialism. He based his standpoint on the grounds of wataniyat (loyalty to the land one is born in), which he asserted was fully compatible with the pristine model the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) had devised to build an alliance with the Jews of Medina to ward off any attack by his Meccan enemies.
On such a basis, Madani propounded the theory of Muttahida Qaumiyat (composite nationalism), in which all Indians, including Hindus and Muslims, would be equal partners. He advised Muslims to join the Congress Party. This argument was challenged by a prominent Deobandi dissenter, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi. Thanvi argued that although joining Congress was in itself not against Sharia, for Muslims to join any political organisation it was imperative that the supremacy of Islam was guaranteed. Additionally, non-Muslims had to be in a position of subservience in such an organisation. He rejected Madani’s argument that the covenant signed by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Jews created equality between Muslims and the Jews. On the contrary, asserted Thanvi, the covenant required Muslims to be the leaders while Jews could only be in the position of followers.
In the five by-elections held for reserved Muslim seats in UP after the 1937 elections, the Muslim League candidates won four and one was won by the Congress-supported Muslim candidate. Thanvi and other Islamists vigorously campaigned for the Muslim League. Some prominent Muslims from other parts of India also campaigned for the Muslim League. Thus, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan from Punjab and Khawaja Hasan Nizami (custodian of the mausoleum of Hazrat Khawaja Nizamuddin’s shrine) of Delhi joined the fray. Zafar Ali Khan set the tone of the Muslim League campaign in typical communal contrasts:
“Hafiz Ibrahim (Congress candidate, protégé of Hussain Ahmed Madani) Udhar hain, Abdus Sami (Muslim League candidate) Idhhar,
Hardwari dars udhar hai, Shari’i taleem idhar,
Us Taraf Gandhi ke farman par Sar-i-Taslim Kham,
Aur Rasul Allah ki Taslim ki Tanzim Idhar,
Us Taraf Nehru Paraston ke liye Bharat ka Raj,
Hift Aqleem Idhar
Vote Dene waalon Sunon Kaan Dil ke Kholkar,
Khatra Imaan ko Udhar se Hai, Nahi yeh baham Idhar”
(On one side stands Hafiz Ibrahim, here stands Abdus Samih
On that side is Hardwari learning, here we have Shari’i training
On that side lies submission to Gandhi, here stands the organisation that submits to Allah’s Prophet
On that side is Nehru’s Bharat, here you have the whole world
O voters, open the ears of your hearts and listen, the threat to your Faith comes from the other side,
There are no such dangers here).
Despite such a tirade, Hafiz Ibrahim won. Such rhymes were later part of the Muslim League campaign in Punjab. Here, the scale of the Islamist election campaign was huge. Punjab was the stronghold of the Barelvi ulema and pirs, whose control of mosques and Sufi shrines was nearly complete. The Muslim League swept the poles winning 75 out of the 84 reserved Muslim seats.
Dhulipala digresses from the main focus of his inquiry — highlighting the Islamist foundations of Pakistan in North India — to include the intriguing treatise of the Dalit leader Dr Ambedkar, Thoughts on Pakistan (1941). Ambedkar perceptively observed that while Jinnah deliberately kept Pakistan a vague idea, he allowed his “fired-up base to imagine it in as many ways as possible”. Did that mean he was using it merely as a bargaining chip, as Ayesha Jalal has argued, or was it an astute strategy to outmaneouvre his detractors? More research needs to be conducted on this theme but, returning to Ambedkar’s reflections, we learn that he warned Congress leaders not to treat the 1940 Lahore Resolution as a wild card. He warned them that the idea of Pakistan was deeply rooted in the Muslim body politic. He advised them to realise the benefits of conceding Pakistan as it would rid India of the Muslim menace. He even advised that the boundaries of Punjab and Bengal be altered to create homogeneous Hindu and Muslim majority states and a transfer of populations be affected. The creation of Pakistan was the best solution to Muslim communal aggression, according to Ambedkar.
The Cripps Mission of 1942 obliquely recognised the possibility of the creation of Pakistan. However, in 1945 Ambedkar reversed his arguments and declared the creation of Pakistan as unnecessary! He asserted that the Muslims of the majority provinces did not need it. He conceded that India was indeed one entity as Congress had been insisting. He found Pakistan economically unviable but held on to his conclusion drawn earlier that if the Muslims were bent on having Pakistan, then it must be conceded to them. One can wonder why Ambedkar spent so much time and energy to focus on Pakistan.
Jinnah was initially wary of Ambedkar’s intentions but then decided that a coherent strategy needed to be devised to popularise the Pakistan demand. He launched the English language Dawn from Delhi. Other newspapers and journals were also launched. Second, Jinnah’s speeches and statements were collected and published to present the Muslim League point of view. The most important input was the propaganda material produced under the auspices of the Home Study Circle. A Punjabi journalist, Mohammad Sharif Toosy, published a series of newspaper articles providing facts, figures and historical arguments trying to prove that the partition of India was in the best interests of both the major nations, Hindus and Muslims. The articles were translated into Urdu and widely circulated. Other such interventions justifying the creation of Pakistan were also widely disseminated.
Moreover, Dhulipala provides ample evidence of the fascination that a separate Muslim state had created among the Muslims of North India. They advanced familiar arguments based on the fabled Khilafat-e-Raashida model from the advent of Islam. Some Ulema and Muslim intellectuals disagreed but Pakistan as an Islamic state fascinated many, including those who knew that such a state would not be founded where they lived. There is no doubt that the author has made an important contribution to the growing literature on the nature and origins of the Pakistan idea.
The reviewer is a visiting professor, LUMS, Pakistan, professor emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University, and honorary senior fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Winner of the Best Non-Fiction Book award at the Karachi Literature Festival: The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, Oxford, 2012; and Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org