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TEXT: The Resolution for establishing a separate homeland for the Muslims of British India, passed by the All-India Muslim League in its annual session held at Lahore on March 22-24, 1940, is viewed in the post-independence period from three major angles. First, it is described as a milestone in the struggle of the Muslim leadership of that time for preserving and promoting the distinct Muslim civilizational and cultural identity and their rights and interests in the context of the modern state system introduced gradually by the British colonial administration. The focus is on why and how the Muslims of British India moved from a federal model for British India to separatism. How the Muslim League mobilized the Muslim population to strengthen its demand and coped with the opposition from the Congress Party, a section of the Muslim elite and the British government.

Second, some champions of provincial autonomy in post-independence Pakistan invoke the text of the Resolution for making a case for maximum provincial autonomy and a weak federal government. Some lone analysts argued in the immediate aftermath of the establishment of Bangladesh in December 1971 that the Lahore Resolution envisaged more than one Muslim homeland. This interpretation did not get intellectual support. The third focus on the Lahore Resolution emanates from the drift of Pakistan’s politics and economy from crisis to crisis from 1977 onwards, especially in the last three decades. Keeping in view the perennial economic, political and ethnicity problems and the rise of religio-cultural extremism, some political analysts suggest the need of reviewing Pakistan’s post-independence problems by undertaking a fresh analysis of the rationale and dynamics of the demand for a separate homeland and the political struggle led by the All-India Muslim League. They also talk of the deficiencies in the Muslim League that made it difficult for the Muslim League to transform itself from a “nationalist movement” to a nationwide participatory political party in the post-independence period.

It is a common practice in most former colonial countries to reinterpret the history of colonial rule and the struggle for independence. The idea is to expand the understanding of the past and relating it with the issues and problems of the post-independence period. However, such efforts need to be insulated from politicized polarization of the post-independence period. It is also noticed that some reinterpretations of the past are done to meet the political needs of the competing political interests in the present-day context. This often results in a selective or politicized use of history to justify the present political needs.

The past can be used as one factor to explain the post-independence issues and problems. Most reasons for the problems have to found in what happens and why and how in the post-independence period. How far the new governance system reflects the democratic and participatory spirit and ensures a secure and better future to the ordinary people within the framework of an increasingly egalitarian politico-economic and social arrangements.

There is a need of undertaking more research on the making of Pakistan with the help of a lot of original material and documents that have become available during the last forty years in the UK, Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, the Jinnah Papers, Muslim League documents and newspapers of that time can help to expand our understanding of history. The partition documents have been published by the British government. The writings of those involved in the partition process in 1947 also have useful data. The India Office Records and related material available in London and New Delhi need to be explored. The work done by historians in the UK, the U.S., Pakistan and India on British Indian history over the last forty years is another source that can help to explore fresh perspectives on the pre-independence period. There is a need for a serious, scholarly and documented research to ascertain facts rather than engaging in speculative history writing.

The most appropriate way to examine history is to fully understand the political and societal context of the period under study and focus on the challenges different leaders and communities encounter during that phase of history. You need to imagine yourself in that historical context to understand why certain factors play a more decisive role than others. The role of different factors changes over time as circumstances and conditions change. Therefore, the factors critical to the freedom movement may lose their significance in the post-independence period because the dynamics of politics changes.

If we want to appreciate why and how the Muslim League leadership described the Muslims of British India as a distinct nation and sought to establish a separate homeland for them, we will have to review the history of British India and the political experience of the Muslim educated elite of that period. There is a need to examine the factors that originally shaped the mindset and disposition of the Muslim elite and how their orientation changed with the passage of time. This change was caused by the change of the political context over time as well as their political experience from changing nature of their interaction with other communities in India and the British government. As their political experience varied over time, their responses to the political and constitutional issues changed. For example, the Muslim elite favoured constitutional and political reforms within one Indian political system. They supported a federal model for India, but in 1940 they opted for a separate homeland. This drastic change was the outcome of political learning from interaction with the majority community in India.

The Lahore Resolution of March 1940 was the culmination of a long political struggle of the Muslim elite and reflected their political experience in British India. The political struggle and learning from political experience went on for another seven years (1940-47) which turned the demand for a separate homeland into a popular Muslim demand. Without considering the political developments of the last seven years, it is difficult to understand the making of Pakistan. All this represented historical evolution and learning from political experience in British India, especially from their interaction with the Congress Party that represented the Hindu dominated political conglomerate.

When the Muslim educated elite started limited political activism towards the end of the 19th Century, they sought to safeguard the Muslim civilizational and cultural identity as a community and their rights and interests in the context of the modern state system which the British government created in a phased manner in India. They made a major political stride in October 1906 by asking the British to introduce separate electorate to enable the Muslims voters to elect Muslim representatives to the elected state councils. Two months later, at the end of December 1906, the Muslim elite established their first political party, called the All-India Muslim League, as a platform for an effective presentation of their political and other demands to the British government. The Muslim demand for separate electorate for them was implemented in 1909 by the British government in India.

The guiding principle for the Muslim League was the protection and advancement of Muslim civilizational and cultural identity and their rights and interests. This goal did not change over the years but the strategies to achieve this goal changed during 1906-1940. In addition to separate electorate, the Muslims demanded constitutional and legal safeguards and guarantees for protection and advancement of their identity, rights and interests. They also floated the notion of weightage in representation of religious minorities at the provincial level. This principle was accepted by the Congress Party in the Lucknow Pact between the Muslim League and the Congress Party in 2016. The Congress went back on it by 1928-29. Another Muslim demand to secure their rights and interests was the reservation of seats in the provincial cabinets and in government jobs for the Muslims. In the 1920s and the 1930s, the Muslim League supported the establishment of a federal system with provincial autonomy. They thought that this will make it possible for the Muslims to rule the Muslim majority provinces.

The Congress Party opposed most of these demands in the 1920s and the 1930s and adopted a dismissive attitude towards the Muslim League leadership. The Congress hostility towards the Muslim demand for special constitutional arrangements reflected clearly in the Nehru Report (1928) and the deliberations of the three Roundtable conferences in London in 1930-32, as well as in statements of its leaders the latter years.

The Congress Party’s persistent hostility towards the Muslim League demands was a learning experience for the Muslim League leadership which led them to review their approach towards the constitutional arrangements for the future. What alarmed the Muslims most was the disposition of the Congress Party governments in the Muslim minority provinces in 1937-39. The Congress Party asked the elected Muslim League members of the provincial assemblies to resign the Muslim League and join the Congress Party if they wanted some seats in the provincial cabinets. They also faced discrimination in the recruitment to government jobs and they felt threatened as a community by the projection of Hindu imagery and cultural heritage in education and cultural activities under the rubric of Indian culture and identity. The Congress ministries were insensitive to the anxieties of the Muslims caused by the policies of the Congress ministries pertaining to education, culture and recruitment to government jobs.

The Muslim experience of the Congress Party rule in non-Muslim majority provinces convinced the Muslim League leadership that the future of their community would be unsafe in a Congress dominated political order in India. A pure and simple democratic order would turn the Hindus into a permanent majority and reduce the Muslims to a permanent minority whose civilizational and historical identity, rights and interests would be overwhelmed by a hostile majority.

This political experience led the Muslims to review their support to a single federal system for India. They moved away from the federal option and opted for a separate homeland to secure their future.

The shift in the Muslim approach towards India’s constitutional future from a federation to the demand for division of India to establish a separate homeland for the Muslims was the outcome of their political experience going back to the beginning of the 20th Century. Their perception of threat to their civilizational and cultural identity, rights and interests was the creation of the peculiar political and economic conditions of British India. They learnt from political experience of interaction of the Congress Party that their political future would not be safe in the Congress Party dominated political system after the exit of the British from India.

It was in 1938-1940 that the Muslim League leadership explored the option of separatism and re-articulated their identity as a distinct nation. Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his colleagues argued that the Muslims of British India were a nation separate from other communities in British India and that as a nation they wanted to have a separate homeland in the territories where the Muslims sere in a majority. The Muslim League and Jinnah offered a two-nations based nationalism as an alternative to the Congress-led nationalism that subscribed to one Indian nation irrespective of religious differences and divergent interpretation of history.

It is not possible to appreciate the demand of the Muslim League in the Lahore Resolution of March 1940 without understanding the working of politics in Batish India that increased insecurities among the Muslim elite about the future of the Muslims as a collective political and socio-cultural entity. The fact of being a Muslim with a distinct outlook on life and of life became relevant to articulation of their political identity and political mobilization. The other factor that influenced the making of the Lahore Resolution was the availability several proposals for Muslim homelands in 1938-1940. The Lahore Resolution had to compete with these notions of Muslim homelands that pre-dated the Lahore Resolution. That is why its text raised the issues in broad terms and lacked precision. The major features of the Lahore Resolution are:

  1. The Government of India Act, 1935, did not suit the “peculiar conditions” of India and that it was unacceptable to the Muslims of British India.

  2. The existing constitutional scheme in India should be reformulated and that no constitutional plan would be acceptable to the Muslims “unless it is framed with their approval and consent.”

  3. The constitutional framework should incorporate the principle “that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the Northwestern and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute Independent States in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.”

  4. The new constitutional scheme should provide “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards” to the religious minorities in these units for “the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.”

  5. The Muslim League Working Committee was authorized to prepare a constitutional scheme in accordance with the principles articulated in the resolution.

The provisions of the Pakistan Resolution addressed the Muslim question in the context of British India of that time rather than offering a formula for power sharing or provincial autonomy in post-independence Pakistan because they could not be sure at that time that their declared goad would materialize soon. The focus was on articulation of the new goal. The Resolution asked the Muslim League Working Committee to formulate a detailed “constitutional scheme.” Further, the Muslim League struggle continued even after the passing of the Pakistan Resolution, and it was during these seven years that the idea of Pakistan was fully articulated. By 1942, Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah talked of a single Pakistani state. He expressed the same view in his letters to Mahatma Gandhi in 1944. The Parliamentary Convention of the Muslim League parliamentarians, held in Delhi in April 1946 reaffirmed the 1940 Resolution for the making of one separate homeland of Pakistan.

It was during these seven years that the Muslim League leaders mobilized the support of Muslim masses in Muslim majority provinces. The success of the Muslim League in the 1946 provincial elections confirmed that the Muslim League was the sole representative of the Muslims and that its main demand of establishment an independent homeland enjoyed the support of the Muslim populace.

The adoption of the Pakistan Resolution by the annual session of the Muslim League at Lahore was definitely a turning point in the Muslim political struggle in British India. It provided a credible solution to the Hindu-Muslim question in British India, but the idea of Pakistan became a reality after the political struggle in the post-resolution period. The Pakistan Resolution is such a critical development that we can talk about the Muslim history in British India in terms of before and after the adoption of the Pakistan Resolution.

Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023


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