Qasmi. Did he then transform a minority into a qaum, a nation?
Jalal. Well, discursively, yes. And he wanted to do much more. Jinnah was from a province where Muslims were in a minority. He wanted to use the power of the areas where the Muslims were a majority to create a shield of protection for where they were in a minority. The possibility that the areas that became Pakistan would offer a kind of protection for Muslims living in areas which have remained in India was not acceptable to the Congress. It was easier for them to partition the subcontinent and let these areas go.
Qasmi. But why would majority provinces where Muslims were already ruling, especially Punjab and Bengal, agree to a plan?
Jalal If you argue that Punjab and Bengal wanted to become a separate country, then Islam as the basis for Pakistan does not make sense. [Their reason to opt out of India] would be provincialism or regianalism, not religion. Any Islamic explanation for the new country would have to explain how Muslims cohere across India. Why should Punjab and Bengal bother about that? That is exactly what politicians in Punjab and Bengal said.
There were two steps in Jinnah’s strategy. The first was the consolidation of Muslim majority areas behind the All-India Muslim League and then to use undivided Punjab and Bengal as a weight to negotiate an arrangement for all the Muslims at an all– India level. But the Congress had Punjab and Bengal partitioned [to frustrate the first element of his strategy].
Jinnah did not want Partition, in case people have forgotten that, Similarly, when the United Bengal plan was floated, Jinnah said it was better that Bengal remained united. He said what was Bengal without Calcutta? It was like asking a man to live without his heart So, we ended up with a mutilated Pakistan that Jinnah had rejected out of hand.
Qasmi. Let us assume that there was no division of Bengal and Punjab. Even in that case, Musl.ims in Indian provinces where they were a minority would still remain a minority. The effort to protect their rights through the presence of minority populations of Hindus and Sikhs in Muslim majority provinces seems like hostage theory.
Jalal. Well. hostage theory is one way of putting it. It was reciprocity of rights – the rights non-Muslims will have in Pakistan will be guaranteed if the rights of Muslims in Hindustan were protected. And the idea was that there will be porous borders between the two countries. The borders that emerged were not what Jinnah was thinking of.
Qasmi. You have talked about the limitations that Jinnah had. In the same way, don’t you think that the Congress also had its limitations?
Jalal. Absolutely. All politicians and parties are limited and restricted by their rank and file in some ways. One very important limitation that led to the acceptance of Partition by the Congress can be identified in the interim government’s so-called ‘poor man’s budget’ [in 1946] which we all know was not the brain child of Liaquat Ali Khan, but of the finance department The Congress supporters in business wouldn’t tolerate that. They thought the budget was untenable. The other limitation was the scale of communal violence. Increase in violence decreased room for the Congress leadership to negotiate a compromise. Every outbreak of violence hardened the Congress position.
Qasmi. What are the historic aspects of what you point out as the “Muslim Question” in India?Does it have to do with the fact that Muslims would not live as a minority under Hindu rule after having ruled India for centuries?
Jalal. That played a role at the discursive level to a large extent in the formulation of the Muslim Question but, apart from the discursive level, you need to look at the political framework provided by the British decision to grant the Muslims separate electorate. That made Muslims an all-India religious category and Jinnah said that they, therefore, needed to be given a share in power at the all-India level once the British had left. He took the argument further by saying the unitary centre [for India] was a British construct. Any centre for independent India would have to be decided upon by the Muslim majority provinces, the princely states and the Hindu majority provinces on the basis that Muslims are a nation entitled to equal treatment along with Hindus.
The discursive force of the past did play a role but it was the concrete politics of the situation that pushed the question forward. There was no contradiction in it. The only contradiction l see is that the regional aspect was not given enough thought even though the regions were very important. If you look at the Cripps Mission, it practically exposed the whole problem in Jinnah’s strategy because it gave Punjab, Bengal and other provinces the right to opt out of the Indian federation. If Jinnah wanted a Pakistan, then he would have allowed this, but he did not allow this because he wanted to ensure that Muslims from those provinces where they were in a minority also got something.
Qasmi. Can we say the Muslim Question existed because of a complete failure on part of the Congress to appreciate that Muslims had concerns?
Jalal. The Congress lacked imagination as far as mass contact with Muslims was concerned. Secondly, even men like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were saying until the end that the Muslim Question was a psychological one rather than a political one. When Jawaharlal Nehru made the plea for Partition as opposed to sharing power, Azad was still arguing that the Congress should make some concessions to keep the Muslims within India. But then he was sidelined by Gandhi and others.
I feel the only man who could have been more revelatory than he proved to be was Azad because he knew what was being discussed among the Congress high command. He however, never came out in the open. In a sense, it is still an incomplete story. The 30 pages he had withheld from his autobiography raised hopes that they may contain the whole story but their eventual release was a disappointment. He came closer to blaming it on Nehru but there was much more that we needed out of those 30 pages.
On what grounds did the Congress high command justify the division of Punjab and Bengal? We know it led to about 60 years of Nehruvian dynasty. This dynasty would never have come about if Punjab and Bengal were not divided. Uttar Pradesh would never have dominated Indian politics. Punjab and Bengal would have called the shots. Where would Nehru be in that case?
The Congress basically cut the Muslim problem down to size through Partition. But, in the process, it threw us out of India. Our cultural heritage is all there. Jinnah never gave up on that heritage. He fought tooth and nail that the name “India” should not be allotted to the Congress. He called the place Hindustan until he lost.
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