Sunday, April 5, 2015

Book review: Decoding the idea of Pakistan - Venkat Dhulipala's 'Creating A New Medina'

Venkat Dhulipala is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. His published essays include Rallying the Qaum: The Muslim League in the United Provinces 1937-1939 (Modern Asian Studies- May 2010); and A Nation-State Insufficiently Imagined? Debating Pakistan in Late Colonial North India, (IESHR July/Sept 2011). (Click here for a link to these articles)

NB: The work reviewed below is a history of ideas. It questions the assumptions that lie behind much of the historiography of Pakistan and the partition of India. In part this is due to the authors' departure from the high politics of partition, his meticulous use of hitherto under-used vernacular sources; as well as intelligence reports, both in India and those of the US State Department. However, the material presented in the book demonstrates that certain features about the debate on Pakistan's origins have often been taken without question. One is that the roots of the crisis lay in the negotiations of 1946, and that it is in the failure of these negotiations alone that we must seek an explanation for the division of 1947. The unstated assumption is that there was no popular movement for Pakistan among ordinary Muslims. (The fact that the CPI supported the idea of Pakistan as 'just and democratic' should be enough to cast doubt on this assumption). The other is that the conservative ulema were united in their opposition to the Pakistan movement. The author demonstrates that this is an unfounded assumption. But he also shows that there were powerful voices within the Muslim clerical intelligentsia that argued coherently against the concept of Pakistan. The rich data presented here show how significant is the place of ideas and ideology in the Indian independence movement. The controversies over these ideas are by no means finished and settled. I have placed some of my arguments over these questions hereand here. Venkat Dhulipala's work will inaugurate a much-needed departure in the historiography of nationalism, and its relevance will not be restricted to South Asia - DS

Creating A New Medina: State Power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India; Delhi, 2015 

Reviewed by Purushottam Agrawal, in Biblio, March-April 2015

Decoding the idea of Pakistan
Pakistan is being seen lately as a failing state, but the so-called ‘Pakistan ideology’ i.e. the ‘two nation theory’ had suffered a mortal blow with the birth of Bangladesh. Such travails led historians to reconsider its origins leading to the emergence of a ‘new orthodoxy’— most compellingly articulated by Ayesha Jalal. Venkat Dhulipala sums up her thesis , “Pakistan was not a demand for a separate sovereign state but Jinnah’s bargaining counter to acquire for the Muslims, political equality with the numerically preponderant Hindus in an undivided India…the Quaid deliberately kept Pakistan a vague idea allowing his fired-up base to imagine it in as many ways as possible, all the while waiting to concede it once the Congress had bid the highest possible price... a proud lonely Jinnah almost overcome the Mahatma’s evil genius, the tiresome sanctimoniousness and obduracy of Nehru, sly machinations of an astute Rajaji, besides bringing the detestable colonial government to heel; all the while holding together his own flock of petty, unimaginative and often treacherous Muslim allies and underlings in the provinces, but failed tragically in the end to stop the catastrophe.”(121)

On the other hand, the supposedly ‘pro-people' view is rooted in the assumption that the Indian people were  pathetically dependent  on the British not only for solutions, but even for having some problems to begin with.  According to this view, Pakistan just happened, “in a fit of collective South Asian absent-mindedness, the tragic end-result of the ‘transfer of power’… hastily mid-wifed by a cynical, war-weary Britain anxious to get out of the morass of an imploding empire, leaving unsuspecting millions to face its brutal consequence.”(7). 
The lionising of the ‘nationalist’ Ulama as opposed to the elitist, communal Muslim League is one of the central themes of this narrative.

Dhulipala treats people not in this condescending matter, but as actors with wills of their own. Taking ‘seriously’ C.A. Bayly’s idea of ‘the presence of an informational order in India, making it a remarkably informed and argumentative society in spite of low levels of literacy’, he rightly infers that, “debates over Pakistan reached a wider public than just the newspaper reading literati.” (501)  

This  richly documented and persuasively argued book provides insights into the “osmosis of ideas between the Ulama and the Muslim League leadership” under which “the Ulama 
borrowed the ML’s vocabulary of the modern state to project Pakistan as a powerful entity that would make its mark on the global stage, the ML leadership hailed Pakistan as the new laboratory where definitive solutions to all the problems of the modern world would be found within Islam, thus inaugurating a new rhetoric that would find an echo in other parts of the world.”(5-6). As Dhulipala suggests, “Future research might gainfully try to analyse the influence the Deobandi Ulama espousing Pakistan had on Khomeini’s vision of the Islamic state.”(388).

 His argument is anchored in rigorous analysis of the debates and discussions in Urdu public sphere where the ‘battle for the mind’ of the Muslim masses was being fought. Contrary to the myth of all of the Deobandi Ulama opposing Pakistan, the pro-Pakistan teachers and students of the Islamic Dar-ul- Ulum along with those from ‘modern’AMU won the battle for the mind for Jinnah decisively. This was reflected in the 1946 elections termed as ‘referendum on Pakistan’ by the ML. The AMU contribution is evident from these ‘early memories’ of an eye-witness: “The three were students from Aligarh University. They planted the flag in the village square and crowd of little boys gathered around them...within an hour our quiet village had been turned into Pakistan village… a few months later they [parents] all walked in their bare feet and some carried their aged and sick parents on their backs to the polling booth four miles away to vote for the Muslim League and Pakistan. This was reported all over India. Seldom in History have so few inspired so many with so little effort.”(427)

Dhulipala provides detailed summaries (sometimes tedious and repetitive) of many voices including that of Ambedkar’s. Incidentally, it is probably the first time that Ambedkar’s signal contribution to the Pakistan debate has been analysed and assessed. Dhulipala also analyses the views of K.M. Ashraf who under the guidance of Nehru prepared political content of the Muslim Mass Contact Programme (MMCP) of Congress. Sometimes dismissed as a short-sighted attempt on Nehru’s part to ‘finish’ the Muslim League, the MMCP was motivated by the belief, as Ashraf put it, “politics is essentially directed by the class interest and any effort to obscure class differentiation will result in the suppression of class elements” (58). Dhulipala rightly sees the MMCP as “an attempt to change the very face of Indian politics by anchoring it in a new socialist, secular foundation” (60). This ‘new foundation’ envisioning a new kind of political community, irked Jinnah most. His idea of Pakistan, far from being a ‘bargaining counter’ was articulated and propagated as an antithesis to this ‘idea of India’.

The conflict between the two ideas comes out in thecomprehensive critiquesof the idea of Pakistan by Maulanas Hussain Ahmad Madani, Muhammad Sajjad, Tufail Ahmad Manglori and Hifzur Rahman Seoharvi; and the vigorous endorsement of the ‘new Medina’ and the Quaid Jinnah by Maulanas Ashraf Ali Thanwi, Rizvi Amrohvi, and Shabbir Ahmad Usmani. After the partition, Usmani’s signature achievement was the ‘Objectives Resolution’ foreclosing any attempts to create a secular, liberal state in Pakistan. He was acclaimed as Pakistan’s Shaikhul Islam, and, for this reason, on the occasion of Jinnah’s death, “India’s canniest politician and serving Governor General C. Rajagopalachari sent his official condolences not to Liyaqat Ali Khan but to Usmani”(489)

Usmani, rejecting Congress idea of Muttahida Qaumiat (composite nationality) compared the demand for Pakistan with Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s jihad (launched from Lahore) against Akbar’s Din-Illahi and his policy of ‘Sulah-kul’, declaring that: “It is possible that in Sirhindi’s revelations there may be a pointer… that when in future, Muttahida Qaumiat in another form arises, when Din-Illahi in the form of Gandhism comes to the fore, it will be from Lahore from where the voice for breaking these new idols would issue forth, spread and flourish.” (362).   

The ‘osmosis’ became possible due to the religious sources and cultural memories which insist on Islam being a ‘total way of life’ not admitting any secularisation of public life and political activity. Even the Maulanas opposing Pakistan were forced by the very nature of their training to speak the language of political Islam. Both the Maulanas and the League projected Pakistan as a denouement of the divine plan and the destiny of the world-wide Muslim community. The identification of Pakistan with Medina solidified by pointing out: “instead of establishing Pakistan in his native Mecca, the prophet had migrated to Medina to establish the first Pakistan.” (360) Jinnah being a non-practicing Muslim was explained away as being inconsequential given the fact that he was chosen to fulfil the divinely ordained destiny of the global ummah

The description of Medina as the ‘first Pakistan’ and reference to the prophet’s migration attached prophetic aura to Jinnah’s personality. Pakistan far from a ‘vague idea’ became the blueprint of the ‘ideal Islamic state’ inspiring any Muslim worth his salt to strive for it. This strategy galvanised the Muslims in U.P. and Bihar where they were in minority, to most enthusiastically support the movement for Pakistan, in spite of knowing fully well that their own provinces were not going to be part of it. Speaking in Kanpur, in 1941, Jinnah made it absolutely clear that he was willing to allow the 2 crores of Muslims who would fall in minority provinces under the Pakistan scheme to be smashed in order to liberate 7 crores of the Muslims in majority provinces. (279)

It was in this background that Ambedkar endorsed the partition of India.  Appreciating his arguments, Jinnah referred ‘Dr. Ambedkar’s book’ to Gandhi in order to judge “whether the Mussalmans and Hindus are not two nations in this sub-continent.” (120). Later on, Ambedkar described himself as the philosopher of Pakistan, and explained, “I advocated Pakistan because I felt that it was only by partition that Hindus would not only be independent but free... A merely independent India would not have been a free India from the point of views of Hindus…When the partition took place I felt God was willing to lift the curse and let India be one great and prosperous.” (193).

Ambedkar’s words are indeed harsh and he might sound like a conservative Hindu here, but given the impact of the ‘osmosis’ between the Ulama and ML on the masses, he was certainly being pragmatic. His views need to be discussed in right perspective. This book makes a good start in this direction. If Ambedkar was pragmatic, Tufail Ahmad Manglori was prophetic in his caution to the supporters of Pakistan; the title of his newspaper article puts it succinctly- ‘Kaante Bo Kar Meethe Phool ki Tawaqqo’- ‘sow thistles and expect sweet flowers’. (300) On the whole, this path-breaking book leaves you wiser about the ‘osmosis’ leading to the creation of new Medina.

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Some interesting extracts (pp 226- 229)
... a report by a US consular official in Delhi writing to the Department of State of his interview with Liaquat Ali Khan substantiates Khaliq’s claim that Liaquat was amenable to a ‘truncated’ Pakistan. In any case, notwithstanding questions regarding Pakistan’s territoriality, Khaliq passionately advocated Pakistan to foreign diplomats. An OSS report noted Khaliq’s view that ‘Muslims in the minority provinces stand for Pakistan for the sake of Islam; they realize that they will themselves be exterminated eventually, but it is a personal sacrifice they make for the future of Muslims in India…

…Liaquat’s contribution to the interpretation of the Lahore Resolution also lies in the special article he contributed to the Indian Annual Register about the 1941 Madras AIML session in which he characterized Pakistan as an independent state, thus becoming the first ML leader of any consequence to speak of it in singular terms.

Coming to Khaliquzzaman’s accusation, Liaquat’s evolving thinking on Pakistan especially with regard to its territory can be discerned from a report of his interview with the ranking American diplomat in New Delhi, Lampton Berry, wherein he explained the ML’s position as expounded in its August 1942 Bombay Resolution (which was in response to the Congress’ own ‘Quit India’ declaration). Berry enquired about the ‘nature of the plebiscite contemplated in the Bombay resolution’ and using Bengal as an example, ventured that the ML ‘could hardly expect any party to agree to a plebiscite being held only among Muslims, which if obtaining an affirmative vote of a majority of Muslims for Pakistan would force the entire province including Hindus, out of a united India.’ In stark contrast to the position that he had taken at Lahore, Liaquat responded that the plebiscite was meant to be restricted only to the eastern portion of the province in which the Muslims were in a definite majority. When Berry pointed out that ‘this would deprive Muslims of the port of Calcutta’, remarkably, Liaquat agreed. He, however, noted that ‘if the eastern zone decided to go out of united India, it was quite possible that Hindus themselves in the western portion would desire to remain in Pakistan due to strong provincial sentiment which existed in the Indian provinces.’ Liaquat further maintained that ‘plebiscite in the Punjab would be held only in that zone where the Muslims are in a preponderant majority and that, that area of Punjab, roughly east of the Sutlej river would be excluded from the plebiscite.’


Berry informed Liaquat that Nehru had told him that he would be willing to concede Pakistan only after all attempts at resolving the Hindu-Muslim problem had failed. Besides, he would ‘permit self-determination to Muslims in those zones in which they formed a definite majority’ and require at least a 60 per cent affirmative vote to accept the verdict. Liaquat replied that:

such a condition would be quite satisfactory to League and that it would be quite prepared to make an effort to form a constitution for a united India by means of a constituent assembly. Whatever constitution might thus be drafted could then be submitted to a plebiscite of Muslims in zones as defined above and that if they voted for constitution of a united India that would end matter. On the other hand if they voted against constitution then that must be taken by Congress as tantamount to a plebiscite in favor of Pakistan. He suggested therefore that Congress would meet Muslim League position by recognizing principle and possibility of self-determination of Muslims to be determined by a plebiscite among them in those zones in which they are in an absolute majority, this possibility to be invoked only after every effort had been made to draft a constitution for a united India acceptable to Muslims by means of a constituent assembly.

Liaquat agreed that Rajagopalachari could act as a mediator between the Congress and the ML and that ‘some headway might be made’ if he were to see Jinnah and ‘let Jinnah explain to him the League’s position as outlined above.’
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Other recent reviews and references

B.R. Ambedkar's Pakistan or the Partition of India (Bombay, 1940,1945)