The Tribune - Spectrum

, March 24, 2002
Lead Article

The ugly truth about Partition politics

V.N. Datta analyses how the Pakistan Resolution was passed on March 24, 1940, what were the circumstances that had led to its origin, and how it was formulated and modified in successive stages, and how it came to be finally formulated.

ON March 24, 1940 the All-India Muslim League passed a resolution (known better as the Pakistan Resolution) for the Partition of the country in Minto Park, Lahore, about a furlong from the Great Fort.

Portrait by Kuldip Dhiman

The venue was facing the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s Badshahi Mosque where the poet-philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal lies buried. The operative part of the resolution read as follows: constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Muslims unless it is designed on the following basic principle, viz that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be constituted with regional adjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in North-Western zones of India should be granted to constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.

In the opening session of the Muslim League session, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, President of the Muslim League wearing a black achkan and a cap was escorted by the chairman of the reception committee, Nawab of Mamdot to a pandal under a multicolour canopy decorated with flowers and welcome by a thunderous applause with a slogan of Allah-hu-Akbar by an audience approximating 1,00,000 including delegates and visitors. The proceedings of the meeting began with Iqbal’s Tarana-e-Milli Cheen o Arab humara Hindustan hamara, Muslim hain ham watan hai sara jahan hamara (China and Arabia are ours, Muslims we are, and the whole world belongs to us). When the business part of proceedings began, then Fazalul-Haq, the then Prime Minister of Bengal arrived. After his entry into the pandal, slogans of Sher-e-Bengal were raised. The warm and enthusiastic response of the people for their popular leader Fazalul-Haq caused considerable discomfiture to Jinnah.

The resolution was moved by Fazalul-Haq (Bengal) and seconded by Chowdhry Khaliquazzamm (UP), Zafar Ali Khan (Punjab), Aurangzeb (NWP) and Sir Abdullah Haroon (Sind). The original resolution did not contain the word ‘Pakistan’. According to Jinnah, it was the Hindu Press that foisted it, and thus the resolution began to be called the Pakistan Resolution officially. Much intensive and close labour was involved in drafting the resolution. The subject committee appointed to prepare the resolution, worked on March 23, for over 10 hours (from 9 p.m. to 10 a.m. next day) and on March 24, the resolution took a final shape. This resolution was subsequently presented at the session and was a joint venture completed both by the subject and foreign committees that had worked in tandem.

A spate of literature has already appeared on the Partition, but on the Pakistan Resolution itself there is hardly any specialised study, though in general terms its significance has been debated. Therefore, the latest study of the resolution entitled The Making of Pakistan Resolution by Aslam Malik (Oxford University Press, 2001) is welcome. The source material deposited in the Pakistan archives is not readily available in India. Hence any serious study of the Partition by the historians in Pakistan is likely to enrich our understanding. In his enquiry, the author raises a number of questions such as how the Pakistan Resolution was passed on March 24, 1940, what were the circumstances that had led to its origin, and how it was formulated and modified in successive stages, and how it came to be finally formulated. Of course, the nature of its impact on the subsequent political developments lies outside the scope of the study.

Malik repudiates Ayesha Jalal’s view as argued in her book Jinnah: the sole spokesman that Jinnah never wanted Pakistan and that he consistently thought that the demands he made were a sort of ‘bargaining counter’ with a view to deriving maximum benefits for the Muslims in the governance of the country. The conclusion that Jalal drew was that it was the Congress and not the Muslim League headed by Jinnah that foisted the Partition on the country. In support of her contention, Jalal emphasised that it was the Congress that insisted on the division of the Punjab as early as March 1940, about five months before the actual Partition of the country that made Pakistan a reality.

According to Malik, the idea of the Partition came to Jinnah’s mind as early as 1931 (p. 8) but for the assertion of such a view no evidence is provided. In fact, it is clear that till 1939 there is no evidence of Jinnah’s thinking for the creation of Pakistan. To say that Jinnah was the harbinger of the idea of Pakistan as early as the 1930s is to fly against facts. Such an approach of linking up of events following in a sequential order, a linear way, represents that type of historical approach which is known as the ‘Whig interpretation of history’.

Scurrying over the early 1930s, Malik focuses briefly on the character of the Congress rule established in 1939 in nine of the 11 provinces. By ignoring the Muslim League policy and its role before the Government of India Act 1935, it is not possible to realise the evolution and depth of strong Muslim opinion and its impact on the subsequent political developments in the country. However, Malik shows how the Congress’ denial of sharing power with the Muslim League in UP and Bombay, and the fear of the introduction of Federation which would place the Muslims at the mercy of the Hindus at the Centre alienated the Muslims, and paved the way for a powerful Muslim opposition and its consolidation against the Congress. Malik is absolutely right in thinking that the period 1939-40 is crucial for understanding the Muslim psyche which regrettably the Congress, aminated by its over confidence and spirit of self-righteousness, failed to comprehend.

The Lucknow Muslim League Conference in October 1937 demonstrated a massive Muslim support for the Muslim League where three prime ministers, Sikander Hayat Khan of Punjab, Fazalul Haq of Bengal, and M. Saddullah of Assam advised their respective party members to join the Muslim League. Gandhi rightly said that at the Lucknow Muslim League session, Jinnah chose the "war path". It was clear that a wide cleavage had occurred between the Congress and the Muslim League in their approach to the solution of the Indian constitutional problem. Malik refers to some of the Muslim grievances as a justification of their strong resentment against the Congress policies, but does not discuss their legitimacy on merit particularly because his main contribution lies in his analysis of the constitutional aspect of the political problem to which sufficient attention has not been paid by historians. Regrettably, therefore the underlying subterranean forces that operated in the making of Indian politics are ignored.

As the Prime Minister of Punjab and leader of the Unionist Party, which had stood for about two decades for inter-communal politics, Sikandar floated a constitutional scheme to avert the Partition, and for this he met several politicians to enlist that support, ran from pillar to post but found himself completely isolated. He contacted Jawaharlal Nehru and went to Wardha to meet the Mahatma but found no response. Sikander fought for his principles till the end, despite some diplomatic concession he made to Jinnah to save the break-up of his own party. In retrospect, it can be said that Sikander’s role in preserving the unity of India was most constructive. This has not been appreciated by historians who uncritically continue to attack him as a lackey of British imperialism. Sikander, in my opinion, showed a remarkable Punjabi commonsense which enables the resolving of complicated political issues.

In May 1936, Jinnah had sought the support of Sir Fazal-e-Husain, the most influential of Punjabi political leaders in Punjab, but he was rebuffed. Jinnah was so disspirited that he vowed never to return to Punjab. But Jinnah found in Sikander his bitter foe as far as the plan of Pakistan was concerned. In this connection, Sikander’s confidential talk with the Viceroy Linlithgow is pertinent. He told the Viceroy;

Mr Jinnah attaches much importance to his personal vanity than to the interests of his country and community. He has deliberately flouted the wishes and views of Bengal and Punjab as also of a large majority of Muslims in the provinces in utter disregard of the desire of the working committee of the Muslim League. The problem has now become intolerable and there is no course open except to part country with Mr Jinnah and his league.

In his speech in the Punjab Legislative Assembly on March 11, 1940, Sikander refuted the charge that he had any hand in drafting the resolution. He asserted that in his own proposal he had suggested a loose federation but not the Partition of the country.

Sikander even tried to negotiate a settlement with the Congress to torpedo Jinnah’s plan but his efforts were thwarted despite the fact that he never wanted an independent sovereign Muslim state. Jinnah knew that Sikander was the greatest hurdle in the realisation of his goal but he was marking time. As a shrewd politician, Jinnah knew that Punjab was the key to the solution of the problem, and if he ever forfeited the support of Punjab in the Muslim majority areas with all its potential strength, then his purpose would not be served. Sikander and Fazlul Haq, as late as December 1939, were anxious to form coalition ministries in Punjab, and assured the Viceroy Linlithgow of supporting the proposal to negate the Partition of the country.

Sikander did not come out openly in conflict with Jinnah. This was so because he got involved in a direct fight with the Khaksars, on whom he ordered firing which provoked a violent agitation in Punjab and thereby weakened his position. There is enough evidence to suggest that Sikander himself had been the cause of igniting this trouble in Punjab with the object of preventing the holding of the Muslim League session in Lahore in March 1940. He knew that any demand for the Partition made in his own province would pose a serious threat to his composite ministry. That is why when forced to hold the Muslim League session in March 1940, he took little in its arrangements and organisation.

The author completely ignores the role of Linlithgow in boosting Jinnah’s morale to fight the Congress by way of producing a scheme to safeguard Muslim interests. Linlithgow emphasised that merely venting the Muslim grievances vociferously in public against the Congress would produce no tangible results. He had several meetings with Jinnah in this regard, and he broached on the same subject time and again. There was equally a strong pressure on Jinnah from his own party to devise some scheme which could protect the Muslim interests to destroy the nefarious Congress plan of setting up a Constituent Assembly based on the adult franchise.

Malik forgets that at the beginning of the war, Linlithgow was anxious to enlist the Congress support to fight the Axis powers and in this connection he had met the Congress leaders, Gandhi, Nehru and Rajendra Prasad and others. The Congress lost the opportunity due to its rigidity without realising the consequences that would follow in the absence of an understanding between the Government and the Congress. Due to Leftist pressure from within, the Congress launched the individual satyagraha movement which convinced the Viceroy that he could not depend on the Congress to cooperate during the war.

It took the Muslim League nearly three years to formulate its scheme on Partition. The Pakistan Resolution went through several drafts, but it seems that the final resolution was hastily prepared — that is why it has several loopholes. Probably, it was made somewhat vague deliberately to keep the options open for further negotiations. But this is a speculation. The die was cast, and I think there was no turning back. "Politics is art of the possible, science of the relative", said Bismarck. True statesmanship is capable of resolving even the most complex problems. But the Congress and the League showed utter lack of statesmanship for which both the countries are paying a heavy price in men and materials today.