Betrayal at Midnight – Review of ‘Muslims against Partition’ : Guest Post by Karthik Venkatesh

Guest Post by Karthik Venkatesh

Muslims Against Partition — Revisiting the legacy of Allah Bakhsh and other patriotic Muslims

Freedom at midnight put some people in a spot – those Muslims who chose to stay back in India and did not opt for Pakistan. Pakistan was always conceived as a nation that would be created in areas where Muslims were in a majority in undivided India i.e., the north-western portion and a part of the eastern portion. It was difficult to visualize how all of India’s Muslims would be accommodated there because the reality was that Muslims were and are found in every nook and corner in this country. How then was Pakistan going to fulfill its purpose? It clearly could not. Recognizing this and recognizing the danger to those Muslims who could not go to the ‘promised land’, many Muslim leaders opposed the creation of Pakistan. Muslims against Partition by Shamsul Islam (Pharos Media, 2015) is their story. It details how such leaders were in effect betrayed after having striving unreservedly for a united India.

The book fills an important void in our history. The Pakistan demand as articulated by Jinnah has always been thought of as the demand of ‘all’ Indian Muslims and even those Muslims who stayed back in India have had their loyalty questioned at regular interval since independence. But was Jinnah the leader of ‘all’ Muslims? As this book ably demonstrates, he definitely wasn’t. Also, while the Pakistan demand was the Muslim League’s demand, they were in no small measure aided by the overt and covert actions of the Hindu right-wing and indeed, sections of the Congress as well.

Shamsul Islam has captured for posterity the contribution of many now forgotten Muslims whom he chooses to call ‘patriotic’ Muslims who stood up to Jinnah and his two-nation theory. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan are of course, two well-known names in this regard. But, there were many others. Names such as Shibli Nomani of Azamgarh, Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, Shaukatullah Ansari and Abdullah Barelvi are all forgotten today and yet, each of them was strident in their belief in a united India that was home to both communities and many others besides. Also highlighted are the contributions of organizations like the Momin Conference, Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam and the All-India Muslim Majlis towards a united India. Even in distant Baluchistan, one learns that an organization led by Khan Abdul Samad Khan (known as Baloch Gandhi), Anjuman-e-Watan opposed Partition and effectively prevented the Muslim League from establishing itself in the province.

The book also documents in some detail how in 1857, Hindus and Muslims in many parts of the country had come together to work together for a common cause – the overthrow of British rule. The national cause had overridden the existing religious differences.

The book’s greatest contribution is in recognizing the contribution of Allah Bakhsh Soomro of Sindh to the anti-Pakistan cause. Allah Bakhsh, a prominent Sindhi politician was the leader of Sind People’s Party or Ittehad (Unity) Party. A man of considerable political influence, he served as the Premier of Sind twice – from March 1938 to April 1940 and then again from March 1941 to October 1942. In October 1942, he gave up his position and the British bestowed titles of ‘Khan Bahadur’ and ‘Order of the British Empire (OBE)’ as a protest against the British policy of repression in response to the ‘Quit India’ call. For a brief while, Bakhsh was the focal point of the anti-Pakistan stand taken by many Indian Muslims.

The Azad Muslim Conference organized by Bakhsh, Shaukatullah Ansari and others was an attempt to gather together all anti-Pakistan Muslim forces. Organised in April 1940 in Delhi, the Conference was attended by thousands of Muslim delegates all over the country. It was vehement in its condemnation of the Pakistan idea and equally vehement in its demand for a United India. Coming as this Conference did, soon after the Lahore session of the Muslim League where the Pakistan Resolution was passed, the Conference raised hopes that an alternative Muslim body might come up in opposition to the League. Allah Bakhsh in his capacity as President of Conference gave a stirring Presidential Address in which he underlined his many reservations about Pakistan. The sheer incompatibility of a nation with an eastern wing and western wing was something that caught Bakhsh’s attention. Rather prophetically, he remarked on how long such an arrangement would survive.

Secondly, Bakhsh contested Jinnah’s two-nation theory. In making his case for Pakistan, Jinnah had argued that Hindus and Muslims constituted two separate ‘nations’ who could not be reconciled owing to fundamental differences. Therefore, they had to live separately was the contention. Bakhsh however chose to focus on the many commonalities that the two communities shared. He asserted that Muslims belonged as much as Hindus to the various regions in India where they had made their home. The Pakistan idea was also something that Jinnah had put forward in order to fulfil his personal political ambitions was another of Bakhsh’s contentions.

For while, it appeared that a new strand of Muslim thought had emerged and that Jinnah would be soon overshadowed as leader of India’s Muslims. Newspapers from all over the country were effusive in their praise for Bakhsh and his attempt at keeping India together. But these hopes were belied. There are a number of reasons for this. The Muslim League goon brigade – Muslim National Guard – unleashed violence on many patriotic Muslims. The Conference failed to seize the initiative after its inspiring beginning. Bakhsh himself was assassinated on May 14, 1943, ostensibly in a Muslim League conspiracy. The Congress also vacillated on the question of a united India. Eventually, the Congress reconciled to Partition. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was one of many who felt betrayed by this volte face by the Congress. But the surprising section of the book is its documentation of how Hindutva proponents also played an important in the creation of Pakistan.

In the Hindu Mahasabha session in Ahmedabad in 1937, Savarkar in a very Jinnah-esque speech spoke of incompatibility between Hindus and Muslims. This wasn’t the first time that such a claim had been made. Others had spoken on similar lines earlier. Bhai Parmanand, another prominent leader had called for a separate ‘Musalman kingdom’ in the north-west portion of undivided India as early as 1908-09. Other like Dr. BS Moonje had also spoken in similar vein. Hence, the Pakistan idea was as a creation of extremists on both sides of the religious divide.

Golwalkar of the RSS in his We Or Our Nationhood Defined had expressed very clear ideas on what ought to be done with minorities. Second-class citizenship and a beggar’s existence at the mercy of the majority was his proposed solution. Visceral in his hatred for minorities, Golwalkar proposed a Nazi-type solution. Such ideas served to heighten Muslim insecurity and push them into a corner ultimately forcing the creation of Pakistan.

Muslims against Pakistan is a timely work. Politics in India has in the previous two years been pushed into a direction not dissimilar to the situation in the 1940s. The right-wing after its ascent to power in May 2014 has sought to polarize the population along ‘nationalist’ lines. The Muslim community has once again been labeled as ‘suspect’ and have had their loyalties questioned (HRD Minister of State RS Katheria’s speech is but the latest example in this regard). Given all of this, this work serves as a reminder of the Muslim contribution to the cause of united India, no less. It could also serve as the springboard to muse about what India means to each and every one of us and how the idea of India was conceived originally in the heydays of the Freedom Struggle. It is this idea that is under threat today and it is this idea that ought to be reclaimed by all Indians.

5 thoughts on “Betrayal at Midnight – Review of ‘Muslims against Partition’ : Guest Post by Karthik Venkatesh

  1. Sibdas Ghosh

    Surely many free thinking Muslims did not like the idea of Pakistan. Some supported for , personal greed and others just joined the band just for religious cause. surely, marginal and poor Muslims could afford to migrate . What Golwalkar and others suggested for Muslims in India, did not fortunately happen, but what Jinnah and others did not utter happened in Pakistan. It is the greed of certain persons, including perhaps Nehru too resulted in the partition, surely all Muslims can not be blamed.

  2. It is true that there were many sensible Hindus and Muslims who preferred a united India, instead of partitioning along religious lines. At least India has retained its secular democratic constitution and does not harbor, train and finance terrorists, whereas Pakistan has changed its constitution from a secular to an Islamic Republic and nurtures a host of Muslim terrorist organizations with madrassas that teach hatred of non-Muslims.

  3. “Pakistan was the creation of extremists on both sides”– I don’t think is a fair contention. Jinnah can in no way be described as an “extremist”. He was the leader of a party that focused on protecting the rights of the Muslims of British India under a future democratic dispensation. This dispensation would inevitably be Hindu-dominated, given the demographics of India. There was a legitimate fear among many (not all) Muslims that “British Raj” would simply be replaced by “Hindu Raj”. After failing to get concessions from the Congress (which was really a Hindu party claiming to be a “national” party), Jinnah had no choice but to say that Muslims would create their own country in the areas in which they were already a numerical majority. If keeping “Bharat Mata” together was really that important to Congress, the Cabinet Mission Plan would have been the final solution. However, Nehru wanted a highly centralized state which he wanted to lead. Partition was the price he was willing to pay for that.

    One could argue that what has been happening in India over the last few years shows why Pakistan was necessary. Otherwise, beef would be banned in Lahore as well. Thankfully, there is a country where Muslims can practice their religion in the way they see fit. If a referendum was carried out today, it is likely that most of the 200 million people in Pakistan would prefer the current arrangement to a “united” India. Most Indians also are probably happy to have many less Muslims on their hands.

    It is fine to say that there were “patriotic” Muslims (which really means Congress Muslims) who were not in favor of the idea of Pakistan. Certainly they felt betrayed. But for many other people, they were much better off in a country of their own.

    I think it is high time we stop rehashing Partition and accept that there are now three countries instead of some eternal united “Bharat”. Those countries are now responsible for looking after their own citizens. Beyond that, they should just be good neighbors and not interfere in each other’s affairs. Bharat and Pakistan have gone their own ways– as have most Indians and Pakistanis. There is really no love lost.

  4. Surendra Barsode

    With a benefit of hand sight, one can say that the partition, once accepted as the final decision, should have been organized over a period of say 10 years with gradual movement of people from one to the other side. India could have been under British Rule as a dominion status and only when such orderly transition occurred,two countries could have been declared independent. Given differences between Hindus and Muslims, having two separate areas for each of them was a good idea but it was executed in a disastrous manner. An orderly transition over a longer period would have resulted in two countries emerging as good neighbors and all the Muslims who have happily lived in pure Pakistan thereafter. Hindus are not homogenous lot anyway but would have lived under the secular constitution like we have now and at least the communalism that persisted in India would have been avoided. Perhaps, this would have led to formation of a federation in South Asia. Two groups with different religions need not necessarily fight against each other bitterly but could have coexisted maturely and peacefully, together and yet separately.

  5. gopal mishra

    one of the most important reason of partition was congress refusal to accept a federal india because its backers hindu industrialist were against it since it would have undermine their monopoly position in muslim dominated provinces.one such industrialist was G.D Birla.He opposed unified bengal and his representatives gandhi and other congress leaders forced bengal partition though JInna was ready to accept independent unified bengal.jinnah role in partition was secondary.main role was played by congress,british and of course hindu fundamentalist.

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