Retrospective Study of Muslim League – A Book Review

December 27, 2009 at 7:05 pm (History, Pakistan, Politics) ()


By Basharat Hussain Qizilbash

The Pakistan Historical Society is keeping the spirit of scholarship and enquiry alive by consistently producing thought provoking issues. This issue contains fourteen research papers by Pakistani and foreign scholars and constitutes the first part of the investigation into the role of the All India Muslim League in the creation of Pakistan.

Dr. Arshad Islam, an Associate Professor at the Department of History and Civilisation at the International Islamic University Malaysia, explores the role of Syed Ahmed Khan in Shifting Muslims focus to modern education under the British rule. The task turned out to be daunting. The challenge from the Muslim conservatives was most threatening. The propounder of the ‘Two Nation’ theory was dubbed as an atheist, a traitor, a ‘neicheri’ (believer in Nature, not God) and a British agent.

The ‘Deoband’ school of thought was particularly unhappy with him. Their feeling towards Sir Syed can be discerned from the account of Mulla Dost Muhammad, a graduate of Deoband. Dost Muhammad asked the leading light of Deoband Maulana Qasim Nanotvi to point out the objectionable chapter in the ‘Tafsir-i-Quran’ written by Sir Syed and after the relevant passages were highlighted, Dost Muhammad got so furious that he ‘decided to crack Syed Ahmed’s head with a rod’ (p 37). He went straight to Aligarh and demanded an explanation from Syed Ahmed who replied that he had written the ‘Tafsir’ for the layman and not for the ‘Ulema’, and added that ‘at heart he fully accepted the teachings of the ulema.’ The Syed further clarified that his ‘Tafsir’ was based on Ibn Sina’s book which was in the Syllabus of Deoband. He explained that the graduate of Aligarh ‘will carry the Quran on his head, the book of Hadith in his right hand and the other knowledge in his left hand.’ Convinced of the noble mission of Sir Syed, Mulla Dost Muhammad broke the rod then and there. However, to a different audience, Sir Syed said the same thing in a different way, during the course of lecture at Jallandar in 1894: “we will hold philosophy in our right hand and natural sciences in our left, and a crown of ‘La-illah Illahah Muhammadur Rasul Allah on our head.”

In spite of his noble intentions, the conservative critics made strenuous efforts to obtain ‘fatwa’ against him and his college. Two names have come on the record in this regard. One was Maulvi Imdad Ali who was successful in obtaining a ‘fatwa’ from the ‘Muftis’ of Delhi, Rampur, Amroha, Mordabad, Lucknow, Bhopal, etc., condemning the college and branding Syed Ahmed ‘Kafir’. Maulvi Ali Bakhsh Khan went a step ahead. He went to Makkah and Madina to obtain a ‘fatwa’ against the father of Muslim nationalism in India. Moulvi Ali Bahksh actually circulated a questionnaire which stated: “Can you approve the establishment of a college whose founder refutes ‘Miraj’ (the bodily night journey of Holy Prophet (PBUH) to heaven, who does not accept as true the story of Adam and Eve, and who insists that Muslims must follow the European lifestyle? (P.50). Four ‘Muftis’ of Makkah in their denunciation of Syed Ahmed stated: “This sort of person is a follower of Satan, and misguides good people. If he insists on such wickedness, physical force can be used against him.’ Whereas a ‘Mufti’ of Madinah declared: “If this type of schools were established then Muslims should demolish the structure.”Aligarh not only survived but also flourished and provided the bulk of leadership in the movement of Pakistan.

The building plan of Aligarh College was drawn by British engineers with an approximate budget of one million rupees. The scheme of studies adopted by the college at the proposal of syed Mahmud was the one that was followed at Cambridge. Hindus were also given admission but only as day-students. Teaching at the college started on June 1, 1875 under a British Headmaster H.Y.I. Siddons and the same year in December, the Divisional Commissioner of Meerut after visiting the college announced an increase in the government’s aid.

Even after reading this paper we do not know whether Sir Syed conceived the idea of this institution before or during his visit to England. We also do not know whether his visit and long stay over there was selffinanced or sponsored by the British government.

Dr Satya Narayan Mishra tries to figure up the causes behind the formaton of Muslim League. One factor was the growing backwardness among the Muslim Community. For example, in 1867, 88 Hindus but not even one Muslim passed the graduation and post-graduation examinations whereas in 1865 all those students who passed the Law exam were Hindus. Similarly, all medical graduated were Hindus. Although the British began to make appointments on the government jobs on the basis of Western sciences and English language in 1844, the response of the two major communities towards Western education shows the Muslim backwardness: The first Hindu college offering English education was set in 1817, the first Muslim school – Aligarh was established in 1875.

The rising tide of Hindu nationalism spearheaded by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Dayananda Saraswati compounded Muslim fears. The former was the pioneer of anti-cow killing socities. He harangued Hindus not to take part in the observance of ‘Muharram’. He also began to observe the Hindu festivals of Ganpati and established five Ganpati centres in Poona. To pit the Hindus against the Muslim, Tilak also started the Shivaji festival, who was an anti-Mughal hero. On the other hand, Saraswati declared the eating of beef as illegal and heralded ‘Gaurakshini Sabha’ (Cow Protection Society). Interestingly, the British adopted a hypocritical stance on the issue: on one side, the government denounced the cow slaughter and promoted a cattle welfare organization, and at least in one instance a deputy magistrate and collector himself founded ‘Gaurakshini Sabha’, on the other hand, cow slaughter was fully permitted in the British cantonments.

Dr. Muhammad Reza Kazimi, who is the editorial consultant at the (OUP) has thrown some light on those who served as the secretaries of the Muslim League. He states that the separate electorates conceded by the British in the Minto – Morley reforms were not due to the efforts of the Simla Deputation (1906) but due to the representation made by League’s Secretary Major Syed Hasan Bilgarmi, Ameer Ali and Aga Khan to Lord Morley in London. In the early years, the Leaguers consciously made efforts to keep their party as an ‘exclusive club’. The efforts to broaden its base were rejected in 1912 by its secretary Syed Wazir Hasan: “…an influx of men of no consequence or importance will impair the prestige and influence of the League.” And during the secretaryship of Syed Zahur Ahmed (1919 to 1926), the party became so inactive that Hasrat Mohani termed it a “little more than an old Calendar.” The party organization remained so much neglected during the tenure (1926-1929) of Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew that the Quaid had to write that “either Kitchlew should attend to the League affair or resign.” It may be surprising for many that there were some Muslim Leaguers who wanted to wind up the League altogether. For example, Sir Zafarullah Khan tried to merge to the League into the Muslim Conference and a similar effort was made by League’s very won secretary Hafiz Hidayat Hussain, himself. During Liaquat Ali Khan’s tenure from 1936 onwards, the party witnessed the growth of pro-Congress and pro-British factions within its ranks, forcing Liaquat to charge Khaliquzzaman of having a ‘veiled kinship’ with Congress – a charge not refuted by the latter.

There are two pieces of shocking information from Indian writers Durga Das and Ram Gopal suggesting that Khaliquzzaman had inducted a group in the League which was to act as a surrogate for the Congress: “Rafi Ahmad Qidwai as a matter of electoral tactics persuaded Chaudhary Khaliquzzaman and Nawab Muhammad Ismail and other Muslim Congressmen to contest the elections on the ticket of the Muslim League.”

Dr Nasreen Afzal’s article focuses on the 1938 Sindh provincial conference of the League but in the process also lays bare the challenges Jinnah had to face to establish his control in the provinces. The Government of India Act (1919) had given powers to the provincial politicians who were unwilling to bring themselves under the control of League’s central command. The evidence supplied by the writer is tantalizing.

Prior to the 1937 provincial elections, both Sheikh Abdul Majid Sindhi and Sir Abdullah Haroon totally ignored Quaid’s call to join the central Muslim League Parliamentary Board set in 1936 and fought elections from the platform of their respective provinces of Bihar, Madras, Orissa, NWFP and Sindh also refused to form League’s Parliamentary Boards and Sir Sikandar Hayat of Punjab overtly declared that he would not tolerate Jinnah’s interference in the province. Through Ahmed Yar, he conveyed to the Quaid “the advisibility of keeping his finger out of the Punjab pie” because “if he (Jinnah) meddles, he… might burn his finger.” When the League published its manifesto before the 1937 elections Abdullah Haroon resigned from the League on the pretext tha the manifesto was too communal in its nature. The writer states that actually Haroon’s resignation was a conspiracy hatched by Aga Khan and Fazul-i-Hussain to undermine the leadership of the Quaid.

How the views of the leaders of the League were at varience becomes visible from the speeches delivered at Sindh Muslim League conference in Karachi in October 1938. While Molvi Fazlul Haq, the premier of Bengal reminded, “If Muhammad bin Qasim as 18 year lad with 18000 soldiers could conquer Sindh, then surely 9 crores of Muslims can conques the whole of India,” whereas Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, the host of the conference said, “Muslims of the host of the conference said, “Muslims of Sindh wanted to be honourable partners in the administration of government, they did not necessarily want a change of masters.” There you go. What better could the British expect from one of their Knights?

It is difficult to discuss every paper in a small space. There are two papers on League’s activities in Multan – one by Dr. M. Shafique Bhatti and Lubna Kanwal and the other by Dr. Ashiq M. Khan. Moreover, Dr Amin Valliani has discussed Aga Khan’s role, Dr. Sultan-i-Rome has explained the contribution of Swat, Himayatullah has brought in focus the whole of NWFP and Dr Inam-ul-Haq Kausar has penned down the activities of the leaders and workers of the League in Balochistan.

Dr Ansar Zahid Khan’s paper on ‘All India States’ Muslim League,’ is unique in many ways. Actually very few people know the nature of politics in the hundreds of princely states in India. 22.5 per cent of the total population of India over an area of 711,000 square miles resided in more than six hundred states. To debate their issues, a Chamber of Ruling Princes was set by the British in 1921 with Viceroy as its president.

Gandhi was initially reluctant to interfere in states’ politics but through the efforts of Jawaharlal Nehru and V. Petal Congress activities started there under the banner of the All India States People’ Conference. As far as League was concerned. Only 11/2 per cent seats were granted to princely states in its central committee. The Muslim rulers and populations of these states did some times look towards the League for guidance but under its constitution, the League was bound to keep its activities within British India. So, when in February 1947, the Kalat States Muslim League requested an affiliation with the All-India Muslim League, the Quaid refused the offer as its was against the constitution of his party. He had announced that the princely states would remain independent and had reportedly guaranteed the independence of those princely states which would happen to fall in the areas of Pakistan.

Earlier on, Bahadur Yar Jang was successful not only in organising the All India States’ Muslim League (AISML) under his presidentship but was also successed in holding its first session in the ‘pindal” in the evening of 23 March, 1940 after the League’s historic session had concluded. The crux of their demands were somewhat similar to that of League such as the separate electorates, weightage, use of Urdu in courts, etc. Thought the (AISML) did sought the advice of Jinnah on important issues, overall this organisation was thought of unimportant and irrelevant by the All India Muslim League leaders. Morever, (AISML) was not able to secure the backing of the Muslim princely rulers as its demands undermined their authority and privileges.

All in all, this issue is an absorbing study for general readers and invaluable for the students of Pakistan Studies. It may help in clarifying several generally help misconceptions about the subject.

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