The quest for Pakistan: part two of an interview with Prof Venkat Dhulipala

“The critiques of Pakistan emphasise the point that there were significant divisions within the Indian Muslims on the idea of Pakistan. I have tried to capture these intra-Muslim debates in my book.”

This is the second of Prof Dhulipala’s two part interview on his new book Creating a New Medina to Sarah Farooqui of Pragati. In this interview, Prof Dhulipala delves into the significance of the Urdu press, the role of literature and poetry, and on the divisions among the Indian Muslims at that time, on the idea of Pakistan.

Allahabad AIML session and MAJ1

Pragati: Can you elaborate on the significance of the Urdu press at that time?
Prof Dhulipala: The Urdu press is important in the story of Pakistan’s creation. The Urdu press came into its own, especially during the time of the Khilafat movement and it was during this period that a number of Urdu newspapers emerged- Maulana Azad’s Al Hilal. Hasrat Mohani’s Urdu-i-Mualla, Zafar Ali Khan’s Zamindar. Urdu newspapers were critical in shaping popular Muslim opinion during the Khilafat movement. When the Muslim League dropped the Pakistan bombshell into the public sphere, it was naturally debated intensely and extensively in the columns of the Urdu Press.

I followed the debate on Pakistan in Medina, which during the thirties and forties was one of the most important Urdu newspapers in India, and certainly the pre-eminent ‘nationalist’ Muslim newspaper. It was published from Bijnor in western UP and also emerged during the Khilafat movement at the same time as the above mentioned Urdu newspapers. In 1942, the Editor of Medina opened up the columns of the paper to its readers asking them to send in their opinions on what they understood by Pakistan, whether it was good or bad for the Indian Muslims, what they thought would be its implications, so on and so forth. The Editor consequently received a flood of responses from his readers from places as far apart as Chittagong in the east, Bombay in the west, and Raichur down south in the Deccan, and out of these responses he selected the two most cogent essays on Pakistan.

One was a critique of Pakistan, and the other was written in support of Pakistan. We do not know much about the individuals who wrote the essays. But these essays by the critic and the supporter of Pakistan respectively were serialised over several weeks in 1942-43. Looking at these essays and the responses of readers to them one can say that among a newspaper reading public, the debate over Pakistan was carefully followed. Thus, the rhetoric and propaganda of the Muslim League and that of its opponents whether belonging to the Congress or its ally the Jamiatul Ulama-Hind, the premier organisation of the Indian ulama (clerics) find reflection here. People were made broadly aware of the stakes involved in the creation of Pakistan. The Urdu press was thus a significant forum where the idea of Pakistan got debated and discussed.

Pragati: Your book dwells into the role of poetry and literature in creating the cultural narrative of Pakistan. Who were the most important Pakistani poets then and what was the significance of their contribution?
Prof Dhulipala: I do bring in poetry in the context of the Pakistan movement but there is no way of knowing the significance and popularity of all these poets. One collection of poems I delve into was put together by this obscure figure who went by the name of Ramzi Illahabadi, a Muslim student living in Bhendi Bazar, Bombay. The volume is priced at four annas, making it accessible to a popular audience. It has several poems laudatory of Jinnah, the Muslim League, and of course poems demanding Pakistan.

A prominent poet whose one poem I picked up is Asrarul Haq Majaz’s Pakistan ka milli Taraana. Majaz, maternal uncle of the poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar, was a Communist, and had a big following among the youth. At the heart of this poem is the hope that Pakistan would turn Red. Another poet I bring in is a minor poet Saiyyid Yavar Husain who called himself by the nom de plume Kaif Banarsi. The refrain of his poem, Leke Rahenge Pakistan, Bat ke Rahega Hindustan did become popular. It is hard to say how popular the poetry of say someone like Ramzi Illahabadi’s became, but if one looks at C M Naim’s memoirs that he has published in the form of two brilliant essays, we learn that public meetings of the Muslim League were primed by local minor poets reciting poetry before the leader started his speech. So they did have their place.

Pragati: What was the significance of Medina to Indian Muslims and what sentiments led to the want of the creation of a New Medina in Pakistan?
Prof Dhulipala: I borrow this phrase from the public speeches of a particular alim, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani. This man is important has largely been ignored in Partition historiography. He is the alim who provided the main theological arguments for Pakistan and was a prominent campaigner for the ML during the 1945-46 elections that were widely seen as a referendum on Pakistan. He was also the main force behind the passage of the crucial Objectives Resolution in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. Finally, till his death he was considered Pakistan’s chief theologian and in that capacity presided over Mr. Jinnah’s state burial which were conducted according to Sunni custom after the private rituals at Jinnah’s residence were completed according to Shia custom.

If you look at the way Pakistan was articulated and understood during the 1940s, it becomes clear that it was popularly envisioned not just as a Muslim majority state but as an Islamic State that would be governed by God’s Law. The leadership of the ML as also the ulama used Medina and Pakistan interchangeably while talking about it before the people. It was said that just as the Prophet created the first Pakistan in the Arabian Peninsula or the ML was striving to create a second Medina in Islamic history.

Medina is an important metaphor. Usmani points out that the Prophet, a native of Mecca, did not create the first Islamic state there due of the opposition he faced to his teaching from the Meccans. He had to make the Hijrat and go to Medina where he created the first Islamic community and State. The argument then is that to create a second Islamic state – Pakistan – it is important to have sovereign power, similar to what the Prophet enjoyed in Medina. That could only be achieved in a part of the Indian subcontinent where Muslims were in a majority in a contiguous piece of territory where they would be free from both Hindu and British domination, and could have their own religious laws that would foster the ideal Islamic way of life enabling citizens to emerge as true Muslims.

Medina was the focal point for the rise and expansion of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula and the wide world beyond, its emergence as a global power. It therefore still has tremendous resonance in the Muslim imagination. Pakistan as the new Medina was similarly expected to inaugurate Islam’s renewal and rise in the modern world as a great power. In this regard it was expected to unite the entire Ummah, dissolving national borders between Muslim countries to create a grand Islamic State. It would also therefore emerge as a worthy successor to the defunct Ottoman Caliphate that had once provided leadership to the Ummah but had dropped the baton at the end of World War I.

Pragati: Was there a lack of a consensus within the Muslim community at that time? What were the arguments posited against the idea of Pakistan?
Prof Dhulipala: An important point that I want my readers to take away from the book is that there was no unanimity within the Muslim community on the question of Pakistan. There were significant divisions and the strongest opposition to Pakistan came from within the Muslim community itself.

The people who were at the forefront of spearheading the opposition to Pakistan were the Deobandi Ulama who led the Jamiatul Ulama-i-Hind, the premier organisation of the Indian Ulama. The ulama were wedded to the Congress vision of composite nationalism, what they called Muttahida Qaumiyat. It was these Ulama from the Jamiatul Ulama-i-Hind, who came up with the most coherent and well thought out critiques against Pakistan, and who attempted to mobilise Muslims against Pakistan.

In my book I have tried to foreground the work of some of these ulama who are not very well known in Chapter 5 of my book. These include Maulana Syed Muhammad Sajjad Bihari the founders of the Imarat-i-Shariah, which still exists in Patna. His was the first critique of the idea of Pakistan, which was published in the magazine Naqeeb within weeks of the Lahore Resolution. A second alim whose critique I foreground is Maulana Hifzur Rahman Seoharvi, while a third individual whose critique of Pakistan I include is Maulvi Tufail Ahmad Manglori, an Aligarh alumni who was not a traditionally trained alim.

These ulama attacked one by one, all the arguments made by ML functionaries in their advocacy of Pakistan. They first denounced the “hostage population theory” tom-tommed by ML functionaries for its threat of retributive violence against Hindu minorities in Pakistan in case Muslim minorities were oppressed or attacked in Hindu India. Expressing shock at such formulations, they argued that no Muslim government could commit atrocities on its own peace loving minority citizens simply because Muslims were being persecuted elsewhere.

Such a policy was contrary to the Sharia which expressly enjoined Muslim rulers to treat their minorities with fairness and compassion. Moreover, they noted that it did not even conform to conventions of international relations nor did it have any historical precedents. Here, they pointed out that Muslims around the world had long been oppressed by British imperialism and yet Turkey, the foremost Muslim power of the world that Pakistan was expected to emulate, had never retaliated even once against its own Christian subjects.

As regards the efficacy of the threat of war against Hindu India that Pakistan could make or execute in order to protect Muslims in Hindu India – a second argument made by ML functionaries – the ulama again noted that Turkey had never come to the aid of Indian Muslims even during the 1857 Mutiny which was eventually crushed by the British. Indeed, neither Turkey nor any other Muslim state had mustered sufficient courage to serve even a diplomatic notice to Britain for the atrocities it had committed against the Indian Muslims, leave alone going to war for their sake.

More recently, Albania had forcibly been annexed by Italy, and yet all that the Muslim states of world had done was to passively watch the show. But the most prominent example they highlighted was that of Palestine whose Muslims had repeatedly narrated their tale of woe to the Islamic world, specially petitioned Muslim governments to help them in their fight for freedom, and also given a call for jihad to overthrow imperialist domination. Yet, the ulama pointed to the sad fact that Indian Muslims and the Islamic world had largely ignored Palestinian entreaties.

Moving to more practical arguments, they noted that population figures of Pakistan would be 60 percent Muslim and 40 percent Hindu, while Hindustan would be 10 percent Muslim and 90 percent Hindu. In Pakistan the Muslims would thus have a precarious majority while in Hindustan they would constitute a very feeble minority. The Pakistani government would thus not be able target its own non-Muslim minorities in response to Muslims being persecuted in India.

In the light of these examples, they warned Muslims not to live under any illusion or hope that hypothetical theories regarding their protection would ever be put into practice. In this context they also criticised another idea- that of population transfers- which some sections of the ML leadership were considering in pursuance of the principle of national homogeneity. While pointing to the practical problems involved in such mad policies, more importantly, they argued that such moves would sound the death knell of Islam in India. After all Hindu India contained primary sites of Muslim culture and civilisation, had a greater number of mosques, shrines of saints, graves of martyrs and ancestors than the Pakistan areas.

These Deobandi ulama further attacked Pakistan as an economically poor, militarily feeble, politically impotent, and administratively feckless entity that would collapse and be forced to meekly return to the Indian fold sooner rather than later. They reiterated that revenue deficit provinces of Sind, NWFP and Baluchistan would drag Pakistan into an economic quagmire besides noting that Pakistan had few natural resources and little capital to extract them. Pooh poohing plans for Pakistan’s economic development involving invitations to foreign and even Hindu capitalists to invest in Pakistan, they argued that such a policy would only enslave Pakistan to either Hindu or foreign capital. Providing examples from different parts of the world, they pointed out how Iranian oil fields had come under the control of foreign oil companies and had to be nationalised by Reza Shah to free Iran from their domination. Even Ibn Saud had cancelled similar agreements with oil companies to gain his freedom.

Equally importantly they noted that Pakistan would also have an impact on the economic future of Muslims left behind in India. Since Pakistan was to be founded on the basis of religious difference and communal hatred, it was possible that after the partition, Muslims in India would be deprived of capital and loans and reduced to penury as a result of discriminatory economic laws that an indignant India would legislate. Through this economic critique of Pakistan, the ulama sought to demonstrate that they were not just men of religion but keenly aware of issues relating to modern economics and their ramifications on domestic politics as well as international relations.

These ulama also lambasted the two nation theory as fraudulent and concocted by the British to divide the Indian nation and perpetuate their own rule. In this context, they reminded fellow Muslims about the Arabs who during World War I were incited by the British to revolt against the Turks according to the ideology that they were a separate nation that had been enslaved by the Turks for centuries. However, once the Turks had been defeated and ejected out of Arab lands, the British had reneged on promises made to the Arabs about their freedom, and the Arabs thus passed from the control of Turks to slavery under the British and the French.

The Arab example therefore clearly showed how a powerful nation could be enslaved by inciting discord amongst its different communities so that they would demand a division of the country. The nationalist ulama therefore appealed to fellow Muslims to avoid the trap of Pakistan as it would only pave the way for the reconsolidation of British rule in the subcontinent.

Finally, they attacked Pakistan as un-Islamic given the contradiction between territorial nationalism and Islam, denounced Jinnah as an infidel, as he was famously non-observant Muslim who enjoyed his wine, smoked cigarettes and reportedly liked ham sandwiches, as the last person who could make Pakistan Islamic. They finally downgraded Pakistani territory as inferior when compared to the blessed land of India with its Islamic monuments, mosques, shrines, graves of saints and martyrs in the cause of Islam.

These critiques emphasise the point that there were significant divisions within the Indian Muslims on the idea of Pakistan. I have tried to capture these intra-Muslim debates in my book.

This is the second of a two part interview with Dr Venkat Dhulipala. Read the first part of the interview here. 

Photo: National Archives of Pakistan