As Pakistan completed 71 years of independence recently, the debate regarding the vision its founding fathers had for the new-born state continues to simmer. Inherent in this deliberation is the question – albeit in hindsight – of whether the Partition was necessary in the first place.
In this regard, there has been a rise in scholarly work on inward critiques of the movement from the time. The latest among these is a collection of 14 essays, Muslims against Muslim League: Critiques of the Idea of Pakistan edited by Ali Usman Qasmi and Megan Eaton Robb.
The essays feature Muslim critics of Pakistan as ideologically diverse and as geographically spread as Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, Mian Iftikhar-ud-Din, Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Rezaul Karim, among others.
Barbara D. Metcalf begins with ‘Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani and the Jami at Ulema-i-Hind,’ and the first essay sets the ball rolling on the insightful commentary of many renowned Islamist sceptics on the idea of Pakistan, observing it as an historical paradox. The essay narrates Madani’s quest to rid allegations against Muslims of being ‘foreigners,’ by establishing their religious and national right over a united India, and the challenges of establishing an Islamic state in an ideologically diverse land, which was naturally at loggerheads over the Muslim League’s demand for a separate Muslim state.
M Raisur Rehman, in his ‘The Partition Conundrum,’ tells tales from various qasbahs in what was to become India following the separation of Pakistan, and why many Muslims chose not to migrate to the newly formed homeland. He argues that there was no ‘linear response’ to the Muslim League’s Two-Nation theory among the Muslims, often with members of the same family opting for different courses amidst Partition.
Tahir Kamran’s essay ‘Choudhary Rahmat Ali and his Political Imagination’ discusses why the man who came up with the name Pakistan in the pamphlet Now or Never has largely remained on the periphery of the historical discourse in the state that adapted the name that he had proposed. One reason was his disdain for Muhammad Ali Jinnah; another was his envisioned Continent of Dinia – a deliberate distortion of the name India, wherein not only would all religious communities have their own regions, but which would safeguard the interests of all Muslims in the Indian subcontinent, which Pakistan failed to achieve.
Ali Usman Qasmi’s chapter on Maududi, ‘Differentiating between Pakistan and Napak-istan’ deserves special mention as a piece of scholarly work that not only contributed to bringing forth one of the most prominent Islamist critics of Pakistan – which the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami has been known as over the decades – but also provides a new perspective on the raison d’etre of his antagonism towards the idea of Pakistan. The essay argues that Maududi’s opposition didn’t come aboard the Indian nationalism bandwagon, or in alliance with Congress, but simply because he maintained that the concepts of nation, state and democracy contradicted Islam.
Megan Eaton Robb’s ‘Advising the Army of Allah’ focuses on another prominent Islamist, Ashraf Ali Thanawi, who wanted the Muslim League to transform into Lashkar-e-Allah, and whose eventual support for the party stemmed from his desire to attach the clergy to the Pakistan movement. Thanawi, hence, paradoxically, despite being critical of how the League functioned before he allied himself with it, was influential in the party’s Islamisation process, with leaflets attributed to him being published posthumously by the League to muster support for its Pakistan bid in the 1946 elections.
Ali Raza’s coverage of Mian Iftikhar-ud-Din is one of the most intriguing parts of the compilation, given his political trajectory that traversed Congress, the Communist Party of India, the Muslim League and the post-Partition Azad Pakistan Party. Mian Iftikhar-ud-Din is the only prominent leftist figure covered as an individual in this book, outside of the entire chapter dedicated to Islam and communism later on.
Markus Daechsel highlights Inayatullah Khan ‘al-Mashriqi’ as the ‘Visionary of Another Politics,’ arguably one of the most eccentric figures in the book, who claimed to have touched base with Darwinism, Adolf Hitler and the Nobel Prize Committee. He also came up with a national anthem of his own. His influence was such that his Khaksars – whose Islamist activism dominated the 1940s – eventually provided a decisive subplot to the Lahore Resolution, and indirectly influenced the creation of Pakistan by keeping the League on its toes.
Safoora Arbab’s ‘Nonviolence, Pukhtunwali and Decolonisation’ not only elaborates the non-violent struggles of Abdul Ghaffar Khan and the Khuda’i Khidmatgar, it also underscores the hostility expressed by the Muslim League – and eventually the state of Pakistan – towards it. Aptly, the essay begins with the Qissa Khani shooting of April 23, 1930 and culminates in Babra, Charsadda where the Khuda’i Khidmatgar protestors against the Public Security Ordinance Bill were gunned down on August 12, 1948.
In ‘Islam, Communism and the Search for a Fiction,’ Ammar Ali Jan delineates the curious case of two global political ideologies overlapping, and in India’s case finding the same origin: the Khilafat Movement. The chapter prominently features Shaukat Usmani, using him as an example to narrate the contradictions inherent in the communist struggle in British India.
Sarah Ansari uses Allah Bakhsh Soomro’s persona to differentiate between Muslim nationalists and nationalist Muslims, with her essay naturally focusing on politics in Sindh before and after Partition. In prioritising the ‘less familiar’ Soomro over GM Syed, to highlight the Sindhi nationalists’ antagonism towards the League, the author also attempts to take a shot at the long-mulled question of how events might have panned out had Soomro not been killed in 1943.
Newal Osman transits into Punjab in ‘Dancing with the Enemy,’ with those on the proverbial dance floor being Sikandar Hayat Khan and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and how their contrasting wariness vis-à-vis Congress rule in the centre, resulted in divergent visions for Pakistan. The essay argues that the Sikander-Jinnah Pact, instead of providing the safeguards that the Unionist leader was looking for, gave the League the impetus for the movement on a platter, with Sikander Hayat becoming an unwilling author of the Pakistan Resolution, which turned out to be nothing like the one he had suggested.
Neilesh Bose takes us into Bengal in ‘Religion between Region and Nation’ with the story of Rezaul Karim, who in his lifetime saw his turf as part of British India, then Pakistan, and eventually it was carved out as a separate Bangladesh state. Karim was a critic of European style nationalism and argued that Indian Muslims manifested a composite nationalism, which was an amalgamation of cultural, regional and religious factors.
In ‘The Pakistan that is Going to be Sunnistan’, Justin Jones encapsulates the concerns of the Shia leadership vis-à-vis the Muslim League ending up creating a Sunni-dominated state, even though Jinnah himself – along with other prominent League leaders – was a Shia. The Shi’a Political Conference created a sub-movement to safeguard the rights of Shias, as the League strived to do the same on behalf of the Indian Muslims, without creating too wide a divide between the two.
Abdul Majeed wraps up the book with ‘The Baluch Qaum of Qalat State’ and the accession of the princely state of Kalat to Pakistan. How this merger was completed continues to be a point of conjecture among the academics, with the Pakistani state being accused of annexing what is now the volatile province of Balochistan.