Meeting a scholar on Pakistan, Jinnah and pre partition film music from Punjab

ishtiaq ahmed

Such a pleasure it was to hear and meet last evening Stockholm-based political scientist and history scholar Ishtiaq Ahmed. And such a versatile man, so academically sound, so articulate, he is not only an acknowledged scholar on Pakistan he has just authored a book on the contribution of pre partition Punjab to the film industry. It will be of great interest in India. The Indian film industry has already taken notice, he is speaking this evening at Subhash Ghai’s studio.

Dr Ishtiaq was at Bhupesh Gupta hall in Prabhadevi last evening at the release of a Marathi translation of Prof Shamsul Islam’s book Muslims against Partition – revisiting the legacy of Allah Baksh and other patriotic Muslims. He even sang a song towards the end but his more popular one would be the classic Meri Yaad Mey Naa Tum Asoo Bahana.

Prof Ahmed , an acknowledged authority on partition, has conclusively demolished the fashionable thesis, or more accurately, impression, held in Pakistan, partly based on the historian Ayesha Jalal’s work, that Jinnah was not responsible for Partition, as Frontline pointed out in a review.. Jalal has argued that Jinnah sought a fair power-sharing arrangement with the Congress whose rejection of his demand resulted in Partition. In short, the Congress is responsible for Partition.

Prof Ishtiaq produces solid evidence to suggest that Jinnah was mainly responsible for the partition and there is little reason to believe that towards the end he had tended towards secularism and tolerance. In words, yes, but not in action.

Mr Shamsul Islam also blamed Hindu nationalists for advancing the two nation theory, some did this even before the birth of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha.

Dr Ram Puniyani, consistent campaigner for secularism and democracy, praised Mr Shamsul Islam for his deep study with primary sources and research.

The book is published by Lok Vangmay Griha, a leading publishing house now celebrating its golden jubilee. The translation is by Hira Janardan. Mr Sukumar Damle welcomed the guest on behalf of Lok Vangmay.

Joining the discussion were Hussain Dalwai, former Congress M.P., Sunil Dighe, noted civil liberties activist, lawyer and author on law, Pheroze Mithiborwala, Sandhya Mhatre, Irfan Engineer, director of the Centre for study of society and Neha Dabhade, deputy director One must thank Pravin Nadkar for taking the lead in getting the book translated and organising the evening and Sujeet Bhatt who has known the author for long…

The need to take cognisance of Muslim fundamentalism was also pointed out by some participants.
As a backgrounder, this needs to be pointed out.Dr Ahmed has said that North India’s Persian- and Urdu-speaking aristocracy and literati, known as the Ashraafia or noble-born of putative foreign ancestors, was overly represented in the Mughal Empire and princely states ruled by nawabs. They were employed as military commanders, advisers and custodians of Islam and experts of Islamic law, the sharia and in various state services. After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the Mughal Empire was beset with irreversible decline and decay. Inevitably the Ashrafia suffered loss of power causing considerable consternation and anxiety amongst them.

The majority population of India had remained Hindu despite centuries of Muslim rule, while the more numerous Muslim converts from modest backgrounds were looked down upon by the Ashraafia. With the British becoming the paramount power in India and upper castes Hindus becoming the harbingers of nascent nationalism, the fears of the Ashraafia increased that with the advent of elections and democracy, their privileges would become increasingly untenable.

Famously Sir Syed Ahmed Khan advised the angst-ridden Ashraafia to align themselves with the British against the Indian National Congress, although the Congress from the onset was an open, secular party which only in the 1920s radicalised and became a mass party. Those wedded to such a strategy were to become the vanguard of Muslim separatism, which from the late 1930s, rapidly became a movement for the Partition of India to create Pakistan in the north-western and north-eastern zones of India.

Among the literati, the ulema of the Sunni majority were divided on a sub-sectarian basis. Among Deobandis a majority organised in the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind decided to hitch their future to the freedom movement of the Congress Party on the grounds that as a secular party it would keep India and the Muslims united. However, a minority aligned itself with the All-India Muslim League. The much larger Barelvi ulema initially remained quietist shunning politics but were later to become the vehicles for the Muslim League’s electoral campaign of 1945-46 for Pakistan and their support was crucial for the Muslim League’s great electoral victory. For them, Pakistan would mean the resuscitation of Islamic glory and power.

In this background we shall look at the objections to the demand for Pakistan by two leading scholars of Islam. Both were convinced that the Muslim League was dominated by Muslims who had never opposed British power in India, and that the British were using the Muslim League to oppose the freedom struggle being spearheaded by the Congress Party.

The theoretical Islamic basis for opposing Pakistan was set forth by both Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was the most famous Muslim leader of the Congress Party; as well as by Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, the head of the Deoband seminary and president of the Jamiyat Ulem-e-Hind.

We first take up Madani’s standpoint and predictions and then the more detailed thesis which Azad advanced against Pakistan. Madani had propounded the theory of wataniyyat (common homeland) and muttahida qaumiyat (composite nationalism), in which all Indians, including Hindus and Muslims, would be equal partners. The only proviso was that Muslim personal law would continue to apply to Muslims. The Congress had in 1931 agreed to the demand for Muslim personal law to remain operational in free India.

He further made the interesting argument that even if Muslims were to establish an Islamic state, such a state would be authoritarian because of bitter sectarian differences prevalent among Indian Muslims. He presciently observed any attempt to impose Islam in a purely Muslim majority state – given the deep controversies of doctrines and beliefs – would require the use of force and generate intra-Muslim conflicts and would thus be a tyranny. Madani therefore favoured a secular state which would retain the unity of India as well as of Muslims.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist, culture critic and author of a book on public transport


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