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At the centre of Muslim "grievances" against the Congress in the late 1930s was its denial of Muslims as a religio-political entity. Its repudiation of Muslim identity was the most critical factor in determining the course of Muslim politics during 1937-40.

Indeed, all of the Congress policies and pronouncements during this period stemmed from its basic plank that India, instead of being multi-cultured and multi-national, was uni-cultured and uni-national. This plank, it may be argued, was not new to Congress's thinking; it had been expounded from time to time. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it was never spelled out in such explicit terms and with such vehemence as was done by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), the Congress President (1936-38). In the ultimate analysis, this repudiation of Muslim identity led to the alienation of Muslims, of their most representative organisation, the Muslim League, and of its President, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), and, in consequence, to the adoption of the Pakistan Resolution at Lahore on March 23, 1940.

The passage of the Resolution meant that Muslim India, after several detours and a series of agonising reappraisals, had finally come to the realisation which Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had posed in his query over half a century ago. If the two nations could not "sit on the same throne and remain in equal power" and if, as the Congress's precipitate moves and policies during 1937-39 implied, to quote Penderal Moon, "there would be no room on the throne of India save for Congress and Congress's stooges", the Muslims would have to set up a throne unto themselves in the Pakistan platform. If they could not share power in a one-unit polity for the whole of India, they would carve out a new polity in their majority areas where they could have power to themselves.

But for the Muslims to come to this realisation and to chart out this new destiny, they had to pass through a traumatic period in which their identity was in serious jeopardy. As Sikandar Hayat Khan, the Punjab Premier, had put it, ". . . the political trend in the country has confronted the 90 million Mussalmans of India with one vital question. Are we content to lose our identity and to be relegated to the position of political pariahs; or do we want to live in this country as a free and self-respecting people? There could be only one reply to this question from the Mussalmans, consistent with the tradition of Islam and their history . . ." Thus the denial of Muslim identity at Congress' hands and its drive towards transforming India into an uni-national and uni-cultured unit served as the most critical variable, goading Muslim India inexorably towards a Pakistan destiny.

The Congress's response to the Pakistan demand came at two levels: official and non-official. Since the official response took some two years to come, the non-official response which came within weeks came to dominate the Congress's rhetoric on Pakistan and overshadow the official response. At the non-official, but popular, level, the Congress leaders found fault with the Pakistan demand on various counts. India, they claimed, was a single geographical and cultural unit, fashioned by nature and history; by the same token, the Indians, irrespective of race, religion, colour, and caste, were a single united nation, an echo of Azad's Ramgarh thesis. The Indian Muslims, a "vast majority" of whom were "converts to Islam' or were "descendants of converts", asserted Gandhi, could not claim to be "a nation apart from the parent stock", nor did "they . . . become a separate nation as soon as they became converts.". Therefore, to Nehru, the entire concept of Muslim nationhood was "mediaeval"; it was also "meaningless and absurd". Moreover, the partition scheme was "fantastic in the extreme"; it exhibited "a strange ignorance of Indian history and of India's culture, as well as of present conditions in India and the world"; above all, it was "a foolish scheme which will not even last twenty four hours". The Pakistan demand was not only based on hatred; it was "highly anti-national and pro-imperialist", designed to obstruct India's march to freedom. Hence, "We will . . . oppose the partition scheme, . . . our goal is clear and we will march on our path. [Hence] a struggle is inevitable now."

In these words did Nehru set the tone for the mounting Congress's tirade against Pakistan for the next seven years. Typical of this tirade and the Congress's implacable hostility was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's (1875-1950) speech at Ahmedabad on January 15, 1946. Referring to the League's "Victory Day" celebrations on January 11, 1946, to mark its success in the central elections, the "Iron Dictator" warned, "The Muslim League has captured all the Muslim seats . . . . But Pakistan cannot be achieved in this manner. If Pakistan is to be achieved, Hindus and Muslims will have to fight. There will be civil war."

In contrast to this emotional and aggressive posture, Mahatma Gandhi's (1869-1948) response was more subtle and sophisticated; it was a strange mixture of arguments, some rational while others bizarre. At times he also talked of civil war, of a "war to the knife", and of not conceding Pakistan "even if the whole of India burns . . . , even if the Muslims demanded it at the point of the sword". On other occasions, he argued that: "If the vast majority of Muslims regard themselves as a separate nation having nothing in common with the Hindus and others, no power on earth can compel them to think otherwise. And if they want to partition India on that basis, they must have the partition, unless Hindus want to fight against such a division. So far as I can see, such a preparation is silently going on behalf of both parties. That way lies suicide.

Interestingly, of all the Congress's responses to the Pakistan Resolution, Gandhiji's was the first, the most significant and also the most weighty. Equally important, in its essentials, it forestalled the official Congress's response by some two years.

In any case, the Congress's resolutions of April 11 and May 2, 1942 (Jagat Narayan Lal resolution) formed the base for all its subsequent pronouncements on the Pakistan demand. Thus, a combination of the two somewhat divergent viewpoints was presented in the Working Committee's resolution of September 12-18, 1945 and its election manifesto of December 7-11, 1945. In essence, these two documents represented studied Congress's response to the three Muslim League's demands embodied in the Lahore Resolution and Quaid-i-Azam's 1940 address. These demands were: (i) the recognition of Muslims as a nation by themselves, separate and distinct from the Hindus, or the rest of the population; (ii) the grouping together of six existing provinces, almost in their entirety, in the proposed Muslim state; and (iii) the creation of two completely independent sovereign states.

In contrast, the Congress's stance was that they would consider conceding the Muslim League's demand for Pakistan, provided (i) a common centre was maintained, (ii) the territorial unit or part thereof expressed itself for secession through its "declared and established will"; and (iii) the non-Muslim majority areas in Assam, Bengal and the Punjab were not to be compelled to join Pakistan.

The Rajaji formula (1944) put forward similar conditions for a settlement between the Congress and Muslim League. It stipulated, among others, the following: (i) "a plebiscite of all the inhabitants held on the basis of adult franchise or other practicable franchise" in "contiguous districts in the north-west and east of India wherein the Muslim population is in absolute majority . . . shall ultimately decide the issue of separation from Hindustan"; (ii) border districts to be given "the right . . . to choose to join either state"; (iii) "mutual agreements . . . for safeguarding defence, and commerce and communications and for other essential purposes"; and (iv) these terms would be binding after complete transfer of power to Indian hands.

The formula which had the blessing of Gandhi became the basis of his marathon talks with Jinnah in September 1944. Jinnah's counter-terms were: (i) plebiscite of only the Muslims in the Pakistan areas since they demanded Pakistan on the premise that they constituted a nation by themselves, and were entitled to the right of self-determination; (ii) the six existing provinces, with minor alternations, to form the new state; (iii) it should be sovereign; and (iv) the division must precede, and not follow the transfer of power to Indian hands.

The most basic condition stipulated in Gandhi's pronouncements, the Congress resolutions and the C.R. formula was that the "declared and established will" of the predominantly Muslim regions claimed for Pakistan should express itself in favour of separation. The Congress's strategy from April 1940 onwards was, therefore, designed to thwart the "declared and established will" of these regions against separation.

Initially Gandhi had talked of "ascertaining the mind of the eight crores of Muslims" "by a referendum made to them duly on that clear issue" of Pakistan. By 1944, it was clear to the Congress leadership, as to all observers of the Indian scene, how far afield had Jinnah's influence extended. Between January 1, 1938 and September 12, 1942, the League had won 46 (82%) out of 56 Muslim seats, Congress three (about 5%) and independents seven (about 13%). This in part, explains the shift from a plebiscite of Muslims to a plebiscite of all inhabitants in the Rajaji Formula and Gandhi-Jinnah talks.

In view of this new stance, the Congress devised a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, it should denounce the Pakistan scheme as being "anti-national", "imperialist-inspired", a stumbling block on the nation's march to freedom, and moreover, as holding out the grim prospects of balkanisation of India. Appeals couched in such terms were directed towards non-Muslims, and the Congress leaders, publicists and organs, besides the Hindu Mahasabha, the various Sikh bodies, the All-India Liberal Federation and other organisations, mounted and carried on an unrelenting campaign against the Pakistan scheme. An Akhand Hindustan Front was launched by K. M. Munshi, former Congress minister in Bombay, after a two-day consultation with Gandhi in 1941, specifically to mobilise public opinion in favour of a united India. This Front held conferences periodically more particularly in north-west India, and provided ballast to anti-partition forces.

On the other hand, the Congress should also mobilise public opinion among Muslims, particularly of the Pakistan areas. The appeal in their case should be couched in terms of Muslim interests, both long-term and immediate. The Pakistan scheme should be denounced as being detrimental to their vital interests. Such an appeal could strike a chord in the target audience if made through their own co-religionists, especially their religious leaders who had always been held in high esteem. Even otherwise, since the Muslims were already alienated, the Congress could not approach them directly. Hence it should do it through its client Muslim parties which, in any case, were in a more commanding position to question the Muslim League's bonafides, its claim of promoting Muslim interests, and Jinnah's credentials to lead Muslims, and to denounce the Pakistan scheme. These Muslim parties should, thus, "unmask" the Muslim League's and its leadership; they should, thus, explode the "myth" of its being the sole representative organisation of Muslim India.

All this, however, came to no avail. For, despite Congress's manouverings and machinations, the "established and declared will" of the Muslims was finally and squarely indicated at the hustings in the General Elections of 1945-46. The Muslim League had won 457 out of 523 Muslim seats at the centre and in the provinces (ie, about 87.5%), and polled some 4.7 million (about 80%) in the contested constituencies. This meant that an overwhelming majority of Muslim's stood for and by Pakistan.

The Congress invoked the HMG's December 6 Statement to put in the claim that "any province or part of the province which accepts the constitution" (framed by the Indian Constituent Assembly) "and desires to join the Union cannot be prevented from doing so". This meant bifurcation of the Punjab and Bengal, and the exclusion of Assam except for the predominantly Muslim Sylhet from the Pakistan areas. And the Muslims had to acquiesce in willy nilly, on the same principle on which they had refused to accept the decisions of the Indian Constituent Assembly.

The demand for some sort of a centre was finally abandoned by the Congress itself in the context of the bitter Interim Government experience (1946-47). It seemed utterly impractical and unfeasible if the Congress leadership were to ensure unfettered power for itself.

Thus, contrary to the popular Pakistani historiography, it may be seen that if only because of its dominant position in India's body politic, the Congress continued to call the shots and keep the initiative in its hands till the last.

(The writer, HEC Distinguished National Professor, has recently co-edited Unesco's History of Humanity, vol. VI, and The Jinnah Anthology (2010) and edited In Quest of Jinnah (2007), the only oral history on Pakistan's founding father.)

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