Who were these Muslims, from across the length and breadth of India, from Sind in the north west of the country down south to Kerala who stood clearly against the demand for a division of the country espoused through the Partition resolution of the Muslim League (1940) and voiced a clear vote for an undivided India?
Shamsul Islam and Syed Naseer Ahamed in their path breaking works bring us these narratives that challenge the imbalance in the public discourse. Muslims Against Partition (2015) by Shamsul Islam has only just been released. An earlier work The Immortals (2014) by Syed Naseer Ahamed painstakingly document these narratives; of Muslim women and men who participated in the freedom struggle and who opposed the politics of division.
The writer of the most recent book Muslims Against Partition, Shamsul Islam told CC that this was, arguably, the most important work of his life which will hopefully go a long way in dousing the hate-filled suspicions carefully fuelled by the Hindutva brigade. CC pays tribute to him and Syed Naseer Ahamed and their contribution by excerpting some sections of this important work.
Twenty-three years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a movement built on the vilification of Muslims in general and Indian Muslims in particular, the patriotism of Indian Muslims is continually questioned. Not any more by the fringe but by dominant political forces currently in positions of constitutional authority. Over the past 18 months, hate-filled comments by elected representatives and even ministers of the central government have poisoned the air, with consistent use of such hate speech. The only weapon against such systematic, Goebellian propaganda is fact, reason and perspective. This is what these excerpts add to the public discourse.
Who was Allah Baksh ?
Allah Bakhsh (Allah Bux Muhammad Umar Soomro) who rose from the grassroots among the Muslims of undivided India organised an effective and massive opposition to the nefarious designs of Muslim League in pre-Partition days. Allah Bakhsh was the Premier (those days chief minister was known by this designation) of Sind during the eventful days of ‘Quit India’ Movement of 1942 as head of the ‘Ittehad Party’ (Unity Party) which did not allow Muslim League to gain any foothold in the Muslim majority province of Sind.
Allah Baksh and his party were not part of the Indian National Congress but when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a derogatory reference to the Indian freedom struggle and the ‘Quit India’ Movement in a speech in the British Parliament, Allah Bakhsh renounced in protest all titles conferred by the British Government.
While announcing this renouncement he stated: "It is the cumulative result of the feeling that the British Government does not want to part with power. Mr. Churchill’s speech shattered all hopes.” The British administration could not digest this dissent of Allah Bakhsh and he was removed from office by the Governor, Sir Hugh Dow, on October 10, 1942. This great sacrifice of a Muslim leader for the freedom of the country remains unknown even today.
The fact is that Nathu Ram Godse, closely associated with Hindu Mahasabha, Savarkar and the RSS killed Gandhiji on January 30, 1948 is known by all.
But how many of us know that Allah Bakhsh a great fighter for the independence of a united India and prolific opponent of the idea of Pakistan who was murdered on May 14, 1943, in Sind by professional killers hired by Muslim League ? Allah Bakhsh needed to be liquidated because he was able to muster massive support of common Muslims throughout India against Pakistan. Moreover, Allah Bakhsh as a great secularist with massive support in Sind and opposed to the formation of Pakistan could prove to be the greatest stumbling block in the physical formation of Pakistan as without Sind, the ‘Islamic State’ in the west of the country just could not have materialized.
It is a well-known fact that dismissal of Allah Bakhsh government in 1942 and his murder in 1943 paved the way for entry of Muslim League in the province of Sind. One could see the brazen ganging up of the British rulers and Muslim League in political and physical liquidation of Allah Bakhsh and his kind of anti-communal politics.
Sind Muslim League leader M A Khushro was put on trial as the main conspirator in the killing of Allah Bakhsh. He was found not guilty, as the state could not produce an ‘independent’ witness to prove his involvement. Significantly, it was the same ground on which Savarkar later secured acquittal in Gandhiji’s murder case.
It should be a matter of serious inquiry why political trends like those led and represented by Allah Bakhsh among Muslims have gotten pushed into oblivion. It suited both British colonial masters and the Hindu-Muslim communalists just fine. They saw India as a land of perpetual conflicts among religions. But the Indian secular state, which has the name of Sind in its national anthem, has also been totally unmindful to this legacy which stood for a secular, united and democratic India. Allah Bakhsh spent all his life countering communal politics of Muslim League and its two-nation theory. In fact he laid down his life for this cause.
The Azad Muslims Conference of 1940
Perhaps the greatest contribution of Allah Baksh against communal and the politics behind the two-nation theory and its propagation was when he joined hands with Muslim leaders like Mohammed Ibrahim, Hifzur Rehman, MA Ansari and Ishaque Sambhali in organizing lower and backward caste Muslim organisations on one platform named as Azad Muslims’ Conference (Independent Muslims’ Conference).
It held its session in Delhi from April 27-30, 1940 with 1400 delegates from almost all parts of India attending it. The then British press which was mainly pro-Muslim League had to admit that it was the most representative gathering of Indian Muslims. This highly significant conference was presided over by Allah Baksh and passed the resolutions affirming that,
“India would have geographical and political boundaries of an indivisible whole land and, as such, was the common whole land of all the citizens irrespective of race or religion.”
The conference also resolved that Pakistan scheme was, “impracticable and harmful to the country’s interest generally, and of Muslims in particular.” The conference called upon Muslims of India, “to own equal responsibilities with other Indians for striving and making sacrifices to achieve the country’s independence.”
Muslims like Allah Baksh who opposed the Muslim League and challenged its communal politics had done their home work well. This is clear from the contents of presidential address delivered by Allah Baksh at the 1940 Delhi Conference. He advanced historical facts to counter postulations of Muslim League and invited its leadership to respond to the ideological issues raised.
But how many of us know that Allah Bakhsh a great fighter for the independence of a united India and prolific opponent of the idea of Pakistan who was murdered on May 14, 1943, in Sind by professional killers hired by Muslim League ?
He firmly and convincingly denounced the concept of a theocratic state itself.
He said that “it was based on a false understanding that India is inhabited by two nations, Hindu and Muslim. It is much more to the point to say that all Indian Mussalmans are proud to be Indian Nationals and they are equally proud that their spiritual level and creedal realm is Islam. As Indian nationals-Muslims and Hindus and others, inhabit the land and share every inch of the motherland and all its material and cultural treasures alike according to the measure of their just and fair rights and requirements as the proud sons of the soil…It is a vicious fallacy for Hindus, Muslims and other inhabitants of India to arrogate to themselves and exclusively proprietary rights over either the whole or any particular part of India. The country as an indivisible whole and as one federated and composite unit belongs to all the inhabitants of the country alike, and is as much the inalienable and imprescriptible heritage of the Indian Muslims as of other Indians. No segregated or isolated regions, but the whole of India is the homeland of all the Indian Muslims and no Hindu or Muslim or any other has the right to deprive them of one inch of this Homeland.”
He made it clear that communalism was the creation of ruling classes among Muslims and Hindus. ”These feelings and ambitions among those who hope to constitute the ruling caste among Hindus or Muslims, as successors of the present imperial rulers, revive and invent excuses for popular consumption from historical or other sources, and by securing the support of groups, manoeuvre themselves into a position to play the political chess, which promises a possible prospect of success in their aim of becoming the rulers of the masses either integrally of the entire country or of a delimited region.”
Abdul Quaiyum Khan from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) declared that his province would resist Partition of the country with its blood.
Syed Habibul Rahman member of the Krishak Praja Party in Bengal condemned the proposal as ‘absurd and meaningless.”
Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, premier of Sindh too rejected the idea of Partition
(Maulana) Abul Kalam Azad with the Indian National Congress and independent India’s first education minister as a vociferous opponent of the two nation theory
After the 1940 April 29, Conference (All India Azad Muslims), the Times of India dated April 30, 1940 wrote, “striking mobilization of moderate public opinion” in no way committed to the intransigence of the Muslim League.”
(From Road to Pakistan, The Life and Times of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, by B. R. Nanda, renowned author and historian, has been a member of the Indian Historical Records Commission, a trustee of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund and the Gandhi Memorial Society, and Chairman of the National Gandhi Museum at Delhi. The book was published by Routledge India in October 2013)
He asked Muslim Leagures, “Had the imperialistic structure of society been a guarantee of the prosperity of the Muslim masses and had empires not carried the germs of their own decay in them, then the mighty Omaiyad, Abbasid, Sarasenic, Fatimide, Sassanic, Moghal and Turkish empires would never have crumbled, leaving one-fifth of the human race, who live by Islamic faith in the condition in which they find themselves today-disinterested, and destitute in the bulk. Similarly those Hindus who entertain similar dreams, and who out of tendentiously written pages of history or out of the stimulating examples of the modern imperialists select ingredients for the nourishment of their imperial dreams, or dreams of exploitation, imposition and domination will be well advised to discard such ideals.”
He reminded both the protagonists of Hindu Rashtra and Islamic Nation that if all Muslims were one nation then why they were divided in so many countries and if all Hindus were one nation why India and Nepal were two countries.
In defence of our composite culture
Allah Bakhsh in his address also vociferously defended composite Indian culture, "When they talk of Muslim culture they forget the composite culture which the impact of Hindus and Muslims has been shaping for the last 1000 years or more and in which is born a type of culture and civilisation in India in the production of which Muslims have been proud and active partners. It cannot now merely by creating artificial states be withdrawn to segregated areas. To art and literature, architecture and music, history and philosophy and to the administrative system of India, the Mussalmans have been contributing for a thousand years, their share of coordinated, composite and syncretic culture which occupies a distinctly distinguished place in the types of civilisations which hold a prominent place in the world. It would be a disastrous loss to civilisation if it was proposed to withdraw all this to two corners of India and leave nothing behind the ruins and debris of this contribution. Such a proposal can only emanate from defeatist mentality. No, gentleman, the whole of India is our motherland and in every possible walk of life we are co-sharers with other inhabitants of the country as brothers in the same cause, viz., the freedom of the country, and no false or defeatist sentiment can possibly persuade us to give up our proud position of being the equal sons of this great country."
Allah Bakhsh, while calling upon to guard against communalism, declared that the goal of the anti-communal movement must be, "to build up a vigorous, healthy, progressive and honoured India enjoying its well-deserved freedom." These prophetic words of Allah Bakhsh hold key to the salvation of India even today.
One sided blame game
The search for the real culprits behind the Partition of India in 1947 seems to be an endless exercise. It is despite the fact that there is no dearth of writings on the Freedom Struggle against the British rule in India and specially partition of the country on the basis of religion.
Historians have rightly held the Muslim League, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, basically responsible for this unnatural and tragic Partition which became a kind of license for both Hindu and Muslim communal elements to indulge in mass butchery of innocent children, women and men.
However, there has always been a school of historiographers under the influence of Hindutva which has been spreading the canard that all Muslims in pre-Partition days supported the Muslim League’s call for Pakistan. Hindutva tries to cover up the fact that it subscribed to the two-nation theory like Muslim League and wanted to have an exclusive ”Hindu Rashtra” on the lines of ”Islamic State” of Muslim League.
Unfortunately, this kind of discourse has secured more credibility especially among the Hindu middle class with the recent upsurge of anti-minorityism led by Hindutva organizations. The crucial fact should not be missed here that Hindutva has mainly succeeded in its attempts because facts of significant contributions of those Muslim individuals and organisations that opposed Muslim League with all their resources and might remain buried even today. This criminal silence on the part of the secular state and organisations has only galvanized Hindu communalists to malign the Muslims of India.
Excerpted from the book, Muslims Against Partition, released today; published by PHAROS
(Author: Shamsul Islam taught political science at the University of Delhi. As an author, columnist and dramatist he has been writing against religious bigotry, dehumanization, totalitarianism, persecution of women, Dalits and minorities. He is known globally for fundamental research work on the rise of nationalism and its development in India and the world.)