South Asian Muslim politics, 1937-1958
The object of this thesis is to explain why Pakistan which Muslim nationalist historians claim was created in the name of Islam failed to sustain a democratic political system. This question is explored by examining the politics of South Asian Muslims as a continuity from the colonial to the post-partition period, focusing on the tension between centripetal and centrifugal forces. The thesis begins by investigating the factors which helped politicize Muslim identity during the inter-war years. The interplay of nationalism, constitutional reforms and common identity based on confessional faith forged political identities which determined the course of subsequent events. Dyarchy set in motion processes which the Government of India Act of 1935 reinforced,- the emergence of political solidarities based on religion and region and alienation from nationalist politics. The Congress was able to neutralize the centrifugal developments among its Hindu constituency. It was not so successful among Muslims partly due to the impact of the Reforms and partly due to the activity of Hindu revivalists in the party. Simultaneously Muslim politics was moving away from the Congress, not towards the Muslim League but to the All-India Muslim Conference, around which most Muslims had gathered in opposition to the Nehru Report. However most regional and communitarian parties were not simply antagonistic to the Congress. They rejected centralist politics as a whole. This was amply demonstrated by the 1937 election results which underlined Jinnah's irrelevance to Muslim politics. Hence Muslims were in their political loyalties divided between strong currents focused on provincial interests and weak ones emphasizing sub-continental unity, national or Muslim. This configuration, the opposition between centrifugal and centripetal forces defined the basic parameters of Muslim politics. The second chapter describes how the political divisions between Muslims was partially overcome. The 1937 elections initiated a major political shift among the Muslim regional parties and caused great unease among the urban groupings. The Muslim regional partie's feared that the Congress Party's control over provincial ministries through a centralized structure and its rejection of the federal basis of the 1935 Act, would lead to their being roped into a Hindu-dominated unitary state. To fight this threat, an alternative political focus at the all-India level came to be considered necessary for the protection of their interests. The Muslim League's revival was indirectly facilitated by the Quit India Movement which temporarily removed the Congress from the arena of open politics and by the encouragement Jinnah received from the Raj. The League was able to gradually pull Muslim groups, particularly those in the Muslim-minority provinces, into its ranks through the use of anti-Congress propaganda. But among the urban masses of UP Jinnah was eclipsed by Mashriqi until the mid-1940s when the Khaksars became a spent force. This development combined with the increasing influence of the Pakistan slogan, vague yet immensely attractive, provided the ideological cutting edge of the League's agenda for Muslim unity. The ideological hegemony allowed the League to focus the forces of community consciousness as a battering ram to breakdown the regional parties resistance. The Pakistan slogan spread from the urban areas and Muslim-minority provinces into the rural areas of the Muslim-majority provinces. But in Bengal the regionalist had taken over the party, in the Punjab Khizr continued to resist and in the NWFP and Sind the Muslim League was a peripheral influence. Hence by the mid-1940s the League was only able to achieve partial unity under the Pakistan banner. The third chapter deals with the brief moment of political unity achieved through the combined impact of mass nationalism and communal riots. After the constitutional deadlock following the breakdown of the Simla Conference the League was able to make major advances by positing a clear choice between their and the Congress's plans for India's future. Muslim nationalism now centred on the League capitalized on the political uncertainties caused by the negotiations and won over many adherents from the provincial parties. An important factor which widened the League's area of influence was the increased significance of economic nationalism. It opened channels of communication between the elites and the masses, drew in groups previously unaffected by the Muslim League and turned the agitation for Pakistan into a mass movement. These factors combined with the weakness of the Congress due to their incarceration during the war resulted in the widespread shift away from the regional parties to the Muslim League. Jinnah was able to achieve for a brief moment political unity and used this as the basis to extract the maximum constitutional concessions from the British and the Congress. However the centralization process was weak and its frailty was at the root of ideological confusion. The confusion was manifest in the changing definition of Pakistan in this crucial period. The problem was compounded by the League's lack of strong party structure to control and enforce discipline over the regional supporters. Jinnah's interventions in the provinces were the exception and not the rule and limited to disciplining local leaders. For expanding the party's influence he was completely dependent on the provincial leaders. The regionalist forces were not genuine converts to Muslim nationalism. They used the League as a stalking horse for their provincial interests. Jinnah accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan due to the strong pressures from the Muslim-majority provinces who were not interested in a separate homeland for Muslims and later he supported Suhrawardy's attempt to avoid partition of Bengal. Jinnah had to be responsive to these different currents within the party in order to avoid a revolt against his leadership. Besides the internal pressure, pro-Congress opposition was still strong in Sarhad and Sind and they used regional ethnicity as a counter against the League. However the opposition collapsed when the civil disobedience movement mounted by the League at this extremely tense moment triggered off the communal explosion which engulfed northern India and as a result the Congress accepted partition. The fourth chapter deals with the Muslim League's effort to consolidate its position in Pakistan through the construction of a strong state and the potent anti-centre backlash it produced. Pakistan came into existence through the contingent circumstances attending the transfer of power and the League's leadership was ill-prepared to establishing itself in Pakistan. The perceived threat from India and the internal opposition to the leadership convinced them that the country and they themselves could survive politically only if a strong centre was established. However the ethnic composition of the ruling group was a source of tension which bedeviled the centralizing process. The Muslim League leadership was mainly Muhajirs who had no social base in Pakistan. They along with the Punjabis also dominated the military and the bureaucracy. Hence the push for a unitary structure alienated others such as the Bengalis, who were not represented in the upper echelons of the state. The political instability was aggravated by the ruling group's efforts to establish a strong centre not on the basis of a broad consensus but through strong arm tactics. As a result internal and external opposition to the League leadership was suppressed in an authoritarian manner. Karachi used the state apparatus to crush the emerging opposition and interfered in the provinces attempting to put its supporters into power.