A Peek into the Past

Southasia - - CONTENTS - Re­viewed by Dr. Omar Khan

De­spite the pas­sage of over 60 years, the par­ti­tion of the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent still holds quite a few unan­swered ques­tions. The events that led to par­ti­tion, the strug­gle, its aftermath and the shape of events that fol­lowed in both In­dia and Pak­istan af­ter par­ti­tion have been a part of a never-end­ing, but in­ter­est­ing, de­bate.

One ma­jor as­pect of any dis­cus­sion on the par­ti­tion has its ba­sis in the dec­la­ra­tion that the two sep­a­rate reli­gions, the Hin­dus and the Mus­lims, re­quired two sep­a­rate home­lands in or­der to progress be­yond their post­colo­nial des­tinies.

But, as al­ways, there are a few ba­sic sets of ques­tions that have al­ways in­trigued stu­dents, re­searchers, his­to­ri­ans and read­ers in gen­eral. Some of these ques­tions are: what was the na­ture of re­la­tions be­tween the two reli­gions? How did the colo­nial sys­tem af­fect them? And, most im­por­tantly, how did the de­mand for free­dom from the colo­nial pow­ers, and the for­ma­tion of a fed­er­a­tion with au­ton­o­mous states, end up as a de­mand for par­ti­tion and cre­ation of two sep­a­rate coun­tries?

The book ‘The Gen­e­sis of the Pak­istan Idea: A Study of Hin­duMus­lims Re­la­tions’ by Wal­ter Ben­nett Evans tries to an­swer some of these ques­tions.

Born in Sand­stone, Min­nesota (U.S.A.) in 1907, Evans got his Masters in His­tory from the Univer­sity of Min­nesota and taught the sub­ject at the East Los Angeles Ju­nior Col­lege. The gen­e­sis of Pak­istan was ac­tu­ally

Book Ti­tle: The Gen­e­sis of the Pak­istan Idea: A Study of Hin­duMus­lim Re­la­tions Au­thor: Wal­ter Ben­nett Evans Pub­lisher: Ox­ford Univer­sity Press Pages: 382, Hard­back Price: Rs.695 ISBN: 9780199068081

his doc­toral the­sis which served as the foun­da­tion for the afore-stated book. That is why the book has a re­search paper feel to its nar­ra­tive style and ref­er­enc­ing pat­tern. What makes the book an in­ter­est­ing read is the fact that it was writ­ten at a time when Pak­istan was still in its early stages of life af­ter in­de­pen­dence.

Evans’ nar­ra­tive takes us through the mul­ti­ple as­pects of the jour­ney that con­cluded in the par­ti­tion of the sub­con­ti­nent. He ar­gues with ex­am­ples that it was not just clear cut re­li­gious di­vi­sions within the sub­con­ti­nent that led to this de­mand. A host of other rea­sons such as dif­fer­ent cul­tures, cus­toms and so­cial or­ders within the re­gion also played an im­por­tant role. In var­i­ous chap­ters, he ex­plores Hindu-Mus­lim re­la­tions, point­ing out that even at the time of the Mughal Em­pire, when the Mus­lims ruled the sub­con­ti­nent, the lo­cal cul­tures of In­dia over­lapped with the ones that were bought over by the rulers from their coun­tries of ori­gin. All cul­tures in­flu­enced each other. Fur­ther­more, the po­lit­i­cal land­scape also played a ma­jor part in weav­ing the over­all fab­ric of so­ci­ety. The writer states that al­though both com­mu­ni­ties did co­ex­ist, there were nu­mer­ous in­stances of strife through­out the his­tory of the sub­con­ti­nent.

The early Mus­lim con­querors and rulers such as Firoze Shah im­posed re­stric­tions on the non-Mus­lims. The im­po­si­tion of jizya (a tax for nonMus­lims) was one such ex­am­ple. But later monar­chs like Sher Shah and Ak­bar demon­strated le­niency in such mat­ters and tried to form a na­tion hav­ing loy­alty to the em­pire as against loy­alty to a re­li­gion or a so­cial or­der. But, un­for­tu­nately, these ef­forts were not con­sis­tent and re­forms, rules and reg­u­la­tions were more a mat­ter of per­sonal pref­er­ences. A prime ex­am­ple of this be­hav­ior was the re­in­state­ment of the jizya by Em­peror Au­rangzeb.

Thus, it was no sur­prise then that af­ter Au­rangzeb’s death and the be­gin­ning of the down­fall of the Mughal Em­pire, the Maratha clans tried to es­tab­lish ‘Hindu’ rule. But they were un­able to do so be­cause they strug­gled against nu­mer­ous con­tenders, such as In­dian princely states as well as the French and the Bri­tish from Europe, with the lat­ter even­tu­ally form­ing an Em­pire in In­dia.

The book’s con­clud­ing chap­ter ar­gues that the Hindu pop­u­la­tion had been sub­ju­gated by the Mus­lim rulers and later by the Bri­tish. Thus, their de­sire for free­dom was quite gen­uine in view of their long his­tory of sub­ju­ga­tion. People like Ram Muhan Roy and move­ments like the Brahma Sam­raj con­vinced the Hindu pop­u­la­tion to ac­cept the tech­no­log­i­cal, ed­u­ca­tional and, to some ex­tent, the cul­tural as­pects of Bri­tish rule. The Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, on the other hand, re­mained back­wards for a longer time but was even­tu­ally geared to­wards a Mus­lim Re­nais­sance. Po­lit­i­cal fig­ures such as Sir Syed Ah­mad, Amir Ali and Iqbal played a prom­i­nent role in ini­ti­at­ing this de­sire. But the ba­sis for this was the fact that the Mus­lims had

in­deed ruled the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent for nearly 800 years. Ac­cord­ing to Evans, “The na­tion­al­ism in In­dia was plu­ral. The Hindu Re­nais­sance caused the Mus­lim Re­nais­sance.”

The au­thor touches upon the 1909 Mor­ley-Minto Re­forms that al­lowed both Hin­dus and Mus­lims sep­a­rate elec­torates and weightage. The book also high­lights the Luc­know Pact of 1916, which was con­sid­ered a pos­i­tive step by nearly all sides, as it was to serve as one of the ma­jor build­ing blocks of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the Congress and the Mus­lim League. In fact, some co­op­er­a­tion (al­though mostly ar­ti­fi­cial in later years) was wit­nessed af­ter the pact. One ex­am­ple was the Mus­lim League’s ac­cep­tance of Ma­hatma Gandhi’s Non-Co­op­er­a­tion Move­ment and the Congress’s sup­port for the Khi­lafat Move­ment.

Evans fur­ther states that both par­ties tried to curb the rife re­sult­ing from the Hindu-Mus­lim ri­ots in the 1920s and 1930s, but were not suc­cess­ful. The Nehru Re­port of 1928 de­manded ‘dom­i­na­tion sta­tus or in­de­pen­dence on the ba­sis of a strong cen­tre and joint elec­torates’. The League, on the other hand, de­manded a ‘weak cen­tre’ and sep­a­rate elec­torates, stat­ing this as a more vi­able op­tion to en­sur­ing their au­ton­omy and po­lit­i­cal free­dom.

The book also points out that the 1935 Con­sti­tu­tion (Com­mu­nal Award) was not wel­comed by all the lo­cal po­lit­i­cal forces. The provin­cial self­gov­er­nance that fol­lowed, from 1937 to 1939, fur­ther ag­gra­vated the fears of Jin­nah and the Mus­lim League about Hindu dom­i­nance. Hence­forth, these fears led to the for­mu­la­tion of the Two-Na­tion The­ory and the de­mand for Pak­istan.

Ac­cord­ing to the au­thor, in the end, the only so­lu­tion to the prob­lem was par­ti­tion. Fur­ther ex­pand­ing his ar­gu­ment, Evans also quotes the speech of Liaquat Ali Khan (Pak­istan’s first prime min­is­ter) at the United States Se­nate in May 1950: “Pak­istan was founded by the in­domitable will of a hun­dred mil­lion Mus­lims who felt they were a na­tion too nu­mer­ous and too dis­tinct to be rel­e­gated for­ever to the un­al­ter­able po­si­tion of a po­lit­i­cal mi­nor­ity, es­pe­cially when in the vast sub­con­ti­nent which was their home­land, there was enough room for two great na­tions…”

The au­thor also states that ini­tially the idea of Pak­istan was not wel­comed even in Mus­lim cir­cles. Ex­am­ples of people who op­posed the idea in­cluded Pro­fes­sor Ab­dul­lah Sar­dar as well as Mo­hammed Ali Jin­nah him­self, es­pe­cially the lat­ter, who had worked tire­lessly to unite the Hin­dus and the Mus­lims of In­dia to de­mand more au­ton­omy for their coun­try.

The book is a use­ful read, con­sid­er­ing that it prob­a­bly uti­lized limited re­sources for re­search since it was writ­ten at a very early stage in the life of Pak­istan. But it can­not serve as a sin­gle, clear-cut doc­u­ment to ex­plain ev­ery ac­tion that took place, as one has to keep in mind the scale and com­plex­ity of par­ti­tion and the im­pact it has had in the times to come.

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