A Page from His­tory

Southasia - - CONTENTS - The writer is the Chair­per­son of the Depart­ment of His­tory, For­man Chris­tian Col­lege, La­hore.

It may come as a sur­prise that be­fore the book ‘A His­tory of the All In­dia Mus­lim League, 1906-1947,’ there ex­isted no nar­ra­tive his­tory of the All In­dia Mus­lim League – the party which led the move­ment for the cre­ation of Pak­istan. One of the rea­sons why such an at­tempt was never made was the fact that the real credit for the cre­ation of Pak­istan was solely given to Mo­ham­mad Ali Jin­nah, the leader of the Mus­lim League. In that nar­ra­tive, the party only played a small role – Jin­nah was con­sid­ered the party and the party Jin­nah. Also, as is com­mon in Pak­istan, per­haps no one tried to in­ves­ti­gate the his­tory of the Mus­lim League be­cause such an en­deavor would have ex­posed the weak­nesses and fac­tion­al­ism in the party. This would have pre­sented the League in a bad light when com­pared to the bet­ter or­ga­nized and more pop­u­lar Congress. There­fore, it is com­mend­able that Pro­fes­sor Rafique Afzal took the ini­tia­tive in the form of a well-re­searched and thor­ough his­tory of the All In­dia Mus­lim League from its in­cep­tion to the cre­ation of Pak­istan.

The book is di­vided into 12 chap­ters and three parts. The first chap­ter fo­cuses on the for­ma­tion and early years of the party. In this chap­ter, Pro­fes­sor Afzal clearly notes the elit­ist na­ture of the League. He writes, “It (the party) re­stricted mem­ber­ship ex­clu­sively to the Mus­lim elite… by charg­ing pro­hib­i­tive reg­is­tra­tion/ ad­mis­sion and an­nual fees. At the Karachi an­nual ses­sion, it was de­cided that ev­ery mem­ber should pay a non- re­fund­able reg­is­tra­tions fee of Rs.50 and an an­nual fee of Rs.25…” An­other con­di­tion was that a can­di­date must have an in­come of at least Rs.500 per month.

These stip­u­la­tions clearly made the League the pre­server of the in­ter­ests of the up­per ech­e­lon of the Mus­lims. The ac­tiv­i­ties of the party in its early years clearly re­flected this trend. Prof. Afzal also points out how hard it was to es­tab­lish the provin­cial branches of the League since fac­tion­al­ism had be­gun to emerge right from its in­cep­tion. In the chap­ter on the League’s or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture, it is no­tice­able that the party’s mem­ber­ship was quite medi­ocre in its ini­tial few decades. By De­cem­ber 1927, just about 1330 people had be­come mem­bers of the League and even among those, only a very small frac­tion ever paid their dues (pg 31).

One won­ders how then the League gained the sta­tus of a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal party in In­dia when it mem­ber­ship base was so minis­cule. It also raises the ques­tion as to why the Congress – which had a much larger mem­ber­ship by the 1920s – and the Bri­tish In­dian govern­ment even took the League se­ri­ously when it had hardly any mem­bers.

Chap­ter three and four cover the pe­riod leading up to the 1935 Govern­ment of In­dia Act and pri­mar­ily chart the as­cen­dency of Jin­nah as the pre­em­i­nent leader of the Mus­lim League. These chap­ters show how the Mus­lim League tried to work with the Congress ini­tially through the fa­mous Luc­know Pact of 1916 and then later, how the Cen­tral Khi­lafat Com­mit­tee over­shad­owed and al­most pushed the League into obliv­ion. Chap­ter four clearly shows the ex­tremely weak na­ture of the League dur­ing 1922-34, es­pe­cially in 1922 when the sit­u­a­tion be­came so dire that the League could not hold a ses­sion and even its coun­cil met only twice.

Once, when the coun­cil meet­ing was called, “only two mem­bers turned up” ( pg 160). Fur­ther, the League’s fi­nances were such that “the party could not fully re­cover from its recurring fi­nan­cial crises till af­ter 1935” (pg 160). The au­thor also shows how the League was again split into a num­ber of fac­tions, in­clud­ing a Shafi League and a Jin­nah League. He writes, “No­body thought of or­ga­niz­ing the League par­ties in the leg­is­la­ture till the late 1930s,” (pg 164). There­fore, most Mus­lims set up other ad hoc par­ties in the leg­is­la­ture – a move that weak­ened the Mus­lim League even fur­ther.

Part two of the book – chap­ters 5 to 8 – fo­cuses on the cru­cial pe­riod be­tween 1935 and 1940 when the Mus­lim League com­pletely falls apart, then re­or­ga­nizes it­self and be­gins to be­come a mass party with the de­mand for Pak­istan. Even though Jin­nah was back at the helm by the time of the provin­cial elec­tions, Prof. Afzal notes that “his mis­sion was prac­ti­cally that of an in­di­vid­ual, the All-In­dia Mus­lim League and it branches had vir­tu­ally no func­tional or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture in any prov­ince,” (pg 207). The re­sult of the 1937 provin­cial elec­tions clearly

ex­hib­ited the League’s weak­ness as it won only 110 out of the nearly 500 Mus­lim seats (pg 219).

This fail­ure prompted Jin­nah to or­ga­nize the League. He be­gan to forge al­liances with the lo­cal Mus­lim lead­ers in all prov­inces, con­vinc­ing them to come un­der the League’s um­brella. The so-called Jin­nah-Sikan­dar Pact in the Pun­jab which en­sured co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the Union­ists and the League was one such re­sult. Dur­ing this time, the League also searched for a ‘goal’ which it even­tu­ally found in the La­hore Res­o­lu­tion of 1940. It was the slo­gan of Pak­istan – which was still vague – which brought dis­parate mem­bers of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity un­der the um­brella of the League dur­ing these cru­cial years. How­ever, even while a large num­ber of Mus­lim lead­ers flocked to the Mus­lim League dur­ing this pe­riod, lo­cal-level fac­tion­al­ism re­mained rife and threat­ened to wreck the party. It was the lead­er­ship of Jin­nah which kept the party to­gether.

The third sec­tion of the book fo­cuses on the pe­riod be­tween 19401947. In this sec­tion, the au­thor metic­u­lously charts the rise of the League as a po­lit­i­cal party. In pass­ing, but still sig­nif­i­cantly, Pro­fes­sor Afzal notes the im­por­tance of the ulema who sup­ported the League in the 1946 elec­tions. He states: “The Mus­lim League for­mally sought the as­sis­tance of ulema and mashaik in the gen­eral elec­tions” (pg 588). He also gives an ex­am­ple where “…an 80-year old man who was threat­ened by the za­il­dar to vote for a Union­ist can­di­date re­fused to sub­mit, say­ing that if he voted against the League, his iman (faith) would be in dan­ger” (pg 594). This in­ci­dent clearly shows how re­li­gion was now of­fi­cially in­fused in the League’s cam­paign and how the de­mand for a sep­a­rate Mus­lim home­land, based on the no­tion of Mus­lims as a sep­a­rate ‘na­tion,’ had now trans­formed into a de­mand for a re­li­giously in­spired home­land. In chap­ter 11, Pro­fes­sor Afzal ar­gues that the main rea­son why Jin­nah ac­cepted the Cab­i­net Mis­sion Plan was be­cause it “con­ceded the sub­stance of Pak­istan” and pro­vided “ma­chin­ery for achiev­ing a fully sov­er­eign Mus­lim state in ten years” (pg 632). The later story of the re­jec­tion of the Cab­i­net Mis­sion Plan, the Di­rect Ac­tion Day, the in­terim govern­ment and the fi­nal ne­go­ti­a­tions dur­ing the viceroy­alty of Lord Mount­bat­ten are well known.

This book is a very sig­nif­i­cant and use­ful con­tri­bu­tion to schol­ar­ship and will be­come the ba­sic text on the Mus­lim League. How­ever, its overly long nar­ra­tive at times be­comes its ma­jor draw­back. At cer­tain places, there is too much text with lit­tle anal­y­sis. Also, there is no ref­er­ence at all to a num­ber of very im­por­tant works which re­late to the Mus­lim League. An en­gage­ment with the ar­gu­ments of other schol­ars would have cer­tainly given more depth to the book. That said, the work will hope­fully en­cour­age other writ­ers to do fur­ther re­search on the Mus­lim League as a po­lit­i­cal party and its im­pact on the pol­i­tics in Bri­tish In­dia and post-in­de­pen­dence In­dia and Pak­istan.

Re­viewed by Yaqoob Khan Ban­gash

Book Ti­tle: A His­tory of the All-In­dia Mus­lim League 1906–1947 Au­thor: M. Rafique Afzal Pub­lisher: Ox­ford Univer­sity Press Pages: 781, Hard­back Price: Rs.1,595 ISBN: 9780199067350

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