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Islam and Politics ( 25 Oct 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islamic Rhetoric in Pakistan – I by Hamza Alavi


There is a pervasive belief, held more widely outside Pakistan than in the country itself, that Pakistan like Israel and Iran, is one of three confessional states in the world; that, like Israel, Pakistan's very origin was to fulfil a religious ideal, to create an Islamic state and Islamic society for Muslims of India. Within Pakistan itself that slogan was proclaimed most stridently by the Jamaat-e-Islami, a fundamentalist extreme right wing party, which was aided and abetted by politically bankrupt regimes such as that of Gen. Zia which hoped, by exploiting the good name of Islam, to gain some spurious political legitimacy.

Quite apart from the fact that the Jamaat-e-Islami never succeeded in gaining mass public support, a fact that was confirmed by the fact that it was routed totally even in the few seats that it chose to contest in successive elections, its fortunes have languished even further since the sudden death of Gen. Zia, its great benefactor. What much is more to the point in the present context is the time-serving quality of the Jamaat-e-Islami's political ideology and that party's demonstrated capacity to turn it upside down, when circumstances made that more expedient. Before Pakistan was created, the Jamaat-e-Islami's ideological stance was exactly the opposite of what it now claims. Then the Jamaat had vigorously opposed the Pakistan movement and denounced its leadership. Once Pakistan was created it decided to stand on its head and for the nearly half a century since the Partition it has masqueraded as the principal thekedar, the authoritative steward, of the so-called 'Pakistan Ideology' , an undefinable conception which it has used as a weapon with which to berate and beat down every political opponent. But behind that present image lies the truth of the fact that this was an overnight politically opportunistic conversion of faith, So much for consistency and intellectual honesty.

This is but only one of many facets of a cascade of major contradictions that underlie any suggestion that the creation of Pakistan was the result of a struggle by Muslims of India to create an 'Islamic State'. We have to face up to the glaring fact that the Pakistan movement was vigorously opposed by virtually the entire Muslim religious establishment in India. The Jamaat-e-Islami itself was then of little consequence, for before the Partition it was a small and insignificant band of religious zealots. Far more significant was the opposition by the major authoritative Muslim religious bodies in India such as the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, the principal organisation of Sunni Ulema. It was only on the eve of Independence that Liaquat Ali Khan was able to win over a section of that great body who were to find their new fortunes in the new State of Pakistan. At another level, in terms of popular Islamic religious movements was the fanatical Majlis-i-Ahrar. A powerful populist movement of lower middle class and poor urban Muslims, mainly of the Punjab, the Majlis-i-Ahrar was implacably anti-colonialist and equally hostile to the Pakistan movement whose leaders they denounced as stooges of the British imperialists. After the Partition, Majlis-i-Ahrar ceased to be a political party and degenerated into a tiny extremely bigoted and fanatic religious sect.

This universal opposition of virtually every significant religious group in Undivided India, indeed the entire Muslim religious establishment to the Pakistan movement and the Muslim League cannot be reconciled with any idea of religious origins of Pakistan. This is just one of many paradoxes that anyone who thinks of that the true reason for the creation of Pakistan was to establish a religious 'Islamic state', must unravel.

Our people are ignorant about these facts because there has been a systematic campaign of disinformation over more than four decades. It reached its peak under General Zia. In a recent work, entitled 'The Murder of History in Pakistan'. 1A the distinguished historian, K.K. Aziz has shown how thoroughly distorted is the presentation of our own past through the re-writing of history is in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan are entitled to know the truth. The motives of the state authorities in instigating and promoting this project of systematic disinformation need to be examined and understood.

Here we have yet another paradox. The men of power in Pakistan, the bureaucrats, military leaders and politicians generally, all in truth have an essentially secular intellectual make up and few are devout practitioners of their religion. In their hands Islam has been made into just a political slogan, a mask that feel they must wear when facing the public. They mistakenly feel that they need this for the legitimization of power in the eyes of the masses. Because having nothing to offer to the common people by way of improving their material conditions of life and labouring under the illusion that the mass of the people are and unthinking fanatical lot who will be carried away by their insincere slogans, they wrongly believe that they can mobilise their support by resort to religious slogans. The results of successive elections have proved them wrong. But the falsification of Pakistan's history continues, driven by the unthinking political calculations of the state authorities who organise the production and dissemination of distorted propagandist accounts of our history through the commissioning of 'approved' textbooks, controlled by a bureaucratic 'Textbook Board'. Schools and colleges in Pakistan are required to disseminate such falsified accounts of the past to their students. As a consequence of this, after nearly half a century since the Partition, we have generations of Pakistanis who have no idea whatever of the reality of our history. All they know is the fiction that is relayed to them through the state controlled educational system and the media.

What then was Pakistan movement all about, if it was not a religious movement for creating an 'Islamic State' ? The answer, in a nutshell, could be that the Pakistan movement was a movement of Muslims i.e. an ethnic movement, rather than a movement of 'Islam' i.e. a religious movement. Even that formulation needs to be qualified, for the Pakistan movement, paradoxically, failed (until the very eve of the Partition) to draw any substantial support in the Muslim majority provinces which were later to constitute the State of Pakistan.The solid base of support for the Muslim League (for most of its history i.e. until 1946, as well shall examine) lay in the Muslim minority Provinces of India, notably The UP and Bihar. The Muslim League was founded in 1906. It was not Mr. Jinnah who founded it. He was, rather, a leading figure of the Indian National Congress. It was in 1913 that he was invited by the Lucknow based Muslim Leaguers, led by Wazir Hassan, to join them. Their motive in asking him is quite interesting. They asked him because of the enormous standing and prestige that Mr Jinnah had in the Congress with which the League leadership had decided to build closer links. It was later that Mr. Jinnah reassessed the situation and recognised the value of an organised Muslim constituency and a role for himself as their spokesman, though that was for a long time with him still within the Indian National Congress of which he remained an active an influential member.

For nearly four decades the Muslim League failed to make any significant impact in the Muslim majority areas which were dominated by feudal landed magnates (indeed by a coalition of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh landlords). The main political support of the Muslim League, it will be argued here, derived mainly from the job-seeking educated urban middle classes and professionals (whom we have designated as the ' salariat', although at one stage the Muslim landed magnates of the UP, fearful of radical politics that were developing within the Congress with its commitment to land reform, decided to back the Muslim League as a political counter to the Congress but without fully understanding where the Muslim League politics would ultimately take them.

In the 1920s, following the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, Hindu and Muslim landlords were allied under the 'Agriculturist Party' (similar to the Unionist Party of the Punjab). It was the coming of the Government of India Act, 1935 that changed the political equation and with the parallel radicalisation of the Congress with its commitment to land reform, the landed magnates in the UP looked for other options. They decided to join communal organisations, the Hindu Mahasabha, or the All India Muslim Conference or the Muslim League. Behind the rivalry of the Muslim Conference and the Muslim League lay the rival ambitions of Sir Fazl-i-Hussain, who set up the Muslim Conference, to displace Mr. Jinnah as the legitimate spokesman of the Muslims of India. Though the loyalties of the landed magnates were thus much divided, the Muslim 'salariat' stood solidly with the Muslim League.

How did this organisation of a minority of Muslims of India suddenly become successful in founding a new State ? For an answer to that question we must examine rather closely developments that took place in the later war years, the changing hopes and fears of various classes of people, not least the landed magnates, as the prospects of Independence appeared over the horizon. The year 1946 was the decisive when the destiny of the Muslim League was finally settled. That year was a true turning point. Forces based in the Muslim majority provinces that had so far opposed the Muslim League, suddenly changed their colours and turned completely round. It might appear, on the face of it, that they now chose to follow Mr Jinnah and the Muslim League into Independence. The truth of the matter was the new converts, the feudal lords, did not just join the Muslim league. In reality they took it over. We have to examine the implications of this for the fate of Pakistan that was newly created, its founding father a dying man.

What do we mean when we say that the Pakistan movement was at its weakest in all the Muslim majority provinces of India. Take the situation in the Punjab. There the dominant ruling Party was a secular alliance of landed magnates, Muslims, Hindu and Sikh together, in the shape of the Unionist Party. The Unionist Party was a political alliance of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh landowners. Its founder and famous leader was Sir Fazli Hussain, a Muslim. But Sir Fazli Hussain's right hand man was Sir Chhotu Ram, a great Hindu landowner. The third main figure in that ruling triumvirate Sir Sundar Singh Majithia, the leader of Sikh landed interests.

The Muslim League in the Punjab did have some famous figures associated with it, notably Mohammad Iqbal. These were mainly urban professionals, and members of the 'salariat' (see page 6 ff.), the educated classes that look to access to government jobs for their upward advancement. But, as a group they were merely a handful and weak and ineffective. in the political arena. They were patronised by Sir Fazli Husain who at the same time despised them. That Party remained the unchallenged ruling Party in the Punjab until the eve of the Partition, with a only a few defections to the Muslim League; but such defections increased rapidly as the prospects of Independence drew over the horizon. The politically more astute and, in terms of recognition of their class interests, far sighted landlords such as Mumtaz Daulatana and Nawab Mamdot, saw the need to change horses earlier than many others. Ultimately, by that fateful year 1946, most of them accepted the change of tactics to preserve the long term interests of their class by joining the Muslim League and taking over the new state of Pakistan, which was to be the guarantee of their survival as a landlord class which was threatened by the Congress commitment to land reform.

Likewise in Sindh, the provincial government were in the hands of changing coalitions of Muslim and Hindu landlords working together, their social background being much the same that of the Unionists in the Punjab. In the Sarhad (NWFP), there was in fact a Congress Government in power until mass arrests of all Congressmen during the war, which temporarily gave some room for groups of Khan's to play politics for a while, manipulated by the British Governor, Sir George Cunningham. In Bengal, there was a more radical coalition of Muslim and Hindus in power, under the banner of the secular Krishak Proja Party, in which all religious communities stood together. Led by A.K. Fazlul Haq, their main demand that united them was for abolition of Zamindari. Not surprisingly Zamindars of Bengal both Hindu and Muslim, were lined up together against them, even if they belonged to different Parties. These included Nawab Salimullah of Dacca whose name is associated with the founding of the Muslim League. It would be a mistake to read too much into that for soon after its founding conference the leadership of the League passed into the hands of the urban professionals and the salariat, mainly of the UP and Bihar. Of this too more later. Finally, Baluchistan was ruled directly from the centre and the people of Baluchistan had no voice in national struggles.

If we reflect on the fact that the main strength of the movement led by the Muslim League came not from the from the Muslim majority provinces but, instead ,from the Muslim minority provinces of India, notably the UP and Bihar, we are faced with yet another paradox. If we think of the Pakistan Movement as one that was aimed at creating a separate state for the Muslims of India, that could be constructed only out of the Muslim majority provinces of India; but initially at any rate, they gave little support to the movement. What we need to ask what that offer to Muslims of the minority provinces ? Given the fact that the main beneficiaries of the Partition were bound to be Muslims of the Muslim majority provinces what was in it for the people of UP and Bihar who were prepared to sacrifice themselves and their families and their future for it ? What was the motivation that drove them behind a movement that offered so little to those who were bound to be left behind in India. True, a few of them managed to migrate to Pakistan, though under conditions of great hardship and heartbreak, to found a new future and new fortunes. But still India remains a country with the largest Muslim population and the creation of Pakistan the Muslims of UP, Bihar and other Muslim minority provinces of India. The Partition has solved no problems for those who were left behind, the majority of them. What motivated them therefore to back the Pakistan movement far more strongly than the Muslims of Muslim majority provinces.

If we were to answer this question by saying that their motivation was purely ideological, that they were carried away by a movement of 'Islam' and practical considerations did not matter, at first sight that may sound to be a plausible answer. No doubt those who wish to represent the Pakistan movement as a religious movement, committed to 'Islamic Ideology' (however that may be defined) might seize on such an argument. But if we examine the argument closely, we soon find ourselves bound up with yet more questions and contradictions. Such an explanation would undermined by the fact that the main bases of the Muslim religious establishment that were located precisely in the Muslim minority provinces were implacably hostile to the Pakistan movement and its 'westernised' leadership. On the other hand, the educated Muslim government job-seekers and professionals , the Muslim 'Salariat' (see page 6ff.) who had lined up behind the Muslim League, with very few exceptions, could hardly be said to have been deeply moved by religious motives. They certainly did not allow themselves to be guided in this matter by the Islamic religious establishment. The notion that the Pakistan movement was motivated by 'Islamic ideology' cannot be sustained on the basis of evidence and reason. This points to some issues to which we shall come later, that need to be examined much more carefully than has so far been done.

Some Alternative Theories of the Origin of Pakistan

We have begun by recognising that the Pakistan movement was not motivated by an Islamic ideology, a proposition that we shall examine more fully below. There are other alternative explanations, of the Pakistan movement which too we will examine in the course of our analysis as we proceed. We shall find that most of them too have no more substance than the one that we have mentioned above. At this stage we might see what these alternative explanations are.

After the 'Islamic Ideology' thesis, a second argument, that we may consider is one that has been much favoured by Indian Nationalist historians and which was also the official position of the Communist Party before 1942 (when it changed its mind and decided to support the Pakistan movement) and once again after Independence when the CPI again changed its mind and resumed its original argument, is that the Pakistan movement was a movement of Muslim 'feudal' landlords who were hand in glove with the British colonial rulers. They suggest that the Movement was instigated and fostered by the British who hoped thereby to divide the Indian nationalist movement - Divide and Rule ! As we proceed to examine the facts, we will find that this theory too is misconceived and slurs over many facts and aspects of a complex history.1

There is a third explanation of the Pakistan movement. It was adopted by the Communist Party in 1942 (when it decided to support the Pakistan movement and tried to push for 'Congress-League Unity' via 'Gandhi-Jinnah talks'). This position lasted until Independence when its position was again reversed. This was also the 'Soviet' official view from 1942 onwards and continued through the years unchanged, unlike that of the CPI. This view that the Pakistan movement was a movement of the ( weak ) Muslim national bourgeoisie and therefore a legitimate anti-imperialist movement, deserving of communist support, in line with the stand taken by Lenin at the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1921.2 This view was reiterated by Soviet scholars, notably in the widely available work of Yuri Gankovsky and Gordon-Polonskaya on the History of Pakistan.3 They produced names of a few prominent Gujarati Muslims from a business community background who were associated with peripherally the early Muslim League, to support their argument. That view is also mistaken. The predominantly Gujarati Muslim trading communities of India, barring one or two individuals, took little part in the Muslim movement, which was dominated, above all by Muslim professionals and the salariat (see below) of northern India, especially of the UP and Punjab. The Gujaratis were isolated from them linguistically and culturally as well as politically and had no objective class interests of their own that the Muslim movement could then serve. There were a few individuals, especially professionals, drawn from Gujarati business communities, notably Mr. Jinnah himself, a rich and successful lawyer son of a not too successful trader, who did play a part in the Muslim movement. But from this we cannot infer class involvement.

Muslim State and Islamic State

The irony of the argument that Pakistan was founded on religious ideology lies, if we may repeat the point, in the fact that every group and organisation in the Sub-continent of India that was specifically religious, was hostile to Jinnah and the Muslim League and had strongly opposed the Pakistan movement. Fore most amongst them was the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind, the leading organisation of the so-called 'Deobandi' Ulema, whom we might categorise as Islamic Traditionalists. A great deal of effort was devoted by the Muslim League leadership to win them over and eventually they succeeded in that, though only partially, on the eve of the Partition, by winning over a section of them led by Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, who formed the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam. Likewise, the Islamic Fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, led by Maulana Maududi, was no less opposed to the Pakistan movement, although since the Partition they have gone to great lengths to conceal or explain away their earlier stance. Again, the Nationalist Muslims who were in the Indian National Congress not only included secular minded figures like Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, but also, and especially, Muslims educated in the classical tradition who were deeply religious such as their leader Abul Kalam Azad who was steeped in Muslim classical and religious learning.

This was in contrast to the modernist education and style of life and aspirations of the Muslim League leadership. A claim that the creation of Pakistan was a fulfilment of millenarian religious aspirations of Indian Muslims would therefore stand in contradiction to the alienation of the principal bearers of the religion of Islam in India from the Pakistan movement and, contrary-wise, the explicit commitment of the leaders of the movement to secular politics. These apparently contradictory aspects of the history of Pakistan are over looked by scholars, mostly foreign, who are mesmerised by the spectre of militant fundamentalist Islam arisen throughout the 'Muslim world'.4 In Pakistan itself history has been systematically rewritten and ideologists of the regimes in power have spared few efforts to present the Pakistan movement as a fundamentalist religious movement.

A Theory of 'Ethnicity' in Colonised Societies With an Agrarian Production Base

My contention is that the Pakistan movement was neither a millenarian ideological movement devoted to the realisation of an Islamic state nor was it a movement of feudal landlords nor yet again a movement of an emergent Muslim national bourgeoisie, although it is true that by 1946 the Muslim League reached an accommodation with the landed magnates who ruled over Sind and Punjab, but on their terms. We shall examine their specific role. It will be argued that central driving force behind the Muslim movement was a class that has a distinct place in colonised societies whose role needs to be recognised more fully and explicitly. I have labelled that class as the 'salariat', the urban educated classes who qualify for employment in the colonial state. With them we may take the new professionals, especially lawyers, journalists and urban intellectuals generally who share many of the problems and aspirations of the salariat.

In a nutshell the argument of this paper is, to repeat, that the Pakistan movement was a movement of Muslims rather than of Islam; a movement in which diverse Muslim ethnic groups from different regions, representing different social strata and interests, were allied in pursuit of quite material objectives. At the centre of that movement was a coalition of the emerging Muslim salariats of different regions of India. That coalition was to break down as soon as Pakistan was created and the Muslim movement had outlived its purpose. Moreover, that temporary and precarious alliance did not include all Muslims of India all the time, for Muslim nationalism was at its weakest in the Muslim majority provinces, having little appeal to the rural classes. Even for those who were drawn into the movement, there was no automatic nor permanent translation of the attribute of Muslim by faith or Muslim by descent, into an enduring conception of an undifferentiated Muslim nation. On the contrary, the central axis of Pakistan's political history has revolved around strident affirmations of regional and linguistic ethnic identities that have refused to be set aside, de-legitimised and dissolved by slogans of Islamic ideology or claims of 'Muslim' nationhood raised on behalf of the dominant ethnic groups.

Comprised of diverse groups, both regionally and socially, the unity of the movement that ultimately resulted in the creation of Pakistan was a precarious one. Jinnah's political genius lay precisely in his ability to orchestrate a loose, volatile and unpredictable coalition of forces. He is generally pictured as a man with a firm and total grip over the groups that he was leading. But that is a myth, made plausible by his powerful and commanding personality. In reality his hold over the various groups was quite tenuous and he had to take them on their own terms. He merely stood at the centre of a political process around which diverse regional groups revolved, over whom he had little control.

By the late 1940s, as Independence, very likely to be inherited by the Indian National Congress, was clearly on the horizon, Jinnah and the All India Muslim League provided the predominantly rural magnates of the Muslim majority provinces (notwithstanding the fact that hitherto they had been united with Hindu and Sikh landlords and organised in right-wing 'secular parties, such as the Unionist Party of the Punjab) a convenient voice and hopefully influential voice at the centre of Indian politics, in the dialogue with colonial masters about the fate of independent India, as well as the Indian National Congress their main rival contender. The landed magnates were quite cynically prepared to make use of Jinnah and the All India Muslim League for that purpose. That supported the illusion of a unified Muslim nation in India. But it was a marriage of convenience, for the provincial magnates on whom Jinnah depended for support and his own legitimacy, were not prepared to surrender their local power and autonomy. It was they, rather than the central leadership of the Muslim League, who dictated the terms of their mutual alliance. Nevertheless the idea of a Muslim nation gained temporary currency and Jinnah became the embodiment of that conception. The Pakistan movement, in that sense and to that extent, became a national movement, on the basis of the 'Two Nation Theory' that Jinnah propounded, affirming that Muslims of India were a separate nation from Hindus. Insofar as their politics entailed the establishment of their own state, their objective was the creation of a 'Muslim state', as a nation state; they did not seek an 'Islamic state', as a theocratic conception.

The Muslim Salariat and Muslim Ethnicity

I will argue here that there was one particular social group for whom, more than any other, the conception of Muslim' nationhood (and not religious ideology) was particularly meaningful. That class was the product of the colonial transformation of Indian social structure in the 19th century and it comprised those who had received an education that would equip them for employment in the expanding colonial state apparatus as scribes and functionaries, the men ( for few women were so employed ) whose instrument of production was the pen. For the want of a better term I have referred to them as the salariat. The term 'middle class' is too wide and 'petty bourgeoisie' has connotations, especially in Marxist political discourse, that would not refer to this class.

The 'salariat' is an 'auxiliary class' (a concept that must be distinguished from that of a 'ruling class ) whose class role can be fully understood only in terms of its relation to 'fundamental classes' (from which the 'ruling class' is drawn); i.e. the economically dominant classes viz. the economically dominant metropolitan and indigenous bourgeoisies and the land owning classes on the one hand and, and the subordinate classes, the proletariat and the peasantry on the other. Given a particular configuration of class forces in the state and society members of the salariat attach themselves to 'fundamental classes' by virtue of their own personal 'class origins' or through 'class affiliation' by virtue of its need and willingness to serve an economically dominant class for career considerations regardless of their individual class origins. . An example of such careerism can be seen in the willingness of the Indian and Pakistani salariat to serve anti-national purposes of foreign (metropolitan) bourgeoisies at the cost of the nation that they purport to serve.

The 'salariat' looms large in colonial societies because there the bulk of the population is rural and agricultural. In the absence of a significant number of people clustered around urban industrial activities, and leaving aside a small number of people engaged in petty trading or in the relatively tiny sector of export trade and finance, the urban society revolves mainly around functionaries of the state, and the educated look primarily to the Government for employment and advancement. In some contexts it would be useful to distinguish between different levels of the salariat, for its upper echelons, the bureaucratic and military oligarchies, play a role that is qualitatively different from that of its lower level functionaries. The relative weight of upper echelons of the salariat in the political process vis a vis elected political representatives, is the greater the lower the level of development of the society in question. It is very prominent in many societies of Africa, for example, as it is in Pakistan which has been ruled over by a military bureaucratic oligarchy since its inception, with only a temporary interruption during the rule of the Pakistan People's Party for barely five years. It is less so in post-colonial India which has experienced relatively higher levels of economic and political development, though even there it has not failed to make its mark. The salariat not only serves the economically dominant classes in the colonial and the post-colonial state but it also has its own specific interests by virtue of its particular structural location and its powers, privileges and opportunities for corruption as the 'governing class' in the post-colonial state. In the relatively backward post-colonial societies the upper echelons of the salariat, the bureaucracies and the military, come into their own, by virtue of their direct grip over the state apparatus, in the absence of institutional structures of democratic political control. This is a striking feature of the political scene of Pakistan. 5

It was the Indian salariat and professional classes who were at the core of the Indian nationalist movement in its early stages during the late 19th century, demanding a rightful place for Indians in the state apparatus, for 'Indianisation' of the services and the creation of popular institutions of representative government through which they could have a share in the exercise of power, or at least some measure of control over the state in the name of 'self-government'.6 It was only later that the Indian bourgeoisie threw in its weight behind the nationalist movement and Indian nationalism mobilised wider sections of the Indian people.

Jinnah's 'Two Nations' theory expressed the ideology of the weaker Muslim 'salariat' vis-a-vis the dominant high caste Hindu salariat groups. The Muslim salariat was central to the Pakistan movement. However, in a society in which the rural votes predominate and are controlled by landed magnates, the Muslim salariat could make little progress in elections until it reached an accommodation with the rural magnates by the late 1940s. That was a fragile alliance, founded on temporary calculations of mutual interests. In the Punjab there was a wide gulf between the urban Punjabi salariat and the rural magnates. In Sindh there was no ethnic Sindhi Muslim salariat to speak of.

The alliance between the landed magnates of the Punjab and Sindh and the Muslim salariat, such as it was, was effected between its national leader ship, Jinnah and the All India Muslim League, who had something to offer to the regional power holders by way of ensuring that the post-independence government would not be in the hands of the Congress Party but rather a party that was dependent on them which would therefore ensure their own survival as a class.

In contrast to the character of the alliance between the rural magnates of Punjab and Sindh and the organisation of the Indian salariat, the All India Muslim League, that between the salariats of Bengal and Sindh in the post-Partition regional ethnic movements in Bengal and Sind with the respective rural power-holders, was quite different. In both these cases there was an 'organic alliance' or bond between the respective salariats and the dominant rural classes of these provinces. The ethnic Bengali and Sindhi salariats, respectively, were the sons of well to do peasants and landlords big and small. The interests of these salariats were, through kinship, organically linked with those of the landed classes of the provinces. Such organic ties are often overlooked when questions of class formation and class alignment are considered entirely in the abstract, when classes are thought of as wholly separate segments of the population.

The Muslim salariat was not evenly distributed in size and influence in different parts of India and its future fragmentation was written into the pattern of its uneven development. If we take the numbers of persons of over 20 years of age who were literate in English as an index of their size, we get the following picture: 



















Muslims %





















Muslims %





Source: Census of India, 1931: Compiled from relevant Provincial Volumes. The 1931 Census date are used because the 1941 Census data, the last pre-partition Census, are notoriously unreliable.

We find that as a class the salariat itself, has a propensity to be easily fractured into different ethnic groups which vie with each other for preference and privilege. Such groups are not defined and determined, once for all, by cultural, linguistic, religious or regional criteria. There is, rather, a process of definition and redefinition of ethnic identity on the basis of perceptions of the distribution of privilege and politically viable options, as they are brought into focus from one stage to the next. Thus in Pakistan Muslim ethnic identity, once it had fulfilled its purpose for the salariats of Bengal, Sindh, Sarhad and Baluchistan, have way to the respective regional ethnic identities. The newly affirmed identities are not of course, constituted out of nothing. They draw on deeply embedded cultural, linguistic, religious or regionally significant symbols around which they can mobilise popular support, symbols that can generate a powerful political charge.

Muslim ethnicity therefore was only one stage in such a process of ethnic definition and redefinition. It represented a temporary alliance of various regional groups. Its original thrust came from the Muslim salariat of the UP, where it was especially privileged rather than otherwise but where it was fast losing ground. Elsewhere the Muslim salariat was less developed than the Hindu salariat, so that the interests of the Muslim salariats could be considered to be in opposition to those of Hindus.

The Muslim salariat of the Punjab was the largest amongst Muslims, both in terms of its absolute size as well as its larger percentage share of the entire Punjabi salariat (i.e. 31.7%), though even in that Muslim majority Province the Muslim salariat share was lower than that of Hindus. This was the principal grievance that fuelled the Muslim movement there. Later, after the creation of Pakistan, the Punjabi salariat, by virtue of its much greater size and development was to occupy a dominant position in Pakistan society and the state.

The urdu speaking UP salariat was the next largest. In contrast to Punjab, historically its proportionate share of the overall salariat in the UP was greater than the relative numbers of Muslims in the UP population. But their relative position declined sharply in the 19th century. For example their share of jobs in the highest ranks of colonial service which were then open to Indians, declined from 64% in 1857 to about 35% by 1913, which was a dramatic decline.7 The UP Muslims had a deep sense of grievance and insecurity, notwithstanding the fact that they were still a privileged minority for their share of the population was only about 13%. This perceived threat to their (privileged) situation probably explains the fact that the initial and the major thrust of the Muslim movement in India came from the UP.

The Bengali Muslim salariat was the largest in terms of absolute size as compared to Muslims of other provinces, although its share of government jobs was proportionately much smaller than that of Hindus of Bengal; Bengali Muslims were always an underprivileged majority. The Sind figures show how small the Muslim salariat was in that province. These figures in fact give a somewhat inflated picture of the insignificant share of ethnic Sindhi Muslims in salariat positions, as these figures include the considerable numbers of non-Sindhi Muslims who were employed in Sindh.

The conception of a unified 'Muslim Nation" of South Asia did not outlast the day of independence and the creation of Pakistan. The inter-regional coalition of the 'Muslim' salariat broke up in the new state, for a new equation of the distribution of privilege and deprivation between them became visible. The Punjabis ( who were temporarily joined by an elite group from 'Muhajirs', Urdu speaking migrants from India) were preponderant in the bureaucracy and the army and were quickly perceived as the privileged and dominant group whereas the other ethnic salariat groups had less than their fair share of access to education, jobs and power.

Overnight the 'Muslim' identity, behind which they had all rallied together in the Pakistan movement, was laid aside by the regional groups and new ethnic identities were affirmed - Bengali, Sindhi, Pathan and Baluch. It must be added though that the Pathan position has been a little ambiguous after Zia's military coup d'état, in view of the relatively strong representation of Pathans in the army. Again, we find a replication of the Indian example, for now the slogan of 'Akhand Bharat' was echoed in Pakistan by a new slogan of the indivisibility of the Muslim Nation that was proclaimed on behalf of the dominant Punjabis. A person could not legitimately declare himself or herself to be Bengali or Sindhi or Pathan or Baluch, because he or she was a Muslim, and Islam was a religion of equality and brotherhood and would recognise no divisions amongst the people of the faith. It is in that context that Islamic ideology was first placed at the centre of political debate, only after Pakistan was created, to oppose regional ethnic movements.

After Pakistan was created the slogan of Islam was adopted by the dominant component of the salariat in Pakistan. It was invoked at first only nominally. Insofar as it was included in the vocabulary of political debates in Pakistan during the first 30 years, only a few symbolic concessions were made to men of religion to make the argument look convincing. It was no more than a political argument that was used by the dominant Punjabis against the assertion of the new regional and linguistic ethnic identities of Bengalis, Sindhis, Pathans and Baluch. The ruling bureaucratic-military oligarchy, which has dominated Pakistan since its inception, had no intention, thereby, of allowing mullahs and Islamic ideologues, to encroach on their monopoly of power and privilege.8

It was only after the seizure of power by the Zia regime that Islamic ideology was invoked in a rather more strident manner for a new purpose, namely the legitimation of state power itself for a politically bankrupt regime that lacked legitimate authority. It has had to go much further in affirming, symbolically, its commitments to Islam than any previous regime. But the question of Punjabi dominance ( urdu speaking migrants from India who had shared that position with them gradually fell behind ) has not thereby been displaced by politics of Islamic Ideology for it was recognised by opposition groups that this is only a cover for continued Punjabi domination. Ethnicity and religious ideology therefore remain closely intertwined and the various disaffected regional groups are unimpressed by the dramaturgy of religious fervour.

The Formation of the Structure of Muslim Society in India

In view of the relatively low development of the Muslim salariat in general and its uneven development regionally the question has often been asked why Muslims did not take more to education or to trade or commerce, i.e. to middle class occupations. Was that due to some peculiarities of their religion or culture or was it due, as the displaced erstwhile rulers, to their hostility to colonial rule, that systematically discriminated against them after the unsuccessful War of Independence, the Indian Mutiny, in 1857 ? Speculation along these lines most favoured by Muslim nationalist historians.9 But the question is better inverted and we may well ask why in pre-colonial India the urban middle classes, who were engaged in Government service or trade did not convert to Islam. This had much to do with the route through which Islam came into the Indian subcontinent.

There are clear patterns of conversions to Islam by different social strata in different regions, which have been little noticed, let alone explained, although the patterns themselves are not difficult to see. There are two distinct and contrasting patterns, each related to the route by which Islam came to a particular region. One route of the advent of Islam was with the Muslim conquerors - though, this did not mean that Islam was therefore spread by the Sword; quite the contrary. The other route was by the sea, through contact with Arab seafarers and traders who for centuries dominated the Arabian sea. These two routes of the penetration of Islam into India had quite different effects on the class distribution and regional patterns of Islamisation. It is the resulting distribution of Muslims between different communities and regions that has constituted the context in which later ethnic movements, that we are concerned with here, were to arise.

A paradox of the advent of Islam with Muslim rule was that at the heart land of Muslim empires of India, in the Gangetic Plain, conversions to Islam were minimal. On the other hand they were maximal in the two peripheries of the empire, namely the Indus Plain, now Pakistan, and Bengal. We have no answers yet to the question why that was so, though we would suspect that there are social structural explanations to be found. The peripheries were perennially given to heresy against the Brahminical orthodoxy that ruled at the heartland of empire.

Before Islam, Buddhism flourished in the two peripheral regions of the Delhi Empires; the Indus plain and the Ganges Delta. Even after the advent of Islam, it was a dissident version of Islam that took root there rather than the orthodox puritanical version of Islam that was established in the UP, where great seminaries of Muslim religious learning flourished. The Islam of the periphery was influenced instead by sufism and was ruled over by pirs who claimed miraculous powers and made profitable business out of the credulity of their followers. It was also infused with a large dose of syncretism, much condemned by the UP based Ulema. By contrast in the UP influence of pirs and sufism was minimal.

The divergence in patterns of religious belief between the Gangetic Plain and the two peripheries is paralleled in divergence in many other aspects of social life. A study by Marriott, for example, plots the scale of rigidity and fluidity in caste ranking and ritual between different regions of India. He found greater fluidity in these the further West one moved away from the Brahminical heartland of the Gangetic Plain towards Punjab and Sindh. Marriott found such differences also among Hindu communities of these regions.10 My own work in the Punjab shows likewise that there is no social institution operating there that can seriously be treated as caste. Even in the matter of structures of kinship there are differences, for patrilateral-parallel cousin marriage (i.e. preferential marriage to father's brother's daughter or structural equivalent) is the rule in the Indus Plain whereas, as one moves East, to East Punjab and Western UP the so-called 'Muslim' structure of kinship gives way to 'gotra' exogamy practised by Jat, Rajput, Meo (etc.); Muslim peasants. Parallel to the regional differences in religious ideology there were also regional differences in social structure, which raises questions about the nature of the connections between the two.

If we consider the pattern of conversion to Islam along another axis, we find that there is a fairly clear class pattern of Islamisation associated with the advent of Muslim rulers. Muslim rule installed expatriate Muslims brought from Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan as feudal lords at the foundations of their empires and many Hindu, especially Rajput, chiefs converted to Islam. Their dependant peasants 'converted' likewise. Islam was established thereby as a predominantly rural religion. It made much less headway in towns and cities. The relatively low level of conversions to Islam among urban classes suggests absence of coercion by Muslim rulers, who were quite happy to be served by Hindu officials. In the UP Kashmiri Brahmins and Kayasthas were the two main Hindu castes who have traditionally worked for the state both before and after the colonial conquest. The UP and Punjab diverge from this general rule, for there far more Muslims found themselves in the salariat than elsewhere as descendants of those associated with the courts at Delhi, Agra, Lucknow and Lahore found their way into salaried state service. When Pakistan was created men from Punjab and the UP, where the Muslim salariat was the most developed, dominated the bureaucratic-military oligarchy. Over the years, Punjabis have acquired complete ascendancy in Pakistan.

In contrast to the UP and Punjab, Muslims had little share of urban middle class occupations in Sindh and Bengal or in Baluchistan and the NWFP. In Sindh, under Muslim rule, government service was virtually the exclusive prerogative of Amils, a Hindu community. The number of ethnic Sindhi Muslims in government service was minute. Trade in Sindh was traditionally in the hands of another Hindu community called Bhaibands, though during the latter half of the 19th century there was an influx of Muslim and non-Muslim trading communities mainly from Gujarat (including Kathiawar and Cutch) into Sindh (and Punjab). Bengal was no different, for the size of the Muslim salariat there was small and suffered much from discriminatory colonial policies. Aparna Basu notes that 'In lists of qualified candidates drawn up by the Council of Education in Bengal in the years after 1846, Muslim names are conspicuous by their absence'.11 Politics of Muslims in Bengal were predominantly based on rural classes, especially the struggle of ( mainly Muslim) 'Occupancy Tenants' (de facto landowners), for abolition of Zamindari over-lordship, a cause upheld by the non-communal Krishak Proja Party led by A.K. Fazlul Haq.

Islam that came by the sea, with Arab control of overseas trade, resulted in a rather different class configuration of Muslims. (Our concern in this paper is primarily with Northern India and we will ignore for the moment the logic and patterns of Muslim conversions in southern India). In Gujarat (including Cutch and Kathiawar) on the West coast of India, Muslim conversions were mainly from trading communities, Sunnis such as Memons and Shias such as Bohras and Khojas (Ismailis) and Ithna Asharis. This seems to be closely related to the fact that the bulk of the export trade from northern India went abroad through ports in this region, which were all under Hindu rule. Arabs dominated the trade of the Arabian sea. Substantial trading communities which were engaged in export trade in Gujarat, not surprisingly, converted to Islam. The myths of origin of these communities speak of benign and tolerant Hindu rulers who did not discourage this. One can see the functionality of such tolerance and goodwill when rival ports were competing with each other to attract the Arab trade. Contrary to the Northern Indian pattern no Muslim land lords were installed in these areas and there were no dependent peasantry therefore to take to Islam, except to the extent that the pattern was to be modified later when Muslim rule itself was extended southwards and was established in Gujarat. There was a diffusion of the Muslim trading communities of Gujarat over various parts of India, during the second half of the 19th century, when they began to move to the new expanding centres of colonial trade, like Bombay, Karachi and Calcutta and elsewhere. There was a push effect as well as a pull effect, for the development of the railway links between Bombay and Karachi with northern India short-circuited the traditional trade routes to the Gujarat ports and the trading communities there had to look for fresh pastures.

These Muslim trading communities were isolated, with respect to language and culture, from the northern Indian salariat. Moreover, these trading communities set a low value on higher education, which was functional for those aspiring for salariat positions. In terms of their own values they despised salaried employment, however eminent. Their children were expected to join the family business after secondary schooling. They missed out therefore even the politicising effects of university life. Nor were they impelled as a class into the Muslim movement which at that time had little to offer them. Their role in Muslim movements was negligible, except for one or two individuals, notably, of course, Mr. Jinnah himself who, however, had cut himself off very early from the modest background of his family and community in Karachi and assimilated himself, as an extremely successful and very rich lawyer, into cosmopolitan upper class Bombay society.

Much is made by some historians of another exceptional case of Gujarati businessmen, namely that of Sir Adamjee Pirbhai, a Dawoodi Bohra industrialist who owned textile mills and the Matheran railway, amongst his varied interests. As a friend of the Agha Khan, he was made to preside over the conference of the Muslim League at Karachi in 1907, that is when the Muslim League had just been launched by the Muslim 'notables' and was about to be seized by the Muslim salariat who soon pushed the notables aside. Sir Adamjee Pirbhai himself was soon to get embroiled in an anti-clerical movement within his own community for which he was to sacrifice his time and his fortune. He had little interest in or time for the Muslim League. It would be a mistake therefore to read in his momentary and peripheral participation or similar participation of a very few such individuals in the Muslim movement, to imply the class involvement of the Gujarat based Muslim bourgeoisie. There was also a much smaller Punjabi section of the Muslim bourgeoisie which likewise, was peripheral to the Muslim movement. (To be continued)

Published in: Fred Halliday and Hamza Alavi (eds) State and Ideology in the Middle East and Pakistan, London & New York, 1988