By Nadeem F. Paracha
24 May, 2015
Till the early 1940s, the All India Muslim League (AIML) was still far from being the sole political representative of India’s Muslims. The Muslims of the region — who constituted about 20 per cent of India’s population at the time — were being represented by various political parties and outfits. Till 1945 the AIML was just one of these parties.
Other parties in this regard were the centre-right Unionist Party and right-wing religious outfits such as the Muttahida Majlis-i-Ahrar, the Jamiat Ulema Hind; the radical Khaksar; and, to the a certain extent, the Jamaat-i-Islami (that was formed in 1941).
Other than these, a number of Muslims were also supporters and members of the Indian National Congress (INC), and the left-wing Pakhtun nationalist organisation (in the former NWFP), the Khudai Khidmatgar.
Ever since 1940, the AIML (led by the refined lawyer and politician, Mohammad Ali Jinnah), had increasingly pushed for the idea of creating a separate nation-state for the Muslims of India, carved out from the Muslim-majority areas of the region.
The party saw the INC as a Hindu-dominated entity that would (in post-colonial India) usurp the political and economic interests of the region’s Muslims.
Meet the Marxist who was instrumental in winning Punjab for the All India Muslim League
But till 1944 the AIML had only managed to attract the attention of certain sections of urban Muslim youth in North India and East Bengal.
The party’s increasing focus on propagating a separate Muslim state was entirely rejected by the INC and even by various Muslim outfits including the Unionist Party, the Khudai Khidmatgar as well as by the Islamic parties.
The first to really warm up to AIML’s idea of a separate Muslim country — apart from certain sections of North India’s urban bourgeoisie — was the Muslim majority region of East Bengal.
But the AIML was aware of the fact that to truly become the largest Muslim party in India, it will have to make inroads into another important Muslim-majority region: the Punjab province.
The AIML was extremely weak here. The province was the bastion of the Unionist Party that was a centre-right outfit being led by members of Punjab’s Muslim landed elite and also had the support of the region’s Hindu and Sikh populations.
The Unionists were also being backed by the British colonialists. The INC was strong here among the province’s Hindus, and there was also a party representing the Sikh population of Punjab (Akali Dal).
The Unionist Party was Punjab’s largest Muslim party; but in many rural areas of the province, radical Islamic outfits such as the Majlis-i-Ahrar too enjoyed support.
The AIML had performed dismally in the two elections that were held in the Punjab in the 1930s. Desperate to bag widespread support for the AIML in the province, Jinnah agreed to a suggestion made to him by Mumtaz Daultana — a leading member of the party in the province.
Daultana recommended that certain sympathetic Muslim ideologues belonging to the Communist Party of India (CPI) be brought into the AIML fold. The CPI had exhibited support for the AIML and saw the party as being revolutionary and anti-colonial (as opposed to communal); and that it was more in a position to carry out radical reforms and policies compared to the INC that the CPI termed as being ‘counter-revolutionary.’
Investigating CPI’s thesis in this regard is not the purpose of this piece.
Nevertheless, according to Daultana, the CPI men had the experience and the skills to organise AIML in the Punjab and successfully disseminate its message and appeal.
In 1944, after getting the go-ahead from Jinnah, Daultana brought in a few CPI ideologues that immediately joined the AIML in the Punjab.
One of them was a slightly-built but intense and high-strung lawyer called Danial Latifi.
Latifi was born in Lahore and travelled to Oxford University in England to study law. After returning to India, he joined the CPI. He was one of the most vocal members of the CPI who advocated that the party support AIML. In 1944 he resigned from the CPI and joined the AIML.
A committed Marxist and socialist ideologue, Latifi urged AIML to draft a strong message that could immediately get the attention of Muslims in Punjab. As a result, Daultana asked him to author the party’s manifesto.
Latifi did that. The manifesto was approved by Jinnah in 1944. It’s a remarkable piece of writing in which Latifi tries to tackle claims made by the INC and the Unionists as well as by the Islamic parties that were opposing the League.
In this pursuit Latifi married ideas of bourgeoisie Muslim economic advancement (through meritocracy) to Mohammad Iqbal’s idea of ‘spiritual democracy’.
According to the manifesto, the League would promote policies that would benefit and encourage the enterprising economic spirit of the Muslim middle-classes, and at the same time protect the Muslim masses from the oppression of the Hindu, Muslim and British Colonial elites.
Latifi also expressed the League’s idea of a separate Muslim state as an organ that would eventually transcend and resolve religious differences in the region, because a Muslim-majority state (or a state constructed by a minority community in India) was inherently more equipped to appreciate religious plurality, harmony and diversity than a state dominated by a large Hindu majority.
Furthermore, Latifi envisaged the League’s idea of the state as something that had a soul. According to him the state (under the League) “will be the alter-ego of the national being and in good time the two would merge to form an ordered and conflict-free society …”
Latifi’s manifesto was put in the forefront of AIML’s campaign during the 1946 provincial election in the Punjab. Latifi used CPI’s contacts in the province’s student and peasant communities and this helped AIML to successfully organise its own organs within these communities. The influential Muslim spiritual leaders (pirs) of the province quickly fell in line, abandoning the Unionist Party.
On the eve of the 1946 election, AIML had been dramatically turned into a robust and populist party that went on to defeat the Unionists. It won 73 seats. Unionists could only win 20.
This victory finally propelled the party into becoming India’s largest Muslim outfit and eventually helped it carve out a separate Muslim country called Pakistan (1947).
Ironically, Latifi, who was one of the architects of this victory and a passionate supporter of Pakistan’s creation, did not move to the new country. He was constantly asked why, but he always refused to answer this question.
Latifi was a good friend of famous Indian writer, Khushwant Singh. In fact, one of the main characters in Singh’s celebrated novel about India’s partition (1956’s Train to Pakistan) is entirely based on Latifi.
Singh described Latifi to be a man who ate very little but who was always absorbed by his own thoughts and just could not stop talking about Marxism!
Latifi married a Syrian Christian woman and after Pakistan’s creation he remained in India and began to study Islamic law. He quit politics and became a prominent lawyer representing trade unionists, leftist activists and working-class Muslims.
After his first wife passed away, he married Pakeezah Begum — a descendant of the last Moghul emperor.
Latifi passed away in 2000 at the age of 83. Most in the know claim that he never visited Pakistan. But none of them seem to know why.