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Islam and Politics ( 27 Apr 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Congress’ Use of the Ulema





By Yasser Latif Hamdani

April 27, 2015

This is in response to Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed’s article ‘The role of Ulema in pre-partition politics’ (Daily Times, April 21, 2015) where he has responded to my article ‘Use of religion in politics’ (Daily Times, April 13, 2015). At the outset, he suggests that I am in error as to his contradiction. I am very clear on the issue that you cannot simultaneously claim a pre-existing demand for Pakistan (and it is quite clear that the demand had existed pre-1939) and then claim that it originated in the viceroy’s office in late 1939 or early 1940. I may not understand the “nature of political alliances” but I can see two mutually contradictory claims when the same are made. I leave it to the readers to determine who is right on the issue.

I will, however, address some of the other historical fallacies that Dr Ahmed forwards in his article. He claims: “Nehru’s leftist orientation predisposed him to believe that class interests determined the political choices of people, including voters. For him, the 1937 elections, in which the Muslim League was routed on the all-India level, was an indictment of its elite politics because, as a party of landlords and pro-British rajas and nawabs, it represented their narrow interests, which included loyalty to the British. Therefore, he announced a Muslim mass contact to be launched to bring the poverty-stricken Muslim masses into the Congress fold and thus build a broad united front against British colonialism.”

Nehru was a very interesting character in our history. His father, Motilal Nehru, was a truly great man both as a politician and as a self-made lawyer of great ability. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on the other hand was a stay at home son with idle time on his hands. Born into privilege and belonging to the Hindu majority, Pandit Nehru could not forsake his Brahmin roots (hence the title Pandit) but could pose as a secular socialist with great bravado when it came to dealing with Muslims. What is unfortunate is that Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed has not bothered to read Dhulipala’s book carefully enough to see that even Dhulipala, otherwise blinded by his nationalist Indian beliefs, has acknowledged that in 1936 to 1937 Muslim politics in UP was divided primarily into two groups. The first was the National Agriculturalist Party (NAP) led by Nawab Chattari and the like. The latter constituted of the Muslim Unity Board (MUB), which was headed by Jinnah. Dhulipala mentions in some detail that Jinnah and his colleagues were pro-Congress and anti-British whereas the British had organised the NAP to cut down Jinnah and the MUB. Dhulipala also acknowledges that during the 1937 elections, Nehru even campaigned for and endorsed the MUB and Muslim League candidates in Muslim constituencies. Contrary to Ishtiaq Ahmed’s claim, the MUB and Muslim League were not a party of landlords and pro-British rajas and nawabs, who were in the NAP. For example, on page 41, Dhulipala writes: “Thus, Jinnah’s policy of setting up the UPMLPB caused consternation among Muslim landlords who appeared reluctant to compete electorally against it...The landlords initial strategy was to ‘capture the machinery of the provincial electoral board and having done so, render it nugatory’. They could not however succeed in this Endeavour thanks to the vigilance of the MUB group and due to the fact that the NAP leaders lacked strength to stand up to Jinnah. When the latter made it clear that MLPB members could not run on any other ticket in the elections, the landlords finally had to make a choice and resigned from the MLPB.” Chapter one of the said book, Creating a New Medina, which Ishtiaq Ahmed so wholeheartedly recommends, basically negates his contention that the Muslim League was a party of landlords and pro-British rajas. Indeed, if anything, the Muslim League had come closer to the Congress in almost every way through its manifesto for the 1937 election. Congress leaders recognised this. Muslim League candidates were financially supported by Congress’ Hindu industrialist backers.

The reason behind why the break came after the 1937 elections was not because the Muslim League was routed. On Muslim seats in UP, for example, the Muslim League won a majority. Congress on the other hand failed to win more than a single seat and one more later in the by-election. However, Congress won an absolute majority in UP and no longer needed the Muslim League for electoral numbers. The terms that Nehru placed for inclusion of Muslim League legislators was that they should disband the Muslim League in parliament and become Congress members, a ridiculous demand given that Muslim League legislators had won on Muslim League tickets. Failing to win over all but one of the legislators by these tactics, Nehru, mindful of the fact that his party enjoyed no support amongst the Muslims, came up with the mass contact scheme. Instead of working with pro-Congress elements, including Jinnah, in making a broad based alliance on the basis of Hindu-Muslim unity, he claimed to appeal to the Muslim masses on an economic agenda. Ironically, he chose firebrand speakers and sectarian Ulema (clergy) to forward his so-called “secular socialist” message.

The Congress backed Ulema, including Maulana Madni, the great proponent of composite nationalism, attacked Jinnah for being a Shia and having Ahmedis in the Muslim League. In Lucknow, Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar used the Madh-e-Sahaba to divide the Muslim vote along sectarian Shia and Sunni lines. Time and again the Congress backed Ulema used the sectarian card to create dissentions between Muslims. While on the one side Congress criticised the British for using the policy of divide and rule, it used the same policy to attempt to break up the Muslim League. There was no ambiguity about the allegations either. Dhulipala lists the main body of these complaints. Congress’ Ulema claimed that the Muslim League had betrayed Islam by undermining the Shariat Bill in the Indian legislature. Another complaint was that the Muslim League had supported the Khula Bill, which gave Muslim women the right to seek Khula (marriage annulment) as a matter of right. The Congress backed Ulema also claimed that the Muslim League had opposed such Islamic legislations as the Qazi Bill, which had sought to introduce Islamic Qazi courts. They also claimed that the Muslim League had repeatedly forwarded bills aimed at diluting Islam and pointed to Fatwas by the Ulema on these bills. The Congress backed Ulema especially took exception to the fact that Jinnah had supported the Civil Marriage Bill, which would have allowed intermarriage between Muslims and non-Muslims despite the fact that such marriages contravened the Quran. In other words, every progressive action by Jinnah or the Muslim League was paraded as proof of their anti-Islamic credentials. In other words, it was Congress that took the lead in playing the “Islam in danger” card for its own purposes.

Both parties used the Islam card but I leave it to the readers to judge whose use was more pernicious and harmful. Even today many remnants of the Congress backed clergy continue to plague both Pakistan and India when it comes to progress on common sense issues.

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address