By Yasser Latif Hamdani
March 24, 2014
During the closing stages of the independence movement, the Ulema were used by Congress to bring down the Muslim League and its leadership
There are a few points that are never considered when the Lahore Resolution is discussed. Foremost is the fact that there is no reference to Islam or a state for Islam. It speaks of Muslim India and a settlement between the major communities of British India. Second and more importantly, the Resolution states, “That adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units and in these regions for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them,” the adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards to be decided in consultation with the minorities in the units. Consultation here constitutes a binding effect, i.e. whatever decision is to be taken affecting the rights of minorities in the units cannot be against the advice given by the minorities. The principle behind the Lahore Resolution was that a permanent majority by numbers cannot and should not be allowed to impose its ideas on a permanent minority. This required therefore a constitution that extends the principle of equal citizenship as well as rights above and beyond that citizenship to minorities.
If we own the Lahore Resolution as the founding document of this country, we must endeavour to fulfil the promise that this Resolution makes explicitly to the minorities. What stands in the way of faithful execution of the Resolution in letter and spirit? It is the utter and total confusion that vested interests have managed to create about Pakistan and its founding principles. This distortion is carried on by both sides of the spectrum, ironically agreeing with each other unwittingly. It is quite disingenuously held that Pakistan was the consequence of a movement to create an exclusivist Islamic state. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The most bigoted and sectarian of the Ulema (clerics) actually opposed the Pakistan Movement. It needs no repeating that the religious factor in politics was introduced by Gandhi who used the Muslim religious cause of the Khilafat to attempt to sideline the liberal Muslim elites and professionals. It was on Gandhi’s advice that Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Hind was formed in 1924 and Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam was formed in 1929. Achyut Patwardhan of the Congress Party hit the nail on the head when he wrote the following:
“It is, however, useful to recognise our share of this error of misdirection. To begin with, I am convinced that looking back upon the course of development of the freedom movement, the ‘Himalayan error’ of Gandhiji’s leadership was the support he extended on behalf of the Congress and the Indian people to the Khilafat Movement at the end of World War I. This has proved to be a disastrous error, which has brought in its wake a series of harmful consequences. On merits, it was a thoroughly reactionary step. The Khilafat was totally unworthy of support of the Progressive Muslims. Kemal Pasha established this solid fact by abolition of the Khilafat. The abolition of the Khilafat was widely welcomed by enlightened Muslim opinion the world over and Kemal was an undoubted hero of all young Muslims straining against Imperialist domination. But apart from the fact that Khilafat was an unworthy reactionary cause, Mahatma Gandhi had to align himself with a sectarian revivalist Muslim Leadership of clerics and Maulvis.
He was thus unwittingly responsible for jettisoning sane, secular, modernist leadership among the Muslims of India and foisting upon the Indian Muslims a theocratic orthodoxy of the Maulvis. Maulana Mohammed Ali’s speeches read today appear strangely incoherent and out of tune with the spirit of secular political freedom. The Congress Movement which released the forces of religious liberalism and reform among the Hindus, and evoked a rational scientific outlook, placed the Muslims of India under the spell of orthodoxy and religious superstition by their support to the Khilafat leadership. Rationalist leaders like Jinnah were rebuffed by this attitude of Congress and Gandhi. This is the background of the psychological rift between Congress and the Muslim League.”
During the closing stages of the independence movement the Ulema were used by Congress to bring down the Muslim League and its leadership. Ayesha Jalal in her book Self and Sovereignty writes, “There was something peculiar about a ‘secular’ nationalist party counting on the vocal support of anti-imperial cultural relativists of Ahrar and Madani to claim a Muslim following.
A spate of pamphlets published by Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Hind and Ahrar delighted in exposing [the] League’s lack of Islamic credentials, pointing to Jinnah’s emphatic assertions about Pakistan being a democracy in which Hindus and Sikhs would have an almost equal population. Substantiation that pro-Congress Muslims did much to weaken the Muslim League’s case on equal citizenship rights is the rejection by the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Hind and Ahrar laity of any possible equation between a democratic and an Islamic government...
Throughout the run-up to the 1945-1946 elections and beyond, Punjabi leaders like Shaukat Hayat and Mumtaz Daultana, not to mention Iftikharuddin and Communists tried reassuring Hindus and Sikhs that their citizenship rights would be protected in Pakistan. They had considerable backing from the Punjab League and the Press...Yet it (Ahrar) felt no pangs of conscience spreading sectarian hatred amongst Muslims. While Bashiruddin Mahmud was excoriated for being a ‘drunkard’ and a ‘womaniser’, Ahmadis were ‘warned’ that they would cease to exist once the British quit India. Mazhar Ali Azhar’s threat to restart the Madha-i-Sahaba against the Shias of Lucknow aimed at retarding [the] Muslim League by creating internal religious differences.”
Pakistanis must be very clear about their narrative. The movement for Pakistan was neither theocratic nor intolerant. Yes, it sought to preserve legitimate Muslim interests, but it was never unmindful of its own minorities. We chose to ignore Jinnah’s vision and followed the path of religious intolerance but if anything it was the opponents of the Pakistan Movement who resorted to the vilest of religious propaganda against the Muslim League to undermine its credentials as the representative body of the Muslim community. Therefore, as Hamza Alavi once wrote, the real inheritors of the Pakistan Movement and its legacy are the brave secularists and liberals who are putting up a valiant fight to preserve Jinnah’s Pakistan.