By Nasim Yousaf
August 23, 2018
August is an extremely important month in South Asian history. In August of 1947, British rule in the Indian subcontinent (now Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan) came to an end and two independent nations, India and Pakistan, emerged on the map. Allama Mashriqi (August 25, 1963 – August 27, 1963) was among the frontline leaders who fought for the subcontinent’s freedom and was opposed to the partition of India. He emphatically warned of the devastating consequences of partition for the region and the world. This article, written in honor of Mashriqi’s 55th death anniversary, presents Mashriqi’s point of view regarding partition, discusses some of his major reasons for opposing it and the key actions he took to prevent it, and touches on the impacts for the region when India was ultimately divided despite Mashriqi’s strong objections.
On March 24, 1940, the All-India Muslim League (AIML) passed the Lahore Resolution (not March 23rd as is commonly reported). The Resolution (later referred to as the Pakistan Resolution) demanded a separate homeland for the Muslims on the basis of the Two-Nation Theory and paved the way for the creation of Pakistan. During the session to pass the Resolution, Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah made a speech arguing that Hindus and Muslims could not live together:
“…The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literature. They neither intermarry nor dine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspects on life and of life are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Musalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes, and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap…”
In his statement, Jinnah completely overlooked the fact that Muslim, Hindus, and other communities had lived together in complete harmony for centuries; there were countless intermarriages between Muslims, Hindus, and other non-Muslims and even the Muslim Mughal Emperors had married Hindu females. Furthermore, in 1857, Muslims and Hindus jointly fought the war of independence against the British. The two cultures shared much in common – food, clothing, music, traditions, physical appearance, and even thought processes were similar across both communities. Indeed, there were many more commonalties versus the “conflicting ideas and conceptions” that Jinnah had stated.
Taking a critical look at historical events, it is clear that there was a deliberate attempt by the Muslim League to foment communalism within the country and that this effort was supported by the British, ultimately culminating in the passing of the Pakistan Resolution. For those skeptical that the British would have supported such an effort, keep in mind that the British frequently imprisoned individuals within the country who opposed the interests of the empire. They could have easily arrested Jinnah for seeking division of the country or for spreading communalism or for treason, and yet they let the Muslim League session proceed as planned. It is important to note that before the night session of the Muslim League on March 24 (in which the Pakistan Resolution was passed), Sir Henry Duffield Craik (Governor of Punjab) and other British dignitaries attended a reception thrown by Sir Sikander Hayat Khan (Premier of Punjab) in Jinnah’s honor. This clearly implies their tacit approval of the said resolution. By contrast, a few days prior to the passing of the Lahore Resolution, Allama Mashriqi, who had always been in favor of a united India, was imprisoned (March 19, 1940) in Vellore Central Jail (South India); Mashriqi was kept imprisoned without a trial as the Government could not formulate a case against him.
The question is, why was Mashriqi so opposed to partition? Mashriqi formulated his assessment based on a deep understanding of Indian politics developed over the course of decades as a leading Indian figure. Some of his reasons were as follows: (1) Muslims and Hindus had lived together in India peacefully for centuries and there was no reason they couldn’t do so in an independent, liberated nation. (2) He felt that the Two-Nation Theory, the Pakistan Resolution and the partition of India were all the “brainchild” of the British and ultimately served their interests; it would be easier for the British to maintain control of the region if Muslims and Hindus stayed divided in two separate countries. And if either country became a threat, they could be pitted against one another. (3) Mashriqi believed that partition would lead to devastating consequences for the region, including wholesale manslaughter, unspeakable human tragedies, and misery amongst Muslims and non-Muslims. (4) He feared that the amputation of the country along religious lines would breed hostility and promote fundamentalism and extremism in both countries; he was also concerned that minorities would be mistreated. (5) Dividing a country (and Muslims) into three parts, with two of its wings separated by over 1,000 miles, made no sense to him. And he felt that the migration of all Muslims to Pakistan was completely impractical. Muslim majority areas were already under Muslim rule, so if any Muslims wanted to move to these areas, they were free to do so without having to partition the country. He believed that the Muslim League’s leaders were power hungry and misleading Muslims in order to bolster their own power by serving the British agenda.
Following the adoption of the Pakistan Resolution, the British rulers gave the Muslim League a free hand to continue to sow division amongst the Muslims and Hindus. In order to promote the idea of a separate homeland, the AIML used every conceivable method to sway the Muslim masses, including exploiting Muslims’ religious sentiments by using slogans such as “Pakistan Ka Mutlab Kiya? La Illaha Illallah” and telling them that Islam was in danger in a united India.
After Mashriqi was released from prison (with continued restrictions on his movements) in 1942, he was shocked to see the way communalism and the idea of a separate Muslim homeland was being spread amongst the naive Muslim masses. Mashriqi was also shaken that the All-India Muslim League and Indian National Congress (including Mahatma Gandhi) were not willing to resolve their issues. Mashriqi feared that the leaders of both political parties ultimately wanted power for themselves (and in his opinion were falsely claiming to fight for the rights of their communities) and didn’t actually desire to work together. Despite this, Mashriqi tried his best to unite both parties. On April 11, 1942, Mashriqi wrote a telegraphic message to the Presidents of the Muslim League, Congress, and the Hindu Mahasabha asking them to join hands and pledging to achieve “…complete independence for India from the British Government within six months…” and offering the support of “…half a million Khaksars [there were approximately 4-5 million Khaksars at the time]…” Thereafter, Mashriqi pushed for a Jinnah-Gandhi meeting. His efforts bore fruit and Gandhi, in a telegram to Mashriqi dated May 15, 1944 confirmed “…I will be ready to discuss [with Jinnah] the question of Hindu-Muslim understanding…” The meeting between Jinnah and Gandhi took place, but they were unable to bring any results. While Mashriqi had demonstrated through both words and actions that he was willing to do whatever it took to bring about a united freedom, sadly Jinnah, Gandhi, and the Congress leaders remained divided.
Based on his own observations and the Khaksar meetings with Gandhi and other leaders, Mashriqi felt that these leaders were not truly serious about keeping the country united. They never put together any concrete plan to bring about a united independence and protect the rights of all communities. Meanwhile, in 1945, Mashriqi led an effort to put together The Constitution of Free India, 1946 A.C., also known as the Mashriqi Constitution or Khaksar Constitution in order to prevent the partition of India. The document was the result of a major effort by Mashriqi to incorporate the perspectives of many different political parties and communities as well as eminent personalities and intellectuals from various disciplines (including politics, finance, administration and law). The Constitution accommodated the rights of all – including Muslims, Hindus, scheduled Castes, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees, Buddhists, Jews and Christians. According to Mashriqi’s address entitled “Where Leaders Fail: A Dispassionate Dissection of Indian Politics from a Non-Party Point of View” (delivered at the University Institute Hall, Calcutta on October 21, 1945):
“We addressed almost every important element of India’s national life requesting it to send its declaration of interests so that in case the interests did not clash with those of other parties in the country they might be incorporated in the body of the Constitution ‘as far as possible, feasible and consistent with the interests of other parties.’ We addressed more or less 75 parties and over three hundred million people in the country accepted our invitation through their accredited leaders.”
By December of 1945, 50,000 copies of the Constitution had been distributed in India, including copies to leaders such as Jinnah and Gandhi, foreign missions, and the Viceroy of India. Despite the massive effort by Mashriqi to consider the needs of all communities and develop a comprehensive constitution, these leaders refused to support Mashriqi’s Constitution; worse yet, they neither suggested any amendments nor developed any version of their own. To Mashriqi, these leaders’ refusal to support the Constitution was yet another signal that their true intentions were not to create a united India (some sections of the Khaksar Constitution were included in the Indian Constitution after partition, which further supports the validity of Mashriqi’s document).
Having exhausted all other avenues, in March of 1947, Mashriqi made a last effort to keep India united. He ordered the assembly of 300,000 Khaksars in Delhi on June 30, 1947 to overturn British rule. The Khaksars also simultaneously intensified their activities to mobilize the public for a revolt by distributing flyers, delivering speeches, reaching out to Muslims, Hindus and other communities, and parading (many Khaksars were arrested for such activities). On May 14, 1947, addressing 50,000 people in Patna, Mashriqi called for a “revolution” amongst the entire nation, stating: “The last remedy under the present circumstances is that one and all rise against this conspiracy as one man…in this way…hundreds of millions will be saved forever…we should sacrifice men in millions now in order to uphold Truth, Honor and Justice.” On May 29, Mashriqi also issued a statement in this regard. Mashriqi’s efforts did not go unnoticed. Fearing a nationwide revolt, the British fast-forwarded a transfer of power on an urgent basis and presented their partition plan on June 03, 1947, which the Muslim League, Congress, and Gandhi accepted almost instantly (before the assembly of the Khaksars could take place). In order to keep the Khaksars from overturning British rule, Delhi remained under Section 144 and a ban on holding demonstrations or processions continued throughout the city. To further sideline Mashriqi, he was stabbed (The Canberra Times, Australia, June 11, 1947) on the same day that the Muslim League held its session to ratify the partition of India.
In spite of Mashriqi’s painstaking efforts to keep the country united, India was torn apart (a more detailed account is provided in my published works). Partition resulted in serious consequences for the region, including the murder of over a million people, rape, abductions, looting, and painful separation of families and friends as people were torn apart on religious grounds and forced to endure cross-border migrations. Some writers falsely use these sufferings as examples of individuals’ sacrificing for the creation of a separate Pakistan and India, when in fact the majority of these individuals were actually unwitting victims of the selfish politics of the Hindu and Muslim political leadership. As a result of partition, fundamentalism and extremism took roots in the region and minorities continue to suffer on both sides. There is ongoing hostility between the two nations and they have yet to find any lasting peace; cross-border terrorism, wars, the Kashmir issue, water issue, and travel restrictions continue to persist while families remain divided across borders. The threat of war and potential use of nuclear weapons also looms over the region.
Many of Mashriqi’s predictions and apprehensions around the consequences of partition have come true. And yet, many individuals continue to perpetuate a false narrative that partition was unavoidable, instead of admitting that partition came about mainly because of British political and economic interests and a power struggle between a few Muslim and Hindu leaders; they lionize the leaders who endorsed partition, without realizing that in so doing they are actually promoting terrorism and hate between Muslims and Hindus. To make matters worse, political leaders on both sides use the Pakistan-India rivalry to get elected or for political advantage. Meanwhile, the establishment in both countries does not release original documents belonging to Mashriqi and the Khaksars and suppresses Mashriqi’s views; they refuse to learn from the re-unification of Germany and peace in Europe following the world wars. It is a sad reality that many leaders in the region (and foreign powers) do not actually want peace, because confrontation and war bolsters their own vested interests. It is for this reason that the narratives of Mashriqi and other leaders who opposed partition are never highlighted. And so, the people of the sub-continent remain divided, despite the fact that the majority of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and others never wanted partition in the first place.
The key to peace and love in the region is to explain to people on both sides of the border the truth behind partition and the reality that it was the result of the selfish politics of a few leaders. It is time the region embraced Mashriqi’s ideology of unity, regardless of faith or color. This is the key to bringing peace in the region and the world.
Note from the Author: This article is not meant to demean any leader, but rather to bring peace between the two countries and to present Allama Mashriqi’s perspective on the partition of India, which historians have thus far ignored.
Historian and scholar Nasim Yousaf is a grandson of Allama Mashriqi and is based in the US. His extensive knowledge of India’s partition comes from exhaustive research as well as direct accounts from Mashriqi’s sons, daughters and the Khaksars, all of whom were part of the freedom movement. His works have been published in renowned peer-reviewed publications and he has presented papers at well-known academic conferences in the US.