The word ‘Pakistan’ was coined by some Muslim students of Cambridge, led by Chaudhary Rahmat Ali in the early 1930s. Since then the Pakistan movement has begun. Comprising Punjab, Afghan, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan (Pakistan), they wanted to make a separate Muslim state in north-west India which had a Muslim majority. Important Muslim leaders, including Mohammad Ali Jinnah, not only ignored but even opposed this idea. Jinnah till the mid-1930s was regarded as both nationalist and secularist and Sarojini Naidu even called him as ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’.
The Pakistan Movement was based on the two-nation ideology i.e., Hindus and Muslims were considered to be two nations as their political, economic, social, and cultural interests were not only different but even clashed with each other. The ideologue of the two-nation theory believed that the only way to protect the interest of the two ‘nations’ (Hindu nation or Muslim nation) was to make each a sovereign entity in itself, separate from the other. Some historians hold Sir Sayid Ahmed Khan, some Sir Mohammad Iqbal (the great Persian-Urdu poet), and some V.D. Savarkar (leader of Hindu Mahasabha) responsible for devising the two-nation theory. But it is not fair to blame any individual for the birth of a complex ideology. It would be an exaggeration if someone tries to find the root cause of the Pakistan Movement in Sir Sayid or Iqbal. In fact, till 1937, Muslim League politics was based on certain safeguards for Muslims in general and Muslims of some specific provinces in particular. To find out the root cause of the Pakistan Movement the political events that followed the 1937 election were more crucial.
The Congress took both Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha lightly. Till 1938 a member of the Muslim League or Hindu Mahasabha could also be a member of Congress. Maulana Azad observed that, after Nehru Committee Report controversy and Jinnah’s fourteen-point demand, the Muslim League members stopped attending Congress meetings but the Sabhaites continued to do so. The refusal of Congress to form a joint government in U.P. led to a disaster. Muslim League became more aggressive and propagandist during the 27-months rule of Congress. After the resignation of Congress in October 1939, the Muslim League celebrated the ‘day of deliverance’. One can blame Muslim League for politicising the failure of the Congress regime, but cannot deny that the series of communal riots alienated a vast section of Muslims, especially educated middle-class Muslims, and strengthened the influence of the Muslim League. Even the liberal and secular Muslims like Asaf Ali felt the pain. He wrote in early 1935 that when he went to Indore to defend the case of an accused he found the Muslims in terror and demoralised owing to indiscriminate arrests and the rule of terror. He heard that the Arya Samajist and Sabhaites were active in the city. He even mentioned the biased notification of the Home Ministry number 16, dated March 10, 1927, to constitute a special tribunal to try the riots cases with two Hindu and one Muslim member, and the decision of the tribunal, based on the majority opinion would be final (Asaf Ali Papers, 1621-1638; Vol. 9, Prem Chand Archives and Literary Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia).
In 1939, Muslim League discussed some options like the Aligarh plan, prepared by Zafrul Hasan and Husain Qadri to divide India into four Independent states-Hindustan, Pakistan, Bengal, and Hyderabad. Sikandar Hayat Khan of Unionist party proposed seven autonomous regions with limited powers to center like defense, foreign affairs, custom, and currency. The Government of the day was backing these plans. Finally, the historic moment came on March 23, 1940, in Lahore when the Muslim League adopted the resolution of a separate nation-Pakistan. The Resolution was drafted by Sikander Hayat Khan, presented by Fazl-ul-Haque, and seconded by Khaliq-uz-Zaman. The wordings of the resolution were drafted cleverly. It did not mention partition or the word ‘Pakistan’, but it did talk about an autonomous and sovereign unit of Muslim majority provinces in the north-west and the east. The Resolution, perhaps, also meant a weak center with powerful provinces. In her book, Jinnah—The Sole Spokesman, the Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has argued that the demand of Pakistan was used to bargain maximum political concession for Muslims in India. Tej Bahadur Sapru, on the other hand, remarked,— “He (Jinnah) is like Oliver Twist. The more you give him the more he wants.” (Sapru Papers, Roll. 1)
Both the British Government and the Congress party were responsible for increasing the sway of the Muslim League and pushing India towards partition. The Cripps offer made in March 1942 provided a clever backdoor entry into Pakistan through provincial self-determination. It declared that the elected members of the Lower House would elect a constitution-making body by proportional representation. This constitution would be accepted by the British, but any province unwilling to accept the new constitution had the right to secede and frame its constitution. Even Gandhi, in July 1944, conceded the right of self-determination to the Muslim majority provinces (Sucheta Mahajan, Independence, and Partition, pp. 208, Sage Publications, 2000). C. Rajagopalachari, a prominent Congress leader formulated a plan, better known as ‘Rajaji plan’ which envisaged a plebiscite in contiguous Muslim-majority districts in North-west and East India, after the war and on condition that the League would participate in an interim government, to decide on separation from India. Jinnah, on the other hand, insisted that only Muslims would decide whether an area was to be separated from India and that all the six provinces and not the districts alone would make up Pakistan. He insisted that before independence itself Pakistan must be created. The manner in which Lord Wavell called off the ‘Simla Conference’ further substantiated the position of the Muslim League.
The election for the central and provincial legislative assemblies, in the winter of 1945-1946, gave another opportunity to Muslim League to set their house in order. Till then its organization was very poor and its social base was limited, but in 1945 the League reached out to the villagers, mainly the peasants, and it was now much better organised. The inherent class conflict between peasants and the Zamindars was given communal color. The Muslim League propagated among the Muslim peasants of Bengal and Punjab that in Pakistan they would be free from the exploitations of Hindu Zamindars and traders. The League succeeded in convincing the petty Muslim traders that they would get a better opportunity to progress. The educated Muslim middle class was promised a better opportunity to rise and that their life, honor, and religion would be safe from the Hindus.
In April 1945, the Federation of Muslim Chambers of Commerce and Industry was formed and it was also planned that a Muslim Bank and Airlines Company would be opened after the war. Jinnah favored these organizations. The League used the service of Ulema (Muslim theologians) for propaganda and a vote for the League was termed as a vote for Qoran and a vote for Congress as a vote for Gita. Nationalist and liberal Muslims were ridiculed, abused, and threatened. Shah Ozair Momeni, the candidate from Islampur, Purnea, was so afraid of being assaulted by the Leaguers that he tried to avoid appearing before the public and lost the election (Rajendra Prasad Papers, 9-R/45-46, Col. I). The League also propagated among the Muslim voters that if they did not support the League, they would cease to be Muslims, their marriages would be invalid, and their deaths would not be allowed to be buried in Muslim graveyards. Khooni mushairas were held by the members of the League in the election campaign, as recorded by Mohammad Yunus, a Congress leader from the NWFP. Thus, the stereotyped slogan ‘Islam in danger’ was the flavor of the election campaign of the Muslim League. The result was completely in favor of the League. It won all the Muslim seats in the Central Legislative Assembly elections, winning 89 percent of the Muslim vote. Its all-India figures for provincial legislative assemblies were also impressive as it won 428 of the 492 Muslim seats. Ayesha Jalal, however, gave different reasons for the success of the League— “Jinnah’s success at the polls in 1946 owed a great deal to the reluctance of the British to tell the voters what Pakistan entailed; it owed almost as much to Congress, which failed to rally its potential Muslim allies in provinces outside the League’s sway.” She further argues that the networks of patronage of the local Muslim leaders led to the success of the League at the hustings (Jalal, The Sole Spokesman, OUP, pp. 135, 147, 150).
Although the election result brought a smile on the Muslim League’s face yet Pakistan was still a dream and without the support of the British, the formation of Pakistan was virtually impossible. The British Government sent a three-member Cabinet Mission in early 1946, which announced its plan on May 16, 1946. The plan avoided any reference to Pakistan, yet it proposed to construct a three-tiered federal structure that would ensure the autonomy of Muslim majority provinces. A sovereign Pakistan was ruled out which brought some relief to the Congress, but this was very short-lived as the interpretation of grouping provisions in the Cabinet Mission Plan kept the possibility of Pakistan alive.
In August 1946, the League was in a militant mood and on August 16, 1946—declared as Direct Action Day, the meaning of which was never defined and the cadres were free to interpret the way they wished—widespread communal violence was spread in the north and east India, especially in Calcutta and in many parts of Bihar, killing thousands of people. The Chief Minister of Bengal (a Muslim) and the Chief Minister of Bihar (a Hindu) remained mere spectators, if not actively abetting the rioting. Gandhi was quick to grasp the situation when he said, “we are not yet in the midst of civil war. But we are nearing it. At present we are playing at it.” (Harijan, 15 September 1946, MGCW, vol. 3, p. 177) But he decided to remain silent, “Very often silence is the most effective communication because silence is filled with the truth”. (Prayer meeting, New Delhi, August 28, 1946 MGCW, vol. 85, pp. 22). Jinnah, to be fair with him, did condemn the violence in Calcutta and promised action against Leaguers found guilty of disobeying instructions. Ayesha Jalal wrote that the violence was sparked off not by any League statements but by the Muslim clergy and quite naturally, once the movement had begun Jinnah could not direct or control it, but he could see the division of India as the only alternative and declared that India was on the brink of civil war. Muslims were no longer trusting Hindu leaders of the Congress including Mahatma Gandhi, who himself was aware of this, “he was now looked upon as the Enemy No. 1, rather than a friend by the majority of the Muslim community in India.”(Bose, My Days with Gandhi, pp. 140 and 152). The Muslims accused him of caring only for Hindus, else why did he make Noakhali his headquarters and not Bihar?
Muslim League came further close to the goal of Pakistan with the formation of an interim government on September 2, 1946, based on the Cabinet Mission Plan. Initially, the League was interested in the formation of an interim government with Jinnah as the head. Even Gandhi advised Congress leaders to accept Jinnah as Prime Minister so that he could become more responsible and stop insisting on the partition. B.R. Nanda in his book, Mahatma Gandhi: A Biography, called it “one supreme gesture”. But the Congress leaders dismissed it, and even started ignoring Gandhi. Jawaharlal Nehru became Prime minister and Muslim League boycotted the interim government. Due to persuasion made by Lord Wavell, the League joined the interim government, but only as a strategy to support the Pakistan Movement. Ghazanfar Ali Khan, one of the ministers of the interim government, representing the Muslim League, confirmed by saying, “we are going into the interim Government to get a foothold to fight for our cherished goal of Pakistan. The Interim Government is one of the fronts of the direct action campaign.” Except Liaqat Ali Khan, who became Finance Minister, the other League nominees were second-raters. The cream leaders were kept reserved for the Pakistan Movement. The purpose of joining the interim government was ‘non-cooperation from within’. The Congress members had devised the strategy of informal meetings before official ones to arrive at a consensus and reduce the Viceroy to a figurehead. The League members refused to attend such meetings; they held separate meetings under the leadership of Liaqat Ali Khan. In such a case, the Viceroy happily resumed his role of arbiter. Even the budget prepared by Liaqat Ali Khan divided Congress and the League. The budget was anti-rich and anti-capitalist, and it imposed a heavy tax on them. The Congress found itself in a dilemma for it was neither in a position to oppose nor to openly support. Finally, Nehru and other Congress leaders were convinced that partition was the only solution; the Mountbatten plan did the rest.