After the elections of 1937, Congress won the majority of the seats and held power, directly or indirectly, in nine out of eleven provinces. While Muslim league was unable to gain control of a single province. The question now arises that why majority of the Muslims voted for congress and not for a party that was solely formed on the objective of safeguarding and protecting the interests of Indian Muslims? Was Congress initially seen as a party that would ensure Muslim representation in Indian Federation?
Or was it the uncertainty of Muslim League’s designs that it was viewed as a party formed by the Muslim “elites” and did not represent the common man? To answer all these questions which will have a myriad of answers from a multiple perspectives we need to discuss the initial agendas and plans of both Congress and Muslim League and whichever factors urged them to change their initial objectives.
An “All Indian” party?
Initially, Muslims saw Congress as an “All Indian representative” party which protected the rights of all minorities in India. Most of the Muslims joined this party whole-heartedly in the hopes of a better future for Muslims in India. From 1885, this was the year of Congress’s birth, to 1906, Muslims actually believed for 11 years and strived hard to have a respectable position in Congress. But in those 11 years Muslim leaders realized that a need for a separate Muslim political party is a necessity for Muslim survival in the Sub-continent. However, the common Muslim did not acknowledge the presence of Congress as a threat to Muslim prosperity and political representation in Indian Federation. If we look at Muslim league’s initial objectives, there was never a demand for a separate land for Muslims which was free of intervention of Hindus.
Muslim league wholly and solely aimed at the preservation of Muslim interests and representation of Muslim demands to the government. Jinnah himself was an advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity and was not demanding a separate homeland initially. It wasn’t until 1928 when the Nehru Report was put forward, which was explicitly appalling to Muslims,and Jinnah stated that it was “The partying of the ways” for Congress and Muslim league. Soon after that in 1929 Jinnah’s fourteen points were put forward which was an amended, inoffensive version of the Nehru Report. However, this all was just between the leaders of the two parties and the general Muslim public was still setting its hopes high in Congress. What made them have a change of heart were the atrocities of Congress government that Muslims throughout India either experienced or heard of when Congress ministries ruled for two years.
The plight of Muslim League:
Congress had a clear majority in Madras, U. P, C. P, Bihar and Orissa. It also formed coalition government in Bombay and N.W.F.P and had political authority in Sindh and Assam. Muslim league desired to be in government in U.P and negotiated with Congress but the negotiations had no substantial results and Congress put forward its harsh demands. Congress demanded of Muslim League members to formally express their allegiance or loyalty to Congress and abolish Muslim league as a separate party once and for all. This was highly unacceptable for any dignified political party and was rejected by Muslim league for obvious reasons. The Congress leaders had come to realize that Muslim League hadgot its roots deep in the massesand thus, Congress started a “Muslim Mass Contact Movement”, with the aim to establish among the Muslims that there are only two political parties in India- the British and the Congress. This was another step taken to further defame Muslim league in their favor.
The “Anti-Muslim” emotion:
The Congress proved to be a pure Hindu party and worked during its reign only for the betterment of the Hindus. Twenty-seven months of the Congress rule were like a nightmare for the Muslims of India. Some of the extremist Congress leaders even stated that they would take revenge from the Muslims for the last 700 years of their slavery. As soon as the Congress ministries took charge of government, they replaced Urdu with Hindi as an official language (Reminisce of the Urdu-Hindi controversy of 1867) and promoted Deva Nagri as an official script. Educational reforms were made throughout India and programs like ‘Warda Taleemi Scheme’ and ‘VidyaMandar Scheme’ were introduced. These educational schemes promoted Hindu values and used Hindi language as a medium of instruction at schools. The main plan was to sway Muslim children against their ideology and inculcate into the minds of Muslim children the superiority of the Hindu culture. Portrayal of Hindu leaders like Gandhi in the positive light and distortion of Muslim history and identity was one of the major aims. Philosophy of Gandhi was incorporated into the newly introduced courses.
Singing of the anti- Muslim “BandeMatram”(From Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s ‘AnandaMath’)was made compulsory in educational institutions and official processions. Attempts to convert Muslims to Hinduism were also tried. Slaughtering of cows was banned and ‘Azan’ processions were interrupted by songs and at some places ‘Azan’ was banned altogether. Pigs were sent inside the mosques during Muslim religious processions. The Congress ministries did their best to weaken the economy of Muslims. They closed the doors of government offices for them and harmed their trade and agriculture. When the Muslim-Hindu riots broke out due to such biased policies of Congress ministries judges, perused by the government, made decisions in the favor of Hindus and Muslims were sent behind the bars. A large number of Muslim Civil Servants had complaints about discrimination, in the form of promotion or there were complaints about new recruitments. The overall attitude of these ministries was highly insensitive and negative towards Muslims. Congress was unable to win over Muslims. In fact, they alienated the Muslims and the unjust treatment compelled the Muslims to be united all over India and to be disciplined in every sphere of life.
Muslims throughout India were horrified by the atrocities of the Congress government. Muslim League was mobilizing Muslims and interacting with them efficiently in different provinces. Concerns of Muslims were taken into account and Muslim League formulated the “Pirpur Report” under the chairmanship of Raja Syed Muhammad Mehdi. Other reports concerning Muslim grievances in Congress run provinces were A. K. Fazl-ul-Haq’s “Muslim Sufferings under Congress Rule”, and “The Sharif Report”. All these reports described Congress government as an attempt to create ‘Hindu Raj’ that wanted to overwhelm the Muslim culture and their identity. It was a rigorous threat to Muslim interests and their religious values.
Blessing in Disguise!
There was a realization that what has happened in the Congress ministries at the provincial level, would perhaps be the fate of the Muslims, if Congress assumes power in all India. In a way this is at a limited scale a display of what Congress would do and that is how it is going to behave if it gets power at the Centre or at the provincial level. But here after the Congress Ministries some of the Muslim leaders began to question that whether a provincial model with autonomy can solve their problems that if they have a federal system with provincial autonomy will not solve their problems. If the situation will go as it is going in the provinces then perhaps it may not provide a satisfactory solution to the Muslims. It is because of this kind of feelings that the Muslim league leadership began to think about alternatives.
The ideology of Pakistan:
At the outbreak of the World War II Britain ordered Indian troops to fight, promising dominion status to India after war. When Congress demanded an immediate transfer of power in return for cooperation of the war efforts, the British government refused. As a result Congress resigned from power. Quaid-i-Azam asked the Muslims to celebrate December 22, 1939 as “The Day of Deliverance” from Congress injustice & oppression and thanksgiving in token of relief from the tyranny of the Congress rule. Discord between the two communities was now final and official. The short Congress rule was just a demo for Muslims of what was to come of them when Congress will formally rule India after the British will leave. Muslims now understood that the need for a separate nation was essential and living with Hindus under Congress rule was a nightmare they never wanted to experience again.
Had not Muslim league lost the elections of 1937 and Congress ministries showed their true colors, Muslims wouldn’t have realized the avid need of a separate nation in which they would have the freedom to practice their religious beliefs. I believe that the Ideology of Pakistan was shaped by the atrocities of Congress rule and the theocratic inclination of the Hindu people which was explicitly displayed in their two years government.
- Struggle for Pakistan by Professor IshtiaqQureshi
- History and Culture of Pakistan by Nigel Kelly
Feature Image Credits: Newstatesman