Punjab and Pakistan

Print edition : March 25, 2005


"YOUR telegram, to put it mildly, shows an utter lack of decency and sense of proportion." It is doubtful whether anyone had used such language ever before to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, even in his early years in politics. What is certain is that even then Jinnah would not have tolerated it and would have severed relations with the offender for good. But these very words were used by Sir Sikander Hayat Khan to Jinnah in a long letter, dated July 8, 1940, when he was the Prime Minister of Punjab, a member of the Muslim League's Working Committee and the party's president; Jinnah had already become the Quaid-e-Azam (supreme leader). On March 23, 1940, the League held its annual session in Lahore and adopted a resolution demanding the partition of India. Yet, Jinnah "lumped it", to use a slang, and their relations continued as before - uneasily in an alliance born out of the compulsions of both men.

The next year, Sikander made plain in the Provincial Assembly, on March 11, that his conception of Pakistan differed fundamentally from Jinnah's; "A Muslim Raj here and a Hindu Raj elsewhere, if that is what Pakistan means, I will have nothing to do with it." He was opposed to the partition of India.

Tragically, Sikander died of heart failure at midnight on December 26, 1942, after attending the marriage ceremonies of his two sons and a daughter. He was only 50 years old. An era ended with his passing away and there was no other Muslim leader in Punjab who could have stood up to Jinnah and averted the partition of the country and this Province as well.

When, on April 26, 1947, Mountbatten asked Jinnah "straight out what his views were about keeping Bengal united at the price of its remaining out of Pakistan, he said, without any hesitation, `I should be delighted. What is the use of Bengal without Calcutta. They had much better remain united and independent. I am sure they would be on friendly terms with us'."

The typed version is that of Sikander Hayat Khan and the corrections therein are by Jinnah, Barkat Ali and others.-

If this had happened, as the Bengal Premier H.S. Suhrawardy's pact with Sarat Chandra Bose envisaged, the two-nation theory would have been proved false at the very moment it was sought to be implemented. Plans for a United Bengal were wrecked by Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. Gandhi demanded safeguards for the minorities in a united Bengal, which he would not grant to minorities in a united India (For his letters vide the writer's essay "United Bengal Plan - Pipe dream or Missed Opportunity" in Amrik Singh (ed) The Partition in Retrospect; Anamika Publishers, pages 246-258).

But what Prof. Reginald Coupland wrote of Hyderabad vis--vis India applied to Punjab vis--vis Pakistan. India could live if its arms were amputated. But could it live without its heart? Jinnah could give up Bengal. But he could not possibly have established Pakistan without Punjab as one of its units, even if it was partitioned.

Only three things could have persuaded Muslim leaders in Punjab to opt for the Sikander version of Pakistan rather than its Jinnah version. One was that it spelt certain death and ruination. Another was a conciliatory policy by the Congress and its readiness to share power in a federation based on largely autonomous provinces. Sikander predicted to Penderel Moon, even before the 1940 resolution was adopted: "Pakistan would mean a massacre" (Moon; Divide and Quit; page 20). Jinnah either did not expect this to happen or shut his eyes to it. The Congress never once adopted a conciliatory policy. It lusted for total power and bared its lust when it first tasted power. That was when it formed Ministries in several Provinces in 1937, under the Government of India Act 1935, which granted provincial autonomy in a federation. Its federal part was rejected, for different reasons, by both the Congress and the League.

Let alone the League, even a moderate like Tej Bahadur Sapru wrote to B. Shiva Rao, correspondent of The Hindu, on November 16, 1940: "You at Delhi... possibly cannot have any idea of the experience we have had of party dictatorship or of Congress Ministries wherever they have existed and particularly in U.P. and Bihar" (Rima Hooja; Crusader for Self-Rule; Rawat Publications, page 281. An excellent work).

Moon records that in the elections held under the Act, in 1937, "the League leaders had been careful to draft their election manifesto so as to be in broad accord with the Congress programme". But within "the space of a single year the whole situation had radically altered. There is no doubt that the leaders of Congress were responsible, though quite unwittingly, for this critical change in Muslim sentiment. In retrospect, it seems as though a curse was laid on them at this time, which compelled them over the next ten years invariably to act in such a way as to bring about exactly the opposite result to that which they intended. They passionately desired to preserve the unity of India. They consistently acted so as to make its partition certain" (emphasis added, throughout).

Clauses (e), (f) and (g), which were deleted, provided for an agreed Centre.-

But, what of Jinnah's contribution? The two-nation theory was poisonous enough; his arrogant manner and abrasive rhetoric were not conducive to a dialogue, not that the Congress was ever ready for one in earnest. In any case, was the partition that Jinnah could possibly have achieved worth it? Was there no way he could have averted it? The stark reality, known to all who cared for the facts, was that there was no way Pakistan could have been established without the partition of Punjab and Bengal and the total omission of Assam, bar its Sylhet district. And Jinnah knew that.

Yet, till the very last Jinnah publicly, insistently demanded all his "Pakistan Provinces" intact - NWFP, Balochistan, Punjab and Sind in the West and Bengal and Assam in the east, though large contiguous parts of Punjab and Bengal and the entire Assam except Sylhet had a non-Muslim majority. The Pakistan resolution itself postulated as the "basic principle" demarcation of "contiguous units" - the word Provinces was not used - into "regions which should be so constituted with such territorial re-adjustments as may be necessary that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute `Independent States' in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign".

In 1964 Ashiq Husain Batalvi claimed that he had suggested specific mention of the Provinces in the resolution instead of this formulation. The claim is not supported by the record (vide Muslim League Session 1940 and the Lahore Resolution (Documents) compiled by Ikram Ali Malik; National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, Islamabad, 1990). His claim that Liaquat Ali Khan explained that the words "territorial adjustment" were used to support a claim to "areas of Muslim culture" elsewhere - rather than concede non-Muslim areas in the two Provinces - is unworthy of credence. It is preposterous.

The sensible concession in the Lahore Resolution was based on the realities. Jinnah however, chose to retract it for tactical reasons. Till as late as on May 21, 1947, he said, in a famous interview to Doon Camphell of Reuters, that he would "fight every inch" against partition of Punjab and Bengal. "Every inch," indeed. He had in private already accepted precisely that. So much so that only five days earlier, on May 16, he had finalised with Mountbatten the terms of reference of the Boundary Commissions for both Punjab and Bengal based on their partition. Not surprisingly, he went on to accept Mountbatten's Plan of June 3, 1947, for the partition of India and the partition of these ill-fated provinces.

To the public, this appeared to be a violent somersault. In truth, from the beginning till the very end, Jinnah had practised deceit on the people on this issue. On January 17, 1942, ahead of the negotiations with Stafford Cripps, Jinnah disclosed to Cripps' adviser Coupland "his readiness for Punjab to cede Ambala Division to U.P. and for Bengal to cede its Hindu western districts to Bihar, provided it acquired Assam" (R.J. Moore; Escape from Empire; OUP, 1983; page 54). Coupland promptly recorded that in his Diary. The Ambala Division comprised the districts of Hissar, Rohtak, Gurgaon, Karnal, Ambala and Simla. By what logic could he then exclude the Jullundar Division comprising Kangra, Hoshiarpur, Jullundar, Ludhiana and Ferozpur districts? And Assam, too, except its Sylhet district? Moreoever, if this tough customer could, in advance, concede the Ambala division, the British knew that the rest would follow; disavowals in public and objections in private were for the record.

Thus were Punjabis and Bengalis led up the garden path - along with the entire Muslim community. In this, he was assisted by the Congress' own deceit and arrogance. It spoke with a forked tongue on partition consistently (Vide the writer's article "The Partition of India", Frontline, January 4, 2002). It had no concessions even for secular federalists. Even "Nationalist Muslims were left in the cold - like Maulana Azad.

What if the Congress had declared publicly, explicitly, well in advance and repeatedly, that Punjab and Bengal would also be partitioned if India was divided? It did so only on March 8, 1947. Gullible as they were, Jinnah's followers believed till the last that their "not an inch" leader would, indeed, not yield an inch on this issue. The June 3, 1947, partition plan therefore came as a rude shock to them. Punjabi leaders now realised that they would lose their precious lands in East Punjab. Had this been driven home earlier, saner counsel might have prevailed. To all who cared to know, the maps, based on the census of 1941, gave their warnings. They were published in all major works on Pakistan. Jinnah not only concealed his concession from his followers, but led them to believe that it was possible to avert the partition of Punjab and Bengal. He knew, of course, that this was simply not true. Why did he not prepare his followers for the inevitable, honestly and courageously? For two reasons. One is obvious. He would have lost support in Punjab. Pakistan would have become an impossibility. The other is that he hoped to secure a loose federation and Pakistan was a bargaining counter.

THE one man who could have alerted Punjabis was Sikander. But could he have stood up to a Jinnah who was fast gathering strength while Sikander was in decline? Penderel Moon doubts that. The documents compiled by Lionel Carter support this view. He was a member of the team, led by Nicholas Mansergh, which produced the British government's series of documents on The Transfer of Power to India 1942-47. He also edited Mountbatten's Report on the last Viceroyalty 22 March-15 August 1947 (Manohar; pages 397, Rs.850).

The present volume is a compilation of fortnightly reports by the Governor of Punjab to the Viceroy from October 1936 to December 1939. Carter's introduction and his annotations conform to high standards of scholarship. The volume is of immense help in understanding the politics of pre-partition Punjab.

It is a great pity that Carter stopped at December 1939 and not at December 1940, if not, indeed, at December 1942. He has deprived us of the Governor's Reports on the Lahore Resolution and Sikander's comments to him in private. This was a flaw in his character. He was a loyalist of the Raj, unlike Jinnah. It must be read with the Jinnah-Sikander correspondence in Quaid-i-Azam's Correspondence with Punjab Muslim Leaders edited by S. Qaim Hussain Jafri (Aziz Publishers, Lahore, 1977).

One learns much about pre-partition India. Corruption was rife even then. So, were defections. The Muslim League won only two seats in 1937. One of the winners defected to Sikander's Unionist Party, which was secular and feudal. One of its main props was the Jat leader Sir Chotu Ram, on whose legacy Om Prakash Chautala aspires to lay his impious hands. On October 15, 1937, Jinnah and Sikander concluded a pact. He and Muslim members of the Unionist Party would join the League but the Unionist Coalition would continue and so would the Unionist Party. There was no merger of the two parties.

The tide soon began to turn. The Congress allotted Rs.30,000 (worth Rs.3 crores today?) for propaganda in the Province and a "large sum for the conversion of Muslims generally to the Congress creed". To no avail. Even Sikander was alienated by the Congress' totalitarian approach.

By 1938, the fate of the federal part of the Act of 1935 was sealed. There began a quest for alternatives. Sikander prepared his scheme. The Governor, Sir Henry Craik, reported to the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, on June 5, 1938, his talks with Sikander. "As regards his own objections to Federation, these are founded on the apprehension that it will place the Hindus permanently in power at the Centre... Judging by what has happened in the case of the Congress Provinces, he apprehends that a Hindu Ministry at the Centre will be predominantly a Congress Ministry and will be very rigidly controlled by the Congress High Command. The tendency will be for the party in power at the Centre to interfere in provincial matters, and their efforts in this direction are likely to be specially directed against the Punjab as being the one Province in India where at present the Congress exercises comparatively little influence. He thinks it likely that this interference will be specially aimed at clipping the wings of the Punjab as the dominant partner in the Indian Army."

He propounded a scheme for an Indian federation confined to defence, foreign affairs, communications, customs and relations with the princely states. He explained it in confidence to the Governor, who reported his talks with Sikander to the Viceroy on June 5, 1938. It would rest on seven units, one of which would be "A North-Western unit consisting of the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sind, Kashmir and the Punjab States. It might be desirable to add to this unit one or two of the Rajputana States bordering on the Punjab, such as Bikaner and Alwar, in order to avoid the appearance of creating a `Pakistan' or too predominantly Muslim unit." Sikander sent a copy of his scheme to Jinnah as well as to Gandhi in 1939 when it was circulated as a pamphlet entitlted "Outlines of a scheme of Indian Fedeation". Bengal stood alone without Assam.

Various such schemes were being floated around at that time. The League set up a Committee to consider them. The Lahore Resolution was, thus, the result of a long exercise. Sikander was one of its draftsmen. But Jinnah and Barkat Ali, a Sikander opponent in Punjab, deleted the provisions concerning an all-India Centre, which Sikander had made, at the last moment on the very day it was adopted. Instead, the resolution authorised the Working Committee to prepare a scheme. It never did. Jinnah did not wish publicly to concede a Centre. Significantly, he did so in his own proposals to the Cabinet Mission on May 12, 1946, a fact neither critics nor admirers care to notice. This was from days before it published its plan for a loose federation.

The evidence is considerable that on both a union and, in the alternative, partition of the two provinces, Jinnah was prepared to concede. Significantly also, on April 25, 1946, when offered a choice between the Pakistan of today and a loose Centre, he preferred the latter. He went on to accept the Mission's plan.

The volume shows how uneasy was the Jinnah-Sikander entente. In March 1942 Sikander tendered his resignation from the League's executive. He prepared another scheme that year, this time in secret. It was so crafted that if Punjab chose to opt out of the Union, so could its non-Muslim areas from the Province. Its object, as V.P. Menon revealed, was "to bring home to all... that if it should ever eventuate, Pakistan would smash the Punjab as it existed. He was, however, dissuaded by the Viceroy from publishing or proceeding with his scheme" (Transfer of Power in India, page 144).

PANIGRAHI has no use for any such nuances. His book is a work of much labour. But industry unmatched by fairness merits little praise. He has delved into the archives; but seems unable to read the record straight. Jinnah, we are told, "won most of his cases." Authority? Chagla's Roses in December at page 54 - which says no such thing. No lawyer in his senses would ever make such a foolish boast. He writes: "The Cabinet Mission plan, although well-intentioned, was complex and not easy to work with. The three-tier system, as it was called, had so much flexibility that the Union would remain in a constant state of flux for most of the time. The Muslim League accepted the plan after discussion and when assurance was given that the Muslim-majority provinces could form a group and would have the power to secede from the Union. The Congress felt that the plan envisaged not one partition but several partitions after a few years, although the Cabinet Mission opposed the principle of partition. According to the Congress, this was a contradiction in terms. Later, Clause 19 of the May 16 statement was the subject of disagreement between the Congress and the Cabinet Mission. The Muslim League interpreted the provisions to mean grouping of Muslim-majority Provinces for the purpose of framing their provincial and group constitution unfettered by the Union in any way. Subsequent observations and clarifications by the Cabinet Mission sought to confirm the Muslim League point of view, to which the Congress did not agree. The crux of the issue lay on the question of partition and it was felt that the Cabinet Mission plan would eventually lead to a partition of India in bits and pieces without resolving the communal question."

Almost every proposition is untrue. The plan provided for secession of the Provinces from the groups, not from the Union. Both Azad and Patel proclaimed that it had buried the partition idea. The Congress' refusal to accept the plan unreservedly led to its collapse in July 1946. The Mission had clarified before that, on May 25, 1946, not later, that the Congress' interpretation was wrong. No one alleged that it would lead to "a partition of India in bits and pieces". Even Mountbatten reported to London in May 1947 that the Congress was insincere in its stand on the Mission's plan.

But read this at page 337: "The Cabinet Mission plan of 1946 came to grief not because it was too complex but because of internal clashes between the Cabinet Mission and Wavell on the one hand, and misunderstandings between the Congress and the League on the other." What was "complex" and difficult to work at page 277 became not "too complex" at page 337, after all. All this on perhaps the most important document in India's history in modern times preceding Partition - the Mission's plan of May 16, 1946.

To Panigrahi "Linlithgow was the key figure behind the unfolding of the partition proposals, which were later put forward by Jinnah at the historic Lahore session of the Muslim League on March 22-24, 1940. Several friendly parleys, meetings and discussions had taken place between Jinnah and Linlithgow after the commencement of the Second World War between September and November 1939 culminating in the partition idea in February-March 1940."

This is untrue. The Lahore Resolution did not impress Linlithgow one bit. "I do not attach much importance to Jinnah's demands for the carving out of India into an indefinite number of religious areas," he wrote to the Secretary of State for India, Lord Zetland, on May 25, 1940. Since the Congress had put forth extreme claims, Jinnah thought "he equally will put forward just as extreme a claim".

There is not a tittle of evidence to suggest that Jinnah got the idea of Pakistan in "friendly parleys" with Linlithgow, while there is a mass of evidence on partition proposals since 1924, when Lajpat Rai proposed it. This is typical of Panigrahi's style of discourse. We are told that "Jinnah hoped to outlive the Indian Congress leaders. He obviously did not know in May 1946 that he was suffering from a fatal disease, which removed him from the political scene within two years. He died on 11 September 1948. And, of course, Gandhi lost his life to a Hindu assassin on 30 January 1948." Where did he buy this gem from? None had ever said this before. Quite the contrary. Jinnah knew he had not long to live. On this, all are agreed - bar Panigrahi. Such gems abound in this tendentious and shoddy book. They betray a lot. It is a pity that even over half a century after independence, such utter piffle should find place in works by academics.

The Cabinet Mission's plan ruled out secession from the Union. Under it, the India of today could have established a strong Centre. Pakistan would have been under a Centre - albeit confined to defence, foreign affairs and communications - with Punjab and Bengal remaining united and their economically powerful non-Muslim minorities in place. Over time, as Carter's volume shows, Muslim and Hindu politicians would have sought each other's support - in perfectly secular opportunism.

PUNJAB was the sword-arm of India. It was, as Tan Tai Yong calls it, "the Garrison State". He ably surveys its rural military elite's efforts to secure the reins of power till the State itself cracked. Military considerations influenced British policy in Punjab. Its base comprised peasant proprietors and military classes. Punjab split in the wake of India's partition. And the swords of the two wings of Punjab were now raised against each other in tragic and wasteful combat. The book explains the survival of the military-civil oligarchy in West Punjab. It dominates politics in Pakistan to this day.

In increasingly large numbers, Pakistanis have begun to ask: "What did we establish Pakistan for?" Doubtless, some of this is prompted by their unfortunate travails in the last decade. But much of it is due to the seeping awareness of the folly that underlay the demand intrinsically and the folly that overcame the clever, clever calculations of their leader; a man of high personal integrity and intelligence whom wisdom and imagination deserted in the last years of his life.

Sixty years ago, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar saw it all. "Pakistan is unnecessary to Muslims where they are in a majority because there, there is no fear of Hindu Raj. It is worse than useless to Muslims where they are in a minority, because Pakistan or no Pakistan, they will have to face a Hindu Raj. Can politics be more futile than the politics of the Muslim League?" (Pakistan or The Partition of India, 1946, page 358).

Ambedkar had no animus against Jinnah, of whom he wrote: "Mr. Jinnah, who represents this ideological transformation (from secular to communal politics) can never be suspected of being a tool in the hands of the British even by the worst of his enemies... It is doubtful if there is a politician in India to whom the adjective incorruptible can be more fittingly applied. Anyone who knows what his relations with the British government have been, will admit that he has always been their critic, if indeed, he has not been their adversary. No one can bury him. For it must be said to his credit that he has never been a soldier of fortune. The customary Hindu explanation fails to account for the ideological transformation of Mr. Jinnah" (page 323).

What went wrong? Jinnah sought a loose union of autonomous provinces and a sharing of power very much like what Tamils have been seeking in Sri Lanka - no "tyranny of an unchanging majority". But he miscalculated in three major respects: (a) Underestimated the poison of the two-nation theory; (b) underestimated the harm his rhetoric and arrogance did; and (c) overestimated the Congress' commitment to national unity and its readiness to share power.

Nehru wrote in his prison Diary on December 28,1943: "Instinctively I think it better to have Pakistan or almost anything if only to keep Jinnah far away..." (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; First Series; Vol. 13; page 324). His aversion to Jinnah was as visceral as was the Congress' to power-sharing. When it wrecked the Cabinet Mission's scheme finally in December 1946, Jinnah had no option but acquiesce in a "truncated" Pakistan established in rancour. No alternative was in sight or was even offered.

In 1947 one sensible man knew what was happening. On April 10 Liaquat Ali Khan told Mountbatten: "If your staff will work out exactly what partition means and then if you present the full difficulties to Mr. Jinnah, he will, of course, understand them even though he has not worked them out for himself." To some Pakistanis, this was "treachery" on his part.

Nehru did not expect Pakistan to last. He was amazed to find how popular he was in Pakistan when he visited it in 1953. He told Girja Shankar Bajpai he was more popular than any politician there. But this man of fine qualities pursued on Kashmir a policy of confrontation based on fraud and deceit, which embittered its people and Pakistan as well. It is amazing how men of personal integrity can stoop to deceit in order to accomplish their pet objectives in politics - Jinnah on the partition of Punjab and Nehru on Kashmir.

We must not read too much in the disenchantment among some Pakistanis nor underestimate their national feelings. The current detente in Indo-Pak relations and exchanges at the popular level suggest that the consequences of a tragic folly, to which both sides contributed, can yet be overcome and the past put behind us - if only we pursue a different course and discard policies that have yielded nothing but frustration and rancour in this last half century.

Punjab Politics 1936-1939: The Start of Provincial Autonomy, Governor's Fortnightly Reports

The Garrison State: The Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab 1849-1947 by Tan Tai Yong; Sage; pages 332, Rs.640.

India's Partition: The Story of Imperialism in Retreat by D.N. Panigrahi; Routledge, Distributed by Knowledge World; pages 371, 29.50.

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