Stating the hidden obvious

Far from being a vague idea that accidentally became a nation-state, Pakistan was popularly imagined as a New Medina

HAD it not been for the great penchant for denying our own history on the part of us North Indian Muslims, one would have classified Venkat Dhulipala’s work as a well-documented statement of an obvious historical fact. After all, what the book under review comes up with as its conclusion, based on documented events during the 1940s — that the idea of Pakistan as an Islamic state was sold with the dream of a grand revival of global Muslim rule as the main marketing attraction to the Muslim electorate in North India — should have been common knowledge. But it isn’t, which tells a thing or two about our peculiar relationship with history.

What we go on inventing on a regular basis as our history of ‘the Pakistan movement’ — as a spider’s web to suspend ourselves in — oftentimes flies directly in the face of facts. In our nascent mythology, Allama Iqbal dreamed our dreamland into existence — no matter if his own son, the honourable Justice (r) Javed Iqbal, keeps asking who dreamed the Allama’s dream into existence. And completely disregard Iqbal’s letter to the editor of a London-based newspaper that he had nothing at all to do with the scheme of Pakistan. And so on.

Those on the other side of the ideological spectrum — the ‘leftists’ so to say — base their political interpretation of history on the weak foundation of the Quaid-e Azam’s famous speech of August 11 1947, and make a tall claim that the Muslim League leadership had envisioned Pakistan as a secular, democratic nation-state in the way India later fashioned itself through its constitution of 1950. The claim naturally fails to convince many players who have a stake in the political circus that has marked Pakistan’s history since its traumatic birth.

Dhulipala, assistant professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, has collected in his engaging book a small treasure of references about how the campaign for Pakistan was being conducted in the areas of North India which were not even supposed to be a part of the new state, but which produced the influential feudal lords and Nawabs who had a decisive grip on the All India Muslim League’s leadership. As the New York Times reported on September 8, 1942, “Support for Pakistan is strongest in the provinces with Muslim minorities where the Congress was in power and weakest in the Punjab and Bengal where there are Muslim majorities.”(Quoted in the book on p.194)

This was despite the fact that the undisputed great leader of the Muslim League, Jinnah, had declared in no uncertain terms what future he envisaged for the Muslims of those very minority provinces. “During his visit to Kanpur… Jinnah spoke on the usual lines and stated that he was willing to allow the 2 crores of Muslims who would fall in minority provinces under the Pakistan scheme to be smashed in order to liberate 7 crores of Muslims in the majority provinces.” (UP Police Abstract of Intelligence for the week ending 4 April 1941). (P.279)

“Jinnah spoke on the usual lines and stated that he was willing to allow the 2 crores of Muslims who would fall in minority provinces under the Pakistan scheme to be smashed in order to liberate 7 crores of Muslims in the majority provinces.”

Funny, isn’t it, that the Muslims of the majority provinces had to be ‘liberated’ whether they asked for it or not, while the Muslims in the minority provinces would most certainly and readily have agreed ‘to be smashed’ had they understood the words spoken by their beloved leader in English. For the cause was a sacred one: Reviving the ‘Islamic state’ that in popular perception was the Medina in another time and place. In the words of Dhulipala, “far from being a vague idea that accidentally became a nation-state, Pakistan was popularly imagined in U.P. as a sovereign Islamic State, a New Medina, as it was called by some of its proponents. In this regard it was not just envisaged as a refuge for the Indian Muslims but as an Islamic utopia that would be the harbinger for renewal and rise of Islam in the modern world, act as the powerful new leader and protector of the entire Islamic world and, thus, emerge as a worthy successor to the defunct Turkish Caliphate as the foremost Islamic power in the twentieth century.”

If one recalls that the establishment of the ‘Islamic state’ thirteen centuries previously in the old Medina, was inevitably followed by the Fath-e Makkah, and by the great Arab conquests everywhere, not only does the popularised slogan “Pakistan ka matlab kya…” start making sense but so does the ‘Ghazwa-e Hind’ as our national strategic objective.

What forms the basis of this collective political dream — anachronistic some would say, but that doesn’t matter — is the deep belief that Islam is not just another religion made up of a set of beliefs and rituals meant to provide solace to individual souls but a forceful political ideology which had once helped Muslims conquer and dominate a large part of the world and can — will — do it again, this time led by us, not the Arabs.

The North Indian Muslim elites — who distinguished themselves from the local, ‘converted’ non-elite (lesser) Muslims on the basis of their own perceived foreign origin — chiselled this solid belief into shape in the course of almost a century preceding the attainment of the first among its carefully drafted objectives of the scheme of dominating the world — no less — in 1947.

If, for a moment, we disregard its actual and potential destructive consequences for the affected people and others, this dream-like belief adopted as a political cause — this work of collective imagination of a fascinating group of members of the said elite classes — can be admired as a great anthropological construct of breathtaking aesthetic value. Except that, once put into practice, it has every likelihood of turning into a terrible nightmare, as the gory events of the past quarter of a century, in particular, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan amply demonstrate. Dhulipala describes “Pakistan’s post-colonial crisis” as one “marked not just by the fragility of democratic institutions, but a vexed relationship between Islam and State, secessionist and insurgency movements, internecine sectarian conflicts, not to mention death, assassination or forced exile of four former or serving heads of state.”

Dhulipala’s narrative moves smoothly from the exploration of “the divisions that developed in U.P. Muslim politics in the aftermath of the Government of India Act of 1935” (Manto’s Naya Qanoon) “that introduced limited democracy” in the provinces which led to “the contest between the Congress and Muslim League for the hearts, minds and votes of the U.P. Muslims” and “the process of the ML’s rise as the sole representative organization of the Indian Muslims.” The book “specifically foregrounds the critical role played by a section of the Deobandi ulama in articulating this imagined national community with an awareness of Pakistan’s global historical significance, a crucial narrative that has been written out of most accounts of the Partition.”

Dhulipala finds fault with and challenges the notions that Pakistan was “insufficiently imagined”, or it did not “possess a ‘positive’ national identity but only a ‘negative’ identity in opposition to India”, or that “this lack of positive content or consensus in its nationalist ideology is indeed the primary reason behinds Pakistan’s nearly continuous post-colonial travails”. However, he too, in turn, finds the ideas actually driving the campaign for the establishment of Pakistan vague in terms of how the New Medina (itself a vague notion for the modern world in the first place) would be brought into being, how it would be run in times when secular, democratic ‘nation-state’ seems to be in vogue everywhere, and how the ultimate objective of global dominance was to be achieved.

This vagueness, I venture to suggest, stems out of the historical fact that nobody in the South Asian subcontinent had had a direct experience of a ‘nation state’ before 1947 so people managing the ‘Pakistan movement’ had no reasonable motive to strive for an alien notion of a nation-state as their political goal. What they modelled their concept of the New Medina (or the reinvented Mumlikat-e Khudadad, as used to be the official honorific of the defunct Mysore state) on was — it can be argued — the concrete, familiar reality of the so-called ‘Princely States’ under the Raj. The significant difference being that in each of the princely states, the right of the princely clan to rule the state was recognised by the higher authority of the Raj and the subjects alike, and any disputes regarding succession were resolved by the Resident or Political Agent reporting to the Viceroy. The post-colonial travails of the Islamic state may arguably be traced to the absence of consensus on these two points and it could be said that perhaps Pakistan was an “insufficiently imagined princely state”.

Creating a New Medina

State Power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India

By Venkat Dhulipala

Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2015

Pp: 530

Price: Not mentioned

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