Jinnah had to surmount stiff opposition from the Indian National Congress (hereafter referred to also as the Congress Party, the Congress or the INC), which was then the biggest political party in India, a grass-roots mass organization since the 1920s, with branches all over undivided India and long years of political organization and activity. It demanded freedom from British rule in the name of all Indians in a united India. In opposition to it, the All-India Muslim League (hereafter referred to also as the Muslim League, the League or the AIML) demanded separate states for the Muslims in the northwestern and north-eastern zones of India, where they constituted a majority, on the grounds that they were a distinct and separate nation and not merely a large minority (one-fourth of the total population of India). It was an elitist party till 1940, which thereafter rapidly acquired popular support and became a mass party by the time the future of India was put to vote in 1945–46.
Although Jinnah won the case for Pakistan, the partition of India and the two Muslim-majority provinces of Bengal and the Punjab resulted in unprecedented violence and rioting, in which more than a million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs died, and the biggest migration in history, mostly to escape death and injury, took place; some 12–15 million crossed the international border drawn between India and Pakistan.
In the Pakistani nationalist narrative, Jinnah is eulogized as the Man of Destiny, fired by a true love for Islam and Muslims who liberated Muslims from the yoke of Hindu imperialism spearheaded by the Indian National Congress. Jinnah’s two-nation theory, which sharply and irreconcilably dichotomized Hindus and Muslims as two separate nations, is disseminated in Pakistan through the educational curriculum.
Farooq Ahmad Dar, in his book, Jinnah’s Pakistan: Formation and Challenges of a State, mentions several occasions when, after the Muslim League moved the Lahore Resolution on 23 March 1940 demanding the creation of separate Muslim states, the Indian National Congress tried to dissuade Jinnah from demanding Pakistan:
1. The first instance was in June 1940, when the Congress president Subhas Chandra Bose offered Jinnah the post of the first prime minister of independent India, but contingent on his withdrawing his demand for the division of India.
2. A few months later, C. Rajagopalachari went even further: he offered the Muslim League not only the right to nominate the prime minister but also the cabinet of their choice.
3. As late as April 1947, Gandhi was ready to hand over power to Jinnah at the centre with an all-Muslim administration if he gave up his demand of Partition.
Dar then presents Jinnah’s steadfast resistance to such overtures in the following words:
These temptations could not, however, mould the solid man in Jinnah and he stood firm on his stance, which he thought was in the best interests of the Muslims of South Asia. Even when such efforts failed to persuade Jinnah, the Congress leaders continued their efforts to impede the creation of Pakistan till the last day. Yet, they failed to do so.
Dar and others, however, shy away from explaining why Jinnah accepted the 16 May 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan proffered by British ministers to break the deadlock between the Congress and the Muslim League. The Cabinet Mission Plan rejected the Pakistan demand; it recommended instead a loose Indian union with a weak Centre whose constituent federating units were entitled to reconsider their relationship with the Union after ten-year intervals. Additionally, the princely states were required only to cede defence and foreign affairs to the Union while retaining control over all other sectors of society: something which was already the praxis under British paramountcy. The Congress leaders found the Cabinet Mission Plan unacceptable and rejected it.
In sharp contrast to Jinnah being identified as pivotal to the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan, Ayesha Jalal, in The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (1985), originally her PhD dissertation, came to the novel conclusion that ‘Jinnah sought to be recognised as the sole spokesman of Indian Muslims on the all-India level . . . From the late nineteen-thirties his main concern was the arrangements by which power at the centre was to be shared once the British quit India.’ At another place she wrote, ‘It was Congress which insisted on partition, it was Jinnah who was against partition.’
In an article ‘Between Myth and History’, published in the Dawn on 23 March 2005, she complained that she has been misunderstood as having suggested that Jinnah used the Pakistan demand merely as a pressure tactic. In it she asserts that in her books—The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan and Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam since 1850—she had delineated an uneasy fit between the claim of Muslim ‘nationhood’ and the uncertainties and indeterminacies of politics in the late colonial era that led to the attainment of sovereign ‘statehood’.
Jalal refers to the 1940 Lahore Resolution, which, she argues, avoided any ‘mention of “partition” or “Pakistan”, while calling for the ‘grouping of the Muslim-majority provinces in north-western and north-eastern India into “Independent States”, in which the constituent units would be “autonomous and sovereign”’.
Does avoiding any mention of ‘partition’ or ‘Pakistan’ while calling for ‘Independent States’ in which the constituent units would be ‘autonomous and sovereign’ warrant that it did not mean demanding Partition and Pakistan? In the conclusion she underscores: ‘It was Congress’s unwillingness to countenance an equitable power-sharing arrangement with the Muslim League which resulted in the creation of a sovereign Pakistan based on the partition of Punjab and Bengal along ostensibly religious lines.’
Regarding the contents and empirical material in The Sole Spokesman, it is to be underlined that it includes accounts of many events and episodes demonstrating Jinnah’s indefatigable efforts to surmount challenges to his leadership from powerful regional leaders to be the sole spokesman of Muslims. It also abundantly demonstrates Jinnah’s strategy to work hand in glove with the British to mount a challenge to the Congress claim to represent all Indians. Was it, as she argues, to work out a power-sharing deal with the Indian National Congress and the British? If yes, then that is not evident from the hundreds of speeches, statements and messages in which Jinnah explained repeatedly that he wanted a partition of India to create Muslim states. I give here in the beginning only one example. The Lahore session of the AIML ended on 25 March 1940. The same day Jinnah gave a press conference in which he said unambiguously:
The declaration of our goal which we have definitely laid down, of the division of India, is in my opinion a landmark in the future history of the Mussalmans of India . . . I thoroughly believe that the idea of one united India is a dream. Given goodwill and a friendly understanding, Muslim India and Hindu India can live as most friendly neighbours free from clashes and friction to their respective spheres and peacefully develop the government of their States to their own satisfaction respectively.
Jinnah also dismissed repeatedly as nonsense that he was using the demand for Pakistan as a bargaining chip. Again, at this preliminary stage, I give one example.
Speaking to the Delhi Muslim Students’ Federation on 23 November 1940, Jinnah angrily dismissed any suggestion that he or the League were using the demand for Pakistan as a bargaining tactic. He remarked:
The Hindus must give up their dream of a Hindu ‘Raj’ and agree to divide India into Hindu homeland and Muslim homeland. Today we are prepared to take only one-fourth of India and leave three-fourth to them. ‘Pakistan’ was our goal today, for which the Muslims of India will live for and if necessary die for. It is not a counter for bargaining.
This excerpt from Jinnah: His Successes, His Failures and Role in History by Ishtiaq Ahmed has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.