All of these politicians who were speaking with the British and with each other were landlords or other elites, property-owning persons, not the masses. The masses were never given the vote
The history of Pakistan’s independence struggle from the British is not entirely inspiring.
While it is customary for Pakistan’s intelligentsia to argue over what Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah really wanted—secular or Islamic Pakistan—it is perhaps more instructive that he probably did not really want a Pakistan at all. Jinnah was more concerned with a broad confederation of two, three, or more states in a post-colonial India. It was more the arrogance of Indian National Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru that led to Partition than Jinnah’s vision or any actually-existing sentiment amongst people on the ground.
In the North-west Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), the British held a referendum in 1947 that offered a choice between India and Pakistan, and most Pakhtun voters decided to boycott that referendum. The majority Pakthun voter opinion, ably organized by the Frontier Congress and Khudai Khidmatgars, would have preferred an independent Pushtoonistan. A sizeable section of Balochistan, the Khanate of Kalat, had to be integrated—or, annexed, if you will—by the Pakistani Army putting down a rebellion against accession in 1948. Parts of Kashmir, too, had to be wrested in war against India through 1947 and 1948.
The Sindh Assembly had actively signed on to the idea of Pakistan in 1943, but it was to the idea of “‘independent states’ in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign,” as per the Muslim League’s 1940 Lahore Resolution. Upon awareness of the centralizing intentions of the Muslim League, some of the very activists who had supported the Pakistan resolution in the Sindh Assembly then became strident Sindhi nationalists. Indeed, in Bengal, nationalists sought the formation of a United Bengal independent of India and Pakistan, a plan that Jinnah himself endorsed, but that Nehru and the Congress, and Hindu chauvinists, stridently opposed for their want of as much territory as possible.
In Punjab, the Muslims of the powerful Unionist Party—a cross-religious party of landlords—sought to use the Muslim League as their vehicle to avoid land reforms and mass mobilization. These landlords had no high political ideology other than to guard their interests and to put down peasant action. Indeed, these landlords had actively collaborated with the British to put down the 1857 revolts, and thereafter consistently supplied the British with military recruits who repressed Indians or colonized peoples in other parts of the world. Of course, in all of this, it was crucial to both the landlords and the British that peasants in Punjab were consistently repressed. It was these landlord-representatives who walked into the Muslim League and into Pakistan.
In fact, all of these politicians who were speaking with the British and with each other were landlords or other elites, property-owning persons, not the masses. The masses were never given the vote. Jinnah was always ill at ease with mass politics and outright anti-imperialism, he was at heart an accommodationist, and he was happy to accommodate the landlords and elites at the expense of the masses. The Muslim League, as a party, was always singularly disconnected from the masses, and continued to lean on landed elites long after independence and the British long before it. Even the national anthem of the country was in Persian—not the Bengali, Pashto, Baloch, Sindhi or Punjabi the peoples of Pakistan actually spoke, not even in the Urdu that the Muslim elite spoke.
It was the Khudai Khidmatgars in NWFP, the Sindh Hari Committee, the Krishak Proja Party in Bengal which attempted to mobilize the masses. But, Bangladesh became independent, the Khudai Khidmatgars were seen as pro-India and anti-Pakistan, and the leaders of the Sindh Hari Committee were socialists who became Sindhi nationalists, all contrary to any idea of a unitary Muslim nation and state. These movements, their leaders, and with them, large sections of the masses, have more-or-less been written out of Pakistan’s nationalist history.
What is left is a fairly bureaucratic story of Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan negotiating with the British and with the Congress to achieve Pakistan. Indeed, whereas the Congress objected to Britain’s entry into the Second World War—and the sending of Indian troops to fight Britain’s battles—and its leaders went to jail for it, the Muslim League expressed no such objections to imperialist war. At best, this bland story is peppered with quotations from Allama Iqbal, but missing in any case is the masala. (Even the 1998 Jinnah biopic is confusingly slow and plodding, made for an English audience and not for Pakistani mass consumption.)
Where the masses do come into the story of Pakistan is as victims of slaughter, but this is hardly invigorating. If the point of Pakistan was to protect Muslims, then its ibtida was perhaps indicative of the inteha we see today. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims were slaughtered, raped and abused by mobs of Hindus and Sikhs as they attempted to escape the same to the new promised land. Trainloads of people arrived dead. Of course, hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Sikhs were also slaughtered, raped and abused by mobs of Muslims as they went the other way. Most tellingly, it is anyone’s guess as to how many Muslims abused Muslims, as Saadat Hassan Manto implies poignantly in his story Khol Do.
Rather than a vigorous movement, then, Pakistan was something most actors seem to have stumbled into due to a series of missteps, miscommunications and misapprehensions. This is not the riveting stuff a history of independence struggle is made of.
(To be continued)