Many consider Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as the ‘intellectual pioneer’ of Muslim nationalism, the foundational ideology that gave the ‘two nation’ theory.
It was 16 August 1946, barely a year before the sacred land of Bharat was split into India and Pakistan based on religion. The Muslim League was the representative organization of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. Its charismatic leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah publicly bade “goodbye to constitutional methods and constitutionalism” (Daniel Thorner, Hindu-Moslem Conflict in India, Far Eastern Survey, April 7, 1948) and gave a call for the observance of “Direct Action Day.”
In the days that followed, the subcontinent saw a large-scale carnage and massacre. The epicentre of the riots lay in the eastern city of Kolkata. However, the riots were followed by “large scale communal conflicts in eastern Bengal, later in Bihar, parts of the United Provinces [Uttar Pradesh], Bombay [Mumbai], and eventually in 1947 in the Punjab” (Thorner).
On the first day itself, 90 people were killed and about 900 injured when “Muslim mobs scoured the city, attacking Hindus and setting fire to buildings. A curfew was imposed” (Chronology of International Events and Documents, Royal Institute of International Affairs, August 12-25, 1946. CIED, henceforth). By 18 August, there were about 1,000 killed and 4,000 injured in Kolkata. The government called in the military to patrol the streets of the city.
In Dhaka, East Bengal (now Bangladesh), the police opened fire at a mob to stop rioting. Ten were reported killed and 15 injured. On August 22, in Kolkata, there were reports of 24 people being stabbed, 12 fatally. On 23 August, disturbances were reported in the coalfields in West Bengal.
At Allahabad, rioting broke out, and a curfew was imposed, mentions CIED. In Delhi, on 24 August, the rioters killed a man and injured 30. There was widespread starvation in many parts of Kolkata as shops and other establishments remained closed. The streets were littered with dead bodies. The Bengal government of the Muslim League appealed to the public to help in the “removal of corpses from the streets” (CIED).
The “Direct Action Day” rioting in Kolkata would eventually stop. By the time it was all said and done, about “4,000 people had been killed and 10,000 wounded” (CIED) in Kolkata alone. However, the spate of violence continued well after India and Pakistan had won independence from British rule.
According to some of the most conservative estimates, nearly two million people lost their lives in Partition. It was the most horrific death nobody expected, and none deserved. “Early in August 1947, things began to change,” wrote author Khushwant Singh in his book Punjab, Punjabi, and Punjabiyat, “the riots assumed the magnitude of a massacre, and it became clear that Sikhs and Hindus would have to clear out of Pakistan.”
The fear forced one of the worst human migrations in history. It was a tragedy of epic proportion.
THE AGENT PROVOCATEUR
The Cabinet Mission, comprising three British Cabinet ministers—Pethick Lawrence, Stafford Cripps, and A.V. Alexander arrived in India in the spring of 1946. Under the Labour government, their mandate was to arrange for a peaceful “transfer of power” into Indian hands. After three months of intense negotiations, the Mission returned home empty-handed. Their report concluded that there is “an almost universal desire, outside the supporters of the Muslim League, for the unity of India”.
The cry for the separate Muslim state of Pakistan arose soon after Jinnah rose to prominence in 1934. A Shia in predominantly Sunni Pakistan, Jinnah was a sharp legal mind. He was a “tall, thin, hawk-faced man with a patrician instinct… was more English than Indian… [and] once described himself… as a “rational” believer in Islam” (Philips Talbot, The Rise of Pakistan, Middle East Journal, Oct. 1948).
Jinnah was a “shrewd” (Talbot) politician. His leadership style was much different than that of M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Talbot describes Jinnah as a mostly “aloof” person. Yet, Jinnah had a “fanatical following” (Talbot). “His title Quaid-i-Azam, the “Great Leader” or “Fuehrer” became a worship salute,” writes Talbot.
Jinnah declared that “Muslim India cannot accept any constitution which must necessarily result in a Hindu-majority government.” In Lahore, in 1940, the Muslim League delegates adopted a resolution that stated that, for acceptance by Muslims, any future political proposal for India must abide by the following principles:
That geographically contiguous units are demarcated regions which should be constituted, with such territorial readjustments 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 (British) India should be grouped to constitute “independent states” in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
In the early 1920s, the “turbulent social movement, under the cloak of religion, was being stimulated by Sir Mohammed Iqbal” (Talbot). According to author Khushwant Singh (Iqbal’s Hindu Relations, the Telegraph), Iqbal was born in Sialkot in 1877. He was the grandson of Kashmiri Brahman, Kanhaya Lal Sapru of Saprain village. Iqbal’s father, Rattan Lal, had converted to Islam and was given the name Nur Muhammad. “As often happens,” writes Khushwant Singh, “the first generation of converts are more kattar than other, Iqbal grew up to be a devout Muslim.” Iqbal’s journey from the composer of Tarana-i-Hind (Anthem of Hindustan, Sare Jahan Se Achchha) to Tarana-i-Milli (Anthem of the Community, Chino Arab Hamara) is a testimony to his continued radicalization.
According to Talbot, Iqbal played the role of John the Baptist in “rousing Muslim intellectuals” (Talbot). Iqbal’s role in the Rangeela Rasool is well known. Ilm Deen had murdered (April 6, 1929) Mahashay Rajpal, a Hindu, for publishing the “blasphemous” book Rangeela Rasool. He was tried under British rule, and the British court condemned him to death by hanging.
Several thousand mourners had attended Ilm Deen’s funeral. Many draw a parallel in this regard from the funeral (2016) of Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri was the killer of Pakistani diplomat Salmaan Taseer.
Iqbal had attended Ilm Deen’s funeral. Iqbal also gave Ilm Deen’s graveside eulogy. There were reports that Iqbal himself placed Ilm Deen’s body in the grave. With tears in his eyes, he reportedly said: “This young man left us, the educated men, behind.”
The seeds for the idea of Pakistan were sown soon after the First War of Independence in 1857. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was the Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College founder, later reincarnated as the Aligarh Muslim University.
On 15 March 1888, Khan was in Meerut at the invitation of local Muslims. At a very well attended meeting with the audience count ranging to “no less than seven or eight hundred,” Sir Syed gave this rousing speech (Speech of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan at Meerut, 1888, Columbia University website) where, among other things, he said the following:
“Now, suppose that all English, and the whole English army, were to leave India, taking with them all their cannon and their splendid weapons and everything, then who would be the rulers of India? Is it possible that under these circumstances, two nations—the Mahomedans and the Hindus—could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down. To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and inconceivable.”
Many consider Khan the “intellectual pioneer” (Nadim F. Paracha, The Forgotten Future: Sir Syed and the Birth of Muslim Nationalism in South Asia, the Dawn, August 15, 2016) of Muslim nationalism, the foundational ideology that gave the “two nation” theory. Khan’s nationalistic ideas influenced “a plethora of Muslim intellectuals, scholars, politicians, poets, writers, and journalists,” writes Paracha, “who then helped evolve Sayed’s concept of Muslim nationalism into becoming the ideological doctrine and soul of the very idea of Pakistan.”
Khan and other Muslim elites believed that “Muslim fortunes could be best rebuilt by currying favour with the British rulers of the country” (Talbot). According to Talbot, part of the British plan “was to create a class of Muslims educated in Western ways that could co-operate with British authority in the government and army.
Khan was acutely aware of the overall numerical strength of the Muslims in India. He would frequently warn that Muslims must not be considered insignificant or weak. Muslims, according to Khan, were, capable of managing any eventuality on their own. In an unlikely scenario when Muslims would need help, “… then our Musalman brothers, the Pathans, would come out as a swarm of locusts from their mountain valleys and make rivers of blood to flow from their frontier in the north to the extreme end of Bengal,” Khan had said in one of the speeches.
Khan and Iqbal were both accorded British knighthood in 1888, and 1923 respectively. Jinnah, however, refused the honour.
Avatans Kumar writes frequently on the topics of Indic Knowledge Tradition, language, culture, and current affairs. Avatans is a JNU and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alumnus. He tweets @avatans