Venkat Dhulipala is Associate Professor of South Asian and Global history at University of North Carolina Wilmington. His first book, ’Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India’, published last year, has created a stir in academic circles. He spoke with Aarti Tikoo Singh about how popular mobilization for the achievement of Pakistan took place and why its history is important to understand the present.
There is an opinion among some historians that Muslim League’s demand of Pakistan was only a bargaining chip to secure Muslim minority rights and had the Congress accommodated Jinnah or accepted the Cabinet Mission plan, Partition could have been avoided. Do you agree?
What the people who really look very nostalgically at this missed moment in our history seem to completely forget or willfully ignore is the communal rhetoric behind the mobilization, which so poisoned the atmosphere. For all you know, if Mr. Jinnah had reneged on the Pakistan demand, you could have had another leader emerge, who could have upped the ante and Jinnah could have been swept aside. You can’t ride the tiger and then dismount it after a point in time.
I don’t think Mr Jinnah’s acceptance of the cabinet mission plan in any way refutes or disproves the central arguments of my book because I have been primarily interested in looking at how the idea of Pakistan was articulated, discussed and debated, fought over in the public sphere and how popular mobilization took place in the successful achievement of that goal.
The assumption thus far has been that Pakistan is never quite defined or elaborated upon carefully or clearly. And I have shown with copious amounts of evidence that that is not true. When a leadership builds a platform for itself, rallies masses of people behind it, it does so on the basis of a programme with which it goes to the people. It’s not just empty sloganeering. They have to tell the people that this is what we stand for and the people support the leadership on that very basis. And it is this enormous public support that gives the leadership its credibility so that they can go and sit in these high chambers and parley with their interlocutors or opponents.
What importance do you give to Iqbal and lesser known figures from the Pakistan movement as far as the whole idea of Pakistan is concerned?
You know the Muslim League, including Mr. Jinnah, when asked about this, said that the author of the idea of Pakistan was Iqbal. Historians can claim that in his letter to Edward Thompson (the father of the famous historian E.P Thompson), Iqbal had written that he did not want a separate state. But all Muslim leaders from Mr. Jinnah downwards, did see Iqbal as the intellectual father of the idea of Pakistan. Now, the important thing to do is to look at what the Muslim League did with this idea from 1937 onwards, because an idea may be out there in the open and it may stay there without anything happening. What you do with it, the human agency that goes into giving life to it, how people mobilize on its basis- that is important.
In general, I have tried to stay away from the cliched figures; Iqbal, Azad, Jinnah, to focus on lesser known figures who were really important in the process of popular mobilization. And if Mr. Jinnah features in my work, it is the public Jinnah. Up till now the focus has been on the private Jinnah negotiating in secret meetings in London, Shimla, and Delhi. This Jinnah has also been shown to be famously cosmopolitan- someone who wore western suits, liked his alcohol, reportedly ate ham sandwiches, wasn’t bearded, hadn’t done the Hajj. Given this very modern lifestyle, he has therefore been consecrated as a secular figure leading a secular nationalist movement for the creation of Pakistan as a liberal democratic state, much like Kemal’s Turkey. I have refuted this idea because this is not the public Jinnah- the self-styled sole spokesman of the Indian Muslims who appears in public from 1937 onward. The Jinnah I bring to the fore wears sherwanis, achkans, karakuli caps in public, uses explicit Islamic rhetoric and talks about Pakistan as an Islamic State, says that the Muslim League’s flag was given to them by the Prophet, promises that the Shariat will be the source of laws in Pakistan. I also show how this explicit Islamic rhetoric is also used by his associates, people like Liaquat Ali Khan, Raja of Mahmudabad and Khaliquzzaman.
The other thing that historians of Partition have largely ignored is the fact that an influential section of the Ulama and the Muslim leadership were collaborating with each other. There was a relationship between them, which did not happen just on the eve of partition. It was a more long standing relationship and I trace it, at least, to the time of the by-election of 1937 to Muslim seats in UP legislature in which the legendary Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi sided with the Muslim League. His fatwas declaring that Muslims cannot join the Congress as it was ’haram’, asking Muslims to join the ML, and also asking Muslim voters to vote for the Muslim League candidates- these fatwas were put up in bold letters in banners in various constituencies.
His disciple, Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani provided the main theological reasons for the creation of Pakistan during the 1945-46 elections in which he talked about Pakistan as the new Medina. This was going to be only the second time in the history of Islam after the Prophet’s Medina that an Islamic state would come into existence. Pakistan and Medina are used interchangeably. The rhetoric thus was that the Prophet created the first Pakistan in the Arabian Peninsula and that the Muslim League was going to create the second Pakistan in the Indian subcontinent. Or that he created the first Medina and the Muslim League was going to create a second Medina. And that this was going to become the nucleus for Islam’s revival and rise as a global power in the twentieth century after it has gone down with the Christian West becoming ascendant. In other words, Pakistan was going to be the leader of the 20th century Islamic world, a worthy successor to the Ottomans who had dropped the baton of leadership of the Islamic world at the end of World War I, become the nucleus for the re-establishment of its political unity.
Daesh claims to be an Islamic State. Would you say that Pakistan was the primordial form of the IS?
The movement for the creation of Pakistan was not a secular nationalist movement but the first movement in the modern world for the creation of an Islamic State. The ISIS in its efforts to establish an Islamic State in parts of Iraq and Syria is trying to do the same. It is therefore in some sense quite analogous, even though the ISIS is in many ways very different- in its use of spectacular violence, the use of women as sex slaves, it’s very literalist interpretation of Islam.
Of late there has been a lot of communal rhetoric against Muslims in India. Has history vindicated Jinnah and his Two-Nation Theory?
No, I don’t think the level of polarization or indeed the vileness of rhetoric is in any way matched today by what was happening then. The two-nation theory was based on the idea that Hindus and Muslims are completely distinct peoples with different religions, ideals, heroes, ways of life, social norms and customs, we share no past or future, and we cannot live with each other in peace. I think today even in the worst of times, the worst partisans in India will not make such claims. Even the worst partisans will claim that they are secular, will pay at least lip service to India’s diversity, its constitution, and would still say that India is a pluralistic country. I don’t think we can say that the current times are analogous to what happened in the 30s and 40s.
Would you say that the Partition affects our current politics?
We live with its effects on a day to day basis. Communalism, its rhetoric, reason and violence, the use of concepts of majority and minority, the state of the Indo-Pak relationship, Kashmir- all these are the effects of the Partition.
Don’t you think India is heading towards a very dangerous period of communal polarization, given the kind of rhetoric and violence targeting minorities?
This is a very diverse country, which is held together in a very fine balance. It is a very intricate tapestry and should be valued and strengthened and not undermined. I think rhetoric of an extreme kind from anywhere in pursuit of any cause or community, is dangerous. I truly believe in Gandhiji’s continuous emphasis on the means-ends relationship. Gandhiji believed that you can achieve noble ends only through noble means. Hence India’s freedom had to be won only through non-violent means. You cannot hope to reach freedom or some glorious utopia on a path littered with the bodies of people. So, I find any violent rhetoric, in the name of caste, religion, region, language, or community identity or in pursuit of any utopias or ideals such as revolution, social justice etc deeply disturbing.