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Debates Among Communists in Pakistan’s Early Years | Kamran Asdar Ali

30 March 2014

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Modern Asian Studies 45, 3 (2011)

. . . Indian Communism and the Muslim question

In a book of essays published in 1944, Sajjad Zaheer, a major leader of the Communist Party of India and, as mentioned above, later the first secretary general of the Communist Party of Pakistan, 15 argues that the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan was the ‘logical expression of the development of political consciousness among the Muslim peoples of India’. 16 Following the Communist Party of India’s emerging formulation on the nationalities question, 17 Zaheer asserts that the League’s call for Pakistan needed to be understood by the Indian National Congress as the affirmation of the right of each community to determine its own future. In putting this argument forward, Zaheer and the Communist Party of India accepted the demand for Pakistan and saw it as an acceptable resolution of the Muslim question in Indian politics. However, by late 1946 the Communist Party of India (and Zaheer) had started to change its position on the partition of British India. This said, the Party did eventually accept the division in its Calcutta Congress held in March of 1948. In the following sections, the history of this transformation is discussed, eventually focussing on how the communist movement under Zaheer’s leadership during Pakistan’s early years put forward its own argument on the country’s future political and cultural trajectory.

Since the mid-1930s, after an earlier period of supporting radicalized violent politics that brought about severe repression by the British colonial government, the Communist Party of India entered into a phase of united front politics that sought to bring together all anti-imperialist sections of society. The Communist Party, like the Indian National Congress, treated India as a single nation which was engaged collectively in the struggle for independence. The Muslim League, and its demand for dividing India into two nations (Hindu and Muslim), was condemned as a reactionary communal organization of elite Muslims. 18

However, by the early 1940 s, the Communist Party started to rethink the issue of Muslim separate identity being put forward by the newly invigorated Muslim League under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Its most forceful support of the ‘Muslim Question’ came in the aftermath of its policy of opposing the Quit India Movement. In a plenary meeting of the Central Committee in September 1942, the Communist Party of India passed a resolution based on a report by G. Adhikari 19 and outlined its position 20 on the thesis on self-determination of different nationalities and the acceptance, in principle at least, of their right to secede from the Indian Union. This was a bold departure from the arguments that the Party itself had adhered to in the past. 21 This position was again echoed in an important document written by P. C. Joshi, General Secretary of the Party. Joshi’s paper, 22 published by the party press in 1944, affirmed that Congress was the greatest national organization of the country that had united the various patriotic elements. Yet he also spelled out the Communist Party of India’s position on Muslim self-determination and urged the Congress leadership to follow suit. In a polemical vein Joshi chided Congressmen for denying that the Muslim League’s leadership was patriotic by arguing:

A belief continues to be held that the League is a communal organization and that Mr. Jinnah is pro-British. But what is the reality? Mr. Jinnah is to the freedom-loving masses what Gandhiji is to the Congress masses. They revere Quaid-Azam as much as Congressmen do the Mahatama. They regard the League as their patriotic organization as we regard the Congress. This is so because Mr. Jinnah has done to the League what Gandhiji did to the Congress in 1919–20 —made it into a mass organisation ... Mr. Jinnah through the slogan of Pakistan has given expression to the freedom urge of Muslims for absolute independence in their own homelands.

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Communists in a Muslim Land: Cultural Debates in Pakistan’s Early Years
by Kamran Asdar Ali
Modern Asian Studies 45, 3 (2011)