August Special

Quaid's Political Strategy and the Creation of Pakistan

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's struggle for the creation of Pakistan was not an easy undertaking. Nor was it given. Although the All-India Muslim League, in its annual session in Lahore in March 1940, had resolved that 'the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority, as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute "Independent States"', the goal was still far from clear. The reference was to more than one state. On top of it, the British and Hindu-majority community – represented by the Indian National Congress – were deeply opposed to this demand necessitating some kind of partition of India. In fact, Viceroy Lord Linlithgow, in his letter to the Secretary of State, Lord Zetland, on March 23rd the day the resolution was adopted – wrote that it was an 'extreme' and 'preposterous' demand and stressed: 'I do not attach too much importance to Jinnah's demand for carving out of India into an indefinite number of so-called dominions'. Indeed, he charged that, to encourage 'Ulsters in India' meant 'the wrecking of all that we have been working for a number of years past....' While Zetland readily agreed, his immediate successor, Leopold Amery, in a letter to the Viceroy on January 25, 1941, went further and called 'Jinnah and his Pakistanis' a 'menace', having 'lost all sense of realities'. Linlithgow's successor, Lord Wavell, as late as in August 1945, insisted that the 'crudity of Jinnah's ideas [on Pakistan] ought to be exposed.' Indeed, the British top priority in India, even when its last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten took over, was 'the unity of the subcontinent'. As Lord Mosley, a British journalist and historian put it, 'that their work should end in the division of the country into two separate nations was not something which sincere British officials could contemplate without abhorrence. Liking the Muslims or not, he could not swallow their desire for vivisection'.
Vivisection was precisely Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's choice of words too. In his view, the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan amounted to 'vivisection', literally 'cutting the baby into two halves'. Gandhi, like most Hindu leaders, considered the territorial integrity of India integral to Hinduism. As Rajendra Prasad, Congress leader and first President of independent India claimed, 'irrespective of who rules and what were the administrative or political divisions of the country, Hindus have never conceived of India as comprising anything less than what we regard as India today'. Mahasabha leaders such as, V. D. Savarkar, of course, had 'no quarrel with Jinnah's Two Nations Theory', but insisted that the Muslims 'emigrate' to some other place to found their Pakistan.
Then, there were some Muslim leaders who did not support the demand for a separate state of Pakistan, making things more difficult for Jinnah. Powerful Muslim leaders in Muslim-majority provinces such as Punjab naively found solace in provincial autonomy and federalism without realizing that the Hindu-majority community in the centre, after the departure of the British from India, would dominate and rule over them. Provincial autonomy, no matter how genuine, would not help them to run their affairs independently and assuredly. Federalism was an excuse for the so-called 'nationalist' Muslims too, including Maulana Abul Kalam Azad for not supporting Pakistan. In Maulana Azad's own words: 'The basis of Pakistan is the fear of interference by the centre in Muslim-majority areas as Hindus will be in a majority in the Centre. The Congress meets this by granting full autonomy to the provincial units....' Maulana Azad failed to see that federalism 'could not be a substitute for freedom in Pakistan, absolute freedom, where they would be able to live their lives their own way'.
Thus, Jinnah's task was cut out for him. He had to carry the Muslims, the bulk of them, and face the might of his powerful adversaries – the British and Congress, acting, at times, together, to thwart and indeed defeat his struggle for the creation of Pakistan.
Jinnah was a master strategist who knew 'when to take "the tide" and when to make suitable mends in the furnace of reality and expediency'. He, therefore, pursued a strategy based on carefully calibrated tactical moves, from time to time as the situation warranted. He realized that his first and foremost move should be to organize the Muslims behind the demand for Pakistan through the Muslim League. The League, since his reorganization campaign in 1937, had come alive but not quite. It had to be organized better and for the long haul, particularly to accommodate new adherents to the Pakistan demand. Students, women, professionals, and the educated urban middle classes in general had to be given space in the party, along with the old, entrenched traditional groups, the landowners and titled gentry. They had to be made votaries of the Pakistan project. Thus, the League was reconstituted with a new organizational set-up with bodies such as, primary, tehsil/district, and provincial Leagues, given representation in the Council of the All-India Muslim League and its executive wing, the Working Committee. The Council, of course, was empowered to elect the President of the party on an annual basis. Jinnah had declined the office of 'life President', saying: 'Let me come to you at the end of every year and seek your vote and confidence'.
The students and women in particular went on to mobilize support for the League and the Pakistan demand throughout the Muslim-majority provinces. They also took it upon themselves to challenge the provincial leaders, especially in Punjab, the 'cornerstone' of Pakistan. Organized under the banner of Punjab Muslim Students Federation, the students launched a successful civil disobedience movement against the Unionist ministry of Khizar Hayat Tiwana, forcing him to resign in March 1947. Jinnah was elated: 'Perhaps the students do not know that by organizing this successful movement, they have changed the course of history of India'. Similarly, the women took an active part in the disobedience movement both in Punjab and North West Frontier Province (NWFP, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) thus, vindicating Jinnah's trust in their role and relevance for Pakistan. In the process, the League emerged as the authoritative representative body of the Muslims, ready to take on both the Congress and British.
The Second World War in September 1939 provided Jinnah a momentous opportunity to deal with both of them, though initially with a lot of apprehension. In spite of resigning its provincial ministries against the British declaration to wage war on behalf of India, the British remained in touch with the Congress hoping to revive the 'federal' scheme of the 1935 Act. Viceroy Lord Linlithgow, was in touch with Gandhi as late as February 1940, raising Muslim fears that the 'Congress government might return to office at any moment'. However, largely because of the Congress’ intransigence, a settlement between the British and Congress could not come about, soon leading to confrontation and clash between the two.
Jinnah hastened to take advantage of the mistake made by Congress, which was indeed a miscalculation, leaving 'the field' in the provinces to the League. He not only put a seal on its resignations with his call for a 'Deliverance Day', but also helped install the League’s ministries in all the vacated Muslimmajority provinces i.e., NWFP, Sind, Bengal and Assam. Punjab was already associated with the League through the Jinnah-Sikandar Pact. Thus Jinnah, through a brilliant tactical move, came to have League’s ministries in all the Muslim-majority provinces of his future Pakistan (Balochistan was not a full-fledged province then).
But this tactical gain had long-term strategic significance too. It helped mobilize the so-far moribund provincial Leagues into action, encouraging them to secure support for Pakistan at the grassroots level. More importantly, it conveyed the message to both the British and Congress that Pakistan was not merely a demand of the central leadership – Jinnah in particular – but had support in the provinces too, where it mattered the most. In fact, it had a special message for the Congress that it could not 'overwhelm the Muslim-majority areas except by wading through a bloody civil war in order to impose unity by its own strength'.
Soon the Congress compounded its mistake with a huge 'blunder' by launching its civil disobedience movement in August 1942, prompting Jinnah to make the most of this chaotic and indeed worrisome situation for the Muslims as well. The Muslims saw this movement 'not merely [as] a declaration of war against the British, but [also] a war against the Muslim League... Muslim India', for they were neither consulted nor co-opted. But Jinnah skillfully let it become a war against the British, forcing the British to go after Congress full blast and crush the movement. In the process, the British had no choice but to woo the League, the only major party in the field, if they did not want to lose the war on the local, Indian front. They were already faced with a host of difficulties outside at the time, especially in the South-East Asian theatre of war.
One of the most important factors that helped Jinnah attract the British attention to his benefit was the military factor. The Muslims contributed a significant number of soldiers to the Indian Army (37.65%) equal to the Hindus (37.50%), in spite of being a 'minority' community. Besides, more than 50 per cent of the Army was 'deployed in the areas now constituting Pakistan'. Thus, as Jinnah himself acknowledged: 'After the war was declared, the Viceroy naturally wanted help from the Muslim League. It was only then that he realised that the Muslim League was a power'. In fact, there was no denying that the war made a critical difference in the struggle for Pakistan. The military factor, 'particularly the Muslim potential for contribution to the war effort had, on the one hand, made the British more susceptible to the Indian public opinion and, on the other hand, altered the relative importance of the Muslim community vis-à-vis the Hindus'.
This, of course, did not mean that Jinnah was willing to cooperate in the war effort for Britain's sake. He was too astute a strategist to let this God-given opportunity slip away without any gains for the League and Pakistan. Thus, he cooperated with the British, but only to the extent of provinces (was good for the British, with provinces being the recruiting ground for the soldiers), which, as mentioned earlier, helped him establish League ministries in the provinces. He would not cooperate at the centre unless the British, in anticipation thereof, agreed to offer the Muslims 'their real voice and share in the government of the country'. Thus, in spite of tactical cooperation, he was able to press the British for the realization of his strategic goal of Pakistan. The pressure paid off on August 8, 1940, with the British constrained to announce that they would not promote a 'system of government whose authority is directly denied by large and powerful elements in India's national life', meaning thereby the Muslims. This, according to one writer, was 'perhaps one of the greatest triumphs that Jinnah had achieved through his brilliant strategy'.
Though Jinnah was not satisfied with the August Offer as it still upheld the cause of 'India's national life', the Pakistan demand did find a tacit recognition. The British could not backtrack in the war years ahead, with Congress' 'Quit India' Movement turned into an 'open rebellion'. Indeed, they found it increasingly difficult to ignore Jinnah and his demand. Thus, their subsequent moves, from the Cripps Mission (1942) to Simla Conference (1945) to their most significant move, Cabinet Mission (1946), went on to make Pakistan the main issue of negotiations with the League and Congress. Pakistan, indeed, was the issue.
In the 1945-46 elections, Jinnah led the Muslim League to an overwhelming majority of seats in the centre and Muslim-majority provinces (except for the NWFP which went on to vote for Pakistan in the July 1947 referendum) precisely on this issue of Pakistan. The League won all thirty seats of the Central Legislative Assembly. The nationalist Muslims forfeited their security deposits in many constituencies. These elections indeed proved to be a 'crucial landmark in the emergence of Pakistan'. In the League Legislators’ Convention in Delhi in April 1946 Jinnah declared, with emphasis now, that 'Pakistan zones where the Muslims are in a dominant majority be constituted into a sovereign independent State', thus settling once and for all the issue of Pakistan being one state or more. The demand was for one independent state of Pakistan. Jinnah also declared that: 'I do not think there is any power or any authority that can prevent us from achieving our cherished goal of Pakistan. I am confident that we shall march on from victory to victory until we have Pakistan'.
Much to the chagrin of his critics, Jinnah's acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan was also part of this 'march on', for tactical reasons. The war had ended and the British were back in the politics of India with full attention and authority. The Congress was back too, out of the political wilderness, and with the newly formed Labour government of Lord Attlee sympathetic to it. Thus Jinnah, as a strategist, carefully weighed his options to reach the all-important strategic goal of Pakistan. He opted for the acceptance of the plan, for three good reasons. One, 'the foundation and the basis of Pakistan' was there. Two, the Congress and its leadership would not agree to compulsory 'grouping' of the provinces into Muslim and Hindu-majority provinces, virtually Pakistan and Hindustan. Third and finally, the plan was too complex, cumbersome, and indeed unworkable. It was only a matter of days before the Congress challenged the grouping and thus 'wrecked' the plan. Jinnah could not have calculated better. He immediately withdrew his earlier acceptance of the plan, and called for 'Direct Action' to wrest Pakistan. Direct Action Day was observed on August 16, 1946. In the wake of bloody riots, a civil war like situation was created forcing the British government to announce the 'transference of power to responsible Indian hands'. Lord Mountbatten was made the new Viceroy of India for this purpose. On June 3, 1947, the Partition Plan was announced. On August 14, 1947, Pakistan was created after completing a lengthy legal and constitutional process.
Jinnah succeeded against all odds, against the British, Congress, and their opposition to his demand for Pakistan. He 'did not flicker or flinch'. In fact, he made the best use of his strategic sense and tactical skills to exploit and benefit from the 'lack of purpose and coordination between his antagonists' to achieve his goal of Pakistan and that, too, in a short span of seven years, 1940-47. A fierce critic called him 'one of the cleverest strategists' in India. Indeed he was able to make the most of every situation no matter how unpromising. This of course also helped him sustain his rise and role as the Quaid-i-Azam of the Muslims.


The writer is a distinguished professor of History and Public Policy and Dean of Social Sciences at FC College University Lahore. His most recent publication is, A Leadership Odyssey: Muslim Separatism and the Achievement of the Separate State of Pakistan (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2021). E-mail: [email protected]

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