Congress and Partition of India: How majoritarian ruthlessness screwed up the Muslim self

M.Abdul Fathah

The narration of past is a matter of interest to all groups as it buttress the justification for a society and ideals they seek to construct. The congress dominant history portraying freedom movement, a prerogative of congress is a tactic in this line. Amidst this, the egalitarian efforts of minorities, for instance of Muslims to the venture are buried and their presence is deframed to the extent that every notion and deeds advocated by the congress gets outright legitimization.

Discourses on partition of India were conventional wisdom go on framing Jinnah and the  League underpinned  by the British as the architects of partition is no exception. To my opinion, it makes sense to argue that congress cannot be absided of responsibility, or more clearly congress was a dominant partaker to British in the process. As congress historians asserted, the ‘egocentric’ Jinnah was not invoking religion to mobilize Muslims for a Muslim state. Rather there were at least some rationales behind. Nor did they pursue  a separate country, as it would mean that whole south India was senseless to back him and none would argue that league had plans for a state. These rationales and deeper meanings that each congress decisions have rented to Muslims is what I dwell upon.

Congress and Muslims: Accommadational problem and consolidation

Laying stones on 1888 and vaulting of a secularist party sought to represent the multi faced plural Indian society, congress in fact resonated an undeniable disjunction between its outlook and what constructed its very entity. Thus a pervasive hinduness was discernible. Well renowned historians including congress historian Sitaramayya dwells on how congress was a progeny of Hindu revivalism:

“It was not merely the political forces and the sense of political subjection that gave birth to congress……All these movements were really so many threads in the stand of Indian Nationalism and the national duty was to evolve…to renovate and purify the old faith, the vedantic idealism and reconcile it with nationalism of new age.INC was destined to fulfill this great mission.”(BP Sitaramayya, p 17-22)

 Then why had the congress bore an inclusive outlook and indeed embedded some Muslims within? .Verily, the agenda of AO Hume, the founder of congress, himself a British Hindu centered around binding the whole people of India into a single nationalist framework, the parameters of which was espoused by congressmen’s practice since then.

Through this, I just not contend that the whole congress system were aspirants of such nationalism till partition, but still there were bigots whose needs were reflected within. Muslim alienation towards congress at the outset clearly barefaced this face of congress with just two Muslim delegates attending the first meeting and subsequent meetings with meager representation (Rafeeq Zakariyya, p 48).Muslim intelligentsia such as Sir Sayed vehemently criticized Muslim allegiance to congress pointing to majoritarian  nationalism propounded by the party and substandard social and educational stand of musims at that time. Muslim patriarchal society , a platform for anti congress voices was founded by him on 1888.To my  opinion, though sir sayed’s arguments really did hold ,it instigated many sunni ulamas  who countered his deformed religious views to have pro congress approach ,thus yielding whatsoever small Muslims congress constituted .

In its course forward, a dominant factor contributed to Muslim consolidation was congress repudiation against any kind of consideration to minorities and hesitation to consider them as a separate segment,giving way to apprehensions among Muslims about their prospects in the face of majoritarian ruthlessness . Till his last breath AO Hume had lampooned any genre of special representation to minorities. Alongside ,the elite classes within congress  defended every move that casted threats on their majority by appropriating nationalism and integration to an unscrupulous advantage .This double dealing of congress  could be vividly seen through its response to various intra national partition surfaced during pre colonial era .1905 Bengal partition was a striking instance where congress projected a collective defense of both communities against  it. In fact being a majority in eastern Bengal ,Muslims got a chance to escape from down trodden life and root their influence there. Congress stiff opposition was really a maneuver to eschew minority from reaping social and economic benefits including govt. benefits out of civil service.Dr ambedkar too maintains that such a bias constructed from fear of losing political power constituted congress opposition against partition of Sindh in 1929.However as a paradox, congress never found hesitation in propping up Bengal and Punjab partition during 1947,which was yet another boon to Hindu elite classes who would otherwise be reduced to a minority in the new country. These dominant impulses were driving force behind consolidation tendencies among Muslims more or less culminating in the formation of Muslim league in 1906.

Congress and League: A tale of majoritarianism

Since congress inception, there were loose Muslim organizational setups and individual ventures keen to cut loose from shackles of congress through instrumental means. After a successful simla deputation led by Muhsinul Mulk, muslim leaders become aware of mobilizing Muslim populace ,thus paving way to formation of league. This doesn’t suggest that league founders never attempted to redefine congress policies to their advantage.

“Aga Khan did his best to prevent the breach being widened by remonstrating with his old friend Sir Ferozshah Mehta and begging him to use his influence and make congress realize how important it was to gain Muslim confidence. But not avail…”(Aziz, K.K.,p 62)

As congress articulated, it was not separatist or communalist tendencies that led Muslim league .Rather, Among the three foundational agendas of league, the third insisted on sparing no efforts to avoid  hostility toward others. It was as a lieu to league that congress brought a parallel organization  of national Muslims led by Azad.Still haunting minority self, congress hesitated to accept leagues authenticity even after leagues unprecedented victory during 1946 .However we couldn’t overlook considerable amount of cooperation between two parties probably at its first phase, facilitated by liberal elements in the party. Many Muslim stalwarts including Jinnah represented both parties. Forging of Lucknow pact, thus legitimizing leagues very needs ,a federal system, Muslim reservation and leagues authority, was in fact the peak of such an amiability. However such a fruitful interlude was short lived as congress yet again espoused its communal character with extremists tightening their hold. Congress soon deceived Muslim league through Nehru report which engendered a unitary govt. instead and discarded the authority of league.

Congress approach to Muslims and Muslim league during its two year rule from 1937 to 1939 had once more irreparably impaired confidence within muslims.At first place, congress tormented the very essence of India act ,which insisted minority representation in the elected government .Though Muslim league won more Muslim seats than other things and the congress itself, independent representatives were installed as  minority representatives in the Hindu dominant assembly. At a moment ,Nehru even declared:

“In the final analysis there are only two forces in India today-British imperialism and the Congress representing Indian nationalism” (Ram Gopal, p 251)

Muslim arguments for a separate state was an implication of congress lopsided ruling during this period. Step mother attitude towards Udru, subsiding Muslims from govt. jobs and textbooks that gave tacit admission to anti- Muslim elements were all well pronounced during this regime. As prof. Coupland points out, the greatest mistake congress committed was to belittle the power of Muslim nationalism. The atmosphere couldn’t have been so charged if congress had at least admitted league’s authencity.1937 Manifesto of league had requests for cooperation. But intoxicated by electoral win, congress out rightly denied it.

Muslim League and call for Pakistan

As the conventional wisdom go on showcasing league and Jinnah as framers of two nation theory, it seems worth dealing on theirs stand in the issue.Verily, till 940s neither did central committee of league took partition into serious concern nor did it occupy their minds. Ideology of carving out a Muslim state was first bought into leagues’ table by Iqbal as a sole solution to mutual antagonism between the communities and resultant crisis.

“He opinioned a Muslim state in the North West during his presidential address to 1930 Allahabad assembly. However as many defined, he did no intend two distinct nations, rather it was a federation of Muslim states under British India. Nor was he the father of India’s partition”(Husain.Dr.K., p 341)

However, even such a solution was unbearable to Muslim league leaders. Among them was Jinnah who pilloried the word partition itself and countered it as an imagination of poet. Then what necessitated league leaders for a separate state? As it is unambiguously penned before, Muslim leaders have begun to believe that present India was not conductive to Muslim interests and prospects. But still there were considerable gulf between two nation theory as league espoused during its Lahore sittings and what congress articulated. Leagues’ quest for two state was anchored in peaceful co-existence of two states, embellished with ample protection for minorities where each communities preserved there culture independently. To my opinion ,I would suggest two state theory rather than two nation theory. The word Nation as seen Jinnah’s 1940 essay titled “Time and Tide”, the first one to show green flag to partition did really demarcate “society with distinct culture”. Sir Sayed,Savarkar and Lala Lajpat rai too termed the nation in the same meaning.1940 Lahore resolution too not propound two nations, nor was it a Pakistan Project.Khaliquzzaman ,for instance ,responding to Mahershdayal’s ignorance on resolution firmly  stood on these:

“Muslim League’s Lahore resolution engendered two states within the geographical boundary of india.However what you intend is to create a distinct state outside india.We aspire for Administrative partition of India.Rather, What you aim is geographical partition which I won’t admit in any terms”.

In fact the origin of a distinct two nation theory could be bestowed upon Chaudhari Rahmat Ali,a research scholar at Cambridge university, who was proclaimed as the founder of Pakistan national movement in 1930 itself. Leaving no doubt, he repudiated both Iqbal’s theory as posited in Allahabad assembly and theory of separate state which held stake after 1940s within league, thus bare facing the gulf between his argument and these theories.

Meanwhile, the stand of other community leaders in the issue did strike a chord. At a time league stood on federal govt, many employed cultural nationalist elements for a single Hindu state.Niether did they projected a secular state nor did they tolerated a Muslim state outside. And when the necessities of Pakistan culminated they considered two friendly states a debunked idea.

Quest for power and course towards partition

From what implicit in accounts so far, it makes clear that congress necessitated the partition .Moreover, it would not in any manner an exaggeration  to declare that congress did really hoped it. Azad unambiguously expressed how Patel advocated the Pakistan. In his opinion there should  be no staggering in regarding him as the founder of the same .What encoded in such a mindset was none other than to get rid of league and the problematic minority ,thus rendering congress with unquestionable and undeniable political power in the divided India .Congress was thus ready to employ any tactics to politically frustrate Muslim league. Congress response towards Cabinet mission which could have been a great leap to avoid partition was a striking instance. In fact missions recipes were in conjunction with leagues very needs till 1940 i.e. a federal system.Unfortunately, league which even tolerated to sacrifice its two nation theory to get it promulgated was deceived when Nehru irreparably corroded its very entity declaring that congress has sufficient freedom to amend the mission project. Nehru perhaps dodged out from what was accepted at Bombay congress meeting.

Alongside, Mountbatten’s much lauded depart to India was rather a catalyst to irreparable partition. No historians could overlook congress nasty hands in replacing the pestering lord Wavell and installing Mountbatten. Freedom at Midnight reveals it as follows:

“Although Mountbatten didn’t know it, the idea of sending him to India had been suggested to Attlee by the man at the PM’s side…Sir Stanford Cripps. It had come up at a secret conversation between Cripps and Krishna Menon,intimate of the congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru.Menon had suggested to Cripps and Nehru that congress saw little hope of progress in India so long Wavell as viceroy”.( Larry Collins and Dominique lapierre, p 9)

Throughout his tenure, Mountbatten had shown his allegiance by propping up congress in its pursuit. As Mountbatten took throne, Gandhiji advanced before him a national govt. with Jinnah’s support, yet aspiring for a federal india. Nevertheless, congress not ready to change heart had thrown these gospels aside and propounded itself a partition of the country by dividing Punjab and Bengal. Meanwhile, Gandhi was a worn out tool for congress. He was still an iconic mass puller, but was too far away from power structures. Later a plan tailored by VP Menon , a crony to Nehru and mountbatten,fully devoid of leagues interests was presented before Jinnah after getting outright support of congress and approval from England. This lopsided order itself gives foretaste of what  the plan truly intended. Jinnah has descended the project at first, but was threatened to accept by batten asserting that lest he would lose this truncated Pakistan itself. Undoubltly, that node has given a sharp end to saga efforts to avoid partition. However, ailing Jinnah was in fact a bystander in that process with no alternatives.

Verily, couple of leaders who failed to gauge the pulses of country had led us to the greatest geographical cut in the history, the aftermath of which was an unprecedented outburst of communal riots. The resultant crisis didn’t confine to that period, the communal charge and stigma on minorities still haunt the country. In the present political sphere, the unflinching minority support base the congress enjoyed since independence is fast diminishing. Since the perpetuation of personal power during emergency ,disillusionment with congress has given birth to various developments ,more so from dalits and muslims.The traumatic destruction of Babari ,a symbol of secularism and appealing to Hindu sentiments dictated by compulsions of electoral politics were dominant impulses. The soft hinduthwa approach it employed had retaliated itself against congress. Mushrooming spectra of hinduthwa politics is a consequence of this so called centrist approach of congress which was not genuine. The socialist and secularist approach congress stalwarts espoused remained as a mirage and mere slogan. As lord Curzon have prophesied before a century, it appears that it is tottering towards its end. There is no way before congress than to part away from its past and start new to win hearts.Atleast lets have political pragmatism rather than opportunism and expediency, if not ideological politics.


1) Ambedhkar, Dr., Pakistan or Partition of India, Bombay 1948

2) Sita Ramayya, Pattabhi, The history of the Indian National Congress, Bombay 1947

3) Rafiq Zakariyya, Rise of Muslims in Indian Politics, Bombay 1971

4) Larry Collins and Dominique lapierre, Freedom at Midnight, 2009

5) Ram Gopal, Indian Muslims: Apolitical history ,Bombay 1964

6) Khaliquzzaman, The Pathway to Pakistan, Lahore 1961

7) Husain, Dr.K., Freedom in Partition, VolI&II, Poomkavanam , Kozhikode, 2007

8) Coupland, Sir R., Report on the Constitutional Problems in India,1943

9)Aziz,K.K., Britain and Muslim India, London ,1963

M Abdul Fathah is a research intern at Madeenathunnoor college of Islamic science, Calicut, Kerala. His areas of interest includes Indian Muslims, political terrorism, subaltern studies, Muslim cultural studies etc

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