This is a doctoral dissertation for which the author, now settled abroad, got her doctorate from Oxford some six years ago. It is on an important subject, whose consequences are still with us, written by someone born after the horrible days of communal rioting and Partition, belonging to a different generation than the reviewer whose province, like hers, was partitioned, along with the Partition of the sub-continent. As a professional historian working in the same field, on sources that overlap a great deal, and trying to look at a historic process what appeared as a rapidly bewildering succession of events in one’s boyhood, this book has been well worth reading.
There are eight chapters, chronologically arranged from April 1936 to August 1947. The first and the last five chapters deal with peace-time situation, the second and the third with India during the world War. The main thesis of the book can be briefly stated to be the following: there is little justification for arguing that on the eve of the war the Muslim community had a sense of political identity which was symbolized by the All-India Muslim League and reflected in its resolution in favour of Pakistan (23 March 1940). On the contrary, the Muslim majority provinces had rejected the League in the elections of 1937.
However, in course of the war, due to a variety of circumstances, the League managed to acquire credibility as the spokesman for all Muslims in India. Such uncertainties that remained were eliminated by the skillful exploitation by Jinnah of British ambivalence and Congress prevarication. The elections of 1946 showed the League to be in a very strong position in almost all the Muslim majority provinces. The British government intended to withdraw from India only if an overarching military unity of the subcontinent could be maintained and it was anxious that both the League and the Congress would accept this view, thereby leaving the Raj some leverage in matters of foreign policy and defence. In the hectic negotiations from the arrival of the Cabinet Mission to the actual Partition of the country, only Jinnah pursued with single-minded purpose a strategy for achieving a sovereign Pakistan. ‘In August 1947 the Muslim League was the only party to achieve what it wanted.’
Some of these points are not new, but they are worth restating in view of different misconceptions that persist about the Partition of the subcontinent. That strategic unity was a paramount consideration for the Raj is already known—the reviewer has published his findings on this in a number of papers in the last five years, and it is pleasant to note that Dr. Singh’s burrowing in the archives for her thesis led her to see the significance of the same sources and come to a similar conclusion. Another point, known to historians but repeatedly obscured by Pakistani historiography and British official writings, is that in 1939 the Muslims of India had not been welded into a single nationality with common political aspirations. A third point where her researches and the independent researches of Professor R.J. Moore converge is the question whether the idea of Pakistan was merely a bargaining counter on the part of Jinnah in the negotiations of 1945-46. One hears of this from many nationalist Muslim friends (especially from U.P.), but the sad truth is that Jinnah was determined to have nothing but a sovereign Pakistan—he rebuffed both the British desire for strategic unity and the Congress desire for independence on this count. Moore made this point in an article in Modern Asian Studies in 1983, and Anita Inder Singh makes the point in chapter 5 of this book.
There are a number of original points made, especially in the first four chapters, which need to be pointed out because they might easily skip the attention of readers ploughing through the densely packed narrative. The August offer of 1940—a proposal from the British side that there should be a constitutional review at the end of the war which might contemplate transfer of power but not to any government whose authority was ‘directly denied by large and powerful elements in India’s national life’—has often been seen as the beginning of the acceptance of Pakistan. That was not so. It was a rebuff to the Congress (which claimed to speak for the whole of India), a reassurance to the regional parties in Muslim majority provinces (the Unionists in the Punjab and the Krishak Praja in Bengal), but by no means a recog¬nition of the demand of the Muslim League to be the sole spokesman for Muslims in India or its demand to have truck with the Congress. As late as 1940 the British were not building up Jinnah. On the other hand Viceroy Linlithgow was anxious to keep the Unionist Party leader Sikander Hyat Khan close to Jinnah: ‘…the Viceroy needed them both; and it was he in this case who worked most effectively to preserve unity within the Muslim League.’ Jinnah however was more than a match for the Viceroy. He managed to get the regional Muslim Prime Ministers (Sikander, Fazlul Huq, Saadullah of Assam) resign from the National Defence Council. The Viceroy’s efforts to ‘maintain the League as a counterpoise to the Congress at the all India level’ was accompanied by a desire, shared by his officials, to keep him out of provincial Muslim politics (especially in the Punjab), but his sporadic efforts to do so only strengthened Jinnah. This part of the book should however be read along with Ayesha Jalal’s book on Jinnah, published two years ago (The Sole Spokesman (1985) pp 61-9) to get a less hazy picture of Jinnah’s relations with that great Punjabi Muslim politician Sikander Hyat Khan. Neither of them succeed in explaining satisfactorily what clout Jinnah had over Sikander that the latter would first join and then resign from the National Defence Council.
The question of the relation between Sikander Hyat and Jinnah is important for two reasons. The author’s argument that the Muslim League was not the spokesman for Bengali and Punjabi Muslims in 1957 (with which I would agree) can be clinched only by showing the distance between the two; secondly, in the Unionist Party the British Raj found the ideal cross-communal political formation of the propertied classes to serve its interests as perceived by the Government of India Act of 1935, and, as the later part of the book shows, the undermining of this Party by the Muslim League by 1946 put paid to British hopes of transferring power on terms perceived to be in the interest of imperial defence. In this context the teaming up of Sikander with Jinnah at the Lucknow session of the Muslim League in October 1937 requires explanation. It is to the credit of the author that, without access to the Muslim League archives in Pakistan, she has been able to put forward hypotheses which more or less tally with the more well-documented conclusions of Ayesha Jalal (loc. cit. p 39). Jalal of course argues, correctly in my opinion, that Sikander was negotiating from a position of strength when he gave Jinnah the limited right to speak for Punjabi Muslim interests at the centre, whereas according to Anita Inder Singh, Sikander was probably afraid of the Congress Muslim mass contact campaign undermining his own position. I very much doubt this. Even in U.P., on the author’s own evidence, the well-intentioned mass contact programme was undertaken with less than normal enthusiasm. Without more evidence it is not possible to sustain this.
I consider chapter 3, ‘Provincial and All India Politics: currents and crosscurrents— December 1941 to April 1945’ extending over forty-eight pages, to be the best in the book. While there are points of disagreement it not only fills a gap in our knowledge, but makes a number of original points of which I shall single out four. Firstly, the idea of Pakistan (and its corollary, Jinnah as the sole spokesman for Indian Muslims) was unwittingly encouraged both by the Congress and the British Raj, though neither, for different reasons, wanted it. On the British side she restates what is already known but bears repeating: the ‘provincial option clause of the Cripps offer of 1942 (i.e., that some provinces may opt out of a future Indian dominion if. they do not like the constitution framed by an Indian constituent assembly), was the first explicit recognition of there being more than one successor state. On the Congress side, she points out that Jinnah was given recognition as the leading spokesman for Muslims by the Gandhi-Jinnah talks of 1944 and the Rajagopalachari formula that preceded it. ‘Like the British, Congress leaders gave recognition to the principle of Pakistan in 1942 and in 1944, regardless of Jinnah’s position in the Muslim majority provinces. They thus undoubtedly gave substance to the demand for Pakistan, and indirectly built up the stature of the League at the all-India level.’ Secondly, she shows the absence of Hindu-Muslim tension during the Quit India movement. This is an important point because if the movement is seen as a rebellion against the Cripp’s offer, with its thinly veiled concession to Pakistan, we would expect, according to Jinnah’s two-nation theory, joyous collaboration of the Muslim masses with the Raj against the ‘Quit India’ activists. ‘In the sources consulted, except for two instances in the Midnapore district in Bengal, I have not come across a single instance of Muslims giving evidence against saboteurs, most of whom presumably were Hindus. … [Muslims] collaborated with neither the Congress nor the British.’
Thirdly, she has examined the effects of the Cripps offer on the Sikh community dispassionately. Finally, she has shown how Linlithgow did an about-turn in his style of functioning vis-a-vis the Unionist Party and the League after the death of Sikander. With Congress leaders now in jail he had less need for a counterpoise to them in the shape of Jinnah at the all-India level and greater need for inter-communal co-operation in the Punjab for the war effort.
The weaknesses of the book can be divided into two parts, general and specific. Generally speaking, there is very little space devoted to the analysis of structures, social or political, either in India or in Britain. There is not much awareness of the wide spectrum of divergent British interests and perceptions regarding the usefulness of the empire in South Asia. Other scholars would agree with her (certainly I would, I have gone on record on that) apropos of British imperial hopes and achievements when she says, in the concluding chapter. ‘A distinction can be made between their dislike of the Pakistan solution and the contribution of their tactics to its materialization: their short-term tactics worked against the achievement of their own long-term aims.’ Yet, unless one believes that the historical process is generally affected by the contingent and the unforeseen, one must try to explain the contra-diction in the sentence just quoted by an in-depth analysis of the framework within which decisions were taken as well as a close scrutiny of the decision-making process, with an evaluation of the different types of evidence that one came across. The specific criticisms will be too numerous for a review in this journal.
Partha Sarathy Gupta is Professor of Modern Indian History, Delhi University, Delhi.