Since the BJP government came into power, there have been debates in various circles that the emergence of a Hindu nationalist party and some of their actions that are perceived as against Indian Muslims, validate Jinnah’s two-nation theory and hence, justify that the partition of India was the right decision. Some recent actions including the revocation of Article 370 and most recently the Citizenship Amendment Act, are described as the evidence that Muslims have no place in India.
It is true that since partition, Muslims in India did not thrive as other communities but portraying them as an example, particularly by Pakistani Muslims that if Muslims wouldn’t have got a separate country then all Muslims in the subcontinent would have the same fate, is incorrect.
Contrary to this perception that the creation of Pakistan was a blessing for Muslims in the subcontinent, the fact is that the plight of Indian Muslims is due to the partition of India.
Muslims in Majority Provinces Overlooked Those in Minority Regions
The Muslim League, under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was pleading their case by arguing that Muslims’ rights may not be protected under a Hindu majority. The support to the Muslim League and Jinnah was primarily provided by the Muslims living in Muslim minority provinces such as the United Provinces, the Central Provinces and Bihar. In fact, the Muslim League would have never got popularity and political rise had it not been supported by the Muslims in minority provinces.
Except for Bengal, the Muslim League did not gain popular support in Muslim majority provinces until mid-1940s.
The Muslim League and its leadership claimed themselves to be the sole representatives of Indian Muslims and champions for their rights, but their demand for Pakistan contradicted their claims. After all, they chose to protect Muslims in majority provinces and abandon Muslims in minority provinces (a third of total Indian Muslim population) that needed the most support.
Throughout his campaign for Pakistan, Jinnah maintained silence about Muslims in minority provinces. He never described how his demand for Pakistan provides a solution for Muslims in minority provinces. The two-nation theory practically failed on the day of partition when the leadership of the Muslim League abandoned one-third of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.
Negligence of the Muslim League
Hence, on the eve of partition, Muslims in minority provinces were standing uncertain, directionless and wondering. For the past decade, they enthusiastically supported the Muslim League and trusted its leadership despite it was being made clear that the focus of the Muslim League was Muslim majority provinces.
It is surprising that Muslims in minority provinces never demanded clarity from the Muslim League’s leadership about what solution they had for Muslims in minority provinces once their demand for Pakistan is fulfilled?
Partition and the negligence of the Muslim League’s leadership left Muslims in minority provinces helpless, impoverished, insecure and directionless. On the political front, almost all key Muslim League leaders at the central and local levels in minority provinces migrated to Pakistan. On the professional side, the vast majority of Muslim professionals including, civil servants, lawyers, doctors, engineers and educationists migrated to Pakistan. Similarly, a major fraction of small to big Muslim business owners particularly from Gujrat and Kathiawar region migrated to Pakistan.
This created a major void on the political, professional and economical fronts – the key competencies for any community to survive and thrive. It was this void created by the formation of Pakistan, which handicapped the progress of Indian Muslims and hampered them from thriving along with other communities in India. Let’s analyze how this impacted the progress of Indian Muslims.
Muslim League’s Disappearance Paved the Way for Religious Leadership
The political campaigns by both the Muslim League and the Congress in the decade prior to partition had raised political awareness in masses. Although the Muslim League gained its popularity on communal grounds, it was an active and key player in the political arena at national, provincial and local levels. As such, its leadership had developed good political skills over time.
Furthermore, despite using religion as the ground for political gains, the leadership of the Muslim League at different levels was fundamentally secular-minded. After partition and migration of core leadership, the Muslim League lost its appeal and credibility in India, and disappeared from the political scene.
This political gap was then filled by Muslim religious parties such as Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind. These parties strongly opposed the idea of Pakistan on religious grounds but were not strong enough to counter the wave of emotional fervour among masses created by the religious hype of the Muslim League.
It is unfortunate that the Muslim leadership in Congress did not devise a plan to revive the political confidence and rebuild the political awareness of Indian Muslims in the context of new political realities.
Once the religious leadership took charge, the dynamics of Indian Muslim community drastically changed as their fate were given in the hands of those with narrow conservative vision.
Those who want to bound the community in the highly protected chains of religious doctrine. Their vision was to keep the community as far away as possible from the intellectual advancements and societal reforms.
Three Major Shocks of Partition
Muslim community in India faced three major shocks after partition; firstly, the loss of strong communal unity. In pre-partition India, although Muslims were about 25% of the population but considering the cast divisions among Hindus, they were a strong single communal block in India. However, by losing two-thirds of its members, the Indian Muslims not only lost the proportional population in India but most significantly, lost their stature as a powerful voice on the socio-political front.
Secondly, by creating Pakistan on the basis of a homeland for Muslims in the subcontinent, Muslims in India morally lost their rights and ownership of the land. They became stranger in their own homes. It was the protection under the strong secular constitution of India, which kept this fragmented community together and protected them from disintegration.
Thirdly, the Muslim community was not prepared for the rapid loss of intellectuals and professionals, and hence, was unable to cope up with this loss and its long-term consequences.
Indian Muslims share partial responsibility for their own deprivation. However, the way they were shattered by partition and consequently sunk into pessimism, only strong will, vision and pragmatism could have brought them on the progressive track. This, unfortunately, did not emerge at the collective communal level.
The current events like CAA and the resulting protests have brought Indian Muslims into the spotlight. However, instead of taking the victimized approach and blaming other communities for their plight, they should consider it as an opportunity. An opportunity to do a deep self-reflection, a critical self-assessment to identify problems within the community that held back their progress, and develop a strategy to bring reforms within the community using progressive thinking. The secular foundations of India are strong enough to provide protection but Muslims have to navigate themselves to the path of prosperity and progress alongside with other communities in an inclusive environment.
(The author is a professor at a Canadian university. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)