It’s March 1937 and the Congress has secured a phenomenal win in the elections. The proud and mighty Nehru publicly declares that only two parties exist in India- the British and the Indian National Congress. Who knew how fast the tables might turn within a decade! Today, it might appear that the formation of Pakistan was inevitable as the Muslim League and its leader, Jinnah, were hell-bent from the start to secure their Muslim State. However, that is far from reality (or should I say history). The League went through different phases, some that were even antipodal to its final stance. I will be analysing this evolution using M. L. Becker’s temporal division.
The efforts of men like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Shibli and Amir Ali in reviving the Muslim communal pride after 1857 laid down the foundation for Indian Muslim nationalism. The League, being a child of this renaissance, was formed in Dacca (present-day Dhaka) in 1906 as a direct result of the Simla Deputation.
During the first phase 1906-12, the League was a relatively progressive and deliberative body working on issues like education and government employment for the Muslims. Its pro- British outlook was jettisoned by the end of this period due to factors like British volte-face on Bengal Partition and suffering of other Muslim communities across the world.
The League was catapulted to the forefront with the Lucknow Pact (1916) during the second phase of 1916-29. But as luck would have it, by 1919 the League was struggling, being destitute of effective leadership. This void in Muslim leadership was quickly filled by the Khilafat Committee, rendering the League virtually redundant! The Jinnah-Shafi split only served to exacerbate the situation. That year, only 23 out of its 1,093 members had paid their annual dues, donations were non-existent, and appeals for funds elicited no response. Attempts at rapprochement were made between the two communities but all in vain.
Internally demoralised, the League ceased to be an important factor in Indian political life.
Thus, the period of 1930-35 were the critical years. Fortunately for the League, its stalwarts were summoned by the British government as representative Muslims to attend the first of the three Indian Round Table Conference in London. Incidentally, this gave space for Sir Mohammad Iqbal to rise as a prominent leader back in India. He was monumental in stimulating his community’s desire to create a new Islamic democracy. However, the League was still in a precarious position. Factionalism and financial trouble were breaking it apart.
Defying all odds, with a remarkable series of moves, it managed to survive! Perhaps, this was driven by its devoted set of followers, who saw it as the only All-India Muslim political organisation. The inflexion point was the return of Jinnah to the League. Battles may have been lost but the war was still left and the battleground was all set now!
The next phase between 1936-40 saw the rise of the phoenix! For it was in the Lucknow session (1937), that a moderate and deliberative body implicitly became a revolutionary and radical mass organisation. Yet, it was not until 1940 that this change was formalised in the form of the Lahore Resolution. In those fateful years, Jinnah torpedoed all his hitherto work of Hindu-Muslim unity and transformed into the ‘Quaid-i-Azam’. Despite these efforts, the League tasted a humiliating defeat in 1937 elections by securing less than 5% of the Muslim votes cast. Interestingly, the Congress and its leaders were making some pristine blunders, most notably ignoring and undermining the League’s leaders. Moreover, the British government accepted the League’s claim as being the sole representative of Indian Muslims, which was a strategic quid pro quo for League’s support to the war efforts. This was exactly the impetus that the League needed at that time!
Congress met its Waterloo during the final phase between 1940-47. The Pakistan Resolution in Lahore session (1940) set the ball rolling. It was a demand for autonomous regions in north-western and eastern parts of India. The League was on song, beautifully employing mass psychology to weave magic in the 1945-46 elections. Now, the League had a clear mandate from the Muslim community. Congress had a clear mandate of the non-Muslim groups. The British government stood committed to Indian independence.
Wherefore, the time had come for a final settlement!
Visibly, the League never had a linear trajectory and didn’t remain unchanged. The League survived in the face of imminent factionalism, political experimentation and external pressures. For about three decades since its inception, it was indeed the only All-India platform for Muslim politics and nationalism. However, its goals were never clear. Started as a platform to create a distinct, yet not conflicting, the identity of Muslims, it found itself in a quagmire of communalism and its core values were soon diluted. Maybe they appear in Jinnah’s 11th August 1947 speech, or maybe they don’t.
In the study of the past, the only constant is change and the League’s evolution should be seen as a process of historical change.