The makers of Pakistan were peasants and laborers. In 1940, they passed a resolution in Lahore to demand a separate homeland for Muslims and an end to British colonial occupation. In 1946, their votes brought a political party, the Muslim League, to power. They chose Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a modernist technocrat, as their leader.
The first sentence was a deliberate conceptualization of how I would approach a possible history of Pakistan. It garnered a critique from friend and CM associate Musharraf Ali Faroqui on twitter (storify: by @salmaan_H and by @anniepaul).
So allow me to lay out here, more substantively, my methodological hypothesis and argue against the dominant paradigm within which popular understandings of 1947 enact themselves.
The widely-held consensus is that the Partition resulted from the efforts or machinations of a group of elite individuals (urban, landed, educated-abroad) whose antagonists were other similar figures and who were engaged in anti-colonial struggle largely on the grounds of wresting state control away from British elite. The masses (however articulated) were either never made aware of the full harshness of what the results of such politics would be, or were never participants to the dialogues and the negotiations, or were manipulated discursively and went along with it. The articulations (or contestations) of such elite-dominated politics, then, is in figuring out the biographical and political contingencies of these elite actors and, from that vantage point, launching a celebration or critique of them. Clearly, the State of Pakistan, participates whole heartedly in presenting this "Founding Fathers" narrative through its varied channels, but contemporary scholarship has not deviated much in its basic "framing" efforts. The emphasis remains on fronting individuals such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan, Muhammad Iqbal (but never Abdul Kasem Fazlul Haq, Fazlur Rehman or Jogendranath Mandal).
The second dominating discourse lies in understanding the historicity of what Jinnah claimed in 1940: "The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literature[s]. They neither intermarry nor interdine together, and indeed they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions." You can read paragraph 23 and 24 to get the fuller picture. This "Two Nation Theory" - along with the above "Founding Father" - lies at the heart of Pakistan's national self-imagination. I have written elsewhere, here, many times, that this particular fiction, from the State's perspective, falls apart historically and experientially under the barest of scrutiny. It also fell apart in 1953-55, when Ahmadis were removed from the "Muslim nation" and it was completely annihilated in 1971 when East Pakistan's population was decimated by its own army. But that only articulates the position of the state. On the intellectual level, there is, again, a methodology that attempts to place a "rupture" within Hindu-Muslim consciousness at some point, led, again by a series of individuals. The obvious peg is 1857. The series of individuals are a particular class of men from Lucknow, Delhi, Aligarh who enunciate a secular-modern or a revivalist difference between the Hindus and Muslims. A seminal set of figures in this discourse are Syed Ahmed Khan, Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, Ashraf 'Ali Thanwi and others.
So, on both these fronts, there are any number of histories, political studies and, as you can grab from the twitter-exchange, popular understandings. My effort in that one line, paragraph, was at counter-vailing these tendencies and arguing for a shift in our perspectival relationship to Pakistan's past.
The first methodological understanding is to refuse to carelessly transfer the present's context-determined biases into the past. To pick on the example from MAF, 1947's civic-violence needs to be understood as product of multiple teleologies from mid-18th century onwards. This requires a critical historical consciousness that is willing to argue with and through narratives, teleologies, and concepts. And hence, to write history in way sensitive to these factors. We take up seriously, Haydn White's advice that "a critical historical consciousness is ... the basis of the recognition that every historical account is a construction in discourse of past reality rather than simply a translation of the facts contained in the evidence into contemporary language". The conceptual category of Hindu or Muslim is a historically determined, changing category (to invoke Koselleck's Begriffsgeshichte) and as such when we attempt to understand the civic-violence, we need to make attempts to articulate the "change" in that category. Change that allowed for difference to be rendered as violently as it did. There is nothing in the inherent nature of those who committed acts of horrendous violence on their neighbors in 1947 - but at a precise historical moment, the word "neighbor" transposed into the word "Other". This means the articulation of Muslimness and Hinduness are extremely important, if we are to understand that transition between "neighbor" and "Other". The history of riots in northern India in the twentieth century is instructive in detailing how this shift happened in view of Colonial policy and colonial violence. (I call to your attention Gail Minault's The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (1982) as giving the archeology and landscape of an early riot in U.P. and its colonial register. Highly instructive). We need an extension of the sort of methodological work that Nicholas Dirks did in Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (2001) explicitly for the category of Muslim in India. The central point here being that diachronic flows of time and concepts help us imagine the possible futures, the multitudes of which disappear but leave traces in the present. We are not at the mercy of determined history as envisioned by the State.
The second basic methodological point is to understand agency and contingency in an historical event from the perspective of the subaltern, the vanquished, the dispossessed, the marginalized (where are the histories of sexuality and madness and prophecy for Pakistan?). This is quite explicitly a political and ethical commitment, as well as theoretical statement towards my understanding of the task of historian. I rely here on Reinhart Koselleck and the commentary on him by Paul Ricoeur, the work of Walter Benjamin (and through him Marc Bloch), and Michel Foucault to make a situationist case for the subaltern. Following Koselleck, it is the anthropological and "experiential" bent to cultural memory that I find really persuasive - in looking at everyday practices, narratives, habits, habitations, relationship to memories, songs, stories. The subaltern school (which has recently been mourned and buried) failed to make any impact in Pakistani historiography and we are the worst for it. Marxist readings of the Pakistani past fails to engage with culture or difference without simply brushing it away in its superstructure. There is no voice in Pakistan's historiography other than the creedal and ethnic majority and the impact of this monologue is clear in the un-ambigious majoritarianism.
So, was Pakistan made by laborers and farmers? The case is made, persuasively, in the work of David Gilmartin. I call to your attention his article, "A Magnificent Gift: Muslim Nationalism and the Election Process in Colonial Punjab" in Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 415-436. Gilmartin argues that historians have not paid attention to the electioneering process itself as constituting a communal understanding of the self. He traces the effects of Muslim League's effort to distance itself, critically, from the Unionist Party and through the usage of pamphlets, songs, and public gatherings, work in 1946 towards a singular ideation of Pakistan. (The Referendum in NWFP in 1947 is also relevant here). Those who voted for Pakistan in Punjab, Sindh, Bengal voted because there was a particular narrative they accepted and signed up to. The franchising was not universal - based on educational qualification, payment of land revenue, and basic tax were some of the criteria - but the electioneering was universal. That is the central position that is worth thinking through. The Muslim League in 1946 made a particularly populist claim, and it won on that claim in particular places. In stark causality terms, a failure of the Muslim League to garner votes in 1946 (as it failed to do in 1935 and earlier from these same constituents) would have been a disaster to their basic platform. The platform announced in 1940 in Lahore as Pakistan. The performance of Muslim League in 1946 (as the result of the 1947 Referendum) was a necessary condition for the British Partition plan. That is the basis of my statement.
As you can tell by now, this is NOT some radical, revisionist claim. This is simply a perspectival shift that scholars (such as David Gilmartin above or Venkat Dhulipala (2010)) have argued for. Yet, it is a deeply disturbing shift to many. It appears "quaint" or "silly" to many. It seems untenable to many. Many who remain deeply mistrustful of the agency of the masses. From Pakistan to Egypt.
I hope this suffices as an explanation of my statement. I welcome critiques, corrections, and discussions.
May be out of my range here, but for me, the distinction between election and electioneering is interesting. It seems like you're making a case that the activities which count as 'electioneering' shaped popular consciousness - a desire for Pakistan. Hence your view of the 5 million votes are reflecting agency of peasants and laborers. (Did women vote? You mention land, taxes, etc. but not gender - was curious...) I agree: we don't want to discount those, either individually or collectively. At the same time, I find it interesting that such referendums did not gain so much traction/approval several years earlier (you cite the 1935 failure). That speaks of concerted effort on the part of organizers to hold such large gatherings, publish pamphlets, develop songs as a pedagogical tool, etc. (I don't know what the literacy rate was then, assuming that affected franchise, but the oral culture element strikes me as right in terms of shaping popular consciousness) in a relatively dense few years. Did any of that activity accelerate because of WWII? Your statement about peasants and laborers being the founders strikes me as an important corrective to the oversight of popular voice/people's history, but also, like some correctives, seems to simplify what comes across as a dynamic process between everyday folks and political organizations (which I'm assuming tacks back to the Big Founding Fathers) that still, yes?, needs some finely grained details to be filled in/written.....
To start, I was surprised that many of the things you cleared up needed to be cleared up. That we are still operating with the notions of the 'deaf and dumb' masses and of two 'nations' seems odd--aren't those ideas well past their expiry date? Foremost, to deny anyone agency is not a methodological error but a human one as well (while recognizing full well that each has an agency up to the information and resources they have access to). Also, with Jinnah himself saying that the term 'nationalist' was a 'play of conjurers', and knowing now the full genius of this constitutional lawyer, we should come to appreciate him not as a two-dimensional storybook hero but as a brilliant politician and farsighted leader who played the game of nationalism, and played it almost perfectly, to found Pakistan--the leverage state for the Muslims of all-India. You admit yourself here that these makers of Pakistan, the peasants and labourers, did not exercise the franchise. So they were not the makers of Pakistan by your own definition (i.e. 'they passed a resolution in Lahore to demand a separate homeland for Muslims'). That they were the targets of electioneering if anything gives greater proof of the massive role played by a smaller elite--e.g. landed notables, pirs, Aligarh students--in generating the demands (and the votes) for a Pakistan in even the villages of British India during the war. If anything, by your criterion it was the Muslims of future India, i.e. of the majority non-Muslim provinces in British India, that created Pakistan by vesting the Muslim League with its mandate through electoral means in 1940. I am very sympathetic to your project and commitment to locate the subaltern in the high history of Pakistan. My own research is currently aiming to ascertain the role of popular demands in the formation of state policy in the Pakistan territories from 1919 to 1968--if only to explain why so often those demands have been overridden by bureaucratic constraints and foreign pressures. However, attempting to shoehorn their agency is unfair. Are these peasants and labourers responsible for the Pakistan we got? 'Mutilated, moth eaten' etc. etc? No. It was the pressure put on legislators by the Congress machinery that gave us the partition of Punjab and Bengal and thus the Pakistan that came into being. HOWEVER, the agency of these peasants and labourers, who undoubtedly DID make Pakistan, must be sought where it is, not where we want it to be. The whole saga of partition--the kaafiley, the incalculable disease and death statistics, the extraordinary refugee crises--is irrefutable evidence of the 'masses' who believed in and in real terms made Pakistan. By their decision to come here they vested the project with life and meaning. The remarkable population flip in Karachi alone is proof positive--and most of these migrants were not elites as they ended up living in schools, tents, and on sidewalks! The experience of the non-elites, esp the migrants, 'made' Pakistan, because their footsteps demonstrated concretely what an exclusionary vote could not--that there was a yearning among the Muslims of India for a land to protect their interests in the subcontinent.
Why I had to make the clarification is available in the twitter exchange. That ideas considered "expired" in academic parlance have a longer shelf life in nationalist and populist discourse is not really remarkable. I am not entirely sure why you think I would disagree with your project or say that agency ended in 1946 or is only visible in the election. My statement was a perspectival one - not an attempt to shoehorn agency (which would be silly after all those assertions).
Yes, indeed. There was the matter of 800 words to keep me from nuance.
Actually I was quite surprised to hear them from Faroqui--that someone debating with (especially) you would trot out those old themes, what with all that's been written on this blog. And do not think that you disagree or are making ridiculous claims about agency. Merely that the participation of peasants and laborers is problematic in the specific context--their resolution, their votes--that you are advocating.
You wrote: "The makers of Pakistan were peasants and laborers. In 1940, they passed a resolution in Lahore to demand a separate homeland for Muslims and an end to British colonial occupation. In 1946, their votes brought a political party, the Muslim League, to power. They chose Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a modernist technocrat, as their leader." and you present the perspective that the electioneering was universal, and that makes the laborers and peasants into the ones who passed the Lahore Resolution, and voted the Muslim League in 1946. But the electioneering for Pakistan under the Muslim League began only after 1940. The peasants and laborers hardly drove the adoption of the resolution. The text of the Lahore resolution simply says that the scheme of Federation embodied in the Government of India Act 1935 is unsuitable for India. It does not explicitly ask for an end to British colonial rule. You can compare the Lahore Resolution, for instance, with the Purna Swaraj Resolution of the Indian National Congress, Lahore, January 26, 1930, which, for example, calls for an end to the inhuman rule of the British Government. And of course, the Quit India resolution of 1942 was very explicit. Bracketed by these two resolutions, the Lahore Resolution was mealy-mouthed about an end to colonial rule, to say the least. And of course, there was limited franchise. As to what labor might have thought, let me just quote Sho Kuwajima, Muslims, Nationalism and the Partition: 1946 elections in India, page 27. Kuwajima notes that the employees of the Posts and Telegraphs Department went on strike on July 11, 1946. On 29 July 1946, there was a sympathy strike in Calcutta in support of the Posts and Telegraph strikers; 18 days later there were Direct Action Day riots in Calcutta. Kuwajima writes: Why could not the General Strike in Calcutta, said to have involved more than 4 million people and even carried the slogan of 'Hindu-Muslim Unity', prevent this tragedy? Was it a result of the separation of the labour movement from the constitutional process? The 'direct action' was a result of the negotiations within the constitutional framework. Many of the victims had no voting right, but lost their lives as a result of the constitutional process from which they were excluded. --- From all these perspectives, the claim that the makers of Pakistan were laborers and peasants is an unsupported one.
One should also note that so powerful was the Muslim League call for Independence from British Colonial Rule, that British military's contingency plan during Lord Wavell's tenure, was that if there was unrest in India as might result from Mahatma Gandhi's death, to abandon the Congress provinces and consolidate themselves in the area that is now Pakistan.
I don't know that my concern (which I didn't exactly lay out in my one or two tweets questioning the statement) is really addressed by this post. It seems to be more a response to Faroqui, whose allegations I did find a bit ridiculous (only now reading them). Of course the masses "made" Pakistan in the sense that you could not have built this country without them. But what I have learned is that the masses did not "make" Pakistan as an idea/ideal/goal, and that it was something they would not have demanded had elites not tried to sell it to them. I don't think it undermines the agency of the masses to say that the powerful were, well, overpowering in this process. The idea of Pakistan is also something that began to legitimize itself, in my understanding: like you wrote, the "two nation" theory is fiction, but the violence it triggered (without ignoring that Hindu-Muslim violence long outdated the idea of Pakistan) was something that led people to believe they needed a Muslim state, led many Congress supporters to move to that state, and the violence they faced in that process (muhajirs traveling to Pakistan) led them to believe a Muslim state was maybe necessary in the end. A cyclical process that fed into itself, I don't know that any of this would have been necessary had that idea not been propagated in the first place, even if the masses came to accept it and exercised agency in doing so. Also, what I have learned is that the Muslim League had its stronghold in Northern India and was not as rooted in the parts of India that became West and East Pakistan (one reason the state apparatus that emerged was so weak). So let's return to your statement, that "The makers of Pakistan were peasants and laborers. In 1940, they passed a resolution in Lahore to demand a separate homeland for Muslims and an end to British colonial occupation. In 1946, their votes brought a political party, the Muslim League, to power. They chose Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a modernist technocrat, as their leader." Of course your op-ed was not about the history of Pakistan/India and I would not have expected you to go on at length to explain all the nuances of Partition history in that article (as you said "There was the matter of 800 words to keep me from nuance"). But I felt that your simple statement validated the view, not that agency existed among these people, but that Pakistan was theirs all along, something that easily passed with "their" support, a more simple view of history than it seems you actually believe in. To me, it sounded like it fed into the state/nationalist view. I corresponded with Zujaja on this too - and as for agency, I agree with her comment you may be looking for the "peasants and laborers" agency in the wrong place.
I have to wonder here, since the topic is on peasants and laborers, to what extent the involvement of the CPI shaped popular consciousness--given the CPI's particular political investment in these groups. As early as 1943-44, the CPI supported the notion of separate nationalities and self-determination. (I'm referring to statements published by by CPI representatives on Congress-League unity, which contained an elaborate defense of the right of Muslim self-determination, as well as other similar documents). Such statements were interpreted by many nationalist activists on the ground as support for Pakistan (as opposed to India)---though here, what Pakistan even meant was still quite nebulous, especially when we think about what came about afterwards. On a related note, many progressive poets were involved with CPI politics and organizing, some were involved in Congress politics, while still others were drawn into ML political organizing. I was struck, for instance, when I came across an impassioned poem by the progressive poet Asrar ul Haque Majaz, entitled, "Pakistan Ka Milli Tarana", which he is said to have performed on direct action day in 1946 while leading marches. The poem combines some overt communist themes (i.e., opposing capitalism, red flags) with Islamic historical precepts. It remains to be seen as to what kind of interpretations there existed of such kinds of poetry and pamphleteering by ordinary people, and in the absence of their voices, their marginalization in historical records, (and the fact that the total literacy rate in '47 was perhaps not more than 15%, though don't quote me on this figure) a straightforward political (people's) history of this sort is extremely difficult. (Unless we simply read the people's history from the perspectival lens of the early communist and progressive voices of Pakistan, which is extremely problematic in many ways). In this sense, I am inclined to think that the way of advancing a people's history is by delving deeper in to cultural memory, and on this issue, the historian has to look into and, even build, alternative archives.
The obsession with the Quaid — either as the demonised figure of Indian nationalist discourse or as the hero of the Pakistani nationalist historiography - obscures the fact that Jinnah alone did not attain Pakistan. Indeed the role of the ordinary person has been rather badly squeezed by the dominance of 'high politics' accounts of partition in Pakistan. But as the eminent historian of the Punjab, partition and Pakistan, Ian Talbot, now Professor of history at the University of Southampton, was at pains to stress in his publication 17 years ago — Freedom's Cry: Popular Dimension in the Pakistan movement and Partition Experience in North-West India - the role of ordinary Muslims was vital to the freedom struggle. The Muslim League, states Talbot, “took its political campaign from the drawing room onto the streets, following its shattering set-back in the 1937 provincial elections.” By doing so, it made its first step towards becoming a mass movement. During the late 1930s and through the 1940s, Talbot notes that “Jinnah drew even larger crowds than those seen at the high of the Khilafat campaign as he travelled the length and breadth of the subcontinent popularising the League's demands.” The Muslim League did not carry out a direct action campaign until 1946-7 when it was forced to do so by events. Up to that point the crucial type of crowd activity was processions. Huge numbers turned up at many of the processions. To give just a flavour, in Karachi in October 1938, as Jinnah was conveyed through the streets, there was a three mile long procession. In Quetta in 1943, an estimated fifty thousand “swept Jinnah through Quetta city...his entire route was decorated with welcome arches and gateways named after Muslim heroes.” In July 1944, Jinnah travelled by road from Rawalpindi to Lahore to attend a Muslim League Council Meeting, ”such was press of the crowds that the journey took all of twelve hours.” During celebration days (such as Pakistan Day, Jinnah Day, Iqbal Day), “Muslim houses were also illuminated and bedecked with Pakistani flags.” The numerous processions not only strengthened the sense of Islamic brotherhood and solidarity but demonstrated that Jinnah had become the symbolic embodiment of Muslim aspirations, something that the processions themselves reinforced. The processions also made “territorial claims” through the areas they passed and sent an important message on “political sovereignty,” with Jinnah being treated as a head of state. The rural elites who remained influential in the provincial elections could not but help notice how the winds of change were blowing. The masses that turned up at processions — but could not vote — “undoubtedly influenced” those that could actually exercise their vote in the crucial 1946 provincial elections which showed a decisive swing in favour of Pakistan. Without the election victory the Pakistan demand would have been in tatters. Until the closing stages the League was keen to keep the movement strictly constitutional. But events had meant that in 1946 and 1947 it had to commence civil disobedience movements in the Punjab and the Frontier which “mobilized large numbers of Muslims, despite police firings and massive arrests.” The processions then became less of a celebratory nature and more of a protest kind, such as the carrying of black flags and defiance of government bans on public assembly and curfews. In Bombay on the Muslim League national day of protest in August 1946, more turned up than “Congress's sparser rally a week earlier, during its Quit India Day celebrations.” Talbot notes that “previously marginalised groups such as women, small shopkeepers, labourers and tribesmen were all heavily involved.” In March 1947, 20,000 Muslims from villages, in the Frontier regions, marched through Dera Ismail Khan to the Post Office and were arrested. This was one of many protest processions. In the Frontier alone, the Dawn reported that 35,000 people had been arrested, 6,000 injured by the police, with seven more weeks of the campaign to come. A 100,000 strong protest procession took place in Amritsar. Muslim League supporters at these protest processions faced tear-gas, firings and lathi charges and occasionally bullets. Inevitably there were victims of police action. In one funeral of a victim of police action, “nearly two hundred thousand Muslims marched to the graveyard,” including “craftsmen, butchers, traders and even tongawallahs.” Talbot also points to how the League successfully used picketing and trespassing to undermine its opponents. Women in the Punjab and in the Frontier enthusiastically participated in the direct action campaigns. They too faced baton charges and tear-gas. In Talbot's study we glimpse at the important role of women in the campaign for Pakistan. We can supplement this by looking at other sources. The first Muslim League strike (hartal) was called in 1946. These hartals also proved hugely successful for the League. “Even the small roadside tobacconists, paanwallahs, and tea stalls packed away their wares.” Talbot notes that the success of the many hartals “attests to the multi-class involvement” in the struggle for Pakistan, “for a complete hartal could not be achieved without support from casual labourers, industrial workers, shopkeepers, and artisans, as well as the professional classes.” The civil disobedience campaigns were crucial at undermining support for Muslim League opponents in the Punjab and the Frontier and advancing the cause of Pakistan. It convinced “waverers” to switch allegiance to the Muslim League. The mass group actions also strengthened the sense of an Islamic community. “Individuals thought of themselves as Muslims first and then Punjabis, Pathans and Bengalis.“ The Muslim League's claim to represent Muslims of India was “legitimised “by the range of crowd activity. They “emphatically underpinned Jinnah's message to 'rally round' the Muslim League and 'enroll in lakhs' in the face of Congress oppression.” In the case of the Frontier province the mass mobilisation by the civil disobedience movement and the hostile reception Nehru received when he visited the area, also convinced Lord Mountbatten that a referendum was required to determine the wishes of the people with respect to whether the province would join India or Pakistan. Talbot's persuasive case leaves little doubt that the Muslim League struggle represented “the greatest Muslim mass mobilisation in the first half of the twentieth century.” Talbot in his book goes on to look at symbolic importance and influence of the volunteer movement, the Muslim National Guards — “which claimed upwards of a million members” - especially in the urban context. For him the Guards represented the “the devotion, sincerity and above all the emotion which countless Muslims invested in the freedom struggle.” He also looks at the popular participation and the politics of rural Punjab between 1944 and 1946. In the Punjab there was “popular mobilisation...on a scale never previously witnessed” in the province. He notes that the “growing groundswell of support for the League pressurised its Muslim landlord opponents to desert the Unionist Party,” which helped pave the way for the vital victory in the provincial elections of 1946. The Muslim League's advance surprised its own workers. One was to write to Jinnah in 1945 that “The League is spreading even to the rural areas with what is seen to the League leaders here (as) unexpected rapidity.” Mian Bashir Ahmed continued that “our workers have not yet reached the villages in adequate numbers and yet one hears sensational stories of conversion to the League.” The All-India Muslim League was to an extent able to transcend local based 'feudal' and kinship allegiances: “The politics of biraderi and local power were by no means destroyed in 1946, but they had to compete, often unsuccessfully, with the Muslim League's ideological appeals.” The second part of his book deals with what was for many ordinary people a harrowing partition experience. As Talbot reminds us, we must remember that ordinary people — many of whom risked injury to themselves - were vital to the success of the freedom struggle. During the crowd activity, “all [participants] became equal in the Pakistan struggle.” Jinnah's call for a homeland would have translated into nothing had Muslims — ordinary Muslims — not been sincerely moved by it. Pakistan was not created by a few middle aged men in 'smoke filled rooms'. The popular aspect of the Pakistan movement is a neglected field but it was decisive in the attainment of the separate state. Pakistan owes its existence, which seemed impossible just a decade before its actual realisation, as much to the masses who enthusiastically participated in the movement as to its founder.