Muslims would awaken overnight and discover that they have become aliens and foreigners, backward industrially, educationally and economically; they will be left to the mercies of what would become an unadulterated Hindu Raj.” Was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad exaggerating or was he prescient. Name any other leader of the national movement who had this clear view of the future. The passage is from a press release the Maulana issued on July 17, 1946 detailing his forebodings on the idea of Pakistan and its aftermath. Nehru’s admiration for Azad was enormous. India’s first Prime Minister described his mind as “luminous”.
February will mark the 61st year of Maulana Azad’s death. Exactly 30 years after his death appeared the 30 pages of India Wins Freedom, which Azad had kept in the National Archives so that his contemporaries would not be around to face embarrassment.
The absence of any debate on the publication of virtually a ringside view of events leading up to Partition has always puzzled me. There are hundreds of details the world would never had known had Azad not penned them. For instance, the Maulana’s assertion that towards the end of negotiations with the British, Sardar Patel appeared to be more convinced of the two-nation theory than Jinnah, deserves to be noted. Rebut it, if need be. To avoid the brutalities which followed the announcement of the Partition plan, an idea was mooted to keep the British Army united. As a temporary measure, it seemed a sensible idea. But to the Maulana’s surprise, most adamantly opposed to a United Army “even for a day” was the arch pacifist Rajendra Prasad. A United Army would remain an “unfinished” business of Partition. And who knows how long this “unfinished business” would linger. What if a United Army becomes a pressure point for reversing Partition? The eagerness to hold onto Partition is manifest in the behaviour of leaders who were ironically opposed to it. The Maulana describes in detail how Sardar Patel had convinced even Mahatma Gandhi that Partition was the best course under the circumstances.
Just as it is today, Assam was the key state in focus in 1946-47. The crucial role it is playing today in the CAA-NRC discourse is not surprising. Fired by subnationalism and cultural pride, former chief minister Gopinath Bordoloi enlisted Mahatma Gandhi’s support in rejecting the Cabinet Mission proposal yoking Assam with Bengal in what was described as Zone C in the Mission’s plan. The country was to be stabilised under groups A, B and C.
The Cabinet Mission was the last effort to keep India united. It was endorsed by the Congress on July 7, 1946. But two surprising events made Partition inevitable. One was Assam’s firm rejection of being grouped with Bengal. It feared then, as it does now, of being inundated with migration. Second was the new Congress president Jawaharlal Nehru’s fateful press conference in Mumbai on July 10. Nehru declared that all that had been agreed with the Cabinet Mission and Jinnah would have to be ratified by a Constituent Assembly. This stipulation was not in the agreement. Little wonder Jinnah picked up the marbles and walked out of the game. Partition became inevitable.
The Maulana’s opposition to Partition was absolute. He was eloquent about the cultural commerce of over 1,100 years which he always described as his heritage. “We handed over our wealth to her (Bharat) and she unlocked for us the door of her own riches.”
If Pakistan was so much against the interests of Muslims themselves as the Maulana never tired of saying, why should such a large section of Indian Muslims be swept away by its lure? The Maulana’s response to this query was unique: “The answer is to be found in the attitude of certain communal extremists among the Hindus. When the Muslim League began to speak of Pakistan, they (Hindus) began to read into the scheme a sinister pan-Islamic conspiracy. They opposed the idea out of the fear that it foreshadowed a combination of Indian Muslims with trans-Indian Muslim states. This fierce opposition acted as an incentive to the adherents of the League. With simple though untenable logic, they argued that if Hindus were so opposed to Pakistan, surely, it must be of benefit to Muslims. Reason was impossible in an atmosphere of emotional frenzy thus created.” Is the ogre of three Muslim majority states a continuation of the line the Maulana had spotted 75 years ago?
He was convinced that the “chapter of communal differences was a transient phase of Indian life”. “Differences would persist just as opposition among political parties will continue, but it will be based not on religion but on economic and political issues.”
Nehru’s last interview with Arnold Michaelis in May 1964, shortly before his death, is revealing. First, he dismisses Jinnah almost as a non-entity in the freedom struggle. “He was not in the fight for freedom.” In fact, the Muslim League was set up by the British to “divide us”. He said he, like Gandhiji and others, were opposed to Partition. “Then why did you accept Partition?” Michaelis asks. Nehru’s reply is cryptic: “I decided it was better to part than to have constant trouble.” The trouble Nehru refers to was clearly the continuous bickering between the Congress and the Muslim League in the interim government of 1946. Obviously, Nehru was exasperated by the apparent incompatibilities in the interim government. While giving vent to his exasperation, did India’s first Prime Minister spare a thought for the minorities, primarily Muslims, 200 million at current reckoning who were riveted on him as their leader? Maulana Azad spelt out exactly what their fate would be. And surprising though it is, the Maulana had nowhere near Nehru’s charismatic hold on a community which learnt only in retrospect that they had been let down by the leader they adored.
The writer is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi...