Anthologizing Islam in South Asia

Book: Islam in South Asia, vol. VI: Soundings on Partition and its Aftermath
Editor: Mushirul Hasan
Publisher: Manohar, Delhi
Year: 2010,
Pages: 369 h/b
ISBN 978-81-7304-827-2
Price Rs. 950   (Available from Pharos Media
Mohammad Sajjad

Having worked on the themes of Indian Nationalism, South Asian Islam, Muslim communities, Partition, and related subject for about three decades, historian Prof. Mushirul Hasan thought of bringing out a series of anthology on Islam in South Asia which could put most of the shades of analysis pertaining to such explorations together at one place. The volume under review is the sixth and last in this series. It has compiled sixteen essays, around half of these consist essentially of excerpts taken from the English language memoirs of some important persons, mostly Muslims, who lived and experienced the Partition and its impact; some of them acted in those events of history either as political activists or administrators, and recorded their observations, impressions, and analyses.

The purpose of the compilation as stated by the editor is “to introduce lesser known texts, explore marginalized voices, reveal the religious and secular identity of a people as reflected in the literatures about them or on them and, last but not the least, present the unity and variety of a religion that is almost universally, and mistakenly understood to be undifferentiated” (p. 8).

These excerpted memoirs supply considerable inputs to the scholarly works on the theme. (One looks for such excerpts, translated into English, from Urdu, and other vernacular memoirs also). The introductory essay (rather a prefatory note) of the volume contributed by the editor is too brief leaving the reader rather tempted. This has probably been substituted by his two long scholarly essays included in the volume.

The first chapter is from the autobiography (1972) of K. A. Hamied, the founder (1935) of CIPLA (Chemical, Industrial, and Pharmaceutical Laboratories). Hamied, very close to Gandhiji, considered the system of separate electorates as the root of all evils of Partition; he persuaded Gandhiji to launch a mass agitation against the partition rather than accepting it. Gandhi expressed helplessness in doing so and insinuated the unwillingness of Patel and Nehru. Frantically Hamied called on to Patel who said that all Muslims would have voted for Pakistan, to which Hamied rebutted, ‘in the election in 1946, [as many as] 36 per cent of the [franchised; only a tiny fraction of the Muslims were franchised] Muslims voted against Jinnah’s Muslim League’ hence Patel’s contention, he said, was wrong. He proposed before Patel that there should have been a special ballot for this plebiscite with three columns: one for those who voted for Pakistan, another for those against Pakistan, and one column stating specifically and categorically that those who voted for Pakistan would have to leave India, go to Pakistan and reside there. Sardar Patel kept mum, and repented for not having heeded Hamied (p. 14).

Almost similar observation is made by M. C. Chagla, “real opinion of the Muslim masses was never elicited by any democratic method,…the Congress had no right to assume that what Jinnah said and did was acceptable to his coreligionists” (p. 68).

Hamied exposes colonial culpability, “the worse possible riots [1946] took place only in towns where the District magistrates and other officials were British” (p. 11). He strongly disapproved the plea of the tallest of the Indian nationalists that partition was the only way left to avoid the fratricidal civil war. He cites the example of Lincoln and George Washington who prevented the secession of the Southern States, even though the civil war with mayhem continued for several years.  

Chagla’s memoir excerpted in the volume gives a scathing critique in the form of a psycho-analysis of the persona and politics of Jinnah.  He alleges Jinnah of being obsessively egoist, and that he “had to be a leader and, the prime mover in whatever cause he worked. With the emergence of Gandhiji…Jinnah felt that his importance would gradually diminish. Jinnah was complete anti-thesis of Gandhiji”. According to Chagla, even Nehru disliked Jinnah as a man for his “arrogance and pomposity… despised him as uncultured, almost illiterate” (p. 49). Similar observations about Jinnah have been made by M. R. A. Baig (chapter 4), who says, “Jinnah sometimes seemed to have little desire to win friends and influence people” (p. 91).  In a much polite way, Sachidanand Sinha (d. 1950), in his booklet, Jinnah: As I Knew Him makes similar comments, whereby Jinnah was not a personality type who could play second fiddle in politics.

Assigning the cause of Partition, Chagla says that the most potent cause was Nehru’s refusal to have a coalition ministry in U.P. For historians working on these themes, an important source would be to look into the Bombay Chronicle edited by S. A. Barelwi, who according to Chagla “was a staunch nationalist, and always set his face against the reactionary views of some of his coreligionists” (p. 59). Not many historians have perhaps looked into the files of the Bombay Chronicle.

Baig (b. 1905), being so harsh on Jinnah, is also unsparing about the Congress, “the rank and file of the Congress still had a medieval mentality. They were for the most part caste- and provincial-minded, and the Muslims entered very little into their scheme of things…A very large number…undoubtedly dreamed of a Hindu Renaissance…The upper echelons [however], such as Gandhiji, Jawaharlalji, Mrs. Naidu, and many others, were incapable of any anti-Muslim Act…the millions and millions of the Congress supporters had been very proud of their governments and were extremely upset over them having to resign [in 1939]” (p. 96).

Similar observation has been made by Taqi Raheem (1921-99), in his Urdu work on the role of Bihar Muslims in the freedom movement (1998), whereby he recalls and records that the Congress ministry (1937-39) was demonstrated by the average Hindus of Bihar as “Hindu Raj”, and that many other discriminatory acts of the ministry alienated Muslims. Denying Muslim share in the structures of power was most fatal of all. Baig adds, “the Congress had some regrettable characteristics. Most non-Congressmen, Muslim or non-Muslim, will probably agree that members of the Congress had developed an arrogance which was unfortunate. In fact, the “holier-than-thou” group, which followed Gandhiji, was far less irritating than the “more-patriotic-than-thou” group which gathered round Jawaharlalji, Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose, etc.”(p. 101); and Baig was disappointed to find that nationalism was practically synonymous with Hindu patriotism (p. 104). He then arrives at a pertinent conclusion about Pakistan’s India policy in which India’s “Muslims are clearly expendable” (p. 115).

Mushirul Hasan’s essay, “Partition Narratives,” also underlines this aspect that “the middle class perception of the Congress ministry…and the insecurities generated by some of its policies; and…the concern over future social [and political] alignments in a federal polity with adult franchise” (p. 352) are the issues to be looked into more deeply as they were the vital factors in deciding the fate of India ultimately, in 1947 and thereafter.

M. Mujeeb displayed a sound optimism about the destiny of India’s Muslims. “There is no alternative to revival of the [composite] culture created by themselves during the medieval and early modern period, a culture that is distinctively their own. The cultural survival of the Indian Muslims is thus being promoted by the movement of events,” he wrote (p. 137).

Javeed Alam’s essay on the changing dynamics and the political economy of Hyderabad’s Hindu-Muslim relations is a remarkably interesting essay based largely on a series of his field studies. It generates a curiosity among the readers to know more about such things in other (preferably non-megapolis) cities like Ahmedabad, Asansol, Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack, Indore, Madurai, Patna, Poona, Ranchi, etc.

The last chapter is an essay of Mushirul Hasan on historiographies and narratives of Partition, which was an introductory essay of a “Partition Omnibus” compiled by him. This essay underlines the lacuna of Partition studies as UP being an underexplored region. From a particular standpoint, it is indeed a lacuna that Muslim resistance to Partition, in UP and elsewhere, remains an underworked sub-theme. Nonetheless, equally or more important, is the fact that many other “important” regions like Bihar, and western India also remain relatively less explored.

Even this volume has not included any essay on Muslim resistance to Partition. For instance, essays on Azad Muslim Conference, Bihar’s Imarat-e-Shariah, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Momin Conference, etc., could have served the purpose well. Furthermore, it needs to be reiterated that exploration of Urdu sources (periodicals and biographical literature included) is quite necessary to study such themes in certain parts of south Asia.

One is looking forward to publications on the theme preferably in these less explored regions, preferably from a perspective which significantly comes out as pertinent rumblings and soundings in the volume under review.    

The reviewer is asstt prof in the Centre of Advanced Study in History, AMU This review first appeared in The Book Review

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2012 on page no. 21

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