In a supplement on Pakistan, a Bangladesh daily carries a special message by President Pervez Musharraf. It says, among other things, that the Muslims in the subcontinent were "left with no choice except to demand independence not only from the yoke of colonialism but also from Hindu domination".
A learned Muslim and top Congress Party leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad then countered this argument which was used to articulate the demand for Pakistan more than six decades ago. He said: "It is a confession that Indian Muslims cannot hold their own in India as a whole and would be content to withdraw to a corner, specially reserved for them."
Musharraf forgets that Pakistan's founder Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, although an advocate of the two-nation theory, said in his first address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947: "We are all citizens and equal citizens of one state... I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state."
Justice Mohammad Munir, former Chief Justice of Pakistan, in his book From Jinnah to Zia, specially referred to the speech to argue that "the pattern of government which the Quaid-i-Azam had in mind was a secular, democratic government." Even otherwise, there is not a shred of evidence to support the thesis that he wanted a theocratic state.
For Musharraf to rake up the past at a time when the minorities in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are feeling insecure serves no purpose except to rekindle suspicion and bias. It is not correct to say that the partition of the subcontinent took place to end the "domination of Hindus." The fact is that some Muslim majority provinces did not want to live with the rest of India. They separated and constituted themselves into a new country, Pakistan. In the same way, 30 years ago the Muslim majority of East Pakistan seceded from the Muslim majority of Pakistan and became the sovereign country of Bangladesh.
On the other hand, it is unfair to say that Jinnah was solely responsible for partition. He did agree to the Cabinet Mission Plan, which at the top had a common structure to deal with the three subjects of foreign affairs, defence and communications. No doubt, the firm grouping of the Muslim-majority states fulfilled his demand for Pakistan but he accepted "a Union of India" administering the three subjects.
The Congress party, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, favored a loose grouping to enable one state to leave a particular group and join any of the three proposed. The Congress only accepted the central structure. Jinnah did not agree to the state leaving option to leave one group and joining another. The entire scheme fell through.
The Lahore resolution, demanding the formation of Pakistan, said: "The areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority, as in the North Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent shall be autonomous and sovereign." The word used was 'states', that is, the possibility of Bangladesh was envisaged when the resolution was adopted in March 1940. Jinnah tried to water it down subsequently by saying that it was a typing mistake that made 'state' into 'states'. Khaliquzzaman, UP Muslim league leader who seconded the Pakistan resolution, took the responsibility of adding 's' without any intention.
However, Ismail Khan, an Indian Muslim leader, said in a letter to Khaliquzzaman (October 20, 1953) that what astounded him was that "Mr Jinnah ruled that the word 'states' was a misprint. How can a chairman disregard the phraseology of the written constitution and base his ruling on his own unrecorded memory?".
It is, however, significant that the word 'states' continued to appear even in subsequent editions of the Muslim League's constitution, which were printed under the supervision of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, Jinnah's lieutenant.
When I asked Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then Pakistan's president after the liberation of Bangladesh, during an interview on March 5, 1972, at Rawalpindi to comment on the 'misprint' story, he laughingly said: "Quite a costly misprint; I must be careful about my stenographer." He told me that before the creation of Bangladesh, Bengali leaders raised this point. "But the creation of Pakistan was the result of a total settlement with the British; what the resolution said was not very material," he added.
It appears that the idea of creating two Muslim states was there when the Pakistan demand was first put forward. In the Archives in London, there is a report on the findings of a Muslim League committee constituted to implement the principle of the Lahore resolution.
The committee had recommended the formation of two Muslim states: one in the northwest (Sindh, Balochistan, NWFP and Punjab, together with Delhi after amalgamation with Punjab); the other in northeast (Assam and Bengal excluding the districts of Bankura and Mindapur together with the district of Purnea from Bihar). It was estimated at that time that the Muslims in the northwestern state would be 20 out of 32 million, that is 63 per cent of the population and in the northeastern state 31 out of 57 million, that is, 56 per cent.
Surprisingly, the committee did not say a word on Kashmir, which led India and Pakistan to war subsequently. But the committee did suggest a central machinery "concerned with external affairs, defence, communications, customs and safeguards for minorities", something akin to the Cabinet Mission Plan.
There was not a word of regret in Musharraf's message over the killing of the Bangladesh intellectuals almost on the eve of the surrender by Pakistan at Dhaka. I recall that he lost his cool when a Bangladeshi journalist asked him at a seminar in Islamabad to say "sorry" for what the military had done in Bangladesh. The killings shall rankle in the mind of Bangladeshis. Musharraf would have condoned a big wrong if he had apologized for the misdeeds of the Pakistan army at that time.
In fact, Musharraf should look ahead and take the initiative in healing the wounds of partition. One basic step is to stop militants in Pakistan going across the border and killing the innocent. This is fouling the atmosphere between India and Pakistan. He is quite right when he says in a newspaper interview that "it is the elder brother (India) who has to show magnanimity". Magnanimity does not come from a smaller partner. But if 'cross border terrorism' continues, how can any government at New Delhi show "magnanimity"?
Recalling the Pakistan resolution or talking of "Hindu domination" does not serve any purpose at this time. Nothing could be more futile than an argument now about who was responsible for the partition of the subcontinent. Such an exercise can only be an academic discussion. But it is clear that the differences between Hindus and Muslims had become so acute by the beginning of the forties that something like partition had become inevitable.
For those who still regret the division, I can only say that the British could have probably kept the subcontinent united if they had been willing to ladle out more power in 1942 when Sir Stafford Cripps tried to reconcile the aspirations of the people of India with his limited brief.
The Congress party could also have done it if it had accepted in 1946 the Cabinet Mission proposals of a centre with limited powers and the grouping of states. But the 'ifs' of history are only footnotes, not history itself.
Published in Pakistan Daily Dawn