The 1937 All-India Constituent Assembly Election results are key to understanding the internal ethnolinguistic dynamics of Pakistan since independence. The May 2013 Pakistan Election results were a near exact mirror of the 1937 results, with Punjab, Sindh (rural), NWFP/KPK and the Muhajir-majority areas each being won almost exclusively by a different party. It would be as if Canada were divided into 4 provinces (French-speaking, English-speaking, and 2 distinct Native American zones), and then each Canadian province’s seats were won entirely by the party representing that ethnolinguistic group. In 1937, the Punjabis, Sindhis and Punjabis rejected the “Muhajir” AIML. Jinnah won in India’s UP and elsewhere (with AIML second only to Congress in India overall), yet received almost absolute rejection in present-day Pakistan. This historical reality is the basis for the current persecution of the Muhajirs in Pakistan, who have given overwhelming support to the MQM as a result.
Christine Fair, a fluent Urdu-speaking Professor at Georgetown University (Washington DC), wrote an article which stimulated broad discussion on the 1937 elections. Whilst I agree with many of Professor Fair’s observations of Pakistan’s current militant threat and security situation, her historical description of Pakistan’s genesis misconstrues the true motivations of the Muhajirs for the creation of the state.
Dr. Fair views Pakistan as a near-failed state. Since independence, the promise of the (Muhajir) All-India Muslim League of a secular and tolerant Pakistan has been violated. Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis were persecuted viciously since the inception of the state. Successive military dictatorships have fought a series of disastrous wars which bankrupted the country and created mistrust in the eyes of the world. Jihadis have established militant madrasahs all over the country, including many in the heart of Islamabad. More recently, the conduct of the Pakistani state in the War on Terror has been questioned by many.
However, these failures of Pakistan were not due to the Two Nation Theory (2NT) itself. Rather they were due to the fact that the liberal, secular and Muhajir-led AIML was eclipsed after independence by illiberal Punjabis and Sindhis.
The 2NT genesis lies in the Mughal areas of India (as opposed to Punjab/Sindh/NWFP), which were shattered after the final collapse of the Mughal Empire in 1857. From the late 19th century, middle-class Muslims were articulating their fears of being swamped by the better educated majority Hindu community in a unified India. This 1893 letter from a Muslim in Datavli (near Aligarh) articulates the Muhajir manifesto for Pakistan in its entirety.
Dr. Fair is welcome to ask almost any question relating to foreign policy, gender, social equality, economics, or education and I would be happy to discuss the differences in outlook between the Indian Muslim (Muhajir) community and the Hindu community. This difference in outlook led us to view ourselves as a distinct nation and seek independence in our own state. Who’s right and who’s wrong is another matter altogether – the point is that we have the right to define ourselves as a nation. That is our prerogative whether others agree or not.
I presume Dr. Fair does not doubt the legitimacy of the Two Nation Theory as espoused by Ireland (divided by 2NT in 1922), Yugoslavia (divided into 7 Nations), Scotland (scheduled to hold a 2NT referendum in September), Czechoslovakia (divided by 2NT in 1993), Indonesia/E.Timor (divided by 2NT in 2002), and many other examples. We Muhajirs expressed our desire to view ourselves as a separate nation by democratic mandate.
Dr Fair is based in Washington DC, so it may be worthwhile for her to explain her opinion regarding the validity of the 2NT relating to the separation of the North American Crown Colonies, which declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1776. The first formal acts of rebellion against the UK Government began in 1774 when the Patriot Suffolk Resolves abolished the UK Government authority in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. So if Dr Fair suggests that “the idea that the [India/Pakistan] Two Nation Theory ineluctably meant partition is flawed”, at what stage does she consider the revolt of the American settlers against the British “ineluctably” meant partition of the North American Crown Colonies from Britain? The 1765 formation of the Sons of Liberty? The 1770 Boston riots? The 1773 Boston Tea Party? On what grounds were the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant American settlers entitled to seek independence from the British, yet Indian Muslims not entitled to seek separation from the Hindus, given that India was in effect a country without direct precedent, created by the British Empire?
Contrary to Dr. Fair’s assertion that “In the 1937 elections, the AIML suffered a thrashing”, in fact the AIML (106 seats) emerged from the 1937 elections as the 2nd biggest all-India party after Congress (707 seats) – hardly a thrashing! The Muslims in the “Muhajir” areas of India voted for AIML. Excluding independents, no other Muslim party came close. However, in present-day Pakistan, the “Muhajir” dominated AIML did indeed receive a thrashing. The Punjabis, Sindhis, and Pathans hated the “Muhajir” AIML, and AIML/Jinnah won only 2 out of 285 seats! (Both the seats were won by Ahmadis, one of whom was Zafrullah. When the Muhajir-dominated AIML formed Pakistan’s first government, Zafrullah was appointed Foreign Minister. Mandal, a Hindu, was appointed Law Minister. Sadly this would be unthinkable today).
The AIML was founded in Lucknow in 1906 by a group of Indian Muslims. The first President was Aga Khan III, an Old Etonian and graduate of Cambridge University, who led a historic delegation to Lord Minto (Viceroy) which established the principle of separate Hindu/Muslim electorates. Jinnah, a pork-eating and alcohol-drinking unobservant Shia Muslim (Ithna Ishari sect) lawyer from Bombay, joined AIML in 1920. The AIML existed only because of the support of millions of “Muhajirs”.
The motivations of Punjab and Sindh in creating Pakistan were different to the Muhajirs. The AIML received almost zero support in Punjab/Sindh/NWFP in 1937 for precisely the same reason that MQM receives almost zero support in these areas today. The AIML’s secular, liberal, educated, tolerant, middle-class outlook was utterly rejected by these areas.
Punjab joined Jinnah’s AIML after 1937 for 2 reasons: economics and religion. Before 1937, Jinnah never made any religious statements, and only ever seen wearing a Savile Row suit. This was because there was no pressure on him to do so from his “Muhajir” electorate. However, after 1937, the Muhajir AIML realised that they would need to win in Punjab in order to secure their dream of an independent state. For this reason alone, Jinnah started wearing native Indian outfits, and making vague and often ambiguous references to religion being an inspiration for the creation of the state. Secularism means absolute separation of the state and religion (which should remain a private matter). Secularists may criticise Jinnah for his change in direction after 1937, but Jinnah was a politician and the Muhajir AIML felt that winning Punjab was necessary to avoid being stuck in a Hindu-majority state.
Almost all the land in Punjab was owned by Sikhs (with much by Hindus). The Punjabi Muslims realised that if they could expel the Sikhs and Hindus from Punjab, they would be able to seize all that rich farmland for free. And that is precisely what happened. Also, the Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs held a deep mutual hatred going back to the Sikh-ruled Punjab era (early 1700s to British annexation in 1849). The Punjabi Muslims were treated very harshly (although the Sikhs would argue that they had been mistreated before). Punjabi Muslims held almost no land, no political power, no wealth, were severely punished even for cow eating (death or cutting off ears and noses), Multan was razed to the ground several times by the Sikhs before annexation, and countless other brutalities.
At partition, Sikhs were cleared from (Pakistan) Punjab and Sikh lands occupied by Muslims.
Even Imran Khan’s family neighbourhood (Zaman Park) was seized as evacuee property by his uncle, Lt. Gen. Wajid Ali Burki (nicknamed “The Allotmentee”). Burki was famous for grabbing as many evacuee properties as he could, and owned a vast estate in Murree (hill station).
Punjabi Muslims and Hindus/Sikhs held a visceral animosity towards one another, and this was manifested in the Punjab Holocaust of 1947.
Many Punjabi Mullahs were against Pakistan’s creation, but only because they feared the secular and tolerant state the Muhajir AIML was planning to create. Yet many Punjabi Mullahs did support Pakistan, because they saw the opportunity to create an Islamist state by expelling the Sikhs, Hindus and Ahmadis. To this day, Pakistan’s foreign policy is dominated by Punjabis and can only be understood via the prism of Punjab’s historic internecine strife.
The Sindhis joined Pakistan for purely economic reasons. They hated the Muhajir AIML and rejected Jinnah in 1937 elections (0/60 seats). However, the economy of Sindh was then under the total control of Sindhi Hindus. From the Sindhi landlords down to the Sindhi peasant, all owed money to the Sindhi bania (moneylender).
The Sindhi Muslims were 97.5% illiterate (in Sindhi language), and more than 99.5% illiterate in English. After 1937, the Sindhi landlords realised that, if they created Pakistan and expelled the Hindus, their debts would be cleared and they would be undisputed masters of Sindh. The Sindhi peasants were also happy for their debts to be cleared.
Immediately after partition, the Punjabis and Sindhis rejected the authority of (Muhajir) Jinnah and the AIML. The Punjab Provincial government resigned en masse and instigate widespread protests against Jinnah. The Sindhis hated Jinnah because he separated Karachi from Sindh in order to enable the Muhajirs to create a sensible, balanced administration in which gun crime was almost unheard of. (Z.A. Bhutto reintegrated Karachi into Sindh in 1971, replaced Muhajirs with Sindhis in Karachi police, nationalised Muhajir tycoons’ businesses, and the rot set in).
Without Jinnah, there would be no Pakistan. Without the Muhajir supporters of All-India Muslim League in 1937, there would be no Jinnah. Without Muhajirs, there would be no Pakistan.
Today, the MQM party is the last remaining political trace of the mighty Mughal Empire. We are the descendants of the AIML voters of 1937, the most dedicated of Jinnah’s supporters when he received a complete thrashing in Punjab, Sindh and NWFP. We are a secular tolerant party in which discrimination based on creed is unthinkable. There has never been a Muhajir suicide bomber; we are unwaveringly opposed to Jihadi and sectarian terrorists; Altaf Hussain has written in favour of gay rights; we have near 100% literacy; we reject Communist thought in all its manifestations; and we will never yield to the dark forces which threaten us.
I appeal to American liberals such as Dr. Fair to have more sympathy for the plight of MQM Muhajirs. Our forebears’ desire to create an independent state was justified by democratic mandate, no less than the many other similar examples around the world. If Dr. Fair and others have issues with Pakistan since independence, not only is it not our fault, we are the biggest victims. Rather than associating MQM Muhajirs with the dark forces operating in Pakistan, I would advise Dr. Fair to look for our commonalities. She will not need to look far.