The Lahore Resolution 1940

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The Lahore Resolution 1940

Transformation of the
Muslim minority into a nation

Shahzad Hussain Nasir

The creation of Pakistan is, indeed, a successful culmination of one of the most significant political movements in the recent world history. This epoch-making movement for the establishment of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent got a powerful impetus in the form of the Lahore Resolution of 23 March 1940 as it formed the basis of the Pakistan movement and changed the course of history. The passing of the resolution marked the transformation of the Muslim minority in British India into a nation with its distinguishing socio-cultural and political features, a sense of history and shared aspirations for the future within a territory.

The State of Pakistan emerged on the world map on 14 August 1947 out of a historic national movement for a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent. A strong impetus to this movement came from the passage of the Lahore Resolution of 23 March 1940 whereby the Muslim League presented a vision of territorially separate Muslim states. Hence, the final phase of the struggle that started on March 23, 1940, reached its zenith on August 14, 1947. This resolution provided a constitutional blueprint, outlining the features of a federation, independence and the creation of autonomous and strategically viable units constituted in such geographical locations where Muslims were in the majority. Historians believe, and rightly so, that the political struggle towards obtaining freedom for Muslim polity gained traction after Pakistan Resolution that was adopted by the All-India Muslim League (AIML) on March 23, 1940; known today as the Lahore Resolution.
Under the Government of India Act of 1935, elections were held in October 1936. In these elections, Indian National Congress emerged as the majority party in five provinces and the largest single party in two others. All India Muslim League’s (AIML) performance was extremely poor as it could get only 105 seats out of 498 reserved for Muslims. Sharp ideological divides emerged between the Hindus and Muslims which were further exacerbated by the prejudiced conduct of the Congress leadership, whose sole aim was to subdue the Muslim population after India’s independence from British colonial rule.
From the treatment meted out to the Muslims and the introduction of political reforms in India by the British, the Muslims realized that they would become a permanent minority in a democratic system and it would never be possible for them to protect their fundamental rights. They only constituted one-fourth of the total Indian population and were much lesser in number than the majority Hindu community. In order to protect their political, social and religious rights they first demanded for separate electorates. However, as time passed and the Muslims of India gained political maturity, they realized that even the right of separate electorates would not be enough and they had to search for some other long-term solutions. This realization was not based on apprehension alone but on solid calculations. In the emerging, post-independence scenario, it was likely to become nearly impossible for Muslims to protect their fundamental rights under the umbrella of the Hindu majority, whose leaders and elite had already started exhibiting hegemonic attitudes.
In his famous Allahabad address, Iqbal made it clear that Islam had its own socio-economic system and, in order to implement it, a separate, independent political entity was required.
Guided by Iqbal’s vision, Jinnah began working with full vigour to garner Muslim support. The overwhelming support from the Muslim masses for his call to celebrate the Day of Deliverance on December 22, 1939, was a vote of confidence in his leadership. This mass mobilization transformed into Pakistan Movement.
An oft-ignored factor
In an article titled “The Resolution and the Making of Pakistan,” Dr Shuja Ahmed Mahesar points out that the British rulers were interested in devolving power to the Indians. He writes:
“Some historians believe that the partition of India was inevitable even though the British adopted the policy of keeping India united. K.B. Sayeed has explained the background to Pakistan Movement by mentioning that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah indicated in his interview with Beverley Nichols that the idea of the partition of India had first occurred to John Bright some two decades after the 1857 War of Independence. It was evident from the way the partition plan was manipulated, mainly due to bitter opposition from Congress, that the initial idea was to transfer power to several successor states.”
The analysis of K.B. Sayeed suggests that the idea of a separate homeland for Muslims was floated in 1883. Wilfrid Scawen stated plainly that Northern India’s provinces were to be administered by the Muslims and Southern India’s by the Hindus. Under this scheme, the British were to maintain their overall control. However, they intended to give provinces some powers to handle finance and administration.
The Government of India Act, 1919, made it evident that the British intended to devolve power to the indigenous peoples. As a result, Muslims began to make a concerted effort to obtain a share of authority.
In 1924, the Muslims demanded reforms in the North-West Frontier Province in an All-India Muslim League session. A group of seven parliamentarians, led by Sir John Simon, visited India in 1927 to explore the possibilities of reforming the constitution and studying the working of the Government of India Act, 1919. The group retained the separate status of Muslims.
In 1928, the Nehru Report also noted Muslim apprehensions about their separate interests. The Quaid-i-Azam responded to the report through his famous Fourteen Points, which put on the table a viable strategy to save and protect the distinct identity of Muslims as a separate community and to protect their legitimate rights.
Allama Iqbal further conceptualized the aspirations of Muslims in his 1930 Allahabad address. Five years later, the 1919 Act was replaced by the 1935 Act, which introduced a federal form of government, as mentioned in Jinnah’s Fourteen Points, and incorporated some Muslim demands, including Sindh’s separation from the Bombay Presidency.
However, the 1935 Act was unable to safeguard all the legitimate interests of Muslims. In 1938, the League gave all powers to its president to work out an alternative strategy to deal with the Act.
Moreover, anti-Muslim policies during the Congress rule from 1937 to 1939 also exposed its failure to accommodate Muslim interests. In 1938, resolutions passed at the Sindh Muslim League Conference held in Karachi expressed disapproval of the notion of ‘federation’ enshrined in the 1935 Act.
While all this was going on in the subcontinent, new realities emerged elsewhere, as Germany and Britain declared war on each other in September 1939. That year, the Central Legislature passed the Defence of India Act, authorising emergency powers and supporting the British effort related to the Second World War. This created an opportunity for the Congress and the League leadership to engage with the British in political bargaining.
On September 18, Quaid-i-Azam, through the Muslim League’s working committee, unequivocally stated that Muslims would lend their support on the condition that they were assured that future constitutional reforms and a new constitution would not be framed or adopted without the League’s consent.
As the War raged on, it was clear that the British would no longer continue their rule over the subcontinent because the colonial authority had been shrinking owing to security threats. This further increased the bargaining position of Indian leaders across the political spectrum to negotiate with the British.
Despite Lord Linlithgow’s assurance of granting the dominion status to India and bringing constitutional changes in the light of Indian views, Congress was using various tactics to put pressure on the British to transfer power to it sooner or later.
In March 1940, Congress adopted a resolution condemning the War, describing it as a means to reach “imperialist ends,” and made itself clearly disassociated. The Congress wanted to make the most of the precarious situation faced by the British. It rejected the dominion status by arguing that Indian freedom “cannot exist within the orbit of imperialism” and sought to take over charge as the sole successor to the British.
The Quaid, already aware of Congress’s intentions and its political manoeuvrings, proclaimed that before any constitutional settlement, it must be recognised that India was not one nation but two, and that the Muslims would not accept arbitration of anybody, be it Indian or British, but would determine their destiny by themselves.
Jinnah’s thoughts took practical shape in the form of the Lahore Resolution, which came as a clear response to the legitimacy claimed by Congress under its self-generated image of being the only representative party of the Indian people.”
Jinnah expounds on the intention
In his two-hour address in English, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah narrated the events that had taken place in the past few months and concluded: “Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literature. They neither inter-marry nor inter-dine together, and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations that are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their concepts of life and afterlife are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Muslims derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes and different episodes.
He further stated: “Muslims are a nation according to any definition of nationhood. We wish our people to develop to the fullest, spiritual, cultural, economic, social and political life in a way that we think best and in consonance with our own ideals and according to the genius of our people.”
The resolution
In the first session held on 22nd March 1940, presided over by Quaid-i-Azam, Nawab Shah Nawaz Khan Mamdot rejected the political system which had established authority of the Hindus in internal and the British in external affairs. In the second open session on 23rd March, Choudhari Khaliquzzaman from United Provinces said that the British had been “exploiting Indians in the name of nationalism.” Muslims and Hindus could never be merged into one nation. He said that Muslims in the Muslim and non-Muslim parties, decision on votes and the Congress attitude convinced the Muslims to opt for separation. Quaidi-Azam had declared that the Lahore session would be a landmark in the future of the Muslims of the Subcontinent. Distinguished Punjabi Muslim leaders, like Premier Sikandar Hayat, Khizr Hayat Tiwana, Mian Abdul Haye and Shah Nawaz Mamdot, welcomed Quaid-i-Azam to the ceremonial Railway platform of Lahore. The people in thousands were waiting for their leader outside the Railway Station while the streets had been decorated to show love and devotion for the League leaders. In his presidential address on 23rd March, Quaid-i-Azam gave a complete reply to the ideology propounded at the Congress session at Ramgarh by saying that the spiritual, financial, cultural, social and political differences between the Muslims and non-Muslims were fundamental and deep-rooted which had maintained the dividing line between the two throughout the centuries. After experiencing a close interaction of thousand years, both communities never merged into each other and continued to remain separate and distinct. Merely the democratic constitution could not unite them forcibly. Binding them to such a system was an un-natural and artificial effort of the British in the guise of the democratic system. The main theme of the Lahore Resolution, thus, was:
“…no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Muslims unless it is designed on the following basic principles, viz., that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary, that 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… That adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units and in the regions for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them…”
The text of the Resolution put forward five specific demands:
1. The Resolution rejected the federal system of government as envisaged in the Government of India Act, 1935 because it was “totally unsuited to and unworkable in the peculiar conditions of this country and is altogether unacceptable to Muslim India.”
2. The Muslims would not accept any revised constitutional plan unless it was framed with “their consent and approval.”
3. The adjacent territorial units should be demarcated into regions that may involve some territorial adjustments in a manner “that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in north-western and eastern zones of India “become “independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.”
4. The resolution offered “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards for religious minorities” in the Muslim majority units for the “protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.” Similar rights will be given to the Muslims in “other parts of India.”
5. The Muslim League Working Committee was asked to formulate a constitutional scheme on the basis of the principles outlined in the Resolution.
The Resolution revived the pestering issue of communalism with full force and defined it as a ‘majoritarian’ phenomenon. This was due to the fact that Hindus were pursuing a policy that forced the Muslims to perceive the former’s political drive as stride to enslave the latter after the British departure. The British had consistently been endeavouring to unite the religious communities living in the Subcontinent but the League termed it as a futile and fruitless effort. The solution the League moved was a sovereign Muslim state consisting of the Muslim majority areas in the north-western and eastern zones of India. The League’s program eliminated all the confusions shared from time to time by the Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and British leadership about the ambiguity regarding the League’s claim of having the popular support behind its demands. As a comprehensive document, it cleared that the League intended to challenge all the Muslim political parties working at the provincial level and to make them realize that only the League would be justified in representing the Muslim community from top to bottom level. The Muslim masses were made aware of the major shift in the political power and the new political direction created a confidence and clarity of destination. A sane mind could easily comprehend the very pertinent aspects of this scheme but the non-Muslim leaders tried to project it as ill-worked-out and confused scheme while the Muslims immediately got the ultimate objective of this resolution without any need of clarity and seemed prepared to face all the challenges coming in the way to materialise it.
The Lahore Resolution was undoubtedly the most important event in the history of modern South Asia. It not only changed the course of Indian history but also left deep marks on the world history. This Resolution rejected the idea of a ‘United India’ and the creation of an independent sovereign Muslim state(s) was/were set as the ultimate goal for Indian Muslims. It gave new energy and courage to Muslims who gathered around Jinnah to struggle for their freedom. The dynamic leadership of Jinnah and the commitment and devotion of the followers made it possible for them to achieve an independent state within seven years of their struggle, and that too when the odds were against them.

The writer is a CSS aspirant from Islamabad.

Muhammad Ali Asghar

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