The Great Delusion

At the midnight hour of 15 August 1947 South Asia was bathed in darkness. If they were awake, most citizens in the newly independent dominions of India and Pakistan saw in the transfer of sovereignty by candle flame or paraffin lamp, without electricity able to power a wireless. From the parliament buildings in New Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru announced India’s awakening ‘to life and freedom’. But Nehru’s speech was heard by a fraction of India’s population. More than 80% of the people in the two countries which had just achieved independence lived in the countryside, and all but 1,500 (0.2%) of India’s half a million villages had no power.

 The British left India a society of extremes. In pockets amid poverty South Asia was prosperous and modern. In the fifty years before 1947, cities had grown fast, British India going from one to six settlements with more than a million people. In India, 31.5 million (out of 370 million) people lived in settlements with a population of more than 100,000. These cities had electric streetlights and modern typewriters, railway stations and buses as well as slums and open drains. In the mid-1930s, 200,000 cars drove on the streets of India, every one imported from Europe or Japan. Bengal had one of the oldest Automobile Associations in the world. India had the highest rate of road accidents. University departments worked at the cutting edge of international science. By 1947, India was one of a small number of countries which conducted research in nuclear physics.

The Second World War was a good time for some. Businesses boomed as shortages in every sector of the economy needed to be filled at any price. Rampant inflation was good for people living in the countryside able to tap the profits of production. This was boom time for rich peasants in places like Mysore and Punjab, where there were few agricultural labourers whose income would rise slower than the cost of living. But people paid in fixed wages suffered. Field labourers, factory workers and middle-class government employees all faced massively higher prices but no increase to income. Despite big industrial profits, one economist estimated that industrial wages fell by 30% during the war. Agricultural labourers who did not own the land they worked on fared even worse. For many it was a struggle to survive. Roughly the same amount of food was grown as in 1940, but the population was a fifth larger. Famine and serious scarcity had recently returned to parts of the subcontinent. The average new-born could expect to live only thirty-two years. In 1947, life for the vast majority of citizens in South Asia was rural, hard and short.

 Despite the century- long effort to control the natural environment, millions were vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the seasons and the landscape. Two years after partition the 27-year-old Pakistani writer Syed Waliullah wrote a description of rural Bengal in these years of chaos, emphasizing the brutal effects of nature on people’s lives. From a family of minor government officials, Waliullah grew up during the depression in a village near Chittagong, before studying in the small town of Mymensingh and then Calcutta University. At partition he chose Pakistan and became a news editor on Pakistan Radio. He novel Lal Shalu (translated later as Tree Without Roots) described the collapse of social norms in rural Bengal during the years of famine and war, and was brutally unsentimental about life in the countryside. Waliullah was writing about a region which had once been one of India’s most productive places. His home district was where the East India Company had hoped to conquer in the 1680s to profit from local agriculture and trade. By 1947, it was home to a struggling population left exposed to storms, floods and drought. To survive, land needed to be ploughed and reploughed to the point of exhaustion with ‘no rest, no peace and what is worse, no nourishment, at least not from the ravenous ones who suck it dry.

 Waliullah described a rootless society in constant motion. Millions searched for something to eat or a place to make their home. People were ruled by ‘a great restlessness’, yet ‘go hungry and starve’. Everyone dreamed of ‘leaving their homes’. But the rivers, the trains, the paths were all crammed full of people on the same search. ‘They sweat, and they swear, they solemnly pray for the infliction of God’s curse on their neighbours and then they pray, equally solemnly for their own safety,’ Waliullah wrote. The political institutions which might have protected the vulnerable had long broken down. The forces which once ensured the poor were looked after had long collapsed. This was a description of a chaotic society in which everyone sought a refuge or an enclave just to survive.

Enclaves

India’s later British rulers and their post- imperial chroniclers liked to propagate the view that imperial rule in India was a systematic form of power driven by coherent ideas. ‘The Raj’ is a phrase which embodies a certain kind of authoritarian high-mindedness. On television or in fiction it is now associated with unbending, stiff-lipped men capable of imposing their visions of order and hierarchy and on an otherwise chaotic society. Historians of empire spend much of their time discussing those visions, tracing the British belief in the inferiority of the Indian society, their rhetoric about ‘civilization’ and ‘development ‘, their arguments about property and the rule of law. Too often the context of those visions is absent, and texts are read with no reference to the situation they were written in. In reality, the British proclaimed their strength and purpose when their authority seemed the most fragile. In fact, British power in India was exercised sporadically. It was driven by a succession of short-term visceral passions. It did not have a systematic vision of peace and stability, nor a way of working able to produce order. It created chaos.

 Rather than a coherent political vision, British rule in India was based on a peculiar form of power. Fearful and prickly from the start, the British saw themselves as virtuous but embattled conquerors whose capacity to act was continually under attack. From the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, they found it difficult to trust anyone outside the areas they controlled. Their response to challenge was to retreat or attack rather than to negotiate. The result was an anxious, paranoid regime. The British state was desperate to control the spaces where Europeans lived. Elsewhere it insisted on formal submission to the image of British authority. But it did not create alliances with its subjects, nor build institutions that secured good living standards. The British were concerned to maintain the fiction of absolute sovereignty rather than to exercise any real power.

 The result was that the British left South Asia a fragmented society. In theory, they transferred authority to new governments which possessed the power to protect everyone in the territories they ruled. In reality they left an uneven mess of enclaves and ghettoes, in which people were divided from each other by a jumble of different authorities, institutions and economic forces. The political institutions which the British left protected some people; institutions nationalists had built supported a few more. But most people were left unprotected from whoever or whatever forces had the greatest clout in mid-twentieth century South Asia, whether the weather, rapacious landlords, or powerful local political bosses. The British empire’s greatest legacy was to create some of the most disjointed and chaotically ruled societies in the world.

 To start with, the British transferred supreme authority to more than two states. When they announced their rapid timetable for departure in June 1947, the British declared that their supreme authority over India’s 565 ‘native states’ would simply lapse. By the date of partition, only 114 of these half-independent regimes had been cajoled into joining the Union of India and none to join Pakistan. For a brief period after August 1947 the world’s list of independent sovereign regimes was swelled by hundreds of new absolute monarchies. Amir Khan’s old principality of Tonk, with 2,500 square miles and 300,000 people, was formally independent for seven months until its Nawab signed up for his state to be incorporated into the Indian state of Rajasthan.

 A few of these autonomous monarchies tried to resist the subcontinent’s new political geography. Kashmir in the far north stayed independent for two months, until its Hindu Maharaja decided to take his Muslim-majority province into the Union of India and sparked the first war between India and Pakistan. Travancore in the south-west briefly declared its intention to ‘recover’ independence.

Last of all was Hyderabad, the largest native state ‘situated in India’s belly’, as the minister in charge of state integration Vallabhbhai Patel put it. This Muslim monarchy was still a massive sovereign enclave a year after partition, intent on maintaining its independence from India and Pakistan. In the spring and summer of 1948, the Nizam’s regime was fighting against a massive communist insurgency and Congress activists. The conflict drove tens of thousands of refugees into makeshift camps set up in neighbouring territories.

 The new independent Indian government invaded in September 1948. Its aim was to dissolve the enclave of Hyderabad into the national Indian state, abolishing monarchical power by forcing it to accept the supposedly undivided sovereignty of the Indian people. But the Nizam’s resistance led to four days of war and a communal massacre, as more than 50,000 Muslim supporters of the Hyderabad regime were killed by the army and Hindu soldiers.

 Hyderabad began its life in free and democratic India under military rule, with 17,550 of its citizens imprisoned by the invading army. The ensuing peace was caused by the prospect of elections, by the fact that the subjects of Hyderabad had become voting citizens of a new nation. Without conciliation, ‘those who are down and out and full of fear’ might vote against the Congress at the polls. As a result, leaders in New Delhi decided that those ‘who sinned so grievously’ needed to be forgiven.’

 Between the two new sovereign states of India and Pakistan, powers were incompletely defined, and borders were not well demarcated. Passports took years to emerge; to begin with it was unclear who was entitled to which, and what should be written on their pages. The responsibilities of the two legal systems were not well understood. Well into the 1950s, judges in Calcutta were writing to Pakistani citizens explaining that they were not entitled to sue in an Indian court. Many did not realize the creation of two states meant claims for lost property across India and Pakistan’s new frontiers now needed to be handled by diplomats not lawyers.

 Some people were simply stranded by partition. Nineteen forty-seven left some of South Asia’s poorest people living in enclaves along the northern border between the Indian state of West Bengal and first Pakistan and then Bangladesh. One hundred and seventy-three small islands of land were entirely enclosed by the territory of a neighbouring state. The confused boundaries of the two states in northern Bengal date back to poorly defined peace treaties between the Mughal Empire and its far neighbours in the early 1700s; one story says that the enclaves were used as stakes in chess games between north-east India’s regional kings. Until a deal was finally struck in 2015, the enclaves’ 80,000 people were immobile and stateless, with no electricity and very few public amenities.

 These border territories are a rare case of enclaves making people worse off. Mostly, enclaves are used as they were under the British Raj to protect the powerful and wealthy from the rest of society. Post-imperial South Asia is still dotted with spaces where better living conditions are protected against poorer people living outside.

 The urban map of the independent subcontinent was speckled with military cantonments, for example. Here, large swathes of often green and spacious land are divided off and protected from the city beyond by soldiers, remaining centres of military power in the midst of ostensibly democratic societies. Cantonments were first carved out by the British to create places where European military and civil officers could live without fear of a potentially insurgent population. Since 1947 these have become cities within cities, offering a feeling of order for middle-class civilians as well as for the army and and government. Army-ruled enclaves make up large areas of the centre of many South Asian cities: Lahore, Dhaka, Kanpur, Bangalore, Hyderabad. Added together, the area of India’s cantonments would today make up a city bigger than India’s most populous city, Mumbai. They remain more or less under military rule. The cantonment of Secunderabad in Hyderabad, which Indian soldiers fought to control in 1948, is one of the biggest. The majority of its population of more than 200,000 are civilians. Even though recent reforms mean half of its board are now elected, the army’s commanding officer is still in overall charge. Residents complain that only roads in areas where soldiers live are maintained to a pristine standard.

 In less heavily militarized places, middle-class South Asians use this imperial model of separation and defence to partition themselves from the ‘chaos’ and ‘dysfunction’ believed to rule the rest of society. Middle-class refugees from Pakistan settled in well-organized ‘colonies’ in Delhi, where living standards have been protected by community associations and, increasingly, security guards. Many public and private institutions follow the British-era pattern of putting residences and workplaces in isolated compounds. Universities, research institutes and large corporations provide accommodation as well as supporting a social life for their employees. These institutions foster a sense of common purpose, but they also reproduce the imperial idea that home is somewhere distant from the place people reside. Within the heavily guarded spaces of South Asia’s bureaucracy, business and media, elites have cultivated their own exclusive communities, creating social norms which separate themselves from the rest of society.

 Recently, these enclaves have been privatized and take physical form in private gated communities, where the capacity to pay for the property is the sole criterion for entrance. These new forts (some even with mock crenelations) are scattered around the fringes of South Asia’s quickest growing cities: Bangalore, Pune, Lahore, Delhi. Money buys an idea of safety and defence by providing closed-circuit cameras and security guards.

 Gated communities are often marketed to lure expatriates back to the subcontinent with a safe, luxurious lifestyle. They have, for the most part, dropped any reference to the subcontinent’s history in the seventy years since independence, creating distance between the green, pristine, generic forms inside and the supposedly characteristic South Asian mess outside. ‘It’s not like Pakistan, it’s like a new country. You can get everything,’ said a manual worker interviewed in 2013 who commutes to Bahria Town on the edge of Islamabad. Anuraag Chowfla, an architect who has planned some of the largest communities in India, reports that he ‘sometimes jokes with the developer that now you should design your own flag and passport’.

 Popular Sovereignty

The enclaves of well-defended prosperity which pepper India, Pakistan and Bangladesh exist in defiance of the idea supposed to justify the exercise of political power throughout the subcontinent: popular sovereignty.

 Almost to a man, the British thought their sovereignty in the subcontinent originated with the violence of conquest. The difference between legitimate authority and violence was blurred; the fact of domination needed no other justification than its capacity to exercise brute force. But the imperial state’s story about conquest was contested by Indian commentators, who argued that power should and could only be exercised with the consent of the people being ruled.

 From Sayyid Mahmood to M.K. Gandhi to B.R. Ambedkar, critics argued that the Indian people not the European army were sovereign. The British only governed because Indians let them, and that meant Britain had obligations to the people it ruled.

 First used to try to persuade India’s foreign rulers to govern in partnership with the people they ruled, the idea of popular sovereignty became the Indian basis for Indian nationalism’s effort to evict the British from power. This principle marked the difference, for both India and Pakistan, between the sovereignty of the empire’s conquest state and the post-imperial regime. For Jinnah and Nehru alike, it was the people, not a party, an elite or a state, which had the authority to rule once the British disappeared. In contrast to British attitudes which they argued emphasized division and hierarchy, nationalists thought the people of their respective nations possessed a single voice or soul. There was a vision, no room for endless enclaves or imperial demarcations. Popular sovereignty means the state’s power needed to be exercised evenly, for the sake of all sections of society.

 From long before independence and partition, these ideas of popular sovereignty drove the practical process of institution building. The belief that power should be exercised by the people not a distant, violent state drove Indians to create schools, universities, banks, volunteer organizations, even businesses: when the City of London failed to invest in his steel business, Dorabji Tata appealed to the Indian people for capital. But before the end of the Second World War Indian institution-building was blocked by the coercive anxieties of the British regime. Independence allowed the energies of South Asia’s institution builders to be unblocked and dispersed. In the name of democracy and popular political power, newly independent India and Pakistan created education and community uplift programmes, invested in science and technical education, built heavy industrial plants, founded new colleges and universities and dug hundreds of thousands of tube wells. As far as their limited capacity allowed South Asia’s new states helped coordinate the expansion of production and the improvement of living standards. The path to economic development was fraught, fiercely contested and often patchy – but growth happened.

 Compared to the stagnant chaos of the last years of British rule, living standards improved. In the first decade and a half after independence, agriculture became more productive. Much more land was cultivated. Thousands of new factories were built. Industrial output expanded. Middle-class jobs in service industries and the public sector grew more rapidly.

 South Asia’s growth occurred while its societies avoided the catastrophic social upheaval which happened elsewhere. The organizations which ruled post-imperial India and Pakistan were committed to the reconstruction of their societies without violent revolution. Living through the turbulent years of partition, their leaders emphasized growth through stability rather than dramatic social upheaval, and more or less achieved it. In practice, this emphasis on consensus entrenched elite hierarchies. In India there was no major challenge to the dominance of upper castes until the 1970s. In Pakistan, the military and bureaucracy retained the upper hand.

 This consensual approach was widely condemned from the late 1960s for allowing unaccountable elites to dominate. But it allowed stability to follow the turmoil of war and partition and supported a period of relatively prosperity. South Asia did not take a dramatically different path from other non-communist post-war societies where the idea of popular sovereignty was combined with the effort by pre-war elites to retain power. The greatest contrast was between South Asia’s aristocratic democracies and the revolutionary upheaval in China. In the 1950s revolutionary China was living through the world’s most devastating famine, which caused the death of at least twenty million. In the subcontinent, living standards improved as India and Pakistan’s economies increased at a respectable 4%. Not as quick as recent decades, this was only very slightly lower than the contemporary ‘miracle’ of France. It was only exceeded in Asia by Cold War societies artificially stimulated by the United States such as South Korea and Taiwan.

 South Asia’s post-imperial choice of consensus and stability stopped civil war and prevented socially catastrophic upheaval. But it meant that, in the seventy years since independence, ideas of democracy, citizenship and popular sovereignty have not been strong enough to overcome the chaotic legacy of imperial geography. Democracy has forced governments to ensure that the poor survive; citizens have demanded the right to receive enough food to live from their governments. But democracy has not created a common public realm in which people from different social groups have a sense they can shape society as a whole. Instead, advantage is gained as different groups claim they have a right to access the prosperous enclaves which offer wealth and power. Different castes improve their position by claiming they are entitled to government jobs or seats in parliament. Used for dramatically different purposes, with much greater ambition, ideas about what the state is capable of doing have changed little since the days of the Raj. Governments rule by classification and division; poverty, for example, is a bureaucratic category which separates the poor from the rest of society. Governments claim to be able to act on their own, often without dialogue. They are poor at acting in concert with others.

 The result is that people mitigate their poverty the same way they did seventy or a hundred years ago; through their restlessness and migration, by bringing themselves near to the prosperous enclaves of South Asia’s highly uneven economic landscape. In many parts of the subcontinent now, it is impossible for a family of rural workers to make ends meet unless they have a child earning in the city. Despite two generations of popular sovereignty, South Asia’s societies retain one characteristic from the days of the Raj which has endured long after the end of imperial rule. Famine and the most extreme forms of poverty have largely gone. But most people are still very poorly paid for a day’s work.

 Labour Saving Devices

In 1947, the 28,000 Britons who returned home after the evaporation of British sovereignty in South Asia arrived to a society on the verge of an economic boom. Britain in 1947 had been badly bombed. It only managed to stave off bankruptcy with austerity and loans from the United States. But by contrast with India and Pakistan, people in Britain who earned their living through manual work had relatively good living conditions. The collapse of Britain’s empire in India happened at the same time as a quick increase in wages and living standards.

 ‘Old Indians’ who returned home experienced this difference in the difficulty of employing servants. Officials and their wives complained about fighting for a seat on the London Underground or bus, about the boredom of being relatively young with little to do, about the weather; but above all about the cost of labour. After living in households that teemed with staff, the families of ex-officials could rarely afford to employ more than a single maid, sometimes not even that. The manuals which guided returned officers about how to live back in England suggested the purchase of labour-saving devices. Women had no choice but to do housework.

 The disparity between living standards in British-conquered India and metropolitan Britain had many causes.  The most important, though, was the different way these two societies were ruled. Living standards were so much better in Britain in 1947 for a simple reason: labour had a stake in the direction of British society it did not have in South Asia under British rule.

 The disparity was clear during the Second World War, when social differences widened in India but narrowed in the UK. The war did not cause Britain’s class divisions to crumble nor did it invent the welfare state. For long after 1945, Britain was a highly militarized, class-ridden, fiercely hierarchical society. But union membership increased, social benefits expanded, women were enticed from their homes to armament factories with relatively good pay as well as the chance to contribute to the war effort.

 During the war, labour was a vital interest in the accommodation which had shaped the direction of Britain’s polity. It did not run Britain. But unlike India, organized labour had a seat at the table. Britain’s foremost trade union organizer, Ernest Bevin, was Minister for Labour in Winston Churchill’s cabinet. The involvement of labour helped the creation of the national military-industrial complex which transformed the British state into such an effective fighting force during the Second World War. But it also created the conditions for the sustained economic growth which lasted until the mid-1960s. The loss of India did not mark the beginning of Britain’s decline but the start of an economic boom.

 In the years when the men who governed British India were uncomfortably adjusting themselves to life after empire, Britain’s high-technology, highly industrialized factories spun out quickly increasing quantity of export goods. British exports grew from £16 billion in 1948 to £2.8 billion in 1954 and then £3.8 billion in 1960. (£61 billion in 2016 prices). In 1950 Britain had a 24.6 per cent share of the world’s manufactured goods (compared to the USA’s 26.6 per cent), with 52 per cent share of world motor vehicle exports.

 Demand for British goods came from across the world. To buy them, Britain relied most on the now long self-governing ‘white’ empire. In the 1950s Australia was the UK’s largest trading partner. But the Commonwealth took less than half of British exports in total, with a demand from the United States and Western Europe growing the quickest. By contrast empire in India left little economic legacy. Exports to India and Pakistan were comparatively tiny. In the middle of the twentieth century, Britain’s prosperity relied on the relative productivity of its well-paid workforce, not on global imperial power.

 The coincidence of Britain’s economic prosperity with imperial decline shows how disconnected British India had been from the main currents of British life. For much of its existence, Britain’s empire in India contributed little of value to Britain itself. English merchants had initially been interested in the subcontinent as a source of commercial gain; the East India Company’s first wars were fought to defend the factories and forts it thought it needed to make a profit. But imperial power quickly created its own logic, which had little to do with economics.

 The exception occurred during the twentieth century’s two world wars. But then India was only turned into a source of Britain’s global power by corroding the basis of imperial power in the subcontinent itself. The First World War was followed by the first phase of India-wide mass nationalist agitation. Britain’s financing of India’s role in the Second World War cracked the Raj for good, pushing British rule into a final phase of famine and violence.

 Outside these destructive, aberrant moments, British rule was sustained by an elite whose lives were focused on nothing more than the survival of Britain’s sovereignty in the subcontinent. For them, the logic of empire was circular; the purpose of imperial power was to do nothing more than maintain imperial power, and with it their pensions and sense of personal authority. That logic aroused passionate commitment from British India’s white ruling class. But it meant that once the Union flag had been hauled down from the last citadels of British sovereignty there was nothing to do but pack up and go home.

 From a financial or strategic point of view there were good reasons why the British might have stayed on. By 1947, there were few business interests in India. But Asia still mattered to Britain. Commercial interests existed in Malaya and Singapore, and Australia was still a vital trading partner. The public rhetoric of empire claimed that the job of officials was to maintain ‘good governance’, and that still needed to be sustained in order to prevent the subcontinent falling under communist rule. The subcontinent’s states had borders which needed protecting from malign powers. Both India and Pakistan were concerned to maintain a stable, centralized form of government in the midst of the crises of the late 1949s, so they offered those who chose to stay good terms.

 A few did stay. Fifty civil servants and senior police officers and a few more soldiers were hired on temporary contracts by the Pakistani Government. They made up one third of Pakistan’s civil service until the early 1950s. The country’s mint, railways, telegraph, army and civil service college remained under British control, the latter until the 1960s. A handful of civil servants remained in the Republic of India, together with dozens of soldiers and European businessmen. Kanpur’s textile factories were owned by a British capitalist until the early 1960s, for example.

 But given Britain’s long history of involvement in India, these numbers were tiny. Remarkably few stayed on. Out of 608 European ICS officers working in India in December 1946, only 429 were still in India on the day of independence; sixty-two were left by the end of 1947, no more than fifteen by 1952, only three of those in the Republic of India. Those few who stayed took jobs which the transfer of power altered the least. Officers in charge of border districts were less likely to quit. Men working in revenue collection were also most likely to stay. The last bureaucrat to leave India was J.W. Orr, who retired from his position of Inspector for Customs and Excise in Delhi at the age of forty-five in 1955, to become director of a gold mining firm. Compared to the last days of other empires, the British left the subcontinent quickly and completely.

 Coming Back Home

This quick departure helps us to see what British rule in India was about. British officers and soldiers were in India to maintain sovereignty. Once that had gone there was no point staying on. ‘No longer . . . serving under the ultimate control of the Parliament of their own country’, as one government officer put it, remaining in the subcontinent was seen as pointless, even possibly risky. The government’s ‘absolute priority’ was to ensure a quick and safe return for its European staff. Five thousand British civilians were shipped back at a rate of 1,000 a month. Twenty-two thousand eight hundred soldiers, mostly wartime conscripts, took only a few more months to return home.

 Officers returning home had two options. They could take up pensionable opportunities in ‘another civil service’ with a grant of £500 (equivalent to £17,470 in 2016 prices). Or they were given a ‘severance allowance’ equivalent to full pay to the usual retirement age of sixty with the prospect of a good pension afterwards.

 ‘Old Indians’ who did not take other jobs could maintain the same living standards as dentists or doctors without having to work, but the vast majority put their experience in the machinery of administration to work. Many were employed by other branches of Britain’s bureaucracy, the large number becoming diplomats or officials in Britain’s African Empire, quickly moving to other places where their job was to look after another outpost of British sovereignty overseas. Nineteen out of the sixty-one ICS men who took part in a study in the 1970s joined either the foreign or colonial service; ten becoming civil servants in the UK. One of two became farmers or businessmen. Whatever role they took up, most of these men, used to exercising governmental power, found a small realm of administrative life to dominate. If they did not become civil servants they became college bursars or school administrators, managed lobby groups or became town clerks or local councillors.

 For these men, British rule in India had been about the Viceroy and the Union flag. It involved absolute control over a network of citadels and enclaves large enough to give them a delusory sense that they had real authority. It was also about the theoretical capacity of the British state to act without needing to negotiate with other powers. Sharing power was anathema; working for another regime impossible. As the Punjab officer Edward Wakefield wrote when courted by both the Indian and Pakistani governments to stay, ‘I had spent my life in the service of the Crown and did not feel disposed to serve another master.’

 By 1947, British power was understood by talking about ‘duty’, ‘responsibility’ and ‘service’, words that conveyed the trappings of sovereignty rather than any real kind of authority. If these were impossible in India, if the slim possibility of power required too many messy compromises, there were plenty of other spheres where it could be exercised. The British state did not give up the idea of ruling Africa until the late 1950s. And there was Britain itself.

 In the United Kingdom, the collapse of British power in India was marked by remarkable little stress or anxiety. The point, again, is that empire in India was not about influence or interest, but about sovereignty. When the British left India there was little lament about the loss of markets or prospect of reduced profits. The fact that the Union flag no longer flew was embarrassing, but even those parts of Britain’s political hierarchy most attached to it quickly adjusted. The most important legacy of the empire was not the British desire to control other lands. It was the peculiar form of power which British rule embodied in India and that, after 1947, was transported home.

 The strongest British support for British rule in India existed in the Conservative Party, but even Conservative politicians adjusted to the end of the Raj quickly. Many were former ICS or army officers or had relatives who had served in the subcontinent. When they thought about India they tended to use a romantic conception of British sovereignty rather than a realistic assessment of Britain’s power in the world. While negotiations were going on in India, most of them doggedly resisted the unravelling of British sovereignty. But when it’s passing was obvious, they accepted the demise of British power quickly. There was no interest in influence, in ‘informal empire’ as some historians have called it, if there was to be no Union flag.

 By 1947 the upper ranks of the Conservative Party thought Britain had no interest in remaining in India. Winston Churchill noted that ‘modern air squadrons are worth more than overseas territories’. When he visited in January 1947, Harold Macmillan was told by the Indian representative of his family publishing firm that a rapid transfer of power to the Congress would be good for profits, particularly if the new government invested in schools and universities. But to begin with, both men fervently resisted the way in which the Labour Government ‘allowed British administration to run down’, particularly fighting the renunciation of sovereignty over the princely states. Macmillan’s worry was that retreat would leave ‘absolute chaos’. Early in 1947, he argued that national serviceman should be sent to reimpose British power.

 By May 1947, Churchill, Macmillan and the rest of the Conservative leadership were willing to support the Labour Government’s bill to transfer power to two independent dominions in the subcontinent. By then, the prospect of retaining sovereign power in India had gone. The only choice was rapid retreat. The Tory high command’s decision to acknowledge independence brought anger from local Conservative associations, many sending motions to the 1947 annual conference affirming that they were still ‘the great imperial party’. But even rank and file Conservatives recognized that retreat was inevitable. There were other bastions of British sovereignty which needed protecting.

 This quick volte- face on India had the greatest impact on the career perhaps the most important post-war Conservative politician not to become Prime Minister, Enoch Powell. Powell was a romantic conservative, a man who saw violence as potentially virtuous, and who believed in the importance of constructing myths about power in order to maintain order and civilized life. He spent three years as a fellow in classics at Trinity College, Cambridge, eighteen months as Professor of Greek at the University of Sydney and then enlisted in the army in the first months of the Second World War. Desperate to fight, he was continually frustrated by being appointed to a succession of jobs planning and organizing the war effort. Between 1943 and 1946 he spent two and half years working in military intelligence in Delhi. He ended his army career writing the last report into the post-war shape of the Indian military, suggesting, unrealistically, the army increase its proportion of white officers,

 In February 1946 Powell was offered the chance to stay on as head of the Indian army’s college for training Indian officers. But at thirty-four he too decided to quit India. Anxious about the imminent prospect of a handover of power, he thought London, Parliament and the. Conservative Party would be the most effective place to campaign for the continuance of British rule.

 In the summer of 1946, while British institutions were collapsing throughout the subcontinent, Brigadier Powell wrote a report for the Conservative Party explaining how the British could reconquer the Indian subcontinent. Then, as through the rest of his career, his concern was to stave off chaos and anarchy. Powell saw uniform, united sovereign power as the only way to prevent it. ‘The forces of disorder are endemic,’ he wrote in May 1946. Indians would ‘look to British order as a welcome salvation from chaos and strife’, he imagined. ‘India’, Powell believed, ‘would need direct British control of one kind or another for at least 50 years more.’

 These fantasies meant Enoch Powell was one of the few Britons to be shaken by independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. Reportedly he walked all night through the streets of London in a state of disbelief when he heard that a transfer of sovereignty had been announced. But Powell quickly, famously, reconciled himself to the sudden collapse of imperial sovereignty. Once British power in India was gone, he recognized empire was over and castigated the idea of a Commonwealth of independent nations as a meaningless fraud.

 Powell could relatively easily reconcile himself to post-imperial Britain because he was not interested in spreading British culture or civilization overseas. Unlike America’s global power, Powell argued, the British had no ‘missionary enterprise’ of making everyone like them. What mattered was the British state retaining its sovereign power to command and not be commanded. The important fact was not the power Britain had over other places but that it ruled itself, and was a haven of civilization and order against the chaos which Powell thought raged elsewhere.

 Powell’s imperial conception of Britain’s unitary, absolute sovereign power influenced his lifelong opposition to both the European Economic Community and to the alliance with the United States. It also shaped his approach to race and immigration in the UK. Enoch Powell was the most famous opponent of Asian and Caribbean migration to Britain after the Second World War. His was a conception of England as a culturally and racially homogeneous society, an idea which belied the realities of post-imperial Britain. His idea of a single community with a unitary undivided will drew from his experience of the enclaves of British power in India. Like British officers within the nineteenth-and early twentieth century Government of India, Powell always thought unity was necessary to prevent anarchy. Like them, he believed order relied on the existence of a homogenous group which could act consistently, and which was bound together by common race, a common set of myths and a willingness to make sacrifices for the ‘generation interest.’ The united power of the English state had once extended throughout the world. Looking back later in life, Powell saw that the idea of British power over India was a fantasy. ‘The Raj’ itself, he said, ‘was a mirage’, a belief in British authority in India his ‘grand delusion’. Since 1947 Britain’s claim to sovereignty has shrunk back to encompass just Britain itself. ‘It was’, he said when looking back on these years of ‘colonial disentanglements’ twenty years later, ‘as if the nation and the monarchy had come back home again.’ Enoch Powell’s nationalism repatriated his logic of imperial sovereignty to the narrower confines of ‘home’.

 The idea of strong, consistent, effective British power in India was indeed a delusion. From the start of Britain’s presence in the subcontinent, Britains were fractious and anxious, governed by chaotic passions as much as the rational effort to calculate their advantage. The British were driven by profit and the desire for a secure income; but their anxieties often led them to behave in ways which undermined their own interests. Pax Britannica only existed in the safe havens British India’s small number of European administrators created for themselves. Otherwise, the idea of British rule as a source of peace, order and secure property rights was a fantasy, projected by anxious administrators to persuade themselves and their British public they were in the right. In practice, British actions prolonged and fostered chaos far more than they cultivated security and prosperity.

 But the grand delusion is not just that British India was not what its propagandists claimed to be. It is that absolute sovereignty is ever an effective form of power. Power, as the German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt argued, is the experience of ‘action in concert’, the remarkable achievement of many different wills acting together. The British in India were capable of deploying violence, also of shaping the material world; they certainly had an impact. But they never created real power in this sense. The history of British rule in India shows how, in the long term, the desire to establish a unitary and absolute form of power is self-defeating. Obsessed with only their position and security, British officials were never the political leaders of the Indian subcontinent. British administrators could not shape South Asian society in their own interests let alone for its own good. Two hundred years of government in India could not even create a secure foundation for their rule. Constantly made vulnerable by the chaos they themselves helped to create, the British who conquered India were always one step away from defeat and humiliation.

 In Britain now, traces of empire are few and far between. Politicians and foreign office officials are embarrassed to mention the years of conquest and domination when they discuss the UK’s relationship with the subcontinent. Statues to imperial heroes can still be found in urban centres, with Curzon’s figure of Clive perhaps the nearest sculpture to the centre of British executive power at #10 Downing Street, and Sir Henry Havelock and Sir Charles Napier just up the road in Trafalgar Square. But the British public are more likely to see these figures as the object of bewilderment than support or anger. When people suggest they might be removed, no one defends empire. Instead critics are challenged for ‘doing Britain down’, for wanting to undermine Britain’s sovereignty over itself in the name of foreign interests and ideas, it is as if Enoch Powell’s efforts to make the ‘ nation and the monarch . . .  come back home’ have been successful. Wherever it is invoked, the idea of Britain’s absolute sovereign control over anything, including just itself, conveys a sense of the country as embattled and isolated, surrounded by chaotic forces it cannot deal with, imbued with the idea it can only survive by building defensive walls to protect and defend itself. As in India, it is an idea based on delusion. In fact, Britain has never done anything alone. The history of Britain itself has been shaped by global trade, and by friendship and conflict beyond the places its empire dominated. Britain itself is made up of different interests, towns and counties and identities; it has been most successful when authority has been exercised far from Westminster, and then coordinated by an inclusive form of political leadership. In practice the absolute sovereignty of the monarch and Parliament is not the same thing as effective power. There are better ways Britain can engage with itself and with the world.

 Colonel’s Retreat

Powell shared with most recent historians the idea that Britain’s empire was a coherent force in the world. In the last few decades, for radical critics of global capitalism and defenders of global Western power alike, the history of Britain’s empire in India has become a metaphor and a political football.

In the process empire is seen to represent a straightforward set of ideas about global domination which have endured from the days of the Raj to the present day. This book has challenged myths of imperial purpose and power propagated on both the political left and the right. Looking at empire from the bottom-up, through the real lives of its functionaries and subjects, we see how imperial power was rarely exercised to put grand purposes into practice. Its operations were driven instead by narrow interests and visceral passions, most importantly the desire to maintain British sovereign institutions in India for its own sake. That desire created structures and institutions in the subcontinent as well as those thousands of cemeteries which mark the resting place of Britons who died and were buried in Indian soil. But it left no purpose, culture or ideology.

 But in the last decade India has seen the emergence of a new attitude towards the imperial past. Many statues have been uncovered and washed; the grass around them has been cut, and their sites have been added to India’s tourist maps. Old imperial monuments have been cleaned and renovated. Throughout India, British-era buildings have been opened up as resorts for the delight of India’s middle-class. The chaos and fragility of British rule are passed over. For Indian consumers British rule is associated with ‘colonial’ style of solid wood, high ceilings and leather armchairs, which evoke escape from India’s fraught present into ‘old world charm’, power and luxury.

 For some, then, British rule seems to represent a form of power that newly connects to the ambitions of a modern, outward-looking global India. For others it denotes a systematic form of oppression, a site of devastating cultural and economic oppression. In either case British memorials can be assimilated into stories about the exercise of political power in the past running up to the present. In the process, British rule has become an almost infinitely manipulable set of images and symbols, few of which connect back to the realities of British power.

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The Mountbatten Mission

Lord Mountbatten first became well known during the war years. He had spent some time in India and then transferred his headquarters to Ceylon. When Lord Wavell resigned, he was appointed Viceroy and Governor-General. Fully briefed by the Labour Government before he left, he came with instructions from Mr. Attlee that power must be transferred before 30th June 1948.

He reached Delhi on 22nd march and was sworn in as Viceroy and Governor-General of India on the 24th. Immediately after the swearing-in ceremony, he made a short speech, in which he stressed the need for reaching a solution within the next few months.

Soon after this, I had my first interview with Lord Mountbatten. At the very first meeting, he told me that the British Government was fully determined to transfer power. Before this could happen, a settlement of the communal problem was necessary, and he desired that a final and decisive attempt be made to solve the problem.

He agreed with me that the differences between the Congress and the League had now been greatly narrowed down.

  • The Cabinet Mission had grouped Assam and Bengal together.
  • The Congress held that no province should be compelled to enter a group and each province might vote whether to join the group or not.
  • The League said that it had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan on the basis that the group would vote as a whole and a province could opt out only after the group had framed the constitution. The League further argued that any change in the proposals of the Plan would nullify the agreement and on this basis the League had rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan.

Nobody can understand why the League placed so much emphasis on the question of Assam, when Assam was not a Muslim majority province. If the League’s own criterion was applied, there was no valid reason to force Assam to join Bengal. Whatever be the reason, the League was formally right though morally and politically its case was weak. I discussed the question with Lord Mountbatten on several occasions. I felt that the difference between the Congress and the League had reached a stage where agreement could be attained only through the mediation of a third party. My opinion was that we might leave the matter to Lord Mountbatten. Let the Congress and the League agree to refer the question to him and accept his arbitration. Neither Jawaharlal nor Sardar Patel would however agree to this suggestion. They did not like the idea of arbitration on a national issue and I did not press the point further.

In the meantime, the situation was deteriorating every day. The Calcutta riots had been followed by riots in Noakhali and Bihar. Thereafter there was trouble in Bombay. The Punjab which had been quiet till now also showed signs of strain and conflict. Malik Khizr Hayat had resigned as Premier of Punjab on 2nd March. Anti-Pakistan demonstrations were held in Lahore on 4th March, which led to the death of 13 persons and injury to many. Communal disturbances spread to other parts of the province and there were major disturbances in Amritsar, Taxila and Rawalpindi.

On the one hand communal passions were mounting. On the other, the administration was becoming lax. European in the services no longer had their heart in the work. They were now convinced that within a short time, power would be transferred to Indian hands. As such, they were no longer interested in their work and only marked time. They told people openly that they were no longer responsible for the administration. This led to more unrest and uncertainty among the people and created loss of confidence.

The situation was made worse by the deadlock between the Congress and the Muslim League within the Executive Council. The Central Government was paralyzed as the Members of the Council pulled against one another. The League oversaw Finance and held the key to the administration. It will be remembered that this was due entirely to Sardar Patel who in his anxiety to retain the Home portfolio, offered Finance to the Muslim League. There were some very able and senior Muslim officers in the Finance Department who gave every possible help to Liaqat Ali. With their advice, Liaqat Ali was able to reject or delay every proposal put up by the Congress members of the Executive Council. Sardar Patel discovered that though he was Home Member, he could not create the post of a chaprasi (peon) without Liaqat Ali’s concurrence. The Congress members of the Council were at a loss and did not know what to do.

A truly pathetic situation had developed because of our own foolish action in giving Finance to the Muslim League. Lord Mountbatten took full advantage of the situation. Because of the dissensions among the members, he slowly and gradually assumed full powers. He kept up the form of a constitutional Governor-General, but in fact he started to mediate between the Congress and the League to get his own way. He also began to give a new turn to the political problem and tried to impress on both the Congress and the Muslim League the inevitability of Pakistan. He pleaded in favour of Pakistan and sowed the seeds of the idea in the minds of the Congress members of the Executive Council.

It must be placed on record that the man in India who first fell for Lord Mountbatten’s idea was Sardar Patel. Till perhaps the very end, Pakistan was for Jinnah a bargaining counter, but in fighting for Pakistan, he had overreached himself. His action had so annoyed and irritated Sardar Patel that the Sardar was now a believer in partition. The Sardar’s was the responsibility for giving Finance to the Muslim League. He therefore resented his helplessness before Liaqat Ali more than anybody else. When Lord Mountbatten suggested that partition might offer a solution to the present difficulty, he found ready acceptance to the idea in Sardar Patel’s mind. In fact, Sardar Patel was fifty percent in favour of partition even before Lord Mountbatten appeared on the scene. He was convinced that he could not work with the Muslim League. He openly said that he was prepared to have a part of India if only he could get rid of the Muslim League. It would not perhaps be unfair to say that Vallabhbhai Patel was the founder of Indian partition.

Lord Mountbatten was extremely intelligent and could read into the minds of all his Indian colleagues. The moment he found Patel amenable to his idea, he put out all the charm and power of his personality to win over the Sardar. In his private talk, he always referred to Patel as a walnut—a very hard crust outside but soft pulp once the crust was cracked. Sometimes in a jocular mood he used to tell me that he had spoken to Walnut, and Walnut had agreed with him on every question.

When Sardar Patel was convinced, Lord Mountbatten turned his attention to Jawaharlal. Jawaharlal was not at first ready for the idea and reacted violently against the idea of partition. Lord Mountbatten persisted till Jawaharlal’s opposition was worn down step by step. Within a month of Lord Mountbatten’s arrival in India, Jawaharlal, the firm opponent of partition had become, if not a supporter, at least acquiescent to the idea.

I have often wondered how Jawaharlal was won over by Lord Mountbatten. He is a man of principle, but he is also impulsive and very amenable to personal influences. I think one factor responsible for the change was the personality of Lady Mountbatten. She is not only extremely intelligent but has a most attractive and friendly temperament. She admired her husband very greatly and in many cases tried to interpret his thoughts to those who would not at first agree with him.

There was one other person responsible for the change in Jawaharlal. An Indian named Krishna Menon who had lived in London since the early twenties. Jawaharlal had met him first in the late twenties and had found in him one who professed great admiration for Jawaharlal’s views. We all like our admirers but perhaps Jawaharlal likes them a little more than others. Sometime later, in the early thirties, the Labour Party sent a delegation to India led by Miss Ellen Wilkinson. Krishna Menon was attached to the delegation and visited India. He had also been taking an interest in the activities of the India League in London. During this period, his contacts were mainly with people who were regarded as communists or fellow-travellers. When Jawaharlal went again to London, Krishna Menon renewed his contact and reiterated his loyalty for Jawaharlal.

When war broke out, Krishna Menon suggested that he should be provided with funds so that he could carry on propaganda in London on behalf of India. When Hitler attacked Russia, he came in touch with the Soviet Embassy in London. He sent us many messages that he was meeting the Soviet Ambassador as Jawaharlal’s personal representative. He sent all kinds of proposals for securing the help of interests friendly to India. He also prepared schemes asking for funds from the Congress. Jawaharlal was impressed by him and requested me to grant some money. I did so and placed the matter before the Working Committee. Gandhiji and Sardar Patel told me frankly that they did not like my action, but they would say nothing since I had paid the money in good faith. They however, asked me not to make any further payment. They pointed out that Indians in London were sharply divided in their judgement about Krishna Menon. He had some supporters but there was a strong body of opponents who brought all kinds of charges against him. The general impression I got was that his conduct was not above reproach. I could not therefore trust him fully. Later events proved that Gandhiji and Sardar were right in their suspicion of Krishna Menon. He was, to take the charitable view, unreliable and had little concern for the way public funds were spent. Most people took an even worse view and regarded him as downright dishonest.

When the interim government was formed, Jawaharlal wanted to appoint Krishna Menon as the High Commissioner in London. Lord Wavell did not agree. The British Government also advised that his appointment would not be appropriate as he was regarded a fellow traveller. Soon after Lord Wavell left, Krishna Menon came to India and stayed with Jawaharlal. Lord Mountbatten immediately perceived that Jawaharlal had a weakness for Krishna Menon and could be influenced by him. Lord Wavell had opposed Krishna Menon’s appointment, but Lord Mountbatten decided to become his patron and invited him to the Viceroy’s House on several occasions. Krishna Menon had communist tendencies but when he saw that Lord Mountbatten was friendly to him and might help him get a position, he became pro-British overnight. He impressed Lord Mountbatten with his friendly feelings for the British. Lord Mountbatten felt that Krishna Menon would be useful in persuading Jawaharlal to accept his scheme of partition of India. It is my belief that Krishna Menon did influence Jawaharlal’s mind on this question. I was not surprised when sometime later I learnt that Lord Mountbatten offered to support Jawaharlal if he wanted to appoint Krishna Menon as the High Commissioner in London.

When I became aware that Lord Mountbatten was thinking in terms of dividing India, and had persuaded Jawaharlal and Patel, I was deeply distressed. I realized that the country was moving towards a great danger. Partition of India would be harmful not only to Muslims but to the whole country. I was and am still convinced that the Cabinet Mission Plan was the best solution from every point of view. It preserved the unity of India and gave every community the opportunity to function with freedom and honour. Even from the communal point of view, Muslims could expect nothing better. They would have complete internal autonomy in provinces in which they were in a majority. Even in the Centre they would have more than adequate representation. So long as there were communal jealousies and doubts, their position would be adequately safeguarded. I was also convinced that if the Constitution for free India was framed on this basis and worked honestly for some time, communal doubts and misgivings would soon disappear. The real problems of the country were economic, not communal. The differences related to classes, not to groups. Once the country became free, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs would all realize the real nature of the problems that faced them, and communal differences would be resolved.

I did my best to persuade my two colleagues not to take the final step. I found that Patel was so much in favour of partition that he was hardly prepared even to listen to any other point of view. For over two hours I argued with him. I pointed out that if we accepted partition, we would create a permanent problem for India. Partition would not solve the communal problem but would make it a permanent feature of the country. Jinnah had raised the slogan of two nations. To accept partition was to accept the slogan. How could Congress ever agree to divide the country based on Hindus and Muslims? Instead of removing communal fears, partition would perpetuate them by creating two States based on communal hatred. Once States based on hatred came into existence, nobody knew where the situation would lead.

I was surprised and pained when Patel in reply said that whether we liked it or not, there were two nations in India. He was now convinced that Muslims and Hindus could not be united into one nation. There was no alternative except to accept the fact. In this alone could we end the quarrel between Hindus and Muslims. He further said that if two brothers cannot stay together, they divide. After separation with their respective shares, they become friends. If on the other they are forced to stay together, they tend to fight every day. It was better to have one clean fight and then separate than have bickering every day. I was surprised that Patel was now an even greater supporter of the two-nation theory than Jinnah. Jinnah may have raised the flag of partition but now the real flag bearer was Patel.

I now turned to Jawaharlal. He did not speak in favour of partition in the way that Patel did. In fact, he admitted that partition by nature was wrong. He had however lost all hopes of joint action after his experience of the conduct of the League members of the Executive Council. They could not see eye to eye on any question. Every day they quarrelled. Jawaharlal asked me in despair what other alternative there was to accepting partition.

Jawaharlal spoke to me in sorrow but left no doubt in my mind as to how his mind was working. It was clear that in spite of his repugnance to the idea of partition, he was day by day coming to the conclusion that there was no alternative. He recognized that partition was certainly not the best solution, in fact it was not a good solution at all. But he held that circumstances were inevitably leading in that direction.

After a few days, Jawaharlal came to see me again. He began with a long preamble in which he emphasized that we should not indulge in wishful thinking but face reality. Ultimately, he came to the point and asked me to give up my opposition to partition. He said that it was inevitable, and it would be wisdom not to oppose what was bound to happen. He also said that it would not be wise for me to oppose Lord Mountbatten on this issue.

I told Jawaharlal that I could not possibly accept his views. I saw quite clearly that we were taking one wrong decision after another. Instead of retracing our steps, we were now going deeper in the morass. The Muslim League had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan and a satisfactory solution of the Indian problem seemed in sight. It was at his stage that Jawaharlal had made his unfortunate declaration at a press conference in Bombay. When as Congress President he declared that the Congress had not accepted anything but to participate in the Constituent Assembly, he had given Mr. Jinnah a chance of withdrawing from the League’s earlier acceptance of the plan.

I argued that our second mistake arose when Lord Wavell suggested that the Home portfolio be given to the Muslim League. This would not have caused any insuperable difficulty but because Patel insisted on retaining Home, we had ourselves offered Finance to the Muslim League. This was the cause of our present difficulties. Now a situation had arisen where we were becoming greater supporters of partition than Jinnah. I warned Jawaharlal that history would never forgive us if we agreed to partition. The verdict would be that India was divided not by the Muslim League but by the Congress.

Now that Sardar Patel and even Jawaharlal had become supporters of partition, Gandhiji remained my only hope. During this period Gandhiji was staying in Patna. He had earlier spent some months in Noakhali where he made a great impression on local Muslims and created a new atmosphere of Hindu Muslim unity. We expected that he would come to Delhi to meet Mountbatten and he arrived on 31st March. I went to see him at once and his very first remark was, ‘Partition has now become a threat. It seems Vallabhbhai and even Jawaharlal have surrendered. What will you do now? Will you stand by me or have you also changed?

I replied, ‘I have been and am against partition. Never had my opposition to partition been so strong as today. I am however distressed to find that even Jawaharlal and Patel have accepted defeat and in your words, surrendered their arms. My only hope now is you. If you stand against partition, we may yet save the situation. If you however acquiesce, I am afraid India is lost.’

Gandhiji said, ‘What a question to ask! If the Congress wishes to accept partition, it will be over my dead body. So long as I am alive, I will never agree to the partition of India. Nor will I, if I can help it, allow Congress to accept it.’

Later that day Gandhiji met Lord Mountbatten. He saw him again the next day and still again on 2 April. Sardar Patel came to him soon after he returned from his first meeting with Lord Mountbatten and was closeted with for over two hours. What happened during this meeting I do not know. But when I met Gandhiji again, I received the greatest shock of my life to find that he had changed. He was still not openly in favour of partition, but he longer spoke so vehemently against it. What surprised and shocked me even more was that he began to repeat the arguments which Sardar Patel had already used. For over two hours I pleaded with him, but I could make no impression on him.

In despondency I at last said, ‘If even you have now adopted these views I see no hope of saving India from catastrophe.’

Gandhiji did not reply to my comment but said that he had already suggested we should ask Jinnah to form the government and choose the members of the cabinet. He said he had mentioned this to Lord Mountbatten and Lord Mountbatten was greatly impressed by the idea.

I knew this was so. When I met Lord Mountbatten the day after Gandhiji talked to him, he told me that if the Congress accepted Gandhiji’s suggestion, partition could still be saved. Lord Mountbatten agreed that such an offer on the part of the Congress would convince the Muslim League and perhaps win the confidence of Jinnah. Unfortunately, this move could make no progress as both Jawaharlal and Sardar Patel opposed it vehemently. In fact, they forced Gandhiji to withdraw the suggestion.

Gandhiji reminded me of this and said the situation now was such that partition appeared inevitable. The only question to decide was what the form of partition should be. This was the question which was now being debated day and night in Gandhiji’s camp.

I thought deeply over the whole matter. How was it that Gandhiji could change his opinion so quickly? My reading is that this was due to the influence of Sardar Patel. Patel openly said that there was no way out except partition. Experience had shown that it was impossible to work with the Muslim League. Another consideration probably weighted with Sardar Patel. Lord Mountbatten had argued that Congress had agreed to a weak Centre only to meet the objections of the League. Provinces were therefore given full provisional autonomy, but in a country so divided by language, community and culture, a weak Centre was bound to encourage fissiparous tendencies. If the Muslim League were not there, we could plan for a strong Central Government and frame a constitution desirable from the point of view of Indian unity. Lord Mountbatten advised that it would be better to give up a few small pieces in the north-west and the north-east and then build up a strong and consolidated India. Sardar Patel was impressed by the argument that cooperation with the Muslim League would jeopardize Indian unity and strength. It seemed to me that these arguments influenced not only Sardar Patel but also Jawaharlal. The same argument repeated by Sardar Patel and Lord Mountbatten had also weakened Gandhiji’s opposition to partition.

My effort throughout had been to persuade Lord Mountbatten to take a firm stand on the Cabinet Mission Plan. So long as Gandhiji was of the same view, I had not lost hope. Now with Gandhiji’s defection, I knew that Lord Mountbatten would not agree to my suggestion. It is also possible that Lord Mountbatten did not feel so strongly about the Cabinet Mission Plan as this was not the child of his brain. He wanted to be remembered in history as the man who had solved the Indian problem. If the solution was in terms of a plan formulated by him, this would bring still greater credit to him. It is therefore not surprising that as soon as he opposition with the Cabinet Mission Plan, he was willing to substitute it by a plan of partition formulated according to his own ideas.

Now that partition seemed generally accepted, the question of Bengal and Punjab assumed a new importance. Lord Mountbatten said that since the partition was based on Muslim majority areas and since both in Bengal and Punjab there were areas where the muslims were in a clear minority, these provinces should also be partitioned. He, however, advised the Congress leaders not to raise the question at this stage and assured them that he would himself raise it at the appropriate time.

Before Gandhiji left for Patna, I made a last appeal to him. I pleaded with him that the present state of affairs be allowed to continue for two years. De facto power was already in Indian hands and if the de jure transfer was delayed for two years, this might enable Congress and the League to come to a settlement. Gandhiji himself had suggested this a few months ago and I reminded him that two years is not a long period in a nation’s history. If we waited for two years, the Muslim League would be forced to come to terms. I realised that if a decision was taken now, partition was inevitable, but a better solution might emerge after a year or two. Gandhiji did not reject my suggestion but neither did he indicate any enthusiasm for it.

By this time Lord Mountbatten had framed his own proposals for the partition of India. He now decided to go to London for discussions with the British Government and to secure its approval to his proposals. He also felt that he would be able to win the Conservative’s support for his plan. The Conservatives had opposed the Cabinet Mission proposal mainly claiming it did not satisfy the Muslim League demand for partition of India. Now that the Mountbatten proposal was based on partition of the country, it would be natural to expect Mr. Churchill’s support.

After the Congress Working Committee concluded its session on 4 May, I went to Simla. After a few days Lord Mountbatten also came up. He wanted to have a brief respite before his departure for London. His plan was to return to Delhi on 15 May and leave for London on the 18th. I thought I would make a last attempt to save he Cabinet Mission P and accordingly, on the night of 14 May, I met him at the Viceregal lodge.

We had discussions lasting for over an hour. I appealed to him not to bury the Cabinet Mission proposal. I told him that we should exercise patience for there was still hope that the plan would succeed. If we acted in haste and accepted partition, we would be doing permanent injury to India. Once the country was divided, no one could foresee the repercussions and there would be no retracing of the step.

I also told Lord Mountbatten that Mr. Attlee and his colleagues were not likely to easily give up a plan which they had themselves formulated after so much labour. If Lord Mountbatten also agreed and emphasized the need for caution, the Cabinet was not likely to raise any objection. Till now it was the Congress which had been insisting that India should be freed immediately. Now it was the Congress which asked that the solution of the political problem may be deferred for a year or two. Surely no one could blame the British if they conceded the Congress request. I also drew Lord Mountbatten’s attention to another aspect of the question. If the British acted hastily now, independent and impartial observers would naturally conclude that the British wanted to give freedom to India in conditions where Indians could not take full advantage of this development. To press on and bring partition against Indian desire would evoke a suspicion that British motives were not pure.

Lord Mountbatten assured me that he would place a full and true picture before the British Cabinet. He would report faithfully all that he had heard and seen during the last two months. He would also tell the British Cabinet that there was an important section of the Congress which wanted postponement of the settlement by a year or two. He assured me that he would tell Mr. Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps what my views in the matter were. The British Government would have all these materials before them when they came to a final decision.

I also asked Lord Mountbatten to take into consideration the likely consequences of the partition of the country. Even without partition, there were riots in Calcutta, Noakhali, Bihar, Bombay and the Punjab. Hindus had attacked Muslims and Muslims had attacked Hindus. If the country was divided in such an atmosphere there would be rivers of blood flowing in different parts of the country and the British would be responsible for such carnage.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Lord Mountbatten replied, ‘At least on this one question, I shall give you complete assurance. I shall see to it that there is no bloodshed and riot. I am a soldier, not a civilian. Once partition is accepted in principle, I shall issue orders to see that there are no communal disturbances anywhere in the country. If there should be the slightest agitation, I shall adopt measures to nip the trouble in the bud. I shall not use even the armed police. I shall order the army and the air force to act and use tanks and aeroplanes to suppress anybody who wants to create trouble.’

Lord Mountbatten gave me the impression that he was not going to London with a clear-cut picture of partition nor had he given up the Cabinet Mission Plan completely. Later events made me change my estimate of the situation. The way he acted afterwards convinced me that he had already made up his mind and was going to London to persuade the British Cabinet to accept his plan of partition. His words were only meant to allay my doubts. He did not himself believe what he was telling me.

The whole world knows what the sequel to Lord Mountbatten’s brave declaration was. When partition took place, rivers of blood flowed in large parts of the country. Innocent men, women and children were massacred. The Indian Army was divided, and nothing could be done to stop the murder of innocent Hindus and Muslims.

Maulana Azad

Courtesy: India Wins Freedom by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Orient Longman Private Ltd., published 1988, the complete version. Translated by Humayun Kabir (1906-1969).

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958) was named Firoz Bakht at birth but was known in his youth as Muhiyuddin Ahmad and later adopted the pseudonym of ‘Abul Kalam Azad’. He was descended from a family which came from Herat to India in Babur’s time and among his ancestors were well-known scholars and administrators. Two years after his birth in 1888 in Mecca where his father Maulana Khairuddin had migrated after the 1857 Revolt, the family moved and settled in Calcutta. Azad was educated at home by his father and private tutors. His political awakening was stimulated by the partition (later annulled) of Bengal in 1905. He travelled extensively in Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and France and had planned to visit London, but his father’s illness obliged him to return home in 1908.

Maulana Azad started the Urdu weekly Al Hilal at Calcutta in July 1912. He opposed the Aligarh line of remaining aloof from the freedom movement. With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, the journal was banned under the Press Act. He then started another Urdu weekly Al Balagh, also from Calcutta in November 1915 and this continued to be published until March 1916 when Azad was externed under the Defence of India Regulations. The governments of Bombay, Punjab, Delhi and the United Provinces banned his entry, and he went to Bihar. He was interned in Ranchi until 1 January 1920.

After his release Azad was elected President of the All India Khilafat Committee (at the Calcutta session, 1920), and of the Unity Conference at Delhi in 1924. He presided over the Nationalist Muslims Conference in 1928. He was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1923, and again in 1940, and continued to hold this office until 1946. He led the negotiations on behalf of the Congress Party with the British Cabinet Mission in 1946. Later he joined free India’s first government as Minister for Education, a post he held until his death on 22nd February 1958.

Among his other published works are Al-Bayan (1915) and Tarjuman-ul-Quran (1931-1936) which are commentaries, Tazkirah (1916) an autobiographical work and Ghubar-I-Khatir (1943), a collection of letters, all in Urdu.

 

The Battle for Afghanistan: No Easy Place to Rule

The Battle for Afghanistan

In 1843, shortly after his return from the slaughterhouse of the First Anglo-Afghan War, the army chaplain in Jalalabad, the Rev. G.R. Gleig, wrote a memoir about the disastrous expedition of which he was one of the lucky survivors. It was, he wrote,

“a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, ended after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has been acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.”

 

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The last survivors of the 44th Foot were exposed and surrounded at dawn as they stood at the top of hill of Gandamak.

William Barnes Wollen’s celebrated painting of the Last Stand of the 44th Foot – a group of ragged but doggedly determined soldiers on the hilltop of Gandamak standing encircled behind a thin line of bayonets, as the Pashtun tribesmen close in – became one of the era’s most famous images, along with Remnants of an Army, Lady Butler’s oil of the alleged survivor, Dr. Brydon, arriving before the walls of Jalalabad on his collapsing nag.

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Lady Butler’s famous oil, The Remnants of an Army, which depicts Dr. Bryden’s exhausted arrival at the walls of Jalalabad on his collapsing nag. 

It was just as the latest western invasion of Afghanistan was beginning to turn sour in the winter of 2006, that I had an idea of writing a new history of Britain’s first failed attempt at controlling Afghanistan. After an easy conquest and the successful installation of a pro-western puppet ruler, the regime was facing increasingly widespread resistance. History was beginning to repeat itself.

The closer I looked, the more the west’s first disastrous entanglement in Afghanistan seemed to contain distant echoes of the neo-colonial adventures of our own day. For the war of 1839 was waged based on doctored intelligence about a virtually non-existent threat: information about a single Russian envoy to Kabul was exaggerated and manipulated by a group of ambitious and ideologically driven hawks to create a scare-in this case about a phantom Russian invasion. As John MacNeill, the Russophobe British ambassador wrote from Tehran in 1838:

“we should declare that he who is not with us is against us . . .We must secure Afghanistan.” Thus, was brought about an unnecessary, expensive and entirely avoidable war.

The parallels between the two invasions I came to realize were not just anecdotal., they were substantive. The same tribal rivalries and the same battles were continuing to be fought out in the same places 170 years later under the guise of new flags, new ideologies and new political puppeteers. The same cities were garrisoned by foreign troops speaking the same languages, and were being attacked from the same rings of hills and the same high passes.

In both cases the invaders thought they could walk in, perform regime change, and be out in a couple of years. In both cases they were unable to prevent themselves getting sucked into a much wider conflict. Just as the British inability to cope with the rising of 1841 was a product not just of leadership failure within the British camp, but also of the breakdown of the strategic relationship between Macnaghten and Shah Shuja, so the uneasy relationship of the ISAF leadership with President Karzai has been a crucial factor in the failure of the latest imbroglio. Here the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke to some extent played the role of Macnaghten.

When I visited Kabul in 2010, the then British Special Representative, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, described Holbrooke as “a bull who brought his own china shop wherever he went”- a description that would have served perfectly to sum up Macnaghten’s style 174 years previously. Sherard’s analysis of the failure of the current occupation in his memoirs, Cables from Kabul, read astonishingly like an analysis of that of Auckland and Macnaghten:

Getting in without having any real idea of how to get out

almost willful misdiagnosis of the nature of challenges

continually changing objectives, and no coherent or consistent plan

mission creep on a heroic scale

disunity of political and military command, also on a heroic scale

diversion of attention and resources [to Iraq in the current case, to the Opium Wars then] at a critical stage of the adventure

poor choice of local allies

weak political leadership.”

Then as now, the poverty of Afghanistan has meant that it has been impossible to tax the Afghans into financing their own occupation. Instead, the cost of policing such inaccessible territory has exhausted the occupier’s resources. Today the US is spending more than $100 billion a year in Afghanistan: it costs more to keep Marine battalions in two districts of Helmand than the US is providing to the entire nation of Egypt in military and development assistance. In both cases the decision to withdraw troops has turned on factors with little relevance to Afghanistan, namely the state of the economy and the vagaries of politics back home.

We in the west may have forgotten the details of this history that did so much to mould the Afghans’ hatred of foreign rule, but the Afghans have not. Shah Shuja remains a symbol of quisling treachery in Afghanistan: In 2001, the Taliban asked their young men, “Do you want to be remembered as a son of Shah Shuja or as a son of Dost Muhammad?”

As he rose to power, Mullah Omer deliberately modeled himself on Dost Muhammad, and like him removed the Holy Cloak of the Prophet Muhammad from its shrine in Kandahar and wrapped himself in it, declaring himself like his model, Amir al-Muminin, the Leader of the Faithful, a deliberate and direct re-enactment of the events of First Afghan War, whose resonance was immediately understood by all Afghans.

History never repeats itself exactly, and it is true that there are some important differences between what is taking place in Afghanistan today and what took place during the 1840s. There is no unifying figure at the centre of resistance, recognized by all Afghans as a symbol of legitimacy and justice: Mullah Omar is no Dost Muhammad or Wazir Akbar Khan, and the tribes have not united behind him as they did in 1842. There are big and important distinctions to be made between the conservative and defensive tribal uprising that brought the Anglo-Sadozai rule to a close in the colonial period and armed Ikhwanist revolutionaries of the Taliban who wish to reimpose an imported ultra-Wahhabi ideology on the diverse religious cultures of Afghanistan. Most importantly, Karzai has tried to establish a broad based, democratically elected government which for all its flaws and prodigious corruption is still much more representative and popular than the Sadozai regime of Shah Shuja ever was.

Nevertheless due to the continuities of the region’s topography, economy, religious aspirations and social fabric, the failures of 170 years ago do still hold important warnings for us today. It s still not too late to learn some lessons from the mistakes of the British in 1842. Otherwise, the west’s fourth war in the country looks certain to end with as few political gains as the first three, and like them to terminate in an embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos and quite possibly ruled by the same government which the war was originally fought to overthrow.

As George Lawrence wrote to the London Times just before Britain blundered into the Second Anglo-Afghan War thirty years later, ‘a new generation has arisen which, instead of profiting from the solemn lessons of the past, is willing and eager to embroil us in the affairs of that turbulent an unhappy country . . . although military disasters may be avoided, an advance now, however,  successful in a military point o view, would not fail to turn out to be as politically useless . . . The disaster of the Retreat from Kabul should stand forever as a warning to the Statesmen of the future not to repeat the policies that bore such bitter fruit in 1839-42.’

 Despite the central strategic significance of this region, good writing on Afghan history is surprisingly thin on the ground, and what there is invariably uses printed accounts in English or the much mined India Office Archives in London. Yet astonishingly, while most of the sources are well-known to Dari-speaking Afghan historians, and were used by them in the nationalists Dari-language histories they wrote between the 1950s and 1970s, not one of these accounts ever seems to have been used in any English language history of the war, and none is available in English translation, although an abridged translation of a few chapters of the Waqi’ at-i-Shah Shuja appeared in a Calcutta magazine in the 1840s and a full translation of the Siraj ul Twarikh is currently under preparation by Robert McChesney at Columbia University, to which I was generously given access. These rich and detailed Afghan sources tell us much that the European sources neglect to mention or are ignorant of. The British sources for example, are well informed when talking of the different factions in their army, but seem largely unaware of the tensions dividing the different groups of insurgents who made up the Afghan side.

The Afghan sources also present us with a mirror which allows us, in the words of Alexander Burne’s cousin Robbie Burns, “To see ourselves as others see us“. To Afghan eyes the western armies were remarkable for their heartlessness, for their lack of any of the basic values of chivalry and especially for their indifference to civilian casualties. ‘From their rancour and spite there will be burning houses and blazing walls,‘ Dost Muhammad warns Akbar Khan in the Akbarnama.

For such is how they show their strength
Terrorizing those who dare to resist them

As is their custom, they will subjugate the people
So that no one makes a claim to equality

It is moreover, a consistent complaint in the Afghan sources that the British had no respect for women, raping and dishonouring wherever they went, and riding ‘the steed of their lust unbridled day and night’. The British in other words, are depicted in Afghan sources as treacherous and oppressive women-abusing terrorists. This is not the way we expect the Afghans to look at us.

If the First Afghan War helped to consolidate the Afghan state, the question now is whether the current western intervention will contribute to its demise. at the time of writing, western troops are again poised to leave Afghanistan in the hands of a weak Popalzai run government. It is impossible to predict the fate of either that regime or the fractured and divided state of Afghanistan. But what Mirza ‘Ata wrote after 1842 remains equally true today:

‘it is certainly no easy thing to invade or govern the Kingdom of Khurasan.’

No Easy Place To Rule 
Considering its very ancient history, Afghanistan — or Khurasan, as the Afghans have called the lands of this region for the two last millennia- had had but a few hours of political and administrative unity. For more often it had been ‘the places in between’ – the fractured and disputed stretch of mountains, floodplains and deserts separating its more orderly neighbours. At other times its provinces formed the warring extremities of rival, clashing empires. Only very rarely did its parts happen to come together to attain any sort of coherent state in its own right.

Everything had always conspired against its rise: the geography and topography and especially the great stony skeleton of Hindu Kush, the black rubble of its scalloped and riven slopes standing out against the ice-etched, snow-topped ranges which divided up the country like the bones of a massive rocky ribcage.

Then there were the different tribal, ethnic and linguistic fissures fragmenting the Afghan society: the rivalry between the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and the Durrani and Ghilzai Pashtuns; the schism between the Sunni and Shia; the endemic factionalism within clans and tribes, and especially the blood feuds within closely related lineages. These blood feuds rolled malevolently down from generation to generation, symbols of the impotence of state-run systems of justice. In many places blood feuds became almost a national pastime – the Afghan equivalent of county cricket in the English shires – and the killings they engendered were often on a spectacular scale.

The real reason behind the despatch of this first British Embassy to Afghanistan lay far from India and the passes of the Hindu Kush. Its origins had nothing to do with Shah, the Durrani Empire or even the intricate princely politics of Hindustan. Instead its causes could be traced to north-eastern Prussia, and a raft floating in the middle of River Nieman. Here, eighteen months earlier, Napoleon, at the very peak of his power, had met the Russian Emperor, Alexander II, to negotiate a peace treaty. The meeting followed the Russian defeat at the Battle of Friedland on 14 June 1807, when Napoleon’s artillery had left 25,000 Russians dead on the battlefield. It was a severe loss, but the Russians had been able to withdraw to their frontier in good order. Now the two armies faced each other across the meandering oxbows of the Nieman, with the Russian forces reinforced by two new divisions, and a further 200,000 militiamen waiting nearby on the shores of he Baltic.

The stalemate was broken when the Russians were informed that Napoleon wished not only for peace, but for an alliance. On 7 July, on a raft surmounted by a white classical pavilion emblazoned with a large monogrammed N, the two emperors met in person to negotiate a treaty later known as the Treaty of Tilsit.

 Much of the discussion concerned the fate of French-occupied Europe, especially the future of Prussia whose king, excluded from the meeting, paced anxiously up and down the river bank waiting to discover if he would still have a kingdom after the conclave concluded. But amid all the public articles of the treaty, Napoleon had included several secret clauses that were not disclosed at the time. These laid the foundations for a joint Franco-Russian attack on what Napoleon saw as the source of Britain’s wealth. This, of course, was his enemy’s richest possession, of India.

The seizure of India as a means of impoverishing Britain and breaking its economic power had been a long-standing obsession of Napoleon’s, as of several previous French strategists. Almost nine years earlier, on 1 July 1798, Napoleon had landed his troops at Alexandria and struck inland for Cairo. “Through Egypt we shall invade India,” he wrote. “We shall re-establish the old route through the Suez.” From Cairo he sent a letter to Tipu Sultan of Mysore, answering the latter’s pleas for help against the English.

At the Battle of the Nile on 1 August, however, Admiral Nelson sank almost the entire French fleet, wrecking Napoleon’s initial plan to use Egypt as a secure base from which to attack India. This forced him to change his strategy; but he never veered from his aim of weakening Britain by seizing what he believed to be the source of its economic power, much as Latin America with its Inca and Aztec gold had once been that of Spain.

So Napoleon now hatched plans to attack India through Persia and Afghanistan. At Tilsit, the secret clauses spelled out the plan in full: Napoleon would emulate Alexander the Great and march 59,000 French troops of the Grande Armee across Persia to invade India, while Russia would head south through Afghanistan. General Gardane was despatched to Persia to liaise with the Shah and find out which ports could provide anchorage, water and supplies for 20, 000 men, and to draw up maps of possible invasion routes. Meanwhile General Caulaincourt, Napoleon’s ambassador to St. Petersburg was instructed to take the idea forward with the Russians.

But the British were not caught unawares. The secret service had hidden one of their informers, a disillusioned Russian aristocrat, beneath the barge, his ankles dangling in the river. Braving the cold, he was able to hear every word and sent an immediate express containing the outlines of the plan to London. It took British intelligence only a further six weeks to obtain the exact wording of the secret clauses and these were promptly forwarded to India. With them were instructions for the Governor General, Lord Minto, to warn all countries lying between India and Persia of the dangers in which they stood and to negotiate alliances to oppose any French or Franco-Russian expedition against India.

Lord Minto did not regard Napoleon’s plan as fanciful. A French invasion of India through Persia was not “beyond the scope of that energy and perseverance which distinguish the present ruler of France,” he wrote as he finalised plans to counter the very “active French diplomacy in Persia, which is seeking with great diligence the means of extending its intrigues to the Durbars of Hindustan.”

In the end Minto opted for four separate embassies, each of which would be sent with lavish presents in order to warn and win over the powers that stood in the way of Napoleon’s armies. One was sent to Tehran to impress upon Fatteh Ali Shah, Qajar of Persia, the perfidiousness of his new French ally. Another was despatched to Lahore to make an alliance with Ranjit Singh and the Sikhs. A third was despatched to the Amir’s of Sindh. The job of wooing Shah Shuja and his Afghans fell to a rising young star in the Company’s service, Mountstuart Elphinstone.

Elphinstone sat scribbling in his diary, trying to make sense of the Afghan character in all its rich contradictions.

Their vices are revenge, envy, avarice, rapacity, and obstinacy; on the other hand, they are fond of liberty, faithful to their friends, kind to their dependents, hospitable, brave, hardy, frugal, laborious, and prudent.”

He was astute enough to note that success in battle in Afghanistan was rarely decided by straightforward military victory so much as by successfully negotiating a path through the shifting patterns of tribal allegiances. “The victory is usually decided by some chief going over to the enemy,” wrote Elphinstone, “on which the greater part of the army either follows his example or else takes flight.”

The same was often true in India. Clive’s ‘victories’ at Plassey and Buxar were more like successful negotiations between the British bankers and Indian power brokers than the triumphs of arms and valor that imperial propaganda later made them out to be.

The British were beginning to understand that Afghanistan was no easy place to rule. In the last two millennia there had been only very brief moments of strong central control when the different tribes had acknowledged the authority of a single ruler, and still briefer moments of anything approaching a unified political system. It was in many ways less a state than a kaleidoscope of competing tribal principalities governed through Malik’s or vakils, in each of which allegiance was entirely personal, to be negotiated and won over rather than taken for granted. The tribes’ traditions were egalitarian and independent, and they had only ever submitted to authority on their own terms. Financial rewards might bring about cooperation, but rarely ensured loyalty: the individual Afghan soldier owed his allegiance first to the local chieftain who raised and paid him, not to the Durrani shahs in faraway Kabul or Peshawar.

Yet even tribal leaders had frequently been unable to guarantee obedience, for tribal authority was itself so elusive and diffuse. As the saying went: Behind every hillock there sits an emperor – pusht – e har teppe, yek padishah nehast (or alternatively: Every man is a khan – har saray khan dey).

In such a world, the state never had a monopoly on power, but was just one among a number of competing claimants on allegiance.

Many of the tribes had lived for centuries by  offering empires their services in return for the political equivalent of protection money: even at the height of the Mughal Empire, for example, the emperors in far away Delhi and Agra had realized that it was hopeless even to think of attempting to tax the Afghan tribes. Instead the only way to keep open communication with the Mughals’ Central Asian lands was for them to pay the tribes massive annual subsidies: during Aurangzeb’s rule 600,000 rupees a year was paid by the Mughal exchequer to Afghan tribal leaders to secure their loyalty, Rs. 125,000 going to the Afridi alone. Yet even so, Mughal control of Afghanistan was intermittent at best, and even the victorious Nadir Shah fresh from looting Delhi in 1739, paid the chiefs huge sums for providing him with safe passage through the Khyber, in both directions.

The British later learned the Mughal model. According to a piece of imperial doggerel it became British policy to “Thrash the Sindhis, make friends with the Baluch, but pay the Pathans.”

There were other options: The Afghans could be lured into accepting the authority of a leader if he tempted them with four-fifths share of the plunder and spoils of conquest as Ahmad Shah Abdali and Timur Shah had both done. But without a ruler with a full treasure chest, or the lure of plunder to cement the country’s different interest groups, Afghanistan almost always tended to fragment: its few moments of coherence were built on the success of its armies, never of its administration.

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Featured image: Skinner’s Horse riding out to war

Courtesy of: William Dalrymple, Return of a King, The Battle for Afghanistan, Bloomsbury Publishing London

THE LEGACY OF MR. JINNAH 1876-1948

 

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Exactly 70 years to the day, on December 25, 1947, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah agreed to be photographed reading Dawn – the newspaper he had founded. The headline on the front page of Dawn that day read: ‘71 today’. The trace of a whimsical smile on Mr Jinnah’s lips is unmistakable as he is seen glancing at the newspaper. | Photo: Press Information Department (PID) 

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING MR. JINNAH BY AYESHA JALAL

In one of the more unforgettable contemporary recollections of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Beverely Nichols in Verdict on India described the lanky and stylishly dressed barrister as the “most important man in Asia”. Looking every bit like a gentleman of Spain, of the old diplomatic school, the monocle-wearing leader of the All-India Muslim League held a pivotal place in India’s future. “If Gandhi goes, there is Nehru, Rajagopalachari, Patel and a dozen others. But if Jinnah goes, who is there?” Without the Quaid-i-Azam to steer the course, the Muslim League was a divisive and potentially explosive force that “might run completely off the rails, and charge through India with fire and slaughter”; it might even “start another war”. As long as Jinnah was around, nothing disastrous was likely to happen and so, Nichols quipped, “a great deal hangs on the grey silk cord of that monocle”.

 If the British journalist overstated Jinnah’s importance, he had put his finger on an essential piece of the sub-continental political puzzle on the eve of British decolonization in India. Jinnah was a crucial link between the Congress and the Muslim League, which, if broken, could catapult India into disaster.

While regaling journalists at a tea party in his honour at Allahabad in April 1942, two years after the formal orchestration of the demand for Pakistan by the Muslim League, Jinnah had emphatically denied harbouring the “slightest ill-will” against Hindus or any other community. Charged with fomenting hatred and bigotry, he retorted: “I … honestly believe that the day will come when not only Muslims but this great community of Hindus will also bless, if not during my lifetime, after I am dead, [in the] the memory of my name.”

Drawing an analogy between himself and the first man to appear on the street with an umbrella, only to be laughed and scorned at by the crowd that had never seen an umbrella before, he said self-assuredly, “You may laugh at me”, but time will soon come when “you will not only understand what the Umbrella is but … use it to the advantage of every one of you”.

Jinnah’s prediction that posterity would come to look kindly on the umbrella he had unfurled in the form of his demand for Pakistan remains unrealised. Confusing the end result with what he had been after all along, his admirers and detractors alike hold him responsible for dismembering the unity of India.

But, then, the Pakistan that emerged in 1947 was a mere shadow of what he had wanted. Let down by his own followers, outmanoeuvred by the Congress and squeezed by Britain’s last viceroy, Jinnah was made to accept a settlement he had rejected in 1944 and 1946.

His early death in September 1948 deprived Pakistan of a much-needed steadying hand at the helm during an uncertain and perilous time. With no one of Jinnah’s stature and constitutional acumen around to read the riot act, constitutional propriety and strict adherence to the rule of law were early casualties of the withering struggle between the newly-created centre and the provinces as well as the main institutions of the state.

Repeated suspensions of the democratic process by military regimes have ensured that even after seven decades of independence, Pakistanis are bitterly disagreed on the principles and practices of constitutional government as well as the sharing of rights and responsibilities between the state and the citizen. So, while there is no denying the centrality of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s iconographic location in Pakistani national consciousness, there is a gaping chasm between the nationalist icon and the savvy politician.

Across the 1947 divide, clashing representations of Jinnah and his politics highlight the fissures in the Indian national imaginary. The unanimous rage that exploded as Indian nationalism, whether of the ‘secular’ or the ‘communal’ variety, in the wake of Jaswant Singh’s book on the Muslim League leader is evidence of Jinnah’s negative standing in the Indian psyche.

Left to an adoring following in Pakistan and equally impassioned detractors in India, the clear-headed lawyer who never missed a cue has been reduced to a jumble of contradictions that mostly cancel each other out. Jinnah’s demonization in the Indian nationalist pantheon as the communal monster who divided mother India contrasts with his positive representation in Pakistan as a revered son of Islam, even an esteemed religious leader (maulana), who strove to safeguard Muslim interests in India. Misleading representations of one of modern South Asia’s leading politicians might not have withstood the test of history if they did not serve the nationalist self-projections of both India and Pakistan.

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QUAID-I-AZAM Mohammad Ali Jinnah during his last visit to Dhaka, then East Pakistan. It was during this trip that he declared, at a mammoth public gathering on March 21, 1948, “Having failed to prevent the establishment of Pakistan … the enemies of Pakistan have turned their attention to disrupting the state by creating a split among the Muslims of Pakistan… If you want to build up yourself into a nation, for God’s sake give up this provincialism.” | Photo: PID. 

Nations need heroes and Pakistanis have a right to be proud of their greatest hero. But popular memories too need to be informed by some bare facts and meaningful ideas. Fed on improbable myths and the limitations of the great men’s approach to history, Pakistanis have been constrained from engaging in an informed and open debate on whether their country merits being called Jinnah’s Pakistan. Is Jinnah at all relevant to the current Pakistani predicament?

Even the most approximate answer requires training our sights on matters that most concern Pakistanis – rule of law and a balance between state institutions that is conducive to social justice, economic opportunities and peaceful coexistence. Fed on state-sponsored national yarns about the past, Pakistanis are at a loss how to settle matters of national identity and the nature of the state – democratic or authoritarian, secular or Islamic.

The rise of Hindu majoritarianism in secular India and seemingly unending convulsions of religious bigotry amid state paralysis, if not compliance, in Islamic Pakistan is causing widespread dismay, confusion and disenchantment among a cross-section of citizens on both sides of the international border.

This is why reassessing the legacy of the man, who is universally held responsible for a partition that he had assiduously tried avoiding, is so necessary. But to do so meaningfully, one has to go beyond the simplistic distinction between the secular and the religious on which so many of the national myths of India and Pakistan are based.

There is no doubt that after the Muslim League’s election debacle in 1937, Jinnah made a conscious effort to display his Muslim identity. On key public occasions, he donned the sherwani – the traditional Muslim dress – rather than his well-tailored Western suits, and made more of an effort to appear as a mass politician. This was in some contrast to the days when his oratorical powers were restricted to the quiet of council chambers in the central legislature.

But the aloofness that characterised his earlier life did not give way to a new-found affinity with the teeming multitude. A champion of mass education as the key to the democratisation and freedom of India, Jinnah lacked the populist touch of a Gandhi.

Solitary in disposition, he used the distance between himself and his followers to command esteem and, most importantly, authority. Every bit the politician, Jinnah had a keen sense of timing and spectacle. Making the most of the adulation showered upon him by Muslims, he launched a powerful challenge against the Congress’s claim to speak on behalf of all Indians.

 

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The beautiful Ruttie Jinnah was Mr Jinnah’s second wife. The couple fell in love in Darjeeling in 1916. Two years later, they were married, after Ruttie, who was a Parsi, converted to Islam despite virulent family opposition. | Photo: National Archives, Islamabad 

However, even while banding with segments of the Muslim ulema for political purposes, he remained to the core a constitutionalist with a distaste for rabble rousers who made cynical use of religion. He distanced himself from the humdrum of theological disputes about divinity, prophecy or ritual. “I know of no religion apart from human activity,” he had written to Gandhi on January 1, 1940, since it “provides a moral basis for all other activities”. Religion for him was meaningless if it did not mean identifying with the whole of mankind and “that I could not do unless I took part in politics”.

 Jinnah’s expansive humanism is in stark contrast with the shocking disregard for the freedom of religious conscience in the country he created, a result of the political gamesmanship resorted to by authoritarian rulers and self-styled ideologues of Islam in post-colonial Pakistan.

In terms of his most deep-seated political values and objectives, Jinnah was remarkably consistent throughout his long and chequered political career. He had begun his journey as a Congressman seeking a share of power for Indians at the all-India centre.

Since Muslims were a minority in the limited system of representation in colonial India, he became an ardent champion of minority rights as a necessary step towards a Hindu-Muslim concordat and Congress-League cooperation. The provincial bias in British constitutional reforms after 1919 tested the resilience of a centralist politician with all-India ambitions.

As a constitutionalist of rare skill and vision, Jinnah tried reconciling communitarian and provincial interests while holding out an olive branch to the Congress. While his insistence on national status for Indian Muslims became absolute after 1940, the demand for a separate and sovereign state was open to negotiation until the late summer of 1946.

Jinnah was acutely aware that almost as many members of the Muslim nation would reside in Hindustan as in the specifically-Muslim homeland. The claim to nationhood was not an inevitable overture to completely separate statehood. An analytical distinction between a division of sovereignty within India and a partition of the provinces enables a precise understanding of the demand for a ‘Pakistan’. On achieving Pakistan, Jinnah was categorical that equal citizenship and an assurance of minority rights would form the basis of the new state.

 

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The Quaid-i-Azam in conversation with Altaf Husain, the first editor of Dawn Karachi, who visited Mr Jinnah to wish him a happy birthday on December 25, 1947. | Photo: PID. 

The Quaid-i-Azam was checkmated at the end game of the Raj by the votaries of unitary and monolithic sovereignty. Yet his constitutional insights into the imperative of forging a new Indian union once the British relinquished power at the centre resonated well with a long South Asian political tradition of layered and shared sovereignties.

The four decades since the end of World War II were the heyday of indivisible sovereignty across the globe. Since the late 1980s there has been a perceptible weakening in the hold of that dogma. Jinnah’s legacy is especially pertinent to the enterprise of rethinking sovereignty in South Asia and beyond in the 21st century. If Pakistan and India can shed the deadweight of the colonial inheritance of non-negotiable sovereignty and hard borders which has been at the root of so many of their animosities, a South Asian union may yet come into being under the capacious cover of Jinnah’s metaphorical umbrella.

His expectation that Hindus quite as much as Muslims would one day bless the memory of his name remains unfulfilled. But moves in that direction have been in evidence more recently. In 1999, the Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, made a point of visiting the venue where the Lahore Resolution of 1940 was adopted by the Muslim League. This was followed in 2005 by Hindu nationalist leader Lal Krishna Advani’s homage to the founding father of Pakistan at his mausoleum in Karachi.

On the 141st birthday of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, it is worth recalling Bengali Congress leader Sarat Chandra Bose’s obituary comment, paying “tribute to the memory of one who was great as a lawyer, once great as a Congressman, great as a leader of Muslims, great as a world politician and diplomat and, greatest of all, as a man of action.”

The importance of being Mr Jinnah by Ayesha Jalal. The writer is Mary Richardson Professor of History and Director of the Centre for South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies at Tufts University, Massachusetts, United States of America.

 

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THE ENIGMATIC MR. JINNAH

As the nation celebrates Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s 141st birthday, we look back at a rare collection of photographs that attempt to reveal the various facets of his personality.

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After becoming the youngest ‘Indian’ student to be called to the Bar on April 29, 1896, at Lincoln’s Inn (London), Mr Jinnah moved to Bombay and began working as a lawyer. Within a few years, he became one of the leading lawyers in the subcontinent. 
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Mr Jinnah on the grounds of his Hampstead home in the early 1930s. He moved to London with his daughter Dina and sister Miss Fatima Jinnah after the Second Round Table Conference ended in failure. During the four years of this self-imposed exile, Mr Jinnah had a thriving practice as a Privy Council lawyer. In 1934, he returned to India to assume the presidency of the All-India Muslim League. 
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Mr Jinnah smiling broadly by his standards while standing next to his friend and political ally, Mohammad Amir Ahmed Khan, the Raja Sahib of Mehmoodabad. 
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 Mr Jinnah seen relaxing at the famous Cecil’s Hotel in Simla. 
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 Mr Jinnah and Miss Fatima Jinnah arrived in Karachi on August 7, 1947. A week later, Pakistan came into being after years of struggle on August 14, 1947.| Photo: PID.
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 Mr Jinnah seated next to his old-time friend, Pestonjee H. J. Rustomjee, in Bombay in the early 1900s. At the back is Pestonjee’s daughter, Homi. Incidentally, Pestonjee H. J. Rustomjee was the maternal uncle of Ardeshir Cowasjee, the esteemed Dawn columnist. 
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Mr Jinnah relaxing by a stream, donning a solar hat, in Mussoorie, a hill station. 
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 Mr Jinnah wearing, during a picnic, what was soon going to be termed the ‘Jinnah cap’. 
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 Mr Jinnah is about to record his response to Lord Mountbatten’s June 3 Plan about the partition of India into two dominions. 
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Mr Jinnah was welcomed by Khawaja Nazimuddin (left) when he arrived at the Governor-General House in Dhaka. This was Mr Jinnah’s first visit to East Pakistan as Governor-General, which turned out to be his last as well. 

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THE WIT AND HUMOUR OF THE QUAID BY HASSANALLY A. RAHMAN

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Elegantly dressed in a suit and wearing a hat, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah is seen relaxing on a bench during a visit to Simla. | Photo: PID 

 The following are excerpts from an article under the same headline that was published in Dawn on December 25, 1976, as part of a supplement marking the Quaid-i-Azam’s birth centenary.

All those who knew Quaid-i-Azam intimately, know very well that he did never crack a joke merely for the sake of raising a laugh. He was too self-controlling and disciplined a man to waste time on little things. One thing he valued most was, Time. Time, he knew, can never return. Shakespeare said: “Oh! Call back yesterday / bid time return”. But Quaid-i-Azam never had the need to do so. He used every minute of his life as carefully as he wanted to. Punctuality, keeping appointments and never wasting a moment was his second nature.

He was [once] arguing an appeal before the full bench of Bombay High Court. He argued the whole day. The working time was up to 5pm. The judges asked: “Mr. Jinnah, how much more time would you need to finish your side?” He replied: “My Lord, hardly 15 minutes.”

Then the senior judge [on the bench] said: “Could you continue for a few minutes longer today and finish your address?” Normally, when a High Court judge says so, no lawyer would decline. But not so with Mohammad Ali Jinnah. “My Lord, I would love to do so, but I have a very important appointment which I can just make in time if I leave the court at once.”

The junior-most judge sitting on the left side of the chief justice whispered to him to insist that the case be finished on the day. “That is all right, Mr. Jinnah. We also have an appointment, but we like to finish this today so that judgment can be delivered on Monday.” Out came the reply from this great lawyer, shooting like a gun: “My Lords, the difference between your Lordships and myself is that (raising his voice) I keep my appointments.”

The three judges, Englishmen, all went more red in their face than they already were. They all rose as if in a huff. Everybody got up and while the advocates bowed fully, the judges seemed only to nod. It was thought that the solicitor, who had instructed Jinnah, felt that this may affect the result of the case. The next morning the judges appeared in a very good mood.

Advocacy

Mr Jinnah was absolutely on the top of the profession. Therefore, naturally many lawyers tried their best to be allowed to work with Mohammad Ali Jinnah but very few could be taken. Mr. Frank Mores, then Editor of Indian Express, once wrote: “Watch him in the court room as he argues his case. Few lawyers can command a more attentive audience. No man is more adroit in presenting his case. If to achieve the maximum result with minimum effort is the hallmark of artistry, Mr. Jinnah is an artist in his craft. He likes to get down to the bare bones of his brief in stating the essentials of his case. His manner is masterly. The drab court rooms acquire an atmosphere as he speaks. Juniors crane their necks forward to follow every movement of his tall well-groomed figure. Senior counsel listen closely, the judge is all attention; such was the great status of this top lawyer.”

Once a very close friend whose request Mr. Jinnah could not decline came with his son who had just returned from England as a full-fledged barrister. He said: “Jinnah, please take my son in your chamber and make him a good lawyer.”

“Of course, yes,” said Jinnah. “He is welcomed to work in my chambers. I will teach him all I can. But I cannot transmit my brilliance to him”. Then slowly he added: “He must make his own brilliance.” This went into the heart of the young barrister and he worked so hard on the briefs and the law that one day he too became a great lawyer, but nowhere near the height of Mr. Jinnah.

People’s enthusiasm

It was around 1936-37 that Quaid-i-Azam came to Karachi and appeared before the Chief Court of Sind, as it then was, and appeared in a very important case and three lawyers of Karachi appeared against him. He had made a name as a lawyer long ago and in politics also he figured as a giant personality.

Consequently, the rush to the court room consisting of lawyers, students and politicians was so great that the court room was full to the brim. The entrance to the court room had to be closed to stop any noise, so that judicial work could be carried on with a decorum and dignity befitting the occasion. But at the end of every hour, the door was ordered to be opened so that those who wanted to go out or come in could do so. When the first opening of the door at 12 O’clock occurred, there was such a noise of rush that it appeared that the judges would lose their temper.

“My Lords,” said Jinnah in very sweet, melodious voice, “these are my admirers. Please do not mind. I hope you are not jealous.”

There was a beam of smile on the faces of judges and they appeared to be magnetically charmed by the words of the great persuasive man. The door remained opened and Quaid-i-Azam looked back on the crowd, raising his left hand indicating that he desired them to keep quiet. The atmosphere became absolute pin-drop silence as if by magic. The case proceeded for two days.

Quaid and students

The Quaid-i-Azam was fond of students. He loved them immensely. He always exhorted them to study hard. “Without education”, he said, “all is darkness. Seek the light of Education”. He was most attached to the Aligarh Muslim students. He used to visit the Aligarh University as often as he could. In fact, in his will, he left the entire residue of his property worth crores of rupees to be shared by the Aligarh University, Sind Madressah and Islamia College, Peshawar.

On one occasion at Aligarh after a hard day’s work of meeting people, addressing the students as he was sitting in a relaxed mood, he was told that one student, Mohammad Noman, was a very fine artist of mimicry. He could impersonate and talk or make a speech with all the mannerism of his subject. Quaid-i-Azam was told that this student could impersonate him to such a degree that if heard with closed eyes, Quaid-i-Azam will think that it was he himself who was speaking, and he will think as if he himself was talking to Quaid-i-Azam.

Quaid-i-Azam sent for the student at once. The student asked for 10 minutes’ time to prepare himself. After 10 minutes the student turned up dressed in dark gray Sherwani, a Jinnah cap and a monocle, like Quaid-i-Azam. Of course, he could not look like Quaid-i-Azam, but the appearance on the whole was somewhat similar.

Then the student put on his monocle and addressed an imaginary audience. The voice, the words, the gestures, the look on his face and everything appeared like Quaid-i-Azam. In fact, if he had spoken behind a screen without being seen, the audience would have taken him to be Quaid-i-Azam speaking himself. Quaid-i-Azam was very much pleased with the performance. But when it was finished, the culmination came unexpectedly. Quaid-i-Azam took off his own cap and monocle and presented to the student, saying: “Now this will make it absolutely authentic.”

Purdah

In November 1947, Quaid-i-Azam was in Lahore and he personally supervised operation of the rehabilitation of refugees. One-day Quaid-i-Azam was invited to a girls college. The girls and ladies of the staff did not observe purdah as he addressed them.

When back at Government House, Quaid-i-Azam was in a humorous mood and wanted to know why the ladies did not observe purdah. His sister, Miss Fatima Jinnah, said: “That was because they regarded you as an old man.”

“That is not a compliment to me,” said Quaid-i-Azam. Liaquat Ali Khan, who was present, said: “That was because they regarded you as a father”.

“Yes, that makes some sense.”

Man of character

Quaid-i-Azam was a man of such a strong character that he could not be easily attracted toward anyone, including women. Excepting his wife, there is no instance whatsoever of anyone at whom he glanced in love.

Once in Bombay, where he had gone to an English club to relax after hard day’s work, he played cards. The game was called Forfeit. It was played among four persons – two gentlemen and two ladies. Tradition required that the lady who lost the game must offer to be kissed by the gentlemen who won. The lady indeed was very attractive, and she offered Quaid-i-Azam to be kissed by him. Quaid-i-Azam said: “My lady, I waived my rights. I cannot kiss a lady unless I fall in love with her.”

Rose between thorns

On the 14th day of August 1947, Lord Mountbatten with his wife came to Karachi for the investiture ceremony of the Governor-General of Pakistan. After Quaid-i-Azam was sworn in, the new State of Pakistan was handed over to him legally, constitutionally and with proper ceremony.

Lord Mountbatten proposed that Quaid-i-Azam be photographed with Lord and Lady Mountbatten. Quaid took it for granted, that, as usual etiquette requires, the lady will stand between the gentlemen. So, he told Lady Mountbatten: “Now you will be photographed as the rose between the two thorns”. But Mountbatten insisted that Jinnah should stand in the middle. He said that being a Governor-General etiquette requires that Quaid-i-Azam should be in the centre. Naturally, Quaid-i-Azam yielded.

And when Quaid-i-Azam stood between the two, Mountbatten said to him: “Now you are the rose between two thorns.” He was right.

Whenever Quaid-i-Azam was cornered in a difficult situation, he proved greater than his opponent. His political enemies always wanted to publicise that Quaid-i-Azam was always with the Congress, but when the opportunity came he switched over to Muslim League.

In December 1940, Quaid-i-Azam visited London along with the Viceroy and Congress leaders. He furnished details about Pakistan issue and quoted facts and figures as to how the Congress had betrayed the trust of the Muslims. One correspondent said to him: “Oh, you were also in the Congress once.” Jinnah retorted: “Oh, my dear friend, at one time I was in a primary school as well!”

Trick countered

In 1946, political agitation both by Congress and Muslim League had reached its zenith. The British government, always master of the art of side-tracking the main issue, suggested to Jawaharlal Nehru that as very soon India will be handed over to them, so as a beginning some Hindus and some Muslims should be taken in the Interim Cabinet. Before that there was no such thing. The body which was functioning was the Viceroy’s Executive Council. But Jawaharlal Nehru insisted that it should be called a Cabinet. Example was shown that the Viceroy himself calls it a Cabinet.

Quaid-i-Azam refused to do so. He said the Cabinet is a constitutional body the members of which are selected from the members of Parliament by the leader of majority. Here, there is no such thing. It is purely an Executive Council and it cannot become a Cabinet merely because you call it a Cabinet. A donkey does not become an elephant because you call it an elephant.

Call for honesty

Gandhi always used to speak about his inner voice. He seemed to create an impression that there is something spiritual within him, which, in time of necessity, gives him guidance and he obeys it and calls it his inner voice. As a matter of fact, Gandhi often changed his opinion and suddenly took the opposite stand. Quaid-i-Azam called it a somersault.

Once having committed himself to a certain point of view, he took a dramatically opposite stance. On the next day, Gandhi maintained that his inner voice dictated him to take the opposite view. Quaid-i-Azam lost his temper and shouted:

“To hell with this Inner Voice. Why can’t he be honest and admit that he had made a mistake.”

In June 1947, partition was announced by Lord Mountbatten. He insisted on an immediate acceptance of the plan. Quaid-i-Azam said he was not competent to convey acceptance of his own accord and that he had to consult his Working Committee. The Viceroy said that if such was his attitude, the Congress would refuse acceptance and Muslim League would lose its Pakistan. Quaid-i-Azam shrugged his shoulders and said: “What must be, must be.”

In July 1948, Mr. M. A. H. Ispahani went to Ziarat where Quaid-i-Azam was seriously ill. He pleaded with Quaid-i-Azam that he should take complete rest as his life was most precious. Quaid-i-Azam smiled and said:

My boy there was a time when soon after partition and until 1948, I was worried whether Pakistan would survive. Many unexpected and terrible shocks were administered by India soon after we parted company with them. But we pulled through and nothing will ever worry us so much again. I have no worries now. Men may come, and men may go. But Pakistan is truly and firmly established and will go on with Allah’s grace forever”

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JINNAH IN THE EYES OF HIS COLLEAGUES

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Mr Jinnah was always aesthetically dressed whether he was wearing a traditional attire, a three-piece suit during his early years as a young lawyer in Bombay, even when caught unawares on camera during a contemplative moment wearing a white suit, or in an overcoat during the Simla Conference.

 Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan

Liaquat

Honesty without humbug – an honesty which even his severest critics have never called in question; an honesty which seeks no shelter in sanctimonious spiritual impedimenta; which abjures alike the halo and the high place, the beard and the bargain, the mystic voice and the money value – an unemotional shrewdness which strips facts down to their naked reality, but makes him pace the floor till the early hours of the morning examining and re-examining, weighing and valuing each detail of the decision upon which the very life or death of his people might depend – perseverance which recognises no obstacle as unsurmountable; intellectual acumen which can see the whole in detail and the detail as part of the whole – such is the man and statesman, the Quaid-i-Azam of ninety million Indian Muslims, the Disraeli of Indian politics – Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Haji Abdullah Haroon

Abdullah Haroon

Jinnah is the uncrowned king of Muslim India. In the Islamic world as a whole, he happens to be the greatest Muslim statesman of this age. In the matter of service to Islam his record is great and glorious. In the future history of Muslim India, he will figure as a great benefactor of Mussalmans. He created awakening among the Muslims of India and brought them under one banner at a most critical time in their history when they were about to meet with the same fate which had met the unfortunate Dravidians some centuries ago. He is the founder of a new India in which all nations can live happily together. May God give him long life.

Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman

Khaliquzzaman

Muslim India will be celebrating the birthday of the Quaid-i-Azam in a manner befitting the occasion; his name has become known to the Muslims of India and even beyond its borders to the Muslims of the world. His lifelong service to the community and devotion to the cause of Islam have rightly won him his unique position. In nationalist quarters he once occupied a respectable place but is now considered to be a separationist and a communalist of the worst order. Time alone will testify whether his politics of today is not in the interest of peace and goodwill of the communities in the future.

Qazi Muhammad Isa

Isa

Our beloved and esteemed Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah is at this most critical time in the history of the world moulding the destinies of ninety million Muslims, who live unitedly, as never before under the banner of the mighty Muslim organisation – the All-India Muslim League.

Our beloved Quaid-i-Azam at the 1940 Annual Session of the All-India Muslim league, held at Lahore, sounded a clarion call, and exhorted us all to gather under the banner of the League, and laid down in a clear and no uncertain manner the line of action which the Muslim Nation must take to ensure its honourable existence in India.

God has come to our rescue, and gifted us with a leader, great in trials, mature in his judgement, infinite in his affections for his fellow Muslims, and who stands like the premonitory, who not only stands four squares to all the waves of intrigues and hatred, but against whom all these waves are repelled.

Raja Sahib of Mehmoodabad

Mahmoodabad

He is our teacher, preceptor and guide – that is how we of the younger generation regard our great Quaid. He received our allegiance and, having received it, taught us what true and honest politics is; and has guided us on the right political path. He has steered our mind clear of pseudo-nationalism to a right perception of the implications of that patriotism for the Indian Muslim which, while not forgetting the true interests of the Motherland, holds fast to Islam; and above all he has, by making it his own by the clarity of his exposition and the irrefutability of his arguments, given an irresistible momentum to that life-giving movement – the movement for the creation of sovereign Muslim States in those parts of India where Islam pervades i.e. Eastern and North Western India. May he live long to see the consummation of this inspiring ideal.

Shah Nawaz Khan

Shah Nawaz Khan

I deem it a great pleasure to express my deep appreciation for the noble services rendered by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the cause of the upliftment of the Muslim masses. He commands the confidence of 90 million Indian Musalmans, who look to him for guidance and are ready to do anything which the Quaid-i-Azam orders them to do. His name is a watchword in every village and town of my province and I take the liberty to assert that no Muslim leader has, so far, commanded that much respect or confidence of the Muslim masses like the Quaid-i-Azam.

Sirdar M. Aurangzeb Khan

Aurangzeb

When Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar was being removed on a stretcher to the boat which was to take him to England for the First Round Table Conference, ardent disciples asked him as to who after him was to lead Muslim politics in India in the stormy times ahead. “Mr Jinnah and none else,” he prayerfully blurted out… “If great God puts it in Mr Jinnah’s head to take up the job.”

I may be permitted to at once connect Dr Iqbal’s last wish with the prayer of Muhammad Ali. In the annual meeting of Bazm-e-Iqbal last March when Mr Jinnah was presiding, Sir Abdul Qadir read a passage from a letter of Dr Iqbal to a friend (that friend during Doctor Saheb’s last illness wrote to him praying for his speedy recovery) and pray listen to the reply of the Poet of the East:

“My message has been duly delivered. My time is up. Instead of praying for me you should pray for the lives of Ataturk and Mr Jinnah who have yet to fulfil their missions.”

Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan

Sikandar Hyat

I associate myself whole-heartedly with the celebrations of the 64th birthday of Mr Jinnah. His unique services to the Mussalmans and to India entitle him to the respect and admiration of all patriotic Indians; and so far as the Muslims are concerned, his contribution, at this psychological moment, has deservedly earned him the title of Quaid-i-Azam. Even his worst critics cannot but recognise his great ability, integrity and sense of public duty. May he live long to complete the organisation of the Mussalmans, so that with the other elements in the country they may contribute their best in the building up of a new India wherein the best in the culture and life of each section may be fully safeguarded and effectively guaranteed, and no class or party tyranny may be permitted.

Khawaja Nazimuddin

Nazimuddin

I wish to begin with a frank confession. Not many years ago, the politics of Mr Jinnah did not quite appeal to me and I was inclined to be sceptical of the ideals which Mr Jinnah was holding up before the Muslims of India. It did not, however, take long for me, like many others, to realise that the lead which Mr Jinnah was giving in 1936 was the only correct lead in the circumstances rapidly developing in the country.

If today, 90 million Muslims now stand shoulder to shoulder in a solid phalanx under the banner of the All-India Muslim League, if machinations to reduce Muslims to the position of a perpetual and powerless minority depending for their very lives on the mercy of others have failed, the credit goes primarily to one man: Mohammad Ali Jinnah. This is no mean achievement.

Sir Cowasjee Jahangir

Cowasjee

If there is one characteristic, more than another, which distinguishes Mr Jinnah in public life, it is his sturdy independence. Nothing will sidetrack him from what he considers is the path of truth, righteousness and equity. No amount of opposition, no threats and no danger will daunt him, in his determination. He is a man full of courage and tenacity. He has never put self or his own interests before those of his country. Such men are rarely found in public life. He stands today not only as the acknowledged leader of the millions of his community but also as one of the foremost men in the public life of India. May Providence continue to give him health and strength to serve India in general and his great community in particular.

Nawab M. Ismail Khan

Ismail Khan

Mr. Jinnah’s sagacity, penetrating intellect, rapid grasp of the most intricate problems and luminous insight coupled with calmness of temper and complete personal disinterestedness have enabled him to rise to that unique and pre-eminent position among the Mussalmans of India, which no other Muslim leader in recent years, however great his services, and however high his personal quality, has held among his fellow Muslims.

For the past few years by organizing the Mussalmans politically under the banner of Muslim League, he has succeeded in infusing into them a spirit of self-reliance and self-respect, and has thus saved them from the doom which threatens every nation split up in small factions of warring political creeds and ideologies.

Sir Hormasji Pherozshah Modi

Pherozeshah

Mr. Jinnah has long been one of the dominant figures of our political life. His has been a chequered career, with many apparent contradictions, but throughout it certain fundamental characteristics have stood out. He is fearless and straightforward, seeks no popularity and is singularly free from political intrigue. He is a lone figure; very few have really known him or have penetrated the armour of his aloofness. An arresting personality – one may dislike or condemn, but cannot ignore him – his contribution to the political life of India has been outstanding. As one who has known Mr Jinnah for many years, I can wish him nothing better than that he may long continue to occupy the place he has created for himself.

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THE SOLE STATESMAN BY ARDESHIR COWASJEE

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Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Miss Fatima Jinnah (extreme left) arrive in Peshawar in 1948. | Photo: PID 

The following are excerpts from five columns by the writer published in Dawn on June 18, 2000, July 2, 2000, July 9, 2000, July 16, 2000 and December 25, 2011.

…Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a proud man, proud for good reason; by the overriding force of his indomitable will, and that alone, he carved out a country for us. Not following the form of his day, Jinnah did not go to jail for a single day, never embarked on a hunger strike, did not encourage rowdy protest marches, he abhorred any form of violence…

“Do your duty and have faith in God. There is no power on earth that can undo Pakistan.”’

This conviction was soon to be proved wrong. His buoyant optimism and his firm certitude in the future of this country clouded his perception of the calibre and character of the leaders who would immediately and later follow him. He failed to conceive that through their lack of ability, lack of integrity, their avarice, their unquenchable greed, their hunger for power, pomp, pelf and position, they would be the undoing of Pakistan.

He was the sole statesman this country has had. Those who followed were small men, narrow of thought… Within a quarter of a century, half of Jinnah’s Pakistan was lost… It is now an overpopulated, illiterate, bankrupt country…

When Jinnah addressed the first constituent assembly of the country on August 11th 1947, he embodied in his speech the core of his philosophy… his vision for the state he had founded. It was a fine piece of rhetoric; too fine, too moral, too democratic, too liberal, too full of justice, too idealistic for the Philistines. This speech…has been subject to distortion; it has inspired fear in successive governments which would have been far happier had it never been delivered…

On August 11th, 1947, before the flag of Pakistan had even been unfurled, Jinnah told his people and their future legislators:

“You are free, free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

That same day, he made it clear to the future legislators and administrators that “the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order...” He told them he would not tolerate the evils of bribery, corruption, black marketeering and “this great evil, the evil of nepotism and jobbery.”

Little did he know that day that these prime evils were to become prerequisites for the survival of the politicians in and out of uniform, and of the administrators of all ranks and grades for the maintenance of their power.

In a way, it was fortunate that Jinnah did not live long enough to see the negation of his principles… A man of high ideals – his disillusion would have been too great to bear…

No set of documents exists which spells out the “ideology of Pakistan”. Thus, every man… is entitled to his own conception of what this ideology is. However, it would be logical to assume that the ideology should rightly spring from what our sole statesman envisaged for the country he created…

There are many who hold that the Objectives Resolution, which came into being a mere six months after [his] death, is the embodiment of the “ideology”.

The Objectives Resolution, the text of which, in English and in Urdu, was embossed on brass plaques and once mounted in the hall of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, has been pronounced by successive democratic and other leaders to be a reminder to us all of the purpose of the creation of Pakistan… But it was not the true English text of the original Objectives Resolution which was sanctified. The plaque gave a modified version of this Resolution. The original stipulated that “adequate provision shall be made for the minorities freely to profess and practise their religions and develop their cultures.” On the plaque, in the English version, the word “freely” was deliberately omitted…

Those alive today who knew Mohammad Ali Jinnah… were well aware of what he wanted. He achieved his ambition and founded for us what he intended to be a democratic, forward-looking, modern, secular state…

In the last 53 years this country has changed its name and status three times. It started as a dominion, which it remained until 1956, when under the constitution promulgated that year, it became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. In 1962, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who had abrogated the 1956 Constitution, when he took over in 1958, promulgated his constitution and declared it to be simply the Republic of Pakistan. Then he became a politician… and by his First Constitutional Amendment Order of 1963, we again became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Now to a press conference held by Mohammad Ali Jinnah on July 14, 1947, in New Delhi. I quote relevant portions:

“Q. Could you as Governor General make a brief statement on the minorities’ problem?

  1. …I shall not depart from what I said repeatedly… Minorities to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded… There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship… They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or creed. They will have their rights and privileges and no doubt along with this goes the obligations of citizenship…
  2. Will Pakistan be a secular or theocratic state?
  3. You are asking me a question that is absurd. I do not know what a theocratic state means…”

Now to what Mohammad Ali Jinnah had to say on the future constitution of Pakistan, in his broadcast to the American people in February 1948:

“The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed… I do not know what the ultimate shape… is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam… Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. Islam has taught the equality of men, justice and fair play… In any case, Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission…”

For those who wish to interpret it [what Jinnah decreed for Pakistan] their own way, it conforms merely to narrow expedient government vision; and to the bigots and the intolerant who sadly make up the majority of the 180 million, it has been discarded or distorted into wishing what they wish it to mean.

His creed is nationally long gone. ‘Secular’ is almost a treasonous word, tolerance an equally treasonous practice, as bigotry is largely the order of the day. Jinnah’s Pakistan became virtually moribund on his death and received the final fatal blow in 1949 when his trusted lieutenants brought in the Objectives Resolution. From then on, it was a steady downhill dive to where this truncated country now finds itself – isolated and distrusted by much of the world which is concerned about its erratic policies and practices.

This story is the final part of a series of 16 special reports under the banner of ‘70 years of Pakistan and Dawn’. Visit the archive to read all reports.

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HBL has been an indelible part of the nation’s fabric since independence, enabling the dreams of millions of Pakistanis. At HBL, we salute the dreamers and dedicate the nation’s 70th anniversary to you. Jahan Khwab, Wahan HBL.

Mirza Nur-ud-din Baig Mohammad Khan Salim

  • Fourth Mughal Emperor known by his imperial name, Jahangir
  • 31 August 1569 – 28 October 1627,
  • Ruled from 1605 until his death in 1627.

Much romance has gathered around his name (Jahangir means ‘conqueror of the world’, and the tale of his relationship with the Mughal courtesan, Anarkali, has been widely adapted into the literature, art and cinema of India.

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Full Name: Mirza Nur-ud-din Baig Mohammad Khan Salim Jahangir

Reign: 3 November 1605 – 28 October 1627

Coronation: 24 November 1605

Predecessor: Akbar

Successor: Shahryar Mirza Shah Jahan

Born: Salim; 31 August 1569 at Fatehpur Sikri, Mughal Empire

Died: 28 October 1627 (aged 58) at Rajauri, Rajouri district, Kashmir, Mughal Empire, now Jammu and Kashmir, India
Burial Tomb: Lahore
Consort

  • Saliha Banu Begum
  • Nur Jahan

Wives

  • Manbhawati Bai
  • Jagat Gosaini
  • Sahib-i-Jamal Begum
  • Malika Jahan Begum
  • Nur-un-Nissa Begum
  • Khas Mahal Begum
  • Karamsi Bai
  • Other wives.
  • Issue
  • Khusrau Mirza
  • Parviz Mirza
  • Shah Jahan Shahryar Mirza
  • Jahandar Mirza
  • Sultan-un-Nissa Begum
  • Daulat-un-Nissa Begum
  • Bahar Banu Begum
  • Begum Sultan Begum
  • Iffat Banu Begum
  • House: Timurid
  • Father: Akbar
  • Mother: Mariam-uz-Zamani
    Religion: Sunni Islam

Jahangir was the eldest surviving son of Mughal Emperor Akbar. Impatient for power, he revolted in1599 while Akbar was engaged in the Deccan. He was defeated, but ultimately succeeded his father as Emperor in 1605 because of the
immense support and effort of his step-mothers:

  • Empress Ruqaiya Sultan Begum
  • Salima Sultan Begum
  • Hamida Banu Begum, his grandmother.

These women wielded considerable influence over Akbar and favoured Jahangir as his successor. The first year of Jahangir’s reign saw a rebellion organised by his eldest son Khusrau. The rebellion was soon put down; Khusrau was brought before his father in chains. After subduing and executing nearly 2000 members of the rebellion, Jahangir blinded his renegade son.

Jahangir built on his father’s foundations of administration and his reign was characterised by political stability, a strong economy and cultural achievements. The imperial frontiers continued to move forward—in Bengal, Mewar, Ahmadnagar
and the Deccan. Later during his rule, Jahangir was battling his rebellious son Khurram in Hindustan. The rebellion of Khurram absorbed Jahangir’s attention, so in the spring of 1623 he negotiated a diplomatic end to the conflict. Much of
India was politically pacified; Jahangir’s dealings with the Hindu rulers of Rajputana were particularly successful, and he settled the conflicts inherited from his father. The Hindu rulers all accepted Mughal supremacy and in return were given high ranks in the Mughal aristocracy.

Jahangir was fascinated with art, science and architecture. From a young age he showed a leaning towards painting and had an atelier of his own. His interest in portraiture led to much development in this art form. The art of Mughal
painting reached great heights under Jahangir’s reign. His interest in painting also served his scientific interests in nature. The painter Ustad Mansur became one of the best artists to document the animals and plants which Jahangir either encountered on his military exhibitions or received as donations from emissaries of other countries. Jahangir maintained a huge aviary and a large zoo, kept a record of every specimen and organised experiments.

Jahangir patronised the European and Persian arts. He promoted Persian culture throughout his empire. This was especially so during the period when he came under the influence of his Persian Empress, Nur Jahan and her relatives, who from 1611 had dominated Mughal politics. Amongst the most highly regarded Mughal architecture dating from Jahangir’s reign is the famous Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir. The world’s first seamless celestial globe was built by Mughal scientists under the patronage of Jahangir.

Jahangir was not without his vices. He set the precedent for sons rebelling against their emperor fathers and was much criticized for his addiction to alcohol, opium, and women. He was thought to allow his wife Nur Jahan too much power, and her continuous plotting at court is considered to have destabilized the empire in the final years of his rule. The situation developed into open crisis when Jahangir’s son, Khurram, fearing he would be excluded from the throne, rebelled in 1622. Jahangir’s forces chased Khurram and his troops from Fatehpur Sikri to the Deccan, to Bengal and back to the Deccan, until Khurram surrendered unconditionally in 1626. The rebellion and court intrigues that followed took a heavy toll on Jahangir’s health.
He died in 1627 and was succeeded by Khurram, who took the imperial throne of Hindustan as the Emperor Shah Jahan.

Early life

An aesthete, Jahangir decided to start his reign with a grand display of “justice”, as he saw it. To this end, he enacted Twelve Decrees that are remarkable for their liberalism and foresight. During his reign, there was a significant increase in the size of the Mughal Empire, half a dozen rebellions were crushed, prisoners of war were
released and the work of his father, Akbar, continued to flourish. Much like his father, Jahangir was dedicated to the expansion of Mughal held territory through conquest. During this regime he would target the peoples of Assam near the
eastern frontier and bring a series of territories controlled by independent rajas in the Himalayan foothills from Kashmir to Bengal. Jahangir would challenge the hegemonic claim over what became later Afghanistan by the Safavid rulers with an eye on Kabul, Peshawar and Kandahar, which were important centres of the central Asian trade system that northern India operated within.] In 1622, Jahangir sent his son Prince Khurram against the combined forces of Ahmednagar, Bijapur and Golconda. After his victory Khurram turned against his father and make a bid for power. As with the insurrection of his eldest son [Khusrau Mirza, Jahangir was able to defeat the challenge from within his family and retain power.

Jahangir promised to protect Islam and granted general amnesty to his opponents. He was also notable for his patronage of the arts, especially of painting. During his reign the distinctive style of Mughal painting expanded and blossomed. Jahangir supported a flourishing culture of court painters.

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Jahangir holding a portrait of his father Akbar

Furthermore, Jahangir preserved the Mughal tradition of a highly centralized form of government. Jahangir made the precepts of Sunni Islam the cornerstone of his state policies. A faithful Muslim, as evidenced by his memoirs, he expressed his gratitude to Allah for his many victories. Jahangir, as a devout Muslim, did not let his personal beliefs dictate his state policies. Sovereignty, according to Jahangir, was a “gift of God” not necessarily given to enforce God’s law but rather to “ensure the contentment of the world.” In civil cases, Islamic law applied to Muslims, Hindu law applied to Hindus, while criminal law was the same for both Muslims and Hindus. In matters like marriage and inheritance, both communities had their own laws that Jahangir respected. Thus Jahangir was able to deliver justice to people in accordance of their beliefs and also keep his hold on empire by unified criminal law.
In the Mughal state, therefore, defiance of imperial authority, whether coming from a prince or anyone else aspiring to political power, or a Muslim or a Hindu, was crushed in the name of law and order.

Foreign relations

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Shah Abbas I receiving Khan Alam, ambassador from Jahangir in 1617

In 1623, the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, sent his Tahwildar, Khan Alam, to Safavid Persia, accompanied by 800 Sepoys, scribes and scholars along with ten Howdahs well decorated in gold and silver, in order to negotiate peace with Abbas
I of Persia after a brief conflict in the region around Kandahar. Khan Alam soon returned with valuable gifts and groups of Mir Shikar(Hunt Masters) from both Safavid Persia and even the Khanates of Central Asia.
In 1626, Jahangir began to contemplate an alliance between the Ottomans, Mughals and Uzbeks against the Safavids, who had defeated the Mughals at Kandahar. He even wrote a letter to the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV. Jahangir’s ambition did not
materialise, however, due to his death in 1627.

Marriage

Salim was made a Mansabdar of ten thousand (Das-Hazari), the highest military rank of the empire, after the emperor. He independently commanded a regiment in the Kabul campaign of 1581, when he was barely twelve. His Mansab was raised
to Twelve Thousand, in 1585, at the time of his betrothal to his cousin Rajkumari Manbhawati Bai, daughter of Bhagwant Das of Amer. Bhagwant Das, was the son of Raja Bihari Mal and the brother of Akbar’s Hindu wife and Salim’s mother
Mariam-uz-Zamani.

The marriage with Manbhawati Bai took place on February 13, 1585. Jahangir named her Shah Begum, and gave birth to Khusrau Mirza. Thereafter, Salim married, in quick succession, a number of accomplished girls from the aristocratic Mughal and Rajput families. One of his early favourite wives was a Rajput Princess, Jagat Gosain Begum. Jahangir named her Taj Bibi Bilqis Makani and she gave birth to Prince Khurram, the future Shah Jahan, Jahangir’s successor to the throne.
On July 7, 1586 he married a daughter of Raja Rai Singh, Maharaja of Bikaner. In July 1586, he married Malika Shikar Begum, daughter of Sultan Abu Said Khan Jagatai, Sultan of Kashghar. In 1586, he married Sahib-i-Jamal Begum, daughter of Khwaja Hassan, of Herat, a cousin of Zain Khan Koka. In 1587, he married Malika Jahan Begum, daughter of Bhim Singh, Maharaja of Jaisalmer. He also married a daughter of Raja Darya Malbhas. In October 1590, he married Zohra Begum, daughter of Mirza Sanjar Hazara. In 1591, he married Karamnasi Begum, daughter of Raja Kesho Das Rathore, of Mertia. On January 11, 1592, he married Kanwal Rani, daughter of Ali Sher Khan, by his wife, Gul Khatun. In October 1592, he married a daughter of Husain Chak, of Kashmir. In January/March 1593, he married Nur un-nisa Begum, daughter of Ibrahim Husain Mirza, by his wife, Gulrukh Begum, daughter of Kamran Mirza. In September 1593, he married a daughter of Ali Khan Faruqi, Raja of Khandesh. He also married a daughter of Abdullah Khan Baluch. On June 28, 1596, he married Khas Mahal Begum, daughter of Zain Khan Koka, sometime Subadar of Kabul and Lahore. In 1608, he married Saliha Banu Begum, daughter of Qasim Khan, a senior member of the Imperial Household. On June 17, 1608, he married Koka Kumari Begum, eldest daughter of Jagat Singh, Yuvraj of Amber.
Jahangir married the extremely beautiful and intelligent Mehr-un-Nisaa (better known by her subsequent title of Nur Jahan) on May 25, 1611. She was the widow of Sher Afgan. Mehr-un-Nisaa became his indisputable chief consort and favourite wife immediately after their marriage. She was witty, intelligent and beautiful, which was what attracted Jahangir to her. Before being awarded the title of Nur Jahan(‘Light of the World’), she was called Nur Mahal(‘Light of the Palace’). Her abilities are said to range from fashion designing to hunting. There is also a myth that she had once killed four tigers with six bullets.

Nur Jahan

Mehr-Un-Nisa, or Nur Jahan, occupies an important place in the history of Jahangir. She was the widow of a rebel officer, Sher Afgan, whose actual name was Ali Quli Beg Ist’ajlu. He had earned the title “Sher Afgan” (Tiger tosser) from Emperor Akbar after throwing off a tiger that had leaped to attack Akbar on the top of an elephant in a royal hunt at Bengal and then stabbing the fallen tiger to death. Akbar was greatly affected by the bravery of the young Turkish bodyguard accompanying him and awarded him the captaincy of the Imperial Guard at Bengal. He was killed in rebellion, after learning of Jahangir’s orders to have him slain to possess his beautiful wife, as Jahangir yearned for her much earlier than her wedding. The governor of Bengal was instructed secretly by Jahangir in his quest and was also the emperor’s foster brother and Sheikh Salim’s grandson and was consequently slain by the guards of the Governor. The widowed Mehr-un-Nisa was brought to Agra along with her nine-year-old daughter and placed in—or refused to be placed in—the Royal harem in 1607. Jahangir married her in 1611 and gave her the title of Nur Jahan or “Light of the World“. It was rumoured that Jahangir had a hand in the death of her first husband, albeit there is no recorded evidence to prove that he was guilty of that crime; in fact most travellers’ reports say that he met her after her husband’s death.

The loss of Kandahar was due to Prince Khurram’s refusal to obey her orders. When the Persians besieged Kandahar, Nur Jahan was at the helm of affairs. She ordered Prince Khurram to march for Kandahar, but the latter refused to do so. There is no doubt that the refusal of the prince was due to her behaviour towards him, as she was favouring her son-in-law, Shahryar, at the expense of Khurram. Khurram suspected that in his absence, Shahryar might be given promotion and that he might die on the battlefield. This fear forced Khurram to rebel against his father rather than fight against the Persians, and thereby Kandahar was lost.

Under Jahangir, the empire continued to be a war state attuned to conquest and expansion. Jahangir’s most irksome foe was the Rana of Mewar, Amar Singh, who finally capitulated in 1613 to Khurram’s forces. In the northeast, the Mughals clashed with the Ahoms of Assam, whose guerilla tactics gave the Mughals a hard time. In Northern India, Jahangir’s forces under Khurram defeated their other principal adversary, the Raja of Kangra, in 1615; in the Deccan, his victories further consolidated the empire. But in 1620, Jahangir fell sick, and so ensued the familiar quest for power. Nur Jahan married her daughter to Shahryar, Jahangir’s youngest son from his other queen, in the hope of having a living male heir to the throne when Jahangir died.

Conquests
In the year 1594, Jahangir was dispatched by his father, the Mughal Emperor Akbar, alongside Abul Hasan Asaf Khan, also known as Mirza Jaafar Beg son of Mirza Ghias Beg Isfahani and brother of Nur Jehan, and Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak, to defeat the renegade Vir Singh Deo of Bundela and capture the city of Orchha, which was considered the centre of the revolt. Jahangir arrived with a force of 12,000 after many ferocious encounters and finally subdued the Bundela and ordered Vir Singh Deo to surrender. After tremendous casualties and the start of negotiations between the two, Vir Singh Deo handed over 5000 Bundela infantry and 1000 cavalry, but he feared Mughal retaliation and remained a fugitive until his death. The victorious Jahangir, only 16 years of age, ordered the completion of the Jahangir Mahal a famous Mughal citadel in Orchha to commemorate and honour his victory.

Jahangir then gathered his forces under the command of Ali Kuli Khan and fought Lakshmi Narayan of Koch Bihar. Lakshmi Narayan then accepted the Mughals as his suzerains he was given the title Nazir and later established a garrison at Atharokotha.

In 1613, the Portuguese seized the Mughal ship Rahimi, which had set out from Surat on its way with a large cargo of 100,000 rupees and Pilgrims, who were on their way to Mecca and Medina in order to attend the annual Hajj. The Rahimi was owned by Mariam-uz-Zamani, Jahangir’s mother. She was referred to as Queen mother of Hindustan during his reign. Rahimi was the largest Indian ship sailing in the Red Sea and was known to the Europeans as the “great pilgrimage ship”.
When the Portuguese officially refused to return the ship and the passengers, the outcry at the Mughal court was unusually severe. The outrage was compounded by the fact that the owner and the patron of the ship was none other than the revered mother of the current emperor. Jahangir himself was outraged and ordered the seizure of the Portuguese town Daman. He ordered the apprehension of all Portuguese within the Mughal Empire; he further confiscated churches that belonged to the Jesuits. This episode is considered to be an example of the struggle for wealth that would later ensue and lead to colonization of the Indian sub-continent.

Jahangir was responsible for ending a century long struggle with the state of Mewar. The campaign against the Rajputs was pushed so extensively that they were made to submit with great loss of life and property.
Jahangir posted Islam Khan I to subdue Musa Khan, an Afghan rebel in Bengal, in 1608. Jahangir also thought of capturing Kangra Fort, which Akbar had failed to do in 1615. Consequently, a siege was laid and the fort was taken in 1620, which ”
resulted in the submission of the Raja of Chamba who was the greatest of all the rajas in the region.” The district of Kistwar, in the state of Kashmir, was also conquered.

Death

Jahangir was trying to restore his health by visiting Kashmir and Kabul. He went from Kabul to Kashmir but decided to return to Lahore on account of a severe cold.
Jahangir died on the way back from Kashmir near Sarai Saadabad in 1627. To preserve his body, the entrails were removed and buried in the Baghsar Fort, Kashmir. The body was then transferred to Lahore to be buried in Shahdara Bagh, a suburb of Lahore, Punjab. He was succeeded by his third son, Prince Khurram, who took the title of Shah Jahan. Jahangir’s elegant mausoleum is located in the Shahdara locale of Lahore and is a popular tourist attraction.

Religion

Sir Thomas Roe was England’s first ambassador to the Mughal court. Relations with England turned tense in 1617 when Roe warned the Jahangir that if the young and charismatic Prince Shah Jahan, newly instated as the Subedar of Gujarat, had
turned the English out of the province, “then he must expect we would do our justice upon the seas”. Shah Jahan chose to seal an official Firman allowing the English to trade in Gujarat in the year 1618.

 

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Portrait of Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s invocation of a Dua prayer

Many contemporary chroniclers were not sure quite how to describe Jahangir’s personal belief structure. Roe labelled him an atheist, and although most others shied away from that term, they did not feel as though they could call him an orthodox Sunni. Roe believed Jahangir’s religion to be of his own making, “for he envies [the Prophet] Mohammed, and wisely sees no reason why he should not bee as great a prophet as he and therefore professed himself so… he hath found many disciples that flatter or follow him.” At this time, one of those disciples happened to be the current English ambassador, though his initiation into Jahangir’s inner circle was devoid of religious significance for Roe, as he did not understand the
full extent of what he was doing: Jahangir hung “a picture of him self set in gold hanging at a wire gold chain” round Roe’s neck. Roe thought it “an especial favour, for that all the great men that wear the Kings image (which none may do but to whom it is given) receive no other than a medal of gold as big as six pence.”
Had Roe intentionally converted, it would have caused quite a scandal in London. But since there was no intent, there was no resultant problem. Such disciples were an elite group of imperial servants, with one of them being promoted to Chief Justice. However, it is not clear that any of those who became disciples renounced their previous religion, so it is probable to see this as a way in which the emperor strengthened the bond between himself and his nobles. Despite Roe’s somewhat casual use of the term ‘atheist’, he could not quite put his finger on Jahangir’s real beliefs. Roe lamented that the emperor was either “the most impossible man in the world to be converted, or the most easy; for he loves to hear, and hath so little religion yet, that he can well abide to have any derided.”

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A well-decorated manuscript of the Quran, made during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir

This should not imply that the multi-confessional state appealed to all, or that all Muslims were happy with the situation in India. In a book written on statecraft for Jahangir, the author advised him to direct “all his energies to understanding the counsel of the sages and to comprehending the intimations of the ‘ulama.”
At the start of his regime many staunch Sunnis were hopeful, because he seemed less tolerant to other faiths than his father had been. At the time of his accession and the elimination of Abu’l Fazl, his father’s chief minister and architect of his eclectic religious stance, a powerful group of orthodox noblemen had gained increased power in the Mughal court. Jahangir did not always benevolently regard some Hindu customs and rituals. On visiting a Hindu temple, he found a statue of a man with a pig’s head (more than likely actually a boar’s head, a representation of Varaha), one of the idols in the Hindu religion, so he “ordered them to break that hideous form and throw it in the tank.” If the Tuzuk is reliable on this subject (and there is no reason to suspect that it is not), then this was an isolated case. J.F. Richards argues that “Jahangir seems to have been persistently hostile to popularly venerated religious figures”, which is debatable. A Muslim saint, Hazrat Mujadid Alif Sani Imam e Rabbani Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi Al-Farooqi, who had gained large number of followers through his spiritual preaching, was imprisoned in Gwalior Fort.

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A manuscript depicting the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and the SafavidShah Abbas I, and the qualities of Mughal-Safavid relations.

Most notorious was the execution of the Sikh Guru Arjan Dev Ji, whom Jahangir had got killed in prison. His lands were confiscated and his sons imprisoned as Jahangir suspected him of helping Khusrau’s rebellion. It is unclear whether Jahangir even understood what a Sikh was, referring to Guru Arjan as a Hindu, who had “captured many of the simple-hearted of the Hindus and even of the ignorant and foolish followers of Islam, by his ways and manners… for three or four generations (of spiritual successors) they had kept this shop warm.” The trigger for Guru Arjan’s execution was his support for Jahangir’s rebel son Khusrau Mirza, yet it is clear from Jahangir’s own memoirs that he disliked Guru Arjan before then: “many times it occurred to me to put a stop to this vain affair or bring him into the assembly of the people of Islam.”Muqarrab Khan sent to Jahangir “a European curtain (tapestry) the like of which in beauty no other work of the Frank [European] painters has ever been seen.” One of his audience halls was “adorned with European screens.” Christian themes attracted Jahangir, and even merited a mention in the Tuzuk. One of his slaves gave him a piece of ivory into which had been carved four scenes.

In the last scene “there is a tree, below which the figure of the revered (hazrat) Jesus is shown. One person has placed his head at Jesus’ feet, and an old man is conversing with Jesus and four others are standing by.” Though Jahangir believed it to be the work of the slave who presented it to him, Sayyid Ahmad and Henry Beveridge suggest that it was of European origin and possibly showed the Transfiguration. Wherever it came from, and whatever it represented, it was clear that a European style had come to influence Mughal art, otherwise the slave would not have claimed it as his own design, nor would he have been believed by Jahangir.

Art

Jahangir was fascinated with art and architecture. Jahangir himself is far from modest in his autobiography when he states his prowess at being able to determine the artist of any portrait by simply looking at a painting. He also preserved paintings of Emperor Akbar’s period. An excellent example of this is the painting of Musician Naubat Khan, son in law of legendary Tansen. It was the work of Ustad Mansur. As he said:
…my liking for painting and my practice in judging it have arrived at such point when any work is brought before me, either of deceased artists or of those of the present day, without the names being told me, I say on the spur of the moment that is the work of such and such a man. And if there be a picture containing many portraits and each face is the work of a different master, I can discover which face is the work of each of them. If any other person has put in the eye and eyebrow of a face, I can perceive whose work the original face is and who has painted the eye and eyebrow.

 

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Jahangir’s Jade hookah, National Museum, New Delhi

 

Jahangir took his connoisseurship of art very seriously. Paintings created under his reign were closely catalogued, dated and even signed, providing scholars with fairly accurate ideas as to when and in what context many of the pieces were created, in addition to their aesthetic qualities.
The Jesuits had brought with them various books, engravings, and paintings and, when they saw the delight Akbar held for them, sent for more and more of the same to be given to the Mughals, as they felt they were on the “verge of conversion”, a notion which proved to be very false. Instead, both Akbar and Jahangir studied this artwork very closely and replicated and adapted it, adopting much of the early iconographic features and later the pictorial realism for which Renaissance art was known. Jahangir was notable for his pride in the ability of his court painters. A classic example of this is described in Sir Thomas Roe’s diaries, in which the Emperor had his painters copy a European miniature several times creating a total of five miniatures. Jahangir then challenged Roe to pick out the original from the copies, a feat Sir Thomas Roe could not do, to the delight of Jahangir.

Jahangir was also revolutionary in his adaptation of European styles. A collection at the British Museum in London contains seventy-four drawings of Indian portraits dating from the time of Jahangir, including a portrait of the emperor himself.
These portraits are a unique example of art during Jahangir’s reign because before and for sometime after, faces were not drawn full, head-on and including the shoulders as well as the head as these drawings are.

 

Featured image: Jahangir with falcon on horseback

Through courtesy of Wikipedia.org

 

The Promise of Democracy

The Triumph of Populism 1971-1973
Like Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, before him, 24 years later, Bhutto, the Quaid-e-Awam, was building a new country.

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Wearing a Mao cap, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is seen in this undated file photo on the top sitting at a dhaba, a roadside eatery, giving seemingly complete access to the common man. It was forays like this that earned him the title of the Quaid-i-Awam – the leader of the people which, in many ways, he actually was. 

With the surrender of Pakistani troops on December 16, 1971, in Dhaka, Bangladesh came into being, and with that, the end of the Pakistan that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had originally created. It also resulted in the end of 13 years of military rule in what remained of the country. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was in New York at the time, flew in to Rawalpindi on December 20, and, with the assistance of a group of the military’s general officers who had been dismayed by Gen Yahya Khan and his core group over the defeat, forcing Yahya out, became the president of Pakistan as well as its only civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator.

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Maulana Kausar Niazi (extreme right) leading the prayers at a ceremony to mark the authentication of the Constitution on April 12, 1973. On the left is President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto standing beside Fazal Elahi Chaudhry, who at the time was the Speaker of the National Assembly and later became President of Pakistan on August 14, 1973, when Bhutto took oath of the office of the prime minister. | Photo: National Assembly Archives 

Within a matter of days, Bhutto began to put into effect his mandate of the people, based on his electoral manifesto which had won him a majority in the elections in West Pakistan a year earlier. While economic and social reform was a key plank of the Bhutto promise, what needed pressing attention, among numerous things, was the return of the 93,000, mostly military, prisoners of war (POWs) in India.
In 1971, Pakistan had lost not just East Pakistan, but half its navy, one-third of its army, and a quarter of its air force. India occupied 5,000 square miles of West Pakistani territory. The military stood humiliated after the surrender, and this was the first of only two opportunities (the other was in 2008) when elected leaders could have established long-lasting democratic rule in Pakistan.
Bhutto even initiated a judicial commission, under chief justice Hamoodur Rahman, “to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the atrocities and 1971 war”, including the “circumstances in which the Commander of the Eastern Military Command surrendered the Eastern contingent forces under his command who laid down their arms”.
Bhutto outdid himself when he met Indira Gandhi at Simla in July 1972 and got the better of her through his persuasive negotiating skills, and secured the release of Pakistani POWs (who came home in 1974), with India returning Pakistan’s territory, and both countries accepting the ceasefire line in Kashmir as the Line of Control. Bhutto returned a hero, yet again, to Pakistan, not just for the people, but also for sections of the military.
On a parallel track, Bhutto’s leftist economic team was implementing promises that had been made during the election campaign of 1970. With roti, kapra aur makaan the key slogans of Bhutto’s electoral commitment of his notion of Islamic Socialism and social justice, the manifesto of his Pakistan People’s Party had promised the nationalisation of all basic industries and financial institutions.
It had stated that “those means of production that are the generators of industrial advance or on which depend other industries must not be allowed to be vested in private hands; secondly, that all enterprises that constitute the infrastructure of the national economy must be in public ownership; thirdly, that institutions dealing with the medium of exchange, that is banking and insurance, must be nationalised”.

Economic Agenda

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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto addressing a gathering in this undated file photo in Karachi. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

The economic policies of the Bhutto government rested on the premise that the control of the leading enterprises was to be in the hands of the state. It ought to be pointed out that while this policy of nationalisation has been much maligned by critics of Bhutto, his policies were a reflection of the times and of the age in which they were implemented.
Since Bhutto’s rise to electoral success was based on his populist critique of Ayub Khan’s economic policies of functional inequality resulting in the infamous ‘22 families’, issues of redistribution, nationalisation and social-sector development were fundamental to his economic programme. Literally within days of taking over power, in January 1972, Bhutto had nationalised 30 major firms in 10 key industries in the large-scale manufacturing sector, essentially in the capital and intermediate goods industry.
In March 1972, his government had nationalised insurance companies, and banks were to follow in 1974, as were other industrial concerns in 1976. In addition to nationalisation, extensive labour reforms were also initiated by the Bhutto government, giving labour far greater rights than they had had in the past.
With the need to break the industrial-financial nexus a pillar of Bhutto’s populist social agenda, in a country which at that time was predominantly rural and agricultural, the ownership of land determined economic, social and political power. Bhutto had promised to break the hold of the feudals (notwithstanding the fact that he himself owned much land) and undertook extensive land reforms in March 1972.
In a speech, he said his land reforms would “effectively break up the iniquitous concentrations of landed wealth, reduce income disparities, increase production, reduce unemployment, streamline the administration of land revenue and agricultural taxation, and truly lay down the foundations of a relationship of honour and mutual benefit between the landowner and tenant”.
The PPP manifesto laid the premise for this action by stating that “the breakup of the large estates to destroy the feudal landowners is a national necessity that will have to be carried through by practical measures”. The government had decided that the land resumed from landowners would not receive any compensation unlike the Ayub Khan reforms of 1959, and this land was to be distributed free to landless tenants. The ceilings for owning land were also cut from 500 acres of irrigated land to 150 acres in 1972.
Although a lot of propaganda was churned out about the success of the 1972 reforms, the resumed land was far less than was the case in 1959, and only one per cent of the landless tenants and small owners benefited from these measures. Nevertheless, like labour reforms, tenancy reforms for agricultural workers and for landless labour did give those cultivating land far greater usufruct and legal rights to the land than they previously had.
Along with these structural interventions in the economy which changed ownership patterns and property rights, an ambitious social-sector programme, consisting, among other things, of the nationalisation of schools and initiating a people’s health scheme providing free healthcare to all, was also initiated.
However, while economic and social reform was a key plank of the Bhutto promise and his energies were also consumed by the process of getting the POWs released, giving Pakistan its first democratic constitution was also high on his agenda.

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A meeting of the main opposition United Democratic Front at the Intercontinental Hotel in Rawalpindi ahead of the passage of the Constitution in 1973. Seen from left to right are: Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani, Sardar Sherbaz Mazari, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Syed Shah Mardan Shah Pir Pagaro, Maulana Mufti Mehmood, Professor Ghafoor Ahmed, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, Ahmed Raza Kasuri and Khan Abdul Wali Khan. | Photo: Sherbaz Mazari Archives 

Although 125 of the 135 members of the National Assembly voted for Pakistan’s Constitution on April 10, 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is given, and deservedly so, credit for making a large, discordant group of nationalists and Islamists to agree to the draft.
To get leaders like Wali Khan, who was the parliamentary leader of the opposition, Mir Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo, the sardars of Balochistan, Mufti Mahmud, and Mian Tufail, who had replaced Maulana Maudoodi as the Jamaat-e-Islami Amir, to build a consensus on a document that would determine Pakistan’s democratic trajectory was a major feat.

The Constitution came into effect on August 14, 1973, setting out a parliamentary form of government, with Bhutto as Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister. Since Bhutto ruled the Punjab and Sindh, he had made concessions to the nationalists in order to make them agree to his terms. Ayesha Jalal quotes Bhutto as saying that while Wali Khan “vehemently opposed” the Constitution, he skilfully manoeuvred the Khan and “smashed him into becoming a Pakistani”.

A key clause in the 1973 Constitution required members of the armed forces to take an oath promising not to take part in political activities and making it illegal for the military to intervene in politics. Clearly, the military did not read or care for the Constitution either in 1977 or in 1999.

Nationalists and Military

While the PPP had its governments in the Punjab and Sindh, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan were ruled by coalition governments formed by the National Awami Party (NAP) and the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) which gave a voice to Baloch and Pashtun nationalisms of the 1970s variety.
In February 1973, weapons were found in the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad that were supposedly meant for armed insurrection by the nationalists in Balochistan. On February 14, Sardar Attaullah Khan Mengal’s government in Balochistan was dismissed, and the next day, the NAP-JUI government in the NWFP resigned, while Bhutto’s governor in Balochistan, Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti, resigned in October 1973 as a political crisis emerged and grew stronger by the day.
Many of the sardars and their tribesmen had started a militant movement for a Greater Balochistan, joined in by many Cambridge-educated scions of elite households, largely from the Punjab. Bhutto called in the military, with General Tikka Khan, dubbed by many as the ‘butcher of East Pakistan’, to curb the armed uprising and for Tikka Khan to add another accolade to his titles, that of the ‘butcher of Balochistan’.
So soon after having lost political and public support, once again, a constitutional crisis slowly brought in the military into a position of increasing prestige and prominence. The lessons of just a few years ago, of giving nationalists their rights and accepting electoral outcomes, were once again being brushed aside by the same democratically-elected leader, and, indeed, by the military.

Early Signs of Authoritarianism

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A rare photograph of the Bhutto Family in its prime. Seen from left to right are Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto (looking leftwards), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shahnawaz Bhutto. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

As his rule progressed, we see clear signs of hubris and authoritarianism emerging in the political practices of Bhutto, but there were early signs which may have suggested what was to come, with Shuja Nawaz and many other authors seeing the rise of an eventual “civilian dictatorship”. One example of this was the decision to set up the Federal Security Force (FSF), a paramilitary organisation, so as not to rely on the military, as early as September 1972. The FSF, whose head later became a state witness in the infamous Bhutto trial, was once seen as ‘Bhutto’s private military arm’.
Furthermore, it is ironic that while Bhutto was a social democrat, giving numerous rights and powers to the downtrodden, to the labourers and to the peasants and landless workers, he also used the power of the state to undermine the force of the street, particularly in Karachi. In the summer of 1972, organised trade unions in Karachi took to the streets and initiated industrial action in the form of strikes, but were met by a brutal police force resulting in the death of a number of workers. Organised labour, which had supported Bhutto’s rise, was dealt a harsh blow about the reality of incumbent politics.

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Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was as comfortable, if not more, in the company of foreign dignitaries as he was with the masses at home. He is seen here in Washington DC with United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (left) during a visit in February 1975. Seen in the middle is Begum Nusrat Bhutto. 

Like Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, before him, 24 years later, Bhutto, the Quaid-e-Awam, was building a new country. Both had dismissed provincial governments and showed signs of an incipient authoritarianism and desire for centralisation and control. We do not know what Jinnah would have done had he lived, but Bhutto’s democratic and socialist credentials were soon to come undone.
Arrogance and clear signs of intolerance of dissent were emerging in the Pakistan of 1972-73. Many of the promises made in the late 1960s and the early 1970s by Bhutto were to be played out between 1974 and 1977, setting a stage for Bhutto’s regional and global aspirations and ambitions.
However, perhaps it was the same ambition and confidence that had led him to an electoral victory in 1970 which was to become a cause for his eventual downfall in 1977, and then death in 1979. He had also made far too many enemies along the way, and many of them were just waiting for their opportunity to settle scores. Between 1974 and 1977, Bhutto was to give them many such opportunities.

The promise of democracy by S. Akbar Zaidi. The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and teaches at Columbia University in New York and at the IBA in Karachi.

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Elections and Massacre

The Breakup of Pakistan 1969-1971

 

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The haunting tell-tale image on the top is symbolic of the plight of those who had survived the trauma of the 1971 war, which had led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. She was captured through the lens of acclaimed Indian photographer Raghu Rai who had accompanied the Indian forces to Dhaka during the war. Raghu Rai has gifted his photographs to Dawn for this Special Report.

In her book, The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics, Ayesha Jalal writes about Gen Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, who imposed martial law after replacing Gen Ayub Khan in March 1969 as president of Pakistan when the latter was forced out by street protests, that Yahya was a “boisterous fellow and determined drunkard [and] had a penchant for cavorting with abandon”. Perhaps many would still remember Yahya for what Jalal calls his “nocturnal activities”, since they “were the talk of the nation”, and ‘General Rani’ became part of what she calls “elite gossip”.

However, it is more probable that today Yahya Khan is remembered for two extraordinary developments that took place under his watch: the elections of 1970, and the subsequent massacre in East Pakistan, leading to the separation of the latter and the creation of Bangladesh. He played a key role in both events. Of course, Yahya, even if indeed he was perpetually inebriated, was not the lone player in what happened in 1970-71. Two other actors, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, played critical roles as well.

It was the numerous contradictions which emerged from the Decade of Development’s capitalist logic under an authoritarian military state which gave rise to the regional, social, economic and political discontent of the late 1960s, forcing Ayub Khan’s resignation in Pakistan’s first popular uprising.

In West Pakistan, while it was Baloch and Pakhtun nationalists who were demanding the end of the One Unit, it was Bhutto who led students, the working classes and sections of the newly emerging middle classes against Ayub. While some scholars have read too much into the Bhutto agitation, stating that Pakistan was on the verge of a socialist revolution, his not being Punjabi and having already publicly parted ways with Ayub after Tashkent in 1966, saw Bhutto emerge as the dominant voice in West Pakistan opposing military authoritarianism of which he was once a part.

In East Pakistan, even though Maulana Bhashani spoke for the peasants of the province, it was Sheikh Mujib, who, after raising his Six-Point Programme in 1966 for democracy and greater provincial autonomy, and who was implicated (but later released) in the Agartala Conspiracy Case in 1968, was fast emerging as the main voice of East Pakistani/Bengali nationalism when Ayub was forced out.

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Sheikh Mujibur Rahman making his way through a sea of supporters in Lahore while he was still a Pakistani. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives 

 

 It is important to state that while some Bengali voices were challenging the unity of Pakistan, Mujib, at this political juncture, was still in favour of a united, democratic, federal Pakistan, despite the growing realisation in the eastern wing that East Pakistan had by now become a mere colony of West Pakistan.

Under these circumstances, led by charismatic and populist leaders who had sat through 11 years of military rule, Yahya Khan announced elections for October 1970, doing away with the One Unit, giving the majority province on the basis of its population 162 seats in a parliament of 300.

Yahya had imposed martial law when he took over from Ayub, and the military and bureaucracy were busy influencing political parties and elements that were eager to test their popularity. Historians examining Yahya’s decision have argued that it was based on reports by military intelligence which stated that no single party would win a majority in parliament, and, with a hung parliament, real power would still reside with the military-bureaucracy oligarchy.

Due to monsoon rains in East Bengal, the government postponed the elections by two months. The polls were announced for Dec 7. However, a devastating cyclone in November 1970 in East Pakistan, which claimed the lives of close to 200,000 people, sealed the fate of the elections and, in retrospect it seems, of Pakistan. East Pakistanis were appalled at the response of the predominantly Punjabi-Muhajir military-bureaucratic administration in dealing with this crisis, and East Pakistani politicians, with just a few weeks to go for Pakistan’s first elections, were eager to point out how irrelevant Pakistani Bengalis had become to the ruling West Pakistan clique.

Academics studying the process of democratisation in Pakistan have argued that one of the many reasons why elections were never held in Pakistan was the fear of the Punjabi-Muhajir elites, and of their military-bureaucratic alliance, that with East Pakistan’s majority population universal franchise would always result in a majority of seats from East Pakistan.

The 1970 election results went further in confirming these fears. Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League won 160 of the 162 seats in East Pakistan, giving it a majority in united Pakistan’s parliament. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party won 81 seats out of 138 in West Pakistan, becoming the majority party in West Pakistan, mainly from Sindh and Punjab. The critical outcome from the 1970 elections was that neither of the two largest parties won a single seat in the other wing. Electorally, Pakistan stood divided.

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A grim Yahya Khan at a function during his dictatorship that lasted from March 25, 1969, to December 20, 1971. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives 

While the military’s Operation Searchlight in East Pakistan started in March 1971, the short period following the elections until the brutal military operations, clearly showed how the egos of a handful of West Pakistani politicians played out and were matched with the incompetence and unwillingness of the military leadership in understanding and addressing political issues.

United Pakistan just might have been saved in these few weeks had the Punjabi-Muhajir military-bureaucratic leadership allowed the results of the 1970 elections to be honoured. But this would have gone against their very own genius and their core material interests. Moreover, there was one particular popular democrat who refused to acknowledge the democratic mandate which did not entirely suit him.

Soon after the election results, there was talk of having two prime ministers for Pakistan, with Bhutto apparently having agreed. Yahya, on the other hand, on a visit to Dhaka, called Mujib the “future prime minister of Pakistan”. On his return to West Pakistan from Dhaka, Yahya flew to Larkana to meet Bhutto, who advised Yahya not to give control of the National Assembly, and, hence, of Pakistan, to Mujib. Bhutto flew to Dhaka to meet Mujib, but talks had clearly failed between the two.

Shuja Nawaz in his Crossed Swords writes that there were many senior generals who were willing to “back Bhutto”. Clearly, the electoral winner in West Pakistan and the generals were not willing to honour the election results and a major political and constitutional crisis was at hand.

Bhutto famously remarked that “a majority alone does not count” (ironically, words which would haunt his daughter in 1988), and further made one of his many famous statements, threatening to break the legs of any West Pakistani elected representative who proceeded to Dhaka — “tangain tore doon ga” — to participate in the National Assembly session called by Yahya on March 3, 1971. It was Bhutto, again, who later uttered words that led to one journalist coining the famed headline: ‘udhar tum, idhar hum’.

After repeated failed attempts to call the National Assembly meeting and with talks completely having broken down, Operation Searchlight was launched by the military on March 25, 1971, under Gen Tikka Khan, with both Yahya and Bhutto still in Dhaka.

There has been a great deal written by Pakistani military men and historians, as well as by Indian and Bangladeshi academics and scholars, on what happened in East Pakistan between March 25 and Dec 16, 1971. While versions may vary, as do number counts — of casualties, massacres and rapes — there is broad consensus, especially among Pakistani authors, that the scale and nature of atrocities conducted by the military was on a horrific scale.

A Pakistani journalist who worked for the Morning News in Karachi, Anthony Mascarenhas, wrote for the London Sunday Times on June 13, 1971, an article simply entitled ‘Genocide’, which revealed to the world the atrocities committed in East Pakistan.

Yet, while George Harrison of the Beatles organised a concert for Bangladesh, the US and other world powers, turned a blind eye to what was happening in East Pakistan. As the massacre took place in East Pakistan, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon did “nothing, intentionally”, as documented in Gary Bass’ book, The Blood Telegram, based partly on a telegram sent by Archer Blood, the then US consul general in Dhaka, who warned of what was happening.

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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at one of the several United Nations Security Council meetings ahead of the fall of Dhaka. | The Directorate of Electronic Media and Publications [DEMP], Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad & Karachi. 

 The Americans at the time were courting Mao’s China and Pakistan mattered to them, for it was the conduit for what later became known as ‘ping-pong’ diplomacy. China, too, kept out of Pakistan’s “internal affairs”.

Military action in East Pakistan continued from March to early December, with a Bangladesh government-in-exile based in Kolkata (Calcutta at the time). A pretty large number of non-Bengalis, mainly Biharis, were also killed by those who were part of the Mukti Bahini fighting their war of independence, and hundreds of thousands of East Pakistanis fled across the border into India.

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Millions of refugees fled East Bengal with bare belongings in search of safety. | Photo: Raghu Rai.

Eventually, India launched a military attack on East Pakistan in November, with (West) Pakistan attacking Indian territory on Dec 3. Despite the fact that West Pakistanis were told as late as Dec 14 and 15 that they were winning the war, on Dec 16, 1971, Gen A.A.K. ‘Tiger’ Niazi, GOC, East Pakistan, surrendered to the Indian troops led by Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora in Dhaka. East Pakistan had now formally become Bangladesh. Not just had there been yet another partition in the Indian subcontinent, but Jinnah’s ‘two-nation theory’ had also come undone.

Shuja Nawaz writes that it was a corrupt military’s “wishful thinking”, a military which had become used to the “culture of entitlement”, “clouded by blissful ignorance and liberal doses of alcohol” which led to Pakistan’s debacle, but it is evident that there were at least three clear stages of events leading up to the eventuality of Dec 16, 1971.

By not acknowledging the wishes of the electorate, Bhutto and his backers in the military created a crisis which the military then dealt with in the only way it knew how. Elite interests in West Pakistan were unwilling to give democracy and the people their mandate. While West Pakistani politicians are responsible for the constitutional failure, it was only the military leadership which was responsible for the massacres that took place in East Pakistan.

Sadly though, not many West Pakistani intellectuals or political leaders protested and opposed military action in East Pakistan. Their silence makes them complicit in the killings. India helped East Pakistan become Bangladesh in the last few months of 1971, but was not responsible for the conditions between 1947 and 1970 which led to the breakup of Pakistan. External forces can only build on local fissures and take advantage of conditions created domestically, and India did just that.

Since 1971, one has heard of the great saneha of East Pakistan, yet perhaps lessons are still left unlearned. While the separation of East Pakistan brought about democracy in the truncated Pakistan which survived, events in 1972 and 1973, once again, and despite a democratic dispensation, brought to the fold issues of greater centralisation against so-called regionalism and provincialism, with little accountability and retribution of those who were responsible for the breakup of Pakistan.

Elections and massacre by S. Akbar Zaidi. The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and teaches at Columbia University in New York and at the IBA in Karachi.

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HBL has been an indelible part of the nation’s fabric since independence, enabling the dreams of millions of Pakistanis. At HBL, we salute the dreamers and dedicate the nation’s 70th anniversary to you. Jahan Khwab, Wahan HBL