The partition idea was accompanied by a clearer and sharper elucidation of the nature of Muslim separatism. Mr Jinnah declared that the Muslims of the sub-continent by virtue of their culture and civilisation, their history and traditions, their art and architecture, their laws and enactments, their moral code and social norms, a separate nation entitled to all the privileges that such a group could claim. I am unable to quote the exact words he used, but the precision of his definition, the comprehensiveness of his phrases, his incisive diction, and the air of authority with which he spoke still ring in my ears.
This definition served many purposes. The most useful service it performed was to force us to reappraise realities and to acknowledge what had always been staring us in the face, while we had been literally beating about the bush. What other definition could have so clarified the nature of the political problem in India? Yet it must be emphasised over and over again that the definition was not original. Over seventy-five years ago Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had said the same thing. The Hindu writers and thinkers had asserted the same truth repeatedly. Turn to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, the Bengali novelist, or to R.C. Majumder, the Bengali historian, and you would have the same eloquent exposition of Hindu-Muslim differences. About a thousand years ago, Alberuni, the great Muslim scholar, had been struck by the same fact.
When discussing the question intellectually, Hindu scholars could seldom avoid facing the truth. They acknowledged that even in areas whether Hindus and Muslims shared the same language, as in Bengal or the V.P., their social life, religious institutions, personal laws, dietary habits and even dress differed so markedly as to destroy the basis of the thesis that they could live together harmoniously as a muted political organism. The differences originated in religion but as such Western writers as Ian Stephens have acknowledged, their ramifications were so extensive that the term religion as understood in modern Europe and America conveyed no idea of their nature. The Westerner has no comprehension of the caste system. Its rigid orthodoxy, the xenophobia which it expresses and strengthens, its exclusiveness, its inhumanity pass a European's understanding. He would not understand why beef-eating should lead to riots; he would not realise why one human being should feel ceremonially polluted by being thrown into accidental physical contact with another.
Yet the trouble was that the same Hindus who admitted intellectually that Hindu-Muslim differences were vital and far-reaching, would not concede that logic demanded that those two peoples should not be forcibly encased in a single political framework. Politically, they insisted Hindus and Muslims were one nation. Culturally, they recognised, they were not. But they planned so to reconstruct the cultural edifice as to exclude from it elements which were not Hindu in origin. Urdu, a symbol of Hindu-Muslim cultural syncretism, was not acceptable to them; it had to give way to Hindi in Devanagri characters. Even Nehru and Sapru, whose mother tongue was Urdu, gradually retreated in the face of growing Hindu chauvinism. Gandhi suggested a dishonest compromise: Hindustani in both Urdu and Devanagri scripts. The point at issue was whether a language, developed through Hindu-Muslims cooperation, drawing for its vocabulary, syntax and grammar upon Persian, Hindi and Sanskrit, could at all be accepted as India's common language. The answer the Hindus gave was a plain negative. I suppose they had a right to reject Urdu if they did not like it. But the unresolved question which the Congress never faced honestly and frankly was how in the face of this total repudiation of whatever smacked of Muslim influence, the Muslims could have the assurance that their cultural identity would be preserved.
Perhaps they didn't want the identity of the Muslims to be preserved. Could there be any doubt about it? If the most liberal Hindus like Nehru and Sapru displayed mental reservations about the necessity of safeguards about Muslim culture and in spite of their knowledge of history, spoke of an Indian, meaning Hindu culture, what could one expect from ordinary, less sophisticated Hindus?
It was this realisation, daily reinforced by news from Muslim minority provinces, that led us to rally round the League and respond unanimously to the demand for partition.
But am I right in using the expression ‘unanimously’? Perhaps not. For a section of opinion, represented by the so-called nationalist Muslims and such religious organisations as the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind, still adhere to the view that political separatism was a barren, dangerous creed. In the face of the oppression practised by Congress governments, their voices grew increasingly feebler; they sounded less and less logical. But they persisted till the end in maintaining that the League’s two-nation theory was untenable.
As the Second World War became more intensified, and the fortunes of the parties began to alter dramatically, the political climate in India registered changes. The Congress ministers had resigned in a huff in 1939 on the plea that the Viceroy had dragged India into war without consulting her public leaders, but till 1942 they maintained an attitude of 'wait and see'. After Japan entered the lists against the allies, and when it seemed that they were about to be defeated, Mr Gandhi proclaimed his doctrine of ‘Quit India’. His policy was to strike at Britain when she was weakest, an understandable tactic in an Indian nationalist, but the moral hypocrisy with which he sought to mask his opportunism appeared nauseating to me. The same man had said in 1939 that the thought of ancient institutions like the Houses of Parliament being destroyed by German bombs was unendurable to him. He had also regretted the idea of political blackmail. But what was ‘Quit India’ but blackmail of the worst kind? Why could not Mr Gandhi have been more honest? Mr Subhas Bose who joined the Japanese and organised the Indian prisoners of war into an army of collaborators showed himself from this point of view far more consistent. He had always been of the view that Britain’s difficulties must be put to political use. Mr Gandhi's hypocrisy on the issue was typical of the man and provides an illuminating insight into the workings of Congress policy.
The ‘Quit India’ movement led to a crystallisation of political loyalties among students. The Hindus in a body in compliance with the Congress directive started abstaining from classes. We, on the other hand, felt that to let the University be paralysed in this manner was to enable the Congress to score an important point. We decided to keep the classes going, compelling Hindu teachers, by our presence in class rooms, to mind their work. They did not have the courage to ask us to join the boycott; but we knew that they came to the lectures most reluctantly.
About this time a group of Muslim students, among whom the most prominent was Nazir Ahmad of Noakhali, founded a fortnightly Bengali Organ of their own called Pakistan. It was a bold venture. The resources at the disposal of the founders were small, but their enthusiasm and idealism made up for what was lacking financially. Mr Mazharul Huq, the young lecturer in Economics whose name I have mentioned before, agreed to act as Editor. I do not remember at what stage I was brought in, but I soon found myself writing editorials for it. Nazir Ahmad said he liked my impersonal style. Mr Jasimuddin, the poet, Mr Abdur Razzaq of the department of political Science, Mr Ali Ahsan--¬they were all persuaded to contribute. Mr Abdur Razzaq was no writer; I do not think that in all the three or four years that the paper lasted he wrote more than two or three articles. Mr Jasimuddin used to contribute poems. Mr Ali Ahsan wrote literary articles occasionally; he was incapable of writing coherently on political subjects. Nazir Ahmad wrote a great deal, mainly under a pseudonym in satirical vein. It was on Mr Mazharul Huq and myself as regular contributors that the burden of providing sufficient copy for each issue fell.
I had some previous experience of journalistic writing, but mostly in English. Writing for ‘Pakistan’ was a different proposition. One had to think clearly of political issues and the method of resolving them in order to be able to say anything effective. This was amateur journalism guided by idealism. But clearly the experience seemed to us emotionally satisfying. We were serving a great impersonal cause, a cause to which unhesitatingly we could devote ourselves without any risk of being accused of egotism, and this sense of unselfish service carried us forward.
To strengthen the Pakistan movement further, some of us founded a literary organisation called the East Pakistan Literary Society. A similar society called the East Pakistan Renaissance Society had been formed earlier in Calcutta with Mr Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, editor of the Azad, as President. Ours had the same aims and objects, but we did not want to be relegated to a subordinate role by calling ourselves a branch of the Calcutta organisation and launched our Literary Society as an independent body. These two organisations were however to co-operate and collaborate in their activities. I was asked to act as President of the Dacca Society; its General Secretary was Mr Ali Ahsan.
Our aim was to bring about a reawakening among Muslim writers and to inspire them to write consciously about their own life instead of copying Hindu authors. We also held that the idiom spoken by Bengali Muslims was in substantial respects different from the idiom used by the Hindus, and we wanted this to be the basis of our literature. We said copying the language and imagery of the Hindus imposed on the Muslims restraints which fettered their self-expression. These points we put forward in our manifesto.
In January 1943, we organised a Conference at the Salimullah Muslim Hall. It proved a great draw. Men and young students came to it from as far away as Mymensingh. Presided over by Mr Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, editor of the Azad, this literary gathering helped us in the crystallisation of the views that had been fermenting in our minds. In the address which I read I drew an analogy between our movement and the Irish Literary Revival of the eighteen nineties. I said that men like Yeats and Synge had without repudiating the general inheritance of the English language asserted the right to use Irish mythology and folklore and even the idiom spoken in Ireland in their writings and had produced works whose literary value the world recognised. Our aim, I pointed out, was the same: not to reject the traditions of the Bengali language but to encourage Muslim writers to use their own idiom and to draw upon their own history.
The discussions and papers received much publicity in the Azad. The Pakistan movement in Bengal now assumed the proportions of a truly national movement---embracing the political as well as cultural aspects of the Muslim nation's life. We felt elated.
Soon afterwards, a grim tragedy struck, a reminder that there were many hurdles to cross. Nazir Ahmad was stabbed to death by a Hindu on the University premises on 2nd February 1943.
There could be no doubt that this was no accidental killing, but a carefully planned assassination designed to deal a crippling blow at the Pakistan movement in the University.
The chain of events leading up to the assassination was as follows. On 31st January the women students of the University not organised in those days as a separate Hall, had arranged some kind of a celebration at Curzon Hall. Male students had been invited. The Mussalmans discovered to their surprise that although the students in whose name the function was being held, included both Muslims and Hindus, everything calculated to wound Muslim susceptibilities featured in the programme. The fact that the political atmosphere outside was charged with electricity was ignored. On the dais stood painted pots symbolising Hindu ideas of plenty and fertility. Not content with this, the organisers opened the proceedings with Bandemataram, an idolatrous hymn taken from Bankim Chatterjee's novel, Anomia Moth, in which mother Bengal was evoked in the likeness or the goddess Durga. The hymn had a long history, and its use at political gatherings by the Congress had earlier been the occasion for much rioting. The decision to start the programme of the evening with Bandemataram could not possibly have been due to an oversight; it was intended to warn the Muslims that the Hindus would not easily without a struggle concede their demand for separatism.
When Bandemataram began, Muslim students rose in protest in a body and started to leave. Suddenly the Hindus attacked them with hockey sticks and batons. They were caught unawares, and the only way open to them was to beat a retreat. Against hockey sticks and batons, an unarmed group was powerless. Tension spread. But the University authorities did not take a very serious view of the incident; no steps were taken to suspend classes for a few days to let tempers cool.
The Muslims, smarting under the unwarranted insult inflicted on them, planned reprisals and on 2nd February when lectures in the University resumed after a day's intermission, rioting broke out in the class-rooms. Nazir Ahmad, who did not believe in sporadic fighting of this kind had been opposed to retaliation in kind. Real retaliation, he thought, would consist in the realisation of the demand for Pakistan. But he had been overruled by others. He was attacked from behind while trying to separate two fighting groups.
The assassin must have been a trained killer. The spot chosen by him was the small of the back from where the heart could he reached easily, and plunging his knife in, he had twisted it round.
The first reports reaching us were to the effect that Nazir had been slightly wounded. But he succumbed to the injury within a couple of hours at the Mitford Hospital, and when we visited the ward where he lay, it was a dead body that was handed over to us.
We were stunned. Grief, anger and consternation mingled in our emotions. At the funeral on 3rd February, scores of students; who had never known Nazir personally sobbed openly. We felt forlorn, realising vividly that there lay a grim struggle ahead, which would be far different from the sort of arm-chair politics we had known hitherto.
Nazir was one year my junior in the University, a student of the M. A. final class in Economics when he died. I had passed my M. A. examination in 1942, and about this time was looking for an opportunity of employment in the University. Nazir had built up for himself an unrivalled position as a social and political worker. His organising ability was impressive. In the Hall he used to enjoy the reputation of an unfailing friend, a generous patron and a most sympathetic companion. Students of divergent shades of opinion, who, left to themselves wrangled and bickered, found it possible to co-operate and labour with him in causes which on their own they would ignore. The creed of Pakistan had fired him with a missionary zeal, and awakened in him a power of self dedication he had never tapped before. Anyone talking to him on the subject would have felt the magnetism of something impersonal and strong which had suffused his whole being with a more than earthly radiance.
His death threw the whole student movement into disarray. We decided to keep the Pakistan alive at any cost. A special memorial issue was brought out two or three days after his burial. Mr Jasimuddin contributed a moving elegy, Mr Ali Ahsan, Mr Abdur Razzaq, Mr Mazharul Huq and myself gave assessments of his character and personality. Both Salimullah Muslim Hall and Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall students held condolence meetings. The Salimullah Muslim Hall Union amended its Constitution and resolved to observe 2nd February as Nazir Day officially every year. Meetings of this kind were held in Noakhali district and also other areas.
Although Nazir's death was doubtless a serious setback, it served to strengthen the idealism he represented and acted as a fillip to the Pakistan movement. Nazir was crowned in our eyes with a martyr’s halo and became a symbol of all that we stood for.
This killing was by no means the first of its kind. About a year earlier, a science student returning from the laboratories in the afternoon between 2 and 3 when the streets on the campus were deserted, had been stabbed to death right outside Jagannath Hall. His name, if my memory serves right, was Motahar. I did not know him personally. He had no connection with politics, and owned his death to the insensate lust for blood that the Hindus nourished. Hitherto, killings in the occasional riots in the town had been confined to slum areas; schools and colleges were regarded as inviolable sanctuaries where learners and teachers could pursue their sacred mission undisturbed by madnesses elsewhere. The assassination of Motahar destroyed the illusion.
Do what we might, the void created by Nazir’s death became increasingly wider. Political excitement and enthusiasm continued unabated, but no successor appeared who could unite desperate elements into a harmonious and effective group. I well remember how in 1941 when Mr A. K. Fazlul Huq whose political instability was a byword in Bengal deserted the Muslim League and formed a coalition ministry in alliance with the leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Mr Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, Nazir had organised a demonstration against a member of the ministry, Nawab Khwaja Habibullah. No one else would have done it. Nawab Habibullah was a locally powerful man; his family, thanks to the services of his father, Nawab Salimullah and his grandfather Nawab Ahsanullah, had a firm hold on the affections of the town population. But Nazir was not daunted. True to our apprehensions, there was a counter-demonstration by the Nawab’s followers at the Dacca Railway Station where we were waiting to receive him with black flags. We were beaten, attacked with knives, and chased off. But though the majority dispersed, Nazir stood his ground till the end in the face of these threats and did not leave till after the arrival of the minister. It was strength of this kind that others lacked, a sort of quiet obstinacy and inflexibility whose existence one could not suspect from the outside.
1943, the year of Nazir’s death, was the worst of the war years from 1939 to 1945, a grim memory on account of the famine which reached its climax in July-August. Prices had been rising since the end of 1942. In January 1943 when rice climbed from Rs. 5 a maund to Rs. 10, most people thought this was a temporary phenomenon, which would right itself as soon as the new crop was harvested. Instead, the price of rice continued to rise steeply week by week, even day by day, till by June it reached the staggering figure of Rs. 80. High prices were accompanied by an acute scarcity. Rice was just unobtainable. Men and women, reduced to desperate straits, started trekking from the worst affected areas to more prosperous zones. There was a mass migration of hungry multitude into Calcutta. Hungry, shrunken figures moved ghost-like from door to door in search of food. There were no riots, no civil disturbances. Frustrated in their search, the hungry ones lay down on pavements, exhausted and weary, and died like flies.
The famine’s incidence was limited to Bengal. It was entirely man-made. The scorched-earth policy adopted by the British Government, the buying-up of supplies for the armed forces, hoarding by traders, lack of transport facilities for the movement of food grains within the province---all these contributed to the disappearance of rice from the market. The Government's preoccupation with the war-effort and consequent apathy to the sufferings of the people aggravated the problem. Mr A. K. Fazlul Huq was still in power as Chief Minister; Mr Suhrawardy held the portfolio of food. But regrettably, though not surprisingly, neither showed either the imagination to comprehend the magnitude of the crisis or the drive and organising ability to tackle it. Ugly scandalous rumours were heard of their involvement in shady rice transactions with Marwaris. Mr Fazlul Huq was actually implicated in a case against a blackmarketeer, and strictures on his character were passed by the High Court. Mr Suhrawardy escaped formal criticism of this kind, but the stories about him were equally persistent. The fact is that contrary to the image which political developments helped both to acquire, neither was personally a man of character, neither was above reproach, neither was honest. neither was free from avarice. It would be ungenerous of me to underrate their political importance or their achievements as leaders. But truthfulness demands that their weaknesses should be recorded. These weaknesses also provided a clue to the subsequent evolution of Muslim politics. Mr Fazlul Huq and Mr Suhrawardy were essentially egotists believing not in ideas but in themselves as men of destiny. They possessed personal gifts and talents above the average and they knew this and derived from the knowledge a contempt for those around them. They felt they could turn and twist their followers round their fingers, play upon them as they pleased pandering to their prejudices and ignorance, exciting their fears and apprehensions, stimulating their hopes and optimism as it suited them. Both were gifted actors; their histrionics were a marvel as well as a delight to the Bengali audience. Mr Fazlul Huq was a greater adept at the game than Mr Suhrawardy. Of far-sighted political vision or deep-rooted convictions there was no trace in either. They, like others, made use of such slogans as democracy, adult suffrage, peasants’ rights; but there is nothing in their careers to show that any of these things represented an unshakable ideal with them, which they would not barter away.
That was also the reason why both fell out ultimately with Quaid-e-Azam M. A. Jinnah. The Quaid-e-Azam was a statesman concerned not with immediate political gains but with larger issues. His character was as irreproachable as theirs was tarnished. He gave the Muslim public a political ideal designed to enable them to live in security in future; he was not at all interested, like them, in ministries and portfolios or in shady transactions. He was incorruptible. His honesty and sincerity and vision were in themselves a rebuke to them, and they shrank and cowered in his presence exactly as a downright sinner shrinks and cowers in the presence of a saint.
Both must be held accountable to a large extent for the sufferings of the famine-stricken people. Powerless to do anything to alleviate their plight, they clung to office selfishly, and added to the muddle. If they had resigned, the responsibility of tackling the famine situation would have been thrown squarely upon the British. But instead of either realising how powerless they were or how the facade of responsible self-government in the province was used by the British to shirk and evade their obligations, they continued to shut about and make utterly idiotic speeches. It is estimated that more than a couple of million people perished. There was afterwards an inquiry into the famine, whose findings confirmed all the popular suspicions about its origins.
The famine had little effect upon the country’s politics however. Both Congress and Muslim League continued to jockey for position and prepare for the final showdown which seemed inevitable after the war.
At Dacca we kept the Pakistan issue going as best we could. The controversy in the Press over Nazir’s death had the effect of pushing some of us into the limelight. An unexpected attack came from the Morning News, a Muslim Daily owned by Mr Abdur Rahman Siddiqui. In a strong editorial, he took the Muslim students of Dacca to task for their cowardice and said Nazir had died an inglorious death with his back turned to the enemy. This was too much for us to endure. I wrote back a long rejoinder recounting the incidents leading to his death and demanding that the paper should publish it in the interest of truth. Not only was the letter published, but it was accompanied with an editorial in which profuse apologies were extended to the Muslim students of Dacca for the unmerited strictures on their character.
There could be no gainsaying the fact that the Pakistan movement aiming at the assertion by the Muslims of their political and cultural identity had now developed into a mass movement. The Muslim students were acting as its vanguard. Leaders like Mr Fazlul Huq and Mr Suhrawardy still continued to vacillate; their jealousies and tantrum, their intrigues and unscrupulousness irritated the younger generation, who had a better awareness than they of the far-reaching issues at stake. How widely the movement had spread became clear only later, in the elections of 1946, but as far as one could judge from the temper of the times, the Muslims had rallied solidly behind the Quaid-e-Azam in his demand for a separate Muslim state in the Indian subcontinent.
The enthusiasm for Pakistan was greatest in Bengal and the Muslim minority provinces. The reason, as we usually say, is not far to seek. In the Punjab, the NWFP and Sind, where the Muslims were in a majority not only were the Hindus less in evidence, as the dominant class, but it is the Muslims who had succeeded in putting upon the public life of those areas a definitely Muslim stamp. This was true even of the Punjab. There was no feeling among the Muslims that they were culturally weak, that the Hindus could swamp them. In Bengal, on the other hand, in spite of their numerical strength, the Muslims were the under-dog, economically, educationally, politically and culturally. They smarted under a double yoke: the political slavery of the British and the economic slavery of the Hindus. They found themselves in a blind alley; all roads leading to it were blocked. Their only hope of deliverance lay in completely throwing off the shackles which bound them and seeking their destiny in a new context.
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