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Misinformation and the Republic

Photo by Gabography

When India went from being a British dominion to a Republic on its own, two parallel but interrelated events shaped its contours and personality. The first, was of course, the formulation of the Constitution of India - the first modern document which encapsulated the ethos, principles, and aspirations of Indians as a whole. And the second was the formal political unification of Indian territory from 600 plus splintered states and provinces into one nation.

It is notable that India is one of the world's oldest republics - of the 16 Mahajanpads which formed India 2500+ years ago, two were Gantantra i.e. Republics. The world's oldest self-governing systems were in India (and not in Greece as is popularly believed). While little is known about the Indus Valley Civilization - it is very likely that this civilization also practised some form of the republican political system.

Similarly, when it comes to a unified India, the earliest unification of the Indian subcontinent in its current form (or rather larger than the current form) was done by Ashok, who came about 300-350 years after these Janpadas. Later, India was largely unified under one common 'Takht' under the Mughals and subsequently under the Maratha-Sikh combine.

Nevertheless, when India became independent - two problems lay before it; first was a legal-gubernatorial vacuum created by the British leaving the country and the second was the possible splintering of the country into several bits - following the gash of partition. When the British divided India into two, it was likely that some antipathetic British strategists wanted it to trigger a domino of many other such 'nationalist' ambitions within Indian princely states.

But was the partition really needed? How was a boundary draen into the nation which was united since 3rd century BCE? Was there any material truth in the narrative which led to the formation of Pakistan? 

In today's terminology, it is fair to say that the partition was a result of a massive misinformation campaign by the Muslim league to paint a picture of India being made of two nations - one Hindu and one Muslim nation. Reality could not be farther from the truth because Indians were divided (if one were to use the word - 'divided') not just into Hindus and Muslims but into hundreds of thousands of divisions - caste, creed, economic status, political allegiance etc. 

The Muslim league engaged in a careful campaign of misinformation in each constituent state to achieve the objective of influencing people to believe in the mirage of the two-nation theory. 

In Punjab, Muslims placed more emphasis on the Punjabi identity they shared with Hindus and Sikhs, rather than on their religion. The Unionists had built a formidable power base in the Punjabi countryside through policies of patronage allowing them to retain the loyalty of landlords and pirs who exerted significant local influence. For the Muslim League to claim to represent the Muslim vote, they would need to win over the majority of the seats held by the Unionists. Following the death of Sir Sikander in 1942, and bidding to overcome their dismal showing in the elections of 1937, the Muslim League intensified campaigning throughout rural and urban Punjab.

A major thrust of the Muslim's League's campaign was the promotion of communalism and spreading fear of a supposed "Hindu threat" in a future united India. Muslim League activists were advised to join in communal prayers when visiting villages, and gain permission to hold meetings after the Friday prayers. The Quran became a symbol of the Muslim League at rallies, and pledges to vote were made on it. Students, a key component of the Muslim League's activists, were trained to appeal to the electorate on communal lines. A key achievement of these efforts came in enticing Muslim Jats and Gujjars from their intercommunal tribal loyalties. 

Finally, the Muslim League created the Masheikh Committee, used Urs ceremonies and shrines for meetings and rallies and encouraged fatwas urging support for the Muslim League. Reasons for the pirs switching allegiance varied. For the Gilani Pirs of Multan the over-riding factor was local longstanding factional rivalries, whilst for many others a shrines size and relationship with the government dictated its allegiance.

In Sind, the Sind United Party which had the majority vote promoted communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims. The state was divided economically than communally - the Muslim landed elite, waderas, and the Hindu commercial elements, banias, collaborated in oppressing the predominantly Muslim peasantry. Jinnah, himself belonging to a Sindhi Muslim elite family twisted the economic narrative into a communal one and not Jinnah alone Sindhi support for the Pakistan Movement arose from the desire of the entire Sindhi Muslim business class to drive out their Hindu competitors. Although the prominent Sindhi Muslim nationalist G.M. Syed (who admired both Hindu and Muslim rulers of Sindh) left the All India Muslim League in the mid-1940s, the overwhelming majority of Sindhi Muslims supported the creation of Pakistan, seeing in it their deliverance.

In North-West Frontier Province, the Muslim League had little support, especially because called the Frontier Gandhi, the Congress and Pashtun nationalist leader Abdul Ghaffar Khan, supported the cause of a United India. But Jamiat Ulema Hind, an organization of Deobandi school of thought began to exploit communal tones. Accusations of molesting Muslim women were levelled at Hindu shopkeepers in Nowshera, a town where anti-Hindu sermons were delivered by mullahs. A majority of the JUS ulama in the province began supporting the Muslim League's idea of Pakistan, but the reality is that the referendum held in 1946, which resulted in 99% vote in favour of Pakistan was boycotted by Ghaffar Khan's Khudai Khidmatgar supporters and barely 50% voters had voted in it. Unfortunately, for NWFP, the principle of geographic contiguity went against it.

Baluchistan was under the rule of a Chief Commissioner and did not have the same status as other provinces of British India. There is widespread confusion about whether and when the Baloch's agreed to become a part of Pakistan. Apart from the pro-separatist Muslim League that was led by a non-Balochi and non-Sardar, "three pro-Congress parties were still active in Balochistan's politics", such as the Anjuman-i-Watan Baluchistan, which favoured a united India. While it is claimed that the province's Shahi Jirga, agreed to join Pakistan unanimously on 29 June 1947; however, the Shahi Jirga was stripped of its members from the Kalat State prior to the vote. Further, the Muslim league's own Baloch representative  Qazi Muhammad Isa, informed Muhammad Ali Jinnah that "Shahi Jirga in no way represents the popular wishes of the masses" and that members of the Kalat State were "excluded from voting; only representatives from the British part of the province voted and the British part included the leased areas of Quetta, Nasirabad Tehsil, Nushki and Bolan Agency. 

It is not clear if Baloch's at large ever knew about the whole referendum and the decision to accede to Pakistan was definitely not popularised. Political scientist Salman Rafi Sheikh, in locating the origins of the insurgency in Balochistan, says "that Balochistan's accession to Pakistan was, as against the officially projected narrative, not based upon consensus, nor was support for Pakistan overwhelming. What this manipulation indicates is that even before formally becoming a part of Pakistan, Balochistan had fallen a prey to political victimization.

Dhaka was the birthplace of the All India Muslim League in 1906. The Pakistan Movement was highly popular in the Muslim population of Bengal. Many of the Muslim League's notable statesmen and activists hailed from East Bengal, and many among whom later became Prime ministers of Pakistan. However, as history now tells us, from the struggle of Begalis in living with the idea of Pakistan and how the Mukti Bahini had to be supported by the Indian Army to liberate Bangladesh from Pakistan, the creation of East Pakistan was a mistake of epic proportions.

It is not just gullible poor populations who were conned by the Muslim League - among the most notable 'founders' of Pakistan was Jogendra Nath Mandal from Bengal. After the independence, Mandal was given ministries of Law, Justice, and Work-Force by Jinnah in Liaquat Ali Khan's government in Pakistan. But ultimately, despite all his good contributions, Mandal was badly ignored in the emerging political scenario. He returned to India and submitted his resignation to Liaquat Ali Khan, the then-Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The Muslim league was also a culprit in misusing the international scenario to further its twisted interests. When in 1939, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared the commencement of war with Germany, the then Viceroy Lord Linlithgow followed suit and announced that India too was at war with Germany. In protest against this unilateral decision without consultation of the elected government, the Congress leaders resigned from all British India government positions to which they had elected. In a secret memorandum to the British Prime Minister, the Muslim League agreed to support the United Kingdom's war efforts — provided that the British recognised it as the only organisation that spoke for Indian Muslims. 

Thus, in reality, the Muslim league never had any ground support from Muslims in India and it was an organization formed by the Muslim elite purely to further their interests. This is one key reason why the resulting state of Pakistan remains a 'kingdom of parts' than a nation.

Lessons from this early period of the Republic's life are very important today because we're again faced with the same monster of misinformation, albeit from a very different [opposite?] direction and aimed at a very different [but also parallel?] objective.

How misinformation makes a Republic die the death of a thousand cuts, is the subject of another elaborate post but the wretched tale of the creation of Pakistan is testimony that the misinformation is a Republic killer. This Republic Day, let us at least wow to stop misinformation wherever we see it to guard this republic for our future generations. Our Republic depends on facts to sustain and light the way, and we all benefit from its strength. Defend facts. Dispute lies, misinformation and memory-holing.

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