By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
In retrospect, the words of the so-called “Pakistan” Resolution seem timid, almost submissive. They seem to have been written by those who were overwhelmed by the might of their colonial masters, but who were, nevertheless, bold enough to make a timid demand while remaining within the legal bounds of the British Raj, hoping not to incur the wrath of their English masters who had, by then, started to believe that the Raj would last forever.
The text is also vague. Its vagueness comes from either the lack of political will or inner clarity—or both. Those who drafted it did not know what they wanted: One state? Two states? Dominion status or independence? It might have been a result of the enormous weight of the Raj, then in its 97th year (that is, if one takes 1857 as its formal beginning). It might have been kept vague purposefully, although that seems highly unlikely, given the composition of the Council of the Muslim League which passed it at the end of its three-day session held between March 22-24, 1940 in Lahore. The historic resolution was then presented to the general session by A. K. Fazlul Huq, the chief minister of undivided Bengal. It was immediately seconded by Choudhury Khaliquzzaman. Subsequently, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan from Punjab, Sardar Aurangzeb from the North-West Frontier Province, Sir Abdullah Haroon from Sindh, and Qazi Esa from Baluchistan, as well as some other leaders announced their support.
The Resolution, which would later be construed as a demand for a separate homeland, was considered so inconsequential by the leaders of the Muslim League themselves that they did not even devote the entire session to it, for Jinnah himself moved another resolution shortly after the first: it condemned the massacre of Khaksars that took place on March 19, 1940. Even though the word “Pakistan” had been in the air, so to speak, since 1933, when Chaudhary Rahmat Ali first proposed it in his landmark paper “Now or Never”, the entire leadership of the Muslim League, including Jinnah himself, pretended as if the word and its proposer did not exist.
The Muslim League was then mostly made up of feudal lords who were loyal to the British, because it was through that loyalty that they enjoyed patronage and gained political, economic, and social status. Jinnah was a lawyer who worked within the British legal system and he had little interest in revolutionary ideas such as those of Rahmat Ali.
Furthermore, the text of the resolution does not demand an independent state; rather it asks for “autonomous and sovereign states”. Here are the two relevant sections of the five paragraphs which constitute this resolution:
“Resolved that it is the considered view of this Session of the All India Muslim League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Muslims unless it is designed on the following basic principles, viz., that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North Western and Eastern Zones of (British) India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign. That adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units and in the regions for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them and in other parts of India where the Muslims are in a minority adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards shall be specifically provided in the constitution for them and other minorities for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.
The Session further authorizes the Working Committee to frame a scheme of constitution in accordance with these basic principles, providing for the assumption finally by the respective regions of all powers such as defense, external affairs, communications, customs, and such other matters as may be necessary.”
The initial two paragraphs laid out the context for what will be proposed in the above-cited paragraphs, which was taken from Rahmat Ali’s paper without any acknowledgment. There was no map attached to the resolution, something that could have easily avoided huge mistakes later on when a White man literally flew over the land and marked the boundaries of what ultimately became the states of Pakistan and Bharat. But that was seven years later. For now, the leaders of the Muslim League were so unclear about the direction that they simply proposed states with a certain degree of autonomy.
One must also remember that merely three years previous, the same political party, the All India Muslim League, had been thrashed in the 1937 elections: it had 3 out of 33 seats reserved for Muslims in Sindh, 2 out of 84 seats in Punjab, 39 out of 117 seats in Bengal and none in NWFP. It was a party of feudal lords who had few roots in the masses and who lived in their ivory towers. Unlike the Congress, it had no intellectuals or thinkers in its rank and file or in its leadership.
It was the sheer force of the subsequent events which changed the dynamics of politics in the 1940s: Within 6 years of the passage of the Lahore Resolution, which was by then called Pakistan Resolution, thanks to a news report in the Times of India, the whole scenario had changed and the Muslim League won the 1946 elections: 425 out of 496 seats reserved for Muslims. The momentum generated by the passage of the Lahore Resolution allowed the League to capitalize on the sentiments of the Muslim population of India and its leaders then led the movement which created an independent state with enormous legal, economic, and practical problems from the start. Pakistan has not emerged from the shadow of the blunders at its birth, but no one seems to be interested in reexamining the birth pangs of a state in its death pangs.