Pakistan Day: How Gandhi’s support for Khilafat Movement made a separate homeland for Indian Muslims inevitable

What took place in those few years, not only led to the partition of India but also the current religious fanaticism that is tearing Pakistan apart

2017-03-23T12:17:07+05:00 Aamir Butt

77 years ago on this day the All India Muslim League passed a resolution in its session at Lahore demanding a separate homeland for Indian Muslims. Although the name Pakistan was never mentioned in the resolution it has been since known as the Pakistan Resolution.

Disgusted by Pakistan’s current situation, many liberal Pakistanis want to put the entire blame on the idea of Pakistan and make Jinnah the incarnation of pure evil. Others like Nehru and the British are cast as only minor villains.

Anyone who starts the history of communal politics in India, which culminated in an orgy of violence in 1947 from the Lahore Resolution, or the 1946 elections, is as deluded as who would claim that religious fanaticism in Pakistan started in 2015 or 2010. The creation of Pakistan was the end result of communal based religious politics and the seeds for this had been planted many decades ago. We need to understand how religious communalism became so important politically.

In this respect we are often kept in dark about the events that took place in early 1920s either due to ignorance or bias, and while I had a vague idea about them, until recently I did not grasp their real significance. In my opinion what took place in that period 1919-21 was pivotal not only in bringing about the 1947 Partition, but in shaping the entire direction of politics among Indian Muslims. What took place in those few years towards the end of the first decade of the twentieth century and beginning of the second not only led to the partition of India, and the creation or Pakistan, but also the current religious fanaticism that is tearing Pakistan apart.

Religious tensions existed between Hindus and Muslims for centuries. With the introduction of British-style representative politics it was inevitable that religion based grouping would be seen as well. Indian politicians with a modern and secular view like Gokhale and Jinnah wanted to bring Hindus and Muslims together by keeping religion out of politics and concentrating on a political dialogue. In this respect the 1916 Lucknow Pact based on political demands was the zenith of cooperation between the two communities. At the same time the Home Rule League was making progress using constitutional methods to bring about self-rule for India. Incidentally, MA Jinnah, aptly named the greatest ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, was the star of Indian politics at that time.

Gandhi had only recently returned to India, and though he had already achieved international fame he was a nobody in Indian politics. Posing as a harmless simpleton with no political ambitions, he was able to be-fool many. One of the men who were deceived by him was Jinnah who made Gandhi the president of Home Rule League.

Unable to compete with Jinnah in secular and constitutional politics Gandhi decided to use religion as his weapon of choice. The opportunity was provided to him by the agitation among the Muslims on the issue of the Ottoman Khilafat. Turkey had recently lost the war and the allied powers despite having promised during the war that they will not do it were getting ready to dismember the Ottoman Empire. The Muslims of India felt loyalty to the Ottoman Caliph who was considered the guardian of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina.

Some of the Muslim leaders started the Khilafat Movement. This was a religious movement; however, over the last few years orthodox religious leaders among the Muslims had been mostly sidelined through the efforts of Jinnah. And here Gandhi gave them a new lease of life. Gandhi who had openly declared that he was a Hindu first and anything else later (as opposed to Jinnah who said he was an Indian first and Muslims afterwards) put his full support behind this orthodox Islamic movement calling Indian Muslims to rise up in jihad to save the Turkish Caliph.

Gandhi had established himself as a saint-like figure among Hindus and Muslims through his show of piety and social work. His support gave the Khilafat Movement, which was of no consequence for Indian Muslims, a life of its own. No one could dare oppose Gandhi, for, to do so was to oppose a saint and thus equal to political suicide – hence, everyone joined the Khilafat bandwagon. Gandhi toured every nook and corner of India along with radical Muslim  leaders like the Ali brothers stirring up religious frenzy by using the evergreen slogan ‘Islam khatray mein hai’ (Islam is in danger) for the first time. (ref: P.C. Bamford, Histories of Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements, Delhi, 1974, p. 49)

The result was that Muslim League lost its popularity and Muslim political leadership was taken from secular leaders like Jinnah by orthodox religious leaders. (Re: Tara Chand, History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol III, 1972, p. 418)

K.A. Karandikar, writing in Islam-In India’s Transition to Modernity (New Delhi, 1968, preface page vii) states:

"Gandhi was responsible for jettisoning sane, secular, modernist leadership among the Muslims of India and foisting upon the Muslims, a theocratic orthodoxy of Maulvis"  

Muslim pan-Islamism is often blamed on Iqbal, but it was actually Gandhi who greatly encouraged this. (Ref: Sir C. S. Nair, Gandhi and Anarchy, Madras, 1922, p. 51.)

And it was not an upsurge in just Muslim communal fanaticism. For only a fool would have expected that the sight of the Ali brothers bringing vast crowds to the edge of religious frenzy when calling for 40 million Muslims to lay down their lives for Islam will not have had any effect on Hindus, who had not forgotten the real and imagined atrocities they had suffered during the times of the Muslim rule. Indeed Professor Beni Prasad warned that Gandhi’s actions will lead to Hindu revival and contribute to political separation.

As regards Jinnah’s stance on Khilafat movement, it is true that concerned about his political career in a country where the Khilafat Movement had been made into a Holy Cow, Jinnah may not have viciously denounced it at first – maybe he even said some tactful words that looked like sympathy for it (after all the Allies were breaking a promise they had made). But to claim, as some historians do, that Jinnah was a supporter of Khilafat Movement is as absurd as claiming that Mustaffa Kemal was a protector of the Khilafat!

In the 1918 session of Muslim League, held in Delhi, Jinnah warned the delegates not to dabble in the Khilafat issue as it does not concern India and declared it as a false religious frenzy of which no good will come out for India. Finding the members opposed to this view, he along with some others walked out of the session. (Re: Chaudary Khalliquzzaman, Pathway to Pakistan, Lahore 1961, p. 43-44.

While all the Muslim religious leaders slated Kemal Pasha, Jinnah considered him a great leader and visionary.

After he was forced to resign at the Congress Nagpur session of 1920 he said:

"I will have nothing to do with this pseudo-religious approach to politics. I do not believe in working up mob hysteria, politics is a gentleman’s game"

And this mob hysteria and violence had been amply demonstrated by the non-violent supporters of Gandhi during that session where no one who opposed Gandhi and his Non-Coop/Khilafat marriage was allowed to have a say by a jeering crowd, where leaders and delegates were coaxed, bribed and intimidated into voting in favor.  Gandhi himself admitted many heads were broken in the violence but thought it was okay.

Even recently the RSS leader Sudarshan praised Jinnah’s secular outlook by recalling that:

“When Mahatma Gandhi supported the 1919 Khilafat  movement, Jinnah opposed it. He had argued that Indian Muslims had no connection with the Khalifa of Turkey. But nobody heeded Jinnah.’’

Thus it is quite clear to see how religious communalism and resulting fanaticism was introduced into Indian politics when it was in its formative years. This affected both Hindus and Muslims but Muslims were more affected as:

1) Khilafat Movement was an Islamic religious movement

2) Being a minority it was easier to make them feel unsafe.

This indeed was the watershed moment when the dream of Hindus and Muslims living together in an independent India was irreversibly shattered.

The Muslim politics of India never recovered from the damage caused by Gandhi and the Khilafat Movement. It became quite clear for anyone wanting support among the Muslims that the religious card was the trump card. And sure Jinnah himself, at a later stage, played this card in what in my opinion was a game of bluff, but even he did not know the extent of damage that had been done for the seeds of religious frenzy planted during the Khilafat Movement days had by then become toxic trees. Jinnah had predicted bloodshed, chaos and Hindu-Muslim divisions as a result of mixing religion and politics and this proved prophetic.

As for Gandhi in January 1925 he formed a Cow-Protection Sabha and became its chairman and later the same year he announced his retirement from active politics, a job well done. And along the way he had killed the Home Rule League in 1921, something which delayed India’s independence by several years.

So I am afraid anyone who does not acknowledge the role Gandhi played in the ultimate holocaust which Indians suffered in 1947, anyone who does not know – or does not want to know – how religious fanaticism was nourished by Gandhi and Congress support for the Khilafat movement is being unfair to history.

And the same religious fanaticism was imported into Pakistan by those who had actually opposed the idea of Pakistan (The Ahrars and Jamat-i-Islami etc). Along with the constant slogan of Islam bachao (save Islam) and the ideology of a pan-Islamic Khilafat, jihadi militancy and violence has the nation in its vice. No doubt these jihadis have similar ideology to the leaders of the Khilafat Movement who were ready to use violence in defense of their Islamic Khilafat. I have little doubt that those Khilafatites would have welcomed the armies of ISIS for it is a known fact that they invited the King of Afghanistan to invade India at the head of an Islamic army.

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