As we celebrated the birth anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of the greatest freedom fighters and first education minister of Independent India, we fail to accolade his efforts for communal harmony. It would be a major misapprehension if we don’t reflect on his views on communal harmony in today’s scenario. The visionary man was channelizing his efforts towards unravelling communal problems, his efforts couldn’t see the light of the day due to the impediments created by Jawaharlal Nehru.
This article revisits the Azad efforts and strategy to stop the partition of India and Pakistan, about the reason for its failure and “greatest political blunder of his life”.
On 17 February 1946, Lord Pethick-Lawrence had announced in the British parliament that their Government would send a cabinet mission to India to discuss with the representatives of India about the question of Indian freedom. This cabinet mission was not only crucial for its political bargaining between India and Britain, but it also needed to resolve the communal problem in India.
Cabinet’s mission arrived in India on 23rd March 1946. Maulana Azad, being the president of the Indian National Congress, was beckoned the responsibility of addressing the cabinet mission and work towards the solutions. At the time of partition, the Muslim community was anxious about their future, which was well in acknowledgement of Maulana Azad. He being equally anxious, started working on pragmatic solutions for the problem at hand, Maulana never considered partition as a solution because of its premise being religion. Maulana met the commission on 6th April 1946, but before that, he thought extensively about the communal problem of India and came to the conclusion that if the constitution of India will be federal in nature and give power and complete autonomy to the provincial government on as many subjects as possible then the fear of Muslims can be reduced as they are in the majority in few provinces and they can decide on their future. He put forward his solution to the cabinet mission; mission members acknowledged Maulana’s approach while listening to his solutions with full interest.
After explaining to the cabinet mission, Maulana presented it in front of congress working committee with all the nitty-gritty, Gandhi Ji praised him and said, “finally you have found the solution of the problem which worries us in daily life”, though members of the working committee like Sardar Patel raised few questions and instead of Maulana, Gandhi Ji answered his question which satisfied the Patel.
After that consensus built-in the working committee, Maulana Azad, on 15th April, issued a statement that talked about the detail demands of Muslims and other minorities. In his statement he extensively opposed the idea of Pakistan and even said, “I must confess that the very term Pakistan goes against my grain, it suggests that some portions of the world are pure while others are impure such a division of territories into pure and impure is un-Islamic and is more in keeping the orthodox Brahmanism which divides men and countries into holy and unholy- a division which is a repudiation of the very spirit of Islam, Islam recognizes no such division and the prophet says “God has made the whole world a mosque for me”, further he added “The formula which I have succeeded in making the congress accept secures whatever merits the Pakistan schemes contains while all its defects and drawbacks are avoided. The basis of Pakistan is the fear and interference of the center in Muslim majority areas as Hindu will be in majority in the center. The congress meets this fear by granting full autonomy to the provincial units and vesting all residuary powers in the provinces. The congress schemes, therefore, ensures that Muslims Majority provinces are internally free to develop as they will, but at the same time can influence the center on all issues which affect India as a whole. In this statement, Maulana Azad counters the Muslim league on Islamic and rational lines. It had been applauded by congress and the section Muslim league.
Initially, Jinnah was opposed to the cabinet mission scheme and its solution. Muslim league’s demand for a separate independent state was not considered. With the advent of a more feasible solution by Maulana and cabinet mission member’s explicit denial of partition, Jinnah changed his stand and confides in the Muslim league council that there could be no fairer solution than the one presented in cabinet mission. He told the council that this is maximum we can achieve and advise the league to accept the scheme, and the council voted unanimously in its favor. The acceptance of cabinet mission by both congress and Muslim league was a glorious event in the history of the freedom movement of India, but who knew that it was nothing but a mirage in the desert.
Unfortunately, the calendar ticked the time of the Indian congress president election in April. Maulana Azad was president of INC since 1939 till 1946, so this time he felt that he should not permit his name to be proposed, although he was anxious that whomsoever be the president of the congress should go with the same policy of cabinet mission which he proposed and bring the Muslim league on consensus. There was a general feeling in the congress that Maulana Azad should continue as president as he successfully conducted the negotiations, and now he should be given charge to implement it. Some birds also carried the news that Sardar Patel’s allies want Patel to be elected as the president. Maulana chooses to stay out of the chaos, on 26th April he proposed Mr. Nehru’s name as congress president and Nehru got elected. Maulana couldn’t have guessed in his wildest imagination how this decision of his is gonna change the course of history.
On 16th May 1946 cabinet mission published its scheme, and it was very much similar to the proposal Maulana Azad made on 15th April and cabinet mission proposal accepted his views that most of the decisions will be made at the provincial level. But, on 10th July Nehru as president of Congress held a press conference in Bombay in which Nehru made a statement, “congress would enter the constituent assembly completely unfettered by agreement and free to meet all situations they arise” and further he added “congress had agreed only to participate in the constituent assembly and regarded itself to free to change and modify the cabinet mission it thought best”. This statement of Nehru gave a chance to Jinnah to review his decision to accept the cabinet plan; he immediately asked Liaqat Ali Khan to call a meeting of the Muslim league council. In the council meeting, Jinnah retreated the demand of Pakistan in his opening remarks and said, congress president had declared that the congress could change the scheme through its majority in the constituent assembly, which means minorities will be placed on the mercy of the majority. Muslim league council passed a rejection of the cabinet mission plan and gave a direct action plan to achieve a separate state.
The working committee of congress tried to rectify the mistake of Nehru by stating that the cabinet plan will practice in a similar ethos, which has been passed earlier and invited Muslim league to take part in the constituent assembly and government formation for the wider interest of the nation. But it was too late to make things work as Jinnah said, the mentality of congress can be understood by his continuous change in the statements. He further added Congress president’s words represent the real congress, his direct action call further worsen the situation as it led to violence in many parties and Bengal were burning.
This is how the history of India changed, Maulana later in his biography, “India wins freedom” confesses, the appointment of Nehru as the President of INC; at such a crucial moment that changed the course of history. He considers his choice of Nehru was the greatest political blunder of his life. He further emphasized, “If Mr Patel or I had been the president of Indian Congress, we could have risen every morning to a different county, a different reality. He would not have allowed this nation to be divided.
Fahad Ahmad is a senior research fellow at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai).