While there is no one particular answer to this question, there are multiple theories that have surfaced and a clear bifurcation between two contrasting ideas exist. Many, including Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal, argue that it was the Congress’s hunger for power that led to the partition while Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted to use Pakistan as a bargaining chip for serving the interests of the Indian Muslims and the Muslim League better under a unified India. The conventional wisdom propagated in Ayesha Jalal’s book The Sole Spokesperson (1985) was “Itwas Congress that insisted on partition. It was Jinnah who was against partition”. A contrasting idea came up in Venkat Dhulipala’s book Creating a New Medina (2015) where he quotes Jinnah declaring around 1941 that he was willing to sacrifice three crore Muslims in the minority provinces to liberate six crore in the majority provinces.
To some extent there is truth in both the above mentioned assertions. The All India Muslim League was founded in 1906 with the idea of safeguarding the interests of the Muslim populace in India. Although it started off as a pro-British organisation, in 1913 it was persuaded by Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the Congress party to take up a stance that aligned with those of the Congress party and not the British government. Finally in 1916 it merged with the Indian National Congress and worked hand in hand for their common goal- Indian independence. However, towards the latter half of that decade, the League became sidelined and so did Jinnah due Gandhi’s inclination towards forming alliances with the Khilafat Conference and Jamiat-e-ulema-Hind over the League. Ultimately around 1930, Indian politics witnessed the retirement of Jinnah and at that point the League virtually ceased to exist until he returned from his self imposed exile in 1935 and reformed the League and functioned with the Congress in its full swing. Meanwhile, in 1930 at Allahabad, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal presiding over the League session proposed the idea of a Muslim state in the north western region of India within the British rule. This concept was not a very creative brainchild but a more concrete representation of the idea of an autonomous Muslim province within the central union which has been proposed in different forms in the past. However, this served interests of those in Muslim majority areas and not of those who dwelled in Muslim minority areas; which was in contradiction to the principles of the League. In 1933 Rahmat Ali, also proposed his radical views where he came up with the idea of “Pakistan: Our Fatherland” and enlisted Jinnah for the same but this was immediately dismissed by him.
Nehru is remembered for having called the League as an elitist organization and had advised Jinnah to rely only on its inherent strength. There onwards the League realized the significance of the need to rally the Muslim majority territories after it in order to sweep votes in elections. This led to the pathway for transformation of the ideologies of the League from what they actually were to adopting the concept of separate Muslim majority states as proposed by Md. Iqbal.
The Frontier at the North-West Province was administered by Congress and the Muslim leaders in the two largest Muslim majority provinces of the country- Punjab and Bengal were against Jinnah’s intervention in their internal affairs. Rather than creation of a separate state that would divide their provinces and provide Jinnah the ultimate power to rule over their lands they preferred forming coalitions with their Hindu colleagues. For Jinnah, the best option was the formation of a loose federation with a weak centre at power. The Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 looked appealing to him because under the given scenario that was the best he could get. It also served the interests of other Muslims in the state. Division of provinces on the basis of religious majority with a weak centre at power looked like a good plan.
This plan failed miserably when Nehru on purpose along with Sardar Patel decided that a weak centre was a worse idea than partition and that ended Jinnah’s ambition of a loose federation with parity. The Muslim League had finally dreamt of being able to bring Congress to accede to the demands of the League with respect to the future of the Muslims under the Indian Union but this plan was destroyed when Viceroy’s 3rd plan was declared and Mountbatten left Jinnah no choice but to accept the partition plan or pick up his cards and leave. Jinnah was left to rule over a Pakistan which he never wanted for himself. In his own words Jinnah was left with a “mutilated, moth-eaten” Pakistan by the Congress’s pressurization to partition Punjab and Bengal simultaneously. The formation of this Pakistan failed to achieve Muslim League’s agenda. It could do nothing to cater to the needs of Muslims in India. Until the end of December 1946 Jinnah’s Two Nation Theory did not propose separation of Hindus and Muslims. Even in May 1947, during the partition of Bengal and Punjab he pleaded against it saying they were Bengalis and Punjabis first and Hindus or Muslims later.
Even after all this being known the true intentions of Jinnah still remain a blur. When Gandhi, on the eve of partition had suggested that Jinnah be made the Prime Minister of a Unified Indian Union, the Congress leaders dismissed this idea, but had it been implemented, it would have provided an answer to what the real intentions of Jinnah were.
Contributed by Soumi Chatterjee.
Picture Credits : defence.pk