Volume - 7 : Issue - 3

Published : Jul. - Sep. 2008

Group : Partition

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By Late K. R. Malkani

INDIA BECAME FREE; but it was a fissured freedom. In the churning of Indian humanity we had got not only the nectar of freedom but also the poison of partition. Was Pakistan inevitable? It was --- and it was not.

The over-all all-lndia causes of partition are well enough known. At the root of it all was history. The Hindus had an acute sense of grievance over the Muslim mayhem in India. But the Muslims on the other hand were dismayed that Islam, which had prevailed everywhere else, had been checkmated in India. In the celebrated words of poet Hali:

Woh deene Hejazi ka bebak beda
Nishan jiska aqsai alam mein pahuncha
Kiye passipar jisne saton samandar
Woh dooba dahane mein Ganga kay aakar.

(The fearless flotilla of Islam, whose flag fluttered over all the world, the ship that crossed the seven seas, came here and sank in the Ganga.)

In the eighteenth century, Hindu society stood up triumphant from Attock to Cuttack and Delhi to Deccan --- having contained the poison of the preceding centuries like a `Nilakantha'. Islam stood tamed --- and Indianized. And then came 1761 and the defeat of the sovereign power of the Marathas in the Third Battle of Panipat, which opened the way to British rule in India. It also revived the Wahabis and the Waliullahs, who took Islam back to fundamentalism and greater fanaticism in hopes of an Islamic revival.

On top of all this came Gandhiji's Khilafat movement for the restoration of the Khalifa, the deposed Sultan of Turkey, as the spiritual leader of the Muslims of the world. It communalized politics and turned religious leaders into political leaders. Overnight, the mullahs became Netas (leaders). Jethmal Parasram of Sindh was only too right when he said: "Khilafat aahay aafat" ("Khilafat movement is a disaster"). By whipping up the fanaticism and extra-territoriality of Muslim Indians, the Khilafat agitation greatly widened the gulf between Hindus and Muslims.

Gandhiji did not help matters when he appealed to the religious sentiments of the Hindus also. His talk of satya (truth) and ahimsa, brahmacharya and Ramarajya struck a responsive note in the Hindu heart, but it left the Muslim cold. Many Congress meetings in Sindh ended with distribution of `Kanah Prasad' from the neighborhood gurdwara. After the Khilafat movement had petered out, the Congress discovered that it had only one active Muslim worker, Maulvi Mohammed Sadiq of Karachi. Later Comrade Taj Mohammed joined the Congress in Shikarpur. The Congress had only one Muslim MLA-Khoso of Jacobabad, an AMU graduate. But the Jacobabad District Congress Committee office had a separate water pot (surahi) for him! No wonder they all felt that "the Congress is a Hindu movement."

Tilak was, if anything, a profounder Hindu than Gandhiji. But he had kept the struggle political, secular --- and moved the Hindus and the Muslims alike. Gandhiji heightened the struggle -- but he also divided it.

And then there was a third factor - the British presence. It worked both ways.

During the Muslim rule the Hindu was kept down. When the Muslim hand was replaced by a neutral hand, things changed dramatically. The Hindu came into his own. By and large, Brahmins and Vaishyas had not converted to Islam. Their traditions of learning and trading blossomed forth into higher education and big business. Large sections of the Hindu society forged ahead, leaving the Muslims far behind.

As a perceptive observer in Sindh noted: "The offices are full of Hindus and the jails are full of Muslims." The Muslim mind, rooted in medievalism, and still basking in the sunset of the Mughal empire, could not comprehend the dynamics of modernity. It reacted to the new situation by staging a riot or throwing a spanner in the freedom movement.

On the other hand, when the Hindu asked for Independence, the British booked Muslim support with many favors and then used the Muslim dissent as a veto to stall Indian independence. The Hindu now saw the Muslim as a stooge and a traitor.

This was the all-India context in which partition took place. But it also had a local Sindhi context, which only made matters worse.

The biggest single factor in Hindu-Muslim tension in Sindh was the conversions which continued even under the British rule. These incidents rocked the province and poisoned relations between the communities. The most sensational in this genre was what came to be known --- and published --- as ``The Great Sheikh Case''. In 1891, Moorajmal Advani, a cousin of Showkiram Advani, the mukhi of Hyderabad Hindus, became Muslim. His three sons also became Muslim. One of them, Mewaram, invited his wife Mithi Bai with her four children --- Khushali, Nihali, Parmanand, and Hemi --- to join him. She refused. Mewaram moved the sessions judge of Hyderabad, an Englishman, under the Guardians and Wards Act, to secure the custody of the two elder children. The Hindus took it as a challenge. Showkiram's sons Navalrai and Tarachand, collected a sum of 25,000 rupees to fight the case. The Muslims reportedly collected 40,000 rupees. The Hindu case was argued by Jairamdas's father, Daulatram. The Muslims engaged Effendi, the founder of the Karachi madrassa. The fat was in the fire.

Khushali, who was only eight at the time, told the court that, for her, father had died the moment he changed his faith. She said that if the court must hand her over to her father, it must first do her the favor of hanging her. The court ruled that it would be a crime to hand over the two girls to Mewaram. Mewaram moved the higher court but meanwhile the two girls had been married off and the court dismissed the appeal. Mewaram then brought forty camel-loads of armed Muslims to physically seize the two younger children, but the latter escaped through a back-door. Mithi Bai and her children then moved to the security of Amritsar, since the Muslims were scared of the Sikhs. Her son P.M. Advani made name as Principal of the Blind School in Karachi.

Soon after, Deoomal, elder brother of Acharya Kripalani, became Sheikh Abdul Rahman. Since he did not dare become Muslim while his eldest brother, Thakurdas, was alive, he took him for a swim to the Phuleli canal with Muslim friends and had him drowned. Some time later when the widowed sister-in-law wanted to visit her mother, he escorted her out and took her to a Muslim locality. She was never heard of again. Soon after, Deoomal himself became Muslim. Later he kidnapped his 12-year young brother Nanak from the school, got him converted, sent him to the Frontier. Nanak died fighting for the Turks against the Italians in 1911.

The problem with these new Muslims was that they did not like to inter-marry with the old Muslims; they therefore tried to convert more Hindus to enlarge their endogamous circle.

In 1908, Jethanand Lilaram of Thatta became Sheikh Abdul Majid. Since he was twenty plus at the time, he won the case. But advocacy of his case by Bhurgri made the latter a leader.

Maulana Taj Mohammed of Amraot near Larkana, a top Khilafat leader, converted seven thousand Hindus in the countryside. To this day Amraot preserves the list of those converts.

In 1927, Karima of Larkana with her four kids eloped with a Hindu and became Hindu. She won the case. The Muslims looted shops. The Hindus held 80 Muslims responsible --- including Khuhro, who later rose to be Premier of Sindh. All of them were acquitted. But the bitterness grew.

Bawa Harnamdas of Sadhbela, Sukkur, described the Situation aptly to Mr. Jinnah when the latter called on him at that island temple in 1930 and made an offering of Rs. 100. Mr. Jinnah asked him why there was communal tension in Sindh. And the Bawa said in Sindhi: "Shaikh putt shaitan jo; na Hindu, na Musalman" (the new convert Sheikh is the son of satan; he is neither Hindu nor Muslim).

Tension further grew with polemics. One Nathuram wrote Islam jo itihas (History of Islam) in reply to the mulla attacks on Hindu Dharma. He was sentenced to eighteen months jail and 1,000 rupees fine. He appealed to the Chief Court of Sindh. Some Muslims feared he might be acquitted. And so, one Abdul Qayum stabbed him to death in open court. When Judge O'Sullivan asked Qayum why he had done it, the later said that punishment for insulting Islam must be death, not just jail. Qayum was hanged. The Government refused to hand over his body to the Muslims who, nevertheless, dug it up and took it out in procession. Those were the times --- 1934 --- when the British did not tolerate any trifling with authority. And so the outraged Commissioner of Sindh, Gibson, ordered machine- gun fire, killing sixty-four Muslims, further souring Hindu- Muslim relations.

Another complicating factor was the status of Sindh. It was part of Bombay Presidency. In those days there were only a few huge provinces. But being a distinct geographical and linguistic unit, Sindh felt neglected as a remote area. In 1913, Harchandrai Vishindas, as Chairman of the Reception Committee to the Karachi session of the Congress, first raised the issue of separation of Sindh. But when the issue was raised at the Aligarh session of the Muslim League in 1925, it was transformed from a Sindhi demand into a Muslim demand. When, however, it was suggested that the Muslim-majority Sindh may be separated from the distant Hindu-majority Bombay, and then attached to the adjoining Muslim-majority Punjab, even the Sindhi Muslims refused; they had no intention of living under the shadow of a ``big brother''.

The majority of the Muslims --- led by Sheikh Abdul Majid --- favored separation. But important leaders such as Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto (father of Z.A. Bhutto) and Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah opposed it. And so, for long, did the Sindh Muslim Association, representing the Muslim elite. They were not sure of the solvency of the province; the area had a deficit of two crore rupees. And they liked being part of a big and prosperous Bombay Presidency.

Hindus were, if anything, even more divided --- with Jethmal always favoring separation, Jairamdas always opposing it, and others changing sides with time and circumstance. A separate Sindh would mean full provincial set-up and a consequential job increase, most of which would inevitably go to the Hindus because of their education. An autonomous Sindh would come into its own --- economically, culturally, and otherwise. But they were also afraid of the Muslim majority --- and what that might mean for their security.

Interestingly enough, the rest of Bombay was also in two minds on the subject: they liked it bigger --- from Jacobabad to Hubli-Dharwar; but they thoroughly disliked the block of Sindhi Muslim MLAs who always danced to the British official tune. The Nehru report of 1928 favored separation.

After much argument, thirty leaders from both sides signed the Sindh Hindu-Muslim pact in 1928. It laid down:

1.      Sindh shall be separated.
2.      Hindus will have 10 per cent weight age.
3.      There will be joint electorates in Sindh.
4.      There will be justice and equality for all.

It is sad to say that the Sindh Hindu Conference in Sukkur failed to ratify the Agreement. Bawa Harnamdas of Sadhbela Mandir of Sukkur was too apprehensive of Muslim aggressiveness to agree to a separate Sindh. (Had the Conference met in Karachi or Hyderabad, it would very probably have confirmed the Pact.) The Hindus now said they would accept separate Sindh only if joint electorates were introduced all over the country --- which was very high-minded, but hardly realistic.

This going back of the Hindus on their word was a disaster. In the Simon Commission there was a tie on this issue, but the chairman cast his vote for separation in 1930. At the Ottawa Imperial Trade Conference in 1932, Sir Abdullah Haroon of Sindh went along with the British business interests --- and the latter promised to separate Sindh. And so Sindh was born as a separate province on 1st April, 1936 as an act of favor to the Muslims by the British.

Even so, things were quiet enough. And everybody looked to the new dispensation with hope, not unmixed with fear. Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, in his message to the "Azad Sindh" issue of Al-Wahid (16 June, 1936), a leading organ of Muslim opinion, said: "The communal situation in Sindh, Punjab and Bengal threatens to assume ugly forms. I want Sindh to have the glory of solving the Hindu-Muslim problem for the rest of India to follow." But the ensuing assembly elections dashed those hopes. The elections returned 24 of Bhutto's Ittehad Party, 6 of Ghulam Hussain's Muslim Political Party, 5 of Majid's Azad Party --- all Muslims, 9 Congressmen, 3 Europeans, 1 Labour representative (Naraindas), 1 women's representative (Jethi Sipahimalani) 11 independent Hindus.

But Sir S. N. Bhutto himself was defeated by Sheikh Abdul Majid of the Azad Party, who campaigned with the Koran on his head as proof that he was a better Muslim! The governor did not invite Khuhro, the new leader of the Ittehad Party, to form the government; he invited the old British favorite, Sir Ghulam Hussain (1878--1948), though he had the support of only five members. Once in the saddle, Sir Ghulam Hussain was able to put together the majority, like any Bhajan Lal of present-day Haryana. He won over independent Hindu MLAs by making one of them Speaker. However, early in 1938, the government fell. Meanwhile Khuhro had joined the Muslim League and the new Ittehad Party leader, Allah Bux Soomro, 38, became Premier.

Allah Bux (1900--43) was the finest Premier Sindh ever had. Though a zamindar and government contractor, he habitually wore Khadi. Immediately on entering office, he lifted the externment orders on Obaidullah Sindhi (1872--1944), a Sialkot Sikh who had become a Muslim, a leading revolutionary who had been vegetating in West Asia. (The Muslim League gave a reception in hon our of Obaidullah. But when they started to chant: "Muslim ho, to Muslim League mein aao" --- If you are a Muslim, then join the Muslim League --- he walked out in protest; he was thinking in terms of a ''Sindhu Narbada Party''.) He withdrew the magisterial powers from the Waderas. He followed the Congress line and fixed 500 rupees as minister's salary. Nominations to local bodies were ended. The unassuming Allah Bux sat by the side of the driver, never used the official flag on the car bonnet, never accepted any receptions or parties. In the train he would use the upper berth -and let others use the more convenient lower berth. On one occasion when flood-waters threatened Shikarpur, he breached the canal to flood his own lands --- and saved the city. But above all he was non-communal and nationalist.

That was reason enough for the communal Muslims to try to topple him. A huge League conference was held in Karachi in October 1938. Here the League stalwarts roared against the Hindus, the Congress, and Allah Bux. The conference set-up was comic-opera, complete with Arab sands, date trees and horsemen in the Arab head-dress, Iqaal. They even adopted a resolution which talked of self-determination for the "two nations" of Hindus and Muslims. Pir Ali Mohammed Rashdi felt that Mohammed Ali Jinnah was indifferent to this resolution. "He just allowed us to use it as a hint, a threat, a political stunt." The real object was to topple Allah Bux somehow, anyhow. They got 29 Muslim MLAs to join the League. With the help of 3 European MLAs, they could have formed a government of their own. When, however, a no-confidence motion was moved, only 7 of them voted for it. And the League leader Hidayatullah himself quit the party and joined the Allah Bux ministry.

Indeed the League was so rootless in Sindh that when they announced a public meeting for Jinnah in Jacobabad, nobody turned up. Rashdi had to request his local friend Hakim Kaimuddin to ask his Hindu friends to produce an audience. The Hindus, as good friends, obliged. They even pocketed their "Gandhi caps" to avoid embarrassment to Jinnah; but they refused to shout "Jinnah Saheb Zindabad" with any gusto.

However, the League persisted in its mischief. The respected Pir of Lawari, near Badin in the Hyderabad district, had organized a local Haj for those who could not afford to visit Arabia. It had gone on since 1934. The pilgrims gathered on Ziwal-Haj, read namaz while turning to the durgah, went to a local well renamed "Zam Zam", addressed the Pir as "Khuda" and greeted each other as ``Haji''. It gave these poor people great spiritual satisfaction. But the fanatics denounced it as un- Islamic, agitated violently, and forced Allah Bux to ban it in 1938.

Success here only whetted the League appetite. Meanwhile, under Hindu pressure, the government regularized a small unauthorized Hanuman temple on Artillery Maidan near the Sindh Secretariat and banned the Om Mandali which has since become the Brahma Kumaris organization. All this encouraged the Leaguers' belief that the government could be brow-beaten. They now mounted a big agitation to topple Allah Bux.

Manzilgah was a couple of dilapidated structures on the bank of the Sindhu in Sukkur near the Sadhbela Island Mandir of the Hindus. It had long been used as a government godown. The Muslims now claimed it to be a mosque. The Hindus opposed the claim as fake; they also feared that a mosque near Sadhbela would be used to provoke controversy and tension.

Allah Bux was on the horns of a dilemma. Ghulam Hussain before him had held Manzilgah to be government property and had refused to hand it over to the Muslims. Allah Bux sent Muslim officers to inspect the Manzilgah. They came back and reported that the original Persian inscriptions described it as an inn and that the "mehrab" was a later addition. But the Leaguers were determined to create trouble. From 3 October to 19 November, 1939, under the leadership of G. M. Syed, Khuhro and Sir Haroon, they forcibly occupied Manzilgah. On I November, 1939, Bhagat Kanwar Ram, the well-known singer-saint of Sindh, was gunned down at Ruk railway station --- and nobody was arrested. Sukkur district observed complete hartal for fifteen days. When Pamnani, MLA, said that the Pir of Bharchundi had got Kanwar Ram killed (earlier the Pir's son had been beaten for kidnapping Hindu girls) he, too, was gunned down. The Sindh Hindus were stunned.

But worse was to follow. Word went round that killing one Hindu was equal to doing seven Haj pilgrimages. Sixty-four Hindus were killed and property worth several million was looted or burnt in the Sukkur countryside. In this violent atmosphere, G. M. Syed said on the floor of the Assembly that the Hindus shall be driven out of Sindh like the Jews from Germany --- a statement he has very much regretted since. But the damage was done.

It was a tragic situation, in which the Congress should have understood Allah Bux's dilemma. Here was a man who had presided over the All-India Azad Conference in Delhi in 1940 and said: ``The Muslims as a separate nation in India on the basis of their religion, is un-Islamic.'' And the Congress should have understood why he had vacillated on the Manzilgah issue. As Gandhiji rightly pointed out in the Harijan (2 December, 1939), the basic problem was that self-administration was new to Sindh. "Sindh is nominally autonomous and to that extent less able to protect life and property than the preceding government. For it has never had previous training in the Police or the Military arts." But Congress joined hands with Muslim League to topple the Allah Bux ministry! (And when Khoso, the only Congress Muslim MLA, objected, he was expelled from the Party!) It was a great gift made by the Congressmen of Sindh to the Muslim League, two days before that party met in Lahore and adopted the Partition resolution on 25 March, 1940! The Muslim leaders have since freely admitted that the Manzilgah issue was a bogus ("hathradoo") agitation, staged just to topple Allah Bux.

Responsible Hindus were shocked by the short-sightedness of Sindh Congressmen. Professor N.R. Malkani wrote to Sardar Patel to do something about it. And the Sardar wrote back: "I have received your distressing letter of the 1st March 1940. Our friends of the Congress Assembly Party in Sindh have acted in a manner which has brought discredit to the organization and to themselves . . . The Hindu Panchayat of Sukkur has, it seems, succeeded in coercing them to a line of action which they would not have taken if they had the choice or the requisite courage to stand by the principles of the Congress . . . They talk of wider interest of the country in relation to their action, while they forget that they are not serving the local, much less the wider interest."

The League ministry fell the following year and Al]ah Bux came back to power. But the damage had been done. The Muslim League branches in Sindh went up from 30 to 400. During this one League year the British officers covered themselves with infamy, in serving the communal cause.

Justice Weston was appointed to inquire into the Manzilgah riots. When the Muslim Anjuman blamed the Muslim League for the violence, the judge turned on them! When the parties and the judge went to examine the Manzilgah site, Rashdi, the League "counsel", picked up Weston's shoes and kept them in the shade. Weston was thrilled. When they came out, Rashdi again took the shoes and placed them before Weston. The judge in his excess of joy forgot even elementary discretion. He now left his car and sat in Rashdi's car, as the party drove to Rohri. Rashdi writes in his memoirs that Weston even asked him that day in the car as to when the Muslims were going to claim Sadhbela. No wonder Weston in his report blamed the Hindus for the riots. This same partisan judge was now appointed lo decide about the Manzilgah. And he decided that it was a mosque! The Manzilgah issue died down --- but not before it had delivered a body-blow to Hindu-Muslim amity in Sindh.

Allah Bux came back to power. But the British were now bent on seeing him out. When the "Quit India" movement started, he renounced his old title of Khan Bahadur and the new one of OBE (Order of the British Empire). He also resigned from the National Defence Council. The Governor now declared that he had no confidence in him --- the Assembly's confidence notwithstanding --- and dismissed him! A few months later he was murdered in broad daylight, while going in a tonga in his home-town of Shikarpur. The League minister Khuhro was arraigned --- but he escaped with the benefit of doubt.

Meanwhile British partiality for the League continued. The 1946 Assembly elections returned 28 Leaguers, 22 Congressmen, 7 anti-League Muslims, and 3 Europeans were nominated. The 22 Congressmen and the 7 anti-League Muslims had formed an alliance. They were one more than the League. But the Governor, Sir Francis Mudie, installed a League ministry and asked the 3 nominated Europeans to support it!

Even then, with a Leaguer elected Speaker, the League was reduced to 29 in a house of 60. But the Governor would not call the Assembly session. On top of that, when Mir Bundeh Ali Khan Talpur quit the League, the Governor sent his secretary to him, asking him to rejoin the League on promise of a ministership. When the Assembly had to be called to elect Sindh's representatives to the Constituent Assembly, the Governor adjourned the House on the very day that it was scheduled to take up the no-confidence motion. His excuse was that the Assembly, called to elect members to the Consembly, could not conduct any other business. Interestingly enough, at the same time, the British Governor of the Punjab allowed the Punjab Assembly to take up the motion of no-confidence against the non-League Khizr government, though it, too, had been called for electing representatives to the Consembly.

Later, when the Sindh Assembly session became constitutionally due, the Governor did not summon it --- because the League was by then down to 25; instead, he dissolved the Assembly, called for fresh elections and kept the Leaguers as "care-taker government". In the ensuing elections, massive rigging by the Muslim zamindars and officers, at the instance of the British higher-ups, gave the League 35 seats, as against only 2 to Nationalist Muslims. Before the election petitions could be taken up, the rigged Assembly had voted for Pakistan!, Governor Mudie was duly rewarded for his services by being elevated from the governorship of Sindh to that of the Punjab. Pir A.M. Rashdi has aptly described Mudie as "Katikoo" (master crook). The fate of Sindh was sealed by "Quide-e-Azam Mudie" even more than by the other Quaid, Mr. Jinnah.

The Congress could have at least partly saved Sindh, but it acted like Chamberlain who had abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938 with the statement that it was "a far-away country about which we know little."

The Thar Parker district had a Hindu majority and the Congress should have claimed it. Indeed it had traditionally been more a part of Marwar than of Sindh. On the eve of Partition, the Sindh government promptly merged Sanghar district with Thar Parker district --- to cancel out its Hindu majority. But even then the case of Thar Parker district was on par with that of Sylhet in Assam, where the Muslim League had demanded --- and got --- part of the district, through a plebiscite.

In 1928, when there was talk of separation of Sindh from Bombay, Jodhpur State had laid claim to the Amarkot (Umarkot) area of Thar Parker district. Jodhpur's case was that Amarkot had traditionally been part of its Marwar area. The Britishers had taken the area from Jodhpur temporarily for defence purposes. However, the Sindh Congress had opposed the move.

Another area India could have got was the native Khairpur state. as big as any district. For years the Mir of Khairpur had been kept confined to a house in Pune. In the Nineteen Forties the Khairpur Dewan was Aijaz Ali of U.P. The Number Two man was Mangharam Wadhwani, Treasury Officer. Aijaz Ali had ousted Mangharam. When the transfer of power was approaching, Mangharam met the Mir in Pune and promised to have him restored to his throne --- on condition that he removed Aijaz Ali and acceded to India. The Mir agreed. Mangharam met Mountbatten and Sardar Patel. The Mir was duly restored to his state; Aijaz Ali was sent away. The Mir was now prepared to accede to India. But Pandit Nehru declined the offer --- even as he had returned the accession papers of the Kalat state in Baluchistan.

Had New Delhi played its cards in Khairpur and Thar Parker, the frontier of India would have touched the mighty Indus. Indeed India could have asked for a plebiscite in the whole of Sindh, for the majority of Sindhis (Hindus & Muslims) had voted against the League in the 1946 general elections. In these elections, the Muslim League got only 46.3 per cent vote in a province with a 71 per cent Muslim population. For every four votes polled by the League, three were polled by the nationalist Muslims led by G. M. Syed and Maula Bux!

In a house of sixty, ten MLAs were returned unopposed. Only one of them was a Muslim. Had polling taken place in these ten constituencies also, the League percentage of the popular vote would have come down to less than forty!

So there was a clear anti-League majority of the popular vote in Sindh. In failing to avail of all these favorable factors, the Congress did little justice to Sindh and even less to India. The Congress threw not only NWFP to the wolves --- as complained by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan; it threw Sindh also to the wolves.