Sunday, September 15, 2013

Muslim Zion - Pakistan as a political idea

C Hurst & Co 
Farzana Shaikh’s Community and Consensus in Islam: Muslim representation in Colonial India,1860-1947, and Ayesha Jalal’s The Sole Spokesman offered two different narratives of the Muslim League’s and Jinnah’s politics. While Shaikh focussed on the religious dimension, Jalal argued that League’s politics had much more flexibility towards Hindus where Pakistan was used as a bargaining counter. 

Commenting on these two narratives, Gail Minault wrote: “In any case, drawing a line in the sand and lining up votaries on either side of that imaginary line does little to advance our collective search for historical understanding.”

Faisal Devji’s Muslim Zion – Pakistan as a political idea, is a refreshing addition to the study of politics of Muslim League and Jinnah’s personality as it traces the creation of Pakistan (just like Israel’s a year later) in an ‘ambiguously religious way of imagining nationality in an alien geography, without a necessary reference to shared blood…’ To borrow Minault’s observation it is free from the drawing of an imaginary line in the sand. As the name suggests, the book explores the common characteristic of international or non-national state between Zionism and Muslim nationalism in India, a departure from the dominant variables of examining the Muslim League and Jinnah with the British, Congress and the high politics of Partition. 

Early on in the introduction, Devji makes it clear that for him history is not to be ‘written as a police report or judicial decision’, instead his interest lies in the ‘forms of argumentation and lines of reasoning that both transcend and survive such intentionality to shape the prose of history’.  The book makes some complex and nuanced observations spread over six chapters.

Muslim League’s ambivalence towards history and geography

Devji contends that both Zionism and Muslim nationalism share more with each other than with their immediate neighbours.  This ambivalence towards history and refusal to be defined by geography, Devji writes “led them to conceive of a novel and remarkably abstract form of political unity premised upon a paradoxical rejection of the past.”  One can infer that it is perhaps this rejection and ambivalence that bases them on “national will the greater part of whose history lies outside their borders.”

Does this explain the rewriting of history textbooks in Pakistan which is in complete opposite to Jinnah’s disdain of India’s Muslim history. Devji sees a pattern in this disdain, as the whole Pakistan movement was based on tying it to the recent colonial history rather than tagging it to the past. 

What also made Jinnah uncomfortable was the realisation that Hindustan would be claimed by Congress as ‘preexisting India’, with Pakistan coming out as a secessionist.

Devji quotes Jinnah in a 1944 meeting with Gandhi: “Ours is a case of division and carving out two independent sovereign states by way of settlement between two major nations, Hindus and Muslims, and not of severance or secession from any existing union which is non-existent in India.”   

That Jinnah was much of a constitutional player rather than operating in the religious realm is well known, but Devji’s extrapolation of and subtle use of Islamic and Muslim philosophy in the British colonial framework adds to our understanding of Jinnah’s and League’s politics and the subsequent creation of Pakistan. “Instead of being tied to a language of historical and territorial integrity nationality for Jinnah was a purely constitutional category, one crucial to the making of a social contract.” (page 105)

According to Devji, Jinnah’s opposition to Khilafat was not due to ‘generalized advocacy of secularism’, but rather due to its ‘appeal to Muslims as merely religious group.’ This was because it risked reducing Muslims merely as a religious group and thus relegating them to a minority in religious terms that could easily overshadow their distinct political place.   

Chaudhury Khaliquzzaman in his autobiography gives air to his disappointment to the fact that Maulana Azad avoided mentioning Khilafat, in which he himself played an active role, in his book. 
Was it because, as Devji notes that Gandhi was able to ‘seduce Muslims into a religious madness’ that Azad did not want to chronicle those days? 

Alliance with non-Congress groups Devji is not satisfied with the categorization of League’s leaders and members in terms of their attitude towards the British. Without naming Francis Robinson it is obvious that when he mentions the categorization of League leaders into the old and young party he is referring to his copiously referenced book Separatism Among Muslims.
“Because of the curious demographic configuration that Muslims possessed in colonial India, they were able to deploy two kinds of political strategies, one defined by the category of minority and the other by that of the nations.” (Page 184) It was this nature of Muslim politics that Devji argues made it possible for the League to link up with other minority groups. Why then was there no effective coming together of Jinnah and Ambedkar?

Taking through the possibility of Jinnah aligning with the non-brahmin and Dalit parties, Devji wonders whether it demonstrated ‘remnants’ of Jinnah’s ‘loyalty to India in some perverse way’ or his desire to be the ‘only one to destroy the country he had fought to kept united for so many years’. The part dealing with Muslim-Dalit politics makes for some fascinating reading.  Apart from being representatives of two major minority groups, Ambedkar and Jinnah also shared the common resolve to constitutional methods. Arguably much of the current Muslim-Dalit political dynamics in India can be traced to the nature of this relationship and parleys.

Muslim Zion brings forth the collaborative and competitive politics of Ambedkar and Jinnah, a much ignored aspect. The book thus effectively traces the creation of Pakistan by mapping Islam, Muslim, and minorityism packed with some fresh and original perspectives on Sir Syed Ahmed, Allama Iqbal, and Syed Ameer Ali among others.

Muslim Zion will also be of interest to those seeking to have some understanding of the Shia sub-sects. Devji suggests that the interest of prominent Shias in the politics of Muslim League had got to do with the fact that they wanted to protect themselves from both the Hindu as well as the Sunni majority. 

While Devji rightly points out the near absence of scholarship on the prominent trading and merchant groups of Bombay, it would have been great if he had elaborated more on the ‘long and unresolved struggle’ to control the League and its policies between North India’s Muslims and the merchants and landowners of the cities. 

Even as the book explores on the idea of Pakistan, the amazing parallels between a Muslim homeland and Jewish settlement seamlessly runs through the narrative making it eminently readable. Muslim Zion is a provocative and fascinating piece of scholarship with some very complex and tight observations and arguments.

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