Not Just Wishful Thinking: Chaudhry Rehmat Ali Was The First To Envision An Independent State For Muslims

Not Just Wishful Thinking: Chaudhry Rehmat Ali Was The First To Envision An Independent State For Muslims
Chaudhry Rehmat Ali made the declaration of Pakistan in his 1933 pamphlet, titled Now or Never: Are We to Live or Perish Forever? However, the declaration was considered a wishful thinking held by a Cambridge University student at the Third Round Table Conference in London, attended by the likes of MA Jinnah, Sir Allama Iqbal, Sir Zafarullah Khan, and Sir Sultan Aga Khan.

In 1935, MA Jinnah returned to India to rally Muslims behind the newly devolved system of governance announced by the British under the Government of India Act of 1858 (earlier amended in 1919). The devolution plan separated Burma from British India, established the Indian Reserve Bank, Indian Federal Court, Federal and Provincial Public Services Commissions, and local assemblies. The provincial assemblies were established in Assam, Bombay Presidency, Bengal, Bihar, Madras Presidency, Punjab, Sindh (separated from Bombay) and the United Provinces.

The colonial era rules that created these provincial assemblies are still functioning. The North West Frontier Punjab (NWFP) was declared a separate province in 1901. Balochistan was a Colonial Agency between 1876 and 1947, whereas Khanate of Kalat (separate from Balochistan) and its five tributaries of Makran, Lasbela, Kharan, Sarawan, and Kachhi were British protectorates.
After returning to India, Jinnah tried to mobilise Muslims to participate in a united British India. But Jinnah and the All India Muslim League lost the elections of 1937 in all provinces, as Muslims rejected the Indian federation and demanded an independent homeland. 

Unionist Party of Punjab defeated the Muslim League in 1937 and 1946. NWFP voted for the Indian National Congress in 1937 and 1946. Assam also voted for the Indian National Congress in 1937 and 1946. Bengal voted for Krishak Prasad Party in 1937, which merged with the Muslim League in 1942, and returned to power in 1946. Sindh voted for the pro-British United Party, which joined the Muslim League and returned to power in 1946.

In 1937, Pakistan was still a student's dream. However, the Pakistan Movement was gaining support in the Muslim minority provinces. As far as Muslim majority provinces were concerned, all of them wanted an independent sovereign state of their own. The princely states like Jammu and Kashmir, Dir, Swat, Chitral, Hunza, Nagar, Bahawalpur, Kalat and its five dependencies remained firmly in the control of their feudal rulers at the expense of local populations.

Principalities of Jammu and Kashmir, Hyderabad Daccan, and Kalat (Kalat, Sarawan, Kharan, Lasbela, Kachhi and Makran) all favoured independence. Till then, Balochistan was a British Colonial Agency.

Disparate Muslims living as a minority in the Hindu majority provinces voted for Pakistan in 1937, but were disorganised and didn’t have a common platform.

In 1937, the Muslim League failed to emerge as the party of Muslims because it did not represent their aspirations. The Muslim League took immediate damage control measures -- the 1938 Allahabad address of Iqbal, which unlike Rehmat Ali, did not mention Pakistan; and the 1939 call of Jinnah for observing the Day of Deliverance to fill the leadership vacuum. 

Muslims supporting the Pakistan Movement did not consider young and inexperienced Rehmat Ali capable of leading them against British. Jinnah and the landowning nobles of the Muslim League were seen as more competent leaders as they had access to the colonial masters. They thought visionaries like Rehmat Ali would never find favour with colonial masters.

Thus, the leadership of Pakistan Movement, started by Rehmat Ali in 1933, passed into the hands of All India Muslim League on December 22, 1939. Ironically, the very same Round Table delegates who had treated the idea of Pakistan as a wishful thinking of a Cambridge student were now its leading advocates. In the 27th annual session of the All India Muslim League, for the first time since it was established in 1906, the League demanded an independent sovereign states for Muslims.

As a result, local pro-independence parties of Sindh and Bengal merged into All India Muslim League, whereas the leaders of NWFP, Punjab, Balochistan, Kalat, Jammu and Kashmir, and Assam continued to oppose Jinnah and his party. 

The founder of Pakistan Movement, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, remained in England as a distant observer.
After the 1946 elections with the successes of pro-Pakistan political forces in Bengal and Sindh, Jinnah was in a position to convince Baloch leaders to join Pakistan. He then exerted pressure in March 1947 to bring down the anti-Pakistan Unionist government in Punjab (enforcing the governor's rule), and to call for a referendum in NWFP for a popular pro-Pakistan vote.

The pro-Pakistan referendum in NWFP and the passing of Pakistan Resolution in the Sindh Assembly laid the legal foundation of Pakistan in spite of the opposition from the largest Muslim majority province of Punjab. 

The National Conference of Jammu and Kashmir remained loyal to the Dogra Maharaja, as Sheikh Abdullah wanted to become the sovereign of an independent Jammu and Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah wanted to become the first prime minister. The maharajah spoiled Sheikh Abdullah's plans by acceding to India.

In October 1947, Jinnah resorted to sending volunteer forces into Jammu and Kashmir liberating more than 50 percent of the territory, but the Pakistan army could not secure all the territories liberated by the volunteer forces and Kargil, Daras, Baramullah, Poonch, and Akhnor were lost to India in 1948, which also forced the volunteers to give up the siege of Leh, the capital of Ladakh.

Thus, by August 1947, Jinnah had secured the road to Pakistan. Would Chaudhry Rehmat Ali have secured the road to Pakistan? Probably not, but he is undoubtedly the father of nation who in 1933 gave Pakistan its name, founded the Pakistan independence movement, and believed in Pakistan when no one else did.