Maulana Azad's Words Prove Congress Divided India And Not The Muslim League

Azad believed that Krishna Menon, who had impressed Mountbatten with his pro-British tendencies, had influenced Nehru into accepting partition of India.

Maulana Azad's Words Prove Congress Divided India And Not The Muslim League

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was the foremost Muslim figure in the Indian National Congress.  He was handpicked to lead the Indian National Congress from 1940 to 1946 to counter Muslim League’s claim to be the sole representative of Muslims of India. His career ran parallel to that of Quaid-e-Azam M A Jinnah but in the opposite direction. 

Jinnah had started off in the Congress as a staunch Indian nationalist and in later life became the champion of the Muslim cause. Azad had started off as the champion of Muslim community’s interests in the Khilafat committee and then evolved into the foremost advocate of composite Indian nationalism in the Congress. In the League’s view, he was the token Muslim that the Congress paraded to counter the Lahore resolution, which explains his election to the office of the president in 1940. 

The point is that Azad was decidedly an adversary of Jinnah and the Muslim League, though it must be said to his credit that he did not resort to the kind of takfir his Islamist colleagues resorted to against Jinnah and the League but in fact tried to discourage it to a certain extent. It is for this reason that we must then take into account what he had to say about partition of India and who he held responsible for it.  

The three people he held responsible for the eventual partition of India were Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Lord Louis Mountbatten. His book India wins freedom had expurgated sections which were not made public till 1988, 30 years after his death and they make plain why he held the view he did. 

Maulana Azad writes and I quote what is surely his verdict on partition: 

“Now a situation had arisen where we were becoming greater supporters of partition than Jinnah. I warned Jawaharlal that history would never forgive us if we agreed to partition. The verdict would be that India was divided not by the Muslim League but by the Congress.”

Azad was right. It was Congress that divided India and not the Muslim League. Muslim League had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan but it was the Congress that repudiated the agreement.  Azad writes:

“Now happened one of those unfortunate events which change the course of history. On July 10, Jawaharlal held a press conference in Bombay in which he made an astonishing statement. Some press representatives asked him whether, with the passing of the resolution by the AICC, the Congress had accepted the plan in toto, including the composition of the interim Government?

Jawaharlal in reply stated that the Congress would enter the Constituent Assembly "completely unfettered by agreements and free to meet all situations as they arise."

Press representatives further asked if this meant that the Cabinet Mission Plan could be modified.

Jawaharlal replied emphatically that the Congress had agreed only to participate in the Constituent Assembly and regarded itself free to change or modify the Cabinet Mission Plan as it thought best. 

The Muslim League had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan only under duress. Naturally Mr Jinnah was not very happy about it. In his speech to the League Council, he had clearly stated that he recommended acceptance only because nothing better could be obtained. His political adversaries started to criticise him by saying that he had failed to deliver the goods.

Jawaharlal's statement came to him as a bombshell. He immediately issued a statement that this declaration by the Congress President demanded a review of the whole situation. He accordingly asked Liaqat Ali Khan to call a meeting of the League Council and issued a statement to the following effect.

The Muslim League Council had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan in Delhi as it was assured that the Congress also had accepted the scheme and the plan would be the basis of the future constitution of India. Now that the Congress President had declared that the Congress could change the scheme through its majority in the Constituent Assembly, this would mean that the minorities would be placed at the mercy of the majority.”

Of course this Azad’s view and it is mostly correct. Now we know, however, that even Jinnah’s maximum demand, a sovereign Pakistan, was placed within an all India whole. This meant a confederation of India or treaty relations between Pakistan and the rest of India. 

For Jinnah, the Cabinet Mission Plan was the ideal solution and his acceptance of the plan shows that he was ready to give up his maximum demand till almost the eleventh hour.  The whole issue had in fact started much earlier in 1937. Azad writes:

“Jawaharlal is one of my dearest friends and his contribution to India's national life is second to none. I have nevertheless to say with regret that this was not the first time that he did immense harm to the national cause. He had committed an almost equal blunder in 1937 when the first elections were held under the Government of India Act 1935. In these elections, the Muslim League had suffered a great setback throughout the country except in Bombay and the UP....

Chaudhari Khaliquzzaman and Nawab Ismail Khan were then the leaders of the Muslim League in the UP. When I came to Lucknow for forming the Government, I spoke to both of them. They assured me that not only would they cooperate with the Congress, but they would fully support the Congress programme. They naturally expected that the Muslim League would have some share in the new Government. The local position was such that neither of them could enter the Government alone. Either both would have to be taken or none. I had therefore held out hopes that both would be taken into the Government... and I left for Patna as my presence was necessary for forming the ministry in Bihar. After some days, I returned to Allahabad and found to my great regret that Jawaharlal had written to Chaudhari Khaliquzzaman and Nawab Ismail Khan that only one of them could be taken into the ministry. He had said that the Muslim League party could decide who should be included but in the light of what I have said above, neither was in a position to come in alone. They therefore expressed their regret and said that they were unable to accept Jawaharlal's offer.

This was a most unfortunate development. If the League's offer of cooperation had been accepted, the Muslim League party would for all practical purposes merge in the Congress. Jawaharlal's action gave the Muslim League in the UP a new lease of life. All students of Indian politics know that it was from the UP that the League was re-organised.”

In a revealing statement about Nehru, Azad writes:

“We all like our admirers but perhaps Jawaharlal likes them a little more than others.”

Azad believed that Krishna Menon, who had impressed Mountbatten with his pro-British tendencies, had influenced Nehru into accepting partition of India. He writes:

“When the interim Government was formed, Jawaharlal wanted to appoint Krishna Menon as the High Commissioner in London. Lord Wavell did not agree. The British Government also advised that his appointment would not be appropriate as he was regarded a fellow-traveller. Soon after Lord Wavell left, Krishna Menon came to India and stayed with Jawaharlal. Lord Mountbatten immediately perceived that Jawaharlal had a weakness for Krishna Menon and could be influenced by him. Lord Mountbatten decided to become his patron and invited him to the Viceroy's House on several occasions. Menon had communist tendencies but when he saw that Lord Mountbatten was friendly and might help him to get a position, he became pro-British overnight. He impressed Lord Mountbatten with his friendly feelings for the British. Lord Mountbatten felt that Menon would be useful in persuading Jawaharlal to accept his scheme of partition of India. It is my belief that Menon did influence Jawaharlal's mind on this question. I was not surprised when sometime later I learnt that Lord Mountbatten offered to support Jawaharlal if he wanted to appoint Menon as the High Commissioner in London.”

Late in his life, Mountbatten blamed partition and its horrors squarely on Jinnah and the Muslim League but Azad’s view is clearly at odds with Mountbatten’s view. Azad writes:

“Lord Mountbatten took full advantage of the situation. Because of the dissensions among the members, he slowly and gradually assumed full powers. He still kept up the form of a constitutional Governor-General but in fact he started to mediate between the Congress and the League and get his own way.

He also began to give a new turn to the political problem and tried to impress on both the Congress and the Muslim League the inevitability of Pakistan. He pleaded in favour of Pakistan and sowed the seeds of the idea in the minds of the Congress members of the Executive Council....

He wanted to be remembered in history as the man who had solved the Indian problem. If the solution was in terms of a plan formulated by him, this would bring still greater credit to him.

I think one factor responsible for the change (in Nehru's attitude to partition) was the personality of Lady Mountbatten.

Lord Mountbatten gave me the impression that he was not going to London with a clear cut picture of partition nor had he given up completely the Cabinet Mission Plan. Later events made me change my estimate of the situation. The way he acted afterwards convinced me that he had already made up his mind and was going to London to persuade the British Cabinet to accept his plan of partition.”

The final character that Azad impugns is Sardar Patel. He writes:

“I was surprised that Patel was now an even greater supporter of the two nation theory than Jinnah. Jinnah may have raised the flag of partition but now the real flag bearer was Patel. Sardar Patel was fifty per cent in favour of partition even before Lord Mountbatten appeared on the scene. He was convinced that he could not work with the Muslim League. He was prepared to have a part of India if only he could get rid of the Muslim League. It would not perhaps be unfair to say that Vallabhbhai Patel was the founder of Indian partition… Now a situation had arisen where we were becoming greater supporters of partition than Jinnah.”

This squares with Jinnah’s own view. After partition Jinnah told Hashoo Kewal Ramani in Karachi: “Look here, I never wanted this damn Partition! It was forced upon me by Sardar Patel. And now they want me to eat humble pie and raise my hands in defeat.”

Here was Maulana Azad, Congress president and India’s first minister of education, blaming partition of India on Nehru, Patel and Mountbatten. It has been 36 years since the expurgated parts of Azad’s book were revealed to the public. 

Why haven’t Pakistani academics and intelligentsia seized on it? 

Sadly Pakistani academics and the intelligentsia are wedded to the lazy but comfortable narrative that Iqbal gave the idea of Pakistan and Jinnah singlehandedly brought it to fruition.  

The truth is that neither Iqbal nor Jinnah envisaged their Pakistan outside India.  Iqbal had said so clearly when he pointed out that the scheme he had given for Pakistan meant a large state within India.  

Jinnah’s acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan is something that just cannot be explained away by those who argue that Jinnah was an uncompromising advocate of partition. Jinnah’s own career and priorities shows that he was committed to the idea of a peaceful and honourable communal settlement till the very end. 

After all Jinnah is the only politician in the history of the subcontinent to be called the “Best Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity” and he had once famously said that he was “an Indian first, second and last”. In the telling of the Pakistani and Indian nationalist mythologies, the Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity suddenly transformed into an incorrigible separatist, something which he was not.  

Azad’s account is a clear admission of the fact that it was the Congress, and not the Muslim League, that partitioned India. There are many critics of Jinnah in Pakistan who sing paeans of Maulana Azad as a prescient sage especially given his commitment to a composite Indian nationalism. Perhaps they should also pay attention to what Azad himself wrote about partition. 

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a barrister at law and the author of the book Jinnah; A Life.