The Pakistan Demand As A Bargaining Counter

It was Jinnah who stood for a united India and it was Nehru, Patel and Gandhi who stood for partition. Complete separation was Congress’ choice

The Pakistan Demand As A Bargaining Counter

Jogindranath Mandal, Pakistan’s first Law Minister handpicked by Mr. Jinnah himself, wrote in his resignation letter (addressed to Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan) in 1951:

“For the sake of truth I must admit that I had always considered the demand of Pakistan by the Muslim League as a bargaining counter. Although I honestly felt that in the context of India as a whole Muslims had legitimate cause for grievance against upper class Hindu chauvinism, I held the view very strongly indeed that the creation of Pakistan would never solve the communal problem.”

This was no reforms commissioner or a British imperialist trying to explain away the Pakistan demand. This was Jinnah’s own handpicked Cabinet member who even before the creation of Pakistan was nominated to the Interim Government of India on the Muslim League quota of Muslim members – despite being a Scheduled Caste Hindu. 

Ever since she wrote her famous work “Sole Spokesman” in 1985, hardly a year goes by without someone somewhere trying to “debunk” Dr. Ayesha Jalal and then failing miserably at it. Who is it that is afraid of her thesis? Her thesis challenges a number of established nationalist positions in the subcontinent.

First and foremost it upsets the balance between Pakistani and Indian equation. Indians hold Jinnah wholly solely responsible for the division of British India. In this telling of history Gandhi and Nehru are the heroes and Jinnah is the villain of the piece. It is a story that has done remarkably well (see Gandhi the film for example).  Pakistani nationalist mythology envisages an unrelenting champion of Islam in Jinnah who secured a homeland out of “supreme will” and God’s grace. That Jinnah was an extraordinary political tactician and strategist is something no one can deny but painting him as some sort of a religious bigot hell bent on dividing India for Islam might sell in Pakistan (as General Ziaul Haq’s military dictatorship successfully did) but we now known from experience that it is a bad story to tell other than being completely false. Thus both the Indian narrative and the Pakistani narrative fit neatly into each other well.  

Then there are the Punjabi chauvinists who blame Jinnah for the partition of the province (even though Jinnah tried till the very end to keep it together and it was the Congress that carved up Punjab and Bengal). There are the ethno-nationalists from smaller provinces especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who see Jinnah as the epitome of all that is wrong with Pakistan.  All of these groups have a simplistic narrative: Jinnah asked for Pakistan and singlehandedly created it out of blood and fire. 

 Let us consider some of the established facts:

Jinnah’s contemporaries including his worst enemies admitted that it was not lure of office or self-seeking that led Jinnah to champion the demand for Pakistan. Jawaharlal Nehru admitted as much in his book Discovery of India. Lest I be accused of quoting a British reforms commissioner (reformed or not), I will quote Dr B R Ambedkar:

“Secondly, it forgets that Mr. Jinnah, who represents this ideological transformation, can never be suspected of being a tool in the hands of the British even by the worst of his enemies… it is doubtful if there is a politician in India to whom the adjective incorruptible can be more fittingly applied. Anyone who knows what his relations with the British Government have been, will admit that he has always been their critic, if indeed he has not been their adversary. No one can buy him. For it must be said to his credit that he has never been a soldier of fortune. The customary Hindu explanation fails to account for the ideological transformation of Mr. Jinnah.”

There is also an agreement on the fact that Jinnah was not interested in a theocratic state (which Pakistan is today). He made that much clear repeatedly before and after partition.  

So what was it all about? Jinnah’s main anxiety was the future of his constituents (the Muslim community) in an independent India. So to recap, he was not in it for personal power or office (he had rejected multiple governorships and judicial offices in the High Courts of India), he did not want to make a theocratic state and his main concern was the welfare of his constituents. If we agree so far and we do not have to, read on. Now this is important. One third of Jinnah’s constituents were to fall outside the borders of would be Pakistan. How then would Pakistan better their lot?

Remember Muslims were already in majorities in the provinces that were to constitute Pakistan. They had governments in all of them. The only use a Muslim majority federation could be to Indian Muslims was if such a Pakistan would link itself with the rest of India through a federal link. Whatever you might think of his politics, no one can deny that he was an extremely intelligent man and adroit politician.

Was he really going to leave those in most need for saving outside the so-called promised land? Jinnah’s maximum demand was an autonomous region within united India.  Was a completely separate sovereign state within the realm possibility? Yes. The crucial point – that both Jinnah’s Indian detractors and Pakistani hagiographers deliberately play down- is that Jinnah was always ready to settle for something less than a completely sovereign state.  India mind you did not exist before the British unified it. Now that the British rule was about to end, a new consociational compact was needed i.e. to build a union of India atop two sub-federations of Pakistan and Hindustan. Call it bargaining counter or call it Pakistan, Jinnah was ready to come to negotiated settlement which would have kept India united.  

This was unacceptable to the Congress party because it had an all or nothing approach- an unfettered Hindu majority state or Akhand Bharat stretching from Afghanistan to Burma. Jawaharlal Nehru tried to give it a socialist and secular spin, but such a federation without the consociational safeguards would have been for all practical purposes a majoritarian state dominated by the caste Hindu political leadership that had captured the Congress citadel starting with Gandhi in the 1920s. 

First of all Jinnah’s denials that his demand was not a bargaining counter were logical. If Pakistan were a bluff, would he wink and say to Nehru Gandhi and the British– “look I am asking for this but I am just bluffing. Call my bluff.” So of course Jinnah would deny that it was a bargaining counter and push for a fully sovereign and independent state. This is called Plan B nationalism. Jinnah was neither the first nor the last political leader in history to use it. Anyone familiar with Quebecois politics in Canada and Scotland’s push for independence from the United Kingdom knows what Plan B nationalism is all about. 

Here is the smoking gun.  When H V Hodson suggested that Muslim League leaders interpreted the Lahore Resolution as being consistent with the confederation of India, Jinnah sent this letter to Nawab Ismail:

 “Dear Nawab Sahib,

 I have already written to you and explained to you the situation that we stand by the Lahore Resolution and it is quite clear to every man, who understands the constitutional problems of India, and also to every intelligent man if he applies his mind and tries to understand it.

I cannot say anything more because it is liable to be misunderstood and misrepresented, specially at present.

I think Mr. Hodson fully understands as to what our demand is.

With kind regards,

Yours sincerely,”


What was there to be misunderstood? If Lahore Resolution stood for a complete separation why would it be liable to be misunderstood and misrepresented? What was it that Mr. Hodson fully understood about the demand?   There are some who have resorted to mental gymnastics to explain away this letter and what it was Mr. Hodson fully understood. One is still to find a satisfactory answer to this. Here is the most probable and plausible explanation: Jinnah agreed with Hodson’s view that the Lahore resolution envisaged a federation or at most a confederation. 

Jinnah’s acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan is the other smoking gun that the nationalists on all sides are unable to overcome. The Cabinet Mission Plan i.e. the idea of three-tiered federation has been most misunderstood. Here are a few facts:

1.      The Cabinet Mission Plan envisaged a federation of India and not a confederation covering three very broad areas foreign affairs, defence, communications and taxation for these purposes.

 2.      The middle tier was not federations but groups of provinces- a kind of sub-federation.

 3.      There was no parity between Hindus and Muslims in the central legislature.  The question of parity only arose in the interim government which was to preside over the constitution making process. 

The main point of disagreement was not necessarily the erratic behavior shown by Pandit Nehru in July of 1946 but the Congress’ insistence that provinces would be free not to join the provinces in the first place. The plan instead provided for the right of provinces to exit the mandatory groups after the first elections. The crucial question was the interpretation of Paragraph 15(V) of the Cabinet Mission Plan.  

Of course Jinnah had to sell the Cabinet Mission Plan to his own colleagues and followers in the Muslim League. He ultimately got them to agree to the plan as a first step to Pakistan but what this does not explain is why he urged his followers to accept the Cabinet Mission Plan in the first place. 

Jinnah envisaged an India above Pakistan and Hindustan. His maximum demand was the creation of two federations i.e.  Hindustan and Pakistan who would then come together and form a Confederation of India – a single political unity from the Khyber Pass to border of Burma. It was about building an India bottom up instead of imposing one top down. Other than the British rule, India had never been one political entity. The closest it came to being one was under Aurangzeb. Jinnah’s idea of a Confederation of India would have delivered the goods. As time would have moved on the union might just have gotten stronger.

Significantly we must note that Jinnah accepted a Federation in form of the Cabinet Mission Plan. This is a very significant point. Jinnah climbed down from his maximum demand. A federation is a closer union than a confederation. Who is to say that the principle of Pakistan i.e. Lahore Resolution was not fully realised by the groups envisaged under the Cabinet Mission Plan. 

Ultimately it was the Congress, especially Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, which refused to accept a solution less than complete separation. They did so because they did not want to the whole of Punjab and Bengal to become part of the autonomous Muslim majority region.  It was the Congress that insisted on partitioning Punjab and Bengal, as voting patterns in both Punjab and Bengal assemblies showed.  It was Nehru who rejected the proposal for an independent and sovereign Bengal state which had been endorsed by Jinnah, Suhrawardy and Sarat Bose in May 1947.  

The conclusion, as the great Indian jurist H M Seervai drew in his classic Partition of India Legend and Reality, is simple. It was Jinnah who stood for a united India and it was Nehru, Patel and Gandhi who stood for partition. Complete separation was Congress’ choice. It was not ready to pay the price – a consociational loosely federal India with Pakistan as an autonomous constituent unit.  Were they right in doing so is a matter of academic debate but there is no denying the facts of history and Seervai’s conclusion is inescapable. 

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