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Rahmat Ali’s political imagination

Despite existing on the margins, his thoughts shape the national discourse of this country

Rahmat Ali’s political imagination

Part II

“Now or Never: Are we to live or perish for ever?” was the first circular by Rahmat Ali. It was published in January 1933 under the auspices of The Pakistan National Movement which was established in 1933 at Cambridge and he himself was its founder-President. He ran the whole show and “every idea, suggestion, statement, leaflet, declaration, pamphlet or demand” came from him and him only.

In this pamphlet, Ali establishes the primacy of what he calls “Indianism” as “one force” which had dominated the people of South Asia and also “defeated their efforts to improve the lot of their countries”. Other than that, he does not provide any concrete definition of Indianism. What however can be deciphered from his works is that the caste Hindus and their abode and culture are what he designates as Indianism. His condemnatory tone and tenor is categorical and absolutely uncompromising.

According to his scheme of territorial re-arrangement, the North Western part of the subcontinent has a separate geographical and cultural identity from Hindustan, a tract of land that he reduces just to the core of the Ganges-Yumna valley. Rest of the land mass stretched around Hindustan, according to him, is non-Indian, which has been subjected to the domination of Indianism for many centuries. Strangely enough, he subtracts the Rajputs and Marathas from the fold of Indianism despite both being firmly rooted in the soil and the culture of India.

He asserts that Indianism right from the dawn of history had destructed and victimised “men and millats, crippled creeds and countries, and enslaved at least half the continent of Asia”. Then he laments about the way Indianism had not only sustained itself but “under the auspices of British Imperialism and through the hands of a British citizen in the service of that Imperialism” consolidated itself. He cites the example of All India National Congress which was founded in 1885. By the implication of this nomenclature, it designated all the South Asian lands incorporated into the British Empire as India. Besides, “the non-Indian nations” were denied the right to their distinct nationhood. Lastly, the Indianism asserted its “pretentious claim to stamping Indian nationality on the people living in those lands which through such dubious devices, it has made known to the world as the Subcontinent of India”.

Read the first part: Rahmat Ali and our collective imagination

Curiously enough, Rahmat Ali considers the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Marathas and the Rajputs as non-Indians on whom the fetters of “Indianism” were imposed by this “preposterous prefix of All-India”. Rahmat Ali is vociferous in disproving the proposal of bringing about the federal structure at the All-India level as it had been envisaged in the proceedings of Round Table Conference(s). He sees the proposal for federation (as passed by the British parliament) as a machination of Indianism with the support of British Imperialism.

To ward off any prospect of a federation at All-India level, he founded The Pakistan National Movement with its programme consisting of seven cardinal principles and aims. These principles, according to Ali, symbolise the seven dirges of the doom of Indianism and the seven trumpets of the dawn of Asianism. The fundamental aim(s) being that the organisation was to effectively counter Indianism and to strive for liberating Muslims and the other “nations of South Asia” from its hegemony. These aims were:

a) The spiritual liberation from the secular thraldom of Indianism. b) The cultural liberation from its barbarian influence. c) The social liberation from its caste tyranny. d) The economic liberation from the impoverishing capitalism of Indianism. d) The nation liberation of the people of South Asia from its destructive domination. e) That the movement stands for the inter-national consolidation of the nations of South Asia against the de-nationalising dangers of Indianism. f) It also stands for the creation of a new order of “Asianism” to take the place of the old order of “Indianism” in South Asia.

Thus the simplistic prognosis was that all the ailments plaguing South Asia emanated from the ‘curse’ of Indianism which must be rooted out to restore all that epitomised as good in the region. None of the schemes put forward by various people, be it Muhammad Iqbal, M.H. Gazdar or even various schemes propounded by Dr. Sayyid Abdul Latif (between 1938 to 1943) exhibited the extent of antipathy for the ‘Indianism’ or in other words the Hindus as Rahmat Ali did. If explored afresh, Rahmat Ali can easily fit into the cast of a hero for Islamists in Pakistan with a Pan-Islamist agenda.

Now or Never was written by Rahmat Ali himself. Given its contents, the pamphlet had made a radical departure from several proposals floated already by people like Hasrat Mohani, Lala Lajpat Rai or Iqbal. That pamphlet propounded a scheme of “an Islamic state cut on the Indian soil entitled Pakistan”. Written against the backdrop of the roundtable conferences, it therefore addressed and was sent to the British and Indian delegates who had participated in the deliberations at the parliamentary committee on Indian Constitutional Reform during 1933-34.

Ali was very critical of the delegates of the first and second Round Table Conferences who had by accepting “a constitution based on the principle of an All-India Federation” committed “an inexcusable blunder and an incredible betrayal”. More importantly, the name of Pakstan (without ‘i’) appeared for the first time in that pamphlet. Now or Never was meant to represent “the thirty million Muslims of Pakstan, inhabiting five Northern Units of India-Punjab, North-West Frontier (Afghan) Province, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan”. It sought the “recognition of their national status, as distinct from the other inhabitants of India, by the grant to Pakstan of a separate Federal Constitution on religious, social and historical grounds”.

In his declaration, he contested the status of India as a single country or the home of one single nation. To him it was “the designation of a State created by the British for the first time in history”. It included peoples who had never been part of the Indian nation at any period of its history and they had retained their distinct identity from the outset till the establishment of the British rule.

Interestingly, Rahmat Ali’s demand for the separate federation excluded Bengal. Subsequently however, he accorded it a separate status as an integral part of his scheme in The Continent of Dinia with the nomenclature of Bang-i-Islam which later on became Bangistan. Similarly, according to the figure provided by Ali, the total number of Muslims in India was eighty million and the constituent areas of his proposed Pakistan contained just 30 million Muslims. He succinctly claimed that his aim was to save the whole lot of Muslims of India from the impending Hindu rule. But while propounding his Pakistan scheme, Ali left a clear majority of the Muslims to fend for themselves, under the Hindus.

Much later, in his imagining of the Continent of Dinia, he amended the scheme which despite its flaws was all encompassing in that particular sense.

The other aspect of Ali’s demand enshrined in Now or Never was his enunciation of the Muslims as a separate nation. K.K. Aziz is spot on that “none before him had announced this so clearly, so insistently and so rationally”. How can that demand be rational begs a question though. But Rahmat Ali’s status as the harbinger of separatism of the North Indian Muslim cannot be doubted. Much of it later on became the part of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s presidential address on March 23, 1940 at Lahore. That statement is as under:

“Our religion and culture, our history and tradition, our social code and economic system, our laws of inheritance, succession and marriage are fundamentally different from those of most peoples living in the rest of India. The ideals which move our people to make the highest sacrifices are essentially different from those which inspire the Hindus to do the same. These differences are not confined to broad, basic principles. Far from it. They extend to the minutest details of our lives.”

Ironically, no reference to Rahmat Ali was made during the entire event, which was indicative of how acerbic Jinnah was towards him. Obviously, Rahmat Ali calling Jinnah Mir Jaffar etc. in his other writeup “Pakistan or a Pastan” must have ruffled Jinnah. Despite that ill-feeling, one has to admit that Rahmat Ali’s ideals, howsoever quixotic they might seem, eventually became much of Pakistan’s state narrative; despite the fact that Rahmat Ali exists on the margins in our national discourse.

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

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