Lahore 1940: Deferred Secession
Saleena Karim

(Appeared in Dawn, Special Report 'Lahore Resolution' supplement, 23 March 2012)

Decades before India's partition, Muslims were accused of having 'separatist' aspirations. Of course until the end of the 1930s most Muslim leaders - particularly those from the Muslim-majority provinces - really viewed political 'separation' in strictly all-India terms. They pushed for strong provinces, a weak federal centre, and separate electorates. Yet it is that true they also sought to be treated as more than a minority community. The Lucknow Pact (1916), Jinnah's major contribution to Hindu-Muslim unity, was drafted with this in mind (by Jinnah's own admission).[1] Before the third Round Table Conference (1932), Muslims even called for 'completely autonomous Federal States of equal status',[2] based on their opinion that they were not a community but a 'nation'.[3]

Several events served to harden the Muslim stance: 1) The All India National Congress' support of Gandhi's revolutionary politics that gradually alienated, rather than united, Muslims from their Hindu compatriots. 2) Congress' refusal to compromise on the Nehru Report (1928), which rejected separate electorates and offered Muslims a quarter of seats at India's centre instead of a third. 3) The failed Round Table Conferences of 1930-2 (London), which ended in political deadlock owing to persisting communal tensions. 4) The period between 1937-9. Congress came into power for the first time in British India, and made heavy-handed attempts to secure political and communal dominance, heightening fears of a 'Hindu raj' in a future independent India. Embittered by these experiences, Muslims developed a more hardliner stance than before. Still, many provincial leaders joined the League chiefly out of political expediency, and well into the 1940s some remained willing to cooperate with the Congress when it suited their own interests.

Separatism vs. secessionism

Two distinct strains of Muslim 'separatism' emerged by the early 1930s. Here we will refer to 'separatism' as a demand for provincial autonomy, separate electorates and a weak centre within an all-India context. 'Secessionism' will mean partition where the Muslim state(s) and Hindu states(s) would become fully independent, and their relationship restricted to international treaties, i.e. no centre. ('Balkanisation' - the creation of two mutually hostile states - was never on the agenda.)

Muhammad Iqbal and Choudhuri Rahmat Ali represent early calls for secession. In 1930, whilst Muslim leaders fought for provincial autonomy in London, Iqbal said at Allahabad that he would prefer to 'go farther than the demands' of his peers. He wanted to see the Punjab, NWFP, Sindh and Baluchistan 'amalgamated into a single State'. He said this was likely to be the 'final destiny' of Muslims at least in North-West India.[4] Iqbal also acknowledged that this was less a 'demand' and more a prediction about the long-term outcome of Muslim separatism, based on the circumstances of his time.

Cambridge-based Choudhuri Rahmat Ali was arguably the earliest activist for partition. He coined the name PAKISTAN: an acronym of the provinces Punjab (P), NWFP (Afghan - A), Kashmir (K), Sindh plus the last few letters of Baluchistan (-STAN). It also happens to mean land of the pure. In a 1933 pamphlet Rahmat Ali called for the creation of a 'Pakistan'.[5] He described Hindus and Muslims as heterogeneous societies and demanded their immediate separation. Later he proposed a 'Pakistan Commonwealth of Nations', to include Muslims in zones of North-East India and also Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bengal. Rahmat Ali declared that his scheme differed from Iqbal's relatively modest idea. Whereas Iqbal had suggested that just the north-western and eastern Muslim-majority zones be 'amalgamated' into a single state, Rahmat Ali sought a 'separate federation' in which his 'Pakistan', aside from being more candidly secessionist, covered much more territory. As he also proposed some serious territorial adjustments to make this happen, his scheme was deemed unrealistic.

Whilst Muslim minority provinces accepted the idea of partition sooner, some leaders from the biggest Muslim-majority areas were less enthusiastic, as they felt more secure where they lived and had fewer complaints regarding the political status quo. Since their provinces also had narrow Muslim majorities, these leaders faced pressure to prove their provincial loyalties on cultural, tribal and linguistic grounds. They were aware of non-Muslim fears about a 'Muslim Raj', and perhaps felt obliged to deny all talk of Muslim separatism. This may explain the claims made by some Muslim Leaguers that Jinnah did not really want partition. Some provincial leaders were so attached to provincial autonomy that they were unwilling to surrender it at all, whether within India or in Pakistan. These are the factors to bear in mind when reviewing the Lahore Resolution.

Background to the Lahore Resolution

The Lahore Resolution is often described as 'vague'.[6] In fact it reflects the lack of consensus in Muslim opinion on the Indian constitutional crisis, and so is better described as an open-ended document.

From 1939 the League considered alternative constitutional schemes to the Government of India Act of 1935. The schemes ranged from separatist to secessionist. Nine schemes were finally reviewed in February 1940, and the Working Committee considered the 'Muslim demands and the future constitution of India', in view of the following 'broad outlines':

  • Muslims are a nation
  • The British democratic parliamentary system is not suited to the genius and people of India
  • Muslim majority zones in India should be constituted into Independent Dominions in relationship with Britain
  • Muslims in Hindu majority zones must have their rights safeguarded and vice versa
    Units in each zone shall form component parts of the Federation of their respective zones as autonomous units[7]

The Lahore Resolution was drafted a few weeks later, and the above principles as well as elements of some of the nine schemes were incorporated into it.

The schemes

Of the nine schemes, Rahmat Ali's Pakistan scheme (1933 onward) and the Aligarh scheme of Dr. S.Z. Hasan and Dr. M. Afzal Husain Qadri (1939) were secessionist in tone. Next in terms of secessionist leanings was the Confederacy scheme (1939) written by Major Kifait Ali. Two other notable schemes - by Dr. Sayyed Abdul Latif of Hyderabad and Sikandar Hayat Khan of the Punjab - advocated an all-India federation. Sikandar Hayat's British-backed 'Zonal scheme' (1938-9) was least popular, as it leaned openly in favour of federation (albeit loose) and indicated a preference for Indian unity. Dr. Latif's 'Cultural zones' scheme (1938 onward) would later be criticised for its interpretation of the Lahore Resolution, as well as its references to an all-India centre.

Substance of the Lahore Resolution

The Lahore Resolution called for the creation of 'Independent States' (presumably two: Bengal and Punjab) out of the 'North-Western and Eastern zones' of India. It excluded the Muslim-minority provinces and the Princely States. The provinces ('constituent units') in each of these 'States' would be 'autonomous and sovereign' (i.e. they would have residual powers). This line was evidently included for those provincialist leaders who wanted to remain 'separate' whether within or outside India. One of Jinnah's earliest statements explaining the Resolution also suggests that it was included to attract minorities such as the Sikhs in the Punjab. Promising them provincial autonomy would perhaps reassure them and make them less apprehensive of joining a federation of Muslim states.[8]

It wasn't explicitly stated what relationship these Muslim 'States' would have with each other, but a reference to the 'constitution' for the 'regions' implied that they were expected to co-exist either in federation or confederation. The word 'constitution' appeared twice, meaning separate constitutions for the 'Muslim' regions and 'Hindu' regions; and this point would be further clarified at a later League session.[9] No provinces were mentioned by name; these would be discussed as and when the overall Muslim position became clearer. Provincial borders would generally remain as they presently stood, including those of Bengal and Punjab. The 'adjustment' of borders would be restricted to wherever practicable; small pockets of Muslim-populated areas lying in Hindu-majority zones could be separated and joined to adjacent Muslim zones, e.g. Sylhet could be separated from Assam and joined to Bengal.

Nothing was said about any relationship between these Muslim 'States' and the rest of India. Instead the resolution demanded reciprocal safeguards for minority groups in the respective constitutions of the Muslim and Hindu regions. There was no reference to a 'centre'. Sikandar Hayat Khan, then Punjab's Premier and a staunch provincialist, later complained that he had originally drafted the Lahore Resolution but that the League removed his references to the centre.[10] Indeed the League adopted the official stance that the 'Pakistan scheme does not visualize any kind of Central Government'.[11]

Partition was implied in the final paragraph. The League's Working Committee was authorised to frame a 'scheme of constitution providing for the assumption finally, by the respective regions of all the powers, such as defence, external affairs, communications, customs [etc.].' The word 'finally' obviously implied a transitional period in which to get on with constitution-making whilst the British gradually handed over power, and by the same token secession was implied to follow.[12] The form of government for this transitional period was again a matter for negotiation.[13]

A nod to secession

The finalised Lahore Resolution most closely resembled both Major Ali's Confederacy scheme and the Aligarh scheme. All three documents - the Aligarh scheme, the Confederacy scheme and the Lahore Resolution - were secessionist in tone. The Aligarh and Confederacy schemes also shared a common ideological element. The Aligarh professors wrote: 'The realization of this [Pakistan] federation will open a new and living future for the Muslims of India and will have a far-reaching effect on the whole of the Islamic world.'[14] Major Ali meanwhile wrote that he hoped his scheme would make 'Islam a living force and a successful social, political and economic system'.[15] This element of the 'Pakistan idea' was the backbone of the Two-Nation Theory, and found its ultimate expression in the League's 'Delhi Resolution' of April 1946.

Like Major Ali's Confederacy, the Lahore Resolution implied a federal relationship between the two Muslim states, and it deferred the secessionist demand - but not indefinitely. Whereas Ali deemed it necessary to remain in India, the Lahore Resolution implied that secession was the 'final' object. In this it came closer to the Aligarh scheme which focused on British India, created up to two states in the north-west and east, and consciously omitted the all-India centre. Ali's scheme emphasised that confederation was the better option to protect Muslim interests across India, but that secession would be the last resort if all else failed. This was practically a prophecy. It was fulfilled when the League temporarily agreed to the Cabinet Mission 'Union' of 1946 and subsequently dropped it in favour of immediate partition.

The Resolution did not support either Sikandar Hayat Khan's Zonal scheme or Dr. Latif's scheme, both of which sought a united India. The only part that catered to Hayat's scheme (or his provincialist sentiments) was the line promising that the constituent units of the 'states' would be 'autonomous and sovereign'. Significantly, both these latter all-India schemes were eventually written off by the League.

The go-slow method

Thus the Resolution neither made an immediate secessionist demand, nor was it a 'bargaining counter' as alleged by the League's opponents at the time. We might describe it as a deferred or open secessionist demand, since it was written when Indian Muslims were not single-minded in their purpose. Nevertheless the Resolution focused on the two largest Muslim zones, and the League demanded its recognition as a prerequisite to further negotiations. Once this was conceded by the British and Congress, it would be easier to bring indecisive Muslims across the subcontinent round to the idea.[16] This 'go-slow' approach is consistent with Jinnah's methodology throughout his life, as well as that of Dr. Iqbal.



1 See Jinnah's speech at the Aligarh University Union, Aligarh, 6 March 1940.

2 Resolution of the Executive Board of the Muslim Conference, Delhi, 21 August 1932 (chaired by Dr. M.Iqbal). Cited in W. Ahmad, 'Choudhury Rahmat Ali and the Concept of Pakistan' in Journal of the Research Society of Pakistan, January 1970, p.19.

3 Aga Khan, Presidential speech at the All-Parties Muslim Conference, Delhi, 31 December 1928 (Ibid.)

4 Iqbal's Presidential address at the Annual Session of the Muslim League, Allahabad, 29 December 1930.

5 Ali, Ch. Rahmat (1933) Now or Never: Are we to Live or Perish for Ever?

6 See for instance, Jalal, A. (1994 reprint) The Sole Spokeman; S.R. Mehrotra, 'The Congress and the Partition of India' in Philips & Wainright (eds.) (1970) The Partition of India Massachusetts: MIT Press. See also S. Mujahid (1981) Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah: Studies in Interpretation Karachi: Quaid-i-Azam Academy, p.397, where he mentions that Jinnah removed 'ambiguity in the Lahore Resolution' in his correspondence with Gandhi in 1944.

7 For complete text, see resolution no. 14 at Working Committee meeting, Delhi, 3-6 February 1940, presided by Jinnah.

8 See statement on the Lahore Resolution, New Delhi, 31 March 1940, in which Jinnah assured Sikhs that Punjab would be an 'autonomous sovereign unit'.

9 See proceedings of the Annual League Session at Madras, April 1941, in which the League's Rules were altered to incorporate the Lahore Resolution.

10 See Sikandar Hayat Khan's speech, extracted from a Report of the Punjab Legislative Assembly Debates, 11 March 1941, as reproduced in Menon, V.P. (1957) The Transfer of Power in India Princeton: Princeton University Press, p.444

11 See letter of Liaquat Ali Khan to Sikh leader Sir Jogendra Singh, 14 January 1942; as reproduced in full in Ahmad, W. (ed.) (1992-2003) Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah: The Nation's Voice (7 vols.) Karachi: Quaid-i-Azam Academy Vol. II, p.4 fn; see also Dr. M.A.H Qadri's letter to Abdullah Haroon, 23 February 1941 (in Latif, S.A. (1943) The Pakistan Issue Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, p.95)

12 Jinnah confirmed this himself. See statement on the Lahore Resolution, New Delhi, 31 March 1940, in which he points directly to the final clause of the Resolution when asked about the Muslim states' relationship with Britain (Nation's Voice Vol. II, p.4). See also record of interview between Jinnah and the Cabinet Delegation, 16 April 1946. (Nation's Voice Vol. IV, p.647)

13 Jinnah confirmed this himself in his letter to Gandhi, 17 September 1944 when he wrote that the Resolution 'does give basic principles and when they are accepted then the details will have to be worked out by the contracting parties'. (C. Rajagopalachari (ed.) (1944) Gandhi-Jinnah Talks New Delhi: Hindustan Times, p.17)

14 M. Afzal Husain Qadri, 'The Problem of Indian Muslims and its Solution', 2 February 1939 (Quaid-i-Azam Papers, File no. 135)

15 'A Punjabi' (Ali, Kifait) (1939) Confederacy of India Lahore: Nawab Sir Muhammad Shah Nawaz Khan of Mamdot, p.227

16 See record of interview between the Cabinet Delegation and Jinnah on 16 April 1946: 'Mr. Jinnah said that once the principle of Pakistan was conceded the question of the territory of Pakistan could be discussed. His claim was for the six provinces but he was willing to discuss the area.' (Nation's Voice Vol. IV, p.642) See also Jinnah's interview with the Daily Herald, 5 April 1946: 'The new nation must include all the six provinces with their present boundaries subject to any necessary territorial adjustments on both sides'. (Nation's Voice Vol. IV, p.592)



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