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Mainstream, VOL LX No 23, New Delhi, May 28, 2022

Allah Baksh and Indian Nationhood | Anil Nauriya

Friday 27 May 2022, by Anil Nauriya

(Online Lecture by Anil Nauriya on 14 May 2022 at Commemorative Function on Allah Baksh organised by the Society for Communal Harmony).

 The 79th Anniversary of the assassination of Allah Baksh (spelt also as Bakhsh, Buksh and Bux) fell on May 14, 2022.

Why is it important to remember Allah Baksh and to commemorate this day?

All communalism thrives on stereotypes. Many of the stereotypes being circulated in the colonial interest have also strengthened communal stereotypes and eliminated important unifying strands from modern Indian history. In an English language play a reference was once made to a hippopotamus in the room as something everyone is aware of but no one wishes to acknowledge. In studies on Indian partition Allah Baksh is one such hippopotamus but with a difference. In his case there was until recently little current awareness even of his historical existence or of the non-stereotypical forces that he represented and continues to symbolize. Allah Baksh was not in the Congress but, like Mirza Ismail in the south, this stout nationalist was sympathetic to its aspirations. In Sind he headed a group called the United Party known also as the Ittehad Party.

Allah Baksh was Premier of Sind soon after that province was carved out of the Bombay Presidency and given a Legislative Assembly under the Government of India Act, 1935.
After the Muslim League’s resolution in March 1940 asking for the Partition of India,

Allah Baksh organized the Azad Muslims’ Conference (also known as the Independent Muslims’ Conference) in April 1940 to oppose the partition demand. This conference was held between April 27 and April 30, 1940 in Delhi in the Queen’s Garden (Mallika Bagh) opposite the old Delhi Railway station. The Azad Muslims’ Conference rejected the demand for Pakistan.

The Conference created a stir. It was widely attended by leading Muslims from across the country. Maulana Azad has written effusively about it. Azad wrote:

“The Conference was held with great éclat and 1,400 delegates came to Delhi from all quarters of India. The session was so impressive that even the British and the Anglo-Indian press , which normally tried to belittle the importance of nationalist Muslims, could not ignore it. They were compelled to acknowledge that this Conference proved that nationalist Muslims were not a negligible factor. Even the Statesman and the Times of India wrote leading articles on the Conference” (India Wins Freedom, 1988 edition, page 49).

Knowledge of events such as this conference could serve as an eye-opener to those who, often misled by Hindutva stereotypes, seek to paint Muslims with the Pakistan tag.

Wilfred Cantwell Smith, no friend of the Congress and one of those who was to popularize the Pakistan idea among the organised communist Left of the 1940s, admits in his book, Modern Islam In India, published in Lahore in 1946, that when Allah Baksh organised the Azad Muslims’ Conference it was reflective of Muslim opinion in India:

   “The delegates, representing at that time probably still the majority of India’s Muslims, came to protest against the Pakistan idea, and against the use made of the Muslims by the British government and others as an excuse for political inaction”. (Cantwell Smith, p.. 279).

This conference was followed by several regional conferences of Muslims who rejected the two-nation theory. These included the Bihar Political Muslim Conference held at Sonhala on July 2, 1940 under the chairmanship of S A Brelvi, the UP Azad Muslim Conference at Lucknow on July 20, 1940 under the chairmanship of Abdul Majid, the Anti-Communal Conference held at Lahore on March 9, 1941 under the chairmanship of the Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and the South Indian Anti-Separation Conference at Kumbakonam on June 8, 1941 under the chairmanship of M.Y. Shareef. All stressed the risks and danger involved in the partition scheme.

Anglocentric historiography as well as Hindutva have combined to eliminate such memories from the Indian consciousness.

 Interestingly, Sind was treated as a special case by the Congress in the matter of withdrawal from the provincial assemblies after the start of the Second World War. Both Gandhi and Maulana Azad had an appreciation of the difficult circumstances in which Allah Baksh functioned and the courage that he displayed in resisting communalism.  Rajendra Prasad observed in a letter in August 1941:

“Bapu ... is quite clear that Congressmen in minority Provinces must withdraw from the Assemblies because there governments are cooperating in the war effort. So far as Sind goes Bapu thinks he must respect the wishes of Maulana Sahib. The latter is emphatically of the view that Allah Baksh must be fully supported by Congressmen and the latter must not withdraw ...”.

 Allah Baksh rebuffed attempts to get him to join the Muslim League and remained strident in his opposition to the plan to divide the country. ( See ’The Last Testament of G. M Syed’, Sindh Rises, Mumbai, September 2001).

 Not surprisingly, when the Cripps Mission came to India in March 1942 it sought to ignore the point of view and the kind of forces that Allah Baksh represented. Cripps had professed to meet various sections of political opinion in India. But he kept Allah Baksh waiting for several days until Maulana Azad was moved to protest. Even then Cripps had only a perfunctory, non-substantial meeting with Allah Baksh. The British leadership then, as now in Iraq, was simply not willing to recognise those who did not conform to certain pre-determined Anglocentric stereotypes.

When the Quit India Movement started in August 1942 Allah Baksh was still Premier of Sind. British Prime Minister Churchill’s statement in the House of Commons on September 10 showed an insensitivity to Indian public opinion. It offended Allah Baksh enough to induce him to return all honours he had received from the British. His letter to the Viceroy ranks as one of the famous documents of the Indian freedom movement.

On October 16 he was removed from office by the Governor on the ground that he had lost the latter’s confidence. At this time Allah Baksh still commanded a majority in the legislature. This was one of the early cases of abuse of gubernatorial powers.

According to Louis Fischer the real reason for Allah Baksh’s removal was the fact that he returned his titles to the British government. (Fischer, Empire, pp 33-37).

After Allah Baksh’s dismissal the Governor appointed in his place a “wealthy and reliable knight who presently joined the Muslim League, forming a League Coalition ministry”. (Cantwell Smith , op. cit. page 337).

Allah Baksh earned the praise of both Gandhi and Subhas Bose. The distinguished journalist M S M Sharma observes in his Peeps Into Pakistan that Allah Baksh and Gandhi had come close to each other . Yusuf Meherally, the famous Bombay socialist and freedom fighter, wrote that Allah Baksh ministry, though not strictly a Congress ministry, had decided to implement the Congress programme. (Yusuf Meherally, Congress Socialist, March 26, 1938). Typically, the Allah Baksh ministry had decided not to accept salaries beyond Rs 500.

A few months after his dismissal as Premier of Sindh, Allah Baksh was murdered on May 14, 1943. The significance of this murder as a milestone in the path to the partition of India is obvious. Pakistan was not conceivable so long as either Sind or Punjab was ruled by a party that did not support partition. As long as this was the case there was geographical contiguity between the Congress-dominated NWFP and Baluchistan on the one hand and the rest of India on the other.

Once Allah Baksh, with his known popularity in Sind, was eliminated and a ministry owing allegiance to the League firmly installed in that province, geographical contiguity between Baluchistan and NWFP and the rest of India became dependent solely on the League not coming to power in Punjab. Jinnah’s silence on this murder was widely noticed and commented upon. M.A Khuhro, the President of the Sind Muslim League, was one of those accused of the murder. He was acquitted on grounds similar to those on which Savarkar was to be acquitted in the Gandhi assassination case some years later. Viceroy Wavell recorded in his journal the following conversation with Hugh Dow, the Governor of Sind, upon Khuhro’s acquittal in 1945 :

“We spoke of the acquittal of his ex-minister Khuhro, who will now probably become Premier before long; to be suspected of murdering one’s enemies, or even to be known to have done it, is a qualification rather than a hindrance in Sind politics.” (Wavell, The Viceroy’s Journal, p.164).

Some four and a half years after the dismissal of the Allah Baksh ministry in Sind, came the resignation of Khizr Hayat Khan Tiwana’s Unionist Party ministry in Punjab. This followed a Muslim League-led agitation in the province. The anti-partition parties, which hitherto still had a majority in the Punjab Assembly, had united to keep the Muslim League out. But the events of early 1947 in Punjab made it impossible for this government to continue; and once Khizr Hayat’s government was gone, it became politically possible to mark out Pakistan on the map. Only the lines remained to be drawn.

Most Indian freedom fighters were in prison when Allah Baksh was murdered 79 years ago during the Second World War. When they come out of prison in 1944-45 they remembered many friends and comrades who they had lost in the interregnum. Allah Baksh was one of them; but because of the unfortunate timing of his death, the special national recognition to which this outstanding martyr to secularism and freedom was entitled did not come to him. Events moved too fast for that. There were the elections of 1946, held as was usual with colonial elections, on a limited franchise.

 Then came partition and the vast population movements from Sind and the other provinces of India and Pakistan. The latter with its emphasis on the two-nation theory saw no reason to recognize the space that Allah Baksh represented. For some reasons, perhaps related to his early death and the fast pace of the events that followed, his legacy faded also in India --- neglected by both Hindus and Muslims.

For Further Reading:

Presidential Address of Khan Bahadur Allah Bakhsh, Delhi, The All-India Independent Muslim Conference, 27 April 1940.

News Report dateline Karachi, May 14 : "Mr Allah Bux Shot Dead : His Companion Wounded : Broad Daylight Murder at Shikarpur : Ex-Premier of Sind Killed in Front of Police Lines", The Tribune, Lahore, 15 May 1943.

Jagat S. Bright, India’s Nationalist No. 1, (Mr Allah Bux), Lahore, Hero Publications, 1943.

Durlab Singh (ed. & compiler), Famous Letters & Ultimatums to the British Government, Lahore, Hero Publications, 1944, pp. 96-101.

B.B. Paymaster, ’Some Experiences of a Civilian in Sind’, The Public Administrator, Silver Jubilee Number, 1955-1980, .Indian Institute of Public Administration, Maharashtra Regional Branch, Bombay.

Anil Nauriya, ’Some Portrayals of Jinnah: A Critique’ in D.L. Sheth and Gurpreet Mahajan (eds), Minority Identities and the Nation-State, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 73-112.

Anil Nauriya, ’Allah Baksh versus Savarkar’, The Hindu, 14 May 2003.

Shamsul Islam, Muslims Against Partition of India : The Untold Story of Allah Baksh and other Patriotic Muslims, New Delhi, Pharos, 4th edn, 2021.

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