Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bihar, UP and Partition

Almost seventy years after the Partition, much of the scholarship is fixated with apportioning the blame or rather the larger blame for the ghastly incident. Wasn't Jinnah difficult to negotiate, what if Nehru had not torpedoed the Cabinet Mission Plan, what if Congress-League had come together in 1937 - the list is endless and so are the historical works that deal with them.

Yet, despite the growing historical scholarship on Partition, the works of writers like Manto, Fikr Taunsvi, Rajinder Singh Bedi and others continue to enchant and appeal to an ever growing audience through translations and anthologies. These writers lived those moments and distilled the madness and mayhem through stories and satirical pieces. A Partition omnibus is considered incomplete without a Manto or a Bedi.

Similarly, Yasmin Khan and Vazira Yacoobally-Zamindar opened new grounds of scholarship by virtue of their absorbing narratives. They start their stories after the Partition was set in motion, allowing them to capture and focus on the formation of two states and the poignant human stories that accompanied the long partition and the making of India and Pakistan. What's remarkable is that they demonstrate how it is not absolutely necessary to delve on the high politics or the League-Congress wrangling to make sense of the anxieties, uncertainties and sufferings of the denizens that continues in some sense or form even today. Similarly, earlier works by Ritu Menon, Kamla Bhasin and Urvashi Butalia brought a new perspective to the Partition scholarship.

Here, I will discuss two recent books on Partition, having entirely different approaches. Mohammad Sajjad's 'Muslim politics in Bihar' and Venkat Dhulipala's 'Creating a New Medina'. Dhulipala looks at United Provinces where he argues that Pakistan was much discussed and debated, and also received religious legitimacy from a section of Deobandi ulemas. His work shines through the impressive use of Urdu sources - periodicals and pamphlets - that point towards the centrality of archives in historical work. Sajjad's focus is on Bihar, where he comes up with a very different picture of Muslim politics in the late colonial period. To begin with, Bihar as a political entity has hardly been the focus of serious scholarship in the context of Muslim politics. That, as any student of history would agree, solely rests on the shoulders of Punjab, Bengal and United Provinces.

Perhaps one reason for this divergence could be the different sets of people and groups examined by Dhulipala and Sajjad. Bihar seems to be a much stronger and fertile land for the rise of caste-based Muslim politics right from the colonial times. Sajjad has very intelligently crafted out the politics of these groups and the response it had to the machinations of Jinnah's Muslim League. A major achievement of Sajjad has been the analysis of the politicisation of caste-based Muslim organisations. This, in fact, does provide some understanding of the current position and stature of what is now referred to as Muslim Pasmanda groupings.       

On other hand, Dhulipala's analysis centres on the influential Deobandi ulemas. But, I am afraid, in trying to broad base his argument, Dhulipala seems to have misread the stature and influence of Maulana Shabbir Usmani. No doubt he became a leading light in Pakistan, but in the 30s and 40s, he was nowhere close to the influential Maulana Madani, Abdul Bari and others. It was his association with Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi that gave his career a huge push, especially after Thanvi's death. And there is no doubt that Thanvi was indeed in the Muslim League camp, but his death in 1943 robbed the League of a vital partner. The use of archives and the cogency of Dhulipala's arguments, make it a significant addition to the Partition historiography.  

Dhulipala does mention Madani's treatise on Muttahida Quamiyat, yet it seems he has not engaged fully enough with the import of Madani's thinking, who was a teacher of hadith in Medina for around a decade. This is because Maulana Madani does not just speak of the Prophet's Medina treaty with Jews to give sanctity to his Muttahida Quamiyat, he also elaborates on the important Muslim/Islamic landmarks and heritage in India. More glaring, however, is the absence of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. In the late 30s, Thanvi gave a fatwa to the effect that the struggle for Urdu is important to save Islam. Azad himself took on the Congress right-wing and resisted all attempts (with little success though) to marginalise Urdu, but neither he nor Madani equated Urdu with Islam.

Dhulipala could have added more gravity to his argument if he had brought new insights by focussing on the other important groups like the Brelvis under the leadership of Ahmed Riza or the Tableeghi Jamaat, as both were active in United Provinces. Ahmed Riza issued fatwas on a variety of issues and would paste the English postage stamp upside down on the letters he dispatched. Central to their rhetoric and existence was devotional Islam that gave primacy to fairs and Urs on the mazaars, that could not be moved across borders. If Islam was indeed so important (or rather the role of ulemas in the creation of Pakistan) how do we account for the conduct of the Brelvis in the creation of the new Medina. And how is it that it took several years to stitch a constitution for the new Medina!

Sajjad in his book highlights the careers of the prominent Muslim leaders of Bihar and also their electoral politics. He has also uncovered and made remarkable use of political pamphlets and vernacular newspapers that shed light on much lesser known figures like Maghfur Aijazi, Maulana Sajjad, Mazharul Haq, Hassan Imam and Shafi Daudi. Behind the analysis of their politics lies the story of Muslim resistance to the politics of separatism in Bihar. However, the book's narrative is such that Sajjad's eagerness to identify himself closely with the politics of 'opposition to Muslim separatism' clearly comes out. Perhaps it's got to do with the fact that the author hails from Bihar.

The book discusses the other usual flashpoints like the Hindi-Urdu controversy, and Sajjad ably demonstrates why it didn't acquire the same dimension in Bihar as in the neighbouring United Provinces. It would have been a more focussed work had Sajjad chosen to limit himself to the late colonial and early independence period. Though he doesn't delve into the Muslim past thankfully(avoiding the usual discussion points like the 1857 revolt, establishment of the Deoband, etc), it is quite ambitious in its scope. However, it provides a breath of fresh air and is an important contribution.

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