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Rohit Dhankar

A friend posted an article in a WhatsApp group by Ms. Rupa Subramanya proclaiming her judgment that “Facts Don’t Back The Argument That Most Indian Muslims Wanted Partition”[1]. Ms. Subramanya, of course, is fully entitled to her opinion. Such articles and proclamations, however, need a careful analysis. Not because they are written with great care or give new analytical insights; but simply because they are part of a uncontrolled flood of not so subtle attempt to falsify history. I am not really interested in Ms. Subramanya’s article in particular; but am only making it an example here of fallacious arguments and questionable facts used in this grand project of falsification.

Ms. Subramanya’s article hinges on the tag line it uses: “86% of adult Muslims in British India did not even have the right to vote”. This is her main argument: that the claim that 86% Muslims voted in favour of Pakistan in 1945-46[2] elections is not born out by facts as 86% Muslims did not even have the right to vote at that time. We will analyse this logic in detail in a moment. Her reasoning assumes that since the franchise was confined to people who had property, paid tax or were literate; the poor and illiterate were not represented by the voting pattern, and actually, they might have been of the opposite opinion. She also advances the claim that Jinnah and Nehru became such popular leaders only because franchise was limited to what she calls elite, and both these leaders themselves were elites.

Some background and factual corrections

Before analysing her claims and arguments, however, we must very briefly dwell on some background and correct a few factual errors. The errors are not grave and do not subtract much from her argument. Nor am I correcting them here to form an adverse opinion on her judgment. I am pointing out these errors only for the sake of record. Ms. Subramanya rightly says that 1946 elections were held under the Government of India Act 1935 (GoIA 1935). But in the next sentence she talking of franchise being only 3% of the population for Central Assembly. It would be useful to bear in mind that Central Assembly elections were held in December 1945 and the composition of the Central Assembly was as per the Government of India Act 1919, and not as per the GoIA 1935.

Her claim about Muslim population being 120 million in 1946 is wrong on two counts. First, according to Ambedkar the total Muslim population in India as per 1940 census was 92,058,096[3]; Ms. Subramanya herself gives another figure of “94 million Muslims in India[4]” in the next paragraph of her own article. This needs to be checked. As per Ambedkar Muslim population in British India was only 79,398,503; remaining 12,659,593 being in the Indian states. The elections were held only in the British India, and not in the Princely States (called Indian States), therefore, only about 80 million Muslims were represented in the elections.

Another background information that will be useful is the composition of the Federal Legislature of India as per GoIA 1935. According to the Article 18(1) of GoIA 1935 “There shall be a Federal Legislature which shall consist of His Majesty, represented by the Governor-General, and two Chambers, to be known respectively as the Council of State and the House of Assembly (in this Act referred to as “the Federal Assembly”)”. “His Majesty” here refers to the King of England. “The Federal Assembly” is variously referred to in literature as “Central Assembly”, etc. The seats in the Federal Legislature were as follows:

 Names of HousesBritish IndiaIndian StatesTotal
Council of State156104260
Federal Assembly250125375

Since the rulers (Kings and Nawabs, etc.) of Indian states did not participate in the elections for the Central Assembly, they were held as per GoIA 1919.

Ambedkar shows the minority representation in the lower houses of Provincial Legislatures according to GoIA 1935 as in the following table:

PROVINCE  Total Seats.MuslimsScheduled CastesIndian ChristiansSikhs
Seats Allotted under the Act.  Seats due according to Population.Excess + or Deficit –Seats Allotted under the Act.  Seats due according to Population.Excess + or Deficit –Seats Allotted under the Act.  Seats due according to Population.Excess + or Deficit –Seats Allotted under the Act.Seats due according to Population.Excess + or Deficit –
Bombay1753016+ 141516–133NilNil
U. P.2286635+312049–292Nil+2Nil1–1
Bihar1524020+201520–51Nil+ 1NilNil
C.P. & Berar112145+92020NilNilNilNil
Assam1083436–2771Nil+ 1NilNil
Orissa604I+369–31Nil+ 1NilNil

The 1946 provincial elections were held as per this distribution of seats.

Election Results

The results of the elections for the Central assembly are shown in the table below:

PartyGen. (52)Mulm. (30)Euro. (9)Landed ppl.(7)Sikh (2)Indian Communities(4)Total Seats
Indian National Congress520 0  0 59*
Muslim League030000030
Akali Dal0000202
Independents00  0 3*
Total      102

Indian Muslim League swept all Muslim seats and did not get any other. Indian National Congress swept all general seats and got 7 additional, failed to win a single Muslim seat. This is important because Congress was claiming that it represents all Indians, Muslims included. Congress not winning a single Muslim seat disproved this claim as far as elections can prove or disprove such a claim.

The performance of Muslim League can be understood from the following table:

ProvinceMuslim SeatsMuslim League% Of Muslim Seats won by Muslim League% of Muslims in total popula-tion
Central Provinces141393%4.7
United Provinces665482%15.3
North West Frontier Province361747%91.8

 Muslim League won 87% of the allocated Muslim seats; 429 out of 492. The remaining about 13% seats did not go to congress or any other all-community party but to various provincial Muslim parties. One general pattern is that lower the percentage of Muslims in total population of a province, higher the percentage win for Muslim League. Which means that the voters of the provinces like Orissa, C.P., Madras, Bombay, Bihar, U.P. all were supporting the Muslim League agenda. Muslim population in all these mentioned provinces was less than 16%. The question before the voters was quite clear: should India be divided into Hindustan and Pakistan? And more than 87% seats were won on this agenda. There are some (not very reliable) data available which says that 89% of Muslim voters went to Muslim League and less than 4.5% to Congress which was opposing partition and was claiming that it represents all Indians including Muslim League. Maulana Azad was president of Congress during these elections. Again, the congress’ claim of representing Muslims at that time was busted, and it was clearly established that the Muslim League is the only true representative party of Muslims at all India level.

Spacious arguments to kill the facts

Now we can come to Ms. Subramanya’s arguments. Her refrain “86% of adult Muslims in British India did not even have the right to vote” is technically true enough, but her argument that a similarly high percentage of Muslims did not support Pakistan is not sustainable.

Today we have adult franchise. And most of the local and national leaders came from rich economic background. Aren’t the common poor people voting for them? What is more reasonable? To say that the voters in 1945-46 elections represented the mood of the Muslim population in general? Or to claim that the voters went against the mood and wished of common Muslim in those elections? Such things can not be decided mathematically or on clear deduction. One has to hazard an educated guess and form a reasonable opinion. The public mood is also indicated in participation in election meetings, rallies held by the leaders and support they indicate generally. Are there any indication from such activities that overwhelming Muslim support was not available to Muslim League? If no such indication is available anywhere, wouldn’t claims like Ms. Subramanya’s be either dogmatic or motivated? 

She claims that Nehru was also such a popular leader because there was an ‘elite’ electorate. First, the overwhelming majority of the voters were elite by no means. Yes, they either paid taxes, or owned a house or land (even farm land) or were literate. But none of these things make them elite. If Nehru’s popularity depended on limited franchise it should have dipped in 1952 and 1957 election; especially as Hindus were also angry because of the partition. Have a look at the table below, for the first three Lok Sabha elections after independence, which Congress fought in Nehru’s leadership:

YearElectionTotal seatsPartySeats% votesPartySeats% votesPartySeats% votes
1951–521st Lok Sabha489INC36445%CPI163.29%SOC1210.59%
1957[6]2nd Lok Sabha494INC37147.78%CPI278.92%PSP1910.41%
19623rd Lok Sabha494INC36144.72%CPI299.94%SWA187.89%

INC=Indian National Congress

CPI=Communist Party of India

SOC=Socialist Party (India)

PSP=Praja Socialist Party

SWA=Swatantra Party

BJS=Bharatiya Jana Sangh

Why the INC with elite Nehru at its helms won respectively 74%, 75% and 73% seats with between 47.7% to 45% vote shares with adult franchise of poor uneducated Indians? Why the messiah of poor the CPI was junked by the very poor with 3-8% seats with 3-9% vote share?

Yes, Jinnah was an elite and his politics was elite till about 1930. He even proposed once that Congress should not allow membership for anyone not having a matriculation certificate. But then Jinnah changed. Dr. Ambedkar, who was in the thick of the Indian political drama writes about Jinnah’s change as follows:

“… Mr. Gandhi started by protesting that the Muslim League did not represent the Muslims and that Pakistan was only a fancy of Mr. Jinnah. It is difficult to understand how Mr. Gandhi could be so blind as not to see how Mr. Jinnah’s … influence over the Muslim masses has been growing day by day and how he has engaged himself in mobilizing all his forces for battle. Never before was Mr. Jinnah a man for the masses. He distrusted them. To exclude them from political power he was always for a high franchise. Mr. Jinnah was never known to be a very devout, pious or a professing Muslim. Besides kissing the Holy Koran as and when he was sworn in as an M.L.A., he does not appear to have bothered much about its contents or its special tenets. It is doubtful if he frequented any mosque either out of curiosity or religious fervour. Mr. Jinnah was never found in the midst of Muslim mass congregations, religious or political. Today one finds a complete change in Mr. Jinnah. He has become a man of the masses. He is no longer above them. He is among them. Now they have raised him above themselves and call him their Qaid-e-Azam. He has not only become a believer in Islam, but is prepared to die for Islam. Today, he knows more of Islam than mere Kalama. Today, he goes to the mosque to hear Khutba and takes delight in joining the Id congregational prayers. Dongri and Null Bazaar once knew Mr. Jinnah by name. Today they know him by his presence. No Muslim meeting in Bombay begins or ends without Allah-ho-Akbar and Long Live Qaid-e-Azam. In this Mr. Jinnah has merely followed King Henry IV of France—the unhappy father-in-law of the English King Charles I. Henry IV was a Huguenot by faith. But he did not hesitate to attend mass in a Catholic Church in Paris. He believed that to change his Huguenot faith and go to mass was an easy price to pay for the powerful support of Paris. As Paris became worth a mass to Henry IV, so have Dongri and Null Bazaar become worth a mass to Mr. Jinnah and for similar reason.”[5] [Italics added]

Thus the ‘elite’ voter did not represent 86% Muslims is a fallacious argument. Yes, Muslim league started as an elite party of Muslims. It had it’s roots in Sir Syed’s Muslim Education Conference and Nawabs and what Sir Syed calls ‘Raises’. But Mr. Jinnah changed that after 1935. And finally it was party of all Muslims, elites as well as the penniless. 

What does Dr. Ambedkar say on Muslim support to Pakistan?

Those who want to understand Muslim politics through Ambedkar’s eyes should read his book ‘Pakistan or the Partition of India’.[6] Here I will give just a few hints. Ambedkar begins chapter eleven on communal aggression on page 249 thus: “[E]ven a superficial observer cannot fail to notice that a spirit of aggression underlies the Hindu attitude towards the Muslim and the Muslim attitude towards the Hindu. The Hindu’s spirit of aggression is a new phase which he has just begun to cultivate. The Muslim’s spirit of aggression is his native endowment and is ancient as compared with that of the Hindu. It is not that the Hindu, if given time, will not pick up and overtake the Muslim. But as matters stand to-day, the Muslim in this exhibition of the spirit of aggression leaves the Hindu far behind.” [Italics added].

It will take a blind man not to notice that the Hindu has picked up and is currently perhaps in the process of overtaking. And it will take an indoctrinate and biased man not to notice that what Ambedkar says here about Muslim aggression is equally true and continues unabated, even after partition.

Now, many would question that this impression is created because of the aggressive politics of Muslim League and is not true of common Muslim. There is a truth in this argument, common Muslim is as good or bad as a common Hindu. But in Ambedkar’s time Muslim politics had a character, and that character was very useful in turning the common Muslim into an undaunting supporter of the political aggression taken up by Muslim parties. Ambedkar writes on page 232-33 of the same book: “Muslim politics takes no note of purely secular categories of life, namely, the differences between rich and poor, capital and labour, landlord and tenant, priest and layman, reason and superstition. Muslim politics is essentially clerical and recognizes only one difference, namely, that existing between Hindus and Muslims. None of the secular categories of life have any place in the politics of the Muslim community and if they do find a place—and they must because they are irrepressible—they are subordinated to one and the only governing principle of the Muslim political universe, namely, religion.” [Italics added]

To test Ambedkar’s thesis, think of any political cause taken up by Muslim and see how quickly it acquires a religious colour, even today. This principle allows Muslim leaders to take the masses along with them like they did in the case of partition. The religion being the centre of politics helps politicians in gaining aggressive mass support on any issue simply by dubbing it religious. 

Though it is somewhat tangential to the present issue in this article, but Ambedkar’s thinks that there was a lot of undue appeasement in the sordid story of partition. After dismissing Savarkar’s Hindu Mahasabha version of alternative to Pakistan as non-sense[7]; he asks if Congress can provide some alternative. And says on page 270: “It seems to me that the Congress has failed to realize two things. The first thing which the Congress has failed to realize is that there is a difference between appeasement and settlement, and that the difference is an essential one. Appeasement means buying off the aggressor by conniving at his acts of murder, rape, arson and loot against innocent persons who happen for the moment to be the victims of his displeasure. On the other hand, settlement means laying down the bounds which neither party to it can transgress. Appeasement sets no limits to the demands and aspirations of the aggressor. Settlement does. The second thing the Congress has failed to realize is that the policy of concession has increased Muslim aggressiveness, and what is worse, Muslims interpret these concessions as a sign of defeatism on the part of the Hindus and the absence of the will to resist.”

The reference to rape, looting, arson etc. comes in connection with Gandhi never criticising Muslim rioters, including what Ambedkar calls “blood curdling” and “indescribable” atrocities of Moplas against Hindus.

He also discusses the Muslim alternative to Pakistan, in which they demand for 50% share in everything for abandoning the demand for Pakistan. And at the end of the chapter gives a very sane advice which India did not take. His advice was: “All I would like to say in this connection is that the Hindus before determining their attitude towards this question should note certain important considerations. In particular they should note that there is a difference between safeguards to allay apprehensions of the weak and contrivances to satisfy the ambition for power of the strong: that there is a difference between providing safeguards and handing over the country. Further, they should also note that what may with safety be conceded … to the weak to be used by it as a weapon of defence may not be conceded to the strong who may use it as a weapon of attack.

These are important considerations and, if the Hindus overlook them, they will do so at their peril. For the Muslim alternative is really a frightful and dangerous alternative.”

… to be continued with Conclusion, tomorrow

[1] https://www.huffingtonpost.in/rupa-subramanya/facts-dont-back-the-argument-that-most-indian-muslims-wanted-pa_a_22488885/

[2] 1945 the Central Legislative Assembly and 1946 Provincial Legislatures.

[3] Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar WRITINGS AND SPEECHES VOL. 8 (Pakistan or The Partition of India), Ed Vasant Moon, Pub. Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, New Delhi. pg 419. Ambedkar mentions Census Report of 1940, I am not sure it is not a mistake, and perhaps Census was conducted in 1941.

[4] This figure seems to be from Census of India 1941, Vol.1.

[5] Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar WRITINGS AND SPEECHES VOL. 8 (Pakistan or The Partition of India), Ed Vasant Moon, Pub. Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, New Delhi. pg 407-8

[6] Easily downloadable in pdf from https://www.mea.gov.in/Images/attach/amb/Volume_08.pdf

[7] “The slogan of the Hindu Maha Sabha President— Hindustan for Hindus— is not merely arrogant but is arrant nonsense.” Pg.270