The significance of the All-India Muslim League

According to Iqbal, the fundamental principle of the Muslim constitutional theory is “the idea of universal agreement” (we may understand it as the desire to seek consensus, or what Mary Parker Follett calls “the will to will the common will”). From a careful study of his political work – his actions as a practical politician as well as his writings, statements and speeches – it becomes quite clear that according to him, this fundamental principle requires that we should have only one political organization but it should allow any school of political thought to come into power.

Supporting evidence can be found in my recently published book in Urdu, Iqbal Ki Manzil, which happens to be a detailed biography of the latter part of his career (from 1927 onward).

One of the statements where he describes this kind of organization is where, referring to the disunity among his people, he says:

“To remedy this evil I suggest that the Indian Muslims should have only one political organization with provincial and district branches all over the country. Call it whatever you like. What is essential is that its constitution must be such as to make it possible for any school of political thought to come into power, and to guide the community according to its own ideas and methods. In my opinion this is the only way to make ruptures impossible, and to reintegrate and discipline our scattered forces to the best interests of Islam in India.”

Iqbal, Presidential Address to the All-India Muslim Conference, 1932

This is not one-party system as known to the world, because in one-party system a single school of thought enforces its own ideas and methods on the entire nation whereas Iqbal’s ideal organization must keep its doors open to all schools of thought. Moreover, one-party system is held in place by the force of law but Iqbal never suggested that there should be any restriction on the formation of rival parties. He desired his ideal organization to achieve its significance through the transformation of the individuals.

The All-India Muslim League, formed by the Muslims of British India in 1906 in Dacca (now Dhaka in Bangladesh), was exactly this kind of organization. This is one of the most important point which we have been failing to grasp since the mid-1950s, but I would like to clarify something before proceeding further.

The parties carrying the name of Muslim League in Pakistan in our times, or since the late 1950s for that matter, may or may not have descended legitimately from the original Muslim League of which we are talking about in this post. The exact connection of these latter-day Leagues with the organization that created Pakistan is a completely different matter. For the present purpose, we just need to keep in mind that what is being said about the “Muslim League” here might not be applicable to the latter-day namesakes of that organization.

The most representative leaders of the League understood it to be just the kind of organization required by the fundamental principle of the Muslim constitutional theory, and they asked their followers to remain loyal to it due to this very reason. Since the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent had started to organize themselves around the principle of consensus some time after 1858 (see “The Seven Stages of Pakistan”), it was only natural that the political organization which they eventually formed was in keeping with the fundamental principle of the Muslim constitutional theory.

The All-India Muslim League remained the only political organization of the Muslims of the region for some time but other political parties also emerged later on, and several of them got their members elected in 1926.

Those members soon formed an All-India Muslim Conference, a platform where they all could come together for agreeing upon a common goal and then work for its achievement rather than fighting among themselves. This was also consistent with the principle of consensus or universal agreement.

However, the Conference did not succeed in uniting the Muslims completely. It was as the president of this organization, and from its platform, that Iqbal proposed a single political organization, as quoted earlier. Quite obviously, he was calling for a revival of the All-India Muslim League, whether in the same form or by some other name – “Call it whatever you like.”

The revival of the League followed within years, with Muhammad Ali Jinnah as president. He had held the same opinion in this matter, and even more persistently than Iqbal. He had not even liked the birth of the Muslim Conference in 1928, and had said, “I think that everybody should rally round the All-India Muslim League.”

Jinnah described the All-India Muslim League as “the national organization” of the Indian Muslims, and not just a political party. This was justifiable because the League had been founded in accordance with the fundamental principle of the Muslim constitutional theory. Out of his many statements that could be understood to imply this, the following is just an example:

“My earnest appeal to every Mussalman is that he should come under the banner of the Muslim League, because therein lies our salvation. … The constitution of the Muslim League is the most democratic that could be framed. There is no Muslim to whom the doors of the Muslim League are not open. If the Mussalmans are dissatisfied with their leader, surely the remedy lies in their hand. They can remove him if they so desire by exercising their rights under the constitution of the party, but if they try to settle things by force and violence, nothing but bloodshed would ensue.”

Jinnah, Address to the Council of All-India Muslim League, 14 November 1943

It is also significant that many of the things which Iqbal had said about the Muslim nation, were said by Jinnah about the All-India Muslim League.

Iqbal had always maintained that “error is impossible in the united deliberations of the whole community”, and Jinnah attributed the same authority to the Muslim League: “It is now the voice of the League, the voice of the people, it is now the authority of the Millat that you have to bow to, though you may be the tallest poppy in the Muslim world.”

“It is now the voice of the League, the voice of the people, it is now the authority of the Millat that you have to bow to, though you may be the tallest poppy in the Muslim world.”

Jinnah, Presidential Address to the All-India Muslim League, Delhi, 1943

Most importantly, Iqbal had said that the Muslim nation could not die: “The Muslim nation is unbounded in time, since the survival of this noble community has been divinely promised” (‘The Mysteries of Selflessness’, 1918). Likewise, Jinnah said:

“Men may come and men may go, but the League will live forever.”

Jinnah, Presidential Address to the All-India Muslim League, March 1940

The “immortality” of the League might have sounded like political rhetoric to some of Jinnah’s detractors, but we should know better. The essence of the League was “one political organization with … branches all over the country”, allowing “any school of political thought to come into power”. Since this is the only form of political organization that can be derived from “the fundamental principle of the Muslim constitutional theory”, does it not follow logically that its essence (“call it whatever you like”) is going to live as long as Islam lives?

As I have tried to show elsewhere, if we look at the history of South Asia since 1947 from the perspective of the All-India Muslim League, it is possible to say that the vision of the League, especially as entailed in its Delhi Resolution of 1946, has been guiding the course to this date and might continue to do so. Hence, although the body of the League might have died, its spirit has remained alive and still plays a more vital role in the affairs of the region than any other party. So, Jinnah was making a very plausible prediction when he said that the League would live forever.

It also seems that Jinnah credited the League not only with the creation of Pakistan but also with the independence of the entire Indian sub-continent. This is what I have tried to show in Jinnah: The Case for Pakistan.

In any case, the independence given to the Indian sub-continent by the British was in accordance with the demand of the League as embodied in the Delhi Resolution, i.e. partition as well as independence. It was a rejection of the demand of the Congress, Mahasabha and their likes, who were demanding independence without the partition.

Contrary to the widespread misconception that he believed in the conventional multi-party system of the West, Jinnah insisted even after the birth of Pakistan that every Muslim citizen of the country must join the Muslim League:

“Very often it is said, ‘Why cannot we have this party or that party?’ Now let me tell you, and I hope you will agree with me, that we have as a result of unceasing effort and struggle ultimately achieved Pakistan after ten years. It is the Muslim League, which has done it.

“There were of course many Massalmans who were indifferent; some were afraid, because they had vested interests and they thought they might lose. Some sold themselves to the enemy and worked against us, but we struggled and we fought and by the grace of God and with His help we have established Pakistan which has stunned the World.

“Now this is a sacred trust in your hands, i.e., the Muslim League. Is this sacred trust to be guarded by us as the real custodians of the welfare of our country and our people, or not? Are mushroom parties led by men of doubtful past to be started to destroy what we have achieved or capture what we have secured?

“I ask you one question. Do you believe in Pakistan? (Cries of yes, yes). Are you happy that you have achieved Pakistan? (Cries of yes, yes), Do you want East Bengal or any part of Pakistan to go into the Indian Union? (No, no). Well, if you are going to serve Pakistan, if you are going to build up Pakistan, if you are going to reconstruct Pakistan, then I say that the honest course open to every Mussalman is to join the Muslim League Party and serve Pakistan to the best of his ability.

“Any other mushroom parties that are started at present will be looked upon with suspicion because of there past, not that we have any feeling of malice, ill will, or revenge. Honest change is welcome, but the present emergency requires that every Mussalman should come under the banner of the Muslim League, which is the true custodian of Pakistan, and build it up and make it a great State before we think of parties amongst ourselves which may be formed later on sound and healthy lines.”

Jinnah, Address to public meeting in Dacca (now Dhaka, in Bangladesh), 21 March 1948

The last few words of this quote need not be taken as a recommendation to “think of parties amongst ourselves” at some later time. Liaquat Ali Khan understood them to mean that “later we will think whether we need any other political party” (speech of Liaquat Ali Khan on 12 September, 1949, the second death anniversary of Jinnah).

Liaquat Ali Khan, throughout his years as the founding Prime Minister of Pakistan, referred to the Muslim League as “a national organization”. He said that the Quaid-i-Azam had left two sacred trusts with his people, Pakistan and the Muslim League. One could not exist without the other, because the Muslim League is Pakistan.

“So long as we or any one of us is alive, we must not forget the pledge for which the Muslims made a sacrifice so colossal. But this pledge cannot be redeemed unless Pakistan has a political organization which may say what Islam is and what those principles are which should determine and control the conduct of this State. This task the Muslim League alone can accomplish. It is the duty of every one of us to make Pakistan strong and this can be done only by making the Muslim League strong; for, a strong League means a strong Pakistan.”

Liaquat Ali Khan, Address to the Pakistan Muslim League Council, Karachi, 20 February 1949

“The League is not anybody’s personal property. It is a national organization. It is the duty of every Pakistani to make it strong. We should not do anything which may damage the prestige of the League, because damage to the League is damage to the nation. No doubt, there are shortcomings in the League. There are shortcomings in every political party. But it does not mean that we should scrap it. It is difficult to construct and easy to destroy.”

Liaquat Ali Khan, speech on the second death anniversary of Jinnah, Karachi, 11 September 1949

“I have always considered myself to be the Prime Minister of the League. I never regarded myself as the Prime Minister chosen by the Constituent Assembly … I yearn to hear once again the same slogan of ‘Muslim League Zindabad’ which was raised before the inception of Pakistan, because I do not regard League and Pakistan as two separate things.

“It is my conviction that if we try to make the League strong with firm belief and courage – which is our duty because strength of the League is the strength of Pakistan – the League will once again attain those heights which it had attained before the establishment of Pakistan.”

Liaquat Ali Khan, Address to the Pakistan Muslim League Council, 8 October 1950

“Our greatest weapon is unity. If we lose that, we lose everything. We have to tread the straight and right path. Therefore, we should make our party strong, because with it is associated the existence and strength of Pakistan. The Muslim League created Pakistan. With the League is associated the history of the Muslims of this sub-continent. And now after the establishment of Pakistan, the life of the Muslims of Pakistan depends on the League … I admit that there are shortcomings in the League. But if we are not capable of removing these shortcomings of the national organization, we do not deserve to have a political party at all.

Liaquat Ali Khan, speech at a public meeting, Khairpur State, 12 November 1950

1 thought on “The significance of the All-India Muslim League”

  1. Salam Aleykum
    A very thoughtful article! Some of the facts have never been brought to public before which must be known to all being Pakistani.

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