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Muslim League


Muslim League established in December 1906, initially led by Aga Khan and ultimately by muhammed ali jinnah, was instrumental in creating public opinion in favour of Muslim nationalism and finally in achieving Pakistan in 1947. The background of the foundation of the Muslim League at Dhaka on 30 December 1906 may be traced back to the establishment of the indian national congress in 1885. The Western educated Hindu elite with the objectives of sharing power with the raj and motivating it to establish representative government in India established the Congress. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the most widely respected leader of the Muslim community, warned the Indian Muslims not to join the Congress in the interest of the Muslim community. He started his movement by establishing a college at Aligarh. Sir Syed and like him, many other Muslim leaders believed that the Muslims as a downtrodden nation could get more benefit from the loyalty to the British rather than from any opposition to them. He called upon his followers to devote their energy and attention to popularising English education among the Muslims. This perception and consequent activism has been known as the Aligarh Movement.

In the line of this thought Muslim elite like Nawab Abdul Latif, Syed Amir Ali and others established cultural organisations for propagation of English education among the Muslims in the absence of which the community remained deprived of the benefits of the colonial state. Thus the Muslim cultural organisations like the mohammedan literary society (1863), central national muhamedan association (1877), Sir Syed's United Indian Patriotic Association (1888) and many other local anzumans became more active in social regenerative activities than in politics.

The Muslim leaders of India met informally once a year in a conference to discuss educational problems of the Muslim community and to disseminate the thought of loyalty to the raj. Such a conference (All India Muslim Education Conference) was held at Shahbag in Dhaka in 1906 against the backdrop of the Congress sponsored agitation against the partition of bengal (1905) and the swadeshi movement. Previously, a deputation of Muslim leaders met Governor General lord minto at Simla in order to ventilate problems special to the Muslim community of India. nawab salimullah of Dhaka, the staunchest supporter of the Partition of Bengal, felt the need to form a political party to counter the anti-partition agitation launched by the Congress cadres. He proposed in this conference to make a political platform with the objectives of safeguarding the interests of the Indian Muslims. Nawab Viqar-ul-Mulk, chairman of the conference, supported the motion and thus the All India Muslim League (AIML) came into being.

The objectives of the AIML were to look after the interests of the Muslims; promote their loyalty towards the British government and cultivate harmonious relations of the Muslims with other Indian communities, particularly the Hindus. The immediate object of Nawab Salimullah's move for a Muslim political association was to put up a united stand of the Muslims of the subcontinent against a strong Hindu agitation for the annulment of the Partition of Bengal.

The Indian nationalist press dismissed the Muslim League as a rickety structure, destined to a speedy dissolution. It is true that initially the League as a political organisation lacked dynamism as it was founded by those persons who had persistently suggested the Muslims of the subcontinent to keep aloof from politics during the second half of the nineteenth century. The Muslim League remained in a moribund condition for full one year after its inception in December 1906. But within a few years younger generation of the Muslims with 'middle class' background and radical ideas found their way into the politics of the Muslim League. They not only discarded the programme of unqualified loyalty to the British rulers, but also challenged the British colonial rule in India and demanded self-government.

In the 1910s the League adopted a creed similar to that of the Indian National Congress. When the Hindu-Muslim relation improved considerably, for instance during the period of Lucknow Agreement (1916) and the period of Khilafat and Non-cooperation Movement AIML became almost a dead organisation. For several years since 1920, the Muslim League was in a state of suspended animation as the Khilafat organisation had taken up all the work of the community at the time, and the League had practically nothing to do.

Though founded as a political organisation, the Muslim League did not develop any noticeable political programme even within the framework of loyalty to the raj. It was never a meaningful organisation politically until Muhammad Ali Jinnah took up its leadership in 1935. Implored by many Muslim leaders, Jinnah returned from London to India and took up the presidency of the Muslim League. In view of the ensuing general elections under the India Act of 1935, Jinnah reorganised and restructured the central and provincial branches of the Muslim League and asked the new committees to get ready for electoral politics ahead.

In the elections held in 1937, the Muslim League had an astounding performance in Bengal. Of the total 482 seats reserved for the Muslims in all nine provinces, the League could secure only 104. As high as 36 seats, more than one third of the total, were bagged from Bengal alone. Party-wise, the Muslim League emerged as the second largest group in the legislature, the first being the Congress. The Bengal victory of the League was said to have been scored on account of the combined support of the Western educated Bengal Muslim professionals and the Muslim landed gentry. The Ulama class, it may be noted, tended to remain aloof from the Muslim League activities.

In 1937, ak fazlul huq, Chief Minister of Bengal, joined the Muslim League and with that his ministry had become virtually a Muslim League one. Using the immense personal popularity of Huq, Bengal was made the fortress for the League. Fazlul Huq as the leader of the Bengal Muslims moved the lahore resolution for independent 'homelands' for the Indian Muslims from the platform of the Muslim League. The Lahore Resolution of 1940 had a tremendous effect on the Bengal Muslim public opinion.

The Muslim League had formed the ministry under the leadership of khwaja nazimuddin in 1943 when Fazlul Huq tendered his resignation on the advice of the Governor, john herbert. The period from 1943 to 1946 was the period for making the Muslim League a real national organisation. Under the leadership of huseyn shaheed suhrawardy and abul hashim, the League became so popular that in the elections of 1946 it bagged 110 seats out of 117 reserved for the Muslims of Bengal. It established the fact that the Muslim League was the sole spokesman of the Bengal Muslim community.

The League performance in other Muslim dominated provinces of India was equally enthusiastic besides the North West Frontier Province which was still under the Congress influence. The performance of the League in the elections of 1946 made its leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah the undisputed leader of the Indian Muslims. So far as the Muslim community was concerned, Jinnah was now inevitably to be consulted with in all negotiations and agreements concerning the transfer of power by the British. Six years after the Lahore Resolution, HS Suhrahardy moved the resolution for 'a Muslim state' at the Delhi Convention of the Muslim Legislators. The Muslim League became the organisation for almost every Indian Muslim when the independence came on 14 August 1947. [Sirajul Islam]

Bengal Provincial Muslim League' with the partition of Bengal in 1905, two wings of the Bengal Muslim League were formed separately in the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, and in West Bengal. To help forming the Eastern Bengal and Assam Muslim League (EBAML) a provisional committee was formed in early July 1908 with chowdhury kazemuddin ahmad siddiky as president and Nawab Salimullah as secretary. The EBAML was given a concrete shape on 17 March 1911 at a meeting held at ahsan manzil with Nawab Salimullah and Khan Bahadur nawab ali chaudhury as president and secretary respectively. Eleven noted Muslims from East Bengal were elected vice-presidents while Khalilur Rahman and Maulvi Ameruddin Ahmed were elected joint secretaries.

The leadership of the EBAML worked hard to gain support from the AIML in favour of sustaining the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam in the face of strong Congress opposition. It endeavoured to transform certain Anjumans of district and sub-divisional towns into branches of the League and pleaded to the British authorities for separate electorate and promotion of Muslim education in the form of sending petitions and deputation.

The Calcutta based West Bengal Muslim League (WBML) was formed on 21 January 1909 with Prince Jehander Mirza as president and Syed Shamsul Huda as secretary. Since any literate British Indian Muslim aged 21 years or above could become member of the WBML, its office bearers also included non-Bengali Muslims. The leaders of the WBML often sent representation to the government and adopted resolutions pleading for separate electorates, appointments of Muslims in the government's Executive Council and increasing facilities for Muslim education. But, they hardly cared to work for the permanence of the Partition of Bengal or to organise the League outside Calcutta.

Following the annulment of the Partition of Bengal, the EBAML and the WBML were amalgamated into the Bengal Provincial Muslim League (BPML) as the provincial branch of the AIML on 2 March 1912. Nawab Salimullah was elected its president while Nawab Ali Chaudhury and Zahid Suhrawardy were elected secretaries. Barrister abdur rasul was elected as the treasurer and abul kashem as the joint secretary. It was only after the amalgamation of the EBAML and the WBML into the BPML that the organisation maintained a separate party office and frequently held council meetings. But the Muslim League and for that matter its provincial organs were never meaningful organisations politically until Muhammad Ali Jinnah took up its leadership in 1935. It was from November 1943 that some new and effective measures were undertaken to reorganise the BPML under the guidance of Abul Hashim, the new general secretary of the party. By 1946 the BPML succeeded in building itself up as a mass party, and in the Assembly elections of 1946 it achieved a comprehensive victory capturing 97 per cent of the Muslim seats.

Muslim League leaders from Bengal took the lead in moving vital resolutions affecting the fate of the Indian Muslims. They cherished the desire for the implementation of the Lahore Resolution with the hope for the creation of two Muslim states in the Northwest and Northeast of the subcontinent. The BPML leader Abul Hashim considered the resolution at the Delhi Convention of the Muslim Legislators for 'a Muslim state' as a 'betrayal' to their interests.

Within two years of achieving Independence, the League began to lose popular support. In the mean time maulana abdul hamid khan bhasani and other prominent Muslim Leaguers formed the Awami Muslim League in Dhaka in 1949. Series of labour strikes, communal riots, steep decline in law and order situation, agrarian uprising in some districts, police uprising, soaring prices of essentials, the language issue, and numerous other problems of the new state shattered the high expectations of the people. They now looked for alternative leadership, which was readily provided by the Awami Muslim League of Maulana Bhasani and Krishak Sramik Party of AK Fazlul Huq. These parties including some other smaller parties formed an electoral alliance called united front and in the elections held in March 1954 got as many as 223 seats whereas the Muslim League could win only 8.

Such a defeat of a ruling party is not very unusual, but what is unusual is the fact that the League, being the oldest and a mass based party, could never pick up again in East Pakistan. It could justify its existence wining a couple of seats now and then, though its presence was always marked whenever there was any Martial Law regime, both during the Pakistan as well as Bangladesh periods. [Mohammad Shah]