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‘Unlike the Congress,the Muslim League failed to create a social and economic programme,or rural-urban alliances’

Maya Tudor,a lecturer in government and public policy at Oxford University,recently published ‘The Promise of Power’,investigating the origins of India and Pakistan’s regime divergence in the aftermath of independence.

Maya Tudor,a lecturer in government and public policy at Oxford University,recently published ‘The Promise of Power’,investigating the origins of India and Pakistan’s regime divergence in the aftermath of independence. In Delhi for a lecture tour,she spoke to Yamini Lohia. Excerpts:

In your book,you identified the leading political parties,the Congress and the Muslim League,as the major difference between India and Pakistan at the time of Partition. How do you think their leadership contributed to the divergent paths?

I wouldn’t say it was leadership. One question I get over and over again is how can you talk about democracy in India without talking about Gandhi and Nehru,and how can you discuss the lack of democracy in Pakistan without Jinnah and his autocratic politics. But the parties were more than their leaders,at least in India,and that was the difference. It was just leaders in the case of Pakistan. There wasn’t much of a party organisation in terms of real representation in rural areas and a real programme. So on issues like what kind of programme of economic governance India was going to pursue,what kind of social programme and what the ideology of citizenship was — what made the Indian citizen an Indian citizen — on all these questions,India’s nationalist movement did more to develop a clear programme. They weren’t addressed in Pakistan until much later. India also built a movement that had substantial support in the countryside. That’s what made a difference.

To a certain degree the movement was the same movement in India and Pakistan,in that it shared a common enemy,the British. At what point do you see the trajectory splitting?

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You see the trajectory really beginning to change in the period starting in 1920,which was the starting point of the Congress’s drive towards mass mobilisation. But a couple of historical things made 1920 possible. When the story of mass mobilisation and Gandhi’s experiments is told,it will be clear that there were structural changes before which made it possible. For instance,the 1905 Bengal partition. There was mass mobilisation after,in many cases non-violent mobilisation like the burning of British cloth,which led to its successful reversal. So it was shown that mass mobilisation was possible. The moderate wing of the Congress was de-legitimised in 1909 and again in 1919 when the colonial reforms they had been waiting for didn’t do much in the way of reform. It is true that Gandhi’s leadership was incredibly important,but there were people that undertook mass mobilisation before him and he,in a sense,was the right man at the right time.

Also,World Wars I and II saw massive price fluctuations in commodity prices and that meant that farmers’ livelihoods were affected. Then you saw an urban,educated middle-class made alliances with rural farmers. And that really began in 1920. So in the 27 years before Independence,you saw the Congress making these alliances and hammering out a series of programmes so that,when August 14 and 15,1947 came,India had a party that was developed and stable.

Why didn’t the Muslim League have a similar trajectory?


I think there are two factors. One,as we’ve already discussed,is the divergent nature of parties along with the three dimensions of programme,organisation and alliances. The second factor is the analytically prior one,which is that the independence movement for Pakistan was founded by the well-to-do landed aristocrats. They were pro-colonial when the Muslim League was set up. It was only after the 1937 provincial elections,which the Congress swept,that the Muslim League realised it could no longer count on colonial rule continuing. It began mass mobilisation then. So one issue is that it began mass mobilisation much later — only a decade before independence — and it wasn’t even really thinking about it. In the core part of Pakistan,Punjab,there was no Muslim League to speak of until 1943 or 1944. Unlike the Congress,the Muslim League failed to create a social and economic programme or rural-urban alliances because it didn’t have the incentives. The elites were heavily buttressed — it was a quid pro quo — by the colonial regime,which was helped by having local allies who were then nominated to colonial councils and the like.

The Congress was also composed of elites,though.

Elite interests are not given by class position; they’re historically defined. In an underdeveloped economy,there were limited possibilities at the beginning of the 20th century. The urban educated elite that was the Congress was a product of colonial educational institutions. This group wanted upward mobility — that’s what all social classes want almost all the time. In that circumstance,the urban elite sought upward mobility by accessing the colonial state,asking for more representative political institutions because,by virtue of its education,it would monopolise those positions. The reason I call the book “The Promise of Power” is to highlight that those groups — in both parties — were set up by elites who were motivated by their own interests and the promise of power. But while it remained so for Pakistan,the Congress became more than just a vehicle for class interests over the decades. The idea of nationalism became meaningful.

You argue that the conception of nationalism in the two countries is very different. Is it that the Muslim League had a singular definition of what it meant to be a Pakistani?


Both nationalisms had oppositional aspects. The Congress was initially defined in opposition to the British Raj and the Muslim League was initially an anti-Hindu movement,in that it wanted power protected for the Muslims historically entrenched in colonial power structures as a legacy of the pre-colonial Mughal period. But over time,the Congress also came to stand for something positive; at least in principle,it stood for the rejection of caste inequalities,economic nationalism and so on. What Pakistan stood for was never really clear. As late as 1945-46,the Bengal Muslim League wasn’t sure whether Pakistan stood for autonomy within the framework of a united India or a separate state.

The League’s nationalism was also exclusive — to be a citizen of Pakistan,in some sense you had to be a Muslim. Because Pakistan was initially justified as a homeland for Muslims in the run-up to independence,Pakistani citizenship was,in some sense,equated with Islam. This division was a problem. Jinnah understood that,and that’s why he gave that famous August 11 speech in which he said,“Muslims can be Muslims and Hindus can be Hindus and that is no business of the state”. That’s a shocking speech for many,which interestingly many Pakistanis don’t even know about today,because it in some way repudiated the founding basis for Pakistan. When creating a state,it becomes difficult to create hierarchical categories of citizenship. At the time of independence,20 per cent of Pakistan’s population was not Islamic. So are they citizens of Pakistan? To this day,you have to sign an oath when you get your passport that Ahmadi Muslims are not Muslims. What does that have to do with Pakistani citizenship,unless Islam is in some way bound up with the conception of citizenship? Identifying religion — any religion — with citizenship creates hierarchical categories,which is anathema to democracy.

A longer version of this interview is available at

First published on: 04-01-2014 at 04:59:54 am
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