All-India Muslim League

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ALL-INDIA MUSLIM LEAGUE In 1885 the All-India National Congress (INC or Congress) was created as a political party. It was ostensibly noncommunal, but Muslims soon regarded it as a Hindu organization. Accordingly, Nawab Viqar ul-Mulk (1841–1917) in 1901 attempted to establish a political organization that would represent Muslim political opinion in India. In October 1906 a deputation of Muslims—the Simla Deputation, led by the Aga Khan (1877–1957)—met the viceroy of India, Lord Minto (1845–1914; viceroy 1905–1910), who encouraged British India's Muslims to create their own political party. He saw it as a moderating influence in the increasingly radical body politic of India, especially among a group of "extremists" in the Congress. Thus encouraged, Viqar ul-Mulk and the Aga Khan invited leading Muslims to meet in Dacca (now Dhaka) on 30 December 1906 to launch a new organization, the All-India Muslim League (AIML or League). The League's first meeting was held at the conclusion of the All-India Muslim Educational Conference (founded in 1886), which was cut short by one day. Its members were asked to attend the new meeting to discuss the creation of a "political association," the aims of which were:

  1. To promote among the Muslims of India feelings of loyalty to the British government, and to remove any misconception that may arise as to the intention of government with regard to any of its measures.
  2. To profit and advance the political rights and interests of the Muslims of India, and to respectfully represent their needs and aspirations to the government.
  3. To prevent the rise, among the Muslims of India, of any feeling of hostility toward other communities, without prejudice to the aforementioned objects of the League.

The organization was to present "Muslim views" to the government on the eve of the new constitutional developments that were about to take place (the Councils of India Act, 1909). At the League's inaugural session, two joint secretaries and thirty-one members were appointed to represent six areas of northern India from Bengal to the North West frontier province. Two years later a branch of the AIML was established in London under the presidency of Syed Ameer Ali (1849–1928) to act as a pressure lobby to influence British policy regarding India. Syed Wazir Hasan played a prominent role in the party in its early years, serving as joint secretary (1910–1912) and secretary (1912–1919), while the Aga Khan was president until 1913.

In its first five years the AIML met annually, except for 1909, in various cities of India to express Muslim views on the political issues of the day, to counter anti-League organizations, and to convince the British government of its loyalty. It established a few provincial and district Leagues and published a few brochures in various languages; its leaders toured India from time to time, giving talks on the platform and aims of the party.

League leaders presented the British Indian Muslim political community's views to the government. It maintained this pattern of limited activities for most of the first thirty years of its existence, though the League was active enough to enter into an agreement with the Congress in 1916 on a joint political postwar platform, the Lucknow Pact. This agreement established constitutional principles to be followed in future constitutions, which were reflected in the Government of India Act of 1918. Few of the League's followers paid any annual dues, and many of its members and officials were also members of other political parties. Apart from informal contacts with the government, the major event for the AIML was its annual meeting, where a number of resolutions were moved and discussed. These resolutions concerned the political and social questions of the day and, on occasion, events overseas, especially political crises that affected Muslim countries in the Mideast.

From 1906 until 1910 the central office was located at Aligarh. It then moved to Lucknow, and the raja of Mahmudabad (1879–1931) maintained the office through an annual donation of 3,000 rupees. In 1936 it was moved to Delhi, where it remained until 1947. The party membership in 1927 was only around 1,300 members, and in 1930 in Allahabad, when the philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938) made his famous call for the creation of a state for the Muslims of South Asia in the northwestern part of India, fewer than seventy-five people attended the meeting. To encourage membership, the admission fee of five rupees was abolished, and the annual subscription was reduced from six rupees to one rupee.

The League was often divided by the claims of different leaders who each wanted to assume the role of spokesman of Muslim India. These divisions at times reflected genuine differences of opinion but were also based merely on personality clashes. In the early years, a clash developed between Fazl-i-Husain (1877–1937), who represented rural interests in the Punjab, and Muhammad Shafi (1869–1932), an urbanite from Lahore. In 1927 the conflict was between Muhammad Shafi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876–1948), who had formally joined the League in 1913; Shafi opposed joint electorates, while Jinnah and his increasing number of followers supported them. A decade later the Punjab leader Sikander Hayat Khan (1892–1942) challenged Jinnah for the leadership of the League.

From 1934 until 1947 the name of Mohammad Ali Jinnah was synonymous with that of the AIML, but it was not until 1943 that Jinnah was the undisputed "great leader" (Quaid-i-Azam) of the party. Nonetheless, even after that date Muslim leaders from Bengal and the Punjab, especially Khizr Hayat Khan Tiwana (1900–1975; premier of the Punjab 1942–1947), attempted to act in an independent manner, favoring provincial interests over the national ones that the League represented. For his opposition, Khizr was expelled from the League in 1944.

The introduction of the Government of India Act of 1935 ushered in a new phase of politics in India. The election of candidates to provincial assemblies became crucial as Indians, not the British, would dominate provincial legislatures. As a result, the AIML, for the first time in its history, began to be organized as a viable national party. On 4 March 1934 the forceful and charismatic Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a wealthy self-made lawyer who had been a prominent Muslim politician since 1909, became the president of the party. Jinnah nominated the Parliamentary Board, which chose party candidates for the general elections in 1936. Even at this time only three rich supporters kept the party functioning, and it was opposed both by the Congress and regional Muslim parties, especially in Bengal and the Punjab; nonetheless, the party began its slow ascent to national importance.

The rise of the League was due to the national leadership of Jinnah and the organizational work of the independently wealthy general-secretary, Liaquat Ali Khan (1895–1951), who, like Jinnah, devoted most of his time over the next ten years to the party. The president of the AIML was elected annually, the general-secretary for three years. Under the president was the Working Committee of a dozen or so members chosen to represent all parts of India; then came the AIML Council, whose members could vote on League policy; and then came the primary party members. This organizational structure was also followed, in theory, in the provinces. However, it was only at the national level that the party had a viable organization, and that evolved only in the years after 1937. The League also had parliamentary parties in the legislative assemblies both at the center, where Jinnah was the leader, and in the provinces.

In the General Elections of 1936 the League contested half of the seats reserved for Muslims. It obtained some 60 percent of those seats but won practically none of the seats in the Muslim majority provinces, except for Bengal where it gained 39 out of 117 seats. These electoral defeats, however, were to lead to a complete change in League fortunes, as Congress ministries governed in most of the provinces of India in a manner that was viewed as favorable to the Hindu community and detrimental to Muslim interests. As a result, there were a large number of Muslim defections from the Congress. In 1939 the League published two widely discussed reports, The Pirpur Report and The Sharif Report, that detailed "Congress misgovernment," further inflaming Muslim feeling toward the Congress and mobilizing Muslims for the League.

In October 1937 at Lucknow, Jinnah initiated a new combativeness in Indian politics by declaring that there were now three political entities in India: the Congress, the British, and the League. Later, the League chalked out a Five-Year Plan for the Muslim community and organized the All-India Muslim Students Federation. At Lahore on 23 March 1940, at its annual meeting, the League moved the "Pakistan Resolution," which called for the creation of a separate state for the Muslims of India in the northwest and northeast of India. (The term "Pakistan" was first coined in 1930.) An estimated 100,000 people attended that famous session in Lahore. Nearly 90,000 people were then members of the party, and membership would continue to rise. A weekly party newspaper, Dawn, was created in 1941, and the following year it became a daily, acquiring national readership. In 1943, the League created a Planning Committee that would plan economic development in the Pakistan areas, and a Committee of Action was established to enforce party discipline and its will among the provincial League parties. In 1944 a Committee of Writers was created; over the next two years it produced ten pamphlets in its Pakistan Literature Series, a considerable number of newspaper articles, and election campaign material, written primarily by students and professors of Aligarh Muslim University—most notably professor Jamil-ud-Din Ahmad (1914–1970), who also arranged for League pamphlets to be published by Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf of Lahore, who became the official publisher of the League. The League also actively recruited student workers, especially from Aligarh Muslim University and Punjab University, who would propagate the demand for Pakistan both in the cities and in the rural areas and would campaign for League candidates in election campaigns. With the rise in communal violence in the 1940s, the League created the paramilitary Muslim National Guard to protect League meetings and to act as bodyguards for Muslim leaders, especially Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

All of the organizational work between 1937 and 1946 led to a tremendous League victory in the 1946 general elections, when it won one-third of the seats in the Punjab, 115 of 250 in Bengal, and almost all of the Muslim seats it contested in other parts of India. Membership of the party was in the millions. This victory supported Jinnah's claim that he spoke for the Muslims of India and that those Muslims demanded Pakistan. The British increasingly treated him as the spokesman of Muslim India, despite the claims of Congress—especially by Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964) and Mahatma M. K. Gandhi (1869–1948)—that the Congress spoke for all of India, Muslims included. As a result of this electoral victory, an increasing number of Muslim politicians joined the League, while those who did not lost a great deal of credibility among Muslims. The League had demonstrated that it was the party of the Muslims of South Asia. In 1946 the League agreed to enter the interim government, claiming parity with the Congress. Liaquat Ali Khan gained one of the most important positions in the government, that of finance member.

By early 1947 both the Congress and the British agreed that upon independence India should be partitioned into the sovereign states of India and Pakistan. With the creation of Pakistan on 14 August 1947, Jinnah became governor-general and Ali Khan, prime minister of the new state of Pakistan. The AIML then split into two parties, the Pakistan Muslim League and the Indian Muslim League.

Roger D. Long

See alsoCongress Party ; Jinnah, Mohammad Ali ; Khan, Liaquat Ali ; Muslims


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