The narrative that all Muslims got together to seek India’s partition on the basis of the two-nation theory is now a few decades old. It has acquired salience again, with some hyperventilating neo-nationalists reiterating that all Muslims are traitors as they joined Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his Muslim League to divide India. These people forget that a large number of Muslims, who consciously decided to stay back, had a choice—either to leave and be Pakistanis or stay back in India and choose their homeland. Many opted for the latter. A similar choice was made by many Hindus who decided to stay back in Pakistan. However, staying back in a democratic, secular and plural India was different from opting for a regressive and sectarian Islamist Pakistan. The future of both, who stayed behind, has proved that so tellingly.
Unfortunate political developments and the prevalent communal rhetoric in India has forced me to go back to the history afresh. There is a concerted campaign to malign all Indian Muslims as leftover Pakistanis, who are enemies within the country; the narrative is that these fifth columnists should be shunted out to Pakistan in the so-called national interest. But merely indicting all Muslims for the sake of petty majoritarian politics goes against the facts of history.
We are a nation obsessed with history, more often concerned with correcting the presumed historical wrongs than learning anything from the past. With this compulsive preoccupation, some of us live perpetually in the past. Even so, most people believe that Maulana Azad, an Independence-era leader, fought a lone battle for a united India, while a majority of Indian Muslims vouched for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and his Muslim League. This has no factual basis and any extent of living in the past will help unravel actual facts.
To put the record straight, some unsung heroes from our recent history should be talked about. There are many historical characters that were crucial to countering the politics of hate and division of the country around the time of partition. Among them was Allah Baksh Sumroo, who served as a premier of the Sindh province—equivalent to the current post of a chief minister—for two terms between 1938 and 1942. Sumroo was a committed patriot, whom the Muslim League hated to the extreme. He belonged to a feudal Sindhi family but was known for a frugal living and commitment to democratic values. Sumroo wore khadi even as a young man of twenty. We hear about using flags as a power symbol so often these days, but he never used a flag on his official car even in those feudal and colonial times.
What is important to remember today is his commitment to undivided India. Sumroo emerged as a major challenge to the divisive politics of communalists of all hues, particularly the Muslim League. Azad was undoubtedly a national face, espousing composite nationalism, but he actually derived strength from such regional but powerful voices like Sumroo.
To go into the details of his massive anti-Muslim League politics would require a much longer discussion. Let me just refer to one of the most important episodes in the history of our sad partition of the country. The Muslim League passed a resolution recommending the creation of an independent state of Muslims on 23 March 1940 at Lahore. Soon, Sumroo organised a huge conference of patriotic Muslims between 27 and 30 April 1940 in Delhi, called the Azad Muslim Conference. According to some estimates, there were not less than seventy-five thousand people who gathered from all over India to condemn the Muslim League for its divisive politics.