Mohammed Ali Jauhar (1878-1931) and the Origins of Pakistan
By Professor Nazeer Ahmed
Mohammed Ali Jauhar was a product of the Aligarh movement and a principal figure
in the historical processes that resulted in the emergence of Pakistan. To appreciate
the contributions of this towering personality one must retrace the footprints of history
to the latter part of the nineteenth century. The decimation of the Muslim aristocracy
in northern India following the uprising of 1857 created a political vacuum which left
the masses despondent and rudderless. A new order had come into being, dictated by
British imperial interests in which the prerequisite for advancement and prosperity
was acquiescence to— and adaptation of— western education and cultural values. The
Muslims distrusted the new order as hostile to their own values, beliefs and the traditional
educational system. The distrust was mutual. The British, on their part, looked askance
at the Muslims whose rule they had usurped in large parts of the subcontinent through
conquest, diplomacy or deceit.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan broke this cycle of mutual distrust. Convinced that the
advancement of Indian Muslims lay in acquiring the knowledge and wisdoms of
the west and integrating them with traditional Islamic education, he moved into the
educational arena and founded the institution, which in time evolved into Aligarh Muslim
University. The Aligarh movement was a giant leap forward from the medieval to the
modern age but the passage was not as smooth as Sir Syed had envisioned. Traditional
school systems sprang up in Deoband, Nadva and other centers of learning, juxtaposed
with the modernist Aligarh system. The graduates of the traditional schools had little
understanding of the modern west while the graduates of Aligarh often were lacking in
the traditional disciplines. The tensions between the traditional and the reformist persisted
into the twentieth century, and indeed, they persist even to this day.
Mohammed Ali, one of three Ali brothers, was born into a Pashtun family of UP in 1878.
His father, Abdul Ali Khan, passed away when Mohammed Ali was two years old. A
bright student, Mohammed Ali studied at Aligarh, and in 1898, won a scholarship to
study at Oxford University. Returning to India in 1904 he accepted employment first at
Rampur as Director of the education department, then at Baroda in the Administrative
services (1906). Later that year he resigned from civil service and dedicated himself to
national service. He attended the first conference of the Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906
and, along with Wiqar al Mulk and Muhsin al Mulk, became a principal spokesman for
Muslim aspirations on the national scene.
Mohammed Ali showed his metal as a writer and a poet at a very early age. He was
equally fluent in English and Urdu. The Times of India ran a series on his observations
on contemporary affairs in 1907. Some of his early poems, written while he was a student
at Aligarh show a remarkable synthesis of revolutionary zeal and Sufi resignation:
Life in its full splendor will arrive after death, O executioner!
Our journey starts where your journey ends;
Confront you, who can (O executioner)? But—
Blessed is my blood after your bleeding;
The martyrdom of Hussain is indeed the death of Yazid,
The breath of life wakes up the faith of surrender after every Karbala!
His poetry is animated by the passion for righteous action and the power of perseverance.
It is this universal appeal that has made him one of the most quoted poets of all times. He
sounds off his clarion call to the isolationists in the following words:
Tell those who hide behind curtains to hide in their tombs—
The inert—no refuge do they have in this world!
He scoffed at titles and sycophancy preferring a higher reward:
The occupancy of the chair, that is worth its felicitation, O Jowhar!
But higher is the recompense of the Day of Recompense.
Neither a seeker of wealth nor a pursuer of honor am I,
The mendicants at this door—they ask for something else.
He was an activist. In the pursuit of higher goals he was not afraid of making mistakes:
The intercession of Muhammed is a divine Grace for sure,
The Day of Gathering—Ah! That is a feast of Grace for the wrong doers.
There was no journal, and no newspaper that carried the voice of the Muslims. To fill
this void Mohammed Ali started the weekly “Comrade” in 1911. Published in English
from Kolkata, the journal electrified the Muslim educated class. It was read not just
by English speaking Indians but also by the British bureaucrats who wanted to feel the
pulse of the Indian political climate. It carried political commentaries, analysis and essays
on social issues. The capital of India was shifted from Kolkata to Delhi in 1911. So the
publication of “Comrade” was shifted to the new capital. It was soon obvious that to
reach the masses, a publication in the Urdu language was required. So Mohammed Ali
started a Urdu weekly “Hamdard” in 1911 as a companion publication to “Comrade”.
International events of global import soon overtook national events and consumed the
attention of the Indian Muslim intelligentsia. The Balkan War of 1911-12, in which
the combined forces of Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece attacked the Ottoman Empire with
the tacit connivance of Britain, France and Russia, alarmed the Muslim world. Italy
invaded Libya and occupied it. There was not much that the large Muslim population of
India could do except to petition the British government not to aid and abet the Balkan
aggressors. The Maulana spoke up for justice through the voice of Comrade. His strident
calls caught the attention of the ruling authorities. The publication of Comrade was
stopped and the Maulana was jailed and stayed locked up until 1918.
The guns of World War 1 shattered the peace of the world in 1914. India, a captive
colony of Britain, declared war on Germany. The Ottoman Empire entered the conflict,
ill prepared, goaded into the fray by the Young Turks who miscalculated that the initial
rapid advance of the German armies into France presaged a quick victory, and their
desire to recover territories lost in the Balkan wars of 1911-12. The Indian army, largely
recruited from the region between Delhi and Peshawar, consisted of Muslims, Sikhs and
Hindus in roughly equal proportions. It was unceremoniously packed up and dispatched
to Iraq and Palestine to fight the soldiers of the Khalifa. The war ended in a disaster for
the Turks. The Middle East was carved up and swallowed by the British and French
empires. The Arab revolt of 1917 stabbed the Turks in the back, shattering the illusions
of pan-Islamism harbored by many Indian intellectuals.
It was not the Ottoman defeat in the Great War but the British desire to abolish the
Caliphate in its aftermath that riled the Indian Muslims and impelled them to political
action. The Caliphate was an institution that had survived the vicissitudes of the Islamic
history for 1300 years and most Muslims believed that it was an integral part of Islamic
faith. A Khilafat committee was formed in 1920 to apply pressure on the British
government on this issue. A delegation headed by Maulana Mohammed Ali was sent to
London and returned empty handed later that year.
The Khilafat movement was a milestone in the history of South Asian Muslims. It
brought together ulema like Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, secular nationalists like
Dr. Saifuddin Kuchlo and Hakim Ajmal Khan, universalists like Maulana Azad and
pan-Islamists like Maulana Mohammed Ali under one umbrella, and when it ended it
unleashed communal forces whose frenzy propelled the subcontinent into the holocaust
that accompanied partition in 1947. It defined the career of Maulana Muhammed Ali
who felt that an enslaved India could not successfully resist the international intrigues
of the British Empire. Cooperation with the majority Hindu community was essential if
India was to achieve its independence. The emergence of this conviction coincided with
the rise of Gandhi on the national stage. Gandhi saw in the Khilafat movement a golden
opportunity to fuse together the Hindus and the Muslims into an integrated political
movement that would force the British out of India. But it was a marriage of convenience
in which the national agenda of independence was wedded to the pan-Islamic idea of
Indian support for the Khilafat based in far-away Istanbul. The injection of religion into
the struggle for independence provided an entry for fringe right wing elements, both
Hindu and Muslim, to enter politics. It was an idea fraught with explosive potential for
the future of communal harmony in the subcontinent. Indeed, partition was born in the
communal politics of the 1920s. Jinnah, a strict constitutionalist and a secular nationalist
at the time, saw through this danger and warned his countrymen and fellow Muslims
about it. He was opposed to the Khilafat movement. No one listened. Indeed, it estranged
Jinnah from Muhammed Ali and the motley collection of scholars and opportunists who
had gathered around the issue. It also solidified the estrangement of Jinnah from Gandhi.
The coalition was inherently unstable and it was bound to break up sooner or later. And
break up it did in 1922. Gandhi was chosen as the leader of the Khilafat movement in
1920 and he proposed peaceful non-cooperation to compel the British to listen to Indian
demands. The movement was launched with much fanfare with the Ali brothers, Maulana
Azad and others traversing the country to whip up support from the masses. But India
was not ready for peaceful non-cooperation. The situation got out of hand when violence
broke out in Chauri Chaura in 1922 and Gandhi called off the struggle leaving its ardent
supporters in the lurch. The issue died a peaceful death when the Turkish parliament
under Kemal Ataturk abolished the Caliphate in 1924.
The failure of the Khilafat movement compelled the Hindu and Muslim communities
to face one another and try to work out a modus operandi. To give voice to Muslim
sentiments, Maulana Mohammed Ali restarted the Comrade weekly in 1924, soon to be
followed by its Urdu counterpart, Hamdard. But the India of the 1920s was a changed
India from that of the 1910s. Just as Jinnah had warned, communal forces were let
loose. Communal riots rocked Nagpur, Meerat and other cities. The Hindu Mahasabha
gained traction and in 1925, its president Golwalkar proposed the two-nation theory. A
disunited and confused Muslim leadership held several meetings to chart out a vision and
a course of action for the future. An all-parties conference held in Delhi in 1925, which
included representatives of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, failed
to agree on guidelines for a future constitution for India and instead delegated the task to
a committee headed by Motilal Nehru.
The Nehru report was a watershed in the independence struggles of India and Pakistan.
The report, compiled by an eleven member committee including two absentee Muslim
participants, came up with a unitary concept for the proposed constitution of India with
residual powers vested in the center. This was a reflection of the socialist leanings of
Jawarharlal Nehru who stayed wedded to top down, planned, government controlled
economic models throughout his influential political career, but which had as its corollary
the domination of majority views on the minority. The Muslim leadership preferred
a federal constitution with residual powers vested in the states. Secondly, the Nehru
report abrogated the separate electorate agreements reached between the Congress and
the League in 1915 in Lucknow which were brokered by Jinnah. Both of these were
unacceptable to the majority of Muslim leadership. Maulana Mohammed Ali failed to
convince Gandhi and the Congress party to change these provisions of the Nehru report.
In bitterness, he broke with Gandhi and walked away from the Congress.
Maulana Muhammed Ali attended the first round table conference in London 1931,
called by the British to discuss a dominion status for India. It was also attended by
Jinnah, Dr. Ambedkar, the Agha Khan, Sardar Ujjal Singh, Tej Bahadur Sapru, B.S.
Moonje and others. It ended in failure because the Indian National Congress, the largest
political party in India, boycotted it. Muhammed Ali died in London and was buried in
Jerusalem as he had wished.
The primary legacy of Maulana Muhammed Ali was to give forceful expression to the
voice of his generation through his considerable journalistic and poetic skills. He was
at once a nationalist and a mujahid. Addressing one of the meetings of the Khilafat
committee, he declared, “As far as the command of God is concerned, I am a Muslim and
Muslim alone; as far the issue of India is concerned, I am Indian and Indian alone”. He
roused the Muslim masses in support of the Khilafat movement and sought a cooperative
independence struggle through Gandhi. In these attempts he failed because he failed to
grasp the inherent contradictions in his positions on national and international issues. At
the onset of the Khilafat movement he fell out with Jinnah but while in London in 1931,
he and his brother Shaukat Ali begged Jinnah to return to India and take charge of the
Muslim League. The rest is history.
Reference: Mujahid e Azam, Maulana Mohammed Ali Jowhar, Farooq Argali, Fareed
Book Depot, Delhi