The need to create a national narrative on India’s Independence could not be more stark when we consider the case of Maulana Abul Mahasin Mohammad Sajjad – better known as Maulana Sajjad – and Maulvi Tufail Ahmad Manglori, who have been banished into oblivion. The two maulanas occupied a regional stage, as against the national, which is why they have been largely erased from accounts of the anti-colonial struggle.

Yet, both Maulana Sajjad and Maulvi Manglori played a stellar role in ideologically countering the Muslim League and Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan, besides campaigning vigorously on the plank of composite nationalism.

In this 70th year of India’s Independence – and Partition – it is imperative to place them in the proscenium of national consciousness, not least because it would complicate the story of Muslims being overwhelmingly seduced by Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan. This portrayal the Hindu Right subtly invokes to question, even today, the Muslims’ loyalty to India.

Indeed, recent scholarship has sought to insert Maulana Sajjad and Maulvi Manglori into the story of Partition. Among the two significant recent works on this are Venkat Dhulipala’s Creating A New Medina and Mohammad Sajjad’s Contesting Colonialism and Separatism.

This piece relies largely on their scholarship, apart from Manglori’s own writings.

Maulana Sajjad

Founder of Patna’s Imarat-e-Shariah, a socio-religious organisation which still has tremendous salience in Bihar, Maulana Sajjad rebutted the Lahore Resolution within the fortnight of it being adopted by the League in March 1940. The Resolution, as is well known, claimed Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations and demanded India to be partitioned into two.

Writing in the Imarat’s Urdu weekly, Naqeeb, Sajjad described the Lahore Resolution as the outpourings of a “fool and insane”, challenging the very Islamic ideas the Muslim League invoked to demand Pakistan.

He said Pakistan couldn’t be an Islamic state because it had a substantial non-Muslim population. To be a truly Islamic state, Pakistan would not only have to pack off its non-Muslim population but also deny them a role in governance. Both options, he pointed out, Jinnah had ruled out.

This led Sajjad to condemn, to quote Dhulipala, “as fraudulent, the designation of one state (Pakistan) as Islamic and the other (Hindustan) as Hindu, even though these were two composite entities.” (Nobody had then anticipated the horrific post-Partition violence and migration.)

Sajjad was sharply critical of the League’s hostage population theory. This theory stated that attacks by Hindus on Muslims who were to remain in India after Partition would have the League take revenge against non-Muslims in Pakistan. This, the League argued, would deter Hindu India from oppressing its Muslims.

The idea of retributive violence shocked Sajjad. He said it was contrary to Shariah and, therefore, un-Islamic. It was unethical for a Muslim country to attack its non-Muslim citizens not even complicit in the atrocities their religious brethren committed elsewhere.

The Maulana also ridiculed Jinnah’s politics of numbers. Jinnah often exhorted “20 million” Muslims in minority provinces (that is, provinces where Muslims were a minority and couldn’t therefore become part of Pakistan) to make sacrifices for the liberation of “60 million” Muslims in majority provinces (that is, provinces which were to be in Pakistan).

No, countered Sajjad, it was infinitely more meritorious for Jinnah’s 80 million Muslims to accept the “slavery under the Hindus”, align with the Congress, and work to overthrow the British imperialism. This was because the collapse of British rule in India would lead to the liberation of Muslim colonies where 250 million Muslims lived.

It was better for India’s 80 million Muslims to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of 250 million Muslims than for 20 million to do so for 60 million, Sajjad argued, palpably contemptuous of Jinnah’s cynicism.

The Maulana’s opposition to the League wasn’t confined to writing newspaper articles. When elections to Provincial Assemblies under the Government of India Act, 1935 were to be held, he floated the Muslim Independent Party in Bihar, became its president, and entered into an electoral understanding with the Congress.

His party didn’t field candidates against those of the Congress in Muslim seats in the 1937 election that was fought under the separate electorate system. Yet it came second to the Congress, winning 15 out of 40 Muslim seats.

However, after an unexpected victory, Bihar’s Congress leader, Rajendra Prasad (subsequently India’s first President) ruled out a coalition government. This miffed the Muslims because “the Congress did not hesitate in giving tickets to the candidates of the Hindu Mahasabha but was absolutely averse to the idea of making a coalition government with those political formations of Muslims (with which it) had ideological similarities,” writes Mohammad Sajjad in Contesting Colonialism and Separatism.

The rift also widened because the Congress said it would not form a government until the governor publicly assured he wouldn’t use his discretionary powers. Sajjad countered that in case no government was formed, the governor would anyway end up ruling Bihar.

This prompted the MIP, as the second largest party, to accept the governor’s invitation to form an interim government, arguing that the opportunity to address the popular grievances shouldn’t be foregone. The Hindus, however, felt they had been betrayed.

Succumbing to the pressure from its local leaders, the Congress decided to form its government in July 1937 – and the MIP bowed out. However, over the next two years, there was a sharp spurt in communal incidents. It was just the opportunity the League needed to expand in Bihar.

A worried Sajjad wrote a secret letter to the Congress in November 1939, which is excerpted in Contesting Colonialism.

“After elections this was the first wrong move which provoked the Muslims against the Congress,” he wrote, pointing to the Congress’s refusal to form a coalition with the MIP. The Muslims thought the Congress was being opportunistic, as it had taken the MIP’s help in Muslim seats but refused to share power with it.

Sajjad complained that the Congress ministry hadn’t appointed Muslims to government posts, not even to that of a clerk, and had brazenly condoned the Hindus who harassed Muslims that triggered riots.

“While the nationalists and the Congressite Muslims openly condemn the reactionary and communalist movement of the Muslims, the Hindu leaders of the Congress do not condemn their co-religionists,” the Maulana wrote tellingly. “[VD] Savarkar and [BS] Moonje are no longer subjected to condemnation for their misleading and inflammatory statements, even by Gandhi and Nehru,” he added.

It was from 1939 onwards that the Muslim League began to cash in on the disappointment of Bihar’s Muslims, who perceived the MIP’s alliance with the Congress as ineffectual, as it provided them neither security nor jobs.

Given his deep disappointment with the Congress, it speaks for Sajjad’s nationalist credentials and sagacity that he fiercely rebutted the Lahore Resolution within five months of writing his secret letter of complaint.

Maulvi Tufail Ahmad Manglori

He was not a traditionally educated alim (scholar) but was given the honorific of Maulvi for his sartorial elegance. A provincial bureaucrat, Manglori wrote newspaper articles contesting the politics of the League. These were compiled in a book, Musalmanon Ka Roshan Mustaqbil [The bright future of Muslims] which was published in 1937, and reprinted five times over the next eight years.

An English translation of the fifth edition was undertaken by former Vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, Ali Ashraf, who chanced upon a copy of it in Pakistan. Published as Towards A Common Destiny: A Nationalist Manifesto, the fifth edition is significant as it had a new chapter, Pakistan, not there in the previous editions.

In it, Manglori refined some of Sajjad’s points of criticism of the idea of Pakistan, taking into account the factor of class. For instance, he rubbished the hostage population theory by citing statistics to show non-Hindus constituted as much as 40% to 43% in the Muslim-majority provinces.

It was difficult to retaliate against such a large community, Manglori argued, more so as its members were wealthy and dominated every public sphere. Manglori’s conclusion was that the hostage theory had been conjured to hoodwink Muslims in minority provinces into supporting the League.

The most remarkable aspect of A Nationalist Manifesto was Manglori’s advocacy of joint electorates to protect Muslims. Under this system, he said, politicians, to win, would feel compelled to approach Muslim voters – and vice-versa – and concentrate on promoting common good.

By contrast, under the separate electorate system, Manglori argued, “the Hindu candidate gets more votes when he promises to fight for the defence of Hindu religion and culture. Similarly the Muslim candidate gets more votes by claiming to fight against the Hindus. This situation has deteriorated to such an extent that a Hindu-Muslim riot on the eve of elections renders easy the task of both.”

This system was advantageous for politicians and detrimental for the common people. For the latter, the separate electorate meant the “splitting of heads”. For those elected, it provided “worldly benefits”, precisely the reason why the Muslim polite insisted on it.

Muslim politicians, noted the Maulvi, advocated separate electorates for the masses. But once inside the representative bodies, whether Assembly or a local body, they enthusiastically – and hypocritically – participated in joint voting. Their enthusiasm was because of the “worldly benefits” that accrued to them, noted Manglori.

Thus, for instance, to become a Local Body chairman, the contesting Hindu candidates wooed Muslim representatives to secure their votes. In return, the winning Hindu candidate ensured that the relatives of Muslims who had voted him were given contracts and jobs.

This operating logic of joint electorates could also benefit common Muslims. But instead of demanding that, the League was now demanding a separate Muslim state. “Now the remedy for the deprivation of the masses is sought to be effected by the division of India into two separate countries for the Hindus and the Muslims,” Manglori noted sarcastically.

Equally remarkable was his assertion that before the separate electorate was institutionalised in 1909, Hindus and Muslims worked together to stop riots. Thereafter, people began to assist their community brethren to loot and kill, citing the outbreak of massive riots in Ayodhya and Muzaffarnagar in 1914 to bolster his point.

It is impossible to gauge the kind of resonance Manglori’s critique had in the United Provinces. Though his book was reprinted five times, we cannot estimate its influence without knowing the number of copies which were printed.

By contrast, Sajjad did command a following among the Muslims, evident from the 15 seats his party won in the 1937 election. Add to this the five Muslims seats the Congress won and the MIP had supported it. Another three seats the Ahrar party won. The nationalist Muslims, therefore, can be said to have had a sway over their community in Bihar.

In just two years, however, Sajjad in Bihar was swept aside by the Muslim League. The refusal of the Congress to share power with the MIP in Bihar, and the rise of communal incidents under the former’s regime (in UP and Bihar), conveyed to the Muslims that they would neither get entry into the power structure nor be provided security. They, thus, became easy pickings for the League.

For all of us today, the story of the failure of Sajjad and Manglori to wean the Muslims from the League should convey that majoritarian communalism extracts a price we can’t envisage beforehand. This should come as a dire warning in these days of Hindutva’s arrogant assertion.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, is available in bookstores.