Day of Pakistan
Direct Action Plan: The most
By Professor Sharif al Mujahid
"We want peace.
But if war is forced upon us, we accept it." With this telling
couplet from the immoral Firdausi did the Quaid close
his memorable speech to the Muslim League Council meeting in Bombay
on July 29,1946. And, to be sure, this couplet represented the bitter
Muslim mood at the British acquiescence at the Congress's distortion
of the Cabinet Mission plan (1946).
Muslim bitterness at Congress "duplicity" and British
"perfidy" led to revoke of their earlier decision to accept
the Plan, revert to their original demand and reaffirm their faith
in a sovereign, independent Pakistan. Earlier that evening, the
League Council had taken a bold decision: it said good-bye to constitutionalism
and sanctioned Direct Action for the first time in all its annals,
and this to wrest Pakistan. "...Now the time has come"
so ran the League resolution, "for the Muslim nation to resort
to Direct Action, to achieve Pakistan, to assert their just rights,
to vindicate their honour and get rid of the British slavery and
contemplated future caste-Hindu domination."
The resolution had also called on its members to return British
titles, which it characterised as "tinsels of slavery".
The response was immediate: member after member went up the rostrum
to renounce his title and affirm his preference for a plain Mr instead.
And from now, more than over, it was "Pakistan or perish".
Except for the monumental decision to adopt Pakistan as the league's
supreme goal on March 23-24, 1940, nothing so momentous had the
League embarked upon in its long chequered history. Nor anything
so revolutionary had it launched upon. No wonder, the call to Direct
Action stirred Muslim India to its depths: it started Fire Prairie-like.
Even so inveterate a critic of Jinnah and the League as the Blitz
(Bombay) was constrained to concede: "The worst enemies of
the Muslim League cannot help envying the leadership of Mr Jinnah.
Last week's cataclysmic transformation of the League from the reactionary
racket of the Muslim Nawabs, Noons, and Knights into a revolutionary
mass organisation dedicated, by word if not be deed, to an anti-Imperialist
struggle, compels us to express the sneaking national wish that
a diplomat and strategist of Jinnah's proven calibre were at the
held of the Indian National Congress. There is no denying the fact
that by his latest master-stroke of diplomacy Jinnah has outbid,
outwitted and outmaneuvered the British and Congress alike and confounded
the common national indictment that the Muslim League is a parasite
of British Imperialism."
Not unexpectedly, the Direct Action decision sent a wave of fear
and indignation in the Congress circles. In a strongly-worded speech,
Sardar Patel, "the iron man" of the Congress, whipped
up his Hindu audience to frenzy and violence, saying that the League's
contemplated Direct Action was in fact directed towards the Congress
and the Hindus since they would be heading the Interim Government
in a short while. Nehru, on his part declared more sophistically
that "if the government is strong the Direct Action will go
under, and if the government is weak will go under". In his
own inimitable manner, Gandhi prognosticated. "We are not yet
in the midst of a civil war. But we are near it, at present we are
playing at it."
These pronouncements explain why and how the Direct Action Day in
Calcutta on August 16 was turned into a day of orgy, violence and
bloodshed. In fixing August 16, 1946 as the Direct Action Day, the
League's object was not to start a direct action movement on that
day but to explain to the people the implications of the League
Council's Bombay resolution. This was emphasised repeatedly in the
pre-Direct Action Day pronouncements of the League leaders, including
that of Jinnah. Also emphasised was the non-violent and entirely
peaceful nature of the Direct Action. It was also made clear that,
when finally launched, Direct Action would not be directed against
anyone in particular, and definitely not against the Hindus, but
would be specifically meant to create among Muslims the requisite
confidence, to enable them to wrest Pakistan, given the tremendous
odds against them and its creation.
As of then, Bengal along had a stable League Ministry, the other
one in the Sindh being shaky and a victim of intrigues, from both
within and without. This Bengal ministry was, of course, an eyesore
to the Congress, which understandably was bent upon discrediting
it, leading to its dismissed, if possible. And so Calutta, where
Muslims constituted barely 23 per cent of the population, was chosen
as the venue to teach Muslims and the League a bitter lesion and
to bury the League's contemplated Direct Action in an avalanche
of violence and bloodshed. In the result: while the day passed off
peacefully in the rest of the Sub-continent, even in other more
predominantly Muslim majority provinces, it sparked the beginning
of a civil war between Hindus and the Muslims - the long-awaited
civil war, so confidently predicted by Sardar Patel when the Muslims
had discomfited the Congress attempts to drown the League at the
Central Assembly polls, in January 1946. In the Calcutta carnage
about five thousand people lost their lives and greater number were
injured, the loss of property was immense and frightful. Never before
had any communal riot caused such a heavy toll. Seen afterward,
the Congress set itself in motion, blamed the League ministry all
the way, and tabled no confidence motion, to get it discredited.
The League, on the other hand, characterised the holocaust as an
organised and premeditated Hindu attempt to get the League ministry
discredited and make a shambles of the Direct Action programme.
Summing up the Muslim mood, in his Eid message on August 28,1946,
Jinnah said: "Today, the horizon is dark for us... we are vilified,
misrepresented and threatened from every direction. Muslim league
is ignored and by-passed, tremendous false propaganda is carried
on to throw the blame on Muslim League for which there is no iota
of justification; the Viceroy and the British government have surrendered
to the Congress and it only remains for them now to make a declaration
that they have abdicated and are about to hand over to the Fascist
caste Hindu Congress, the government of the Sub-continent".
"... This has created a very great and dangerous situation
for us and we must face it as a united nation also go through the
test and fire of being surpassed, oppressed and persecuted. However,
I am confident that if the hundred million Muslims stand united
all the manoeuvres and machinations and designs of our opponents
will fail miserably and we shall emerge out of this struggle triumphantly..."
"We have argued; we have reasoned; we have supplicated; and
we have made great concessions but all to no purpose. There remains
in front of us a struggle and we must face it boldly and courageously
in a disciplined and organised manner..."
And at that bleak juncture, the Muslims direly stood in need of
such words of courage. The Calcutta holocaust was followed by riots
in Bombay and Ahmedabad, which presently spread to several cities,
towns and villages like UP, CP, Bihar and Madras. Of prime significance
was the fact that the earliest outbreaks were all in predominantly
In mid-October, however, when the news of the death of a large number
of Muslim boatmen from Noakhali in the Calcutta carnage reached
their folks at home. There was a sudden flare-up in Noakhali in
which, according to the Governor of Bengal, the GOC, and the District
Magistrate of Noakhali, less than 200 persons were killed and "cases
of rape, abduction and forcible marriage were rare". But these
incidents came in handy to lay the blame for the now spreading civil
war at the League's door and to demand, on that basis, its exit
from the Interim Government, which the League had joined on October
25, at the Viceroy's persuasion, in order to control the increasingly
deteriorating situation. The Hindu leaders, including Gandhi and
Kripalani, issued statement after statement, grossly exaggerating
the casualties; the Congress press frantically engaged itself in
spreading tendentious and tell-tale stories, even after neutral
sources had nailed them to the counter.
As a result of this campaign of hatred, and further instigation
by "well-know Congress leaders and members of the legislature"
in neighbouring Bihar, Hindus of the five districts of Saran, Patna,
Gaya, Monghyr, and Bhagalpur rose en masse against the Muslims,
slaughtering some 30,000 Muslims (including women and children),
and clearing about 300 square miles of territory of all Muslims.
More shocking, while all this was going on, the Congress ministry
in Bihar did not even call in the Army for one full week. Alibis
were presented to cover up the foul crimes against the Muslims,
and the connivance of the Congress Government.
And in a subtle attempt to divert attention, Gandhi who had earlier
gone to Noakhali, stayed put over there and tried to focus attention
on the "plight" of the Hindu minority in Eastern Bengal.
Neither he nor any other Congress leader had any tear shed on the
plight of the Bihar Muslims. Nor would the Congress ministry agree
to hold an impartial inquiry, while the League government in Bengal
had readily agreed to appoint one under Chief Justice Sir Patrick
Spend of the Federal Court.
About a week later occurred the three-day holocaust in Garhmukhteswar,
in the Meerut District, about 55 miles from Delhi. About 2,000 Muslims
were killed and property worth lacs of rupees was either destroyed
or looted. Not a shot was fired by the police; the Army was called,
but after three days.
Of utmost significance in fathering the causes and extent of the
then raging civil war was a revealing pronouncement by Sardar Patel
"the Iron Man" of the Congress. In his address to the
Meerut Congress session in the late November, he made an oblique
reference to the number of Hindus and Muslims killed in Bengal,
Bihar and the UP, and called on the Muslims to "examine the
balance-sheet", and to reflect. And he capped his call by an
ultimatum: "The sword will be met with sword". Meantime,
the initial fissures in the improvised edifice of the Interim Government
developed into visible cracks, portending a virtual breakdown. The
Congress forced the Viceroy to call the first session of the Constituent
Assembly on December 9, 1946. The League, however, refused to withdraw
its Bombay Resolution, arguing that the Congress reservations about
certain vital causes in the Cabinet Mission Plan had made no sense
of the plan. A hastily improvised conference between the Congress,
League and the Sikhs under the aegis of His Majesty's Government
in December 1946 failed to savage the situation either, although
HMG's Statement of December 6, upheld the League's stand vis-a-vis
the grouping principle. The Statement also laid down that "should
a constitution come to be framed by the Constituent Assembly in
which a large section of the Indian population have not been represented,
His Majesty's Government could not, of course, contemplate forcing
such a constitution upon any unwilling part of the country".
One result of the post-Direct Action Muslim resurgence was that
whenever and wherever their rights were trampled upon, the Muslim
refused to take it lying down. This was most amply demonstrated
in the Punjab, the Frontier and in Assam.
In January, Muslim Punjab, now resurgent and indignant at being
denied its right to administer the province, came into clash with
the reactionary Tiwana government. The Tiwana-Glancy-Sachar axis
had denied the people even civil liberties. In January 1947, it
went further, and banned the Punjab Muslim National Guards and ordered
a search of its headquarters. This touched off a province-wide movement
for the restoration of civil liberties. Although provoked on numerous
occasions, the Muslims refused to turn it into a communal or violent
The Khan of Mamdot, Mian Iftikharuddin, Malik Feroz Khan Noon, Sardar
Shaukat Hayat Khan, Mian Muhammad Mumtaz Daulatna and others courted
Thousands upon thousands of Muslim men and women defied the government
's order on processions and meetings. For the first time in the
annals of Muslims movements, women came out into the open and branched
all odds; it was a teenage girl that climbed and hoisted the League
flag atop the Secretariat Building. A rebel paper was printed and
The jails were filled to capacity soon enough, and the government
was forced to release those arrested for want of accommodation.
After such measure of popular indignation and resistance, the discredited
ministry could not possible survive for long: it collapsed finally
in early March when Khizar Hayat Khan Tiwana had to tender this
Dr Khan Sahib, the Congress Chief Minister in the NWFP, had adopted
similar tactics to suppress the Muslims and the Muslim League in
the Frontier and to keep himself in power. To all who could see,
it was evident even as early as October 1946 when Nehru went on
a tour in the Frontier that the Khan brother's popularity had hoisted
tremendously. Maulana Azad reports that when Nehru arrived in Peshawar,
the airport was swarming with a large number of police, which had
been placed there to give protection to the unpopular Chief Minster
and defend him and his guests against the hostility of the Patahans.
By February 1947, a stage was reached when the Pathans' bitterness
against Dr Khan Sahib spilled over into a movement of civil liberties.
All the prominent Leaguers, including Khan Abdul Qaiyyum Khan, Pir
Sahib of Manki Sharif and Pir Sahib of Zakori, were hauled into
god. By the end of March over six thousand people had been arrested;
by the first week of April the number rose to twenty thousand. A
clandestine radio station in the tribal belt went on the air. Betimes,
their fury and indignation reached new heights. In spite of the
tremendous odds, the movement continued for four long months and
was called off only after the announcement of the June 3rd Plan.
In the wake of the Punjab and Frontier came the civil disobedience
movement in Assam. The Bardoloi ministry had imposed a sort of Ghetto
Act against Muslim Bengali immigrants, who had settled there for
some three decades. The Muslim cultivators of the neighbouring districts
of Bengal had been encouraged in the 1920s to migrate to Assam,
and cultivate the land, transforming the fearful jungles into smiling
cornfields. By mid the 1940s however, the communal feeling of Bardoloi
and his henchmen work up. It saw in the settlement of these Bengali
immigrants the establishment of Pakistan in their paternal, homeland.
Their "remedy" was the Line System the lawless law, which
had never been passed by any legislature, and they resorted to eviction,
setting elephants to pull down and raze huts to the ground.
This inhuman law sparked the Assam Muslims to launch a civil disobedience
movement under the energetic leadership of Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan
Bhashani. He courted arrest, followed by others. This movement also
continued with varying fortunes till the announcement of Partition
Plan of 3rd June.
Thus, the Direct Action resolution had sparked revolutionary activity
among Muslims. It prepared the ground for the disobedience movements
in three provinces, and these in part convinced the British that
Muslims would not bargain for anything less than Pakistan. In perspective,
then, the Direct Action decision influenced, more than anything
else, the course of Indian politics during the final stage of British
rule, and led directly to the emergence of Pakistan within a year.