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Saturday, 3 April 2010

Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam or Majlis-e-Ah'rãr-e-Islam or Ahrar (Urdu: مجلس احرارلأسلام ) was a nationalist Muslim party in South Asia.

Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam or Majlis-e-Ah'rãr-e-Islam or Ahrar (Urdu: مجلس احرارلأسلام ) was a nationalist Muslim party in South Asia.

The Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam, were a short lived separatist political movement who were former Khilafat movement. They differed with the Indian National Congress over certain issues and afterwards announced the formation of their party in a meeting at Lahore in 1931. Freely funded by the Congress, the Ahrar were also opposed to the policies of the Muslim League. They declared that their objectives were to guide the Muslims of India on matters of nationalism as well as religion. Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam spearheaded movement to declare Ahmadiyya community as non-Muslims. By the early 1930s, the Majlis-i-Ahrar-Islam (hereafter MAI) had become an important political party of Muslims in the Punjab. Its agitation in the princely states, and mobilisation on socio-religious issues, earned it an important position in regional politics. Besides these campaigns, the MAI also participated in the mainstream political developments of British India between 1931 to 1947. Its political career can be divided into two parts; the MAI’s response to political and constitutional issues, and its performance in electoral politics. An examination of its role in these two areas can help in addressing the question as to whether the Majlis was a provincial party or an all-India organisation. Its leadership, political programme and its role in and outside the legislature are vital for this investigation. Such inter-connected issues may help us locate the debate on Indian nationalism, Muslim identity politics and the developments within Punjab, the political heartland of the MAI.

Contents [hide]
1 Introduction
2 Constitutional Issues
3 Communal Award and the India Act of 1935
4 Electoral Politics
5 Bye-elections of 1933
6 See also

[edit] Introduction
The MAI strategy was the mobilization of the Muslim masses through the advocacy of emotional and topical issues. However, it did not miss the opportunity of participating in any movement, or commenting on any issue, that was likely to influence the future of India or that of Indian Muslims. Their main constituencies were the Sunni Muslims, and particularly those living in Punjab. Constitutional issues did not evoke as much interest in its ranks, as social and religious issues; which meant that the clerics and not the lawyers set the agenda. Theanti-colonial and determinedly pro-Muslim attitudes were reflected in the MAI’s reaction to the constitutional issues. Soon after its formation, it aimed at projecting itself as an anti-colonial and pro-Indian National Congress (hereafter INC) party by actively participating in the civil disobedience movement of the 1930s, championed by Mahatma Gandhi. It supported the Red Shirts Movement led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the passing of the India Act of 1935, and efforts for an agreement among different communities in India. The MAI maintained contacts with all the political parties and responded positively to other opposition groups, though its pro-INC leanings remained quite explicit. After its initial political ventures in Kashmir, Kapurthala and Alwar, the MAI turned its attention to its organisational and institutional outreach.

[edit] Constitutional Issues
The major contemporary constitutional issues hinged on resolving India’s complex political challenges, and coincided with the formation of the MAI. The Ahrar leaders boycotted the Simon Commission in 1927-28, and subsequently rejected its recommendations; which included a federal political system for India, and separate electorates for Muslims.1 The All-Parties National Convention held at Calcutta in December 1928, adopted the Nehru Report. The adoption of this Report led to a division of the nationalist Muslims into two groups; one group, to which a majority of the future Ahrar leaders belonged, wanted its acceptance with some amendments; while the other group favoured its unconditional acceptance.2 The Nehru Report was still being debated when the INC held its annual session at Lahore in December 1929, and abandoned the Report, while adopting complete independence as its ultimate objective.3 The independence resolution appealed to the anti-imperialist sentiments of the MAI, and brought it closer to the INC. When the latter launched its civil disobedience movement, after the rejection of its demand by the British government, the MAI shelved its organisational work, and enthusiastically participated in the non-cooperation movement. Meanwhile, theBritish Government had convened the Round Table Conference (hereafter RTC) in November 1930, to work out an agreed constitutional formula for India;4 but the MAI, in line with the INC policy, opposed the RTC.5 The first RTC reached a consensus on a federal system for India, and after spelling out the principles of the future constitution, set up eight sub-committees. However, the MAI stuck to its original objectives and at its all-India conference in July 1931, reiterated that, “the chief aim and object of the Majlis will be complete independence for India”.6 The British government realised the futility of framing a constitution without the INC, as did the other political parties that had participated in the first RTC. During the INC-led civil disobedience movement, many of its leaders and activists had been imprisoned. When the British government realised the importance of associating the INC with the constitutional negotiations, it approached its leadership. Wedgwood Benn, the Secretary of State, wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, about the desirability of coming to terms with the Congress. In order to call off the civil disobedience movement and attend the second RTC, Gandhi was released unconditionally, and the Viceroy held negotiations with him. These negotiations climaxed with the signing of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact on 5 March 1933;7 and consequently, Gandhi decided to attend the second RTC in London. The MAI felt the INC had bypassed it. Maulana Habib-ur-Rahman and Syed Ataullah Shah Bukhari (the leaders of Ahrars) rushed to Bombay to persuade Gandhi not to attend the RTC.8 They argued that the nationalist leaders should not engage in constitutional discussions with the colonialists because it would be a ‘futile’ exercise. However, they failed to convince Gandhi, and his decision to participate in the RTC resulted in the ‘parting of ways’ between the INC and MAI. The blind faith and trust that the MAI leadership had so far reposed in the INC, was shattered.9 Henceforth, it did not openly share a common platform with the INC.10 The INC’s participation in the second RTC made the London Conference more representative, although the participants, failed to evolve an agreed formula to resolve the communal differences, or agree on the future politicalmap of India. Consequently, on 16 August 1932, the British Prime Minister, Ramsay Macdonald, announced a Communal Award on behalf of the British Government, which was to be followed by the India Act of 1935.

[edit] Communal Award and the India Act of 1935
The Communal Award not only retained the principle of separate electorates for Muslims, but was extended to other minorities as well. Weightage for minorities was also maintained, which was given equally to the Muslims in Hindu majority provinces, and to Sikhs and Hindus in the Muslim majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal. Hence, the Muslim representation in Punjab and Bengal was less than their ratio in the population. In Punjab, where the proportion of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs was 57.10%, 27% and 13% of the total population respectively; they were given 49%, 27% and 18 per cent of the provincial seats in the Assembly. Similarly, in Bengal, where the percentage of Muslims and Hindus was 55 and 43 respectively, they were given 48 and 43 per cent of the total seats in the legislature.11 The lowering of property qualification for voters increased their numbers, although it was still a far cry from universal suffrage. Sindh, following a long-standing demand, was separated from Bombay and constituted into a separate province. Non-Muslims in Sindh were given more seats than their number warranted. Similarly, in the constitutional reforms carried out in the NWFP, non-Muslims got heavier weightage, which meant that they could play a critical role in case of division among its Muslim members. The Communal Award, in an emphatic way, widened the gulf between the rural and urban Muslims in the Punjab, by offering more representation to the landlords.12 This worked to the greater benefit of the Unionist Party, since it favoured the rural classes, as did its trans-communal composition. The Communal Award was not popular with any of the communities. The Muslim League was displeased, because it did not meet the Muslim demands for 56 per cent representation in the Punjab Assembly,13 and nor did it provide them with amajority in Bengal. The reaction of the Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs was also negative; and they declared that any system of government in Punjab and Bengal under the Communal Award, would amount to a British-imposed ‘Muslim Raj’ in these provinces. The Mahasabha dominated Hindu politics in the Punjab, and was more influential than the Congress. In fact, the Congress had little support among the Punjabi Hindus, who looked towards the Mahasabha for safeguarding their interests.14 The Punjab Mahasabha’s aggressive advocacy of Hindu interests, embittered communal relations. Their relations sank to an all-time low on the issue of separate electorates. Sikh agitation against the Communal Award was equally hostile. They had demanded 24 per cent of total representation in the Punjab Assembly, whereas they were only provided 18 per cent seats in the provincial legislature. They opposed separate electorates, and the provision of a possible Muslim majority in the assembly;15 they organised demonstrations and set up a council of action to achieve their objectives.16 On 2 August 1932, the council reportedly gathered more than one hundred thousand Sikhs in Lahore, and demanded treatment similar to that of Muslim minorities in the Hindu majority provinces. Earlier, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians had organised a joint Minority Conference to oppose adult franchise. They demanded division of the Punjab province, in case their demands were not met; which was perceived by the Muslims as a plan to subvert Muslim majority in the province. The communal division of Punjab seemed pre-ordained.17 The MAI had tried to mobilise the Muslim masses in support of joint electorates at the time of the Nehru Report, but found it difficult. Their campaign for joint electorates convinced them of the growing demand for a “separate Muslim identity”, and they gradually came to accept the importance of the system of separate electorates for Muslims. Their participation in the Congress-led civil disobedience movement and severance of their links with that party in 1931, brought home the realisation that Muslims constituted a ‘political entity separate’ from the Sikhs and Hindus.18 Secondly, the MAI was dissatisfied with the weightage provided for the minorities in the Communal Award,which gave the Muslim community a thin majority in the Punjab legislature. They felt that the Award had not awarded to the Muslims their due share in the Punjab Assembly,19 and believed that a solution acceptable to all the communities could still be found. They proposed that Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims should sit together, and work out an agreed formula for the representation of various communities in the Punjab; an alternative to the Communal Award.20 However, they warned that if any community attempted to solve the communal problem by force, Muslims would be justified in fighting back for the protection of their interests.21 They also criticised the Communal Award, because it was silent on the long-standing Muslim demand of 33 per cent Muslim share in the central legislature.22 The MAI was disappointed by the reaction from Hindus and Sikhs in the Punjab, and began to take an equally communal line. They took out processions and rallies in many towns of the province, in support of their position.23 With the passage of time, they adopted a more oppositional attitude, not only towards the British, but also against the Hindus and Sikhs.24 It was alleged that the Sikhs had enlisted 100,000 men to challenge the Muslims, and that the government was supporting the Sikhs, with the objective of precipitating a conflict between the two communities. The MAI called on the Muslims to carry swords to defend themselves, particularly in those districts where the Sikhs carried kirpans. They set up an action committee in the Punjab, to counteract the activities of a similar body established by the Sikhs.25 The MAI made Amritsar the centre of their activities over the issue of Communal Award, and from September to December 1932, it organised several public meetings in the Punjab.26 At a Provincial Ahrar Conference held on 4-5 December 1932, the MAI formed a sub-committee to suggest a formula for the Communal Award. It was to be discussed at the Allahabad Conference, scheduled for March 1933.27 But no agreed formula could be worked out at these sessions, and the MAI was thus left with no option but to accept the Communal Award. The All-India Muslim League Council, in a meeting in Delhi on 2 April 1934, accepted the Communal Award till abetter alternative was found. The Majlis also formally accepted the Communal Award at an All-India Communal Award Conference in Dacca, on 24 March 1935.28 B. R. Ambedkar, the leader of the Scheduled Castes, was persuaded by Gandhi to renounce separate electorates for the ‘Untouchables’.29 The response of the three communities in the Punjab to the Communal Award strengthened communal identities, intensified competition among them, and thus proved the last proverbial straw. The British Government issued a White Paper after the third Round Table Conference in March 1933. The Conference appointed a Joint Select Committee, which finalised its report in November 1934, and was subsequently debated in Parliament.30 The Report consisted of recommendations for the future government of India. It also discussed the issue of communal representation, and provided a basis for the British government to introduce Communal Award. When the Indian Legislative Assembly debated this report in February 1935, the INC moved a resolution for the total rejection of the report, condemning it as one of the ‘usual imperialist devices’ “to deprive the Indian people of the power to assume charge of their affairs”.31 M. A. Jinnah, then the leader of the Independent Party, disagreed with the INC, and moved an amendment that was finally accepted.32 The MAI supported Jinnah’s position on the White Paper, and also the report of the Joint Select Committee.33 The British Parliament passed the Government of India Act 1935 on 2 August 1935, which provided for a federal political system for the sub-continent.34 Its important features were that it defined provinces as separate legal entities, and lowered property qualifications for voting, thus enlarging the provincial franchise. The Muslim elite had always been apprehensive of a centralised government dominated by the Hindu majority, and the danger of being turned into a ‘permanent minority. The MAI, like all other Muslim political parties, was concerned about the federal part of the constitution, though it preferred to wait and watch. However, this part did not come into operation, since the required number of states did notaccede to the federation. This similarity of views on constitutional issues was an important factor that brought the MAI closer to the All-India Muslim League (AIML). In 1936, the MAI allied itself with the Muslim League, and its leaders accepted membership of the Central Muslim League Parliamentary Board, although this alliance was also short-lived.

[edit] Electoral Politics
The MAI decided to participate in the electoral process in the 1930s, without modifying its ultimate objective of complete independence from the British colonial rule. There were several reasons behind this decision. The MAI wanted to influence the constitution-making and law-making processes;35 and after the severance of its relations with the INC and the formulation of its own platform and programme, it wanted to prove its own separate and distinct existence. Its spectacular performance in the agitation against the rulers of the three princely states gave it confidence.36 The MAI, which was primarily an urban political party, like other Muslim political parties, had supported the Communal Award. As the anti-Communal Award campaign of the Mahasabhites and the Akali Sikhs intensified, the MAI felt that it could counter that pressure by participating in the elections, and asserting its Muslim credentials. They also harboured the dream of leading the Muslim urban lower and middle classes, through a sustained struggle. The increasing communalism in politics had spawned the creation of a number of political groups jostling to capture the leadership of urban Muslims in Punjab, and MAI was emerging as the most influential voice. The Majlis might have contested the August 1930 elections, but boycotted them as a result of its decision to participate in the INC-sponsored civil disobedience movement. Their first electoral activity was in 1933, in the three bye-elections to the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Then in 1934, the MAI put up candidates in two constituencies, in the elections to the Central Legislative Assembly; and in 1937, it took part in the elections to the provincial assemblies under the Government ofIndia Act of 1935, and supported candidates for the provincial assemblies of the Punjab, Bihar and Bombay.

[edit] Bye-elections of 1933
The working committee of the MAI, in a meeting at Lahore on 12 June, 1933, took the decision to participate in the three bye-elections for the Punjab Assembly.37 It selected three prominent MAI figures as its candidates to contest these polls. One of its candidates was the patron-in-chief of the MAI, Chaudhry Afzal Haq, who decided to contest the rural Muslim seat from the Hoshiarpur and Ludhiana districts of East Punjab. He was an experienced political figure of Muslim politics in the Punjab. He had been elected twice to the Punjab legislature; in the 1924-27 and the 1927-30 periods. The second candidate, Chaudhry Abdur Rahman Khan, was a prominent member of a Rajput family of Jallundhar, who had led the Ahrar agitation in Kapurthala. He was selected to contest the Muslim urban seat from the Sheikhupura, Ludhiana, Gurdaspur and Jallundhar’s area.38 The third candidate was also a senior Ahrar leader, Maulana Mazhar Ali Azhar, who contested the seat vacated by Sheikh Din Muhammad from Gujranwala.39 He had also been a member of the Punjab Legislative Council from 1924 to 1930. One of his opponents in this urban Muslim constituency was the prominent lawyer from Lahore, Malik Barkat Ali.40 The MAI participated in these bye-elections with a high profile, and aimed at building its image as a formidable political force. Other than demanding independence, its economic, social and political programme promised the welfare of the poor and underprivileged Muslim masses. Like its counterparts in the field, it championed their interests as if it was their only saviour.41 The MAI had established its credentials by fighting for the civil rights of the Muslim community in the princely states, and their anti-Qadiani stance, had established them as a sectarian party in Indian politics. With a strong anti-feudal stance, the MAI promised to reform the society in a way that would ensure an equitable social and economic environment for the poorMuslim community of India. They advocated Muslim nationalist causes, but also supported secular anti-imperialism of the INC. The MAI believed in direct interaction with the masses, and used mosques for their election campaign, converting them into their main centres of publicity; but they also used corner meetings as a method of campaigning. They also organised rallies and public meetings, where their leaders spoke in support of the MAI programme and its candidates. While newspapers, according to Afzal Haq, ‘are tools in the hands of the capitalists’, the MAI was blessed with orators who were a “source of their propaganda.”42 In addition, all the three candidates were notable and well-established Muslim figures of the Punjab. The result was a resounding Ahrar victory in all the three bye-elections; Afzal Haq secured 1800 votes,43 Mazhar Ali Azhar obtained 2920 out of 6633 votes,44 while the third candidate secured more than 1500 votes.

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