The Ail-India Muslim League was formed in Dhaka in 1906 as a political platform for Muslims in British India. Eventually, under the leadership of finnah, the Urdu-speaking elite-dominated Muslim League succeeded in carving out the Muslim homelands of East and West Pakistan. The following two articles, written by Lahore journalist Asha’ar Rehman, and Delhi-based writer Irfan Ahmed, look at how the party has fared in post-1947 Pakistan and India.
Party of The Great Leader
Much has transpired in the five decades between the departure of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the reign of Quaid-e-Azam Saani (“the Great Leader II”), as some ardent supporters of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have taken to address him. Records say both men were born on Christmas day -though some 72 years apart – and both head(ed) the Muslim League parties of their time. But that is where the similarity ends. What the charismatic Jinnah spearheaded 50 years ago and what Sharif tugs along today are two entirely different organisations, reflecting the changed times.
The All-India Muslim League was disbanded at a convention in Karachi on 15 December 1947, exactly four months after the birth of Pakistan. With Jinnah in the chair, the League leadership decided to split the party into two – to follow their respective briefs in Pakistan and India. The ageing Quaid expressed his inability to serve as the first chief of the Muslim League of Pakistan. Instead, he nominated Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, a senior politician whom he had earlier named to head the Muslim League in the Constituent Assembly of India, to the post of chief organiser.
The All-Pakistan Muslim League, as it was called initially, met in Karachi in February 1948 to chalk out party rules. Among other things, it was decided that the party offices would be kept separate from those of the government. This meant that neither Governor-General Jinnah nor Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan could hold any office in the party. This was a promising start towards laying the foundations for a democratic culture in the country at its inception, but expectations were dashed soon enough.
With the Quaids death in September 1948, a spate of intrigues followed which culminated in the League being involved in government affairs. This came with the resignation of Khaliquzzaman after a protest by Mohajirs (migrants from India at Partition) outside his Karachi residence. It is believed that the protest was orchestrated by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan himself. It was he who benefitted most from Khaliquzzamans ouster. The offices of the head of the government and that of the party were combined to give Liaquat complete authority a practice that continues till today, in spite of an unsuccessful attempt in 1955 to separate them.
Although Liaquat Ali Khan continues to be promoted in school history as the Quaid-e-Millat (Leader of the Nation), even the most patriotic of historians have been harsh in their judgement of his role as the Muslim League chief. Writes Safdar Mahmood in Pakistan: Tareekh aur Siyasat (Pakistan: History and Politics): “Liaquat Ali Khan succeeded Khaliquzzaman in 1950, but he failed in restoring the prestige of the party…instead of the prominent and sincere Muslim League workers, Liaquat encouraged groupings in the provinces by unduly backing his friends and factional leaders…”
Consequently, Mahmood recalls, several old Leaguers were forced to quit the party and they went on to form their own outfits; the Muslim Leagues popularity suffered and its political base was weakened. “Once, the Muslim League was the realisation of the dream of unity among Muslims, but within years after the creation of Pakistan it was an example of factional politics among Muslims.” The large number of Leagues that have emerged in Pakistani politics is in fact a legacy of this early period.
Council and convention
The transformation of the Muslim League was quick. Liaquat was assassinated in Rawalpindi in October 1951, and Khwaja Nazimuddin, a veteran politician from East Pakistan, took charge of the government as well as the party. But nothing was done to revamp the fast-crumbling party structure. By the time Pakistans ambassador to the US, Muhammad Ali Bogra, was imported from Washington and installed as the new prime minister in 1953 by Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad, the Muslim League had become too weak to protest the move.
The party was quickly losing ground to emerging alliances. The most glaring example was provided by its humiliating defeat in the March 1954 provincial elections in East Pakistan. In a 309-member House, the Leagues share amounted to just 10 seats. The United Front, an alliance of various parties formed only a year earlier, captured 223 seats. That the Front had the support of the extreme right-wing Nizam-e-lslam Party on one hand and the Communist Party on the other in itself spoke of the disenchantment with the League in the east.
As for West Pakistan, although the feudals tried desperately to keep the party intact, the glorious period when they ruled over Jinnahs Pakistan and his party was over. Sensing the danger of total annihilation after the electoral debacle in East Pakistan, in 1955 the League leaders reverted to the old policy of keeping party offices separate from the government ones. Sardar Abdur Rab Nishter, a respected politician and Jinnahs contemporary, was appointed party head. Nishter and his successor, the “Lion of the Frontier”, Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, tried to effect some damage control. However, their efforts were yet to bear fruit when General Ayub Khan imposed martial law in the country in 1958.
Political parties were banned and all political activities remained suspended until 1962 – the year Ayub Khan, seeking political legitimacy for his rule, ordered a new Muslim League for himself. A convention of ministers and pro-government politicians was called in Karachi to pledge allegiance.
Soon afterwards, politicians, including the pre-ban League council veterans, held their own meeting in Dhaka which was called Council Muslim League. Khwaja Nazimuddin was again chosen the leader. Power, however, was wielded by Ayub Khans League, supported by industrialists and landlords, who had been grafted into the system through Ayubs Basic Democracy dispensation.
The Convention League, however, was so linked with Ayubs persona that it fizzled out after his ouster in 1969. In the 1970 general election, it could land only two seats out of the 124 contested. On the other hand, the Council Muslim League fought 119 seats and won nine. Qayyum League, another breakaway faction of the Muslim League under Khan Qayyum Khan, vying for 132 seats, also won only nine.
In East Pakistan, the polls were swept by Sheikh Mujibs Awami League. In West Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, one-time Ayub ally who had the foresight to jump off the wagon in time to launch his own Pakistan Peoples Party, won with a handsome margin. After coming to power in the wake of the easts secession in 1971, Bhutto played his cards deftly to further neutralise the Muslim League. Khan Qayyum Khan was inducted into the federal cabinet as interior minister, while the chief of the Council Muslim League, Mian Mumtaz Daultana, was despatched to London as Pakistans ambassador. The Muslim League had been reduced to a shadow of its past, with the various factional heads winning themselves a share in power.
Efforts to unite the Muslim League continued. They bore fruit in 1972 when the Council and Convention leagues were merged, with Hassan A. Sheikh chosen as party president and Malik Qasim as secretary general. However, old-timers like Sardar Shaukat Hyat and Daultana did not recognise this marriage and stayed away from the party. A year later, Pir Ali Mardan Shah of Pagaro became party president and under his command the Muslim League took part in the united oppositions agitation to oust Bhutto.
Having overthrown Bhutto, the Pir and his party quickly established good relations with the military ruler Gen Zia-ul Haq. Meanwhile, Malik Qasim, as the head of his own small faction of the Muslim League, continued to ally himself with the anti-martial law forces such as the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD).
Zias rule bore a striking resemblance to the martial law of Ayub Khan. Indeed, Zia, like Ayub, soon sought political legitimacy for his rule. And like Ayub, he thought that the Muslim League, the party with an ideology, offered him the best option.
For the non-party 1985 polls, Zia turned to old pal Pir Pagaro, asking for help in creating a new ruling party. The Pir was happy to oblige and lent one of his trusted disciples, Muhammad Khan Junejo, a moderate politician from his home province of Sindh. Junejo became prime minister as well as the Muslim League chief. Among Junejos close associates was a budding Lahore politician named Mian Nawaz Sharif, who had been handpicked by Zia in the early 1980s.
Sharif began as the Punjab finance minister after the elections of 1985 and three years later, when Junejo fell out with Zia, Sharif staked his claim on the League leadership. The party moved towards another split.
The formalities were completed in August 1988 when Pagaros League was divided into two groups: pro-Zia Leaguers including Sharif, elected veteran NWFP leader Fida Muhammad Khan as their head; those siding with the ousted prime minister formed the JunejoLeague. Even though an attempt at unity was subsequently made, and the League went into the 1988 and 1990 general election as one entity, the deep-rooted clash of interests between the Sharif and Junejo camps prevented any lasting reconciliation.
By the 1993 elections, the Junejo League had again parted ways with the Sharif group. In fact, the Junejo group, led by Punjabi politician Hamid Nasir Chattha after the death of the former prime minister, played a decisive part in the PML-Nawazs defeat by allying itself with Benazir Bhuttos PPP. In return, Junejo League nominees Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo and Sardar Arif Nakai both got a shot at being the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistans largest province.
Despite the fall in the PPPs popularity graph, the Junejo League carried its alliance with Benazir into the next election in Febru ary 1997. Both were crushed by the PML-Nawaz which swept the polls, winning a two-thirds majority. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has since expressed his desire for removal of his initial as suffix to the partys name – obviously staking a claim on the mantle of Jinnah and his Muslim League.
Were the Quaid to descend on earth and visit Pakistan, it would be interesting to see which of the several Muslim Leagues he would have felt closest to. Would it be Liaquat Ali Khans Muslim League, or Ayub Khans, or Malik Qasims, Junejos, or Nawaz Sharifs? Or would Jinnah select for the honour the League disbanded on 15 December 1947 – a year and ten days before Sharif was born?