Economic factors in Pakistan Movement

Daily Times, Pakistan
March 21 2004

Economic factors in Pakistan Movement
– Ishtiaq Ahmed

In the final stages of the Partition drama, large sections of the
Muslim community had been successfully mobilised in favour of the
argument that the creation of Pakistan would bring them economic
relief and prosperity

Most serious research on the Pakistan movement shows that neither the
primordialist standpoint, which views the creation of Pakistan simply
as the culmination of a natural process of mutual hostility and
rejection between Hindus and Muslims, nor the instrumentalist
approach, which attributes the establishment of the country to the
skilful manipulation of emotive symbols by the leaders of the Muslim
League in their competition for power with their counterparts in the
Congress Party, is satisfactory.

Rather, the peculiar materialist factors that obtained from the 1920s
onwards played a crucial role in fomenting group competitiveness
which became intense and fierce over time. It is a common observance
that competition among communities for power, resources and jobs
almost invariably leads to an emphasis on differences and cleavages
rather than commonalities. Matters are aggravated in the absence of a
strong state authority, or, much worse, when the state machinery
itself adopts a partisan role. This is exactly what happened in the
last few months before the division of India.

Consequently, the factors contributing to the economic backwardness
of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent are complex in both structural
as well as cultural terms. We notice a dramatic decline in the
fortunes of the Muslim aristocracy during the colonial period; from a
privileged group, they made the transition to a relatively less
developed and depressed one. For example, during the Mughal period,
86 per cent of the imperial services were manned by Muslims – 70 per
cent by the foreign-born and their descendants and 16 per cent by the
much larger group of indigenous converts (Naureen Talha, Economic
Factors in the Making of Pakistan 1921-1947, Karachi: Oxford
University Press, 2000).

However, the Muslims did not use their dominance over state power to
establish a strong productive sector. Even state finances remained
primarily dependent on conquest or revenue from land. It is
interesting to note that the revenue department of the Mughals was
managed mostly by Hindus; Raja Todar Mal’s revenue system lasted
until the time of the British takeover.

A similar situation obtained in the Ottoman Empire. Trade and
commerce were almost entirely in the hands of the Armenian, Greek,
Jews and other non-Muslim millets. The Quranic aversion to usury was
extended to all subsequent developments in banking.

However, it should be noted that the British were not particularly
hostile to Indian Muslims, except for the years immediately after the
1857 Uprising. Most British administrators favoured an even-handed
treatment of the Hindus and Muslims. In fact from the beginning of
the 20th century, colonial policy even favoured some sort of quota
system enabling Muslims to gain greater representation in educational
centres and government employment.

But by and large mainstream Muslims were reluctant to adopt the
modern English-language based education. It was only after Sir Syed
Ahmed Khan and his band of reformers made strong and persistent pleas
for change in attitudes that the Muslim community began establishing
schools and colleges. However, the head-start enjoyed by the Hindus
and Sikhs meant that they dominated the capitalist economy as well as
education and government employment.

But, the situation was not bleak for Muslims in all the state
sectors. In fact in some services Muslims were overly represented.
For example in Punjab and Sindh some 70 per cent of the police force
was Muslim. Also on an overall basis, there was a Muslim
preponderance in the police in many other provinces. In UP, Muslims
constituted 50 per cent of the police force even when they were
barely 13-15 per cent of the total population of that province. In
the army too Muslims were overly represented, especially from the
Punjab and NWFP, from where most recruitment of north-western India
took place.

It is well-known that after the Union Party came to power in Punjab,
Muslim representation in civilian government services increased
sharply. Similarly in Sindh and the North Western Frontier Province
Muslim representation increased from the 1930 onwards although
non-Muslims were still ahead of them.

But in so far as the productive economy is concerned, orthodox Sunnis
as well as Ithna Ashari Shias remained opposed to capitalism-oriented
commerce, trade and industry. It was mainly the sectarian and ethnic
minorities of Ismaili and Bohra Shias as well as Sunni Memons –
converts from Hindu trading castes of the coastal areas of western
India – who adapted to the requirements of the emerging capitalist

In the Punjab, Chinioti sheikhs, recent converts from various Khatri
and Arora castes, also ventured into modern business. Later Kashmiri
Muslims also took to production because as economic migrants they
were neither owners of land nor agricultural workers. They settled in
the main towns of Punjab and specialised in the shawl trade, while
some of them took to small-scale production of other goods.

It is interesting to note that as regards government jobs and
admission to educational centres, Hindus emphasised merit while
Muslims demanded a share in proportion to their ratio of the total
population of India. However, after the Lahore Resolution of March
23, 1940 the Muslim League did not aim simply at `concessions from
the government or the Hindu majority under the appellation of a
minority but as a nation, distinct and different from the Hindus,
which deserved a country of their own.’ (Naureen Talha, Economic
Factors in the Making of Pakistan 1921-1947)

Several committees and commissions were set up by the Muslim League
to make proposals for economic reconstruction and reform. Muslim
entrepreneurs (mainly from the minor sects and ethnic groups) became
very active in supporting the demand for Pakistan and some of them
shifted their headquarters to Karachi before independence in 1947.

In the final stages of the Partition drama, large sections of the
Muslim community had been successfully mobilised in favour of the
argument that the creation of Pakistan would bring them economic
relief and prosperity as well as an escape from the indignities of
the caste system. That hope has been only partially realised as
economic inequalities continue to be reproduced on a massive scale
within the Muslim community, while caste-type oppression is practised
by `respectable Muslims’ against so-called kammis (artisans)
primarily in the rural areas and untouchability by everyone against
Pakistani Dalits; an anonymous category in public debates.

The author is an associate professor of Political Science at
Stockholm University. He is the author of two books. His email
address is [email protected]