Thursday, March 30, 2006

Khizr Tiwana

I finished reading Ian Talbot's Khizr Tiwana (Oxford University Press (Pakistan), 2002) recently; it's not a great book by any means (and might even be considered a slight book), but it's quite useful inasmuch as it remains the only English-language biography of Khizr Hayat Khan Tiwana, Prime Minister of Punjab 1942-1947, and head of the Punjabi Unionist Party bulwark against (first) Indian nationalism in its Congress avatar, and (second) the Muslim League. The Unionist Party's politics and position ensured that the Muslim League did not form a government in Punjab in the last years of the Raj, and Talbot gives much credit to the Unionists-- and Khizr Tiwana in particular-- for the relatively bloodbath-free Punjab of the 1940s (the standard is a highly relative one, but there can be little doubt that as compared to Bengal and Bihar, for instance, Punjab saw little communal violence as long as the Unionists were in power). Once Khizr Tiwana resigned, however, Punjab rushed to catch up, and perhaps even surpass, all its rivals on this dismal front.

It isn't hard to see why history has been unkind to Tiwana, who managed to find himself on the wrong side of virtually all the principal currents of late-Raj era Indian politics: his staunchly loyalist stance to the Raj did not win him any friends in the Congress, while his deep skepticism of the two-nation theory and his horror of the logic of partition won him pride of place in the Muslim League's pantheon of traitors. Talbot's book is useful in highlighting the sheer scale of the hysteria whipped up by the Muslim League against Tiwana personally after the breakdown of the Tiwana-Jinnah talks in 1944, and unlike much recent writing on Jinnah -- from Stanley Wolpert to Ayesha Jalal -- Talbot stresses Jinnah's own complicity in and encouragement of political hysteria, manifested in the context of Punjab in the attacks on Tiwana (including a shameful speech replete with Quranic quotations, to the effect that when God would destroy a people he has them led by a "boy-leader"). Jinnah, of course, won-- the Unionists were rendered irrelevant by the rising tide of Pakistan, and many in the party crossed over to the League to save their political futures-- though one is left with a bad taste in one's mouth. Here too (as elsewhere in India), Talbot seems to suggest, a "winner takes all" approach, or better yet the absolutist approach championed by the Muslim League under Jinnah, was precisely the wrong kind of approach in the context of a fractious society already subject to communalist pressures. From the time Khizr Tiwana resigned the premiership in March 1947, communal blood baths became the order of the day in Punjab, and Tiwana was unable to save the Hindu and Sikh peasants even on his own estates in Shahpur.

One wishes Talbot had delved deeper into the inherent weakness of the Unionist approach to politics: its landlord-centrism with its focus on common economic/agricultural issues facing landowners of all Punjab's religious communities was certainly conducive to an inter-communal approach, but its lack of a mass base left it increasingly vulnerable to mass movements of the sort that the Congress or (more relevantly for the Unionists) the Muslim League could ride. The lack of a mass base was not accidental, but entirely to be expected given the Unionist zamindars' suspicion of democracy and their attachment to the Raj that had transformed their fortunes in Punjab. All the same, Tiwana cuts a forlorn figure by the end of the book, and it is hard not to admire one of the few Unionists who never did make an opportunistic peace with the League-- not even after partition. And his instinctual skepticism of the two-nation theory shows more than just the zamindar's instinct for self-preservation at work: as he is alleged to have told Jinnah, there were Hindu and Sikh Tiwanas who were relatives, and how could he consider them as belonging to a separate nation?

Talbot (and, in the book's afterword, Arend Lijphart) presents the Unionist government in Punjab as an example of "consociational" democracy, which both authors feel is the most stable way to structure politics in "highly segmented" societies. Lijphart cites other examples of consociational systems, such as pre-civil war Lebanon, Belgium, and nineteenth century Holland, and attributes Pakistan's problems with democracy to its neglect of consociationalism. Talbot and Lijphart acknowledge the fragility of consociational systems (one might feel that the fact that many a consociational system has given way to civil war undermines their argument), but stress that the tipping point for such fragility often occurs because of external pressures that destabilize the system. In the context of Lebanon, for instance, the authors cite to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian national movement; as far as the Unionists are concerned, the external force was the Muslim League.

Whatever one makes of this thesis (I for one am somewhat skeptical that parallels may usefully be drawn in the way that Lijphart does), the theory of consociationalism that is presented in Khizr Tiwana is suggestive for another reason. Implicit in Talbot's book is a view that Pakistan's democratic deficit is not attributable to Jinnah's early demise (as is popularly held in Pakistan, where it is a truism that Nehru's helmsanship of the Indian state for seventeen years after partition was the decisive factor), but might be considered in part a legacy of the sort of politics he practiced, and the sort of politics that successfully culminated in the establishment of Pakistan (to a certain extent Talbot might be read as accusing the Indian National Congress of an absolutist approach to politics as well; the latter point is not the main thrust of his book given its focus on Punjab). The stamping out of dissenting voices, the unchallenged leadership of one man towering over all others-- however useful these might have been to marshalling support and ramming home the message of one Muslim mass, united, Talbot and Lijphart ruefully see these tactics as deleterious to the sort of climate that can sustain democracy of the sort that Jinnah always said he wanted. The Unionist lessons-- of unglamorous compromoise, narrow issue-based politics, and coalitions founded on geographic circumstance and economic community-- might yet be worth drawing upon.


bhupinder singh said...

Thanks for focussing on a somewhat ignored aspect of developments surrounding the Partition years. You are absolutely correct that Tiwana (and indeed the Unionist Party itself), happened to be on the wrong side of history.

The Partition of Punjab and Bengal is one of the ironies of modern South Asian history. The Muslim League's demand for Pakistan found strong support in the Indian heartland (modern UP/Bihar) but it affected the provinces where it was actually weak.

It would also be a good idea to study the contrast between the Unionist Party and the Krishak Praja Party (a peasant organization with an anti- zamindari agenda in contrast to the Unionist Party) in Bengal and how, despite its non- communal approach to politics, both Punjab and Bengal fell victim to the Partition and its associated violence.

Qalandar said...

You make an excellent point about the Unionists vis-a-vis the Krishak Praja Party...I'd love any reading suggestions on the subject if you have any in mind, thanks!

bhupinder singh said...

Possibly Sucheta Mahajan's book on Partition may have dealt with this theme. I haven't touched Indian history for past many years though and don't recollect any other work that would have extensively researched this topic.

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Red said...

Joya Chatterjee provides good background. A detailed but rather plodding read is Jahanara Begum's, The Last Decade of Undivided Bengal (1994). There is also a recent book by Haroun al Rashid, {not the caliph but a Bangladeshi historian} called the Foreshadowing of Bangladesh: Bengal Muslim League and Muslim Politics (1906-1947). Again detailed but simplistic.

Aisha Sarwari and Yasser Hamdani said...

I don’t quite recall that “shameful” speech. I would like to see more of it because it seems to be totally out of character and I have never seen it in any primary sources.

I love how apologists for the Congress turn around and champion the Unionists when such propaganda was in both directions and Jinnah himself had nothing to do with it.

Here is th other side of the story:

the Muslim supporters of the Unionist party were trickling towards the Muslim League. Some leading Sajjada Nasheens and Pirs 34 joined the Muslim League and later on they appealed to the Muslims to support the Muslim League’s Pakistan Movement 35 because by doing so they will be supporting the cause of Islam. 36 The Punjabi Muslims were advised not to have a division on the basis of tribal or Biradari networking (David Gilmartin and Ian Talbot have mentioned religious appeals of the Muslim League in details). In some cases, while preaching in mosques, some Imams had gone to the extent of branding those Muslims who will not vote for Muslim League as Kafirs and
Traitors. Some Fatwas were also issued. It was not only the Muslim League, the Unionist party also used religious appeals in their propaganda against the PML candidates also implying that the Unionist party candidates were in fact better Muslims. The Unionist party hired some Ulama from anti-Muslim League parties like JUI, Ahrar and Khaksars who were openly opposing the creation of
Pakistan. In fact, Chhotu Ram had made a comprehensive plan before his death to employ religious preachers to campaign for the election of Unionist Party’s candidates. Even Khizr Hayat Tiwana was using verses from the Holy Qur’an to support his party’s election campaign.

Ofcourse hatemongers would not tell you this Stuka. Also if you read Ayesha Jalal’s book you would know that she discusses Muslim League’s use of Pirs and Barelvi Muslims in detail. What is important to realize that even here there was the high church and low church divide.

High Church was the JUH…. low church were the pir fakirs and sufi mystics … the popular Islam if you will. Muslim League managed to outwit the Unionists because Unionists used the High Church mostly

Qalandar said...

The speech is quoted in the Talbot book itself...

Farrukh Mehboob Khan said...

Hi, I have been looking for this book for a long time. Any ideas where I could buy it in Pakistan?


Qalandar said...

Farrukh: I had bought the book from an Oxford University Press bookshop in Pakistan (I believe it was the one in Clifton, Karachi) some years ago. You might also want to check the OUP Pakistan website.