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Economic factors in Pakistan Movement

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  • 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]