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date: 21 April 2019

The Creation of Pakistan

Summary and Keywords

The All-India Muslim League first voiced the demand for a Muslim homeland based on India’s northwestern and northeastern provinces in March 1940. Seven years later at the moment of British decolonization in the subcontinent, Pakistan emerged on the map of the world, an anomaly in the international community of nations with its two wings separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory. Over a million people died in the violence that accompanied partition while another 14½ million moved both ways across frontiers demarcated along ostensibly religious lines for the first time in India’s six millennia history. Commonly attributed to the age-old religious divide between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, the causes of Pakistan’s creation are better traced to the federal problems created in India under British colonial rule. Despite sharing a common identity based on religious affiliation, Indian Muslims were divided along regional, linguistic, class, sectarian, and ideological lines. More Muslims live in India and Bangladesh than in Pakistan today, highlighting the clear disjunction between religiously informed identities and territorial sovereignty.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Muslim League, tried resolving the problem by claiming in 1940 that Indian Muslims were not a minority but a nation, entitled to the principle of self-determination. He envisaged a “Pakistan” based on undivided Punjab and Bengal. Since this left Muslims in the Hindu-majority provinces out of the reckoning, Jinnah left it an open question whether “Pakistan” and Hindustan would form a confederation covering the whole of India or make treaty arrangements as two separate sovereign states. In the end Jinnah was unable to achieve his larger aims and had to settle for a Pakistan based on the Muslim-majority districts of Punjab and Bengal, something he had rejected out of hand in 1944 and then again in 1946.

Keywords: Jinnah, Muslim League, Pakistan, India, Bengal, Punjab, Congress, British

Birth of a Muslim Nation-State

Conceived as a homeland for Indian Muslims, Pakistan was carved out of the northwestern and northeastern extremities of the subcontinent at the time of the British withdrawal from India in 1947. Cataclysmic violence perpetrated by members of different religious communities claimed the lives of over a million people while another 14½ million stumbled fearfully across frontiers demarcated along ostensibly religious lines for the first time in India’s six millennia history. Commonly attributed to age-old religious animosity between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, the impetus for the creation of Pakistan can be largely traced to the federal problems that emerged as a byproduct of British rule.

Prior to the colonial conquest of India, religion was not the primary organizational feature defining relations between regional peoples and sovereign power. Economic and social interconnections between the different regions of the subcontinent forged over the centuries had helped establish a loosely woven framework of interdependence that not only survived but also was considerably strengthened with the onset of British rule. The emergence of a sovereign Muslim nation-state of Pakistan based on the partition of the two main Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal dramatically altered the political balance between center and region in the subcontinent, disrupting social networks as well as flows of cultural and material exchange. The political differences and mass violence that marked the transition from colonialism embittered relations between the two nation-states that replaced the British raj. Since 1947 India and Pakistan have fought two full-scale wars over the former north Indian princely state of Kashmir and another undeclared one in 1999 over control of the Kargil region that raised the unnerving possibility of a nuclear exchange between the two neighbors. Another war in 1971, ignited by Pakistan’s brutal military crackdown in the eastern wing containing a majority of its Muslim citizens, led to the breakaway of Bangladesh. This blood-stained baptism of the two nation-states that replaced the British raj has strained inter-state relations in the subcontinent to the grave detriment of its diverse people.

Various explanations have been advanced for the creation of Pakistan. Official narratives in Pakistan attribute the formation of the country to the “two nation” theory, which maintains that India’s Muslims were religiously and culturally distinct and had avoided incorporation into predominantly Hindu India. Nationalist historiography in India holds the British culpable, noting that imperial policies of divide and rule worked to destroy the historic unity of the country. The claims of both official nationalisms belie the historical facts. When India was partitioned in 1947 there were nearly 100 million Muslims in the subcontinent, more than one person in five. Of these, 60 million became citizens of Pakistan, both east and west, making it the largest Muslim state in the world at the time but a state split in two by over a thousand miles of Indian territory. India remained home for nearly 40 million Muslims—the largest Muslim minority group in a non-Muslim state.

These bare facts suggest that if India’s geographically dispersed Muslims had come to perceive themselves as a “nation” in the final decades of the British raj, there was no natural correspondence between identity and geography. Despite sharing a common identity based on religious affiliation, Muslims were divided along regional, linguistic, class, sectarian, and ideological lines. The mere fact of as many Muslims living in India and Bangladesh as in Pakistan today underscores the clear disjunction between religiously informed identities and territorial sovereignty. Even if the British divided while they ruled, it is an open question whether partitioning India made strategic and economic sense when it came to quitting. Scholarship on decolonization over the past several decades has shed new light on the complex dynamics leading up to partition and foregrounded the role of the representative system set up by the British in molding the politics of Muslim identity at the regional and all-India levels.

Muslims Under British Rule

British social and political engineering from the late 18th century influenced but never wholly defined Muslim identities in the different localities and regions of the subcontinent. Emotive affinities with the worldwide community of Islam, reinforced by linkages to wider networks of cultural and material exchanges with West, Central, and Southeast Asia, remained an important dimension in the Muslim sense of identity. However, religion was never the sole motivating factor in Muslim politics; pragmatism often required making alliances with members of other religious communities. In the aftermath of the 1857 rebellion, which colonial officials blamed on Muslim antipathy to their rule, the British came to regard the Faithful as a distinctive political community. Decennial censuses privileged religion in defining majority and minority over all other signifiers of identity, transforming the salience of religion in Indian politics. Members of the Muslim elite, the ashraf (plural of sharif, literally respectable) made the most of this perception to curry favor with the colonial masters. Sayyid Ahmed Khan, the leading Muslim social reformer of the late 19th century, who founded the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875, sought to alter British perceptions of Muslim disloyalty. He urged his co-religionists to focus on educational advancement and shun the Indian National Congress. His ideas were promoted in communitarian narratives disseminated by a burgeoning press and publications market in the late 19th century. With the introduction of the electoral principle, Muslim elites associated with the Aligarh movement inspired by Sayyid Ahmed’s educational initiatives pressed the British to view their community’s importance in social and political rather than in numerical terms.

Mindful of the potential for Muslim disaffection, the colonial rulers were only too eager to comply. Determined to avoid the recurrence of another rebellion, the British constructed a unitary state apparatus to govern their sprawling Indian possession. While establishing direct rule in eleven British Indian provinces, they opted for indirect rule over more than five hundred Indian princely states covering nearly 40 percent of the subcontinent’s territory. Throughout the period of colonial rule, the vital attributes of sovereignty were kept firmly in British hands and even princely rulers, while allowed the ceremonial trappings of sovereignty, had only nominal autonomy in their local domains. The goal of Indian nationalist opposition in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was to force the British to grant responsible government at the center. To counter these demands, the British adopted a two-pronged policy: maintaining a balance between religious communities, on the one hand, and making limited concessions to Indian politicians at the provincial and local levels, on the other. The Morley-Minto reforms of 1909 conceded separate electorates for Muslims and extended the links between local and provincial councils. Under separate electorates, mainly landlord politicians could secure victory in specifically Muslim constituencies. With the electoral franchise limited to educational and property qualifications, this was effectively a class privilege in the guise of a communitarian concession.

Muslim Politics in the Inter-War Years

Far from assisting in the construction of an all-India Muslim identity, the logical corollary to Muslims being considered a separate political community, the colonial policy of provincializing Indian politics made regional and class interests important driving factors in Muslim politics. Separate electorates had other consequences for Muslim politics. Apart from consigning them to the status of a permanent statutory minority, separate electorates aggravated internal rivalries. Mainly landlord politicians with local influence contended with fellow co-religionists within the protected walls of Muslim constituencies without needing to pay heed to the objectives of either provincial or all-India political parties. During the first three decades of the 20th century, the Congress under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi used mass movements to lend a semblance of coherence to localized structures of politics in different parts of India. By contrast, Muslim provincial politicians worked successive constitutional reforms by ignoring the concerns of the All-India Muslim League (AIML), founded in 1906.

Anti-colonial nationalists like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a Bombay-based constitutional lawyer and a member of both the Congress and the AIML, tried forging a unified front against the British by aligning the political aims of the two all-India parties. In 1916 he masterminded the Lucknow Pact under which Congress accepted separate electorates for Muslims in return for the AIML’s acceptance of weighted representation for provincial minorities. Muslims secured more representation in provinces where they were in a minority while those in the two main Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal had to settle for less representation than warranted by their populations. Punjabi and Bengali dissatisfaction with the terms of the Lucknow Pact was to haunt Jinnah’s vision of an all-India accord between the Congress and the AIML. The disjunction between provincial and all-India Muslim political interests was difficult to negotiate, much less overcome.

The inherent contradictions in the politics of Indian Muslims were flushed out by the Montagu-Chelmsford constitutional reforms of the 1920s based on the principle of diarchy or divided authority. Elected Indians were given responsibility for less significant provincial ministries while British officials controlled all the key portfolios. To partly mitigate the communitarian effects of the 1909 Morley-Minto reforms, the new provincial councils contained a substantial number of British officials who ensured against the dominance of any single community. Provincial politicians eager to work the reforms to their advantage had to forge alliances cutting across community boundaries, not only in provinces where Muslims were in a minority but also in provinces where they had bare majorities as in Punjab and Bengal. Meanwhile, at the all-India level, Muslim anxieties about the future of their holy places following the Ottoman defeat in World War I led to the Khilafat agitation merging with Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement. There were rare displays of Hindu-Muslim unity as Khilafat Committees banded together with the Congress at mass rallies prominently displaying the Muslim crescent alongside the Gandhian charkha or the spinning wheel. Mustapha Kemal Pasha’s decision to abolish the Ottoman caliphate in 1924 left the Khilafat agitators without a cause. Gandhi in turn came under fire from right-wing Hindus, who slammed him for pandering to Muslims and legitimizing the role of religion in politics. With the failure of the all-India political leadership to capitalize on the moment to chalk out a broad-based agreement between the two main communities at the all-India level, Hindu-Muslim amity gave way to hostility as well as eruptions of violence in parts of India like Malabar. At the end of the Khilafat movement, the AIML was in a complete state of disrepair. Once Gandhi formally called off the non-cooperation movement in February 1922, the Congress itself was split between those wanted to contest provincial elections and wreck the reforms from within and those who supported Gandhi’s no-change policy of continued boycott.

During the latter half of the 1920s, Jinnah made another attempt to reconcile the interests of Muslims in the majority and minority provinces with a view to striking a deal with the Congress at the center before discussions in London on the next round of constitutional reforms. Piecing together all the known Muslim demands in his “fourteen points,” he called for an all-India federation with residuary powers vested in the constituent units enjoying uniform autonomy. There was to be adequate representation for provincial minorities without reducing a majority to a minority or even a position of equality, effectively guaranteeing Muslim dominance in the majority provinces of the northwest and the northeast. After Congress refused to meet his demands halfway, Jinnah left for London, where he participated in the first two roundtable conferences held to discuss the future constitutional reforms.

With local and provincial calculations rather than commonalities of religion guiding Muslim politics, no all-India Muslim party or politician could make a credible claim to speak for India’s Muslims during the constitutional dialogue of the early 1930s. Paradoxically, the most prominent Muslim voice of the period was provided by Mian Fazl-i-Hussain, leader of the cross-communitarian Punjab Unionist party representing Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh agricultural interests, who had been elevated to the viceroy’s executive council. The Punjabi construct of Muslim interests was discernible in the provisions of both the Communal Award of 1932, which laid the basis of the electoral franchise, and the Government of India Act of 1935. Separate electorates were retained and Punjabi and Bengali Muslims were allocated more seats than any other community in the new assemblies. Together with the other two Muslim majority provinces, Sindh and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Muslims in Punjab and Bengal could look forward to the benefits of the provincial autonomy granted under the 1935 Act. But full autonomy placed Muslims in Hindu-majority provinces at a disadvantage as it eliminated the official British bloc that was regarded as a safeguard for minority interests. Moreover, while provincial autonomy was to go into effect immediately, responsible government at a future federal center was to come into effect only after one-half of the princely states opted to accede to the union.

Wary of the discrepancy between full provincial autonomy and the principle of federation, Jinnah was encouraged by the apprehensions of politicians in the Muslim minority provinces about the new constitutional proposals. By 1934 he was back in India to revive the moribund AIML before the first elections under the 1935 Act. If he could bring Muslim-majority province politicians to align their interests with the AIML, Muslims in the minority provinces might conceivably redress some of their difficulties following the introduction of full provincial autonomy. But with the British showing no signs of conceding power at the all-India center based on success in the provincial elections, the Muslim-majority provinces voted overwhelmingly for regional parties. The AIML polled a paltry 4.4 percent of the total Muslim vote, underlining the inadequacy of separate electorates. For its part Congress did better than it expected and by 1938 took office in eight out of British India’s eleven provinces.

As an all-India politician, Jinnah took solace in Congress’s victory, which to him signified the ultimate triumph of central over provincial concerns. The fact that Congress fared poorly in both Punjab and Bengal, where general constituencies were fewer than Muslim-reserved ones, offered a potential opening. To make a serious bid for power at a center covering the whole of India, Congress would have to win over these two provinces. If AIML could correct its past mistakes, it could try and emulate Congress’s example and rivet control over the Muslim-majority provinces. This would give the AIML something concrete to offer the Congress, allowing Jinnah a say in negotiations about the political arrangements at the all-India level. In October 1937 the premiers of Punjab and Bengal rescued him from political oblivion by agreeing to let him speak on behalf of their provinces at the all-India level. With Congress in striking distance of assuming charge of British India’s unitary center, Muslim majority province politicians sensed the urgency of backing an all-India Muslim party that could represent their interests in the making of India’s future constitution. But overcoming the fundamental divergence in perspective between Muslims in the majority and the minority provinces was not easy. Muslim-majority province politicians merely wanted to strengthen the provincial autonomy granted by the 1935 Act, leaving the center in British hands. This ran counter to nationalist political opinion and also did not suit Muslims in provinces where they were in a minority. A powerful all-India Muslim party at a strong center alone could redress the provincial grievances of minority province Muslims.

One way to circumvent the problems posed by the clashing perspectives of Muslims in majority and minority provinces was to build on Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s thinking and argue that Indian Muslims were not a minority but a nation meriting equal treatment with Hindus in the distribution of power and patronage. Apart from getting around the problem of numbers, which separate electorates perpetuated rather than solved, claiming national status for the Indian Muslim minority was consistent with the contemporary internationalist discourse on self-determination. In 1930 the poet and philosopher Mohammad Iqbal in his presidential address to the AIML had proposed a Muslim state in the northwest of India, including Punjab, Sindh, the NWFP, and Balochistan. The idea failed to excite the imaginations of Muslim politicians but inspired Chaudhri Rahmat Ali, a student at Cambridge University, to come up with the word “Pakistan,” literally, the “land of the pure,” with “P” for Punjab, “A” for Afghania (NWFP), “K” for Kashmir, “S” for Sindh, and “tan” for Balochistan. While Iqbal’s Muslim state was cast within an all-India framework, Rahmat Ali’s required the transfer of Muslim populations from other parts of the subcontinent and was rejected by Muslim political opinion. Other Muslim schemes in the late 1930s tried addressing the problems posed by the lack of any correspondence between Muslim identity and territorial sovereignty.1 While challenging Congress’s right to indivisible sovereignty, none of the proposals aimed at outright secession from the rest of India. What they lacked was Muslim political unanimity, confounding the already uphill task facing Jinnah since the AIML’s resounding defeat in the 1937 elections.

The Demand for “Pakistan”

The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 brought a dramatic reversal of fortunes for Jinnah and the Muslim League. Congress’s emphatic refusal to cooperate in the war effort unless the British conceded immediate independence gave heightened importance to the Muslim League’s oppositional politics. At its annual session in March 1940 held in Lahore, the AIML reiterated its claim to represent all Indian Muslims, in majority and minority provinces alike. But in a major departure, it formally renounced minority status for Indian Muslims, who were declared a nation eligible for independent states in the northwest and the northeast of India in accordance with the internationally recognized principle of self-determination. Jinnah’s hand in the framing of the new demands was evident. The Muslim League’s Lahore resolution made no mention of “Pakistan,” “partition,” or even a center, a curious omission considering that Jinnah’s main interest had always been on the constitutional arrangements at the all-India level. In an effort to rally support among the Muslim-majority provinces, the resolution proposed that the constituent units of the independent Muslim states would be “autonomous and sovereign.” This held out the prospect of the Muslim provinces securing greater provincial autonomy than conferred by the 1935 Act. The apparently secessionist tenor of the Muslim League’s resolution was dented by the fourth paragraph, which referred to “the constitution” in the singular to provide safeguards for minorities inside and outside the independent Muslim states. Intended as the basis for future negotiations with the British and the Congress, the AIML’s resolution did not foreclose the possibility of a constitutional arrangement covering the whole of India.

Jinnah’s response to the resolution being dubbed the “Pakistan demand” by Hindu-owned newspapers and Congress circles was poignant: “they fathered the word upon us,” he declared. From his perspective, the most significant aspect of the AIML’s demand was that all future constitutional negotiations had to be considered de novo on the grounds that Indian Muslims were a nation by international standards. Despite Jinnah’s invocation of the idea of national self-determination for India’s Muslims, he was far from being a “Muslim Zion,” as has been misleadingly suggested.2 It was not the force of an internationally recognized idea but the tenor of subcontinental politics at the regional and all-India levels that shaped the trajectory of the Pakistan demand. Moreover, unlike the Zionist demand for a Jewish state of Israel, the Muslim League’s call for independent Muslim states in the northwest and northeast of India drew less on any presumed religious sanctity of these territories than on the fact of their regional Muslim majorities. Jinnah insisted that there were at least two identifiable nations in India, Hindu and Muslim. Any transfer of power would result in the dissolution of the British unitary center. The reconstitution of a new all-India center would have to be agreed upon by the Muslim provinces—the territorial embodiment of the Muslim nation—as well as the princely states. After 1943, while repeating the call for the grouping of provinces in the northwest and the northeast, the AIML made clear that it was demanding one Muslim state. Jinnah maintained that the principle of grouping Muslim provinces into a separate state had to be conceded before determining the future shape and powers of the all-India center. Once the principle of “Pakistan” had been accepted, the AIML was open to considering a confederation with the Hindu-majority provinces (Hindustan) or treaty arrangements with the rest of India as a sovereign state.

After the adoption of the AIML’s 1940 resolution, the claim that Muslims were a nation and not a minority was non-negotiable, but the demand for separate statehood and the measure of autonomy to be delegated to the constituent units remained negotiable. In the telling disclosure of H. V. Hodson, the British reforms commissioner, most Muslim Leaguers he met in 1941 considered Pakistan to be consistent with a confederation of India for common purposes with Hindus and Muslims enjoying something close to parity.3 A revolt against minority status, the demand for “Pakistan” was not seeking to divide the subcontinent but a concerted bid to win an equitable share of power in an independent India.

During the 1940s the Muslim League’s demand for “Pakistan” drew support from a cross section of Muslims in both the majority and the minority provinces. However, the AIML remained organizationally weak in the Muslim-majority provinces, compelling the all-India leadership to make tactical alliances with whichever political faction had the edge. Jinnah was well aware of the risks involved in leading a community that the colonial constitutional lexicon defined as a separate political category but one with no history of unanimity or organizational unity. He needed a demand that was specifically Muslim in order to attract mass appeal in the majority and the minority provinces alike while being unspecific in every other respect. Presented as a solution to all Muslim problems, the cry for “Pakistan” appealed to large numbers of Muslims who gave it whatever meaning they wished in keeping with their political and ideological worldview.

The mélange of ideas, some of them starkly contradictory, which came to be associated with “Pakistan” fell well short of providing a coherent blueprint for the future Muslim homeland and certainly lacked Jinnah’s personal imprimatur.4 In the driving seat of the “Pakistan” movement, the Quaid-i-Azam, or the great leader, bluntly told enthusiasts of an Islamic state that the form of government adopted by the Muslim state would be decided by its elected representatives. This elicited bitter critique from pro-Congress ulema affiliated with the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind, some of whom went so far as to call him Kafir-i-Azam or the great infidel. Moreover, while the Islamic overtones of the “Pakistan” demand ensured its appeal for Muslims in the minority provinces, the exclusionary conceptions of the future they projected exacerbated communitarian tensions in Punjab and Bengal, undermining the prospects for continued Muslim political dominance over undivided provinces.

With the Congress out of the picture and the British preoccupied with the war, the fundamental incongruity between the communitarian and provincial dimensions of the “Pakistan” demand went unaddressed. An opportunity came with the dramatically changed circumstances following Japan’s entry into the war and its thunderous victories in Southeast Asia, especially the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Under pressure from the American president, the British went through the motions of making another gesture to win over nationalist political opinion. The Cripps mission of 1942 promised dominion status for India at war’s end and offered provinces instead of communities the right to opt out of the Indian union. Known as the “local option,” the Cripps offer was not a concession to the AIML’s demand for “Pakistan” but threatened Jinnah’s strategy by making provinces and not communities the locus of political initiative. Congress’s rejection of the Cripps offer saved the day for Jinnah and the AIML. In 1944 the veteran Congress politician from Madras, C. R. Rajagopalachari, proposed a “Pakistan” carved out of the western and eastern districts of Punjab and Bengal but a state that would have to share defense, communications, and commerce with the rest of India. Devoid of the non–Muslim-majority districts of the two main Muslim provinces, “Pakistan” would be in no position to negotiate parity with “Hindustan.” The Cripps offer and Rajagopalachari’s proposal had laid their finger on the main flaw in the Muslim strategy—if the “Pakistan” demand was a legitimate expression of Muslim self-determination, then non-Muslims could not be denied the exercise of the same right. Strongly opposed to a partition of Punjab and Bengal, Jinnah rejected Rajagopalachari’s proposal as “offering a shadow and a husk—a maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten Pakistan, and thus trying to pass off having met our Pakistan scheme and Muslim demand.”

The End Game

In the concluding years of the war, the governors of Punjab, Bengal, and Assam repeatedly exhorted New Delhi and London to explicitly state that the creation of “Pakistan” would necessitate the partition of Punjab and Bengal and the separation of the Muslim-majority Sylhet district of Assam. These counsels went unheeded. At the Simla conference in the summer of 1945, Jinnah insisted on the AIML selecting all the Muslim members of the viceroy’s executive council since Congress only spoke for upper caste Hindus. The claim seemed thoroughly unreasonable to his political opponents. Popular support for the “Pakistan” demand had not translated into effective control by the AIML over the Muslim province legislatures. But the failure of the Simla conference on the issue of Muslim representation enhanced Jinnah’s stature in the eyes of many Muslims who, with Congress’s return to the political scene and the end of the war in sight, believed their interests would be best served by backing an all-India Muslim party.

Jinnah led the AIML into the 1945–1946 elections on the “Pakistan” issue without the British or the Congress articulating their position on the future of non-Muslim minorities in the Muslim provinces. Unaware that a vote for the AIML could mean the division of their provinces, most Muslim voters in Punjab, Bengal, and Assam rallied under its banner of “Pakistan.” In a remarkable reversal of fortunes, the AIML swept the elections to the central assembly and secured 75 percent of the Muslim vote cast in the provincial elections. Jinnah was quick to call the result a mandate for the AIML’s demand for a “Pakistan” based on undivided Punjab and Bengal. But the tenor of the election campaign in which all political parties deployed religious rhetoric in varying measure had left relations between the communities in tatters. Despite its emphatic electoral victory, the AIML was unable to take office in Punjab, the cornerstone of “Pakistan,” where the rump of the Unionist party formed a coalition ministry with congressmen and Panthic Sikhs. Bengal and Sindh were the only two provinces with Muslim League ministries while the NWFP saw the formation of a Congress ministry.

These awkward realities took nothing away from the AIML’s success in putting behind it the ignominy of its 1937 electoral defeat. During the war Jinnah’s tactics had served British interests well. With London now contemplating its exit strategy from India, they posed a formidable obstacle to a smooth transition. The British Cabinet Mission came to New Delhi in the spring of 1946 to work out the modalities of a transfer of power to Indians. After consulting with all the political parties, the Cabinet Mission presented Jinnah with the choice between a sovereign “Pakistan” consisting of Punjab and Bengal stripped of their eastern and western districts (including Calcutta) or a three-tier federal arrangement with compulsory grouping of provinces at the second tier but no assurance of the Muslim share of power at the center. As Jinnah quipped, grouping was the crux of the matter. It provided the AIML with an opportunity to rein in the Muslim provinces and deploy their combined weight at an all-India center limited to defense, foreign affairs, and communications. If the federal arrangement proved unworkable, groups of provinces could within a ten-year period opt to secede from the Indian union.

On June 6, 1946, the AIML on Jinnah’s advice rejected the Cabinet Mission’s offer of “Pakistan” and accepted the proposal for an all-India federation. But the Congress high command was unreconciled to the grouping of provinces, seeing it as an unnecessary hurdle to the exercise of their power at the all-India level. Gandhi initially called grouping worse than partition, even though he later conceded that it was the best plan the British could produce under the circumstances. Jawaharlal Nehru went a step further by announcing that the future all-India center’s powers would be decided by an independent constituent assembly rather than by the departing colonial rulers. Unsure of the AIML’s ability to prevent its followers from crossing over to the Congress in the federal assembly that was to frame the future constitution, Jinnah calculated that a sovereign Pakistan was the better bet as it would allow the AIML to make the Muslim provinces speak with one voice in the constituent assembly. But a sovereign Pakistan had to be based on undivided Punjab and Bengal if it was to secure a substantial share of the center’s assets. If the two main Muslim-majority provinces were divided, Jinnah would fall well short of the all-India arrangements he had always believed would have to be made between “Pakistan” and Hindustan.

Ultimately Jinnah was given the stark choice of remaining within undivided India without an guarantee of the Muslim share of power at the federal center or a sovereign Pakistan devoid of the non-Muslim majority districts of Punjab and Bengal. Unsure of his own followers and suspicious of the Congress high command’s game plan, Jinnah responded to the decision of Britain’s last viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, to expedite the timetable for withdrawal from June 1948 to August 1947 by acquiescing in the creation of a Pakistan based on divided Punjab and Bengal, an option he had categorically rejected in 1944 and again in 1946. Congress interpreted partition as a final settlement, foreclosing Jinnah and the AIML from making claims on behalf of Muslims in the Hindu-dominated provinces. Moreover, Congress insisted that the “Union of India” would not only continue to exist but also retain British India’s international personality while certain Muslim majority areas would be permitted to secede to form “Pakistan.” This effectively cast Pakistan in the role of a seceding state, aborting Jinnah’s stance that a federal union of India could only be sustained with the inclusion of the Muslim-majority areas. By implication, if Pakistan failed to survive, the Muslim areas that had split off from the Indian union would have to return to the “Union of India” severally, not help in its creation through a voluntary union between two sovereign states, Pakistan representing the Muslim-majority provinces and Hindustan representing the Hindu-majority provinces.

However potent a symbol of Muslim distinctiveness, the cry of religion could not dissolve the internal differences within the community based on class, region, and ideology. The contradictions inherent in the system of political representation instituted by the British—the focus on provincial and local arenas of politics, on the one hand, and compartmentalized electorates for Muslims, on the other—meant that when it came to the determining the final denouement of power in 1947, the regional aspirations of the Muslim-majority provinces triumphed over the common religious affinities of Muslims in the subcontinent. Yet the two most populous Muslim-majority provinces—Bengal and Punjab—were partitioned, reducing their influence in post-independence India. East Bengal remained within Pakistan for a mere twenty-four years until the bitter separation of 1971 advertised to the whole world the tenuous nature of the bond of religion.

Primary Sources

Several primary materials, unpublished and published, on the processes that led to the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan are available in the United Kingdom, Pakistan, and India. The India Office Library in London is a rich repository of official and private papers. These include the Political Department Miscellaneous (Governor’s Reports for the Muslim majority provinces and the United Provinces) L/P&J/5; Political Department Collection L/P&J/8; Private Office Papers L/PO (Papers of the Office of the Private Secretary to the Viceroy R/3/1; Linlithgow Papers Mss.Eur.F.125; Mian Fazl-I-Husain Papers Mss.Eur.E.352. as well as various newspapers and vernacular tracts. In Pakistan the National Archives of Pakistan in Islamabad houses the Quaid-I-Azam Papers QAP/and the All-India Muslim League Papers AIML/; the Syed Shamsul Hassan Collection SHC/and collections of Urdu and English newspapers. Additional sources from the AIML papers and the Shamsul Hassan Collection can be also found in Karachi at the Sindh Archives and Karachi University. In New Delhi, India, the Nehru Memorial Library contains the papers of the All-India National Congress and the private papers of key Congress leaders like M. K. Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and C. Rajagopalachari.

Among the most important published British official primary sources is the twelve-volume collection edited by Nicholas Mansergh, E. W. R. Lumby and Penderel Moon, Constitutional Relations Between Britain and India: The Transfer of Power 1942–7.5 Other published sources of relevance include the censuses of India, official reports and Government of India Acts from 1909 to 1935. Published primary Muslim League sources include M. R. Afzal (ed.), Speeches and Statements of the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah; Rizwan Ahmad (ed.), The Quaid-e-Azam Papers, 1941–42; Jamil-ud-Din Ahmed (ed.), Historic Documents of the Muslim Freedom Movement; B. A. Dar (ed.), Letters of Iqbal; Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada (ed.), Foundations of Pakistan: All-India Muslim League Documents, 1906–1947; Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada (ed.), The Collected Works of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah; L. A. Sherwani (ed.), Pakistan Resolution to Pakistan, 1940–1947: A Selection of Documents Presenting the Case for Pakistan; K. A. K. Yusufi (ed.), Speeches, Statements & Messages of the Quaid-e-Azam; Z. H. Zaidi (ed.), Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah Papers and The Partition of the Punjab: A Compilation of Official Documents.6 There are innumerable published primary materials related to the calculations of the Congress. Of particular relevance are Jawaharlal Nehru (ed.), A Bunch of Old Letters Written Mostly to Jawaharlal Nehru and Some Written by Him and Sisir Kumar and Sugata Bose (eds.), Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: Vol. 9, Congress President, 1938–1939.7

Digital Materials

The Road to Partition 1939–1947.

India Raj and Empire.

National Archives of Pakistan.

Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Archives.

1947 Partition Archive, an oral history project based on the memories of those who witnessed partition as it unfolded from 1947 onwards.

Further Readings

Bose, Neilesh. Recasting the Region: Language, Culture, and Islam in Colonial Bengal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Butalia, Urvashi. The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India. New Delhi: Penguin, 1998.Find this resource:

Chatterji, Joya. Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932–1947. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Chatterji, Joya. The Spoils of Partition: Bengal and India, 1947–1967. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Dhulipala, Venkat. Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Gilmartin, David. Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Hasan, Mushirul, ed. India’s Partition: Process, Strategy and Mobilization, Themes in Indian History. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Jalal, Ayesha. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Jalal, Ayesha. Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam Since 1850. London: Routledge, 2000.Find this resource:

Jalal, Ayesha. The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Khan, Yasmin. The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Nair, Neeti. Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Page, David. Prelude to Partition: The Indian Muslims and the Imperial System of Control, 1920–1932. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.Find this resource:

Talbot, Ian. Punjab and the Raj, 1849–1947. New Delhi: Manohar, 1988.Find this resource:

Talbot, Ian. Freedom’s Cry: The Popular Dimension in the Pakistan Movement and Partition Experience in North-West India. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Talbot, Ian, and Gurharpal Singh. The Partition of India. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Wolpert, Stanley. Jinnah of Pakistan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.Find this resource:

Zamindar, Vazira Fazila-Yaqoobali. The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.Find this resource:


(1.) Ayesha Jalal, Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam Since 1850 (London: Routledge, 2000).

(2.) See Faisal Devji, Muslim Zion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

(3.) H. V. Hodson cited in Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 70.

(4.) See Venkat Dhulipala, Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) for a study of the Pakistan idea as it was debated by Muslims in the United Provinces. The situation in other provinces was no different even if the concerns were more regionally specific and did not have the sanction of either Jinnah or the top leadership of the Muslim League. For ideas associated with Pakistan in Bengal, see Neilesh Bose, Recasting the Region: Language, Culture, and Islam in Colonial Bengal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). For the uses made of the Pakistan idea in Punjab, see Jalal, Self and Sovereignty, 424.

(5.) Nicholas Mansergh, E. W. R. Lumby, and Penderel Moon, eds., Constitutional Relations Between Britain and India: The Transfer of Power 1942–7, 12 vols. (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1970–1983).

(6.) M. R. Afzal, ed., Speeches and Statements of the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah [1911–34 and 1947–48] (Lahore: Research Society of Pakistan, 1980); Rizwan Ahmad, ed., The Quaid-e-Azam Papers, 1941–1942 (Karachi: East and West Publishing Company, 1986); Jamil-ud-Din Ahmed, ed., Historic Documents of the Muslim Freedom Movement (Lahore: Publishers United, 1970); B. A. Dar, ed., Letters of Iqbal (Lahore: Iqbal Academy Pakistan, 2005); Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, ed., Foundations of Pakistan: All-India Muslim League Documents, 1906–1947, 2 vols (Karachi: National Publishing House, 1969–1970; Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, ed., The Collected Works of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, 3 vols. (Karachi: East and West Publishing Company, 1986); L. A. Sherwani, ed., Pakistan Resolution to Pakistan, 1940–1947: A Selection of Documents Presenting the Case for Pakistan (Karachi: National Publishing House, 1969); K. A. K. Yusufi, ed., Speeches, Statements & Messages of the Quaid-e-Azam, 4 vols. (Lahore: Bazm-i-Iqbal, 1996); Z. H. Zaidi, ed., Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah Papers, 5 vols. (Islamabad: National Archives of Pakistan, 1993–2000; and Zaidi, ed., The Partition of the Punjab: A Compilation of Official Documents, 4 vols. (Lahore: Sang-e-Meel, 1993).

(7.) Of particular relevance are Jawaharlal Nehru, ed., A Bunch of Old Letters Written Mostly to Jawaharlal Nehru and Some Written by Him (London: Asia Publication House, 1960); and Sisir Kumar and Sugata Bose, eds., Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: Vol. 9, Congress President, 1938–1939 (Calcutta: Netaji Research Bureau, 1995).