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Purba Pakistan Zindabad: Bengali Visions of Pakistan, 1940–1947


This paper details the history of the concept of Pakistan as debated by Bengali intellectuals and literary critics from 1940–1947. Historians of late colonial South Asia and analysts of Pakistan have focused on the Punjab along with colonial Indian ‘Muslim minority’ provinces and their spokesmen like Muhammed Ali Jinnah, to the exclusion of the cultural and intellectual aspects of Bengali conceptions of the Pakistan idea. When Bengal has come into focus, the spotlight has centred on politicians like Fazlul Huq or Hassan Shahid Suhrawardy. This paper aims to provide a corrective to this lacuna by analyzing Bengali Muslim conceptualizations of the idea of Pakistan. Bengali Muslim thinkers, such as Abul Mansur Ahmed, Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, and Farrukh Ahmed, blended concepts of Pakistan inside locally grounded histories of the Bengali language and literature and worked within disciplines of geography and political economy. Many Bengali Muslim writers from 1940 to 1947 creatively integrated concepts of Pakistan in poetry, updating an older Bengali literary tradition begun in earlier generations. Through a discussion of the social history of its emergence along with the role of geography, political thought, and poetry, this paper discusses the significance of ‘Pak-Bangla’ cultural nationalism within late colonial South Asian history.

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1 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 135136.

2 Hashim, Abul, In Retrospection (Dhaka: Bangladesh Cooperative Book Society, 1974), p. 51.

3 Historians of the Punjab such as David Gilmartin and Ian Talbot have both recognized the need for focused study on Bengal's Pakistan movement. See Gilmartin, David, ‘Partition, Pakistan, and South Asian History: In Search of a NarrativeJournal of Asian Studies 57, 4 (1998): 1088. Along with Talbot, Ian and Singh, Gurharpal, The Partition of India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 16, Nair's Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 9, mentions the ‘many alternative meanings embodied in Pakistan,’ from a Punjabi perspective. Though her work does not focus on these many meanings, Nair for Punjab recognizes what I execute for Bengal: a study of the many meanings of Pakistan in the regional Bengali linguistic and cultural context.

4 Joya Chatterji does enter into this discussion by arguing that Bengali Hindu bhadralok figures, rather than the stereotyped clichés of ‘Muslim separatists’ were actually quite supportive of partitioning Bengal in the realm of regional power politics. She also briefly touches on the rise of a Bengali Muslim middle class, migrating from the mufassil locales of eastern and northern Bengal into Calcutta from the early twentieth century onwards. See Chatterji, J., Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932–1947 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). The missing link in the historiography is a comprehensive analysis of the Bengali Muslim middle classes as well as an assessment of Muslim Bengali visions of community during the pivotal decade of the transfer of power.

5 The major works of social history that seriously investigate Bengali Muslims include Ahmed, Sufia, Muslim Community in Bengal, 1884–1912 (Dhaka: Oxford University Press, 1974), Ahmed, Rafiuddin, The Bengal Muslims, 1871–1906, A Quest for Identity, 2nd edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), Shah, Mohammed, In Search of an Identity: Bengali Muslims, 1880–1940 (Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi and Co., 1996), Prasad De, Dhurjati, Bengali Muslims in Search of an Identity (Dhaka: University Press Limited, 1998), Sen, Shila, Muslim Politics in Bengal, 1937–47 (Delhi: Impex India, 1976), and Murshid, Tazeen, The Sacred and the Secular: Bengali Muslim Discourses, 1877–1977 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). Though Murshid and Sen do investigate the decade of the 1940s, neither comprehensively inquires into the ways that Bengali Muslim intellectuals and writers participated in a creative construction of culture through the idea of Pakistan.

6 As M. T. Ansari and Jose Abraham compellingly argue, modern Indian Muslims, barring a few canonical ‘great men’, are almost never situated within modern political thought. See Ansari, M. T., ‘Refiguring the Fanatic: Malabar, 1836–1922’ in Shail Mayaram, M. S., Pandian, S. and Skaria, Ajay (eds), Subaltern Studies No. 12, Muslims, Dalits, and the Fabrications of History (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2005) and Jose Abraham, ‘A Discussion on the Possibility of a Subaltern Reading of Indian Muslim History,’ Unpublished conference paper, 2006.

7 Parallels in other parts of the world at contiguous historical moments are easy to find. The African American nationalist-modernist Harlem Renaissance movement also utilized a sense of social alienation, a theory of origins, and a vexed relationship with community (with both the broader American environment and the trans-regional, trans-national community of people descended from Africa both impinging upon Harlem Renaissance writers’ imaginations).

8 The historical literature on the general topic alludes to the formation of an East Pakistani culture but does not investigate this in any depth. For a general overview of the issues in literary criticism, see Asoke Chakrabarty, Kumar, Bengali Muslim Literati and the Development of Muslim Community in Bengal (Simla: Institute for Advanced Study, 2002). Saidur Rahman's Purba Bangla Samskriti Andolon (The Cultural Movement in East Bengal) (Dhaka: Dana Prakashani, 1983) details this process but for the 1947–1971 period. Nitai Das’ Pakistan Andolon o Bangla Kabita (Bengali Poetry and the Pakistan Movement) (Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 1993) offers a survey of major writers but stops short in providing an analytical understanding of the movement's relationship to broader questions of nationalism. Mahmud Shah Qureshi's Etude sur L'evolution Intellectuelle Chez Les Musalmans Du Bengale, 1857–1947 (A Study of the Intellectual Evolution of the Muslims of Bengal, 1857–1947) (The Hague and Paris: Mouton, 1971) mentions the Pakistan ideal but fails to contextualize it within the broader world of both Bengali cultural history and the history of nationalisms.

9 Though part of the novelty of late colonial modernism is the convergence of elements that were unprecedented, it would be mistaken to assume that this sort of alternative world provided by literature is wholly without precedent in Muslim Bengal. A long tradition of recounting stories familiar to Muslim readers, such as Yusuf-Zulekha, Hatem Tai, and Satya Pir, in Bengali, predates the creative usage of varieties of sources to craft an alternative to the worlds in which Bengali Muslims found themselves. See Ghosh, Anindita, Power in Print: Popular Publishing the Politics of Language in a Colonial Society, 1778—1905, (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006) for a consideration of these sources. Ghosh states that these folk stories provided ‘happy tales of the marvellous and the supernatural which offered meaning and stability, community, and fraternity’ (293–94) to Muslim communities of the nineteenth century who were often cut out of the benefits of formal vernacular education.

10 For an introduction into the issues facing nineteenth century Bengali Muslims, see Ahmed, Rafiuddin, The Bengal Muslims, 1871–1906, A Quest for Identity, 2nd edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) and Ahmed, Sufia, Muslim Community in Bengal, 1884–1912 (Dhaka: Oxford University Press, 1974). Sumit Sarkar's essay ‘Two Tracts for Muslim Peasants, Bengal 1909–1910’ in his Beyond Nationalist Frames: Postmodernism, Hindu fundamentalism, and History (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2002), along with Datta's, P. K.Carving Blocs: Communal Ideology in Early Twentieth Century Bengal (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), both provide useful analyses of early twentieth century Bengali Muslim politics on the ground that meshes an appreciation of the local circumstances of Bengali Muslim writers, activists along with their inheritances from earlier historical periods.

11 Abul Kalam Shamsuddin, ‘Sahitya Samiti O Nazrul Islam’/Literature Conference and Nazrul Islam, Mohammadi 14th Year, 7th Edition, Baisakh, B.S. 1348/1941.

12 Shamsuddin, Abul Kalam, Atit Diner Smriti (Memories of Old Days) (Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 1994), pp. 359360.

13 Ibid., p. 362.

14 Ibid., p. 364.

15 For the actual content of the pivotal 1940 Lahore Resolution, see Malik, Ikram Ali (ed.), Muslim League Session, 1940, and the Lahore Resolution (Islamabad: National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, 1990).

16 Iqbal was generally praised by Bengali Muslim critics, particularly in publications like Bulbul, Sikha, and Azad.

17 Indeed stars of this endeavour, like the poet Jasimuddin, the linguist Mohammed Shahidullah, and the punthi collector Abdul Karim Sahityabisharad, were all intimately involved in this event, working as they were under the counsel of Dinesh Chandra Sen, the great scholar of Bengali folklore. This important factor is missed in much of the literature on Dinesh Chandra Sen, including the recent Sourav Kargupta's ‘Dineshchandra Sen's The Folk Literature of Bengal: The Canonisation of the Folk and the Conception of the Feminine’ in Harder, Hans (ed.), Literature and Nationalist Ideology: Writing Histories of Modern Indian Languages (Delhi: Social Science Press, 2010).

18 Shamsuddin, Abul Kalam, ‘Abhartana Samiti Sabhapatir Abhibashan,’ (Welcoming Committee's Address) in Sardar Fazlul Karim, Pakistan Andolon O Muslim Sahitya (The Pakistan Movement and Muslim Literature) (Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 1968), p. 100.

19 The irony here is a reflection of a later period, as in 1944 Abul Mansur Ahmed and the great majority of Bengali Muslim cultural activists saw no reason to oppose or critique the usage of Urdu.

20 Ahmed, Abul Mansur, ‘Mul Sabhapatir Abhibhasan,’ in Karim, Sardar Fazlul (ed.), Pakistan Andolon O Muslim Sahitya, p. 140.

21 As a recent scholar has written, Abul Mansur Ahmed's politics of culture were highly dependent on the contingent circumstances of late colonial India, as the centralizing tendencies of the Indian National Congress were the main objects of his critique. See Sartori, Andrew, ‘Abul Mansur Ahmad and the Cultural Politics of Bengali Pakistanism’ in Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Majumdar, Rochona, and Sartori, Andrew (eds), From the Colonial to the Post-Colonial: India and Pakistan in Transition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). This should not, however, detract from the overarching importance of the Pakistan ideal in Bengali literature and thought.

22 There were a variety of proposed territorial schemes offered by different branches of the League. Raghib Ahsan, in his Confederacy of East Pakistan and Adibasistan, created a confederation between Eastern Pakistan, composed of Bengal and Assam, and also an Adibasistan for tribals of eastern India. This included all of Bengal and Assam, whereas another view, supported by Nazimuddin and Akram Khan, in The Construction of the State of Eastern Pakistan, advocates a Pakistan completely shorn of any the Western Hindu majority portions.

23 Mujibur Rahman Khan, Eastern Pakistan, p. 17.

24 See Jalal, Ayesha, Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2008), Chapters 1 and 2.

25 Eastern Pakistan, p. 18.

26 Ibid., p. 24.

27 Abul Mansur Ahmed, though not formally a Communist, was also sympathetic to the Soviet position.

28 See Bahar, Habibullah, Pakistan (Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 1968), a collected edition of essays on the topic.

29 This of course meshed with Jinnah's thoughts on the unitary centre created by the British in India. See the discussion of this point in Jalal, Ayesha, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League, and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). Also, M. N. Roy wrote in this period that the commonwealth was a legitimate and functional form of federation, a form that fitted the Indian political scenario. See Manjapra, Kris, M. N. Roy and Colonial Cosmopolitanism (Delhi: Routledge India, 2010). So whilst outlining a distinctively ‘Bengali Muslim’ cultural nationalism, Bahar and the East Pakistan Renaissance Society also simultaneously were direct interlocutors into broader debates on decolonization and impending new nation-states in colonial India.

30 It is debatable whether or not pre-existing forms of political governance which existed in India could have replaced the British imperialist, or European nationalist, models at this particular point in history. Sugata Bose has intimated that such models did exist in ‘Nation as Mother: Representations and Contestations of ‘India’ in Bengali Literature and Culture’ in Bose, Sugata and Jalal, Ayesha (eds), Nationalism, Democracy, and Development: State and Politics in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997) and ‘Between Monolith and Fragment: A Note on the Historiography of Nationalism in Bengal’ in Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar (ed.), Bengal: Rethinking History, Essays in Historiography (Delhi: International Centre for Bengal Studies). Bose’ examples include the political thought of Gandhi, Tagore, B. C. Pal, and Chittaranjan Das. In any case, the proponents of Purba Pakistan did not cite pre-existing models but aimed to create a politics of the future.

31 Communist, 2, 9 (1940), p. 9. Another politician of the era, B. R. Ambedkar, the outspoken advocate of the Untouchable communities, voiced a reasoned sentiment behind the Pakistan proposals, though his main concern was that a rushed departure of the British Empire would exacerbate, rather than solve, the minority problems of India. Although Ambedkar could follow the emotional import of the Pakistan ideal, he also found great logistical problems with its actual implementation. See his Pakistan or Partition of India (Bombay: Thacker, 1945).

32 Adhikari, G., Pakistan and National Unity (Bombay: People's Publishing House, 1943), p. 15.

33 Ibid., pp. 28–29.

34 Ahmed, Nafis, The Basis of Pakistan (Kolkata: Thacker, 1947), p. 161.

35 Ibid., p. 173.

36 Ibid., p. 168.

37 Karim, Rezaul, Pakistan Examined with the Partition Scheme of Dr. Latif, etc. (Kolkata: Book Company, 1941). Karim wrote books on Hazrat Mohammed, Maulana Azad, and significantly, writings in defence of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, including ‘Bankimchandrer Nikat Musalmaner Reen’ (The Debt of Muslims to Bankim Chandra) in 1938 and his 1944 book Bankimchandra O Muslim Samaj.

38 Rezaul Karim, Pakistan Examined, p. 9.

39 Ibid., p. 10.

40 Ibid., p. 39.

41 See Wajed Ali, S. in ‘Bharatbarsha,’ in Hossein, Syed Akram (ed.), S. Wajed Ali Rachanabali Vol I. (Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 1985.

42 Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899–1976) was a Bengali Muslim poet, musician, and social critic who stood out as amongst the most innovative and progressive Bengali Muslim writers of his generation. He began to write poetry and songs in the late 1910s, after a brief stint in the British Indian army during World War I. Many of his poems and writings detail freedom, revolution, and conceptions of spirituality and religion. Nazrul was the first Muslim poet writing in Bengali to coherently and consciously use unprecedented images, references, and tropes from Islamic civilization and the greater Islamic world (often engaging with references from the Shi'a Muslim traditions) into modern Bengali. Before Nazrul, Muslims had long been writing in Bengali, but he stood out as the first, and therefore pioneering, voice of self-consciously including Muslim themes in modern Bengali literature. For an introduction to Nazrul's life and impact, see Islam, Mustafa Nurul (ed.), Nazrul Islam Nana Prasange (Nazrul In Many Different Contexts) (Dhaka: Nazrul Institute, 1991) and for a historical overview, see Mitra, Priti Kumar, The Dissent of Kazi Nazrul Islam: Poetry and History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

43 Bhatiyali is a particularly Bengali musical form found in East Bengal.

44 ‘Pakistani Jatiya Sangit’ in Sardar Fazlul Karim (ed.), Pakistan Andolon O Muslim Sahitya, p. 161.

45 Ibid., pp. 162–163.

46 ‘Gan’ in Sardar Fazlul Karim (ed.), Pakistan Andolon O Muslim Sahitya, p. 185.

47 ‘Tarani-i-Pakistan’ in ibid., p. 171.

48 ‘Ruje Pakistan,’ in ibid., pp. 177–180.

49 ‘Raigir’ in Ijdani, Roushan, Raigir (Dacca, 1949), pp. 3132.

50 Kazi Motahar Hossein, the celebrated critic and philosopher, wrote that Haidar was the first Bengali Muslim writer since Nazrul to combine highly developed poetic skill with condemnations of oppression and tyranny. See Nitai Das, Pakistan Andolon O Bangla Kobita (The Pakistan Movement and Bengali Poetry), p. 87.

51 Though the first edition of Bhanga Talwar was published in 1945 in Calcutta, the extant version of it was published in Dacca by the Islamic Academy in 1959, see ibid, p. 87–88.

52 See Bose, Neilesh, ‘‘Political Modernity and Ideological Traffic: Bengali Muslim Modernism and the Wide World of Samyabadi (Egalitarian), 1911–1925South Asia Research 31, 3 (November 2011) for a discussion of these poems.

53 Ibid., p. 88.

54 Though certainly different to the main actors in Ayesha Jalal's Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia, the basic thrust of Haidar's critique meshes the long-standing tradition of appropriating the concept of jihad for temporal and this-worldly purposes.

55 One verse displays the jihadist urge: ‘Koti koti mora mukti pran ei bharate jihadi Musalman/Jatir mukti tare dite pari akatare janmal korban/mora chai Pakistan/Moder Shadher Azad Pakistan’ (We are crores and crores of jihadi Indian Muslims seeking freedom/For the freedom of our jati we would unflinchingly sacrifice our lives/We want Pakistan/We want that Pakistan which we long for), see Nitai Das, Pakistan Andolon O Bangali Kobita, p. 89.

56 See Joya Chatterji, Bengal Divided, chapter two, ‘The emergence of the mofussil in Bengal politics,’ pp. 55–102, for a discussion of this phenomenon.

57 Ahmed, Abul Mansur, Amar Dekha Rajnitir Panchas Bachar (Twenty-Five Years of Politics as I Have Seen It) (Dhaka: Bangla Academy, 2001), pp. 262293.

58 Indeed as A. F. Salahuddin Ahmed has remarked, if the two-nation theory was so inaccurate and off the mark, when East Pakistani rebels constructed their own state, why did they maintain a separate ‘Bangladesh’ that included only East Bengal and not attempt to merge their own cultural and linguistic identity with the already-in-existence West Bengal?

59 I am not suggesting that Bengali Muslims are the only ones collecting folklore about their literary past, but they appear to be the only regional group doing so as a challenge to prevailing orthodoxies about their linguistic and literary identities.

60 Though the Tamaddun Majlis awaits a comprehensive history, oral historical interviews with surviving members along with an examination of their manifestos confirms this interpretation. See the interview with Abdur Gafr, 23 June 2011, Dhaka.

61 Khan, Yasmin, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2007), p. 5.

62 Chatterjee, Partha, A Princely Imposter? The Strange and Universal History of the Kumar of Bhawal (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2002).

63 Bayly, C. A., The Origins of Nationality in South Asia: Patriotism and Ethical Government in the Making of Modern India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998).

64 Deshpande, Prachi, Creative pasts: historical memory and identity in western India, 1700–1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).

65 The literature on early modern Bengali culture is vast; for a position advocating syncretism, see Roy, Asim, The Islamic Syncretistic Tradition in Bengal (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983). For a critique of syncretism, see Stewart, Tony K., ‘In Search of Equivalence: Conceiving Hindu-Muslim Encounter Through Translation TheoryHistory of Religions 40, 3 (2001): 261—88; and for a critique of Stewart's approach in a different context, see Torsten Tscacher, ‘Islamic Literature in Tamil and the Study of Muslim Vernaculars in South Asia,’ conference paper, Margins and Centers in South Asian Islam, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, 11 March 2011. A concise overview of the debates about syncretism is found in Thomas De Bruin, ‘A Discourse of Difference: ‘Syncretism’ as a Category in Indian Literary History’ in Harder, Hans, Literature and Nationalist Ideology: Writing Histories of Modern Indian Languages (Delhi: Social Science Press, 2010).

66 Devji, Faisal, ‘The Minority as Political Form’ in Chakrabarty, Dipesh, Majumdar, Rochona, and Sartori, Andrew (eds), From the Colonial to the Post-Colonial: India and Pakistan in Transition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 94.

67 Rao, Anupama, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), p. 140.

68 See Bayly, C. A., The Origins of Nationality in South Asia: Patriotism and the Making of Ethical Government in Modern India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998).

69 Zutshi, Chitraleka, Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, and the Making of Kashmir (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

70 Here I follow Sartori's, AndrewThe Resonance of ‘Culture’: Framing a Problem in Global Concept HistoryComparative Studies in Society and History 47, 4 (October 2005), as the Bengali Muslim materials certainly demonstrate ‘the under-determination of human subjectivity’ (699), though my goals here are decidedly much more modest. Rather than attempting to speak for anything global, I merely point to how this highly particular culture-concept revises current understandings of South Asian late colonial nationalisms.

71 I do not have the space to elaborate on the ‘classically romantic nationalism’ displayed by Bengali Muslim writers before and during the Pakistan movement, but my thinking here is guided by the romantic emphasis on language, a specific type of literature, folklore, and the role of an individual in a specific environment that nearly all Bengali Muslim literary critics and intellectuals emphasized during this period. The romantic nature of the nationalist thought put forth by Bengali Muslim writers and critics reflected their position vis-à-vis hegemons of two sorts: Bengali Hindu bhadralok perceived popularly to be in control of the Bengali language, and aristocratic Muslims resident in Bengal (some for many generations) who had scant interest in what they perceived to be a non-Muslim language.

72 Bengal in Global Concept History: Culturalism in the Age of Capital, p. 127.

73 Though Bengali Muslims lived through the clichéd ‘Three Flags’ of colonial India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the politics of East Pakistanism, heir to a host of intellectual movements from the 1910s, fit nowhere in established Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi nationalist historiographies. Andrew Sartori's ‘Abul Mansur Ahmad and the Cultural Politics of Bengali Pakistanism’ clarifies this disjuncture in an analysis of Abul Mansur Ahmed's logical denial of an inclusion of Rabindranath in the cultural arsenal of East Pakistan. See also Breuilly, John, ‘Nationalism and Historians: Some Reflections. The Formations of Nationalist Historiographical Discourse’ in Norton, Claire (ed.), Nationalism, Historiography, and the Reconstruction of the Past (Washington, DC: New Academia Publishing, 2007) for a broad discussion of the relationship between state-centred nationalist histories (and their critics) as a limiting force in historical writing.

74 Pakistan as a ‘peasant utopia,’ but ultimately manufactured out of the machinations of power-seeking politicians, is a line of argument that has commanded popular and scholarly attention in studies of the Pakistan ideal in Bengal. My brief analysis has shown how the Pakistan ideal, interpreted broadly and by a multiplicity of agents, actually emerged out of long-standing discussions by Bengali Muslims themselves, in the Bengali language. This conscisousness need not teleologically read Pakistan back into Bengal's history uncritically, but rather, revise our understanding of the Pakistan concept itself. See Hashmi, Taj-ul, Pakistan as a Peasant Utopia: Communalization of Class Politics in East Bengal, 1920–1947 (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1992).

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