The Delhi Convention resolution
By Dr Aftab Ahmed
FIFTYFIVE years ago, on April 9, 1946, the Pakistan resolution properly so-called was adopted by the Muslim League Legislators Convention held in Delhi.
I have called it the Pakistan resolution properly so-called because, unlike the Lahore resolution passed on March 23, 1940, by the All India Muslim League at its annual session, (a) Pakistan was specifically mentioned in its text, (b) the areas proposed to constitute the new country were clearly identified by giving the names of the provinces instead of referring to them as “the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North Western and Eastern Zones of India” and (c) the word state in the singular rather than states in the plural was used for the two zones.
Yet another distinction between these two resolutions is that while the Lahore resolution was passed by the annual session of the Muslim League as a political party, the Delhi resolution was adopted by the Muslim League members of the central and various provincial legislatures, at a convention which was referred to by the Quaid-i-Azam as “the one the like of which has never taken place in the history of India”.
In order to fully understand the significance of the Delhi resolution we may recall the changes which had occurred in the political climate of the country since the Lahore resolution. At the time of 1935-36 elections, the League did not fare well at the polls but during the course of the following ten years, it gained tremendous popularity, particularly in the Muslim minority provinces where the Congress ministries, in their first flush of power, had behaved in such an outrageously partisan manner that the Muslims got frustrated and further alienated from the concept of Indian nationalism. Their only hope now was the Muslim League which aired their grievances at a political level and championed their cause.
In March 1940, the League finally came up with the idea of separation which gave a new impetus to its popularity. As a result, in the 1945-46 elections, the League captured all the Muslim seats of the central assembly and 446 seats out of the total of 495 Muslim seats in the provincial assemblies. In Bengal, the League won 113 out of a total of 119 and in the Punjab 79 out of a total of 86 Muslim seats, the two major provinces of the proposed Pakistan scheme. The representative character of the Muslim League as a political party of the Muslim India and the Quaid-i-Azam as its leader was thus fully established.
It was after this positive and decisive vote for Pakistan that the Delhi Convention of the Muslim League Legislators was held in April, 1946, at which a resolution was moved by H. S. Suhrawardy, the then Muslim League chief minister of Bengal, and passed demanding:
“That the zones comprising Bengal and Assam in the North-East, the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Balochistan in the North-West of India, namely Pakistan zones, where the Muslims are in a dominant majority, be constituted into a sovereign independent state and that an unequivocal understanding be given to implement the establishment of Pakistan without delay. That the two separate constitution-making bodies to be set up by the people of Pakistan and Hindustan for the purpose of framing their respective constitutions.”
The Delhi Convention was held at a time when the Labour Party had returned to power in Britain with its declared commitment to the Indian independence and had, in fact, sent a Cabinet Mission led by Sir Pethic-Lawrence, Secretary of State for India to India in the last week of March, 1946, to find a solution to the constitutional problem of the country. So the moment of decision had arrived when the League modified its demand asking for transfer of power to two Independent states – India and Pakistan – which made things easier for all concerned. It may be stated that after the Lahore resolution, Pakistan was always referred to in the writings and speeches of Jinnah and other Muslim League leaders as one country with two zones; the Delhi Convention resolution only put a formal stamp on it.
To sum up, the Pakistan of 1947 came into being as a result of the Lahore resolution of 1940 which provided the principles of a constitutional plan for partition, but the resolution, which eventually formed the basis for the creation of Pakistan as a single state and identified the areas comprising its two zones was the one adopted at the Delhi Convention. However, the areas included in the new state went through the necessary territorial adjustments in accordance with a provision of the Lahore resolution. As a result, Pakistan came into being with a divided Bengal and a divided Punjab.
Sharifuddin Pirzada has recorded in his introduction to “Foundations of Pakistan”, that at the Delhi Convention when the resolution indicating that Pakistan was intended to be a single sovereign state, was being discussed in the Subject Committee, Abul Hashim, Secretary of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League, “raised a question on the word ‘States’ used in the Lahore resolution, but was overruled by the Quaid-e-Azam”.
Kamaruddin Ahmad, a close associate of H.S. Suhrawardy and Pakistan’s ambassador to Burma during Suhrawardy’s tenure as prime minister, has given, in his book, “The Social History of East Pakistan”, a more detailed account of what Abul Hashim had said about the resolution at the Convention. “He maintained that the draft resolution looked like an amendment of the Lahore resolution … Could the Convention of the members of the Legislative Assemblies – central and provincial – adopt any resolution which later on could be interpreted as an amendment of the Lahore resolution which was adopted by the General Session of the All India Muslim League in 1940? He argued that the geographical fact should not be denied. The world, as it is, would not be convinced and it would be repulsive to conceive a state which would have its two parts intervened by a vast hostile country. The defence of such a state would be impossible. Two such states could never be integrated into a whole.”
Kamaruddin Ahmad goes on to state that in response to Abul Hashim’s objection, Jinnah “explained that the resolution was not meant to change the Lahore resolution but to have one Constituent Assembly for the Muslim India for drafting the constitution or constitutions of Pakistan on the basis of the Lahore resolution.” According to Kamaruddin Ahmad, Mr Jinnah gave the same assurance to Abul Hashim when he met him in Bombay a few months later. Mr Jinnah also told some other Muslim League leaders from Bengal who called on him in a deputation that the Lahore resolution was not amended, and he could not amend it after the general election in the country which the Muslim League had contested on the basis of the Lahore resolution. The resolution, he said, would be before the Pakistan Constituent Assembly and as a sovereign body it would be the final arbiter of the country’s constitution.”
Let us now see what Suhrawardy had to say on the subject. Sharifuddin Pirzada has also quoted a press statement of Suhrawardy saying:
“The question before the country now is one of Pakistan and Hindustan. Once this is conceded, it will be for the Pakistan state to define the status of its constitutional units. The units should as far as possible be workable units and should conform to the conditions of linguistic and cultural affinities.”
It is obvious that what Suhrawardy meant was that the division of the subcontinent into two independent states of Pakistan and Hindustan was the immediate and primary objective at that stage and that the status of the units was an internal matter which could be taken care of by the proposed constitution-making body of Pakistan.
Now the question is: why did not Suhrawardy as opposition leader raise the issue in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan during the framing of the 1956 Constitution of which he was one of the architects? While it is true that most of the leaders of his party, the Awami League, did invoke the Lahore resolution, talked about a confederal system and did lay a claim to maximum provincial autonomy for East Pakistan inside the Constituent Assembly and outside, Suhrawardy himself went along with the then Prime Minister Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, M. A. Gurmani and other Punjabi leaders to turn all of West Pakistan into One Unit, in spite of the opposition from the small provinces of Sindh, the NWFP and Balochistan, and also agreed on the principle of parity between East and West Pakistan in spite of East Pakistan majority on the basis of population.
One can only speculate about the answer which appears to lie in the old dictum that politics is the art of the possible and of compromise. Suhrawardy must have realized that after Pakistan’s existence as one state for more than eight years, it is no longer possible to go back to what the Lahore resolution of 1940 had envisaged. He may have also thought that in these years Pakistan, having a western and eastern wing, had acquired a status among the Muslim countries of the Middle East and of the Far East as also in the international community. It had become a member of SEATO and CENTO, had entered into a close relationship with US and the West and had become a recipient of their economic and military aid a part of which went to East Pakistan also.
Suhrawardy, a pro-West politician anyway, was not prepared to forgo the benefits which East Pakistan could draw by remaining a part of the united Pakistan. The best way for him therefore was to work out a compromise, to take as much for East Pakistan as possible and proceed with constitution making. Pakistan had reached a fortunate moment in its history when leaders from East Pakistan as well as West Pakistan were keen and earnest to accomplish the task amicably.