Wavell and Muslim Politics in Punjab - Expulsion of Khizar Hayat Tiwana from the Muslim League 1944
MUHAMMAD IQBAL CHAWLA
This paper attempts to analyze the Lord Wavell’s response to the Muslim politics in Punjab during the decade of the 1940’s. Wavell, an old India-hand, upon his appointment as the Viceroy in 1943, had already formed a clear vision of India, which he wanted to pursue with all his will and the resources at his disposal. The central theme of his vision of a future India was as a single geographic entity. This brought him into a direct clash with the rising tide of Muslim nationalism throughout India as represented by Jinnah and the Muslim League. The result was that several battleground areas emerged of which the leading one was the Punjab.
Therefore, this paper analyzes Lord Wavell’s policy of attempting to shape, and, some would say, dictate, the Muslim politics in Punjab during his tenure as the viceroy of India between October 1943 and March 1947. The events leading to the resignation of Khizar Tiwana have been taken as an exemplar of the policy pursued by the British in the Punjab towards the Muslim League’s demand of an independent and separate, Muslim-majority state, of Pakistan.
We begin with the most significant psychological change that had taken place in the minds of the Indians from the pre-war years of the late 1930s, to the point in time, when Wavell took over the viceroyalty of India in 1943. The change was in the Indian perception, based on evolution of global politics since the rise of Hitler in Europe and the highly aggressive Japanese posture in Asia, coupled, later on, with their stunning victories over the British everywhere at the beginning of the Second World War the Great Britain would depart, sooner than later, from the Indian shores.
Quite sometime before Wavell’s assumption of the viceroyalty in India in 1943, the Muslim League had clearly outlined its idea for a separate and independent Muslim-majority state of Paksitan of which the state of the Pubjab formed the geographical and political backbone. So, Wavell’s vision of a united India as a bit late for the Muslim League to change its political course anda clash was inevitable. In fact by the time Wavell assumed the chief executive’s job in Delhi the Muslim League had already made serious efforts to establish itself in the hearts and minds of the Muslims in the Punjab on the basis of its demand for separate state of Pakistan. And one can safely say that nearly all the history of the Punjab during Wavell’s viceroyalty was shaped by the clash generated by these irreconcilable and conflicting visions of a post-British India.
Wavell, no matter how strong he was at the center, needed allies in the Punjab to further his aim of keeping India geographically united and he found two people who earnestly shaped this aim. The first one, a government functionary, was B.G. Glancy, the governor of Punjab, who was one with Wavell in this aim; and secondly, Khizar Hayat Khan Tiwana, although a Muslim landownver, who was the premier of Punjab and also the head of the majority Unionist party in that province’s assembly. For various reasons, he wanted to avoid hitching his fate to the Muslim League’s political band-wagon, till the last moment, if at all.
To counter Jinnah and the Muslim League’s growing popularity in the Punjab, Wavell, Glancy and Khizar amongst them, adopted a two-pronged strategy to achieve their goal: Firstly, Wavell and Glancy decided that to keep the League’s gains in Punjab in check it was important that unfettered government support be provided to the prevailing premiership of the Unionist Mr. Tiwana; and secondly, it was decided to deny the Muslim League supreme political power no matter what the cost.
The critical phase in Indian history has obviously attracted noted historical researchers, writers and scholars from different backgrounds all of whom have been quite willing to test their strands of the political drama which was play out during this period in the Punjab.Three main trends in intellectual leanings are clearly visible in this respect:
Firstly, some historians have opined that it was Khizar’s independence in political views and decision-making which were responsible for his strong stand against, Mr. Jinnah’s demands. Ian Talbot has suggested that “Khizar received powerful support from the triumvirate of Allah Bakhsh, Chhotu Ram and Bertrand Glancy,”However, he does not believe that Glancy took any unconstitutional steps in this regard.
The second group of historians believes that it was the minority leadership in the Punjab assembly, especially as represented by Sir Chhotu Ram and Baldev Singh, which forced Khizar into an uncompromising position with Jinnah. This group maintains that “Khizar Hayat unfortunately appeared as less resolute and determined than the great Unionist ‘war-house’ Chhotu Ram.”
The last group of scholars cleaves to the view that the stark differences in personal chemistries between Mr. Jinnah and Khizar were chiefly responsible for the volatile and confrontational situation in the Punjab that obviated any reasonable chance for a working agreement between the two. Abid had recorded that “Jinnah met Khizar again a number of times and asked him for final verdict. However, in the meantime the Punjab Premier, his cabinet and the Governor of the Punjab had made up their minds to reject League’s demands”.
But the author of this paper takes the position that all the historians referred to above, overlook the very important, indeed critical, role played by Lord Wavell which was in fact chiefly responsible for the failure of the Jinnah-Khizar talks in 1944. It was because of his opposition that an agreement between Jinnah and Khizar failed to materialize and Khizar was forced to sacrifice his political future to safeguard the British interests.
Muslim Politics in the Punjab
Though Tan Tai Young has observed, “Although the discontent, all India political developments and food crisis weakened the collaborative mechanism that formed the bedrock of the colonial state in Punjab, it did not disrupt the civil military oligarchy, particularly in the western part of province,” but besides war effort, Wavell had other concerns also.Wavell never really wanted that pro-Pakistan forces in Punjab should take over the politically important province of Punab any time during the critical years of World War II. He feared that such a scenarios could be catalyst for an increasing friction, easily leading to a civil war, among the three leading religious groups, the Muslims, the Hindus and the Sikhs in that province.Besides, Punjab also provided the bulk of soldiers for the British Indian army which thus formed a major component of the global fight by the Allies, especially the British, against both Germany and Japan. Wavell, therefore, took centre stage in the British-Indian government’s effort to thwart any chance of a political rapprochement between the League represented by Mr. Jinnah, and Punjab’s premier at the time, Khizar Hayat Tiwana, because a strong possibility did exist of such a political move.
For various reasons, Punjab was a critical province in political terms for all parties concerned. In spite of being a Muslim-majorty province, it was nevertheless home to large populations of both the Hindus and the Sikhs as well. Besides, it provided the largest number of recruits to the British Indian army whose importance to the Allied global effort has already been referred to above. The largest segment of this quota of the recruits was formed by the Muslims but Sikhs were statistically not far behind in that effort; so, they could not be neglected in any future political setup which involved the political fortunes of the province.
One fact which needs to be referred to here briefly, a fact probably already known to all those who have in some scholarly way dealt with the politics of that time, that Wavell, upon assuming his viceroyalty, had begun to think of new ways to break the political Stalemate existing in Indian political life at that time.This stalemate was a result largely of two factors; the British war effort, primarily,but also due to the failure of the Congress’s effort to cast out the British from India through its unsuccessful ‘Quit India’ movement suppressed successfully by the British in 1942.
Wavell’s first step towards reviving the political life in the country involved the inclusion of the incarcerated Congress leaders in talks with the ruling British authorities. Obviously, sooner or later, this would mean the release of either, most, or all, of those leaders as without Congress’s inclusion, the country’s biggest political party by an overwhelming margin, no talks about the future political setup of India could be deemed to be meaningful. But Wavell was not allowed to carry out his scheme.
While the Congress’s top leadership was suffering in jails having lost as a consequence its ability to maintain contact with its lower cadres of the grass-roots level and the general membership at large, Mr. Jinnah had, talking advantage of a golden opportunity, begun, for the first time, totally unopposed, to spread his political tentacles all across the vast political landscape of India. The most important consequence of this effort was that his message of a separate homeland for the Muslims in a post-British India had begun to reach the full spectrum of Muslim population throughout the country thus raising alarms everywhere.
During this period the Muslim League, successfully capitalizing on the dormancy of the huge Congress organization, had successfully formed government in Bengal, Sind the NWFP and Assam. There was no reason then, according to Mr. Jinnah, that a similar turn of events could not also take place in Punjab, which was like to above-mentioned four provinces, a Muslim-majority province. However, the history of the peculiar communal politics in the Punjab precluded an easy solution to his deeply cherished desire to do so.
To arrest the further spread of the Muslim League’s demand for a separate Muslim state throughout India, it was necessary to deliver the League a blunt and solid check in a territory as critical as the Punjab and which formed the linchpin of Mr. Jinnah’s Pakistan scheme.In spite of the League’s increasing gains in the Punjab, it soon discovered the rather unpleasant fact that it would be forced to deal with Khizar one way or the other. On his part Khizar was faced by a risinig tide of young rebels from which the ranks of his own party, which included the likes of Shaukat Hayat Khan, Mian Mumtaz Mohammad Khan Daultana (1916-1995)and Firoz Khan Noon, all Muslim, who had begun to find alternate ways of challenging the status quo of Punjab politics by jumping on the bandwagon of Muslim League’s fast-expanding political base in Punjab.
Faced with such a dedicated opposition from both the League and the rebels within his own ranks, Khizar (1900 – 1975), wanted to compromise and indicated to Mr. Jinnah that he stood for the Muslim cause in the Punjab as well. However, this move by Tiwana was deeply resented by the British who felt that under no circumstances, at least till the end of the war, should the Muslim League be allowed to make any headway in the Punjab, Led by Wavell and Glancy, therefore, the British Indian government strictly forbade any goodwill overtures by Khizar towards the League.
Jinnah-Khizar Talks, 1944
Punjab had been ruled by a Muslims, Unionist Prime Minister, ever since its formation in 1923.The big, rural, landlords, formed the backbone of the Unionist Party in Punjab and they belonged to all of the three main religious groups of the Punjab, i.e. the Muslims, the Hindus and the Sikhs and without the support of any of these groups its rule would have collapsed instantaneously; so, in order to maintain its hold on power it had to keep its tightrope balancing act going on endlessly.But with the rising tide of Muslim political awakening sooner or later a review of its policies was called for.
Khizar after becoming the president of the Unionist Party in 1943, following the death of Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, promised Jinnah to reorganize the Muslim League in Punjab. But he showed no real interest and thereby failed to sustain his pledges.As a result, complaints from the members of the Punjab Muslim League continued to pile up in the head office of the Muslim League. Quaid-i-Azam directed Khizar to comply with his promises to which Khizar always responded in the positive but failed to carry them out no the ground.Jinnah, however, knew without bringing the province of Punjab under his complete control, Pakistan scheme would fail to materialize as envisaged in the 1940 Resolution. Therefore, taking over of the political reins of Punjab coiuld open an arena of immense possibilities hitherto unrealized.
In pursuit of the League’s aim of forming a ministry headed by Khizar as head of the Unionist Party but in the name of the League, Mr. Jinnah held a series of talks with him between 28 March and 27 April 1944; these meetings have come to be known in history as the Jinnah-Khizar talks.
After an initial discussion about the Pakistan demand and the role of the Punjab Muslim League in this regard differences began to emerge between the two concerning the interpretation of the Sikandar-Jinnah Pact of 1937.Thus Jinnah decided, as Shaukat Hayat has observed, that “The present Coalition’s name, Unionist must be dropped and be called a Muslim League Coalition Government because the old Unionist coalition had been changed when the
Akali Sikhs entered the Coalition under the Sikandar-Baldev Pact.”Therefore, Jinnah put forth the following demands before Khizar:
- Every member of the Muslim League Party in Punjab Assembly should declare that he owed his primary allegiance to the Muslim League and not to the Unionist Coalition or any other party.
- The name of the Ministry namely ‘Unionist Coalition Ministry’ should be changed.
- The name of the Ministry should be called the Muslim League Coalition Government.
In the early stages of these talks Khizar promised to follow the agenda of the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan but he failed to follow up on his promises in reality. He had the understanding that his predecessor. Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan (1937-1942), had to yield to Jinnah on the Defense Council Issue to preserve his ministry. He anticipated that in case of his refusal Jinnah could encourage revolt against him.
Jinnah conceded that earlier he had no objection to the name “Unionists” being retained, but then his attitude was that the situation had now altered. He argued that no man could constitutionally belong to two parties, simultaneously, and he gave a disquisition on English history in support of his contention. He, therefore, insisted that for a Muslim to adhere to the Unionist Party as well as to the Muslim League was like keeping a mistress in addition to a wife. To which Khizar adroitly responded that being a Muslim himself, he was entitled to having two wives, if he wished as such.
Mr. Jinnah, angered by, what he considered Khizar’s breaking of a solemn pledge, expelled him from the Muslim League in 1944 thus weakening the Unionist Party.This was a big blow to Tiwana’s political fortunes, as in response to the rising tide of Muslim nationalism all around them, Hindus and Sikhs of the Punjab, on their part, led by Sir Chotu Ram and Sardar baldev Singh, respectively, had also warned Khizar against any political compromise with the League; this placed him in a political bind thus severely limiting his political options.
Facing the rising tide of defections from his party to the League coupled with the fear of a strong reaction of the League’s senior leadership which could endanger his ministry, Khizar proposed a compromise but both Wavell and Glancy refused to permit him any leeway in this regard and told him to keep heading the minority ministry rather than compromise with the League.
As Ayesha Jalal has observed, “By 1944, when Wavell, the new Viceroy, reminded India that the Cripps offer was still open, Jinnah was still trying to bring the ministries and assemblies in the majority provinces into line”.Wavell had been keeping a close eye on the Punjab affairs during the Khizar-Jinnah talks, in 1944. He had great concern over these developments and feared that Khizar’s submission to Jinnah would cause damaging effects on the Hindu-Muslim and the Sikh-Muslim relations. In addition, it would tarnish the British imperial war efforts in India, and more importantly, would bring a situation which would be beyond their control. Therefore, in this hour of trial, he communicated his views to Khizar through the Governor of the Punjab, Glancy, and occasionally communicated with him directly as well.
In the initial stages of Khizar-Jinnah talks, Khizar, whom Wavell had estimated in his first meeting in 1943, as “attractive, straight and courageous,”appeared to be in precarious political bind as was inclined toward accepting Jinnah’s demands without putting up tough resistance. Even Firoz Khan Noon, who was a member of Wavell’s Executive Council as well believed and brifed to Wavell that “Khizar might quit politics now his father was dead, and that he was fighting a losing battle against Jinnah and the League for the control of the Punjab Government”.
Confirming exactly about the Khizar’s state of mind what Firoz Khan had reported to Wavell, Glancy informed Wavell on 14 April 1944 that:
Khizr is being assailed by increasing misgiving….He has made it clear enough to me in succession of long interviews that he is thinking seriously of giving way to Jinnah’s demand. He says that Unionist Party exists only in name, it has no funds and practically nothing in way of organization, and its disappearance would cause little regret. He does not believe himself in Pakistan, but he thinks that Pakistan slogan is bound to gain momentum and that it is likely to become a decisive factor in the next election. He believes that there will be only two parties of any importance in India in the near future-the Congress and the Muslim League: if he defies Jinnah and persuades his staunch supporters to adopt his course, he fears that a comparatively short time they will be relegated to political oblivion.
Glancy tried to lend Khizar his full support when he felt Khizar being intimidated by Jinnah’s demands upon him. He tried to convince him that if he acceded to Jinnah’s demands, his Unionist Party along with the Unionist government will break up because Chhotu Ram and Baldev Singh would be unwilling to participate in a Muslim League Government. He opined that “Khizr, who will become a slave to Jinnah’s caprices, will lose face even with own community.”Therefore, he adivised Khizar to take a firm line and do his best to rally his forces.
Khizar listened to Glancy’s advice but was not satisfied with either his arguments or his assurances. Therefore, he requested Glancy to let the Viceroy know about the political situation in the Punjab and seek his advice in this regard. Thus Wavell, who would have normally preferred to remain in the background, issued instruction for Khizar. Writing to Glancy on 15 April 1944, Wavell said:
I entirely agree with you the line you have taken. It is of the greatest importance that until the end of the war against Japan there should be stable administration in the Punjab, and the dissolution of the Unionist Ministry, such as Jinnah want, would be disastrous…. Give him my sympathy in his difficulties and say that I hope to see the Punjab stand firm in its present wise policy…
Wavell soon realized that “Like wealthy landowners in India, Khizar lacks tenacity as a politician”. He also knew that in fact this attitude of Khizar was due to the fact that “He feels that the British are inclined to let their friends down, and if he stands out against the Muslim League now, he will only get a worse time in future.”
Wavell feared that if Jinnah persisted in his demands, some of Kihzar’s followers might desert him and the Unionist Government may thus end up losing. It would, therefore, become extremely difficult to predict what would then transpire. Most likely, a period of chaos will occur because any Muslim League Government would be opposed by Chhotu Ram and influential Hindu elements, and probably some of the Muslims as well.
To check a further slide of the failing Khizar ministry, the British administration, therefore, resorted to all-out measure, in the Punjab. On one hand, non-Muslim leaders such as Sir Chhoto Ram and Baldev Singh were taken on board against Jinnah’s attempt to enlist their support; on the other, the attempt were made to ensure complete unity in the Muslim members of the Unionist Party. In this regard attempts were made by the Unionists to get signatures from the Muslim members of the Punjab Legislature to the effect that they will resign from the Muslim League if Jinnah forced the issue and insisted on the name “Unionist” being dropped. Khizar was successful in getting signatures of twenty-two members in this regard but he was doubtful about their complete loyalty because many of them were also suspected of having promised their allegiance to the other side as well.
In spite of Wavell’s complete support in addition to full backing of the British administration Khizar sill felt uncomfortable in standing up to Jinnah’s increasing pressure for acceptance of his demands. As Jinnah was expected to take an extreme position this time to settle matters with Khizar and was not expected to permit the continuation of Khizar’s indecisiveness Khizar could have survived only by an extraordinary display of political will and courage to resist Jinnah’s demands as Khizar himself had already joined the League as a member.
Therefore, to reinforce Khizar, Lord Wavell permitted Glancy resort to all means such a dismissal of Shaukat Hayat from his post to prevent further desertion from the Unionist Party besides teaching Shaukat Hayat a lesson for his open support of Jinnah’s demands as presented to Khizar.
Although Glancy had anticipated that the decision to dismiss Shaukat from his ministry would be considered unconstitutional and unpopular but he was also sure that it will attain the desired results. In this he was readily endorsed by Wavell, who stated:
Shaukat richly deserved to the (be) turned out the ministry-he has proved himself a most unworthy son of Sikandar’s. The case on which Glancy and other Ministers decided to part with a company with him was evidently scandalous one. The act of dismissal seems to peculiar to those brought up in English parliamentary ways, but it was correct according to the constitution and I am satisfied that objections to forcing Shaukat’s resignation were sound.
Shaukat Hayat’s dismissal as minister from the Punjab Government, at a critical hour of Jinnah-Khizar talks was a tactical move from the British Government and served the purpose. Stanely Walport remarks, “Khizar then managed to get Governor Glancy to dismiss Shaukat for some “injustice which had come to light” not conveniently, thus helping strengthen the Unionist party”.V.P. Menon also has confirmed it and he writes:
Captain Shaukat’s role was dubious one. He was credited with the intention of resigning and crossing the floor of the House with a number of his supporters if the premier did not comply with Jinnah’s demands. But there was also a charge against this minister that in the exercise of his power he had committed a very serious case of injustice, in consequence of which he was dismissed by the Governor.
This brought immediate cessation to Jinnah-Khizar talks and, therefore, a compromise between Jinnah and Khizar became impossible. This also put a brake on the tendency of the Unionist Muslim for desertion and it became quite evident that the British administration would not permit Khizar to accept Jinnah’s demands.
British administration took further steps to widen the already growing gulf between Jinnah and Khizar. According to Khalid Shamsul Hasan, “The Punjab administration adopted various measures to restrain the masses from taking part in political activities. Imposition of Secion 144 CPC was often resorted to prevent meetings and ban procession.”With the concurrence of Hindu and Sikh leaders of the Unionist Party, it was decided to expand the Cabinet by one additional Muslim Minister in order to stabilize support for Khizar. Official machinery was used to denounce Jinnah’s efforts to destabilize Punjab Government. He was branded as an outsider who was determined to divide the communities in Punjab and destroy the peace and tranquility of the Punjab as Glancy put it:
The Official influence is being mobilized to persuade public that, if the war effort in which the Punjab is vitally interested is to be successful and if there is no peace and tranquility within the province, there should be a united front of all communities. One Commissioner reports that many Muslim in the Division express a feeling of pride in the stand made by the Punjab Premier to resist outside domination.
Abdul Hamid has analyzed that “The Unionist of Punjab were a liability rather than an asset for they had joined the League for tactical reasons. In 1944, their leading refusing Jinnah’s demand to line up with the League to form a Muslim League coalition, he walked out of the League with a large number of his followers.”Quaid-i-Azam described Khizar’s attitude as ‘Childish’, but the Punjab Action Committee under Liaquat Ali Khan expelled Khizar from the membership of the Muslim League. Khizar’s expulsion from the Muslim League, in fact, not only resulted in his lowered popularity but also resulted in a political slide of the Unionist Part in the general elections of 1945-1946.
In the meantime Glancy inducted two new ministers in the Punjab Cabinet, one to replace Shaukat Hayat, and the other, an additional minister, as preemptive moves to reduce the number of secessionists from the Unionist Party. Wavell and the British administration, therefore, deprived Jinnah from exercising control of the Punjab Government and thereby tried to weaken his claim for the creation of Pakistan. But hemmed in from all sides and fast losing the support of the Muslims of Punjab, the group he himself belonged to, Khizar was leading a precarious political existence by now. Further, shunned by Mr. Jinnah, the new hero of the Muslims all over India, Khizar stood no chance of withstanding a concerted political assault from the League whenever it came, which eventually did after the elections of 1945-46 and swept him away for good.
Victoria Schofield observed that “At this stage, the (Wavel) was also not prepared to admit that Jinnah represented the solid Muslim opinion.”Wavell had considered opinion about Jinnah, “He does not really represent solid Moslem opinion (in fact J. himself is hardly a Muslim) but can sway opinion, and no one seems to have the character to oppose him.”Wavell’s prestige lowered and his integrity as an honest and impartial head of the administration was badly damaged. Wavell himself admitted that “Jinnah regards me as enemy of the Muslim League and is determined to be as much a nuisance as he can.”
It is highly debatable that Khizar would have survived the defection of his Hindu and Sikh allies had he openly sided with the Muslim League after the Jinnah-Khizar talks of 1944 but it is quite possible that he might have continued to head, legislatively at least, a majority government in that province. However, both Wavell and Glancy, viewing the rise of the League in the Punjab with alarm completely throttled the idea of any compromise by Khizar with the League thereby leading to his complete political isolation. This also left him alone to face the rising and unchecked expansion of the League’s political power base in the province.
Although, with the support of the British, he was able to go on heading the Punjab ministry till the beginning of 1947 but it was a lame duck effort all along, supported by the political muscle of the British and not based on the political ground realities of the province. He became a complete political tool of the British administration, at both the provincial and central levels which were headed respectively by Glancy and Wavell but with their departure his political fortunes also came to an end. He was eventually forced out of premiership in early 1947 a few days before the unceremonious removal of Wavell from his job.
In the light of the above well-known fact, this writer believes that it was due to none of the factors such as his personal political ambition, his dependence on the support of the Hindu and Sikh Unionists, support provided by the anti-Pakistan landlords of his personal differences with Jinnah which made him stand up to Mr. Jnnah and his demand for Pakistan. We can safely eliminate all these factors as the reasons(s) for Khizar standing up to Jinnah and safely conclude that it was only due to support of the British administration, both at the provincial and the central levels, which was centered around the following three points: supporting the Unionist Part at all points of the political process; support of the pro-British landlords in the Punjab following the failure of the Simla Conference; and lastly, preventing the Muslim League from gaining any further political leeway in the Punjab. It was all this which prompted Khizar to stand up to Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan which resulted in his confrontation with Jinnah and his eventual political demise.