Presidential Address of Hasrat Mohani

14th Annual Session of the AIML Ahmedabad, 30 December 1921

Encouraged by the success of the Simla Deputation the Muslim leadership founded in December 1906, of the All India Muslim League (AIML) with three main objectives: (i) to promote among Muslims feelings of loyalty to the British government; (ii) to protect and advance the political rights and interests of the Muslims of India and to represent their needs and aspirations to the government; and (iii) to prevent the rise among Muslims feelings of hostility towards other communities.

At the Delhi Durbar (1911), King George V announced two major changes as ‘boons’ to Indians. First, the capital of India was to be transferred from Calcutta to Delhi supposedly as a gesture to Muslim sentiment. Secondly, the Partition of Bengal (1905) was reversed as a concession to Hindu clamour. The Muslims were shocked and lost all faith in British pledges. The feeling that the British listened only to agitation brought about a change in Muslim thinking. In 1913, the Muslim League altered its creed from loyalty to ‘a form of self-government suitable to India.’ They were now to emulate Hindu methods of agitation under a radical leadership.

The Government of India Act 1909, enlarged the Provincial Councils, added more members to the Central Legislative Council and introduced separate electorates for the Muslims as demanded by the Simla Deputation. But the reforms came nowhere near the Indian expectations.

The First World War (1914-1918) saw Indian participation on the side of the British Empire. The Muslim League, however, came closer to the Hindus and the Congress. This was sealed in a Pact at Lucknow in 1916 in which M. A. Jinnah, the young Bombay barrister, took a leading part. The Congress conceded separate electorates for Muslims while the latter agreed to sacrifice their majority position in Bengal and Punjab for the sake of weightage in minority provinces. The real advantage gained was in terms of acceptance of AIML as representative body of Muslims.

The Khilafat Movement (1918-1924) saw the Muslims and Hindus closing their ranks further. But the experiment of non-co-operation against the British was a failure resulting in the breakdown of Hindu-Muslim entente. The movement could not save the Ottoman Empire either. It was destroyed by the Treaty of Sèvres (1920). The caliphate itself was abolished in 1924 by the Turkish nationalists under Mustafa Kemal to make way for modern Turkey. Reproduced here is the presidential address by Maulana Hasrat Mohani at the 14th Annual Session of the AIML Ahmedabad on 30 December 1921. In his address the Maulana has regretted the weak position of the AIML. While expressing full appreciation for the Hindu-Muslim unity and the movement for Swaraj, the Maulana has voiced his reservations as regards both. He has stressed that though it is good to see Hindus and Muslims jointly struggling for the independence of India, but in the wake of independence, it will be hard to resolve the deep-rooted conflicts between the two communities and to avoid the Hindu domination over the Muslims in the new arrangement. He has, therefore, put forward the idea of a united states of India, where the Muslim minority provinces will derive strength from the Muslim majority provinces.

Gentlemen! while thanking you for electing me to preside over this session of the All-India Muslim League, I wish to say in all sincerity that the importance of this session of the League, in which the fate of Hindustan is to be decided, required the choice of a person abler than myself, such as Maulana Mohammad Ali, Dr. Kitchlew or Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, to preside over its deliberation; but, unfortunately, the Government has forcibly taken away the first two gentlemen from us. I expressed my inability to accept the responsibility. Consequently, as the proverb goes, “if thou dost not accept it willingly, it will be forced on thee”, this great duty was placed on my weak shoulders. I wish to discharge it to the best of my ability. Success is in the hand of God.

The present condition of the League appears to be very weak indeed; but this does not in the least derogate it from its real importance, for it was the All-India Muslim League which actually realised the first and the most essential condition of Indian independence, Hindu-Muslim unity; and now that it has been achieved, it is the duty of the League to maintain it also. Besides, it is on the platform of the League that all sections of political opinion amongst the Musalmans, extremists or moderates, have so far been, and in future, too, will probably be, brought together. Before going into the causes of the weakness of the League, it will be better to enumerate the aims and objects of the League. These are (1) the attainment of Swaraj by the people of India by all peaceful and legitimate means; (2) to protect and advance the political, religious and other rights and interests of the Indian Musalmans; (3) to promote friendship and union between the Musalmans and other communities of India; (4) to maintain and strengthen brotherly relations between the Musalmans of India and those of other countries.

The first of this is also known to be the creed of the Congress. Therefore, so long as the word Swaraj is not defined in consonance with Muslim desire, and the means for its attainment are not amplified, it is only natural that Muslim unity, is the common object both of the League and the Congress. The fourth object, the unity of the Muslim world, which has been, along with other questions, connected with the Khilafat, has been specially taken up by the Khilafat Committee. There remains only the second object, that is the protection of the special interests of the Musalmans. As to this, so long as a much greater and more important object, that is, the attainment of Swaraj still remains unachieved, people would rather direct their united efforts against the common enemy than look after their special interests. They will be attended to when the time comes for it. As if these causes were not sufficient in themselves to decrease the influence of the League, its rules and regulations were, unfortunately, so framed that, while public opinion has developed at a rapid pace, most members of the League have not moved an inch from their first position. As a result, the League remains nothing more than an old calendar. It is very necessary to remove the causes of the weakness of the League and to remove them immediately; for in proportion as we approach nearer and nearer to the goal of Swaraj, the need of the League will be felt more and more, because questions of special Muslim rights will rise again with greater importance when India is free.

Our first duty, therefore, should be to reduce the fee for the membership of the League and thus increase its members, who will choose their League representatives every year. The members to the Council of the Provincial and the All-India Muslim Leagues should be chosen, as in the case of the Congress, every year.

An Indian Republic or A United States of India

But the most pressing necessity of all is a change in the first object of the League to suit the changed Muslim conditions. Everyone of us knows that the word Swaraj has been definitely left vague and undefined in the creed of the Congress. The object of it has been that, if the Khilafat and the Punjab wrongs are settled on the lines of our demands, then Swaraj within the British Empire will be considered sufficient; otherwise efforts will be directed towards the attainment of complete independence. But, Gentlemen! from the Muslim point of view, it is not enough that we should stand for complete independence alone. It is necessary to decide upon the form that it should take; and in my opinion it can only be an Indian Republic or on the lines of a United States of India.

Besides this, the term ‘peaceful’, which defines and restricts the scope of the legitimate means for the attainment of Swaraj in the Congress creed, is opposed to the nature and religious aspirations of the Musalmans. Therefore, in the creed of the League, the words ‘possible’ and ‘proper’ should be substituted for the words ‘legitimate’ and ‘peaceful’. I will explain the matter in detail. The Musalmans should understand clearly that they derive a two-fold advantage from the establishment of an Indian Republic: firstly, the general benefit which they will undoubtedly share along with their Indian brethren as citizens of a common State; secondly, the special advantage which the Musalmans will derive from it is that, with every decline in the prestige and power of the British Empire, which to-day is the worst enemy of Muslim countries, the Muslim world will get breathing time and opportunity to improve its condition. Gentlemen! in spite of the present Hindu-Muslim unity, many serious misunderstandings and suspicions still exist between these two great communities of Hindustan, and it is of primary importance that we should grasp the true nature of these misunderstandings. The Hindus have a lurking suspicion that given an opportunity, the Musalmans will either invite their co-religionists from outside to invade India or would, at least, help them in case they invaded to plunder and devastate Hindustan. These misunderstandings are so deep-rooted and widespread that, so far as my knowledge goes, no Indian statesman has escaped them, except the late Lokamanya Tilak. On the other hand, the Musalmans suspect that on the achievement of self-government, the Hindus will acquire greater political powers and will use their numerical superiority to crush the Musalmans. Gentlemen! it is quite clear that these misunderstandings can only be overcome by a conciliatory discussion and mutual and intimate understanding; and it is an essential condition of this mutual understanding that the third party should not come between them.

The generality of Musalmans, with few exceptions, are afraid of the numerical superiority of the Hindus, and are absolutely opposed to an ordinary reform scheme as a substitute for complete independence. The primary reason for this is that in a merely reformed, as contrasted with an independent government, they will be under a double suspicion: first, a subjection to the Government of India, which will be common to Hindus and Musalmans; secondly, a rejection by a Hindu majority, which they will have to face in every department of Government. On the other hand, if the danger of the English power is removed, the Musalmans will only have the Hindu majority to fear. Fortunately this fear is such that it will be automatically removed with the establishment of the Indian Republic; for while the Musalmans, as a whole, are in a minority in India, yet nature has provided a compensation in the fact that the Musalmans are not in a minority in all provinces. In some provinces, such as Kashmir, the Punjab, Sind, Bengal and Assam, the Musalmans are more numerous than the Hindus. This Muslim majority will be an assurance that in the United States of India, the Hindu majority in Madras, Bombay and the United Provinces will not be allowed to overstep the limits of moderation against the Musalmans. Similarly, so long as a completely liberated India does not come into the hands of the Hindus and Musalmans themselves, the Musalmans would aid their co-religionist invaders; but on the establishment of the Indian Republic, which will be shared in common by Musalmans would desire that the power of even a Muslim foreigner should be established over his country.

The Mopla Rebellion

Gentlemen! I have just stated it as a necessary condition of the Hindu-Muslim compromise that the third party, the English, should not be allowed to step in between us. Otherwise, all our affairs will fall into disorder. Its best example is before you in the shape of the Mopla incident. You are probably aware that Hindu India has an open and direct complaint against the Moplas, and an indirect complaint against all of us, that the Moplas are plundering and spoiling their innocent Hindu neighbours; but possibly you are not aware that the Moplas justify their action on the ground that, at such a critical juncture, when they are engaged in a war against the English, their neighbours not only do not help them or observe neutrality, but aid and assist the English in every possible way. They can, no doubt, contend that, while they are fighting a defensive war for the sake of their religion and have left their homes, property and belongings, and taken refuge in hills and jungles, it is unfair to characterise as plunder their commandeering of money, provisions and other necessaries for their troops from the English or their supporters. Both are right in their complaints; but so far as my investigation goes, the cause of this mutual recrimination can be traced to the interference of the third party. It happens thus: whenever any English detachment suddenly appears in a locality and kills or captures the Mopla inhabitants of the place, rumour somehow spreads in the neighbourhood that the Hindu inhabitants of the place had invited the English army for their protection, with the result that after the departure of the English troops, the neighbouring Moplas do not hesitate to retaliate, and consider the money and other belongings of the Hindus as lawful spoils of war taken from those who have aided and abetted the enemy. Where no such events have occurred, the Moplas and Hindus even now live peacefully side by side; Moplas do not commit any excesses against the Hindus, while the Hindus do not hesitate in helping the Moplas to the best of their ability.

A National Parliament

I have wandered far from my purpose. I meant to emphasise that, in the first clause dealing with the aims and objects of the League, the word Swaraj should be defined as complete independence in the cause of an Indian republic. Otherwise, there is a danger that in the presence of a third party, self-government within the British Empire, instead of being beneficial, might actually prove injurious. The second amendment necessary is that the methods for the attainment of Swaraj should be amplified. In the place of ‘peaceful’ and ‘legitimate’ means ‘possible’ and ‘proper’ should be permitted. Thus, on the one hand, the opportunity of joining the League will be given to those who do not honestly believe in non-co-operation as the sole path of salvation, recognising the possibility of other methods and adopting them also. On the other hand, the amendment will remove the complaint of those who believe that non-co-operation cannot, under any circumstances, remain peaceful to the last, and who, while subscribing to the creed of the Congress, and to the first clause of the section dealing with the objects of the League, as a matter of policy and expediency, refuse to admit it as a faith for all times and circumstances—or to remain non-violent even in intention.

Gentlemen! there are only two possible means of replacing one government by another. One is the destruction of an existing government by the sword and the establishment of another in its place—a method which has been followed in the world thus far. The second alternative is to sever all connections with the present government, and to set up a better organised government parallel to it, and to improve and develop it till the old order is dissolved and the new takes its place. Friends, to achieve this object, we must immediately set up, on a separate and permanent foundation, our courts, schools, arts, industries, army, police—and a national parliament. No-violent non-co-operation can only help to paralyse government, it cannot maintain it. The question now is, can such a parallel government be established only through non-violent non-co-operation—of course, provided the rival government does not interfere with its establishment—a condition which is obviously impossible. The rival government will certainly interfere. We might contend that we will proceed on with our work silently and quietly and in spite of governmental interference, as is being done at present. A stage will, however, be reached ultimately, when action on peaceful lines will become absolutely impossible; and then we shall be forced to admit that a parallel government can be started, but not continue to the last through peaceful means.

Governmental Policy

Examples of Government repression are before your eyes. First, it attempted, through the Karachi trials, to prevent the Musalmans from openly proclaiming the articles of their faith. When people, undaunted by this decision of the Government, preached throughout the length and breadth of India that it was unlawful to serve in the army, the Government slowly overlooked these activities, fearing that a mere repetition of the Karachi resolution might lead to disaffection in the Army. And in order to divert the attention of the people from these activities, it suddenly, but deliberately declared the enrolment of volunteers unlawful, so that it might get an opportunity of striking at the non-co-operators. Like moths that gather to sacrifice their lives around a lighted candle, the advocates of civil disobedience swarmed forward to break this declaration of Lord Reading and cheerfully went to jail in their thousands. This is undoubtedly an example of self-sacrifice and self-effacement which will rightly move Mahatma Gandhi to ecstasy; but we detect another truth hidden in this demonstration of happiness and joy. It reveals to our eyes the last stages of both the repression of the Government and the patience of the people. The people are, no doubt, prepared gladly to bear and suffer the hardships of a few days of imprisonment; but on the declaration of martial law, the non-violent non-co-operation movement will prove totally insufficient and useless. Amongst the Musalmans, at least, there will hardly be found a man who will be prepared to sacrifice his life uselessly. A man can only have one of two feelings in his heart when faced by the barrel of a gun: either to seek refuge in flight or to take advantage of the law of self-preservation and despatch the adversary to hell. The third alternative of cheerfully yielding up one’s life to the enemy, and considering it to be the one real success, will remain confined to Mahatma Gandhi and some of his adherents and fellow-thinkers. I, on my part, fear that in general the reply to martial law will be what is commonly called guerrilla warfare. The responsibility lies with the representatives of the Musalmans.

Consequently, as representatives of the Musalmans, the members of the All-India Muslim League should consider it their duty either to refrain from adopting non-co-operation as their creed, or to free it from the limitation of keeping it either violent or non-violent; for it is not in our power to keep non-co-operation peaceful or otherwise. So long as the Government confines itself to the use of chains and fetters, non-co-operation can remain as peaceful as it is today; but if things go further and the Government has recourse to gallows or machine guns, it will be impossible for the movement to remain non-violent.

The Duty of Muslims

At this stage, some people would like to ask how it is that, while the Hindus are content to adopt non-violent non-co-operation as the means for attaining independence, the Musalmans are anxious to go a step further. The answer is that the liberation of Hindustan is as much a political duty of a Musalman as that of a Hindu. Owing to the question of the Khilafat it has become a Musalman’s religious duty as well.

In this connection, I should like to say just one word. The glories of Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha and the conclusion of the recent Franco-Turkish Treaty might create an idea in some people’s minds that the evacuation of Smyrna by the Greeks is certain, and the restoration of Thrace to the Turks, if not certain, is within the bounds of possibility. Consequently, they might entertain the hope that the struggle in the Near East is coming to a close. I want to warn all such people that the claims of the Musalmans of India are founded more on religious than political principles. So long as the Jazirat-ul-Arab (including Palestine and Mesopotamia) are not absolutely freed from non-Muslim influence, and so long as the political and military power of the Khilafat is not fully restored, the Musalmans of India cannot suspend their activities and efforts.

Muslim Demands

As regards the Khilafat, the Muslim demands are these: (1) that in the pursuance of the promise of Mr. Lloyd George, Thrace and Smyrna, along with the city of Symrna (Izmir), should remain under purely Turkish control, so that the political status of the Khalifat-ul-Muslimeen which is essential for the Khilafat, should suffer no diminution; (2) all non-Turkish control should be removed from Constantinople, the shores of Marmora and the Dardanelles, in order that the Khilafat at Constantinople may not be under non-Muslim control, which is essential for the Khilafat; (3) all naval and military restrictions imposed on the Khilafat should be removed, as otherwise, the Khalifah would have no power to enforce his orders; (4) the Jazirat-ul-Arab, including the Hedjaz, Palestine, and Mesopotamia, should be free from all non-Muslim influence, and not be under British mandate; as it was the death-bed injunction of the Prophet. It should be noted that in the fourth demand, we wish the English to give up their mandate over Mesopotamia and Palestine, and to remove their influence from the Hedjaz. As to the questions of whether the Arabs will acknowledge the Sherif of Mecca or the Sultan of Turkey as their Khalifah, or whether the Arab Government of Hedjaz, Mesopotamia and Palestine will be independent or under the suzerainty of the Khalifah, these will be decided by the Musalmans. We do not want non-Muslim advice and assistance.

A Congress-League Compact

In my opinion, Gentlemen! the most pressing necessity of Hindustan is the immediate conclusion of a definite compact between the Congress and the League. The Congress should not enter into any negotiations with the Government concerning Swaraj: (1) until the minimum Muslim demands with regard to the Khilafat are satisfied; (2) on the other hand, the Muslims should definitely bind themselves to the assurance that, even though their demands with regard to the Khilafat are satisfied, the Musalmans of India will stand to the last by the side of their Hindu brethren for the attainment and preservation of Indian independence. Such a compact is all the more necessary because there are sings that the enemies of Indian independence—and we have to confess with regret that a number of deceitful Indians are working with the foreigners—are concentrating all their efforts on wrecking Hindu-Muslim unity and creating distrust and misunderstanding between the two communities. On the one hand, the Musalmans are being enticed by false hopes with regard to the Khilafat question. On the other, some showy toys of political concessions are being prepared as a gift for the Hindus, even before the stipulated period of 10 years. It is intended that in their simplicity, the Musalmans should consider the return of Smyrna, etc., as the satisfaction of their Khilafat demands, and slacken their efforts for the attainment of Swaraj ; while Swaraj itself, or at least, its precursor, and begin to consider the Khilafat an irrelevant question. There can be only one solution for all these problems. Hindus and Musalmans, after mutual consultation, should have Indian independence declared by Mahatma Gandhi, so that in future the English may have no possibility of deceiving, nor India of being deceived. After the declaration of independence, the Congress and the League will have only one object left: that is the preservation of Swaraj. January 1, 1922, is the best date for the purpose, because we would thus have fulfilled the promise that we made to attain Swaraj within this year—and the people of India will achieve success in the eyes of God and man.