Three contrarian Partition stories: a Punjabi Muslim, a Frontier Pathan, and a sensationalist
The two-way religious displacement between India and Pakistan from mid-1947 had a predictable quality to it. Millions of Muslims crossed from India into West and East Pakistan; Hindus and Sikhs in similar magnitudes moved in the opposite direction. Despite the violence and trauma of this process, most Muslims chose to remain in India; in East Pakistan too, most Hindus did not leave. But overall, if a person or a family was on the move in 1947 or 1948, their religious persuasion would almost invariably indicate in which direction the movement was taking place. But this was not always the case. Less well known are the instances of Muslims who moved in the opposite direction while they should have been, in the normal course, pillars of the new Pakistan. Three stories—of a Pathan, a Punjabi Muslim and a Hindu convert to Islam—illustrate this contrarian Partition experience.
The first of these stories is of Azim Hussain (1913–2007) from a distinguished family of pre-Partition Punjab. His father, Sir Mian Fazli Hussain (1877–1936) was one of the founders of the Unionist Party—a combination of well-established Muslim and Hindu agriculturists and landlords—determined to keep both the Muslim League and the Congress out of Punjab, keeping it united. Azim Hussain was to join the Punjab cadre of the Indian Civil Service in 1937. Posted in Delhi in 1947, he faced the choice, given to all civil servants at the time, of opting for either India or Pakistan. Azim Hussain took the decision to uproot himself from Punjab and from the majority of his family and move in a direction opposite to his co-religionists. He was by no means the only Muslim ICS officer to opt for India. There were others including Badruddin Tyabji, also in the Punjab cadre. But Tyabji, although Muslim, was not from Punjab but from Bombay. This was also a family choice— he was a descendent of the first Muslim president of the Indian National Congress and Badruddin Tyabji’s wife, Surayya, is believed to have designed the Indian national flag. A related case is of EN Mangat Rai, a Christian Punjabi from an eminent Lahore family who joined the ICS in 1941 and was also in the Punjab cadre. At Partition, the choice before him as a Christian was genuine as he did not ‘by virtue of his religious label fall within one fold or the other.’ Mangat Rai thus became an Indian citizen ‘by choice’. His sister, on the other hand, did not and stayed on in Lahore. She later became the principal of Kinnaird College—one of Pakistan’s most distinguished educational institutions. Some other Christian officers in the ICS in Punjab also opted for Pakistan—most notably AR Cornelius who went on to become the chief justice of Pakistan, and Samuel Martin Burke, diplomat, professor and author.
Nevertheless, Azim Hussain’s case stands apart and is on a different footing. In 1947, in terms of what was happening all around, the choice should have been straightforward—he was a Punjabi Muslim, an ICS officer in the Punjab cadre and from a family with considerable status and material assets in what was to be Pakistan. But Azim Hussain agonised over the question and finally opted for India, convinced that this is what his father would have wanted him to do. His brother, on the other hand, stayed on in Lahore and joined the Pakistan Foreign Service. Many of his other relatives were also in Pakistan and his choice of India was to continue to surprise many over the years.
After Partition, Azim Hussain joined the Indian Foreign Service and served in it with great distinction. From time to time, his career intersected with the tangled history of India- Pakistan relations. At one stage, both he and his brother were simultaneously Indian and Pakistani Ambassadors to Lebanon. The Kutch ceasefire agreement in June 1965 was signed by him, as secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, and his cousin and brother-in-law Arshad Hussain, who was then the Pakistan High Commissioner in India. Azim Hussain last served as Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat. His appointment to the post followed an election in which he comprehensively defeated a Pakistani candidate. For students of modern Punjab history, the inscription on his gravestone in London captures the unusual chosen trajectory of his life as it records him as ‘Ambassador of India’ and ‘Son of Mian Sir Fazl-i-Hussain’.
THE SECOND STORY is of Mohammad Yunus (1916–2001), a Yusufzai Pathan from the Frontier. His reputation has suffered due to his close association with the Emergency in India (1975–77), but the course of his life has a constant contrarian current to it in the context of the principal trends of India–Pakistan history. Born in Peshawar in a family deeply influenced by nationalist aspirations, he was drawn to Badshah Khan’s politics in the NWFP and thereafter became close to many leaders of the Congress including Jawaharlal Nehru. He was jailed on more than one occasion during the freedom struggle. He was a close friend of Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Abdullah, Feroze Gandhi, Krishna Menon amongst others.
The inscription on Azim Hussain’s gravestone in London captures the unusual chosen trajectory of his life as it records him as ‘Ambassador of India’ and ‘Son of Mian Sir Fazl-i-Hussain’
In July 1947, Badshah Khan advised him to leave Peshawar and the Frontier as his opposition to the impending Partition and to the Muslim League made him a political risk and a liability. The Partition in August 1947 meant that he finally had also to choose, and he writes: ‘Freedom brought partition and, for no fault of mine, I became a refugee in my own country. Torn from my roots in the North-West Frontier, Delhi became a forced home.’
Mohammad Yunus joined the Indian Foreign Service, served as ambassador to three countries and retired as commerce secretary. Partition and exile from the Frontier was nevertheless a searing experience. His memoirs published in 1980 are dedicated to his friends in Pakistan whom he had not seen in 32 years.
Notwithstanding his many detractors in India, Mohammad Yunus’ presence close to those in power was a testimony also to the links between India and Badshah Khan’s secular politics in the Frontier as equally a reminder of the many Muslims in Pakistan who had opposed Partition to the end. He remained throughout his life a perceptive observer of the India–Pakistan scene and particularly during the intense negotiations at Simla in the summer of 1972 after the break-up of Pakistan.
THE THIRD STORY is both poignant and the most curious. KL Gauba (1899-1981) is largely forgotten today, but from the late 1920s up to the 1960s, he was a celebrated lawyer, author, public figure and a genuine sensationalist. Son of a prominent businessman-cum-politician of Lahore, Lala Harkishen Lal Gauba, Gauba after studying law in England set up practice in the Lahore High Court. This conventional setting was interrupted by a public stir when he married a Muslim in 1923. This was a civil marriage and in Gauba’s words, ‘There was a furore in the city as the word leaked out. The newspapers commented divergently, according to [whether] they were Hindu or Muslim. The Associated Press, however, looked upon it as the triumph of love over communal prejudices and cabled the news to all corners of the country. From distant corners came congratulatory letters and telegrams. Cupid had hit the bull’s eye.’
It says something about Lahore’s cosmopolitan atmosphere then that notwithstanding initial public indignation, Mr and Mrs Gauba were accepted as such in Lahore high society. Gauba made his reputation thereafter as a man of letters, when he wrote a response to the American author Katherine Mayo’s book on India and Indians, Mother India. India was outraged by the book which Mahatma Gandhi called a ‘drain inspector’s report’. Others had also attempted a rebuttal but without much success—there was CS Ranga Iyer’s Father India, the nationalist leader Lala Lajpat Rai’s Unhappy India, and, in Gauba’s recollection, a ‘Sister India’ and also a ‘Brother India’. Gauba’s book was about the United States, which he had never visited, was titled Uncle Sham, and he wrote it in about 10 weeks.
Mohammad Yunus’ presence close to those in power was a testimony to the links between India and Badshah Khan’s secular politics as equally a reminder of the Muslims in Pakistan who had opposed Partition
Khushwant Singh summarised that ‘as Mayo had maligned India, Gauba maligned Mayo’s motherland, the United States of America’ and Uncle Sham consisted largely of ‘incest, juvenile prostitution, dope and drink and all that was seamy in American life’. A review in the prestigious US journal Foreign Affairs by the historian William L Langer noted that Gauba had ‘no difficulty in drawing a lurid, grotesque and extremely uncomplimentary picture of our civilization’ and that ‘the book shows once again that with a few quotations and the right spirit one can prove almost anything’. Possibly Gauba would have agreed for he inscribed on the copy he sent to Katherine Mayo: ‘To one Drain Inspector from Another’. The gifted jurist and later foreign minister of India MC Chagla reviewed the book in the Bombay Chronicle and said, ‘So far no one has met Miss Mayo at her own level except K.L. Gauba … Mr G is an artist of the first order.’
Uncle Sham went through 20 printings in the space of a year, and, in Gauba’s recollection, sold ‘more than six figures, several times over’. According to Gauba, some 20,000 paperback copies were sold during the Lahore session of the Indian National Congress in 1929. The proceeds from the book made Gauba’s first fortune and he built a large bungalow for himself by the canal in Lahore. Uncle Sham had inaugurated a successful writing career.
But more sensational acts followed: a love-hate relationship with his father and differences over business decisions is possibly what led to the next public drama. Gauba converted to Islam on March 1st, 1933. For Lahore, this was Gauba’s most outrageous act and, not surprisingly given his father’s stature and his own growing profile, it created a public sensation of a high order. The who’s who of Muslim Punjab made it a point to be present at the conversion ceremony: they included Mohammad Ali, Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Sir Feroze Khan Noon, Zafrullah Khan and the Nawab of Mamdot, amongst others. When he went to the Badshahi Mosque later, in the company of many of these notables, there was a congregation of 10,000 to greet him.
The reaction of Hindus, and especially the Hindu press, can be imagined. Bhai Parmanand, an important leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, for instance, ascribed the conversion to there being ‘something wrong’ in Gauba’s ‘mental condition’. The Milap had a headline ‘Musalman ladki ke saath shaadi karne ka neteeja’ (The consequences of marrying a Muslim girl) and ‘they were selling thousands and thousands of copies on the subject of my conversion’. The result was that ‘the bitter articles that were written against me in the Hindu press only emphasized my importance and welcome among the Muslim press’ and ‘I became an important figure in the Muslim world overnight’.
But—and in brief—although Kanhaiya Lal Gauba became Khurshid Latif Gauba, since he used only his initials, he remained KL Gauba. As a Muslim, he was never a devout one, but he was nevertheless sincere and committed to his new faith and he says that ‘my whole life was thereafter directed, as far as possible, in as small or as big a way as it lay within me to render service to the Muslim community’. His next book was again a success—a biography of Prophet Muhammad titled The Prophet of the Desert. Gauba’s reputation as a leader of the Muslim community grew and in a number of famous Hindu-Muslim and Sikh-Muslim contestations in Punjab which went in for legal redress, he appeared on behalf of Muslims. He consequently won a Muslim seat in a strongly contested election in 1933 to the Indian Legislative Assembly, defeating a Muslim League candidate.
KL Gauba’s differences with the idea of Pakistan stemmed from the point that ‘it was based on an inferiority complex’ for ‘the Muslims in India had always been a minority’
Gauba’s next public controversy was taking on the Chief Justice of the Punjab High Court, Sir Douglas Young. Young had ordered a judicial investigation, bordering on a vendetta, against the business concerns of Gauba’s father. Both father and son lost heavily in the process. His father died, in and out of jail, and Gauba retaliated as only he could, with a book titled Sir Douglas Young’s Magna Carta, on Douglas Young’s misdeeds and how his decisions against the Gaubas were not above board. The book was written in 1941, when he writes, ‘my fortunes had fallen to their lowest level’ and being declared an insolvent was inevitable. The book was proscribed and never sold as a priced publication but copies circulated secretly. He was conscious of the risks— ‘the price to be paid was never in doubt’ but ‘while I had survived the judgment of Douglas Young and his judges would they survive my indictment?’ Gauba was jailed for contempt, but the book found its way to the Secretary of State for India in London when Gauba filed an appeal in the Privy Council against his conviction. The appeal was not admitted but the Chief Justice was advised to resign by the Viceroy. Gauba left jail as a hero all over India for unseating a British chief justice.
As the Muslim League gained traction in Punjab and Partition began to be a distinct possibility, Gauba was in a dilemma. That he was a Muslim leader of prominence in Punjab was not in doubt. He was nevertheless no friend of the Muslim League and in elections had defeated its candidates often with support from the most orthodox sections of Muslims, such as the Khaksars and the Ahrars who were themselves opposed to the League. By 1945, however, the tide had turned. The idea of Pakistan ‘swept Muslim thinking from Punjab to Bengal, Kashmir to Madras’. In the 1945 General Election, ‘Muslim middle of roaders like Unionists, Khaksars, Ahrars and others including myself were swept away in ignominious defeats’.
In 1946, Gauba set out his objections to the Pakistan idea—typically in a best seller titled The Consequences of Pakistan. His differences with the idea of Pakistan stemmed from the fundamental point that ‘it was based on an inferiority complex’ for ‘the Muslims in India had always been a minority… when the Mughals were ruling the country, they were in a minority, yet they ruled the country’. There were also more specific issues that Pakistan as a concept had not clarified or answered: What would happen to the millions of Muslims left behind in India?; A partition of the Punjab would be inevitable and a civil war would follow; What would happen to Ahmadiyas in Pakistan? Pakistan would mean the liquidation of Osmanistan (Hydrabad state) and war with the Dogras of Kashmir, etcetera. Howsoever prescient all this may sound now, it was hardly likely to endear him then to the Muslim League. Incidentally, Gauba held the Hindu leaders of the Congress and other parties primarily responsible for the traction the Pakistan idea got. ‘I do not exempt Muslims from the charge of giving way to communalism. But that is by way of retaliation. The main responsibility for the communal hatreds and passions that sweep the country I would, however, lay at the door of the Hindus. It is the Mahasabha and not the Muslim League that has laid the foundations of Pakistan’.
August 1947 found Gauba holidaying in Simla with his second wife (also a Muslim). With some difficulty, disguising their religious identity, they made their way to Delhi and then flew back to Lahore. Once in Lahore, Gauba agonised over the future and in the end decided to go to India feeling that his differences with the Muslim League would hinder him in Pakistan. He says he did not ‘consider himself a refugee, did not register as one and did not file any claim for property’. He also recollects that ‘the three weeks in Pakistan had been hot and suffocating’ and arriving in Delhi ‘was like the opening of a window—the air was fresh and friendly’. Gauba’s practice flourished in Bombay till the 1960s as did a series of sensational books on different legal cases or whatever would sell most. Nevertheless, he never attained the heights he had in Lahore— either in his practice or in notoriety. His books, however, continued to sell.
Gauba visited Pakistan in 1975 at Prime Minister Bhutto’s invitation. He was received there as a minor celebrity. Both the invitation as also his celebrity status was not because of his past Lahore achievements or legal reputation but followed from his most recent book, Passive Voices—a study of Muslims in India post 1947. This is an anticipation of sorts of the Sachar Committee Report by some three decades, focusing on under-representation of Muslims in different walks of life and the discrimination they faced. Published in 1973, the book made little impact in India but was soon reprinted in Pakistan and an Urdu edition of some 15,000 copies was sold out in a few days. The book remains an often-cited text in Pakistan today and Gauba during his month-long stay there in 1975 was courted by the media and politicians as its author. Characteristically, he wrote a book about this month in Pakistan ending on a note of hope that after the Simla agreement relations between the two countries would improve.
Sadly, Gauba’s last years were spent in penury as his practice eroded and age took its toll. It was left to Khushwant Singh to write his epitaph when he died in Bombay, forgotten and unsung: ‘Fifty years ago, K.L. Gauba’s cortege would have been followed by half the city of Lahore; last week he did not have a dozen to mourn his departure.’
The protagonists in each of these three stories defied the logic of the population movements accompanying Partition, which make up so much of what we know and remember of 1947. So, they are not representative of the general picture in any sense. But, equally, they do convey a sense of the appeal of Indian secularism and pluralism even at a time when it was under most stress as the two-nation theory scored heavily against it.
(This article is derived from TCA Raghavan’s second book, The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan which will be published this month.)