Muslim League

From Academic Kids

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Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the "Great Leader" of the Muslim League

The All India Muslim League was a political party in British India and was the driving force behind the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim state from British India on the Indian subcontinent. After the independence of India and Pakistan, the League continued as a minor party in India, especially in Kerala, where it is often in government within a coalition with others. In Pakistan, the League formed the country's first government, but disintegrated during the 1950s following an army coup. A party using the name Muslim League, but with no organisational connection with the original League, is currently in government in Pakistan.



Muslim rule was established across northern India between the 7th and the 14th centuries. The Muslim Moghul Empire ruled most of India from Delhi from the early 16th century until its power was broken by the British in the 19th century. This left a disempowered and discontented Muslim minority, afraid of being swamped by the Hindu majority over whom they had previously ruled. Muslims were about 23% of the population of British India, and were the majority of the population in Baluchistan, Bengal, Kashmir, North-West Frontier Province, Punjab and the Sindh region of the Bombay Presidency.

In the late 19th century an Indian nationalist movement developed, with the Indian National Congress being founded in 1885. Although the Congress made genuine efforts to enlist the Muslim community in its struggle for Indian independence, it was inevitably a Hindu-dominated organisation, and Muslims knew that an independent united India would inevitably be ruled by Hindus. Although some Muslims were active in the Congress, the majority of Muslim leaders did not trust the Hindu majority.

A turning point came in 1900 when the British administration in the largest Indian state, the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh), acceded to Hindu demands and made Hindi, written in the Devanagari script, the official language, in place of Persian, which had been the court language under the Mughal Emperors. This seemed to confirm Muslim fears that Hindu majority would seek to suppress Muslim culture and religion in an independent India. A British official, Sir Percival Griffiths, wrote of "the Muslim belief that their interest must be regarded as completely separate from those of the Hindus, and that no fusion of the two communities was possible."

During this period the unofficial leader of the Indian Muslim community was Sir Sayed Ahmed, head of the Aligarh movement (a cultural organisation based in the Muslim University at Aligarh), but following his death in 1898 a more militant leadership emerged, under the slogan "Islam is in danger." In October 1906 35 leading members of the Indian Muslim community gathered at Simla under the leadership of Sultan Mohammed Shah (the third Aga Khan), to present an address to the Viceroy, Lord Minto. They demanded proportionate representation of Muslims in all government jobs and the appointment of Muslim judges to the High Courts and members in Viceroy's Council.

Early years

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The third Aga Khan

When these demands were accepted, an All-India Mohammedan Educational Conference was held in Dhaka in December. Nawab Salimullah, chairman of the reception committee and convener of the political meeting proposed the creation of the All-India Muslim League (AIML). A 56-member provisional committee was chosen from among prominent Muslim leaders, including some who were members of the Congress. Mohsin-ul-Mulk and Viqar-ul-Mulk were jointly made the secretaries, but after the death of Mohsin-ul-Mulk in 1907, Viqar-ul-Mulk was in full control of the League. The name All-India Muslim League was proposed by Sir Mian Mohammad Shafi.

Three thousand delegates attended the meeting of the Conference, chaired by Viqar al-Mulq. At that meeting, Nawab Salim Ullah Khan proposed that the League become a political party devoted to promoting the interests of Muslims in India. The idea of a Muslim political party was not new, but Sayed Ahmed's advice to stand aloof from separatist ideas had previously persuaded Indian Muslims to avoid political mobilisation.

Among those Muslims in the Congress who did not initially join the AIML was Muhammed Ali Jinnah, a prominent Bombay lawyer. This was because the first article of the League's platform was "To promote among the Mussalmans of India, feelings of loyalty to the British Government," and Jinnah was an Indian nationalist. He did not join the League until 1913, when it changed its platform to one of Indian independence as a reaction against the British decision to create a united state of Bengal, which the League regarded as a betrayal of the Bengal Muslims. At this stage Jinnah believed in Muslim-Hindu co-operation to achieve an independent, united India, although he argued that Muslims should be guaranteed one-third of the seats in any Indian Parliament.

The headquarters of the new organisation was established at Lucknow, and the Aga Khan was elected as the League's first president. The principles of the League were espoused in the "Green Book," which included the organisation's constitution, written by Maulana Muhammad Ali Jouhar. Its goals at this stage did not include establishing an independent Muslim state, but rather concentrated on protecting Muslim liberties and rights, promoting understanding between the Muslim community and other Indians, educating the Muslim and Indian community at large on the actions of the government, and discouraging violence.

The League's moderate stance toward Britain and its disdain for violence alienated some Muslim radicals, who were infuriated by what they saw as the duplicity of British rule in India. The Partition of Bengal, which had been resisted by Congress, had been supported by the Muslim League, which saw the move as allowing for separate representation of Muslims and Hindus in Bengal. In the face of Congress agitation, the British rescinded the move in 1911, which aggravated the League.

With a few years the League had become the sole representative body of Indian Muslims. Jinnah became its president in 1916, and negotiated the Lucknow Pact with Congress, in which Congress conceded the principle of separate electorates and weighted representation for the Muslim community. But Jinnah broke with Congress in 1919 when the Congress leader, Mohandas Gandhi, launched a "non-co-operation" campaign against the British, which Jinnah disapproved of. Jinnah also became convinced that Congress would renounce its support for separate electorates for Muslims, which indeed it did in 1928. Jinnah had little liking for either the Hindu asceticism of Gandhi or the secular socialism of the other Congress leader, Jawaharlal Nehru.

The search for a solution

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Sir Dr. Muhammad Iqbal (Popularly known as Allama Iqbal)

Jinnah became disillusioned with politics after the failure of his attempt to for a Hindu-Muslim alliance, and he spent most of the 1920s in Britain. The leadership of the League was taken over by Sir Muhammad Iqbal, who in 1930 first put forward the demand for a separate Muslim state in India, to be known as Pakistan (the "land of the pure"). The "two-nation theory," the belief that Hindus and Muslims were two different nations who could not live in one country, gained popularity among Muslims, particularly as Hindu nationalism became more strident. The two-state solution was rejected by the Congress leaders, who favoured a united, secular democratic India. Iqbal's policy of uniting the North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and Sindh into a new state of Pakistan, united the many factions of the League.

In 1927 the British proposed a constitution for India as recommended by the Simon Commission, but they failed to reconcile all parties. The British then turned the matter over to the League and the Congress, and in 1928, an All-Parties Congress was convened in Delhi. The attempt failed, but two more conferences were held. At the Bombay conference in May, it was agreed that a small committee should work on the constitution. The respected Congress leader Motilal Nehru (father of Jawaharlal) headed the committee, which included two Muslims, Syed Ali Imam and Shoaib Quereshi.

The League, however, rejected the proposal that the committee returned, called the "Nehru Report," arguing that it gave too little representation (one quarter) to Muslims - the League had demanded at least one-third representation in the legislature. Jinnah reported a "parting of the ways" after reading the report, and relations between the Congress and the League began to sour.

The election of Ramsay MacDonald's Labour government in 1929 fuelled new hopes for progress towards self-government in India. Gandhi traveled to London, claiming to represent all Indians, and criticising the League as sectarian and divisive. Round-table talks were held, but these achieved little, since Gandhi and the League were unable reach a compromise. The fall of the Labour government in 1931 ended this period of optimism.

In the 1935 Government of India Act, the British for the first time proposed to hand over substantial power to elected Indian provincial legislatures, with elections to be held in 1937. Jinnah returned to India and resumed leadership of the League, which now saw the real threat of Hindu majority rule over the Muslim minority. After the elections the League took office in Bengal and Punjab, but the Congress won office in most of the other Indian states, and refused to share power with the League in states with large Muslim minorities. In 1940 the League formally adopted the creation of Pakistan as its objective.

Campaign for Pakistan

At a League conference in Lahore in 1940, Jinnah said: "Hindus and the Muslims belong to two different religions, philosophies, social customs and literature... It is quite clear that Hindus and Muslims derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes and different episodes... To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state."

At Lahore the League formally recommitted itself to creating an independent Muslim state including Sindh, Punjab, the North West Frontier Province and Bengal, that would be "wholly autonomous and sovereign." The resolution guaranteed protection for non-Muslim religions. The principles of the Lahore Resolution formed the foundation for Pakistan's first constitution. Talks between Jinnah and Gandhi in 1944 in Bombay failed to achieve agreement. These was the last attempt to reach a single-state solution.

In the 1940s Jinnah emerged as the recognised leader of the Indian Muslims and was popularly known as "Qaid-e-Azam" (Great leader). In the Constituent Assembly elections of 1946, the League won 425 out of 496 seats reserved for Muslims on a policy of Pakistan, and an implied threat of secession if this was not granted. Gandhi and Nehru, who with the election of a Labour government in Britain in 1945 saw independence within reach, were adamantly opposed to dividing India. They knew that the Hindu masses, who saw Mother India as a holy and indivisible entity, could never agree to such a thing.

By 1946 the British had neither the will, nor the financial or military power, to hold India any longer, and Jinnah knew that independence was imminent. He made it clear that he would plunge India into chaos if India was not partitioned to create a Muslim state, and the British could not resist this threat. Political deadlock ensued in the Constituent Assembly, and Britain's Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, sent a special mission to India to mediate the situation.

When these talks broke down, Attlee sent Earl Mountbatten, India's last Viceroy, to negotiate the partition of India and immediate British withdrawal. Mountbatten told Gandhi and Nehru that if they did not accept partition there would be civil war, and they were reluctantly compelled to agree. Civil war did in fact break out in Punjab and other areas of mixed population.

The Muslim League survived as a minor party in India after partition, but later splintered into several groups, the most important of which is the Indian Union Muslim League.

The League in Pakistan

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Liaquat Ali Khan

In Pakistan, Jinnah became Governor-General, and another League leader, Liaquat Ali Khan became Prime Minister. But Jinnah died in September 1948 and Liaquat was assassinated in October 1951. Robbed of its two senior leaders, the League began to disintegrate. By 1953 dissensions within the League had led to the formation of several different political parties. Liaquat was succeeded by Khawaja Nazimuddin, a Bengali, but he was forced from office in April 1953 by Punjabi politicians who found a Bengali premier unacceptable. Pakistan was racked by riots and famine, and at the first national elections in May 1955 (held by a system of indirect voting) the League was heavily defeated.

In October 1958 the Army seized power and the martial law regime of Muhammad Ayub Khan banned all political parties. This was the end of the old Muslim League. The name still held great prestige, however, and Ayub Khan later formed a new party, the Convention Muslim League. The opposition faction became known as the Council Muslim League. This latter group joined a united front with other political parties in 1967 in opposition to the regime. But when the military regime of Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan fell in December 1971, and Pakistan's first genuine free elections were held, both factions of the League were wiped out, in West Pakistan by the Pakistan People's Party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and in East Pakistan by the National Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

After the death of Pakistan's next dictator, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, in 1988, a new Muslim League was formed under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif, but it had no connection with the original Muslim League. Sharif was Prime Minister from 1990 to 1993 and again from 1997 to 1999, when he was ousted in Pakistan's third military coup. At the stage-managed elections held by the military regime of Pervez Musharraf in October, five different parties using the name Muslim League contested seats. The largest of these, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), won 69 seats out of 272, and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), loyal to Nawaz Sharif, won 19 seats.

Current factions

Muslim League in post-Partition India

see Indian Union Muslim League

External link


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