The Greatest Leader in History: Ataturk

Oil painting of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at the Anitkabir, Ankara, Turkey.

Today, I have a treat for you all.

In celebration of this blog’s twentieth post (in fact, this was pure coincidence, but I’m going to run with it), a good friend of mine, Arda Ulay, has kindly written the following article detailing the life of Turkey’s founding father. We briefly touched upon Ataturk in my post regarding India’s Khilafat Movement, and so this is sure to add some much-needed context. Furthermore, it is worth noting here that Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, actually took inspiration from Ataturk and the Turkish nation-state in his own struggle against British Imperialism.

If you haven’t worked it out already, Arda is of Turkish heritage, and like me, he is an avid reader of history. Unlike me, Arda actually studied history in school. I’m sure it goes without saying that the views expressed in this article are not mine, and all credit should be attributed to Arda.


Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938)

DISCLAIMER: It is important to note that I will refer to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as Ataturk throughout this post. However, Ataturk is also known as Mustafa Kemal Pasha, Kemal Pasha, Mustafa Kemal, or just Mustafa.

If you have ever visited Turkey, you are certain to have crossed a picture of Ataturk at the airport, any restaurant you visit, or any hotel you go to. Why? Ataturk is a revered figure in Turkey to the extent that no other nation-state leader was or is. Ataturk was believed to be a socialist by Hitler, a fascist by Stalin, even a dictator by others, but Ataturk is known in Turkey as the “Father of the Turks”.

What makes a leader a great leader? One who is moral? Well, Genghis Khan was not a moral leader, but he was certainly a great leader who built one of the greatest Empires and changed the course of world history. What about a leader who is accomplished? George Washington was an accomplished leader who led his country to independence, but he owned slaves. What about a leader who is respected? Erwin Rommel was respected by both friend and foe during the Second World War but still lost the North Africa campaign. It is hard to define a great leader because a great leader is subjective to personal definitions. Accordingly, for the purposes of this article, a great leader will be defined as someone who has all the qualities mentioned above.

The story of modern Turkey starts in 1881, in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was then known as Selanik, part of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk was born as Mustafa into a middle-class family, with a pious mother, Zubeyde Hanim, and an Alevi customs official father, Ali Riza Efendi[1]. Thessaloniki was a multicultural and modern city for the Ottoman Empire’s standards. As such, Ataturk grew up with Greeks, Turks, Jews, Albanians, and Slavs. This would be important in shaping his later views.

In his youth, Ataturk became passionate about warfare and the military. His mother wished for him to be a religious leader. But Ataturk was not interested in religious studies and preferred to talk about politics and the military with his friends. He graduated from military school excelling in mathematics, where he was given the nickname “Kemal”, meaning “perfection”, by his teacher[2] as well as science, history, and philosophy. Ataturk was promoted to an officer at once and started his post in Syria. There he met some very radicalised Turks who believed the rule of the Ottoman Sultanate must come to an end.

The Young Turks

The Young Turks were a movement in the Ottoman Empire that sought to create a Nationalist Constitutional Monarchy that limited the Sultan’s powers to just a figurehead. The Grand Vizier (or the Prime Minister) would be the ruler with the Sultan as the head of state. The Young Turks were extremely militarist and expansive. They believed that the Ottoman Empire can be saved if they were to ally with the Germans. Ataturk joined this organisation because of his personal hatred against the Sultan and had a minor part to play in the Young Turk Revolution.

But once the revolution succeeded, Ataturk was cast aside by Enver Pasha, who elevated himself to war minister. Ataturk disagreed fundamentally with the Young Turks, which now became the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).

The CUP believed that Islam and the Sultan glued the Ottoman nation together, but Ataturk disagreed. He acknowledged the growing rebellions across the Empire, which indicated that the Sultan’s influence was weakening.

Ataturk also disagreed with the Social Darwinist policies of the CUP, which was modelled after the Japanese policy of making the “Japanese race the strongest in the far east.” The CUP wanted to make the Turks the strongest in the near east. This idea was too idealist for Ataturk, who himself believed in nationality rather than race.

Since Ataturk was not interested in throwing the Ottomans into conflict, he felt the Caliphate was a post that no longer served a purpose. The CUP, however, used the Caliph to influence Indian Muslims to resist British recruitment in World War One.

The CUP’s underground members would even attempt to assassinate Ataturk in 1926. This, of course, failed.

Enver Pasha (1881-1922)

Enver Pasha was one of the three Pasha of the triumvirate period towards the end of the Ottoman Empire. He also served as the minister of war and was Ataturk’s main rival towards 1918-1923.

Ataturk’s original plan for the territorial extent of the Turkish Republic.

Ataturk believed the Empire had to be abandoned for a Republic that will rule over a majority ethnic Turk land. Ataturk saw Kurds as equals to Turks and therefore kept them in the equation.

Enver Pasha’s dream of an empire expanding over the region of Turan.

On the other hand, Enver Pasha dreamed of an expansive imperialist empire that would cover the region of “Turan”. Turan is the collection of all Turkic states into one single country. Ataturk dismissed these and ardently disagreed. He believed Enver Pasha was delusional. As such, Ataturk remained a colonel with limited military and political influence. Many of these Turanists actually joined the Nazi Turkestan Legions during World War Two.

The CUP government was disastrous. The Ottomans lost control of Libya to the Italians and lost the entire Balkans to the Bulgarians and Greeks. Although Enver Pasha managed to reclaim Thrace, the Empire lost 33% of its lands within the space of only 3 years[3], including the strategic and important city of Thessaloniki, Ataturk’s place of birth. Regardless of these Ottoman defeats, Ataturk achieved spectacular results and proved himself to be a promising commander. In Tobruk, Ataturk defeated 2,000 Italians with only 200 soldiers[4]. He nearly drove the Italians out of all strategic cities, but his command tent was bombed by an Italian warplane, which caused his eye to be damaged. It is for this reason Ataturk’s seems to be cross-eyed in later pictures.

The First World War

Ataturk in Gallipoli (pictured fourth from the left)

The Ottomans joined the German side of the First World War. Ataturk and his more Liberal circle of friends warned the government that this would result in the end of the Ottoman Empire. Enver Pasha’s stubbornness and lack of administrative experience denied these warnings. Within a few months of joining the war, Enver Pasha lost 43,000 men, more than half of which died before the battle even started, while fighting the Russians[5].  Although the Russians were successful against the outdated Ottoman army, they struggled to fight against the disciplined, coherent, and robust German army.

As a result, Sir Winston Churchill, the lord of the admiralty, would devise a plan which looked very good on paper but would result in the worst military defeat in British history. If British and French ships could pass the Dardanelles, they could bomb Istanbul (which was the capital) to the ground and kill millions of people in the process. This would cripple the Ottomans into submitting. However, the Turks were prepared for this and ambushed the British Navy in 1915. This forced the British to do a landing to secure the beachheads.

Location of the Dardanelles.

The Dardanelles is a geographic area that links the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara (and therefore Istanbul). The British had a powerful ANZAC and Indian contingent backed by the world’s strongest navy. But the Ottomans also had a superweapon that they did not know existed: the 34-year-old Ataturk.

The British attack was overwhelming. The Ottoman army did not have enough ammunition and was equipped with older rifles that jammed easily. The British easily gained a foothold in Gallipoli and managed to push the Turks many miles from the beaches, except in one area. Ataturk was just a colonel in command of about 10,000 men[6]. His superior was General Otto Liman von Sanders, a German who was losing ground to the British. Ataturk was tasked to defend Chunuk Bair, a critical peak that oversaw the whole battleground. The fate of Istanbul and the entire Ottoman Empire fell into Ataturk’s hands.

Although Ataturk’s men fought tirelessly, they were eventually routed because they ran out of ammunition. Ataturk caught his soldiers fleeing the field and asked them where they were going. A soldier pointed out that they lacked ammunition, to which Ataturk replied:

“If you don’t have ammunition, you have bayonets! FIX BAYONETS! GET DOWN!”[7]

This made the ANZACs believe the Turks were reinforced, forcing them to call off any further attacks. Ataturk single-handedly took a big risk but held back the British for 24 hours. Enough time for reinforcements to arrive. At the end of the first day, only Ataturk’s division out of the six initial divisions held their ground.

A couple days later, the British intensified their attacks, and Ataturk’s division was put in reserve. The British made a risky but successful landing at one of the beaches that lead directly to Chunuk Bair. Upon hearing this, Ataturk, without permission from higher command, collected his men and moved out to intercept the British. He gave his most famous order:

“Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.”[8]

Ataturk now led from the frontlines and kept motivation among his troops high. He beat back the British forces at Chunuk Bair and saved the Ottoman war effort in Gallipoli. After these successes, Ataturk was promoted and eventually given full command of the entire Ottoman defence at Gallipoli. He launched counter-attacks using storm tactics to beat his enemy. Within a few months of taking control, Ataturk broke the stalemate and shifted the momentum in the Ottoman’s favour. Ataturk saved Istanbul and a million Turks from certain death. His name was being shared across the world for this famous victory.

Meanwhile, the situation against Russia was dire. Enver Pasha lost all his battles against them and began relocating Armenians from the frontlines. The Ottomans, however, were now able to send fresh and experienced troops from Gallipoli under Ataturk’s command. Ataturk held back Russian assaults at Bitlis, which caused the Russian offensive to collapse and triggered the 1917 Russian Soviet Revolution. Ataturk was once again successful and promoted. Now a General, Ataturk was sent to Arabia, where he had his first confrontation with Enver Pasha since 1914.

Ataturk proposed a general retreat towards Anatolia to force the British to march through the deserts unprepared until a confrontation could happen. However, Enver Pasha, backed by von Sanders, suggested that the Ottomans had a numerical advantage and should use it as soon as possible (although they did not). Ataturk was right. The Ottomans suffered their final major defeat at Megiddo, where the British restocked up on water supplies. The Ottoman armies were destroyed, and Ataturk was finally given command of the whole Ottoman army, or what was left of it. Understanding the war was lost, Ataturk sent a letter of rage to the Sultan:

“The withdrawal … could have been carried out in some order, if a fool like Enver Paşa had not been the director-general of the operations, if we did not have an incompetent commander—Cevat Paşa—at the head of a military force of five to ten thousand men, who fled at the first sound of gunfire, abandoned his army, and wandered around like a bewildered chicken; and the commander of the Fourth army, Cemal Paşa, ever incapable of analysing a military situation; and if, above all, we did not have a group headquarters (under Liman von Sanders) which lost all control from the first day of the battle. Now, there is nothing left to do but to make peace.”[9]

Ataturk withdrew to Aleppo and held back all further British attacks, giving way to the Treaty of Mudros. The middle eastern theatre ended, and the Ottoman Empire surrendered after Ataturk refused to continue fighting.

The War of Independence

Results of the Treaty of Sevres.

The Treaty of Sevres was far worse than the Treaty of Versailles and reduced the Ottomans to less than 10% of their land before the First World War. Ataturk was proven right; the Empire was destroyed after joining the World War. Within 4 years, Islam’s greatest Empire was on its death bed. The treaty demanded[10]:

  1. The Ottomans pay crippling reparations, which would last until 1980.
  2. The Ottomans pay crippling and unfair debts, which will also last to 1980.
  3. The Ottomans limit their forces to less than 50,700 men, disbanding their air force and tank regiments as well as downsizing their navy.
  4. Istanbul and the straits world fall under International control.
  5. France, Italy, Armenia, Britain, and Kurdistan will take most of Anatolia (Britain annexed the Kurdish territories before it could form a state)
  6. Turkey would essentially be a puppet of France and Britain, alternating between the two.

To Ataturk, this treaty was worse than death. Turks are an interesting ethnic group in that they are one of the few ethnic groups to have always ruled themselves. As Napoleon once put it:

“The Turks can be killed, but they can never be conquered.”[11]

For Turks to accept this treaty would be an insult to their ancestors and their past. Ataturk managed to rally up eager Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Alevis, and Alawites to fight the War of Independence. In the end, he managed to muster 80,000 men, but he was facing four major combatants on four different fronts against 250,000 men[12]. It was suicide.

Ataturk, however, was perhaps the most accomplished military leader at the time. He was the only Central Powers commander who was not defeated in the field of battle and was loved by his men. Ataturk was quick to strike on the Armenians and French forces, ending their threat by 1921. He negotiated with the British and used the fact that the British public opposed a war to his advantage. However, the bigger threat was Greece. Greece was opportunistic in their goals and used the fact that the Turks were up in arms as a pretext to establish a Greater Greece, known as the Megali Idea. 217,000 Greek forces entered Anatolia, the largest Greek army to enter the region in history[13].

Ataturk could not defeat them in a battle unless he chose the battleground. He made a tactical retreat to Ankara, drawing the Greeks further and further away from their supply routes and tired them in the process. At Sakarya, Ataturk unleashed his trap. Nearly 22,000 out of the 120,000 Greek force lost their lives or were captured[14]. Even King Constantine was almost caught by Turkish troops. Ataturk ended the Greek advance and turned the tide of the war. It was now the Greeks who were on the defensive.

In 1922, Ataturk unleashed his final offensive towards Izmir. 90,000 Turks against 130,000 Greeks[15]. It was all or nothing. Ataturk, within 2 weeks, liberated Izmir and surrounded the Greek army and captured their most renowned Generals. The Generals were treated with considerable kindness. Ataturk’s right-hand man, Ismet Pasha (later known as Ismet Inonu, the second President of Turkey), told the Greek General Trikoupis that his men would not be harmed and that he had the Turkish army’s respect for doing his duty. Ataturk was also offered to step on a Greek flag in the same area that King Constantine stepped on the Ottoman flag 3 years earlier, but Ataturk refused[16]. He is quoted as saying:

“The Greek King might have made a mistake by insulting a National Symbol, I Won’t repeat the same mistake.”

Istanbul was later liberated by Ataturk without firing a single bullet. The Sultanate was abolished, and the Ottoman Empire came to an end in late 1922. Ataturk’s revolution, known as Kemalism, took its first big step.

Ataturk’s Presidency

Ataturk changed Turkey forever. The Republic of Turkey was founded on 29th October 1923, a year after the Ottoman Empire was disbanded. Ataturk brought in a new radical reform to Turkey known as Kemalism or Ataturkism.

Kemalism has 6 arrows or pillars:

  1. Nationalism

Ataturk’s view on nationalism was very modern and rejected all forms of ethnic, cultural, and ultra-nationalism. Ataturk rejected Turanism, rejected imperialism, and rejected unification through religion or ethnicity. Ataturk instead opted for Civic-Nationalism, a form of nationalism that united people through a common duty to a nation regardless of their background. In Ataturk’s form of nationalism, Alevis were emancipated for the first time in Turkish history, Kurds were seen as Turkish citizens, which enabled Inonu (a Kurd) to become the first Prime Minister of Turkey, and even one of the world’s first black fighter pilots was Turkish[17]. Turkish did not mean someone who was ethnically a Turk, but rather as Ataturk said:

“The folk which constitutes the Republic of Turkey is called the Turkish nation.”[18]

  1. Republicanism

Ataturk believed in a parliamentary democracy. Although Ataturk ruled as a benign or benevolent dictator, his end goal was democracy. Ataturk saw himself as the first and last dictator of the Turkish Republic. A dictator that Turkey needs so they may never have a dictator again. Ataturk demanded democracy, but the Turkish people were not educated and ready for it yet.

  1. Populism

Kemalist populism is not the same as the populism we have today. Populism in the Kemalist sense was the aim to enable the people to understand the importance of their citizenship and sovereignty. Populism in the Kemalist sense was designed to create a unifying force for the Turkish people to encourage them to work, contribute to their country, and advance.

  1. Laicism

The most controversial policy of Kemalism is its ardent secularism. Ataturk banned the niqab and fez according to the public code. But he never forbade the headscarf, contrary to popular belief. The headscarf in Turkey was banned after the 1980 coup. Ataturk simply discouraged its use. Ataturk put all religious buildings under state supervision, and the state equally distanced itself from all faiths. The official religion of Turkey was no longer Islam. The call to prayer was to be done in Turkish rather than Arabic. Religious schools were closed. Since Sharia Law in the Ottoman Empire banned girls from being educated, Ataturk now made schools mandatory for girls. Classes were now mixed. Ataturk’s biggest religious impact would come in 1924 when he abolished the Caliphate. The Caliph was a post that existed ever since the death of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. This was widely supported in Turkey, with the only opposition coming from the Kurds, whose rebellions were subsequently suppressed.

  1. Statism

Turkey was technologically and socially behind other countries in 1923. Statism demanded that the state do its part to ensure Turkey’s complete modernisation via economic and technological development. Ataturk’s Turkey underwent mass industrialisation leading to dramatic economic growth[19]. The state also nationalised all foreign businesses, which were seen as exploiting Turkey’s resources and people. These businesses, especially tobacco industries, became successful enterprises and were later privatised by Turkish owners.

  1. Reformism

Ataturk believed traditional institutions must be replaced with modern ones that overlooked a much larger part of Anatolian and Turkish culture and history. Islamism in Turkey saw old Hittite and Assyrian buildings and statues destroyed. Ataturk believed the Hittite culture to be a part of the modern Turkish culture. Islam was adapted to become compatible with Turkey. According to Ataturk, up until this point, conservative Islam had been allowed to control the customs, diet, and even intimate thoughts of the Turkish people.

Ataturk’s reformism was vastly based on resurrecting old Hittite, Assyrian, and Anatolian culture while combining it with Turkey’s Nomadic and Islamic history. For example, the national symbol of Ankara was the Hittite flag. Ataturk never opposed Islam. He only opposed an interpretation of Islam that was suited to an Arab context and was therefore unsuitable to the needs of the Turkish people.

Ataturk increased national GDP, tripled GDP per capita[20], modernised Turkey within a decade, made education compulsory for all, which saw literacy rates skyrocket. Turkey gave women full equal suffrage where polygamy was banned and equal inheritance was mandatory. This was ahead of many European countries. Turkish women congratulated American women for having the right to vote, and British women held signs saying, Are we worth less than Turkish women?[21]

Ataturk had saved Turkey, emancipated all faiths and minorities, and has gained international respect. In 1981, the UN formally honoured Ataturk by naming it The Atatürk Year in the World. Nobody else has been given such recognition:

“The General Conference,

Convinced that eminent personalities who worked for international understanding, co-operation, and peace, should serve as an example for future generations,

Recalling that the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, will be celebrated in 1981,

Bearing in mind that he was an exceptional reformer in all the fields coming within Unesco’s competence,

Recognising in particular that he was the leader of one of the earliest struggles against colonialism and imperialism,

Recalling that he set an outstanding example in promoting the spirit of mutual understanding between peoples and lasting peace between the nations of the world, having advocated all his life the advent of ‘an age of harmony and co-operation in which no distinction would be made between men on account of colour, religion or race.’”[22]

Many world leaders visit his grave, including Putin, Obama, the Pope, Theresa May, the Japanese royal family, and many others. All bow to Ataturk.

The Words of Ataturk

“Peace at home, peace in the world” – Ataturk to the public during his tours of Anatolia[23].

“Unless a nation’s life faces peril, war is murder.” – Ataturk after witnessing the devastation wrought by the Gallipoli campaign[24].

“Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men. Is it possible for humankind to grow by the improvement of only one part while the other part is ignored? Is it possible that if half of a mass is tied to earth with chains that the other half can soar into skies?” – Ataturk on the importance of women[25].

“Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” – Ataturk in honouring the fallen soldiers that fought against Turkey[26].

Ataturk has statues and streets named after him in many countries, including countries in which Ataturk fought. Ataturk is not only moral, not only accomplished, not only respected; he is the greatest leader in history.

[1] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[2] İnan, A., 1950. Atatürk hakkında hâtıralar ve belgeler. Turkiye Is Bankasi Kultur Yayinlari.

[3] Blakemore, E., 2019. Why the Ottoman Empire rose and fell. National Geographic, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[4] Military Wiki. n.d. Battle of Tobruk (1911). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 April 2021].

[5] Sanborn, J., 2021. Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire. Oxford University Press, p.88.

[6] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[7] Wikiquote. n.d. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. [online] Available at: <ürk> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[8] ibid

[9] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[10] Helmreich, P., 1974. From Paris to Sèvres: The Partition of the Ottoman Empire at the Peace Conference of 1919-1920. Cambridge University Press.

[11] Bonaparte, N., 1912. Napoleon in his own words. Trieste Publishing Pty Limited.

[12] Pallis, A., 1937. Greece’s Anatolian Venture–and After: A Survey of the Diplomatic and Political Aspects of the Greek Expedition to Asia Minor (1915-1922).

[13] ibid

[14] ibid

[15] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[16] ibid

[17] Nicolle, D., 1994. The Ottoman Army 1914–1918. Osprey Publishing.

[18] Wikipedia. n.d. Kemalism. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 April 2021].

[19] Pamuk, Ş., 2019. Uneven centuries: Turkey’s experience with economic development since 1820. The Economic History Review, Vol. 72.

[20] Pamuk, Ş., 2019. Uneven centuries: Turkey’s experience with economic development since 1820. The Economic History Review, Vol. 72.

[21] n.d. British womens demanding their rights: “Are British Women Worth Less Than Turkish Women?”. [image] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[22] UNESCO, 1979. Records of the General Conference Twentieth Session Paris, 24 October to 28 November 1978 Volume I Resolutions. [online] p.69. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[23] Goodreads. n.d. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Quotes. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[24] ibid

[25] ibid

[26] ibid

Khilafat Movement and Non-cooperation Movement – 1919-1924

Mehmed VI, Ottoman Caliph (1918-1922)

During the Turkish War of Independence (19th May 1919 – 11th October 1922), many Indian Muslim religious leaders feared for the fate of the Ottoman Caliphate. For many, the Ottoman Empire’s collapse was viewed as a European conspiracy designed to end Pan-Islamism and the ‘united’ Muslim community.

This anxiety eventually led to the Khilafat Movement[1] and the establishment of the All-India Khilafat Committee in 1919. The committee included Muslim leaders from both the AIML and INC as well as members of the Ulama. It called for the Caliphate’s restoration and acted as a gateway for the Ulama to enter politics.

The Muslim political elite needed the Ulama to reach the masses. Muhammad Ali Jauhar, one of the Khilafat’s leading figures, is quoted as saying, “we can reach [the] mob only through religion”[2]. Although he later denied it. Likewise, the Ulama needed the political elite to achieve its own goals. They had repeatedly tried to implement their version of Sharia in the workings of government but failed. Abul Muhasin Muhammad Sajjad, one of the most influential scholars at the time, sums up the need to work with the political elite:

“Until the Ulama takes the reins of politics in their own hands and cross their voices with those in authority, it will be difficult for them to establish their religious supremacy. Moreover, the fulfilment of their higher aims [i.e., the protection of Islam] will remain merely an empty dream”[3].

The Khilafat’s marriage of political and religious influencers allowed the movement to reach a large base of supporters. Making it one of the most memorable movements in the history of modern South Asia. It also marked the formal beginning of South Asia’s tradition of having political parties led by religious scholars. The most notable being the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which has since birthed multiple off-shoots, including Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.

The following year, Gandhi launched the Non-cooperation Movement[4] to unite all Indians in opposition to British rule. He called for the boycott of British goods in favour of Indian goods and implored Indians to cease all co-operation with the British. The goal was to remove the Rowlatt Act, which had led to the horrible events of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

To consolidate Muslim support, Gandhi made the restoration of the Caliphate one of the Non-cooperation Movement’s main objectives. As a result, the Khilafat Movement joined forces with Gandhi and was practically swallowed up by the Non-cooperation Movement. Similarly, to consolidate Hindu support, Gandhi invoked the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) and called for the end of untouchability.

By appealing to both Muslims and Hindus’ religious sentiments, Gandhi was able to rile up the Indian masses in opposition to British rule. So how did Jinnah – “the best ambassador of Hindu–Muslim Unity”[5] – react to all this?

Jinnah was against the formation of the Khilafat Movement from the start. He was a firm believer in secularism and the removal of religious authority from the workings of the state. When Gandhi affirmed the Khilafats by allowing them into the Non-cooperation Movement, he opened a can of worms that would plague South Asia for decades to come.

At the INC’s 1920 Nagpur Session, Jinnah openly spoke out against the Non-cooperation Movement. He denounced Gandhi for causing a schism “not only amongst Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Hindus and Muslims and Muslims and even between fathers and sons […] in almost every institution”, leading to “complete disorganisation and chaos”[6]. Jinnah was weary of the potential implications of allowing religious frenzy into the realm of Indian politics.

This may seem confusing at first, given how Jinnah was a member of the All-India MUSLIM League and was the architect behind the famed Lucknow Pact that had ensured the extension of separate electorates for Muslim candidates. If anyone should be accused of bringing religion into politics, it should be Jinnah.

It is here that a distinction must be made between Muslims as a religious community and Muslims as a minority community in need of political representation. For Congress Moderates like Jinnah, there was a clear line between the religious and political needs of Muslims. It fell to the politicians to see to the political needs of the Muslim community. Meanwhile, the Ulama were tasked with seeing to the religious needs of the Muslim community. For example, the protection of land rights would be something that falls under the jurisdiction of the politician, whereas religious sermons would fall under the jurisdiction of the scholar. Inevitably there would be some overlap, but overall the system worked fine. Politicians stuck to the councils, and scholars stuck to the Masjids.

As already covered in previous essays, the AIML was formed to see to the political needs of Muslims. Implementing separate electorates in the Morley-Minto Reforms was a means to secure political representation for the Muslim minority. Supporting the Partition of Bengal was a way to advance the economic and political interests of the Muslim minority. At no point did the Muslim politicians try to implement their version of Sharia into government. Their fight was a nationalist fight for freedom, not a religious one. Recall when Jinnah addressed the AIML at the end of 1916:

“I see this great communal organisation rapidly growing into a powerful factor for the birth of United India. A minority must, above everything else, have a complete sense of security before its broader political sense can be evoked for co-operation and united endeavour in the national tasks. To the [Muslims] of India that security can only come through adequate and effective safeguards as regards their political existence as a community”[7].

When Gandhi brought the Khilafats under his wing, he set a dangerous precedent. The introduction of the Ulama threatened the existing political advancements in the cause for an independent India. Using religious rhetoric to stir up the masses ran the risk of causing a disconnect between India’s majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.

To Jinnah, Gandhi’s Satyagraha was politically irresponsible. The masses were a powerful force that couldn’t be tamed. Relying on the Indian masses for agitation ran the risk of doing more harm than good. Instead, Jinnah believed that achieving independence was best done via constitutional methods. Unfortunately, the majority of Indian opinion was not on his side, and he was subsequently shouted down by the delegates. Both the INC and AIML endorsed the Non-cooperation Movement.

This was the nail in the coffin for Jinnah’s relationship with Congress. Following the Nagpur Session, Jinnah resigned from the INC and all other positions, excluding his membership in the AIML. He would spend most of the early 1920s in political isolation as events in India took a turn for the worst.

The first sign of weakening relations between Hindus and Muslims was the Hijarat of 1920[8]. When the Khilafat Movement was at its height, several influential Mawlanas issued a fatwa declaring India a Dar-al-Harb. India was a land ruled by non-believers and was an unsuitable place for Muslims to live. As a result, thousands of Indian Muslims migrated to neighbouring Afghanistan.

Another major event that drove a wedge between India’s two sister communities was the Malabar Rebellion of 1921[9]. The Mappila Muslim community of Malabar, under Khilafat influence, rebelled against their British-backed Jenmi Hindu landlords. Thousands of civilians were killed in the ensuing violence as the enraged Muslim peasantry attacked Hindu temples. Forced conversions and sexual violence were widespread.

On the 4th February 1922, a large group of Non-cooperation protesters marched on Chauri Chaura market shouting anti-government slogans. A standoff between the protestors and police led to the deaths of 3 civilians and 22 police officers. The event came to be known as the Chauri Chaura Incident[10] and led to the Non-cooperation Movement’s disbanding on the 12th February 1922.

The Khilafat Movement came to an end in 1924 after Mustafa Kemal Pasha, Turkey’s Atatürk, abolished the Caliphate. Without a rallying cry to stand behind, the movement lost its impetus and eventually collapsed without achieving its primary goal of restoring the Caliphate. However, the damage was already done, and the Ulama became a permanent fixture in India’s political landscape.

The Khilafat Movement and Non-cooperation Movement alliance did not strengthen but strain relations between Muslims and Hindus. Allowing religious leaders into the realm of politics destroyed the delicate Hindu-Muslim Unity Jinnah worked so hard to establish. Regardless, mass agitation did yield results. The Rowlatt Act was repealed in March 1922 as a direct result of the Non-cooperation Movement.

At the end of the day, both movements would have lasting impacts on the Subcontinent. Without mass agitation, the chances are India would still be a British colony. That being said, had Gandhi taken a more measured approach like Jinnah and abstained from religious rhetoric, Hindu-Muslim Unity could have been preserved. In his haste to free India, Gandhi had sown the roots of communalism, forcing Jinnah to play certain cards he didn’t want to in later years.

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Minault, G., 1982. The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism And Political Mobilization In India. Columbia University Press.

[2] Qureshi, M., 1978. The Indian Khilāfat Movement (1918-1924). Journal of Asian History, Vol. 12.

[3] ibid.

[4] Bakshi, S., 1983. Gandhi And Non-Cooperation Movement, 1920-22. Capital Publishers.

[5] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[6] Jalal, A., 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League And The Demand For Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.

[7] Jinnah, M. A., 1916. Presidential Address By Muhammad Ali Jinnah To The Muslim League Lucknow, December 1916. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[8] Qureshi, M., 1979. The ‘Ulamā’ of British India and the Hijrat of 1920. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 13.

[9] Hardgrave, R., 1977. The Mappilla Rebellion, 1921: Peasant Revolt in Malabar. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 11.

[10] Low, D., 1966. The Government of India and the First Non-Cooperation Movement–1920-1922. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 25.

A History of Comic Books and the Rise of Kamala Khan

Picture this: A 12-year-old boy walks into a comic bookstore. He’s been reading comics for a good year now. He peruses the shelves scanning for the latest issue of Superior Spider-Man. In the previous instalment, Green Goblin has just become king of New York’s underworld setting the stage for the Goblin Nation story arc. The store clerk looks up from the comic he is reading and beckons the young man to come over.

“Hey there little man, uh, your name is Aqil, right? There’s this new comic I reckon you might like.”

He gestures to a comic book a couple of shelves to the left. The cover features a woman wearing what looks like a dupatta around her neck – like the ones the boy’s mum wears. She’s got her right hand balled into a fist with some books tucked under her left. The title read Ms Marvel #1. The boy is intrigued.

“I thought Ms Marvel was white.”

“No, that Ms Marvel goes by Captain Marvel now. This is the new one.”

 “What’s her name?”

“Kamala Khan.”

Those who know me in real life know that I am a huge geek. My areas of expertise include Star Wars and Marvel in particular. I’ve been reading comics for close to a decade now. That being said, my intake over the last two years has been significantly limited (another hobby of mine choked by the demands of A-levels). Yet, over the last couple of weeks, I have decided to get back into the habit of reading comics. Where before I used to visit the comic bookstore in person to collect my monthly cache of paperbacks, I now read comics digitally via Marvel Unlimited (Netflix but for Marvel comics). Naturally, I decided to revisit one of my favourite Marvel characters.

In this post, I’m going to introduce the character of Kamala Khan a.k.a Ms Marvel for those who are unfamiliar with the Inhuman charged with defending the streets of Jersey City. Seriously? have you been living under a rock? I’ll then “briefly” outline the history of comic books and the backstory behind Kamala’s creation before analysing her impact on the comic industry and popular culture. I’m sure it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. THIS POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Who is Kamala Khan?

Kamala was born in Jersey City, USA to immigrant parents Yusef and Muneeba Khan from Karachi, Pakistan. Her older brother Aamir was born in Pakistan before moving to the US. Her family history can be traced back to her maternal great-grandparents, Kareem and Aisha. They moved from Bombay to Karachi during the Partition of India. She also has a nephew called Malik and her sister-in-law Tyesha is an African American revert.

Growing up, Kamala had two best friends: Nakia Bahadir, a social activist of Turkish descent, and Bruno Carrelli, a prodigious genius of Italian descent. Kamala met Nakia in kindergarten, where they bonded over their shared faith in Islam. She then met Bruno in second grade and the two bonded over their shared interest in Tween Mutant Samurai Turtles (the Marvel Universe’s equivalent of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Bruno would end up falling deeply in love with Kamala. Unfortunately, Kamala, too preoccupied with her life as Ms Marvel, has trouble reciprocating those feelings. Not to mention the cultural and religious boundaries that would have to be overcome.

Alongside her close friendships with Nakia and Bruno, Kamala also has an interest in video games, fan fiction and, of course, superheroes. She was a devoted fan of the Avengers. Little did she know she would one day become one. In particular, Kamala looked up to her idol Carol Danvers a.k.a Captain Marvel. I say these in the past tense because future events would test Kamala’s belief in the heroes she looked up to.

In school, Kamala has trouble fitting in due to her Pakistani-American identity. Something all too familiar for those born into immigrant families. Her peers often mock her faith and geeky interests putting her more towards the bottom of the social hierarchy allowing her to fly under the radar. All in all, Kamala is your average teenager. At least, she was, until the Terrigen Mist.

First off, a brief lesson in the lore of the Marvel Universe:

The Kree are an ancient alien race of advanced, militaristic, and blue-skinned humanoids. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the Kree experimented on early humans resulting in the creation of the Inhomo Supremis more commonly referred to as the Inhuman species. Unlike their human cousins, Inhumans naturally exhibit extraordinary powers. However, these powers can vary significantly. Relations between humans and Inhumans were indifferent at best. Still, some interbreeding occurred, meaning some humans are carriers of Inhuman genes. To activate one’s latent Inhuman genes, they must undergo Terrigenesis. Such is the case with Kamala.

One night, Kamala was caught in the Terrigen Mist which enveloped Jersey City following the Inhumanity crossover storyline. She subsequently underwent Terrigenesis which unlocked her latent Inhuman genes, giving her superpowers. Kamala can share her mass through time with different versions of herself. On a molecular level, she actually transports her atoms through time. This allows her to transform her body (think Ant-Man, Mr Fantastic and Mystique) in any way she can imagine. Kamala can also heal serious injuries (think Deadpool and Wolverine) by reverting to her original form. She usually uses her power to elongate her limbs, enlarge her fists, or enlarge/shrink her entire body.

Now Kamala Khan uses her powers for the greater good, donning the name Ms Marvel in homage to her idol. She has served in several superhero teams including the Avengers and her very own Champions whom she leads. When she is not saving the world, you can find Kamala attending Coles Academic High School, hanging out with her friends and family, or playing World of Battlecraft (the Marvel Universe’s equivalent of World of Warcraft).

A “Brief” History of Comic Books

To really understand why Kamala Khan is such a big deal, one needs a brief history lesson. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, whenever I say “brief”, I do in fact mean anything but “brief”.

The history of comic books can be divided into four ages: The Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Modern Age.

THE GOLDEN AGE (1938 – 1956)

The Golden Age of comics began with the publication of Detective Comics’ (which would go on to become DC Comics) Action Comics #1. It was the debut of the superhero that started it all: Superman. The popularity of Superman gave rise to many rival publications. Timely Comics (which would one day evolve into Marvel Comics) was established in 1939. The first comic book published by Timely Comics was Marvel Comics #1. It included three stories, all of which were first appearances: The Human Torch, Angel and Namor the Sub-Mariner.

During WWII, comics boomed in popularity, particularly the likes of Captain America, Batman, Wonder Woman and Shazam. It was also during this time that comics began to branch out into other genres. By the end of the war, comics had essentially become a mainstay in American culture. However, during the late 40s, the popularity of superheroes began to decline. Many superhero comics would be cancelled as audiences sought out other genres such as westerns, comedies, romance, and horror.

In 1954, the comic book industry would experience its first major setback. Following the release of  Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, comic book publishers were brought in to testify in court. The belief was that comic books were contributing to youth crime. As a result, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) was introduced to enact self-censorship leading to the cancellation of titles and a decrease in comic book sales.

THE SILVER AGE (1956 – 1970)

In light of the changes brought about by the CCA, publishers began reintroducing superhero comics starting with the introduction of DC’s Flash in Showcase #4 in October 1956.  This eventually led to the creation of the Justice League in 1960. Marvel would then capitalise on the renewed interest in the superhero genre brought about by DC publications.

Under the guidance of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, Marvel began its ascent. To compete with DC’s Justice League, Marvel released The Fantastic Four #1 in 1961. For the first time, superheroes were portrayed as multi-dimensional characters with their own problems, inner demons, and fears rather than the archetypal superheroes typical of the time. Marvel ushered in a new era of superheroes that were more relatable to the reader. Fans began to see themselves in their favourite characters. During this time, Marvel also introduced famous superheroes such as Spider-Man, the X-men, and the Hulk.

The Silver Age represented a revival in the comic book industry during which superhero comics rose to prominence as a genre again. Meanwhile, other genres went into decline.

THE BRONZE AGE (1970 – 1985)

By the time the Bronze Age came about, superheroes had become synonymous with comics. Nearly all comics featured superheroes. However, the tone of superhero comics began to significantly shift to reflect real-world social issues. New plotlines tackling subject matter such as drug abuse, racism, grief, and alcoholism began to flourish, pushing the boundaries of what the CCA deemed acceptable.

There was also a rise in female superheroes such as Spider-Woman, Ms Marvel (Carol Danvers), and She-Hulk and minority superheroes such as Luke Cage, Storm, and Shang-Chi. While the industry was primarily dominated by superhero titles, a few non-superhero titles were able to survive such as Star Wars comics which were first introduced in 1977.

The Bronze Age established many conventions in the comic book industry. Artists tended to focus more on realism rather than the heavily stylised work during the Golden and Silver Ages. Team-ups and cross-overs became more common, establishing the Marvel Universe and DC Universe, respectively. There were even a few DC and Marvel cross-overs such as Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man. Furthermore, Comic books were no longer distributed at newsstands but at speciality stores. Thereby allowing smaller publishers to grow.


This brings us to the current era. Many characters would be redesigned, and independent comics would flourish thanks to speciality stores. At the same time, the larger publishers such as Marvel and DC would become more commercialised. This period also saw antiheroes (protagonists with questionable morals) become the norm with the likes of Marvel’s Wolverine, Deadpool, and Venom and DC’s Batman, Swamp Thing, and Watchmen. Comic books also began targeting adult audiences with more mature-rated content.

Successful comic book film and TV adaptations helped significantly grow the comic book industry. Marvel would see particular success with its animated X-Men series. Things were going right for the comic book industry, and business was booming. At least until the speculator market crash of 1993.

By the late 80s, important comics such as first issues or first appearances were being sold for thousands of dollars. The prevailing thought was that comic books were good financial investments that would be worth fortunes in the future. In response, publishers began releasing loads of special edition comics in the hope of increasing sales. One fascinating trend was the introduction of foil covers.

However, by saturating the market with print runs of special editions, it defeated the very purpose of a special edition; how can something be special if it’s commonplace? As a result, the speculator market began to crash in 1993, causing sales to plummet, retailers to close and publishers to downsize by decreasing the number of series they ran. Comics featuring women and minority characters suffered the most as companies began to take fewer risks. In 1996, Marvel declared bankruptcy however it has since rebounded and retained its position as the largest comic book publisher.

During the late 90s and early 2000s, comic book sales began to drop. However, sales for graphic novels (collected editions with multiple issues bound together) increased. Think of a comic book issue as a chapter and a graphic novel as the entire book. This new publishing format helped comics gain respectability as a form of literature. Graphic novels are usually given volume numbers with writers creating stories that last four to twelve issues. Nowadays, most comic book series are republished as graphic novels as soon as a story arc is completed.

The late 2000s saw another bounce back for the comic book industry. The release of the Dark Knight Trilogy and Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) helped introduce a new generation to comic book superheroes bringing in new fans such as myself. Digital comics were introduced in 2007 with Marvel Unlimited. Since then, all major publishers release their comics digitally helping them reach a wider audience. The new digital space has also allowed independent creators to get their ideas out there as well.

By the early 2010s, superheroes were well and truly part of a global cultural phenomenon. More people than ever before had heard the names Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Superman, Batman, etc. In no small part due to the success of the MCU and other superhero films. That being said, the majority of marketed superheroes were white men.

It is worth noting that when it comes to identity and gender politics, comic books have been relatively progressive compared to other forms of media. In particular, Marvel has done an excellent job of reflecting the world around us. However, the rule has always been that white male characters tend to sell the best. As a result, comic book publishers would focus on narratives that featured this demographic. There were, of course, as with anything, a few exceptions. But even then, Black Panther has never quite had the same reach as Captain America at least until the release of his solo film.

By 2014, Marvel had been focusing on its core characters: The Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk etc. They had also recently begun promoting the Inhumans. While some minority characters such as Miles Morales had loyal followings, they never had the same level of importance as Tony Stark or Peter Parker.

Enter Kamala Khan.

The Birth of a Trailblazer

Sana Amanat, an Indian-Pakistani-American, born and raised in New Jersey with a degree in political science from Columbia University, joined Marvel Comics as an editor in 2009. During her time at Marvel, Amanat worked on several comic books including Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, Daredevil, and Spider-Man. One day, Amanat was talking with one of her fellow editors, Stephen Wacker, about her childhood and her experience growing up as a Muslim-American. The conversation sparked the idea to create a comic book that authentically depicted the Muslim-American diaspora.

They then approached writer G. Willow Wilson, an American revert, also born and raised in New Jersey known for her recent novel Alif the Unseen. She loved the idea and couldn’t wait to work on the project, although she was worried about the potential backlash. Comic book artist and Runaways co-creator Adrian Alphona was brought in to draw Kamala and bring her to life on the page.

When it came to designing the future Ms Marvel, a lot went into consideration. Both Wilson and Amanat wanted to pay homage to the previous Ms Marvel while also creating something new that Marvel fans could be proud of. They also wanted to create something that spoke to a broader audience that is rarely represented in comic books.

Before Ms Marvel, there had only been a few Muslim superheroes in comics such as DC’s Simon Baz and Marvel’s Dust. Even then, no Muslim superhero has ever headlined their own comic series instead only appearing as side characters. Similarly, there was only a handful of female superheroes headlining comics at the time. Amanat and Wilson wanted to change that.

Marvel knew they wanted a teenage Muslim girl to take on the mantle of Ms Marvel. Still, the character’s ethnicity, location and appearance were left to Wilson to decide. After going through many iterations, including the idea of Arab girl from Dearborn, Michigan, Wilson eventually settled on a Pakistani-American from Jersey City. And just like that Kamala Khan was born.

Revolutionising the Comic Book Industry

There were a lot of doubts over whether Ms Marvel would be successful. In an open letter to fans, Wilson admitted that Amanat and her had only expected Kamala to make it to ten issues before being scrapped. New characters tended to have poor debuts; add any modifiers, and they would do even worse. Kamala was at a particular disadvantage: she’s brown, she’s a woman, and she’s a Muslim.

Ms Marvel #1 landed on store shelves on the 5th February 2014. To everyone’s surprise, she was a huge success. The first issue would far exceed expectations by making it to a seventh printing. To put that into perspective, most comics rarely make it to a sixth printing. The Amazing Spider-Man #583, which made international headlines for featuring President Obama in 2009, only made it to a fifth printing. For a new character to do this on their debut was practically unheard of. For a brown, Muslim female, it should have been impossible.

The success would not stop there, though. Ms Marvel graphic novels would also perform very well. Ms Marvel Volume 1: No Normal was the best-selling graphic novel in October 2014 and made it to the number two position on the New York Times Best Seller (NYTBS) list in November. The following year, No Normal won the Hugo award for Best Graphic Story and the Joe Shuster Award for Outstanding Artist as well as nominations for eight other awards.

Over the next few years, Ms Marvel graphic novels would continue to debut in the NYTBS list top five and win multiple awards including the award for Best Series at France’s Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2016 (interesting considering France’s recent attitude towards Muslims).

The unexpected success of Ms Marvel must have definitely come as a shock to comic book publishers. However, it did mean one thing: comic book fans were hungry for new characters from different backgrounds. Ms Marvel began a chain reaction that would pave the way for unprecedented levels of diversity and representation in comic books.

For Marvel, the success of Kamala’s debut proved that new characters from unusual backgrounds could be very lucrative. Marvel would go on to pour new focus into such characters. Korean American Amadeus Cho would take on the mantle of the Hulk in 2015. America Chavez, Marvel’s first Latin-American LGBTQ character, got her own solo series in 2017. Similarly, Marvel would also introduce new characters such as Cindy Moon a.k.a Silk in late 2014 and Riri Williams a.k.a Lionheart in 2015.

However, none would quite reach the same levels of success as Ms Marvel. In fact, in some cases, they were flops: America Chavez’s solo series would only last 12 issues. Thereby highlighting the flaws of cashing in on diversity for the sake of diversity. That being said, the Marvel universe and comics, in general, are more diverse than they have ever been before. This wouldn’t have been possible without the commercial success of Ms Marvel.

As of 2018, Ms Marvel has sold over half a million in graphic novels. Traditionally, she remains one of Marvel’s digital bestsellers.

Pop Culture Icon

Immediately following Kamala’s debut, she became a comic book icon. Fans were cosplaying as her at comic conventions making it pretty clear that Kamala was already a fan favourite. People were beginning to liken her to Gen Z’s equivalent of Peter Parker. It wouldn’t be long before, Kamala started having an impact on the real world.

In early 2015, the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI) purchased 50 bus advertisements in San Francisco. The adverts called for aid to be revoked from Muslim majority countries and equated Islam with Nazism. In response, street artists began covering the adverts with pictures of Ms Marvel and anti-racist slogans.

This isn’t the first-time superheroes have been used in politics – Captain America is literally a walking American flag – but it does illustrate Kamala’s growing popularity as a symbol of resistance. Kamala’s likeness would once again be harnessed in the wake of President Trump’s Muslim ban.

On the 16th March 2016, Amanat was invited to introduce President Obama at a White House reception for Women’s History Month:

Kamala would make her first TV appearance on the 31st July 2016 in Season 3 Episode 1 of the animated Avengers: Assemble series. She would go on to make multiple appearances in Marvel animated series including a central role in Marvel Rising – a new media franchise launched in 2018 that focuses on Marvel’s new generation of heroes.

In September of this year, Kamala made her first proper video game appearance in Marvel’s Avengers as one of the main characters. She had appeared in other video games but mostly as an unlockable side character not central to the plot.

Next year, Kamala is set to make her MCU debut in her own exclusive Disney+ series. She is going to be played by industry newcomer Iman Vellani. The series is being written by British comedian Bisha K. Ali and is set to have four directors: Belgium-Moroccan duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Pakistani-Canadian Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Indian-American Meera Menon. It remains to be seen what role she will play in the MCU, but if her current status in comic books is any indicator, I’m sure it will be big.

In just six years, Kamala Khan has gone from having her own comic book series to her own place in the MCU. Quite an achievement for a character that was only expected to make it to ten issues.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Rowlatt Act, and Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms – 1919

Jallianwala: Repression and Retribution. Painted by twins Rabindra and Amrit Singh.

On Sunday 13th April 1919, on the traditional Sikh festival of Baisakhi, thousands of Indians gathered in Jallianwala Bagh – a seven-acre garden surrounded by walls roughly ten feet high with five narrow entrances located a stone’s throw away from the Golden Temple (the holiest site in Sikhism). Following recent political upheaval, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer[1] imposed an 8 p.m. curfew to prevent any potential protests.

Regardless, by mid-afternoon, the bagh was beginning to fill up in the thousands with protestors as well as casual visitors. Most of the people were pilgrims passing through the bagh on their way home from the Golden Temple. In addition, many farmers, traders, and merchants had also been attending the annual Baisakhi horse and cattle fair.

By late-evening, Dyer arrived at Jallianwala Bagh with a group of ninety British Indian soldiers and two armoured cars fitted with machine guns. The troops started by blocking the narrow exits. Then, without warning the civilians to disperse, Dyer ordered his troops to fire into the crowd. The troops didn’t cease-fire until their ammunition was exhausted.

A total of 1,650 rounds were fired, killing approximately 1,000 men, women, and children, and injuring more than 1,500 others in the ensuing chaos. Those that survived the initial onslaught of bullets would be crushed by others frantically trying to escape. Many would try their luck by jumping into the solitary well located in the centre of the bagh. The youngest victim was a six-week-old baby; the oldest was in his eighties.

The event would come to be known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre or Amritsar Massacre. It came amid large scale political unrest following the passing of the controversial Rowlatt Act on the 18th March 1919. The Rowlatt Act, officially known as the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act 1919, was an indefinite extension of the emergency measures first introduced in the Defence of India Act 1915.

In short, the Act allowed for the censorship of the press, arrests without warrant, indefinite detention without trial, and juryless trials for anyone engaged in acts of revolutionary nationalism. The Rowlatt Act was subsequently invoked to imprison members of the INC and other political leaders. The aim was to curb the growing nationalist sentiment amongst the masses; the effect was the contrary.

Immediately following the introduction of the Rowlatt Act, protests erupted across India, especially in Punjab. By the end of the first week of April, rioting had reached its peak with the disruption of rail, telegraph, and communication systems. It is said that “practically the whole of Lahore was on the streets, the immense crowd that passed through Anarkali was estimated to be around 20,000”[2]. Events over the next few days would also contribute to the heightened tension between British and Indian that led to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

On the 10th April, several protesters were shot and killed outside the residence of Miles Irving, the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. In retaliation, rioters carried out arson attacks on British banks, killed several British people and assaulted two British women.

On the 11th April, Marcella Sherwood was violently attacked by a mob on a narrow street called Kucha Kurrichhan but managed to escape thanks to some local Indians. When Dyer met with Sherwood after the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre on the 19th April, he issued an order requiring every Indian man using Kucha Kurrichhan to crawl its length on his hands and knees as a punishment. He also authorised the indiscriminate, public whipping of locals that came within lathi length of a British policeman. Dyer would later state:

“Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu god and therefore they have to crawl in front of her, too”[3].

On the 12th April, Indian leaders announced that a protest would take place at Jallianwala Bagh the next day, demanding an end to the Rowlatt Act and the release of Congress members Satyapal and Kitchlew. This announcement was believed to have prompted Dyer’s decision to implement an 8 p.m. curfew the following day.

Following the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, many Indian moderates would abandon their previous loyalties to the British becoming nationalists in strong opposition to British rule. The event would also see the radicalisation of Indian freedom fighters such as Udham Singh[4] and Bhagat Singh[5].

Famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore renounced his British knighthood writing in a letter to Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy of India at the time:

“The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilised governments […] The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and I wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings”[6].

The massacre caused a tremendous increase in anti-British sentiments across the Subcontinent. However, to fully understand the impact of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the Rowlatt Act on the Indian Independence Movement as a whole, one requires a brief history of India during World War One.

After the British Empire joined the war on the 4th August 1914, there was division amongst Indians over what India’s response to being dragged into a global conflict should be. Indian revolutionaries were in strong opposition to the war, whereas moderates and liberals backed it in the hopes that their loyalty would be rewarded with more autonomy. Indian Muslims were particularly ambivalent towards the war, considering that the British were fighting against the Ottoman Empire, whose Sultan was considered the Caliph of Islam.

Despite this, both the AIML and INC were supportive of the war effort. The following quote from Gandhi during his WWI recruitment drive illustrates the rationale behind the decision to support the British government during the war:

“If we could but crowd the battlefield of France with an indomitable army of home rulers fighting for the victory of the cause of the Allies, it will also be a fight for our own cause. We should then have made out an unanswerable case for the granting of Home Rule not in any distant or near future but immediately”[7].

The Indian political leadership believed that if they could prove India’s loyalty to the Crown, then Indians would inevitably be given self-governing dominion status within the British Empire. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa had become dominions in 1867, 1901, 1907, and 1910 respectively. If other colonies could do it, why not India?

Despite his own gripes with the British, Jinnah was of the same mind. In response to Muslim dissatisfaction with the war, he would implore his co-religionists to remain loyal to the British government:

“Whatever our grievance, whatever reforms we desire. Everything must wait for a more seasonable occasion. Even if the government were to concede to us all that we ever desired or dreamt we would humbly tell the government this is no time for it and we must for the present decline such concessions with thanks. Concessions are asked for and accepted in peace. We are no Russian Poles. We need no bribes”[8].

So, what did India get in return for her loyalty? Draconian Laws.

During the first year of the war, the British introduced the Defence of India Act 1915. The law’s objective was to prevent Indians from engaging in activities that would hinder the war effort. The Act was mainly aimed against members of the Ghadar Party, a group of Indian ex-pats seeking to overthrow British rule, and the Bengali Anushilan Samiti. In practice, the law could be used against anyone the British considered a nuisance because it bypassed the right to a trial by jury.

During the war, 1,470 Indians were imprisoned under the Act, with another 310 facing minor restrictions[9]. The Defence of India Act 1915 was only to remain valid for the duration of the war and six months thereafter. Therefore, on the whole, it was merely accepted as a reality of war with very little resistance.

However, when it was extended indefinitely under the Rowlatt Act in 1919, it is no wonder that Indians were so outraged. Jinnah subsequently resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council, stating that “a government that passes or sanctions such a law in times of peace forfeits its claim to be called a civilised government”[10].

The Rowlatt Act would also push Gandhi to launch his famous Non-cooperation Movement on the 5th September the following year. It would take another three years of agitation before the British repealed it in March 1922.

As the war progressed, it became clear that the geopolitical shifts brought about by the clash of empires would mean that things would never be the same again. To capitalise on this, India’s political leadership went about securing what little ground they could, resulting in an impressive period of Hindu-Muslim unity for the remaining duration of the war. This was primarily due to the efforts of Jinnah, who established the Lucknow Pact in 1916.

In the latter half of the war, leaders from across the political spectrum formed an alliance kickstarting the Indian Home Rule Movement. Bal Gangadhar Tilak[11], leader of the Congress’ estranged extremist faction, founded the first Home Rule League in Belgaum, which would operate in Maharashtra (except Bombay), Karnataka, Berar, and the Central Provinces. Annie Besant[12], an Irish socialist, founded the second in Madras which would operate throughout the rest of India.

Both leagues worked closely together to campaign for dominion status to be given to India. The Home Rule Leagues consisted of India’s educated upper class with members from both the AIML and INC (both Moderate and Extremist factions), including Jinnah. The leagues organised demonstrations which caused quite a stir leading to Besant’s arrest in June 1917, resulting in nation-wide protests. Besant’s subsequent release in September was shortly followed by a major announcement.

The August Declaration took place on the 20th August 1917 at British parliament and was carried out by Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India:

“The policy of His Majesty’s government […] is that of the increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire”[13].

The declaration was an implicit acceptance, by the British, of the right to Indian self-rule and promised future reforms. Demands for greater autonomy would no longer be considered seditious, opening the door for future negotiations between the British and Indian leadership. Things were looking up for the oppressed people of India.

By the end of the war, a total of 1.3 million Indians would volunteer their service on behalf of the British Empire, and over 74,000 would lose their lives[14]. Many Indian men would go abroad to fight and carry out extreme feats of bravery, such as Khudadad Khan[15], the first Indian to receive the Victoria Cross. The Indian Maharajas and Nawabs also supplied ammunition, men and even their own service, like in the case of 74-year-old Pratap Singh[16].

Following the tragic events of the 13th April 1919, the much-awaited Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms would be put into effect on the 23rd December as the basis of the Government of India Act 1919[17]. Under the new legislation, the following was introduced amongst others:

  1. Diarchy at the provincial level. This meant that the executive branches of the provincial governments would consist of two groups:  The councillors (those appointed by the Viceroy) and the ministers (elected Indians). The councillors would oversee the courts, the police, land revenue, and irrigation. Meanwhile, the ministers would manage education, public health, public works, and agriculture.
  2. The Imperial Legislative Council was now to consist of two houses. The lower house was the Central Legislative Assembly with 145 members, of which 29 had to be Muslim, serving three-year terms. The upper house was the Council of State with 60 members, of which 10 had to be Muslim, serving five-year terms.
  3. Separate electorates for Sikhs, Europeans, and Anglo-Indians.
  4. The budget would be divided into two categories, votable (1/3 of expenditure) and non-votable (2/3 of expenditure).
  5. Those who had property, taxable income, and land revenue of Rs. 3,000 would be entitled to vote.
  6. A statutory commission would be set up in 10 years to assess the new system of government. This would come to be known as the Simon Commission, which I will cover in a later post.

King-Emperor George V summaries the evolution of parliamentary legislation for India up until this point, here:

“The Acts of 1773 and 1784 were designed to establish a regular system of administration and justice under the Honourable East India Company. The Act of 1833 opened the door for Indians to public office and employment. The Act of 1858 transferred the administration from the Company to the Crown and laid the foundations of public life which exist in India today. The Act of 1861 sowed the seed of representative institutions, and the seed was quickened into life by the Act of 1909. The Act which has now become law entrusts the elected representative of the people with a definite share in the government and points the way to full responsible Government hereafter”[18].

While it may seem as though the Government of India Act 1919 was a major victory for the Indian independence movement, it is worth analysing how it fits into the overall British strategy.

The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms were portrayed as being the first step towards Indian self-rule. However, critics, including myself, would argue that it is was instead a ploy by the British to concentrate power in the centre. The implementation of diarchy simply relegated Indians to the less important areas of government. The real power was still with the British.

Furthermore, seats were distributed based on a province’s perceived importance rather than its population, with franchise only being extended to the Indian gentry. Thereby creating an electorate with pro-British inclinations. By granting concessions to the provinces, Britain wasn’t preparing India for self-government but instead sowing the seeds for federalism which would pose a huge obstacle to achieving Jinnah’s dream.

Following the August Declaration, the Home Rule Movement went into decline. Besant’s hunger for self-rule was sated with the promise of future reforms, and Tilak was off in England pursuing a libel case. With a lack of effective leadership and a now seemingly redundant raison d’etre, many of the movement’s members would go on to join Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement – which I will be covering in the next post. Thus, putting an end to the golden age of Hindu-Muslim unity. From this point on, relations would begin to sour. The Home Rule League formally merged with the INC, under Gandhi’s leadership, the following year.

All in all, 1919 represented a watershed moment in the Indian Independence Movement. It laid out new rules for India’s political leadership to play by and awakened her slumbering masses. In a world ravaged by war, India’s future hung in the balance.

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Collett, N., 2005. The Butcher Of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer. Hambledon Continuum.

[2] Swami, P., 1997. Jallianwala Bagh Revisited. The Hindu.

[3] Talbott, S., 2004. Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, And The Bomb. Brookings Institution Press.

[4] Anand, A., 2019. The Patient Assassin: A True Tale Of Massacre, Revenge And The Raj. Simon & Schuster LTD.

[5] Singh, B., 2007. The Jail Notebook And Other Writings. LeftWord Books.

[6] Tagore, R., 1997. Selected Letters Of Rabindranath Tagore. Cambridge University Press.

[7] Begum, I., 2019. The Muslims of India and the First World War 1914-1918. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Research, Vol. 5.

[8] Qureshi, I., 1967. A Short History Of Pakistan. University of Karachi Press.

[9] n.d. Persons Interned – Hansard. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 November 2020].

[10] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[11] Bhagwat, A. and Pradhan, G., 2008. Lokmanya Tilak. Jaico Pub. House.

[12] Taylor, A., 1992. Annie Besant: A Biography. Oxford University Press.

[13] Danzig, R., 1968. The Announcement of August 20th, 1917. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 28.

[14] Tharoor, S., 2015. Why the Indian soldiers of WW1 were forgotten. BBC News, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[15] National Army Museum, London. 2020. Khudadad Khan | National Army Museum, London. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[16] Morton-Jack, G., 2018. World War One: Six extraordinary Indian stories. BBC News, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 November 2020].

[17] n.d. Government of India Act, 1919. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[18] Ilbert, C., 1922. The Government Of India. The Clarendon Press.

Indo-Africans: The Siddi People of South Asia and The Story of Malik Ambar

Group of Siddi men playing music and dancing during a celebration in Hyderabad, Pakistan.

Throughout history, if there is one thing that unites people of different cultures, it is trade. In the case of Africa and South Asia, this is no different. Trade relations date back to as early as the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilisation (3300-1300 BCE) as Pearl Millet, a crop originally domesticated in West Africa, and the burial site of an African woman was found at the Indus settlement of Chanhu-Daro[1]. Trade relations would continue for centuries to come. According to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a manuscript detailing ancient trade routes written in the first century, both South Asia and East Africa were connected via the lucrative Indian Ocean trade routes[2]. Merchants from the Kingdom of Aksum, a trading empire located in modern-day Eritrea and Northern Ethiopia, would trade gold and soft-carved ivory in exchange for cotton and other goods from South Asia. By Medieval times, Indo-African trade had grown to even greater levels, and the African presence in South Asia began to take on a more political role.

With the rise of Islam strengthening connections between different cultures in Africa and Asia, more and more Africans would begin to settle in the Indian Subcontinent permanently. The first African settlers came from a range of different backgrounds including merchants, sailors, indentured servants, slaves, and mercenaries but mostly descended from the Bantu people of East Africa[3]. These African settlers and their descendants would come to be known as the “Siddi”/“Sheedi”, believed to be derived from the Arabic “Sahibi” and Urdu/Hindi “Sahib”, meaning master[4]. The Siddi would go on to establish various communities and, in some cases, rule over native Indians. Siddis ruled the State of Janjira (1489-1948) located on the Konkan Coast and, in 1759, Jafarabad State (1650-1948) located on the Kathiawar Peninsula, 320 km northwest of Janjira, became its dependency[5]. Some Siddis would also rise to positions of power within the various royal courts of India. For example, Jamal-ud-Din Yaqut, a prominent slave-turned-nobleman was a close confidant of the infamous Razia Sultana of the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1555)[6]. Similarly, many Siddi served as warriors and generals in South Asian armies such as General Hoshu Sheedi who died fighting the British in 1843[7]. However, there was one Siddi, in particular, that would go on to distinguish themselves as a mighty military general and ruler: the legendary Malik Ambar[8][9].

Malik Ambar (1548-1626)

Malik Ambar was born in 1548 with the birthname of “Chapu” and belonged to the Maya people of central Ethiopia. He spent his early childhood living a peaceful pastoral life until, at the age of 12, Chapu would become one of the thousands of people from non-Abrahamic communities that were enslaved by the Solomonic Christians and Adal Muslims. The young Chapu was captured by Arab traders and taken to a slave market on the coast of Yemen. Chapu would eventually end up being sold to a merchant by the name of Mir Qasim who took him to Baghdad, the cultural centre of the Muslim world. Qasim converted Chapu to Islam, giving him the name “Ambar”, and taught him to read, write and manage finances. Ambar would remain in Baghdad for a decade before accompanying Qasim to the Deccan Plateau in 1571 where he would be sold once again to the chief minister of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate (1490-1636), a Siddi, by the name of Chengiz Khan (no, not that Chengiz, a different one).

Political map of South Indian states (1400-1650)

The Deccan at the time was divided into five sultanates which comprised of Muslim elites ruling over a Marathi Hindu majority as well as many Indo-Turks, Persians, and European merchants. The Deccan was a land plagued by war and intrigue as rulers would have to always watch over their shoulders lest their own soldiers slay them. Violent coups were the norm, and it was rare for a ruler to hold power for more than a few decades. To make things worse, the rising Mughal Empire (1526-1857), to the north, was slowly becoming the most dominant force in India and had its sights set on the Deccan.

Ambar would serve as a warrior-slave but soon distinguished himself becoming Chengiz Khan’s personal aide. However, much in the nature of Deccani politics, Khan would be framed by his fellow courtiers, who were jealous of his power, for conspiracy against the state and was subsequently executed. Following his master’s death, Ambar legally became a free man and decided to travel south to the neighbouring Bijapur Sultanate (1489-1686). There he got married to a fellow Siddi, by the name of Karima, and enlisted in the Sultan’s army.

The Bijapur Sultanate was ruled by Sultan Ali Adil Shah I until he died in 1579. Following his death, his nine-year-old nephew, Ibrahim Adil Shah II, became his successor. After several bloody battles, his wife Chand Bibi, by turning various generals against each other, came out on top as regent to the young Sultan. As regent, Chand Bibi introduced the idea of fidelity to the salt, which espoused loyalty to the land rather than any single ruler or dynasty. During this time, Ambar slowly climbed the ranks of the Bijapur army gaining a following of veteran cavalrymen due to his bravery in battle, earning the respect of Chand Bibi and the symbolic title of “Malik”, before returning to Ahmadnagar. Chand Bibi would follow suit, and at the end of her regency, she too returned to Ahmadnagar, the kingdom of her birth.

In 1595, the Mughal Empire decided to turn its full attention to the Deccan following the death of the Sultan Burhan Nizam Shah II of Ahmadnagar in a border war with Bijapur. Chand Bibi laid claim to the Ahmadnagar throne which led its chief minister to seek the Mughals for protection. The Mughal Emperor Akbar sent his son Murad Mirza, with a mighty imperial army, to secure the Sultanate. Realising his mistake, the chief minister fled, and Chand Bibi became the leader of the resistance. Donning full armour, she led her men in defence of Ahmadnagar Fort, and after a long unsuccessful siege, the much more powerful Mughals opted to make peace in exchange for the cessation of the Berar province to the east. Chand Bibi accepted, becoming regent of Ahmadnagar, and entering an uneasy truce with the Mughal Empire. However, in 1599, in typical Deccani fashion, Chand Bibi was slain by her own soldiers on false accusations she was going to sell out Ahmadnagar to the Mughals. Without Chand Bibi to defend it, the Mughal Empire subsequently invaded the Sultanate and imprisoned its young Sultan.

Without a ruler to lead them, Malik Ambar took it upon himself to oust the Mughals from Ahmadnagar. Siddis, Indo-Turks, Persians and Marathi Hindus all rallied behind the great commander as he carried out cross-border raids against the Mughals. By 1600, his forces grew from around 150 cavalrymen to 7,000; insignificant compared to the manpower the Mughals were capable of mustering. Out-gunned, out-manned, out-numbered and out-planned (a little reference for all you Hamilton fans out there), Ambar realised he couldn’t take the Mughals head-on and began to pioneer guerrilla war tactics in the Deccan. One such tactic was to use light Marathi Hindu cavalry, famous for their lightning-fast assaults, to attack Mughal supply lines. The Mughal’s heavy cannons and war elephants were unable to keep up with the continued harassment from Ambar’s forces. The Mughals were eventually forced to retreat from Ahmednagar city. With the Mughals out of the picture, for the time being, Ambar went about rebuilding Ahmadnagar’s government.

Deccani politicians were unlikely to accept a Siddi as their ruler, and so Ambar went about finding a puppet he could proclaim as Sultan. The Mughals imprisoned almost all the royal family with claims to the throne except for a young prince by the name of Ali who was currently staying with Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur. In 1600, Ali was crowned Sultan Murtaza Nizam Shah II of Ahmadnagar. To cement his power, Ambar gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to the new Sultan. Malik Ambar was subsequently appointed Prime Minister of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate making him the de facto ruler.

In 1603, Malik Ambar put down a rebellion launched by three of his officers all whilst feigning a treaty with the Mughals to prevent them from taking advantage of the situation. A testament to Ambar’s skill in balancing the pressures of external and internal threats to his power. In 1605, following the death of Akbar, his successor Emperor Jahangir restarted incursions into Ahmadnagar territory but to no avail due to Ambar’s superior guerrilla war tactics. The Mughal Emperor was so enraged that he ordered a painting to be drawn of him shooting the decapitated head of Malik Ambar. This fantasy would remain just that, a fantasy.

Emperor Jahangir’s fantasy painting.

In 1610, Sultan Murtaza Nizam Shah II turned against Malik Ambar and his daughter. He was swiftly assassinated and replaced by his five-year-old son, Burhan Nizam Shah III. In the same year, Ambar founded the city of Khadki close to the Mughal border and made it his new capital. In 1612, a treaty was secured with the Mughal Empire, allowing Ambar to focus on developing his kingdom. The next decade saw Khadki become a booming economic hub: the construction of an aqueduct system to bring fresh water to the new capital, the maintenance of over 40 forts to secure the Sultanate’s borders, the flourishing of Muslim and Hindu arts, and the building of masjids and palaces to increase Ahmadnagar’s prestige.

Predictably, the fragile peace with the Mughals was eventually broken and, in 1616, Ambar experienced his first major defeat allowing the Mughals to regain a foothold in Ahmadnagar once again. By 1618, Malik Ambar’s ally to the south, Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur, believing Ambar’s time was up, began to conspire against him and collaborate with the Mughals. To force the Bijapuris onto the backfoot, Ambar began raiding the Bijapur countryside. This forced the Mughal Empire and Bijapur Sultanate to meet Ambar on his own terms. In September 1624, Ambar won a decisive victory against a joint Mughal-Bijapur army at the Battle of Bhatvadi. Thereby, humiliating the Mughals once again, foiling the attempts of his Bijapuri rival, and securing his realm’s independence.

In 1626, Malik Ambar passed away peacefully at the age of 78 and was succeeded by his son Fateh Khan, who changed Khadki’s name to Fatehnagar. Unfortunately, he lacked his father’s military genius and, within ten years, the Mughal’s managed to conquer Ahmadnagar under the leadership of Emperor Shah Jahan. In 1653, when Prince Aurangzeb was appointed leadership over the Deccan, he made Fatehnagar his capital and renamed it to Aurangabad, which it is called to this day. Prince Aurangzeb would go on to become Emperor in 1658.

Today an estimated 250,000[10] Siddis are living in Pakistan mainly concentrated in Karachi and its coastal regions. Meanwhile, in India, there are at least 25,000[11] Siddis primarily concentrated in Karnataka, Gujarat, and Hyderabad. The majority of Siddis practice Islam, although there some Hindu and Christian Siddi communities. Although Siddis have largely adopted the language and traditions of their localities, some traditional Bantu practices have been preserved. Gujarati Siddis practice the Ngoma style of dance and music. Similarly, the annual festival by the name of Sheedi Mela in Pakistan also has notable African influences. Unfortunately, Siddis still experience discrimination and prejudice from the broader South Asian community. Despite this, many Siddi have managed to rise to prominence in India and Pakistan such as Urdu poet Noon Meem Danish, singer Younis Jani as well as politicians Tanzeela Qambrani of Pakistan and Shataram Budna Siddi of India to name a few.

The Siddi people serve as a testament to the shared global history of humanity and have undoubtedly added to the diverse fabric of the Subcontinent; their contributions to South Asian culture and society should not go unnoticed.

[1] Kennedy, K. and Possehl, G., 2012. Were There Commercial Communications Between Prehistoric Harappans And African Populations?. Advances in Anthropology. [online] Research Gate. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 July 2020].

[2] Schoff, W., 1912. The Periplus Of The Erythraean Sea. Longmans, Green.

[3] Shah, A., Tamang, R., Moorjani, P., Rani, D., Govindaraj, P., Kulkarni, G., Bhattacharya, T., Mustak, M., Bhaskar, L., Reddy, A., Gadhvi, D., Gai, P., Chaubey, G., Patterson, N., Reich, D., Tyler-Smith, C., Singh, L. and Thangaraj, K., 2011. Indian Siddis: African Descendants with Indian Admixture. American Journal of Human Genetics, [online] 89(1). Available at: <> [Accessed 27 July 2020].

[4] Albinia, A., 2018. Empires Of The Indus: The Story Of A River. John Murray (Publishers).

[5] Ali, S., 1996. The African Dispersal In The Deccan. Sangam.

[6] Meri, J. and Bacharach, J., 2006. Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopaedia. Routledge.

[7] Soomro, F., 1977. Cultural History Of Sind. National Book Foundation.

[8] Ali, O., 2016. Malik Ambar: Power And Slavery Across The Indian Ocean. Oxford University Press.

[9] YouTube. 2019. Malik Ambar: African King In The Heart Of India. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 July 2020].

[10] Trip Down Memory Lane, 2012. Blacks in Pakistan (Afro-Pakistanis). Available at: <> [Accessed 29 July 2020].

[11] The Sidi Project. n.d. The Sidi Project. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 July 2020].

Lucknow Pact – 1916

Mohammed Ali Jinnah (bottom centre) and others at the time of the Lucknow Pact.

Since the AIML’s establishment in 1906, Jinnah had been mistrustful of its pro-British inclinations. The Muslim League was willing to offer their loyalty to Britain in exchange for more political representation[1]. Ultimately, this loyalty did not stop the British from reversing the Partition of Bengal. A now disillusioned AIML amended its constitution and adopted Indian self-government as its primary goal[2].

In October 1913, with no reason to continue opposing the League, Jinnah joined the organisation yet retained his membership in Congress, stressing that League membership took second priority to the “greater national cause” of an Independent India[3]. Unfortunately for Jinnah, over the next few years, Congress would endure significant blows.

The deaths of Moderate leaders Gokhale and Pherozeshah Mehta in 1915 significantly undermined the party and left Jinnah isolated. Not to mention the fracturing of the party several years before in Surat. Nevertheless, Jinnah saw that if India were to achieve freedom, both the INC and AIML would have to work together.

In 1915, Jinnah ensured that both the INC and AIML held their annual sessions in Bombay and organised a joint meeting between the two parties. At this meeting, the Congress and League pledged to work together to put pressure on the British and committees were set up to prepare a common scheme of reforms.

In 1916, the INC and AIML met again in Lucknow and officially endorsed the reforms at their respective annual sessions. The scheme came to be known as the Lucknow Pact[4] and called for the following amongst others:

  1. 4/5 of members of the Provincial Legislative Councils and Imperial Legislative Council should be elected.
  2. Separate electorates for Muslims in Provincial Legislative Councils in the following proportions:
    • Punjab (50%)
    • United Provinces (30%)
    • Bengal (40%)
    • Bihar (25%)
    • Central Provinces (15%)
    • Madras (15%)
    • Bombay (1/3)
  3. No bill/clause/resolution concerning a particular community can be passed if 3/4 of the members from said community oppose it.
  4. Number of members in the Imperial Legislative Council should be increased to 150.
  5. 1/3 of the Indian members of the Imperial Legislative Council must be Muslims.
  6. 1/2 of the Viceroy’s Executive Council must be Indians.

In short, Congress agreed to Muslim demands concerning political representation, and, in exchange, the League agreed to Congress ideas concerning government structure along the lines of Gokhale’s Political Testament[5].

The Lucknow Pact serves as a testament to Jinnah’s adeptness as a political tactician in the cause for an Independent India. By bringing the League and Congress together, Jinnah single-handedly allied both of India’s most influential political parties, creating a joint front against the British. Thereby living up to his title as “the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” and making significant strides in the cause for Indian independence.

The Lucknow Pact served to bring the AIML and INC together, but it also healed the fractured Congress party as both the Extremists and Moderates were on board with the proposed reforms[6]. All in all, the Lucknow Pact signified a turning point in the Indian Independence Movement. It turned the League and Congress from bickering rivals into a united political force to be reckoned with.

On the 31st December 1916, Jinnah gave his presidential address to the AIML during its annual session in Lucknow,[7] where he stated the following:

“In its general outlook and ideal as regards the future, the All-India Muslim League stands abreast of the Indian National Congress and is ready to participate in any patriotic efforts for the advancement of the country as a whole. […] I have been a staunch Congressman throughout my public life and have been no lover of sectarian cries, but it appears to me that the reproach of “separatism” sometimes levelled at [Muslims] is singularly inept and wide of the mark when I see this great communal organisation rapidly growing into a powerful factor for the birth of United India. A minority must, above everything else, have a complete sense of security before its broader political sense can be evoked for co-operation and united endeavour in the national tasks. To the [Muslims] of India that security can only come through adequate and effective safeguards as regards their political existence as a community.”

“The [Muslims] must learn to have self-respect; what we want is a healthy and fair impetus to be given to our aspirations and ideals as a community, and it is the most sacred duty of government to respond to that claim. Towards the Hindus, our attitude should be of good-will and brotherly feelings. Co-operation in the cause of our motherland should be our guiding principle. India’s real progress can only be achieved by a true understanding and harmonious relations between the two great sister communities. With regard to our own affairs, we can depend upon nobody but ourselves. We should infuse [a] greater spirit of solidarity into our society. […] We should not lose the sympathy of our well-wishers in India and in England by creating a wrong impression that we, as a community, are out only for self-interest and self-gain. We must show by our words and deeds that we sincerely and earnestly desire a healthy national unity.”

In summary, Jinnah is saying that the AIML is the vital “political organ” of the Muslim community and necessary for the creation of a “United India”. It is the role of the AIML to see to the internal affairs of the Muslim community while working externally with the other communities of India for the “advancement of the country as a whole”. These are hardly the words of a staunch separatist who seeks to divide India and carve out a new state for himself, as is commonly depicted.

One interesting thing about the Lucknow Pact is that it revealed a lot about Jinnah’s political character. A man who only six years before was dead against the idea of separate electorates[8] was now the architect of a common scheme of reforms in which separate electorates were a key demand.

It is here that a distinction must be made between strategy and tactics. Strategy defines your long-term goals and overarching plan to achieve said goals. Meanwhile, tactics are smaller specific steps and decisions that must be taken to complete your overall strategy.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

The Art of War
Sun Tzu

The inclusion of separate electorates in the Lucknow Pact was a political tactic. Jinnah knew that to free India, he needed the League and Congress to be on the same page. To do so, he had to compromise on his individual opinion when it came to separate electorates because he knew that it would be the only way to get the League on board. He even states so in his address:

“Whatever my individual opinion may be, I am here to interpret and express the sense of the overwhelming body of [Muslim] opinion, of which the All-India [Muslim] League is the political organ.”

Jinnah was also aware that separate electorates would have to be a necessary evil to secure his position in the Imperial Legislative Council. Jinnah’s ability to put aside his personal opinion for the overall strategy would serve him well in the years to come. However, it makes the historian’s job of dissecting and determining said opinion from the annals of history much harder.

In many ways, Jinnah acts against his personal beliefs, the inclusion of separate electorates being a clear example, with many more, albeit subtle examples, to come up in future essays. What is certain, though, is that whatever Jinnah’s strategy was, it involved Muslims and Hindus working together for a common cause.

Unfortunately for Jinnah, events in the next few years would disrupt and eventually put an end to the unity brought about by the Lucknow Pact. Nonetheless, the Lucknow Pact still served to establish fundamentals in the Independence Movement. The agreement on separate electorates made the communal issue a crucial part of Indian politics.

Furthermore, by agreeing with the League, Congress tacitly yielded to the idea that India consisted of two different communities with different interests. This pushed the less relevant AIML into the forefront of Indian politics, alongside the INC, as the political body representing Muslim India. This made it a necessity to have the League involved in any future decisions concerning Indian independence.

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Pirzada, S., 1969. Foundations Of Pakistan. All-India Muslim League Documents: 1906-1947. National Publishing House.

[2] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Muslim League | Indian Muslim Group. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[3] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[4] n.d. The Congress-League Scheme 1916 (INC & AIML). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[5] A History of India. n.d. Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s “Political Testament” (1915). [online] Available at: <,Gopal%20Krishna%20Gokhale%27s%20″Political%20Testament”%20(1915),of%20the%20Morley-Minto%20Reform.&text=He%20specifically%20referred%20to%20the,for%20the%20impending%20Indian%20reform.> [Accessed 21 July 2020].

[6] Ahmed, N., 1987. History Of The Indian National Congress, 1885-1950. Aligarh Muslim University.

[7] Jinnah, M. A., 1916. Presidential Address By Muhammad Ali Jinnah To The Muslim League Lucknow, December 1916. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[8] Jalal, A., 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League And The Demand For Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.

Partition of Bengal – 1905-1911

Map of Bengal, from 1880, prior to the 1905 partition.

On the 20th July 1905, the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, announced what would be his last and most controversial act in office: The Partition of Bengal.

The Bengal Province covered a total area of 190,000 square miles, with a population of 78.5 million[1]. As you can imagine, this proved to be an administrative nightmare. To rectify the issue, Curzon decided to divide the province into Hindu majority West Bengal and Muslim majority Eastern Bengal & Assam on the 16th October 1905 before leaving office in November. It backfired, triggering a political crisis.

Before the partition, Bengali Hindus dominated the province’s commerce, professional and rural life[2] as they were in the numerical majority. Meanwhile, Bengali Muslims were economically side-lined with little education. However, after the partition, Bengali Muslims became the majority in Eastern Bengal & Assam. Meanwhile, non-Bengali speakers became the majority in West Bengal after the inclusion of Orissa and Bihar[3].

For the Muslims of Bengal, the partition presented an opportunity for advancement without Hindu dominance. Soon to be founder of the Muslim League, Nawab Salimullah of Dhaka led Muslims in support of the partition[4]. For the Bengali Hindus, the partition was a fracturing of their motherland and diminished their authority. In the lead up to the partition, Congress arranged protests and collected petitions against the partition. These proved infective against a government that heeded little attention to the sentiments of its subjects.

Sir Surendranath Banerjee, a founder of the INC at the forefront of the protests, began advocating for Swadeshi (a boycott of British goods). The INC Moderates led the protests; however, minor rebel groups began to sprout under its cause[5]. The efforts ultimately proved futile, and the British went ahead with the partition anyway.

In response, the protests grew more violent, awakening a radical nationalism amongst Bengalis. Congress Moderates grew anxious and stopped supporting the boycott because the newly appointed and sympathetic Morley presented an opportunity to reverse the partition[6]. In what became a blend of religious and political feelings, agitated young Bengali Hindus began adopting the use of car bombs, shootings, and assassinations to see their demands for the partition’s reversal realised[7]. Although some prominent Muslim speakers were present at the protests, most Bengali Muslims were indifferent to the movement[8]. Soon, invigorated nationalists all over India began holding protests against the British in Bombay, Poorna, and Punjab, among others[9].

The radical nature of Indian nationalism made it difficult for the INC to gain support for future constitutional reforms and highlighted internal strife within the party. The Extremists faction became increasingly dissatisfied with the Moderates handling of the situation. The Moderates wanted to gain independence via constitutional means and co-operation with the British; however, this proved ineffective as little ground was gained since the INC’s founding in 1885. On the other hand, the Extremists believed the best way to achieve independence was through protest, boycott, and agitation.

The 1907 annual Congress meeting was originally due to be held in Nagpur but fearing the Extremists would dominate the session, Gokhale changed the venue to Surat. In response, the outraged Extremists protested, leading to a physical scuffle in which furniture was flung around the room. This event came to be known as the Surat Split[10].

It was a significant blow to the INC’s reputation and left the party fractured. In the subsequent years, the Extremists were excluded from Congress. Meanwhile, the AIML was able to gain the preference of the British due to their unwavering support of the partition. This paved the way for the introduction of separate electorates in the Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909.

Nonetheless, by 1911, unable to quell the protests and fearing another potential rebellion on the scale of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the British eventually assented and annulled the partition. East and West Bengal were reunited while Assam, Bihar and Orissa were separated from the province. Bengali Hindus were able to dominate Bengali life once again. The status quo was restored.

Bengali Muslims were shocked as the Partition of Bengal was interpreted as British enthusiasm for Muslim interests. By backtracking, the UK government made it clear that it was willing to give in to the demands of Hindus at the expense of loyal Muslims[11]. For the League, failure to prevent the annulment was a massive blow to its reputation as the party that claimed to represent and defend the interests of India’s Muslims.

The Partition of Bengal is a clear example of how what is in the best interests of one community can be at odds with the best interests of another. The Bengali Hindus wanted to have a united Bengal at the expense of the Bengali Muslims. Likewise, the Bengali Muslims wanted a divided Bengal at the expense of the Bengali Hindus.

Thus, highlighting a fundamental issue throughout India that would come to define the Indian Independence Movement in its later years. That issue being that India is a land of many nations. In particular, two nations seem to be most at odds with each other: Hindus and Muslims. This idea is known as the Two-Nation Theory, which I will expand upon in future essays.

The annulment was the first sign that Britain’s iron grip was loosening on its prized possession. However, what would replace the British Raj? An independent India that saw to the interests and advancement of all its communities or one that was dominated by Hindus and reduced to majoritarianism?

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Stein, B., 2010. A History Of India. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishers.

[2] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Partition Of Bengal | Indian History. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 14 July 2020].

[3] Stein, B., 2010. A History Of India. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishers.

[4] Baxter, C., 1997. Bangladesh: From A Nation To A State. WestviewPress.

[5] Metcalf, B. and Metcalf, T., 2006. A Concise History Of Modern India. Cambridge University Press.

[6] Stein, B., 2010. A History Of India. 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishers.

[7] Kulke, H. and Rothermund, D., 1986. A History Of India. Croom Helm Australia Pty Ltd.

[8] Talbot, I., 2016. A History Of Modern South Asia: Politics, States, Diasporas. Yale University Press.

[9] Metcalf, B. and Metcalf, T., 2006. A Concise History Of Modern India. Cambridge University Press.

[10] Talwalkar, G., 2006. Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Rupa & Co.

[11] Robinson, F., 1974. Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics Of The United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860-1923. Cambridge University Press.

Minto-Morley Reforms – 1909

John Morley, Secretary of State for India (1905-1911)

Following the Liberal Party’s whopping success in the 1906 British general election, John Morley became the Secretary of State for India. In contrast to the Conservative Party’s autocratic approach to India, the Liberals were more susceptible to Indian demands for more political representation.

So far, Indians were limited to proposing candidates whom the British could consider for the Imperial Legislative Council – but even then, those candidates could only give speeches and take part in debates rather than vote on legislation – despite the best efforts of the INC[1]. Nonetheless, the new government presented an opportunity for Congress to redouble its efforts. To avoid being left out, the Muslim elite formed the AIML to guarantee Muslim representation.

For the next three years, the AIML campaigned and lobbied London to see the introduction of separate electorates and reserved seats. On the 1st October 1908, draft proposals for future reforms provided Muslims with reserved seats in all councils, resulting in limited Muslim representation in the provincial and imperial legislatures. For the AIML, this was not enough as Morley, who oversaw the reforms, still opted for a mixed electoral college. In response, the League and Muslim press began to protest what they saw as a betrayal of the Simla Deputation discussed in the previous essay.

On the 23rd February 1909, the AIML got Morley to voice his support for separate Muslim representation marking the League’s first victory. Despite this, the reforms still did not meet the League’s demands as they provided an inadequate number of Muslim seats. The League’s London branch opposed the bill, winning some support within parliament, meanwhile back in India, they organised a protest[2].

The Reforms Committee advised Lord Minto, the Viceroy, to seek a settlement with the AIML. Minto believed that the Muslims had already had enough representation. However, Morley was weary of the potential obstacles that dissatisfied Muslims could pose to British rule following the Rebellion of 1857 and Lord Mayo’s assassination in 1872[3].

On the 12th September 1909, the League once again pressed for more Muslim representation. Despite Minto’s ardent opposition, Morley was sure the bill would not pass without the League’s support and opted to sit down with their leadership. The Aga Khan, then President of the AIML, compromised for the inclusion of two additional reserved seats for Muslims in the Imperial Legislative Council. The rest of the League hesitantly agreed[4].

The Indian Councils Act of 1909 (aka the Minto-Morley Reforms) increased the number of members of the Imperial Legislative Council from 16 to 69, of which only 27 were to be elected[5]:

  • Viceroy’s Executive Council (9)
  • Nominated by the Viceroy (33)
    • Officials (28)
    • Non-officials (5):
      • Commerce (1)
      • Punjabi Muslim (1)
      • Punjabi Landowner (1)
      • Others (2)
  • Non-officials elected from provincial legislatures (27)
    • General (13):
      • Bombay (2)
      • Madras (2)
      • Bengal (2)
      • United Provinces (2)
      • Central Provinces (1)
      • Assam (1)
      • Bihar & Orissa (1)
      • Punjab (1)
      • Burma (1)
    • Landholders (6):
      • Bombay (1)
      • Madras (1)
      • Bengal (1)
      • United Provinces (1)
      • Central Provinces (1)
      • Bihar & Orissa (1)
    • Muslim (6):
      • Bengal (2)
      • Madras (1)
      • Bombay (1)
      • United Provinces (1)
      • Bihar & Orissa (1)
    • Commerce (2):
      • Bengal Chamber of Commerce (1)
      • Bombay Chamber of Commerce (1)

The Minto-Morley Reforms in and of themselves did not do much for the everyday Indian. Most of the Indians in the Imperial Legislative Council were not given official status and could not vote on legislation. However, they could discuss the budget, present resolutions, and ask questions[6]. Furthermore, it also made it a requirement to have Indian members on the council. Before, it was only a courtesy[7].

The reforms provided a platform for Indian politicians to build upon. In essence, they were getting a foot in the door for independence. For the League, in particular, it ensured a limited amount of representation in government to see to the interests of India’s Muslims. That being said, the main takeaway from the reforms was separate electorates.

In a separate electorate system, a certain number of seats in a constituency are reserved for a particular community. For example, a total of 7 seats were reserved for Muslims in the Imperial Legislative Council. The candidates that occupy those seats must belong to that community. The voters that get to vote for which candidate occupies the seat must also belong to that same community. Other communities do not get to participate in the elections that determine who occupies the reserved seat.

In short, Muslims and only Muslims got a say in who occupied Muslim seats in government. If a party wanted to win a Muslim seat, they had to put forward a Muslim candidate, and that candidate must win the support of the Muslim community in that constituency.

A separate electorate system meant that Muslim politicians could give proper representation to their Muslim constituents without fear of being ousted by a non-Muslim majority. The alternative, a joint electorate, would have meant Muslim politicians got swamped out of government. Those who did get elected would be very watered-down to avoid upsetting the majority. The reforms allowed Muslims to get into government and rock the boat without fear of being tossed overboard. However, not everyone was happy.

The Quaid-i-Azam, for one, was not pleased. Still a firm believer in Congress, Jinnah moved the resolution deploring the extension of separate electorates to local boards at the 1910 annual INC session even though he had directly benefited from them[8]. Jinnah was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council as the Muslim candidate from Bombay.

The introduction of separate electorates is often interpreted as another successful attempt by the British to divide Hindus and Muslims[9]. And while there is merit to this argument, one must still be mindful of the already existing lack of Muslim representation in government and Congress. If the INC were not willing to see to the interests of Muslim India, it would fall to the AIML to do so with separate electorates.

Today, Muslims make up 14.2% of India’s population[10] but less than 4% in the Lok Sabha, India’s 545 seat lower house of parliament[11]. Given the current situation facing India’s Muslim minority, I would argue that a lack of Muslim political representation is more detrimental to Hindu-Muslim unity than the introduction of separate electorates. Had separate electorates for Muslims not been scrapped upon independence, I am confident India’s current communal landscape would be vastly different.

For the next three decades, separate electorates would continue to play a critical role in Indian politics and the direction of the Indian Independence Movement. Despite Jinnah’s objections, he would continue to utilise the separate electorate system to his strategic political advantage.

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Kulke, H. and Rothermund, D., 1986. A History Of India. Croom Helm Australia Pty Ltd.

[2] Robinson, F., 1974. Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics Of The United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860-1923. Cambridge University Press.

[3] Robb, P., 2002. A History Of India. Palgrave Macmillan.

[4] Robinson, F., 1974. Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics Of The United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860-1923. Cambridge University Press.

[5] n.d. Indian Constitutional Documents, 1773-1915. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 July 2020].

[6] Gul, S. and Neelam, M., 2018. M.A. Jinnah in the Imperial Legislative Council of India, 1910-13 and 1916-19. Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, [online] 66(3/4). Available at: <> [Accessed 9 July 2020].

[7] Chandra, B., Mukherjee, M., Mukherjee, A., Panikkar, K. and Mahajan, S., 1988. India’s Struggle For Independence. Penguin.

[8] Jalal, A., 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League And The Demand For Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.

[9] Katju, M., 2013. The truth about Pakistan. The Nation, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

[10] Firstpost, 2015. India has 79.8% Hindus, 14.2% Muslims, says 2011 census data on religion, Firstpost, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 July 2020].

[11] Wolfe, D., Kopf, D. and Thaker, A., 2019. Why is Muslim political representation declining in India?. Quartz India, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 July 2020].

Founding of the All-India Muslim League – 1906

Built between 1859 and 1872, the Ahsan Manzil Palace is situated at Kumartoli along the banks of the Buriganga River in Dhaka, Bangladesh and served as the seat of the Nawab of Dhaka.

On the 30th December 1906, almost three thousand delegates from all over India gathered in Dhaka at the Ahsan Manzil Palace for the annual Muhammadan Educational Conference. For the first time, the conference lifted its ban on political discussion. The Nawab of Dhaka, Sir Khwaja Salimullah Bahadur, proposed establishing a political party to safeguard the interests of India’s Muslims: the All-India Muslim League (AIML). In particular, the AIML had three main goals[1]:

  1. To promote among the Muslims of India feelings of loyalty to the British government and to remove any misconceptions regarding government measures.
  2. To advance the political rights of the Muslims of India and respectfully represent their needs and aspirations to the British government.
  3. To prevent any feelings of hostility toward other communities without compromising on the objectives of the League.

At the time, Jinnah was a member of the Moderates faction in the Indian National Congress (INC) led by leaders, such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gokhale would later state, “[Jinnah] has true stuff in him, and that freedom from all sectarian prejudice which will make him the best ambassador of Hindu–Muslim Unity”[2]. Despite this, many may still be surprised to find out that Jinnah was initially against the establishment of the AIML – I know I was.

Before the 1906 Muhammadan Educational Conference, its founders had held a meeting with the Viceroy of India, known as the Simla Deputation, on the 1st October 1906 to assure him of their loyalty in exchange for political representation. They advocated for separate electorates, more Muslim seats in the central legislature, a quota for Muslims in the Indian Civil Service (ICS), increased Muslim representation in universities, and funding for a Muslim university[3].

In response, Jinnah wrote a letter to the Gujarati editor asking what right the non-elected and self-appointed members of the delegation had to speak for Indian Muslims[4]. This elitist nature would prevent the AIML from gaining support among the masses during its early years.

The Aga Khan later stated how he found Jinnah’s opposition “freakishly ironic”. The same man who “came out in bitter hostility toward all that I and my friends had done […][and] said that our principle of separate electorates was dividing the nation against itself” would be the same man that would lead the AIML to Independence[5].

Critics often state the League was founded to divide Congress, thus minimising the Indian Independence Movement’s strength. The League’s loyalty to the British is often interpreted as falling victim to Britain’s overall strategy of “Divide and Rule” that sought to drive Muslims and Hindus apart[6]. However, this narrative overlooks the genuine concerns Muslims had when it came to the shape of an Independent India. Furthermore, it asserts that the INC represented all of India’s religious groups without favouring any specific community over another.

The truth is Muslims received little representation in Congress. The INC’s first session took place on the 20th December 1885 and had 72 members; only 2 were Muslim (less than 3%)[7]. This trend would continue throughout Congress’s pre-independence history. Its percentage of Muslim delegates only reached a height of 10.9% in 1921, before dramatically dropping to 3.6% in 1923[8], despite making up 27.06% of British India’s population according to the 1941 census[9]. Besides, the increased use of Hindu imagery to define Swaraj (“self-rule”) by the INC’s Extremists faction and promises to ban cow slaughter upon independence further alienated Muslims.

With their voices being ignored by Congress, the Muslim elite turned towards the British to address their concerns. It was a lack of confidence in the INC to protect Muslim interests, which led to the AIML’s establishment, not a desire to hinder the Independence Movement.

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Pirzada, S., 1969. Foundations Of Pakistan. All-India Muslim League Documents: 1906-1947. National Publishing House.

[2] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[3] n.d. Simla Deputation (1906).[online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 June 2020].

[4] Singh, J., 2009. Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence. Oxford University Press.

[5] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[6] Katju, M., 2013. The truth about Pakistan. The Nation, [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

[7] n.d. Muslims And The Congress. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

[8] Brown, J., 1985. Modern India: The Origins Of An Asian Democracy. Oxford University Press.

[9] British Government of India, 1943. Census Of India 1941. [online] Government of India Press. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 June 2020].

Was the British Raj good or bad for the Subcontinent?

The Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, the governor of Bengal, which transferred tax collecting rights in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the East India Company on 12 August 1765.

The following piece is a short essay I wrote at the end of year 12 as part of a geography assignment. It details some of the tactics used by the British Empire to rob South Asia of its riches.

Please note that the numbers in red boxes are footnotes, whereas those in regular boxes are references.

The question of the British Empire’s involvement in South Asia and other parts of the world is often debated. American Historian Will Durant wrote, in 1930, upon visiting India:

The British conquest of India was the invasion and destruction of a high civilization by a trading company [The British East India Company] utterly without scruple or principle, careless of art and greedy of gain, over-running with fire and sword a country temporarily disordered and helpless, bribing and murdering, annexing and stealing, and beginning that career of illegal and “legal” plunder which has now [1930] gone on ruthlessly for one hundred and seventy-three years” [1]

On the other hand, Scottish historian Niall Ferguson writes:

“For better or worse — fair and foul — the world we know today is in large measure a product of Britain’s age of empire. The question is not whether British imperialism was without blemish. It was not. The question is whether there could have been a less bloody path to modernity. Perhaps in theory there could have been. But in practice?” [2]

It is clear to see opinions differ wildly regarding the British Empire and whether it hindered or facilitated development. In this essay, I will attempt to provide an overview of Britain’s involvement in India (1757-1947)[1] and determine whether the empire’s involvement was necessary for India to modernize. I will primarily focus on the economic impacts of British rule; however, it is important to note that British involvement had profound effects in all areas of development. For this essay, ‘India’ will also encompass modern-day Pakistan and Bangladesh[2].

Share of the World’s GDP (%) from 1600 to 1950 [3]


Thanks to Angus Madison’s extensive work on the world’s economic history, we now know in the year 1600, during the Mughal era[3], India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) accounted for 22.4% of the world’s economy. This increased to 24.4% in 1700, making India the largest economy in the world, ahead of both China and Western Europe. Meanwhile, Britain accounted for a measly 1.8% (1600) and 2.9% (1700). However, by 1820, after 63 years of company rule, Britain’s share rose to 5.2% while India’s share fell to 16%. This trend of British economic growth and Indian economic decline continued. By 1950, 3 years after the end of the British Raj, India was left a shadow of its former glory at 4.2%.

Similarly, India was a leader in global manufacturing before British rule, with notable industries in textiles, shipbuilding, and steel. Mughal goods and cash crops were sold throughout the world, including Europe[4]. European powers had to export vast amounts of gold and silver to India to pay for Mughal imports as there was little demand for European products in India – Mughal India was largely self-sufficient – resulting in a significant trade imbalance[5] [4]. This period of industrial growth is often referred to as a state of proto-industrialization, like 18th-century Western Europe before the Industrial revolution. By the year 1750, India accounted for 24.5% of global manufacturing. However, in 1800, after only 43 years of Company rule, India’s share fell to 19.7%. By 1938, it was left at 2.4%[6] [5]. Furthermore, economic historian Paul Bairoch highlights how India had a higher GNP per capita than Europe up until the late 18th century [6].

So the question must be asked: What happened during those 190 years of British rule?

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India (2017), written by Indian Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, outlines various methods employed by the British during their era of rule over India that contributed to its economic decline. Tharoor also mentions Britain’s impact in other spheres of life within India, including law, politics and media. However, for this essay, we will examine Tharoor’s explanations for how the British destroyed India’s key industries, resulting in the Subcontinent’s decline as a global economic superpower [7].

For centuries, India has been an important player in global trade. The Indian Subcontinent had been conducting international trade from as early as the 1st century. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea describes navigation and trading opportunities from Roman Egyptian ports along the coast of the Red Sea to others along the Horn of Africa, the Sindh region of modern-day Pakistan, and south-western regions of India during the 1st century [8]. However, Tharoor brings to light Britain’s efforts in limiting India’s trade, ultimately replacing the Subcontinent’s role in global trade:

“British-based businesses simply could not compete [with Indian-based businesses], and so they petitioned Parliament for a ban on Indian shipbuilding. The first legislative act in their favour came in 1813 with a law that prohibited ships below 350 tonnes from sailing between the Indian colonies and the United Kingdom. That took 40 per cent of Bengal-built ships out of the lucrative India-England trade. A further Act in 1814 denied Indian-built ships the privilege of being deemed ‘British-registered vessels’ to trade with the United States and European continent. Though they could still, in theory trade with China, that sector had become unprofitable, since the previous practice had been to sail from Calcutta with Indian goods to China, load up on tea there for London, and return to Calcutta with British goods; with the London sector banned to them, these ships could only sail from Calcutta to China and back, but there was no market for Chinese goods in India (Indians were not yet tea drinkers) and the ships, denied access to London, often had to return empty”

During the early 18th century, India enjoyed a 25% share in the global textiles industry [9]. British cloth manufacturers couldn’t compete with India’s low prices and labour costs. However, once the Company took over, East Indian Company Soldiers destroyed the looms of weavers[7] [10], lowering the supply and production of goods, and imposed tariffs of 70-80% on Indian textiles, making exporting unviable. As a result, Indian textiles were no longer cheaper than their British counterparts, which began flooding the Indian market. Indians couldn’t impose retaliatory tariffs on British goods since the British controlled both the ports and the government. In turn, the Indian textile industry was sent into decline; meanwhile, British imports soared to over 1 billion yards of cotton by 1870 [11]. It is important to note while India no longer manufactured cotton goods, the Subcontinent still grew cotton to send to Britain. And so began a trend of shipping primary[8] goods to Britain for manufacturing, into secondary[9] goods, then back to India and the rest of the world to be sold, essentially moving India away from a secondary sector economy into a primary sector economy. Meanwhile, kick-starting the Industrial revolution in Britain. Tharoor highlights how this method of moving secondary industry from India to Britain was applied across the board, thus explaining Britain’s rise as a global superpower at the expense of India’s economy.

In addition, many artisans forced out of the secondary economy went into agriculture. This massive influx of disenfranchised people into the agricultural sector decreased rural wages, thus forcing rural areas into poverty. During the Mughal era, real wages and living standards in Bengal and South India were higher than in Britain [12]. In fact, during the early 17th century, the primary sector accounted for 64%[10] of India’s workforce, with the secondary and tertiary[11] sectors accounting for 11% and 25%, respectively [13], each contributing to 52% (primary), 18% (secondary) and 29% (tertiary) of India’s economy [14]. However, during British rule, the secondary sector’s contribution fell to 11% during the early 20th century. Thus, highlighting the Subcontinent’s shift from a secondary-focused economy to a primary-focused economy. If we were to take Rostow’s model[12] into account, then India was, in effect, being forced to move away from stage 2 (developing manufacturing industry on the verge of intense activity) and back to stage 1 (subsistence farming or hunter-gathering).

On the contrary, B. R. Tomlinson presents the idea the textile industry’s decline was instead a direct result of the Industrial Revolution [15]. Indian textiles were handmade just like the rest of the world before the advent of machinery. Therefore, it could be argued India’s textile industry was wiped out by the technological superiority of Britain. Thus, Indian weavers were victims of technological obsolescence instead of deliberate British policy. However, Tharoor notes that had India not been colonized, “the weavers would’ve been replaced within 50 years by Indian textile mills using modern machinery”. It is, of course, no doubt even in a free India, Indian textiles would’ve been unable to compete with the mass-produced textiles in Britain. That being said, a free India could impose tariffs on British imports, thus softening the blow against India’s economy. Furthermore, India could also import technology[13] and compete with Britain’s textile industry. Therefore still experiencing a decrease in its share of the global economy but not the dramatic economic decline we saw during the late 18th century to early 20th century.

One often cited argument during debates about British colonialism is the idea Britain helped India modernize by building infrastructure in the form of railways and irrigation systems. By the late 19th century, Britain had built, what was then, the world’s 4th largest railway network in India[14]. This totalled 25,495 km of railway in 1880 [16] and radiated inland from the major port cities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Thus, significantly speeding up the transport of primary materials from their inland plantations and mines to the coastal ports, where they would then be shipped abroad, primarily to England, to be used in manufacturing. Furthermore, Britain also heavily invested in irrigation infrastructure; by 1900, India had the world’s most extensive irrigation system[15]. Take, for example, the Ganges canal, which reached 560 km from Haridwar to Cawnpore and supplied thousands of miles of distribution canals. Or even the case of Assam, which in 1840 was a jungle but by 1900 had around 4 million acres under cultivation. By 1947, about 22 million hectares of British India was under cultivation [17]. In the North-western British India region alone, 2.2 million hectares of previously barren land was irrigated by the 1940s, most of which is now part of Pakistan. British historian David Gilmour also points out the impact of the new irrigation systems:

“By the 1870s the peasantry in the districts irrigated by the Ganges Canal were visibly better fed, housed and dressed than before.” [18]

There, of course, is no denying the legacy of British infrastructure and its significance in shaping the modern-day economy of the Indian Subcontinent. Take the modern state of India, which is now among one of the fastest-growing economies in the world (BRICS[16]), thanks largely in part to its inherited infrastructure from the British Raj. Today, Indian railways provide a net income of US$930 million [19]. Meanwhile, irrigation systems have since been expanded[17], helping improve food security, improve agricultural productivity and create rural job opportunities. In addition, dams used for irrigation projects also produce electricity, provide water to a growing population, control floods and prevent droughts. This has helped India become the world’s 2nd largest agricultural producer, behind China, with a total agrarian output worth US$354 billion. Similarly, both Pakistan and Bangladesh are ranked 7th (US$65 billion) and 19th (US$31 billion), respectively [20].

In conclusion, it is clear to see that British imperialism displaced the Indian Subcontinent from its number one position in the global economy. Even today, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh collectively hold a share of 8.344% (2015) of the world’s global GDP [21] compared to the Mughal era height of 24.4%. However, there is also no denying that British colonial-era infrastructure has played a big role in the Subcontinent’s economic growth. That said, this economic growth has occurred in the last 72 years since Partition in 1947. Therefore, it should be attributed to the efforts made by the native governments and their expansions of British infrastructure rather than British colonial rule. Had Britain truly proved to be the catalyst of Indian economic growth, then there should never have been an economic decline during British governance in the first place. Furthermore, British administration may not have been needed in the first place to provide infrastructure because many countries did not need to be colonized by Britain to build railways[18]. Therefore, it is safe to say overall, British imperialism had negatively affected economic development in the Indian Subcontinent despite its investment in Indian infrastructure[19].

[1] Note this time period also includes British East India Company rule, which occurred between 1757 and 1858, following which the Company’s remaining powers were transferred to the Crown following the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

[2] In 1947, the Indian Subcontinent was partitioned into the modern states of India and Pakistan. East Pakistan then seceded from West Pakistan in 1971, forming the modern state of Bangladesh.

[3] Founded in 1526 by Emperor Babur, the Mughal Empire went on to control the majority of the Indian sub-continent, except for its southern tip, by 1700, before its eventual decline and fall in 1857.

[4] In early modern Europe, there was significant demand for products from Mughal India, particularly cotton textiles, as well as goods such as spices, peppers, indigo, silks, and saltpetre (for use in munitions). European fashion, for example, became increasingly dependent on Mughal Indian textiles and silks.

[5] The Mughals could easily afford European goods, but Europeans couldn’t easily afford Mughal goods.

[6] Note this was an increase from 1.4% in 1913, which can be explained by the fact India experienced multiple famines from 1870 to 1921, significantly impacting population growth and ultimately having an effect on India’s manufacturing industries.

[7] According to many contemporary accounts, Company soldiers may have even gone about breaking the thumbs of Indian weavers.

[8] Primary refers to industry, such as mining or agriculture, which is concerned with obtaining or providing natural raw materials for conversion into commodities and products for the consumer.

[9] Secondary refers to industry that converts raw materials provided by the primary industry into commodities and products for the consumer.

[10] During this time, 65-90% of Europe’s workforce was based in the primary sector.

[11] Tertiary refers to industry concerned with the provision of services.

[12] Rostow’s Stages of Economic Growth model is one of the major historical models of economic growth. It was published by American economist Walt Whitman Rostow in 1960. The model postulates economic growth occurs in five basic stages of varying length.

[13] The Mughal Empire used and produced an extensive array of gunpowder weaponry, gunpowder, of course, being invented in 9th century China. Therefore Indians were indeed capable of attaining and mastering the use of foreign technology.

[14] India still holds 4th place with a total of around 65,000 km of railway, the majority of which was built after independence.

[15] Much of the increase in irrigation during the British colonial era was targeted at dedicated poppy and opium farms in India for exportation to China.

[16] BRICS is the acronym coined for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

[17] India’s irrigation had expanded to a potential covered crop area of 90 million hectares between 1947 and 1995.

[18] Thailand built its first railway in 1894, known as the Paknam Railway, despite never being colonised by European powers.

[19] Most of these infrastructure projects were built to serve British business interests in the first place.


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