HARKING BACK: Two ends of Ravi Road and how our freedom fared

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn Sep 11, 2016

Opposite the Lahore Fort at its north-western edge starts the road leading to the River Ravi. At both ends of this roadway, called Ravi Road, took place two almost similar events that transformed the very future of the Indian subcontinent. Within ten years starting 1930 the changes were profound.

At the western end, or more precisely on the eastern bank of the river on New Year’s night in 1930, the leader of the Indian National Congress, Mr Jawaharlal Nehru, hoisted the tri-colour flag of India with a pledge to fight for freedom from colonial rule. The annual conference of the party was taking place at the famous Bradlaugh Hall on Rattigan Road, located behind the Central Model School, which in its day was the city’s leading English-language school.

On the river bank the pledge to fight for freedom was read out as leader after leader stepped in the waters of the ‘sacred’ river, called Irawati in ancient texts, whose goddess Indra is mentioned as leader of the Devas who control rain and thunder and rides on a white elephant. Among the Rigvedic tribes that lived in and around Lahore in ancient times, Indra was the most important deity. It is ironic that on 1930’s New Year afternoon Mr Nehru rode through Anarkali Bazaar on a white horse, and he was to name his daughter Indira. Co-incidental surely.

The flag of modern India was a tri-colour with Gandhi’s spinning wheel in the middle. By the time 1947 came that was replaced by Ashoka’s wheel. As the annual conference proceeded at Bradlaugh Hall on the 26th of January, 1930, an official ‘Declaration of Independence’ was passed. All the speeches in these heady days dwelt on refusing to pay taxes, launching a ‘peaceful’ non-cooperation movement as suggested by Gandhi, with the Salt Satyagraha as its main component. The atmosphere was electric and in this the ‘Purna Swaraj’ declaration was passed by a show of hands. Newspapers of those days commented that it was not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’ freedom would be attained.

Today the 26th of January is observed by India as their ‘Republic Day’, this being the day when the declaration was officially promulgated. The declaration was accepted for discussion on the 26th of December, 1929, at Bradlaugh Hall and once it was seen that it would be passed by the delegates, the River Ravi gathering took place. As the 26th of January, 1930, was a special day for the Indian National Congress, once freedom was attained in 1947, Nehru made sure that their new constitution took effect on the 26th of January, 1950.

But here it would be interesting if a small portion of a speech by Nehru is reproduced. He said: “On the banks of this sacred river we pledge, as did our ancestors thousands of years earlier, to remain free, for this sacred city of Lahore will be India’s centre of culture and learning as it has been over the eons”. Nehru was probably referring to the famous ‘Battle of the Ten Kings’, as described in the epic ‘Mahabharata’ where the Bharata tribe won the day. Little did he know that Lahore, the city then ruled by the Bharata tribe, from where the word Bharat comes, as is the word Hindu - hence Hindustan - derived from the river Sindhu (Latinised as Indus today), would not be part of the modern India.

Now let us move from the western edge of Ravi Road to its eastern end. This is where is located the old Minto Park, known earlier as parade ground and in Sikh days as ‘Badami Bagh’, though the eastern portion of this area is still called Badami Bagh. Today the old Minto Park is called Iqbal Park after the poet Muhammad Iqbal for his contribution to the idea of Muslim rights which was to emerge in the shape of Pakistan.

On these massive grounds on the edge of the old Ravi, called till recently as ‘Budda Ravi’ though it has now disappeared, the three-day session of the All-India Muslim League was taking place. The opening date of the session was the 22nd of March, 1940, ten years after the ‘Purna Swaraj’ declaration at the other end of Ravi Road. At this session a resolution was tabled by A.K. Fazlul Haq, popularly known as ‘Sher-e-Bengal’, who came to prominence after the 1905 Bengal Partition which provided the Muslims of Bengal a prominent role in the affairs of a Hindu-dominated Bengal. Many experts believe this British ‘divide and rule’ action was the beginning of the British plan to partition the subcontinent.

But at Lahore he presented the Lahore Resolution. Mind you this resolution had a background. It was drafted by Sir Zafarullah Khan on a request by the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, who we now know from official British records wanted to divide the subcontinent into three parts, they being Hindu, Muslim and Princely States. The various Muslim League Working Committees had come up with different ‘partition plans’, all of which the British did not approve of. So it was Sir Zafarullah Khan’s draft that was approved and sent to the Secretary of State for India. Copies of the proposal were passed on to Mr Jinnah and Sir Akbar Haider.

This ‘approved’ resolution was presented on March 22 and finally approved and formalised on March 24, 1940. The resolution called for accepting the concept of the “creation of an independent Muslim State.” The word Pakistan had not yet come about and neither was it mentioned in the resolution, or even in the proceedings. A.K. Fazlul Haq’s resolution was seconded by Choudhury Khaliquzzaman.

So the creation of Pakistan, in its legal form only, was an All-Bengali affair. This was immediately backed by Sir Abdullah Haroon of Sindh, Qazi Esa from Baluchistan, Abdul Ghafor Hazarvi from the then North-West Frontier Province and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan from the Punjab. Jinnah spoke in its favour and on the 24th of March, 1940, it was approved.

Ironically, in 1946 M. Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, then Prime Minister of a united Bengal, moved a proposal not to partition Bengal. Amazingly, this was opposed by Mr Jinnah, as it was by Congress and the British. In the Sindh Assembly a resolution in favour of Pakistan was moved by G.M. Syed, who had joined the Muslim League in 1938. His motive was to further the principle of autonomy and sovereignty of all the constituent units.

Today as we view our history unfolding, it is amazing just how the two resolutions fared. The names ‘Bharata’ and ‘Hindustan’ which emerged for the lands of the Indus Valley, now Pakistan, are used by India. The man who drafted the Lahore Resolution is looked down upon. The land of those who moved and seconded the resolution is no longer called Pakistan. For that matter even the man who coined the word Pakistan ended up in a foreign land, expelled and forcibly put on a flight to England. What happened at both ends of Ravi Road from 1930 to 1940 changed the way all of us in the subcontinent imaged freedom would be like. How it has shaped out is even more surprising.


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