The Muslim League - Defending The Rights Of Muslim In India
Founded in 1906 in Dhaka, the All India Muslim League, under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, spearheaded the demand for a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent in the 1940s. As it drew its support, largely from regions where Muslims were in a minority, to garner the Muslim vote, Jinnah used religion (Islam) as the party’s main rallying cry and the “two nation theory” (Muslims as a separate nation from the Hindus of the sub-continent) as its driving principle.
Under Jinnah, the Muslim league used Islamic rhetoric amply to the extent of identifying “its own interests with those of the whole Indian Muslim community” (Talbot, 2005, p. 12). This strategy was successful, reflected in the League’s success in gaining the majority of the Muslim vote in the 1945-46 provincial elections.
After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the party was renamed the Pakistan Muslim League and was headed by Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister from 1947-51. However, the post independence period saw the League languishing due to its failure to transform itself from an independence movement into a national level party with mass appeal.
It also lost two of its key leaders (Jinnah died in 1948 and Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951), which negatively impacted the party. As a result, it became increasingly reliant on the civil-military bureaucracy to retain its hold on power. This period also saw a large number of politicians leaving the party some of whom formed other political groups such as the Awami National League and the Krishak Sramik Party.
The two came together under the banner of the United Front Coalition to defeat the Muslim League in the 1954 provincial elections, which reflected the League’s diminishing support and stature. The imposition of martial law in 1962 under Ayub Khan led to the dissolution of the Muslim League along with other political parties.
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Although it was briefly revived in 1962 as the Pakistan Muslim League, it split into several factions: the pro-Ayub Convention Muslim League and the anti-Ayub Council Muslim League, led by former prime minister Khwaja Nazimuddin until his death in 1964. The Council Muslim League was subsequently led by Fatima Jinnah (sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah) in the 1965 presidential elections against Ayub Khan, which Ayub won.
The League was revived once again, with military backing and support, during the 1970 national elections. Efforts were also made to combine its various factions against the East Pakistan Awami League (AL), which was poised for a win. Despite military support, the Muslim league fared poorly in the elections with its three factions wining only eighteen seats out of 138 seats of the National Assembly (Haqqani, 2005, p. 64).
The Muslim League formally emerged again as the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) after the lifting of martial law in 1985 under Muhammad Khan Junejo (Pakistan’s Prime Minister from 1985-88). Junejo developed a party manifesto for the PML, which promised wide ranging social and economic reforms (Talbot, p. 263). Several members of the Muslim League under Khwaja Khairuddin also joined the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), against General Zia ul Haq and were successful in the 1985 non-party elections.
After Zia’s death in 1988, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) split into two factions: PML-N led by Nawaz Sharif, then Chief Minister of the Punjab province and the PML-J led originally by Junejo and after his death in 1993 by Hamid Nasir Chatta. The two factions ran under the banner of the nine-party right wing Islamic Democratic Alliance (Islami Jamhoroori Ittehad), created by the ISI to undermine the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which, under Benazir Bhutto, was poised to win the post-Zia elections of 1988.
The IJI also included the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI). In the 1988 elections, the IJI won only 55 seats but gained the majority of votes in the largest province, Punjab (108 seats out of a total of 204). In elections held in 1990 it won 105 seats and came to power at the center with Nawaz Sharif as prime minister (Talbot, p. 450).
The IJI coalition however came apart over differences between the JI and Sharif on the latter’s support for Saudi Arabia and the US in the Kuwait war. It was dissolved before the 1993 elections and subsequently Sharif assumed the reins of the party under the banner of the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz). The other faction of the Muslim League, the PML-J allied with the PPP during the 1993 and the 1997 elections (Talbot, p. 454).