Indian Muslims and the partition vote

The following post is contributed by @saiarav from X or Yajnavalkya from Medium

The 1946 vote and the Muslim mandate for partition

The 1946 elections remains inarguably the most consequential election within the Indian Subcontinent. Jinnah’s Muslim League (ML)went into the polls with a single-point agenda of partition and the Muslim voters responded with feverish enthusiasm, delivering a crushing victory for ML across all provinces, thereby paving the way for partition. The party won an overwhelming 75% of the Muslim votes and 87% of the Muslim seats, and except for NWFP, its minimum seat share was 82% (see table below). Of note, provinces from current day India -places like Bombay and Madras, which had zero chance of being part of a future Pakistan – gave a 100% mandate to Jinnah.

(for those who are not aware, we had a communal electorate at that time which meant Muslim voters would vote exclusively for Muslim seats)

Ayesha Jalal’s Jinnah The Sole Spokesman, P.172

Facts belie claims of Muslim society non-representation in mandate

As regarding the role (culpability?) of the Indian Muslim society in facilitating partition, establishment historians put forth two arguments. One, Jinnah had kept the Pakistan promise deliberately vague and hence the voters did not realise what they were voting for. Two, the overwhelming mandate from the voters cannot be taken as representative of the sentiments the whole society as only a tiny proportion of Muslims had the right to vote. The first one is a qualitative debate and can be debated endlessly. But the second assertion is easier to examine since we have actual voting and demographic data and that is what I will endeavour to do in this post. I reference one specific claim which is quite popular in social media — that the mandate was only from 14% Muslim adult population, based on an article written by a leading X handle, Rupa Subramanya, who has a rather interesting history with respect to her ideological leanings.

The analysis that follow will show that at least one adult member (mostly male) from close to 40% of the Muslim households in British Indian provinces and at least 25% of Muslim adults were eligible to vote .

I cannot emphasize enough that this is not something which should be used to question Indian Muslims of today. The founding fathers of the modern Indian nation made a solemn promise to Muslims that they will be equal citizens of this nation and that should be unconditionally honoured. But as a society, we should have the courage and honesty to acknowledge historical facts rather than seek to build communal peace on a foundation of lies, as the left historians have done; Noble intentions are not an excuse. Talking of fake history, one cannot but marvel at the sheer degree of control over the narrative of the establishment historians that they have managed to perpetrate the claim about the 1946 vote for more than seven decades when there is hard quantitative data available on number of voters, the country’s adult population etc. One can only imagine the kind of distortions they would have done to medieval history where obfuscation would have been infinitely easier.

Some basic facts about the 1946 elections

I will start off with some facts and estimates which are broadly indisputable.

A) The 1946 provincial elections was limited only to British Indian provinces

The 1946 elections was limited to provinces directly ruled by the British which accounted for roughly 3/4 of British India’s population. While the provincial representatives in turn elected 296 members of the Constituent Assembly, the princely states nominated 93 members the constituent assembly, i.e in proportion to their respective population. With ML bagging 73 of the 78 Muslim seats in CA, the partition debate was as good as sealed.

B) 28% of the adult population of the provinces was eligible to vote

The total strength of the electorate was 41.1 million voters while the total population of Indian provinces was 299 million. Taking into account only the adult population (age of 20+, ~50% of the population), it implied 28% of the population were eligible to vote.

(data is sourced from Kuwajima, Sho, , Manohar, New Delhi, 1998, p. 47.)

C) An estimated 25% of the adult Muslim population of the provinces were eligible to vote

While I am unable to source the actual data for the percent of eligible voters within Muslim community, there is no reason to think it would be an order of magnitude lower than the overall 28% number. As I show in the Appendix, voter and turnout data indicates the number should be in the 25% range, if not higher; i.e. about 9 million Muslims out of 37 million adult Muslim population in the provinces were enfranchised.

D) Close to 40% of Muslim households had members eligible to vote

The 28%/25% voter ratio discussed above is skewed by the fact that very few women were allowed to vote. Only 9% of adult females had voting rights which in turn implied that 46% of adult males had voting rights. (Source: Kuwajima, Sho). If we assume the same proportion for Muslim females, that would imply little over 40% of Muslim adult males were enfranchised.

E) 75% of the 6 million Muslim votes went to ML

4.5 million Muslims voted for Muslim League out of a total 6 million Muslim votes cast from an electorate size of 9.2 million. Of note, there is no major urban-rural divide — the figure for rural areas is 74% vs 79% for urban areas.

Muslim mandate way more broadbased than projected in mainstream narrative

Based on the above data, at the very least, one has to concede that 25% of the Muslim society had a say on the issue of Pakistan and three-quarters of that group did vote for creation of an independent Muslim State. This severely undercuts the claim that only a tiny elite voted for Pakistan — Rupa’s 14% figure, for example, is clearly wrong **. But even the argument that the bottom 75% had no say on the issue is inaccurate because the voting rights were not just based on class, but also on gender. As noted above, close to 40% of adult male Muslims were enfranchised — in other words, 40% of Muslim households had an adult member who could vote. And of this 40%, three-fourths or 30% chose to vote for Pakistan. That clearly means that a much larger cross-section of the Muslim society had a say than just a tiny elite or the educated middle classes (or the salariat class as Ayesha Jalal calls it). This appears to be a more reasonable interpretation of a mandate given the context of the time when universal for women was still a new or evolving concept in many advanced democracies.

** The error that Rupa makes in arriving at the 14% figure is two-fold. One, she takes the adult Muslim population for entire British India (~44 million) whereas the elections were held only for provinces (~37 million). Second, she uses actual voter turnout (6 million) instead of the total size of the Muslim electorate (~9.2 million).

What are some of the counterarguments to the above interpretation?

A) What about the fact that the Muslims in princely states had no vote?

This argument, on the face of it, is not without merit. But one needs to be honest about framing it — this is not a case of a vertical class divide in enfranchisement but a horizontal regional divide. Therefore, the proponents of the non-representative nature of the mandate will have to make the case that the Muslim subjects of the princely states would have taken a significantly different view on Pakistan versus the ones in the provinces, just harping on the class divide will just not cut it.

Let us look at what the data can tell us. The adult Muslim population from the princely states would be another 8 million. Based on 1941 census data nearly 60% would be from three large states — Hyderabad (17%), Punjab (18%) and Kashmir (24%). Is there any reason to believe that the Muslims of Hyderabad or Punjab would have voted very differently versus their neighbor provinces of Madras Presidency or Punjab province? A debate on this issue is beyond the scope of this post but I would say that the burden is on those making the “non-representative mandate” argument to make that case.

For the record, if we take total Muslim population figure, then the proportion of adult and male adult enfranchisement of Muslim community would go down to 21% and 34% respectively

B) Muslim women were largely excluded

As noted earlier only about 9% of adult women were enfranchised. Assuming a similar (or lower) figure for Muslim women, indeed they had little say on the matter. One interesting aspect is that even among the Muslim women eligible to vote, very few seem to have turned up to vote. Only 15K of them voted which would be a turnout in the low single digits at best! But among those who did vote, more than 50% voted for ML, which is admittedly well below the overall support of 75%. But still, the fact is that a slim majority of Muslim women too voted for Pakistan. Also, electoral mandates need to be interpreted based on the context of that time and broadbased women suffrage was still at a relatively early stage even in more advanced democracies.

C) Hey! only 4.5 million out 37 million Muslim adults voted for ML

This would mean only 12% of adult Muslims expressed support for Pakistan. In a very narrow mathematical sense, this is, of course. right. But this is just not how electoral mandates are interpreted in any democracy. If one uses this yardstick, it would mean Presidents in one of the world’s oldest democracies, have been consistently elected with support of just a quarter of the electorate because voter turnout in US has generally been around 50%. The ones who had the right to vote but chose not to exercise it will need to be excluded from any interpretation of the mandate.

Conclusion — acknowledge history and move on

Partition has a cast a long shadow on Hindu-Muslim relationship and perhaps it was a wise decision in the immediate aftermath to underplay the Indian Muslim community’s role in it. But a fiction cannot be the basis for a permanent peace. At some point, we will all have to collectively acknowledge the historical facts and have the maturity to move on. One additional problem also is that this fictional narrative about the mandate further feeds into the Muslim victimhood that they had chosen a secular India over a Islamic Pakistan and have been betrayed by rising Hindu majoritarianism. A honest appraisal of history might perhaps lead to a more constructive political strategy.

Appendix — estimate of eligible voter percent within Muslim community

A) The Muslim population in the provinces was 79.4 million. Given higher birth rate among Muslims, the adult population is lower than the national average — using Pakistan’s 1951 census data as a proxy, I estimate the adult Muslim population to be 47% or 37 million.

B) Total number of Muslim votes cast was 6 million (Ayesha Jalal)

C) Average turnout across communities was around 65%

D) If one assumes a similar turnout for Muslims, then the total electoral size for Muslims comes to 9.2 million which implies 25% of adult Muslim population was eligible to vote. It is quite likely that the turnout was much lower because the turnout amongst Muslim women was abysmally low (Ayesha Jalal)

So it is reasonable to conclude that at least 25% of the adult Muslim population living in the provinces were enfranchised in 1946.

The India They Saw: When Socrates Met the Sindhu

Time was a cycle for the wise ones. The glittering stars of the heavens danced to the rhythm of the gods. A thousand mind-born Manus had birthed a thousand humanities. The Blessed Lord had sung his sacred song to a thousand suns and a thousand Arjunas. The divine comedy of karma had crossed a thousand ironies and a thousand tragedies. So for thousands of years, those believers of this great cycle, the Indians, did not write their histories. Indian history became stories moving from ear to ear. A magical tongue rang around sacred fires as these stories soon morphed into a society.

Soon etchings would erupt along the Indus, the Saraswati, the Ganga, the Yamuna, and more and more rivers. Many were lost with time as the history of India captured in its early construction returned to the soils and sands from whence it came. But some etchings evolved. The Itihasa and Puranas would form a cultural encyclopedia of ancient India. Poetry and prose defined its people.

The successors of these great reservoirs of Dharma were the Sramanas. Lord Mahavir and Lord Buddha would turn the wheel of Dharma as a grand march of fire-cloaked mendicants began across India and beyond into the unknown realms of Asia. India entered the Axial Age with a turning of the mind. In the golden shadows of these Mahatmas, we find some of the first records of those who journeyed to India – of the Greeks and the Romans. This is the India they saw.

Continue reading The India They Saw: When Socrates Met the Sindhu

Episode 22 – The British East India Company

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode, Shrikant, Gaurav and Omar talk to Maneesh about the beginning, consolidation and end of the British East India rule in India. We end the episode on the 1857 revolt.


The East India Company; the most powerful corporation in the world- Tirthankar Roy
Indian Empire – its People, history and products – William Wilson Hunter
Empire – Niall Ferguson
The Men who ruled India – Philip Mason
The Anarchy – William Dalrymple
1857 revolt – RC Majumdar
The British Empire – Stephen Sears
The European theft of India – Roy Moxhom
The inglorious empire – Shashi Tharoor

Episode 19 – The Rajputs

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

The references for the podcast are:

1. Early History of Rajputs (750 to 1000 A.D.) by C.V Vaidya
2. History and Culture of the Indian People – Vol III, IV, V, VI & VII
3. Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World: Early Medieval India and the Expansion of Islam 7th-11th Centuries by André Wink
4. Al-Hind, Volume 2 Slave Kings and the Islamic Conquest, 11th-13th Centuries
by André Wink
5. The Political History of the Hunas in India by Atreyi Biswas
6. The Making of Early Medieval India by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya

Mr. Tilak Devasher on his book The Pashtuns- A Contested History



Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Mr. Tilak Devasher, Author, Member, National Security Advisory Board and former Special Secretary, Govt of India joins Maneesh, Somnath and Dr. Ali to talk about his latest book The Pashtuns- A Contested History.




Episode 18 – The Maratha Empire

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode, Prathamesh Godbole and Amit Paranjpe discuss the Maratha empire – spanning from its humble origins as a Jagir of Adilshahi to the largest power in the subcontinent before the British conquest. We discuss the great maratha rulers Shivaji Raje, Sambhaji Raje and the Peshwas.

Postscript (from Omar): At 1 hour 27 minutes on the youtube recording I was asked how they are perceived in Pakistan and i went on about their role against Tipu, but I should have mentioned Panipat first. THAT is, of course, taught as a great Muslim victory, but without too much background information.

Solstice at Panipat, Era of Bajirao, Epoch of Nanasaheb Peshwa, Mastery of Hindustan – Uday Kulkarni
A New History of Marathas, Volumes I-III by G.S Sardesai
Shivbharat – Shivaji Raje’s biography in Sanskrit by a court historian – has been translated to English
History of Marathas- Grant Duff
History of the Maratha People – Kincaid
Translations done by Prathamesh, of selected letters from multiple Marathi sources regarding battles, diplomatic exchanges and other military matters.
Its about ~300 pages equivalent, and covers 1720-1803.
Itihasachi Sadhane some 20 volumes- Rajwade
Peshwe Daftar- 40 volumes
Aitihasik Lekh Sangraha – 15 volumes
About 20 different Bakhars, Eg: Panipat – chronicles written by prominent nobles and about major battles. Not always fully reliable, but still a useful source.

Book Review: Ancient India, a Culture of Contradictions

Of the 4 books of Dr Upinder Singh i have read, this is arguably the weakest. Firstly it doesn’t add much to the discourse – its largely summary of her earlier works thematically – with slight re-interpretation. The book is divided along four themes – Social inequality (Caste), Love, Gender relations, Violence and Religious freedom/plurality.

If you have been reading and following Dr Singh’s work and have good recollections, the ever present politics of this book can be jarring. The author starts with the anecdote of suicide of Dalit activist Rohit Vemula before embarking on the historic analysis of “Caste”. jAti-varna Matrix of Ancient India needed more in depth analysis as done for Political violence (in author’s previous book on Political Violence in Ancient India). The essay covers all the bases, but fails to enrich an informed reader – while making some unsubstantiated arguments.
eg: Caste in Sangam Era (or lack thereof). While the argument made holds for Vaidika concept of “Varna” it doesnt hold for Caste – a hybrid of jAti-Varna.

I felt the author played it very safe ending with “remains imperfectly understood”. Isn’t jAti-Varna system also an “old kin based” system ? Doesn’t it seem more natural to speculate that existing old kin based system merged with Vaidika abstraction of Varna ? Maybe – maybe not but the author doesn’t try to speculate.

The “desire and detachment” essay was refreshing, something i would definitely go back to. The next section “Goddesses and misogyny” covers the religious developments well enough but leaves the Economic(“Marxist?”) reasons for patriarchy out of the analysis. The role of economics in the patriarchal setup of agrarian and pre-industrialised societies doesn’t get more than a brief mention.

The next section, “Violence and Non-Violence” was a summary of her earlier book – good enough, but i would suggest interested parties to read that book – as it goes into the texts while making grand narratives and arguments. As a result the arguments in the previous book stick, this doesn’t (though its the same argument). Also some inconsistencies I had not noticed in earlier book came to my notice this time around. While comparing Ashok’s ideological espousal of Non-violence to Kautilya’s pragmatic approach (one may differ in the labels), the author doesnt fully challenge the above assumption even though it comes up in the text. Following is Kautilya’s recommendations for looking after animals.

How is looking after incapacitated horses pragmatic?

If one re-reads the subtext, ideology (empathy?) comes up again and again in Kautilya, whereas pragmatism and realpolitik in Ashok – the point the author notices in Ashok but not in Kautiya.

The last section was also enjoyable, if one manages to ignore the often jarring political undertone. The author lets slip a line

“These days, one dare not crack jokes about religion.”

Firstly, we cannot compare what we can glean of an ancient society from reconstruction to the documented 21st century realities. While trying to avoid the romantic reconstruction (or for contemporary politics), the author seems to have gone into the same. Yet I enjoyed the information I got from the last section, especially the Kshemendra’s satires from ancient Kashmir.

I would recommend the books for those who are really interested in Ancient India, but I would also recommend dozens of other books before this – especially the ones I havent read. Jarring and without original insights (unlike her previous works) I would still rate this book 3/5 for its readability and denseness.

What I had admired about Dr Singh’s work till now was her unwillingness to let politics and ideology rear its ugly head in her work – unlike other authors on ancient India (Including new emerging scholarship from the Hindu side). Though what saves the book is the author’s unwillingness to make “leaps of faith” – which become foundation for next scholarship – common in Ancient Indian History.



History podcast: Episode 16- The rise of the Mughals

Another Browncast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode, Omar and Jay discuss the rise of the “Great” Mughals. We start from the rise of Babur and follow through the empire his descendants. We do not cover the challengers to the Mughal hegemony (Maharana Pratap, Chattrapati Shivaji and Lachit Borphukan) OR the fall of the Mughal empire or other softer aspects in this episode. All that will be covered in the coming episodes.


They came not to bring peace but a sword

Recently there was a debate on Twitter about whether the legacy of the Indo-Aryans, one of the most impactful descendants of the Sintastha culture, was positive, significant and worthy of admiration. More generally, what have the descendants of the Yamnaya culture of the Pontic steppe done for us?

This is a complicated question. I think for Indian Hindus who revere the Vedas and the Vedic people the question has some broader and deeper implications. As I am not an Indian Hindu, any strident opinion on this is above my pay grade.

But I will repeat something that the Indo-Europeanist J. P. Mallory told me a few years ago: the reason that archaeologists fixate on the graves of these people is that these are among the few materials remains that they left. They were an agro-pastoralist society, and their arrival in Northern Europe 5,000 years ago saw the end of the ancient Neolithic traditions of megalith building. I think it is fair to say that these barbarians ushered in a “dark age” for a millennium in Europe.

What about elsewhere? In what became Greece the arrival of the steppe populations resulted in a synthetic culture that to be candid initially aped their Minoan predecessors, producing a coarser and more militaristic society. In ancient Elam, the arrival of the ancient Iranians resulted in the co-option by what became the Persians of much of the culture of the people of that region. Finally, the debates about India are endless in terms of what the influences on the Indic culture are in terms of whether they are Aryan or non-Aryan.

The daughter Indo-European societies were often quite culturally creative, in particular, the early Greeks and Indians. But I think this owes more to the fact that Indo-Europeans encountered either complexity (Minoans) or the faded elements of complexity (IVC), assimilated them, and leveraged their economic base to produce complexity and creativity societies. In contrast, Indo-European populations that remained closer to the ancient lifestyle, like the Slavs of the early medieval period, were culturally simple.

That being said, a skein of common Indo-European linguistic and oral culture did span Greece and India. Their origins were clearly brutal and barbaric, but the southern Indo-Europeans quickly assimilated and acclimated.

Rishi and the past

Rishi Sunak will lead the nation just below India in the world GDP nations. Racial or cultural triumphalism is gauche, so nice to see that that’s low-key so far. But I personally hope that this will be an opportunity for Indian elites to fixate less on the British past and engage more forthrightly with their Asian future.

The Conservative party looks to be in serious trouble, and Britain looks to be in for a rough few years. Good luck to him, he’ll need a lot of it.

Brown Pundits