Whom can a Muslim Woman Represent? Begum Jahanara Shah Nawaz and the politics of party building in late colonial India

Ashish Koul*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article argues that gendered ideas about political representation were pivotal to the All-India Muslim League's new self-imagination as the exclusive representative of Indian Muslims after the Pakistan Resolution of March 1940. I offer a gendered reading of League politics during the crucial decade of the 1940s by examining the historical implications of Begum Jahanara Shah Nawaz's expulsion from the party in 1941 for accepting a post on the National Defense Council. When she claimed that she was appointed to the Council as a representative of all Indian women and Punjab, the League leadership condemned her for disobeying the party's resolution to remain aloof from British India's wartime administration. With an unusual intensity, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the League's president, censured her for endangering Indian Muslims' fragile unity and asserted that League members could either represent Muslims - or no one. Her arguments functioned as an effective foil against which the League solidified its homogenizing narrative of an Indian Muslim identity and its universalizing project of Pakistan. As the demand for Pakistan increasingly dominated the League's rhetoric, alternative models of representation that drew upon cross-religious, gender-based, or regional solidarities became progressively untenable for female Muslim League politicians. Shah Nawaz's expulsion, and the discourse on representation it generated, demonstrated that gender issues were central to League politics at both the provincial and the all-India level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-141
Number of pages46
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 29 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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