On April 16, Lahore’s Human Rights Commission of Pakistan observed a day dedicated to late journalist-author Abdullah Malik and had Ishtiaq Ahmed, professor emeritus of political science, Stockholm University, and visiting professor at the city’s prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), reading his paper on “the ideational structure of the two nation theory which informs the very idea of Pakistan”.
Ahmed highlighted two apparently mutually contradictory concepts embedded in the two speeches made by the founder of the Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He went back to his address at an All-India Muslim League rally on March 22, 1940, explaining how the Muslims were a “separate nation” in India: “It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders, and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality…
“The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literatures. They neither intermarry nor inter-dine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspects on life and of life are different.
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“It is quite clear that Hindus and Musalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state”.
Read today, the message is: religions and culture separate people. On the basis of the idea of “self-determination”, therefore, the Muslim minority should be administered separately from the Hindu majority. The Lahore Resolution, passed the following day, was later called the Pakistan Resolution. It called for separate Muslim states (provinces) in contiguous Muslim-majority areas in India.
Scholars by and large accept that nations come into being after the state has had time to inculcate that sense into its population. Others say people can “imagine” a separate homeland for themselves living within a state they don’t like — often because they are a minority there and are unhappy. No theory is tenable: after the collapse of communist states in 1990, 28 new states came into being in eastern Europe and erstwhile USSR, and not many are doing well. Sudan bifurcated after the Muslim-majority state went nuts over Islam, becoming two mutually hostile states. Now the separated Christian-majority state has become unviable through violence.
Jinnah encountered this problem soon enough in 1947, three days before the state the Lahore Resolution had subliminally demanded was created. He wanted all the different religious, regional, linguistic and ethnic identities to evolve as one nation in Pakistan. On August 11, 1947, Jinnah delivered the presidential address to the Pakistan constituent assembly. He presented a blueprint that must have reminded him of his speech of seven years earlier:
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state… I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in due course Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”
Historians have mulled this apparent contradiction since 1947. Stanley Wolpert, who wrote a favourable account of Jinnah in 1982, thought the August speech must have “disoriented even his closest lieutenants and associates”. One Pakistani historian writing under General Zia — who had highlighted Wolpert’s reference to Jinnah’s “wine-drinking” to validate himself as a better ruler — actually thought Jinnah was “infirm of mind” when he presented Pakistan as a “secular” state on August 11.
Both India and Jinnah were worried about the state breaking under the burden of different identities: In 1947, Jinnah was clearly bothered about communities other than Muslims becoming “lesser Pakistanis”, despite his assertion in 1940 that Hindus and Muslims could not be a part of the same nation.
The constitution of Pakistan is today clearly Islamic, declaring the state “religious”. It says all citizens of Pakistan would have equal rights but non-Muslim Pakistanis feel they are being maltreated. The state itself apostatised the Ahmadi Muslims under the second amendment and then proceeded to legislate harsh disabilities against them. States often violate human rights and are not rebuked; Pakistan is rebuked because it has violated human rights through legislation.
The doyen of the history of Pakistan’s identity as a state, Shariful Mujahid, says the intellectual gulf on the subject between the right and left in Pakistan should be bridged. He thinks that both poles of opinion has grown in extreme directions and needs to recognise the middle ground. He defined the August 11 speech of the Quaid as a deliberate recourse to the Charter of Medina concluded by Prophet Muhammad, and the “Medinate model” of the Islamic state in which the concept of the ummah (nation) included non-Muslims as equal citizens.
Mujahid has modified the idea of the “ideological” state. As for Jinnah’s idea of the state, he refers to his reply to Mountbatten’s speech on August 14, 1947: Mountbatten wanted Pakistan to pursue the pluralist ideal of Akbar; Jinnah wanted to adhere to the pluralist model of Medina under the Holy Prophet.
States construct “nationalism” for purposes of “defensive war” but are hostile to “sub-nationalisms” that threaten “war within”. Today, the non-Muslims of Pakistan are doomed as an empowered clergy sets aside Medina’s pluralist model by arguing that the Quran had superseded it with its strictures against non-Muslims. The Taliban under Ayman al-Zawahiri plan to place them under a special punitive tax called “jiziya”.
Will the Muslims of Pakistan stick together? There is sub-nationalism of “oppressed nations” in Sindh and Balochistan, where Muslim communities want out from the state of Pakistan.
Muslims are having had a hard time keeping their states together. They remain intact under authoritarianism but start crumbling under democracy which, instead of sustaining a pluralist modern state, tends to favour a pre-modern utopia in which populations begin to suffer intolerance and brutalisation.
The last, recent, word is from my friend, the Mumbai lawyer-historian A.G. Noorani: “The poison of the two-nation theory [was] propagated by [Hindu Mahasabha leader and father of Hindu nationalism] V.D. Savarkar since 1925, which Jinnah recklessly adopted in 1939 only to discard it on August 11, 1947, in his famous speech to Pakistan’s constitutional assembly.”
The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’