By Farhan Shah
September 11, 2013
Every nation has its own national narrative that serves to legitimise the state and its interests. But in Pakistan, this ideology is premised on the deeply problematic notion of Hindu antagonism to justify the existence of the state. Soon after its establishment, Pakistan was hijacked by the same politico-religious section of society that had opposed its creation. The gradual distortion Pakistan’s story has endured since then – to serve the interests of this section. At the heart of this is the deeply abused concept of the two nation theory.
It’s sad to see that how Jinnah went from being one who strongly opposed mixing religion with politics to becoming a symbol of the exact opposite. In truth his rivals, the Congress, were the ones who actually supported this. Consider Gandhi’s words: “those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not understand religion”. His grandson, Raj Mohan Gandhi criticised him by saying that his grandfather introduced religion in politics.
Gandhi lent his support to the Khilafat movement while Jinnah rejected it as a religious rather than a political movement. He abhorred Gandhi’s use of religious symbols such as Kali and stated that he was the one who destroyed Congress by turning it into an instrument for Hinduism’s revival.
In his book on Partition, Jaswant Singh reveals that not on one occasion did Jinnah ever target Hinduism and that he only targeted Congress and its use of the party platform to further Hinduism. He never asserted Islam’s supremacy over Hinduism or any other religion. Jinnah’s was not an Islamic movement. It was simply for the political rights of a minority.
For 30 years Jinnah tried to put up a united front with Hindu leaders to get rid of the British yet he’s still vilified for breaking up the Subcontinent. To date he is maligned for sowing the seeds of hatred through his two nation theory whereas he was not the first one to advocate it.
In 1937, V D Savarkar, the famous Hindu nationalist advocated his theory of ethnic exclusivism. In his ideological thesis ‘Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?’, Savarkar promoted a radical vision of Hindu social and political consciousness. He described Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism as the same while declaring Muslims a separate nation. He called ‘Hindu’ a patriotic inhabitant of Bharatavarsha, regarded being ‘Hindu’ a religious as well as a political identity and envisaged a ‘Hindu nation’ as ‘Akhand Bharat’.
The reality is that Jinnah was constrained to resort to Muslim nationalism. One must realise that nationalist movements are always an outcome of injustice. Throughout his life Jinnah struggled for a joint Hindu-Muslim struggle for independence. Only after continuously failing to ensure constitutional safeguards for Muslims did he finally give up the idea of joint struggle.
Maharashtra’s former Advocate General H M Seervai writes: “It is a little unfortunate that those who assail Jinnah for destroying the unity of India do not ask how was it that a man who wanted a nationalist solution till as late as 1938, suddenly became a communalist’. The stage for the roll out of the two nation theory was set.
But by proposing the two nation theory, Jinnah was only employing the cultural identity of a minority for the construction of its political identity. In the world of ethnic politics it’s nothing new. Countless examples exist where political group-formation was done on cultural basis. The most important thing to keep in mind is that he never called it the ‘ideology of Pakistan’. He could not have.
The Lahore resolution of 23 March, 1940 – wrongly referred to as the Pakistan Resolution – did not even contain the word Pakistan in it. They didn’t even demand a separate homeland in that resolution. Reading the original text of the resolution one would realise that the Lahore resolution actually demanded turning Muslim majority areas into separate states/provinces and called for a constitution that ensured the autonomy of these states. Nowhere did it ask for a ‘Pakistan’. How Pakistan became a reality is a separate story but let’s first get our fundamentals right.
By assigning the two nation theory the status of Pakistan’s ideology, we have created a confused nation. Ideologies are essentially a political construct and are designed to achieve a certain goal. They are not an end in themselves but a means to an end. They surface in a certain political environment. When there is a change in the nature of the environment it renders the ideology in question obsolete and thus a need to redefine the ideology emerges.
That is why, after achieving Pakistan for the Muslims of India, Jinnah in his famous August 11 speech, gave equal rights to all citizens regardless of religion, cast or ethnicity to avoid the exact same situation that had led the Muslims to demand a separate nation. It was simply a time to restate the Pakistan ideology and assign the status of nationhood to the state of Pakistan alone.
The insistence to continue with the two nation theory as the cornerstone of Pakistan’s existence does not only suggest that the communal problem of the pre-Partition era continues to exist, but also implies that Pakistan’s creation has not resolved anything. If the purpose of the two nation theory was to achieve a separate homeland then wasn’t that objective achieved? Furthermore, it would also suggest that any minority within Pakistan would always have the potential to take recourse to its cultural, religious or ethnic identity in order to build its political constituency.
And that did happen in 1971 in the form of Bengali nationalism. The creation of Bangladesh was not the demise of the two nation theory; it was, in fact, a successful reprisal of it. And the root cause for its reprisal was the same for Bengalis as it was for the Muslims of India – injustice. The two nation theory emerged in response to injustice. And if the two nation theory persists, it means that injustice thrives.
Jinnah was very clear in his vision for Pakistan. He never sold Islam to his followers. He certainly wanted the country to be guided by Islamic principles (that clearly allow for equal rights to all citizens). But he never wanted it to be a theocracy to be run by some mullahs asserting their right to rule under divine authority. He only wanted the Muslim majority areas to be converted into a separate state, which would obviously include non-Muslims.
A state is a territorial entity whose boundaries play a pivotal role in defining nationhood. In contrast, religion is a reality that transcends all local, national, ethnic and linguistic boundaries and brings into being a wider community of faith. It is time we realised this and moved on to the task of nation-building in a rational way.
Farhan Shah is a development professional based in Lahore.