Jinnah, Secularism and the Ideology of Pakistan

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Yasser Latif Hamdani*

*The author is a practicing lawyer based in Lahore. He is also the author of the book, “Jinnah; Myth or Reality.” His email address is hamdani@gmail.com


(The complex set of events that led to the partition of India do not quite gel with the ideological and nationalist mythologies that the people of India and Pakistan have been subjected to. For Pakistan, it continues to be a matter of life and death, for until we take everything in entirety and resolve our identity crisis, we shall continue to be in limbo. – Author)

Mandela famously wrote in 1995 that “Jinnah is a constant source of inspiration for all those who are fighting against racial or group discrimination”. His tribute to Quaid-e-Azam was a reminder to Pakistanis what their country was actually founded for. Jinnah could care less for the theocratic ambitions that Pakistanis have written into the constitution of Pakistan. His reason for the Pakistan movement was first and foremost for justice and fair play for Muslims in British India who he saw as being left behind economically and politically. Nor was it limited to the Muslims.

As one of the leading politicians in South Asia, Jinnah had toiled equally for Indians – especially Indians who were marginalized. The Quaid’s aim and objective in his long political career had been to first and foremost overturn the apartheid of sorts inflicted on the “natives” by a British bureaucracy using the tools that the British had given India. As a young law student in England, Jinnah had been pained to see the racist campaign against the great Indian leader Dadabhoy Naoroji which had played on Naoroji’s colour. Imbibing political liberalism from greats like John Morley, Jinnah had come out in support of unpopular causes right from the beginning. His earliest political experience had been in support of the Suffragette Movement and for women’s equality – a lifelong commitment which saw him exhorting his supporters to take women as comrades in the national struggle. As one of the few Muslims who joined the Indian National Congress, Jinnah was mercilessly outspoken against racial discrimination of all kinds and spoke repeatedly of the rights of Indians and other races of the Empire to become equal partners in progress.

The first notable confrontation that Jinnah had with the Viceroy of India was over South Africa’s government. As Jinnah spoke of the “cruel and harsh treatment” meted out by the South African government to Mohandas Gandhi and Indians there, the Viceroy, Lord Minto, admonished him for using “harsh language”. Jinnah’s reply was classic – a reply that would set the tone of his relations with the Empire for the remainder of his career. He replied, “Well my Lord, I should feel inclined to use much harsher language” if it had not been for his presence in the council. Jinnah’s concern for South Africa may have been much older – Gandhi’s correspondence shows letters from “M A Jinnah, Barrister, Karachi” as early as 1897 as unearthed by Ramchandra Guha in his book “India before Gandhi”. It should shed some light on Gandhi-Jinnah binary that Indians and Pakistanis have created as a result of acerbic rivalry between the two nation states.

Both India and Pakistan for their own reasons have buried Jinnah’s record as staunch crusader for Indian rights and Indian equality in the empire in the aftermath of the bloody partition that the subcontinent underwent and the blame for which is laid – all too conveniently – at Jinnah’s door. Therefore no one cares to mention that the only case Jinnah did without a fee was of Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s sedition case-the valiant account of which can be found in A G Noorani’s “Jinnah and Tilak”. Hardly anyone in India or Pakistan is aware of the massive public protest Jinnah led against Lord Willingdon in Bombay which was significant enough for citizens of Bombay – Hindus, Muslims, Parsis alike – to raise contributions for a memorial hall dedicated to Jinnah’s memory which still stands in Mumbai. No mention is made of the successful boycott that Jinnah led against the Simon Commission which had arrogantly excluded Indian participation on the issue of the future Indian constitution. It is forgotten that Jinnah was the only major Indian leader who had vociferously condemned the treatment of Bhagat Singh as an ordinary prisoner and for not getting the same benefits in prison as European prisoners. Similarly, the massive legislative contributions that Jinnah made to the statute books of India and Pakistan are ignored. Pakistan has done so to tailor Jinnah into an exclusivist Muslim leader irrevocably committed to Muslim nationalism while India has done so to punish Jinnah for what it perceives as his role in the vivisection of the country.

Nelson Mandela saw past the bigotry and selective histories of India and Pakistan. He listed on several occasions Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru as his inspirations, sidestepping the apparent improbability that has been manufactured by the two South Asian nation states. In a personal conversation he described Jinnah as an enduring inspiration for him.

The argument against Jinnah is predicated on the misunderstanding that the two nation theory stated that Hindus and Muslims could not co-exist, which is not true. This is a common misunderstanding that has been associated with the two nation theory but it certainly has nothing to do with the two nation theory as Jinnah understood it. In January 1940, Jinnah had written an article called “The Constitutional Maladies of India” in Time and Tide where he first articulated the two nation theory – which mind you had been articulated by others long before him. In it he argued that Hindus and Muslims were two nations and that those two nations had to work together and “share in the governance of their common motherland”, i.e. India, so that India could emerge as a “great nation”. This does not preclude coexistence by any stretch of imagination. In his speech during the Lahore Session, Jinnah argued that these two nations could not evolve a common nationality. Here was a man who had spent 30 odd years trying to bring Hindus and Muslims together who on the face of it had become pessimistic about this unity. The resolution that came out of this session in that fateful March of 1940, though ambiguous over independence and autonomy of the state or states proposed, was thoroughly unambiguous about the fact that there would be Hindu minorities in such a state or states as there would be Muslim minorities in India. Therefore co-existence of Hindus and Muslims was always part of the Lahore Resolution as well as Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan. Gandhi had made a point of this in their cordial but unsuccessful discussions in 1944.

Why must it have been necessary? Jinnah’s re-statement of the Hindu-Muslim question in national terms came after an acute realization that even in areas where Muslims had a majority, they were far too backward: educationally, socially, culturally, politically, economically, etc. There were many historic reasons for why Muslims were far behind economically and educationally; none of them had been invented by Jinnah. That Muslims had developed a separate consciousness, which also pre-dated Jinnah. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had urged Muslims not to the join the Congress. When in 1905-1906, the followers of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan petitioned the British government for separate electorates, Jinnah, the Congressman, had opposed it. Gandhi’s use of religious divines in the Khilafat Movement made religious identities non-negotiable. Again Jinnah had opposed the idea. It was only after seeing that despite all the safeguards rendered to the Muslims, they were excluded almost entirely from power, he began to search for a different solution. The solution in this case was the creation of a Confederacy of India, where Muslim majority provinces would be autonomous and sufficiently linked to ensure some form of sovereignty. This again at no point precluded coexistence. Muslim majority provinces would, in any event, have had large non-Muslim minorities.

In order to bolster the odds of his constituents in a framework where arithmetic of electoral politics would always work against them, Jinnah argued that they were a nation and not a minority. He based his subjective idea of a Muslim nation on objective criteria – common history and experiences. That Hindus and Muslims had looked at each other antagonistically was not invented by Jinnah. Indeed, his attempt for most of his life had been to bring about a political unity between the two. Similarly, other than a superficial mixing in the educated upper classes, the Hindus and Muslims had maintained largely separate existences despite living side by side. That they did not inter-dine or intermarry was not Jinnah’s doing nor was the Hindu pani and Muslim pani and the Hindu and Muslim gymkhanas Jinnah’s idea. Using these facts, facts which he had viewed as unfortunate and ugly realities on the ground, Jinnah constructed the case that Muslims were a nation in order to balance the odds between the more advanced and numerous Hindus and the backward and outnumbered Muslims. It was never an absolute position though. In 1947, Jinnah argued that a Punjabi or a Bengali was a Punjabi or a Bengali before he was a Hindu or a Muslim. How does that square off with the idea that Jinnah’s two nation theory imagined water tight compartmental nations?

It is unfair however to lump in Jinnah’s politics with this general trend. To begin with Jinnah, who was a Khoja Shia and a 2nd generation Muslim, saw himself as an Indian first second and last. His attempts at Hindu-Muslim Unity were acknowledged by all, including Gokhale, Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu. It was only in the last decade of his life that Jinnah came to be the sole spokesman of the Muslim community against what he perceived to be caste Hindu domination. The two nation theory was not anti-Hindu in its nature. By making a claim that Muslims were a nation and not a community, Jinnah had sought to give Muslims a stake in constitution making at par with the Hindus. It did not seek to deny the commonalities but pointed out that the cleavages were greater. Was Jinnah alone in fearing caste Hindu domination? B R Ambedkar, who authored the Indian Constitution, wrote several books, both before and after partition, denouncing caste Hindu imperialism. He also endorsed Muslim nationalism as a legitimate counterpoint to caste Hindu domination. E V Ramaswamy Naicker, the leader of the Dravidians in the South, was also a staunch supporter of Jinnah. The idea that “Muslim nationalities” should have self determination was endorsed by the Communist Party of India, which was in its composition largely dominated by Hindus. None of these people perceived Jinnah or his movement to be anti-Hindu.

At the height of the communal tensions, Jinnah took the extraordinary step of appointing a Hindu as the representative of Muslims in the interim government of India. Jogindranath Mandal was to later become the first law minister of Pakistan and also presided over the very first session of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly at Jinnah’s own request. Jinnah’s 11 August speech did not merely promise Hindus the right to go to their temples. He also expressed the hope that “in due course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense, because that is the personal faith of an individual, but in a political sense as citizens of one state.”

Pakistan’s founding “ideology”, if there is such a thing, does not require hatred for Hindus at all. It had made a case for demarcation on the basis of differences so that a pan-Indian constitutional arrangement could be arrived at with unanimous consent of both Hindus and Muslims. Such a unanimous consent was in offing in the form of the Cabinet Mission Plan, which was not allowed to work. The bottom line therefore can be that Pakistan was a reconstitution of Muslim majority provinces in one federation. The Lahore Resolution also made it clear that such a Pakistan would have a large number of Non-Muslim minorities whose rights would be safeguarded in consultation with them. Muslim League itself attempted- somewhat successfully- to rally support of several Hindu and Sikh groups. Ironically Congress-based Islamists attacked Jinnah and the Muslim League for having conceived of a country which would have almost 40 percent Hindus and Sikhs in it. The same Congress Islamists attacked Jinnah for having championed the civil law marriages bill which would have allowed Hindus and Muslims to intermarry without restriction.

If there has to be a founding ideology of Pakistan it is this: No permanent cultural majority should be allowed to dominate a permanent cultural minority. Attacks on religious minorities in Pakistan, like the kind that happened in Larkana, hits at the root of this ideology of Pakistan. Jinnah had – while assuring the Hindus in Sibi- said that a country founded for a minority could not be unmindful of its own minorities.

There is a tendency amongst our writers to now look back and say that the two nation theory was the antithesis of secularism, but in the 1940s at least it was forwarded by two men, Ambedkar and Jinnah, who were perhaps the most secular minded politicians in South Asia. In the chapter “A Nation Calling for a Home” Ambedkar eloquently explains: “Thus, the things that divide are far more vital than the things which unite. In depending upon certain common features of Hindu and Mahomedan social life, in relying upon common language, common race and common country, the Hindu is mistaking what is accidental and superficial for what is essential and fundamental. The political and religious antagonisms divide the Hindus and the Musalmans far more deeply than the so-called common things are able to bind them together…The Muslims have developed a ‘will to live as a nation.’ For them nature has found a territory which they can occupy and make it a state as well as a cultural home for the new-born Muslim nation. Given these favourable conditions, there should be no wonder, if the Muslims say that they are not content to occupy the position which the French choose to occupy in Canada or the English choose to occupy in South Africa, and that they shall have a national home which they can call their own.”

Yet, it would be a reduction of the complexity of Ambedkar’s argument to suggest that he was suggesting an irrevocable partition. In Chapter 15 of the book “Who can decide” Ambedkar sets down, as the great jurist that he was, the draft Government of India (Preliminary Provisions) Act which laid down the best solution to the communal question which would either lead to an amicable divorce or a gradual integration of Hindus and Muslims. I do not think many historians have paid any real attention to this remarkable draft legislation because it contained within it the germs of the Cabinet Mission Plan which ultimately the Muslim League accepted and which could have averted partition. However Ambedkar’s plan was better. It seems therefore that Ambedkar played a great role in influencing Jinnah’s ideas on a communal settlement.

Ambedkar and Jinnah had been natural allies. As men of the law and as leaders of groups outside the upper caste milleu of Hindudom, they saw each other as the great resistance to what they felt was caste Hindu domination. When the Congress quit the government in 1939, Ambedkar joined Jinnah in celebrating the day of deliverance along with Periyar E V Ramasamy Naicker of the Dravidian movement. Ambedkar, Jinnah and Naicker formed a formidable trio against what they perceived to be caste Hindu domination that Congress and its Hindu Mahasabha allies were hell bent on imposing on India. It may also be pointed out that Ambedkar was never an uncritical ally of Jinnah. He criticized Jinnah, publicly and privately, wherever and whenever he felt Jinnah was making a mistake and Jinnah took it uncharacteristically. It was a relationship of peers and very few leaders could claim that kind of relationship with the Quaid-e-Azam.

There is a tendency amongst Pakistanis to rationalize (or criticize) the creation of Pakistan on religious grounds. The real anxiety was economic and political – an anxiety that Jinnah shared with his Dalit and Dravidian allies. It was for this reason that Jinnah nominated Jogindranath Mandal, a follower of Ambedkar, to represent Muslims in the interim government of India and later appointed him minister of Law in the Pakistan Government. Unfortunately, Jinnah’s lieutenants treated Mandal shabbily after Jinnah’s demise and that man left Pakistan broken hearted. A couple of years ago, the Lahore City District Government decided to name an underpass after Pakistan’s first law minister. It seems that they have since changed their decision.

Credit must be given however to the Congress Party in India, which after 1947, sought out Ambedkar, despite his antipathy to Gandhi, and tasked him with the making of the Indian Constitution, which he did with great skill and which is a living testament to the brilliant mind that Ambedkar was.

On August 27, 1947, during the proceedings of the first Constituent Assembly of India, when the Report on Minority Rights was being discussed, Mr. M.A. Ayyangar and Mr. B. Pocker Sahib Bahadur made specific reference to Quaid-e-Azam’s 11th August 1947 speech, actually quoting from it.

Mr. M. A. Ayyangar said:

“…Therefore, it is up to us to create a secular State. It would not be wrong for me to quote Mr. Jinnah in this connection, whatever, he might have said before Partition. He said: ‘My idea is to have a secular State here’. Somebody asked : “Religious or secular?” He said: ‘Hindus and Muslim are alike to me. They must have equal opportunities’”

Mr. B. Pocker Sahib Bahadur said:

“…We cannot recognise Religion as far as the State is concerned. I wonder if my friends who have suggested separate electorate for minorities would appreciate the remarks of a great leader of India. It is Mr. Jinnah who, in his address to the Pakistan Assembly says: “… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens, and equal citizens of one State. We would keep that in front of us as our ideal and in course of time you will find that in the political sense the Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because religion is the personal faith of each individual.” That is what the Governor-General of one of the parts of India says…..I submit Sir, that even they are believers of oneness of their people. Why should we introduce this separatist tendency into our politics? Sir, at another place the same very great leader says “…you are free to go to your temples and places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to one religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”…”

It is another strange thing in our collective history that the country Jinnah left behind did – at least in theory – follow his advice and ushered in a more or less secular polity.

“Well young man I will have nothing to do with this pseudo religious approach to politics. I part company with the Congress and Gandhi. I do not believe in creating mob hysteria. Politics is a gentlemen’s game.” 1

The importance of a single individual in history has been the subject of much debate for historians and political scientists alike. Yet we see that throughout history extraordinary individuals have been canonized as national symbols. Some of the nation states have laid claim to primordial historical revivalism. The breakaway states of the Soviet Union especially have emphasized their “heroes” in their national narrative; sometimes these have been unlikely heroes. For example Uzbekistan has laid claim to Babur, the warrior prince from Ferghana who went onto found the Mughal Empire in India. Mongolia sees Genghis Khan as its historical antecedent. On the other hand, Turkey sees at the center of its national identity, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the modernist general and first president of the Republic. Old or new, extraordinary individuals have been utilized for identity-formation. Yet Jinnah’s importance to Pakistan goes beyond mere identity formation. That Jinnah is seen as the foremost symbol of the state is obvious. Baloch Liberation Army chose to attack Ziarat Residency precisely because of that reason. Far more important though is that Jinnah represents something more substantial. For one thing, the state’s deliberate self-identification with Islam does not sit easy with Jinnah the historical figure. After all Jinnah was a Shiite Muslim from the Khoja Ithna Ashari Jamaat, while most Pakistanis are Hanafi Sunni Muslims.

For a state that claims to be wedded to the Islamic ideology, Jinnah is more of a problem than a solution. Jinnah was a self consciously modern and cosmopolitan man, at home with the ways of the world, who was from a professional class and whose means and methods were parliamentary and constitutional. Pseudo religious approach to politics, he said, had nothing to do with him. Even his advocacy of Pakistan was political in nature, and for a leader who was supposed to be leading Muslims towards the promised homeland as the myth goes, Islamic rhetoric, if any, finds only scarce mention. He did not believe in agitation politics though he did resort to it at three occasions in his career i.e. protest against Lord Willingdon in Bombay, boycott of the Simon Commission and finally the call for Direct Action in 1946. Yet, instinctively and by design, his politics was parliamentary in nature for the purposes of constitutional advance and he felt at ill-ease amongst the rabble rousers and considered their politics counterproductive to broader national goals. It does not mean that he was implacably opposed to mass mobilisation. That would be too much of a stretch. However a liberal of the John Morley school, he imagined himself to be a man for the people rather a man of the people. Unlike his great rival, Gandhi, he saw no merit in descending into squalor and poverty from which he sought to liberate the people. It was a qualitatively different approach but one which cannot be termed elitist. An elitist politician does not campaign for universal adult literacy or the right of Indian soldiers to become officers in their own army, two things Jinnah passionately argued for. It is precisely for this reason that the apparently patrician Jinnah was found on several occasions siding with workers movements, while the plebian Gandhi stood in the very same disputes, from the side of the big business such as the Birlas who funded him. During his self imposed exile in England, Jinnah joined the Fabian Society – the premier club of English Socialism. As stated above, Jinnah’s politics was modeled after Victorian British Liberals such as John Morley and others. It is this feeling that had brought Jinnah in the same camp as the suffragette movement, which was something Agatha Harrison, the Quaker leader, noted at a reference to Jinnah’s memory in 1948. 2

In a revealing address, Jinnah perhaps showed the essence of what he was striving towards:

“We must take steps to organize labour in the country, industrial as well as agricultural, including ryots and peasants, to bring about speedy improvement in the economic condition and protect their interest. We must enable them to take their place in their country’s struggle for independence.” 3

These were not merely words. Jinnah went about creating worker’s committees of the Congress as early as 1917. Nor did it end there. In the 1940s Jinnah tasked Masood Khadarposh to organize Sindhi workers along socialist lines. Facts like these are deliberately hidden from our people.

That Jinnah had some kind of socialist vision is confirmed by Ian Talbott’s essay titled ‘The Pakistan Plan’ which showed that the plan Jinnah and the League formulated was socialist in orientation. 4

His commitment to civil liberties was second to none. On 16 February 1919, Jinnah delivered what was perhaps his finest speech in the legislative assembly. Attacking the Rowlatt’s Bill, Jinnah roared:

“This was a wrong remedy for the disease, the revolutionary crimes. To substitute the Executive for the Judicial will lead to the abuse of these vast powers…there was no precedent or parallel in the legal history of any civilized country to the enactment of such laws. If these measures are passed, they will create unprecedented discontent, agitation and will have the most disastrous effect upon the relations between the Government and the people.” 5

Bhagat Singh was another cause Jinnah took up with some verve. He had appeared as a defense witness in the Delhi case where Singh and his compatriots were accused of conspiring to blow up the Indian central legislature. It is his famous speech in the central legislature that bears reproduction:

“The man who goes on hunger-strike has a soul. He is moved by the soul and he believes in the justice of his cause; he is not an ordinary criminal who is guilty of cold-blooded, sordid, wicked crime.

“What was he driving at? It is the system, this damnable system of Government, which is resented by the people.

“And the last words I wish to address the Government are, try and concentrate your mind on the root cause and the more you concentrate on the root cause, the less difficulties and inconveniences there will be for you to face, and thank Heaven that the money of the taxpayer will not be wasted in prosecuting men, nay citizens, who are fighting and struggling for the freedom of their country.” 6

Unlike the traditional Muslim leadership, Jinnah was a liberal democrat. His tools were not guns but his type writer. His army was his people. This makes Jinnah’s model of leadership even more important to our time, when Pakistan still continues to grapple with outdated notions of civil military relations. Unfortunately, quoting Jinnah is bound to get you branded as an ‘intellectually barren liberal’ on ‘foreign payroll’. It is often said that liberals only quote Jinnah’s August 11th speech (though there are about 30 odd speeches by Jinnah that say the same thing, though perhaps less eloquently) to try and prove that Jinnah wanted a secular state. A plethora of quotes out of context are then produced to prove that Jinnah said different things at different times. One favourite, it seems, is Jinnah’s speech to the bar association in Karachi on Eid Milad-un-Nabi where a single line is quoted from the speech out of context to prove that Jinnah promised the enforcement of Shariah in Pakistan. When one reads the complete speech, one realises that the Quaid is actually saying that nothing in Islam stops us from making a constitution that promises equality, justice and fair play for all citizens of Pakistan without distinction of religion.

Somehow inferences that are being drawn by official state ideologues from selective quotes are supposed to trump Jinnah’s clear pronouncement as the President of the Constituent Assembly at the initiation of the constitution-making process. The speech, given immediately after Congress leader Kiran Shankar Roy’s speech asking Jinnah to clarify whether Pakistan would be a secular state or not, states very clearly that the new state would be completely impartial and neutral to a person’s religion, which is to be the personal faith of an individual. The speech calls for fusion of all communities into one Pakistani nation and for making religious identity irrelevant through cooperation and working together for a common goal. These are broadly the contours of a secular not religious state.

So what was — one might ask — the need for a separate state for Muslims? First of all, for Jinnah the idea that Muslims and Hindus had been unable to forge a common Indian identity was a matter of great regret. As the only political leader to be called the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, Jinnah had tried for 33 odd years to effect a settlement between Hindus and Muslims but his efforts were foiled by people on both sides. Unable to achieve his cherished goal of Hindu-Muslim unity on mutually acceptable terms in a United India, Jinnah pinned his hopes on the Muslim majority to be generous in Pakistan and bring about a common secular Pakistani identity in “due course of time”. Here he miscalculated.

The point is that Pakistan was envisaged as and ought to be a secular state. To this end Jinnah becomes a very important marker and the only credible master signifier. It is Jinnah alone who stands — from beyond the grave — in the way of Muslim majoritarianism just as he had stood against Hindu majoritarianism in United India. When the MMA-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tried to ban western dress, ANP legislators, no great admirers of Jinnah, used Jinnah’s portrait as their shield.

It is tragic that despite Pakistan’s existence for over 70 years, checkered as it may be, people feel that questioning a legal and political reality to which we are bound by law is fair game. The answer to the oft asked question, “was partition a mistake”, is that Pakistan is as big a mistake or success as any other nation state. Of course, this is not what some of our drawing room debaters want to hear. Unfortunately, some want to conflate liberalism with defeatism and self-loathing. Liberalism, in my view, has more to do with individual freedoms, equality and a general attitude to live and let live. If attitude towards partition was to be the standard for liberalism, then one would have to argue that the rabid maulanas who abused Pakistan as ‘Kafiristan’ and called Jinnah Kafir-e-Azam were the greatest liberals of them all.

It may be remembered that neither Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah nor any of his associates committed the state to any official ideology. No resolution, be it a Muslim League working committee resolution or a constituent assembly resolution, was ever passed along these lines. A few attempts were made but were vetoed by Quaid-e-Azam himself. To an enthusiastic Leaguer proclaiming “Pakistan ka matlab kiya” (what does Pakistan mean?), Jinnah was forthright in declaring that no such resolution was ever passed by the Muslim League.

The term ‘ideology of Pakistan’ was first introduced officially by General Sher Ali Pataudi during Yahya Khan’s rule. General Pataudi was an exceptionally rigid and narrow-minded officer by all accounts. His introduction of the ideology of Pakistan was to take care of anti-state Bengali dissidents. Ironically, the leading victim of this manufactured ideology of Pakistan was Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, who had risen from the ranks of the Pakistan Movement and the Direct Action Day protest of August 16, 1946. Soon afterwards, the so-called ideology was used to butcher Bengalis, who had contributed more than anyone else to the creation of Pakistan. These days it is used against the minorities of Pakistan and its liberals.

Historically, whenever a country goes through a crisis, it finds its fair share of critics and defeatists. The consensus globally, well into the middle of the 19th century, about the experiment that was the US was that its separation from the mother country was a terrible mistake. While the US continued to be plagued with wars and ultimately a civil war and was largely impoverished when compared to its European cousins, Great Britain saw a phenomenal rise cementing its colonies worldwide, becoming the premier trading and commercial power of the world. At the time, I imagine, many Americans would have questioned the wisdom of separating from the British Empire, which was socially, culturally and economically far ahead of the US. Certainly, there was much to complain about. The new world that the US promised was till then far behind the old world. Britain, for example, had abolished slavery by 1833. That was 25 years before the US Supreme Court still ruled that people of African origin could not be included in the US constitution’s definition of a citizen. Yet, the US did go through fire and emerged as the leader in the 20th century and, most likely, for some time in the 21st century as well. I challenge anyone today to agree with the naysayers then that the creation of the US was a mistake.

The standard liberal response is: the US had a secular constitution, Pakistan does not. Now there are two problems with this line of argument: one, the basic feature of a secular constitution that is most appealing is procedural and substantive equality for all citizens. What then is a secular constitution worth if it is interpreted to discriminate against another group on the basis of race? Therefore, the analogy between Pakistan’s treatment of its marginalised groups and how the US treated African -Americans in its first 70 odd years is on the dot. Second, and most importantly, Pakistan’s constitution in 1947 — the constitution that Jinnah took oath under — was fiercely secular. Under Section 298 of the then dominion constitution, “No subject of His Majesty domiciled in Pakistan shall, on grounds only of religion, place of birth, descent, colour or any of them be ineligible for office under the Crown in Pakistan.” Jinnah had moved to reaffirm this principle time and again, especially when he chose a non-Muslim to head the law ministry; a significant move given that law is said to be the main preoccupation of an Islamic state. He blocked all moves to Islamize the constitution. The point is that Jinnah was crystal clear in which way he wanted Pakistan to go. He felt, of course, that Islam was no impediment to a secular constitution and, in fact, employed Islamic vocabulary to convince his constituents that Islam and secular democracy were compatible.

As democracy takes hold and international pressures play their part in policy, Pakistan will have to become more inclusive and secular. In this respect, Jinnah’s reference to the Catholic-Protestant conflict in his August 11 speech is instructive, primarily because it shows the evolution of Great Britain from a state that persecuted to a state that has become the mother of all democracies. It is not by mere chance that the mother of all secular democracies in substance is a protestant monarchy in form. In our case, we have the advantage of the information age, which has accelerated our evolution.

A corollary of this view is that the League’s use of Islam was unbridled and poisoned the prevailing atmosphere in Punjab in the 1946 elections. Both statements are at best half-truths. The Muslim League appealed to Islamic solidarity and in Punjab, at the grassroots level, it deployed Barelvis to capture the imagination of the masses. However, what is often forgotten is that the Barelvis constituted the low church of Islam, i.e. the popular Islam of sufis, pirs and dargahs. Arrayed against the League were the ulema and pillars of Islamic orthodoxy — the Deobandis — i.e. the high church of Islam. It is for this reason that even the most secular politicians in Punjab on all sides became gaddi nashins.

This was not one sided nor did the Muslim League start it. In Punjab, the Unionists had deployed their own ulema against the Muslim League and elsewhere the Congress and its Islamic allies, the Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind under Madni, resorted to the choicest abuse against Jinnah, calling him ‘Kafir-e-Azam’, the League ‘Kafir League’ and Pakistan ‘Kafiristan’. Other Islamic groups like Khaksar Tehreek and Jamaat-e-Islami also attacked the Muslim League for being too westernised, too worldly, a bastion of Qadiyanism and bedding the British. In NWFP, Maulana Mufti Mahmood, an ally of Congress, started nefarious propaganda against the Muslim League and even made the lack of purdah on part of the Muslim League’s women, during the 1946-1947 civil disobedience movement, an issue. The blatant use of Islam had been very much a part of Indian politics since Mahatma Gandhi encouraged Muslim divines to come into politics during the Khilafat Movement. At the time, Jinnah was the lone voice of dissent in Congress. He abhorred the agitation in the name of religion and repeatedly said that he was amazed that the Hindu leaders do not realize that this movement would encourage pan-Islamic sentiment that the Sultan of Turkey was trying to use to buttress his own tottering empire. He warned that pan Islamism would destroy the nationalism of Indian Muslims.  7 Gandhi felt that this was the idiom Muslims would understand. 8

There are two gaping holes in this persistent myth on both sides of the border. The first is the fact that the only religious group that supported the Muslim League en masse was Jamaat-e-eAhmadiyya and it did so consistently from 1930 onwards. Certain writers have latched onto the Munir Report’s ambiguous statement about Ahmadis being initially reluctant to join the Pakistan Movement till Sir Zafarullah was won over by Jinnah. Ironically, these people ignore the prescriptions of that fine document completely but rely on this one statement out of context. The truth is that Sir Zafarullah had been the president of the Muslim League from as early as 1931 and, according to Wali Khan’s book, Facts are Sacred, was the author of the Lahore Resolution itself. Therefore, by the Munir Report’s assertion, and depending on what you place as the start date for the Pakistan Movement, the Ahmadis either joined the Pakistan Movement in 1931 or in 1940. That means that those latter-day ‘heretics’ were the earliest community to join the Pakistan Movement.

The second hole is that the Communist Party of India — that most secular and non-communal institution in South Asian polity — wholeheartedly supported the Muslim League and the Pakistan Movement during the 1940s. P C Joshi, one of the tallest leaders of the Communist Party, wrote, explaining the communist position: “We were the first to see and admit a change in its character when the League accepted complete independence as its aim and began to rally the Muslim masses behind its banner. We held a series of discussions within our party and came to the conclusion in 1941-1942 that it had become an anti-imperialist organisation expressing the freedom urge of the Muslim people that its demand for Pakistan was a demand for self-determination…A belief continues to be held that the League is a communal organisation and that Mr Jinnah is pro-British. But what is the reality? Mr. Jinnah is to the freedom loving League masses what Gandhi ji is to the Congress masses…This is so because Mr. Jinnah has done to the League what Gandhi did to the Congress in 1919-1920 i.e. made it a mass organisation.”

The Communist Party not only supported the Muslim League, but also gave its own people like Sajjad Zaheer, Abdullah Malik and Daniyal Latifi to the League. Daniyal Latifi, who was trained in law by Jinnah himself, authored the Punjab Muslim League’s manifesto for the 1945-1946 elections, which was one of the most progressive manifestos in the history of this region. But the point is that the League’s entire election campaign in the 1945-1946 elections was stage managed in Punjab by the Communist Party of India. They would not have done so if they had thought the League was operating on a narrow communal agenda.

Therefore, the complex set of events that led to the partition of India do not quite gel with the ideological and nationalist mythologies that the people of India and Pakistan have been subjected to. For Pakistan, it continues to be a matter of life and death, for until we take everything in entirety and resolve our identity crisis, we shall continue to be in limbo.


1- (Das, 2004) Page 76 Das, D. (2004). India From Curzon to Nehru and After. New Delhi India : Rupa.

2- (Ikramullah, 2004) Page 186

3- (Javed, 2009 ) Pages 128-129

4- Modern Asian Studies – Volume 28 4 1994 Pages 875-889

5- (Wolpert, 1999) Page 61

6- (Noorani, The Trial of Bhagat Singh , 1996) See Chapter Pages 76 to 96

7- (Das, 2004) Page 77

8- (Das, 2004) Page 98