Home / Opinion / Was Pakistan Sufficiently Imagined Before Independence? | Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi
Was Pakistan Sufficiently Imagined Before Independence

Was Pakistan Sufficiently Imagined Before Independence? | Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi

Pakistan and India celebrate their Independence Days on August 14 and15, reviving the memories of the struggle for independence, the partition of British India and the creation of Pakistan. New research helps understand the complexities of these events, especially the establishment of Pakistan as an independent and sovereign state. If we examine the books and articles written by American, British, Indian and Pakistani historians and analysts, we can talk of 10 to 12 explanations, and their variations, for the making of Pakistan. The official Pakistani perspective emphasises what is described as the two-nation theory as the basis for the demand for a separate homeland for Muslims.

Pakistan’s inability to develop a viable political system in the post-independence period has led many to explore the causes of this failure. Some attribute this to the inability of the country’s political leadership to formulate a consensus on political institutions and processes for coping with post-independence issues. Others trace the roots of the post-independence woes to the pre-independence period, pointing out the nature and dynamics of the Pakistan movement, particularly the confusion over the role of religion and the failure to articulate the detailed contours of the post-independence political arrangements. The demand for a separate state evolved gradually. What led the founders of Pakistan to shift from their demand of a federal system with autonomy for the provinces to the demand of a separate state? Did they think of a separate homeland to protect the civilisational identity, rights and interests of the Muslims of British India from the onslaught of an unsympathetic majority or did they want to recreate a puritanical Islamic state as a replica of the state in the earliest period of Islamic history? Did the founders talk of an ‘ideology of Pakistan’ and define it the way it was articulated after General Ziaul-Haq embarked on creating a fundamentalist Islamic state, with emphasis on religious conservatism and militancy? There are no final answers to these questions. However, an emotionally charged debate continues in Pakistan on these issues even after 68 years of independence.

In his recent work, Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in late Colonial North India (Cambridge University Press, 2015), Venkat Dhulipala makes well-researched and insightful comments on the emergence and popularity of the demand for Pakistan in the final decade of colonial rule in India. The author uses official documents, private papers, records of political organisations, newspapers, books and articles to focus on hitherto neglected dimensions of the demand for Pakistan. These issues included the debate in the United Provinces (UP) on the idea of Pakistan, the ulema who opposed and those who supported the demand for Pakistan, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and others, the Congress reaction to the Lahore Resolution, the debate on Pakistan in the Urdu press during the 1940-47 period, economic defence of Pakistan, the Muslim League’s guarantees to religious minorities, its political tactics, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani and the demand for Pakistan, Dr B R Ambedkar’s thoughts on Pakistan, and the question of the relationship between Islam and Pakistan.

The author acknowledges the central role of the Quaid in the initiation of the demand for Pakistan and the mobilisation of support for it among the Muslim elite and the common people. He rejects the notions that Pakistan was the product of the divide and rule policy of the British or that it was a “parting kick” by them to Indian nationalism. He also expresses strong reservations over the argument that Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan was a bargaining strategy “to acquire for the Muslims political equality with the numerically preponderant Hindus in an undivided post-colonial India” (p121). He maintains that the idea of Pakistan may have lacked clarity in the initial stages, but with the passage of time it got “clarity, substance, and popularity in the public sphere” (p123). The book rejects the view that Pakistan was not sufficiently imagined by the champions of its cause. Pakistan was imagined in northern India as a “sovereign Islamic State, a New Medina, as it was called by some of its proponents. In this regard, it was not just envisaged as a refuge for the Indian Muslims, but as an Islamic utopia that would be the harbinger for renewal and rise of Islam in the modern world, act as the powerful new leader and protector of the entire Islamic world and, thus emerge as a worthy successor to the defunct Turkish Caliphate as the foremost Islamic power in the twentieth century.” (p4).

It is a historical fact that Jinnah employed Islamic idiom and discourse only after his return from London in 1934, and especially after 1937, in the formation of Muslim political identity and popular mobilisation. He was inspired by the ideals of socio-economic justice and equality in the teachings of Islam and thought these ideals could be reconciled with a modern democratic state system. Jinnah advocated a modern constitutional democratic state that sought ethnic inspiration from the teachings of Islam rather than the establishment of a puritanical and religious Islamic state. He upheld the principle of equal citizenship for all, irrespective of religion or caste, and a state that remains segregated from religion.

The 1956 constitution adopted the modernist Muslim version of the relationship between the state and Islam. However, the orthodox and fundamentalist ulema stood for a religion-based fundamentalist Islamic state. This worldview of the ulema was not adopted as official policy until General Zia assumed power. Since then, the Pakistani state projects a fundamentalist and conservative, religion-based identity. The notion of New Medina, as articulated by the author, meant different things to different supporters of Pakistan. The Objectives Resolution was hailed as a document that fused modern state power with Islam. However, the same Resolution was used by General Zia to promote religious orthodoxy and fundamentalism.

It is true that there was more enthusiasm for Pakistan in Muslim-minority provinces, especially in UP, and that the bitter experience of the Muslims during Congress rule in these areas (1937-39), turned them towards the demand for the division of India. However, had there been no Muslim-majority, territorially contiguous provinces in the northwest of British India and a large Muslim population in Bengal, there was very little likelihood that Pakistan would have been established as a sovereign state.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th,  2015.

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