The Subcontinent – an infinite multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-class mass of plurality and a cauldron of immense contradictions – was partitioned in an extremely hasty, thoughtless, deceitful, expeditious and bloody manner by the British amid what historian Stanley Wolpert describes as a “shameful flight” of the British colonialists. And it has continued to be partitioned and divided on societal, ethnic, ideological, religious/sectarian and geographical lines within and between the three states of the Subcontinent.
Despite taking the course of ‘partition’ as a panacea of communal divide, the Subcontinent continues to suffer from similar multiple tensions and communal/sectarian divisions with competing majority nationalisms or sectarian divisiveness, consequently further vulgarising the course of our history.
If at all the Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940, the March 26 Resolution of the All-India Muslim League’s session at Lahore and, subsequently, ‘partition’ were the ultimate solution to the communal or minority question, ‘majoritarian’ communal, sectarian and ethnic divides continue in all three states of the Subcontinent.
An ironic sense of vindication of the ‘Two-Nation Theory’ is being expressed in Pakistan over the rise of Hindutva (or exclusivist Hindu nationalism based on exclusion of Muslims) in India without, however, asking ourselves that if it was so perfect it should have solved the so-called ‘Muslim question’, in particular the minority question, once and for all.
Let us not forget that India was not partitioned to create Pakistan for all the Muslims of India. Nor could the bond of being Muslim keep our Bengali Muslim brethren from separating from the project (Pakistan) they had led us to create. However, minorities in both Hindu and Muslim majority provinces, according to the Lahore Resolution, were to have “effective and mandatory safeguards” ...“in consultation with them”.
As we celebrated our freedom and hard-earned nationhood yesterday with great pomp and show, even though both freedom and terrestrial nationhood remain under threat from Hindutva’s counterparts in Pakistan, we must not forget the spirit and content of what is now called the Pakistan Resolution.
Let us not forget that India was not partitioned to create Pakistan for all the Muslims of India. Nor could the bond of being Muslim keep our Bengali Muslim brethren from separating from the project (Pakistan) they had led us to create. However, minorities in both Hindu and Muslim majority provinces, according to the Lahore Resolution, were to have 'effective and mandatory safeguards' ...'in consultation with them'
The resolution had four principal components: a) self-determination and separatism: geographically contiguous units are demarcated (separated from the rest of India) where the Muslims are in majority; b) territorial and geographical basis: the north-western and eastern zones of India to be grouped; c) federalism or con-federalism: to constitute ‘independent states’ in which constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign; and (d) minorities’ rights: effective and mandatory safeguards were to be provided in the constitutions for the minorities for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them, and in other parts of India where Muslims were in a minority”. It is quite evident that the Pakistan project was not meant for all the Muslims of India but for the Muslim-majority units – with well-protected Hindu and other minorities.
The Muslim demand for separation from a united central Hindu-majority government in the event of Indian freedom from British colonial yoke was approvingly described by Dr B R Ambedkar, a great freedom fighter and lead author of the Indian constitution, in his famous book ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’ as Muslims’ right to self-determination. Dr Ambedkar said: “Again the Muslims cannot be deprived of the benefit of the principle of self-determination. The Hindu nationalist, who hopes the Brit[ish] will coerce the Muslims into abandoning Pakistan, forgets that the right of nationalism to freedom from an aggressive foreign imperialism and the right of a minority to freedom from an aggressive majority’s nationalism are not two different things; nor does the former stand on a more sacred footing than the latter. They are merely two aspects of the struggle for freedom and as such equal in their moral import”.
Evaluate the resolution word by word; you will not find any mention of creating an Islamic state in the separate homeland(s) where “the Muslims are in a majority” in “geographically contiguous units”. Note the line of demarcation drawn between Muslims living in their majority regions and in Hindu-majority regions. Rather than having the Muslim or Hindu minority migrate out of their ancestors’ homelands where they were incidentally a religious minority, but not in an ethnic sense, it was made mandatory that the minorities in the Hindu and Muslim majority units were to be consulted and effectively granted all the rights they wanted.
Realising the enormity of a forced two-way migration of minority Hindus and Muslims from both sides of the divide, Jinnah – till the last night of the marathon debate on Partition with the last Viceroy of British India, Lord Mountbatten – pleaded for a united Punjab and united Bengal to avoid the impending mayhem and massive displacements and to preserve religious plurality and diversity for a composite secular nationhood. But he was beaten at his own argument. This is how the worst of the partition came about, with minorities in all three countries of the Subcontinent suffering and majoritarian aggressive religiously-driven nationalisms continuing to drive their countries away from a civilised, inclusive and pluralist polity.
Taking cognizance of communal riots on both sides of the divide and mindful of the AIML’s commitment made in the 1940 resolution, Jinnah made his historic speech to the first session of the Constituent Assembly. He separated matters of faith as a personal domain and the freedom of religion of citizens, with which the state had nothing to do, and made it binding on the latter to treat them as equal citizens regardless of their faith. There could not be a more profound and consistent formulation on the state being a secular entity than the one formulated by the founder of the newborn nation.
This speech was most positively discussed in the Constitution Assembly of India and facilitated the authors of the Indian constitution. However, for reasons of being wrongly understood, both Jinnah and the Indian leaders avoided using secularism as a political term; they did, however, keep its spirit. Even in the Indian constitution, the world ‘secularism’ was included in its preamble in 1976 (as opposed to the Objectives Resolution, which negated Jinnah’s secular legacy).
Efforts to separate politics and state from religion were frustrated in both India and Pakistan. In Pakistan, the use of religion in building nationhood has resulted in the atomisation of society on bloody sectarian lines. While India not only failed to pass the 18th amendment to its constitution to separate politics from religion during Narasimha Rao’s government, it is now moving towards a Hindu Rashtra as envisioned by the Hindu Mahasabha, Rashtriya Swayem Sewak Sangh (RSS) and the Hindutva Parivar, including the BJP. In terms of status and treatment of minorities, India (with 20 percent minorities, including 14.5 Muslims), Pakistan (with less than four percent of minorities) and Bangladesh (with a fast-decreasing Hindu minority), compete in demonising and maltreating their minorities.
As far as their allegiance to the right to self-determination is concerned, they conveniently forget the democratic privilege that they benefited from and deny it to their ethnic minorities. The perpetual inter-state conflict continues to strengthen extremist, authoritarian and militaristic forces. The secularists and humanists of India and Pakistan should seek a divorce from communal history – while respecting their respective nationhoods – and caution against the dangers of the dark forces of religious animosity.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.