Jinnah, Iqbal and the “Idea of Pakistan”

The beauty of this revolution, however, was that its architect achieved it by pure political method, without invoking religious passions and violence; which unfortunately did happen later on.
Jinnah, Iqbal and the “Idea of Pakistan”
Representational Pic

The fall of traditional political parties, both liberal secularists and conservative Islamists, and the rise of Imran Khan in Pakistan has rekindled the debate on "the idea of Pakistan" and the disputed legacy of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Whereas both the sides, the secular democrats and the Islamists, contest this legacy and derive much of their political legitimacy and relevance from the "Pakistan movement", yet a careful study of the unfolding historical events of the first half of the previous century negates much of these extremist claims. A cursory understanding of the world history reflects that such enigmatic and spectacular historic events are created by the forces of history, which are shaped up by a myriad of contexts and paradigms interwoven together in time and space, not just by a certain simple hue of ideological impulses and trappings. The beauty of this revolution, however, was that its architect achieved it by pure political method, by way of pure reason and on the strength of his constitutional and legal arguments, without invoking religious passions and violence; which unfortunately did happen later on. 

From plain history lessons, we know that the Muslim nation state of Pakistan was born out of a desperate political condition, as a political solution to an emerging crisis of the British India as it approached towards freedom from the colonial rule. According to Jaswant Singh (Jinnah:India-Partition-Independence), "the events of 1937 had a tremendous, almost a traumatic effect upon Jinnah…when the Congress formed a government with almost all of the Muslim MLA sitting on the Opposition benches, non-Congress Muslims were suddenly faced with this stark reality of near-total political powerlessness. It was brought home to them, like a bolt of lightning, that even if the Congress did not win a single Muslim seat… as long as it won an absolute majority in the House, on the strength of the general seats, it could and would form a government entirely on its own". Balraj Puri (Clues to understanding Jinnah) also states that the Muslim League president, after the 1937 vote, turned to the idea of partition in "sheer desperation". 

In 1940s, various power-sharing formula offered by Jinnah to Congress had failed, with which vanished the possibility of any reconciliation between Congress and the Muslim League. Jinnah rightfully perceived the problem of electoral democracy of "future united India", without genuine power sharing mechanism and constitutional securities for Muslim population, as one of a permanently ruling Hindu majority and a perpetual subjugated Muslim minority; for the best reason that electoral democracy is always the game of numbers. The creation of Pakistan was the only way, therefore, to bail out both the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress, wherein the latter found a good bargain in losing some of the Muslim-majority territories of British India over to an idea of sharing power with Muslims. The exclusive political power over a predominantly Hindu India was, after all, not a bad idea for the Congress. Therefore, the raison d'etre of the birth of Pakistan was neither to create a theocratic state to attain the divine purposes of religion, nor essentially a communal project to counter the Hindu dominance of Indian National Congress. By all means, it was a pure political act, driven by a compulsion of securing the political rights of vast Muslim population of the Indian subcontinent. 

Having said that, there is no denying the fact that the influence of politico-religious philosophy of Mohammad Iqbal on Jinnah, with regard to taking the lead in creating Pakistan was significant, powerful and tremendous: particularly in later years of his political struggle. Iqbal's influence gave Jinnah a deeper appreciation for his Muslim identity, Muslim politics, culture and history, which would come increasingly to the fore in the final years of his life. However, leaving Jinnah aside, who was thoroughly a Muslim political leader, careful enough never to mix the structures of theology with the methods of politics; even Iqbal, by any measure was not a religious zealot. He was a genuine scholar, more interested in the revival of the spirit of Islam than the theology of it. Although his political philosophy was deeply informed by his religious consciousness; by any standards of the present day religious revivalists, he was a modernist. His "Reconstruction of Religious thought in Islam' is a case in point, wherein he has attempted, with utmost seriousness, a new interpretation of the fundamentals of our religious thought and theological constructs, compatible with modern age.

Jinnah's first address to Pakistan's Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, could have become the guiding light for the future of the state of Pakistan, wherein he unfolded a dream and a vision of a progressive and modern Muslim nation grounded in the spirit of Islam; but free to achieve the ultimate potentials of human spirit and freedom, by each and every member of it, without the fear of oppression, discrimination or hatred on the basis of creed, color, religion, ethnicity or sex. M. Reza Pirbhai in his book "Fatima Jinnah: Mother of the Nation", quotes Fatima Jinnah explaining her brother's version of an Islamic Republic as "being a country engineered by popular democracy, human rights and a state that had no room for retrogressive clerics." Historian I.H. Qureshi in "The Pakistani Way of Life"  states that through the "Two-Nation Theory" Jinnah described the Muslims of (British) India as a separate polity desiring a break from "Hindu hegemony" and formulating their own enclave fuelled by Muslim democracy, egalitarianism and equal status for all Pakistani citizens irrespective of their religion, sect or sub-sect".

Historically speaking, the 'Objectives Resolution' adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on March 12, 1949, marked the first departure, and a betrayal in a sense, of the state of Pakistan from this interpretation of "Two-Nation Theory", which proved a fountainhead where from flowed all streams of new political consciousness, embedded in religious anxieties and religious totalitarianism. The proponents of religious ideals and ideologies could inform the polity of a nation-state through innumerable ways and means available in a functional democratic society, based on the quality of public service, strength of character and superiority of the vision, albeit without being coercive, reactionary and intolerant; and more importantly, without making the state hostage to any specific political narrative through constitutional infringements. Religion should not become a given condition for politics to evolve in a certain way in a modern nation state, but could be a guiding force to a system achieved through a democratic political process. However, it was written in the stars of Pakistan that a plethora of extremist interpretations of the "Two Nation theory", conceived even by some of the finest minds, largely informed by religious sentiments and aspirations for an utopian "Islamic state" achieved prominence in a fairly large sections of society, including political elite of Pakistan. This process of Islamization of a nation state began in a benign manner with peaceful, apparently well informed ideological activism and culminated  in the emergence of the likes of Tehrik-i- Taliban Pakistan, in recent times. The end product of these extreme interpretations of the "Idea of Pakistan" could be ultimately seen in the form of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, wherein, as the ultimate consequence, history witnessed the champions of the Islamist cause colliding directly with the state of Pakistan itself. The current state of the socio-political affairs of Pakistan (unfortunately, of late, India too is treading the same path) is the logical inevitability of what follows when the solution to political problems of a nation-state are sought by non political methods, particularly through invoking the religious strictures.

The author teaches at Department of Chemistry, University of Kashmir

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