Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Was Jinnah democratic? - III

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

In this final installment I propose to address the issue of Jinnah’s infamous pronouncement vis-à-vis Urdu.

It is important to draw a distinction here between state language/lingua franca and national language. The two are entirely distinct — the former is appurtenant to statehood and the latter is a cultural construct. Nowhere in any of his speeches on that fateful trip to East Pakistan did Jinnah refer to Urdu as the national language. He used the words state language and lingua franca interchangeably. More importantly, he repeatedly emphasised in the same speeches that East Pakistanis had every right to safeguard and protect the Bengali language and culture as the official language and culture of East Pakistan. The impression therefore that Jinnah was out to destroy the Bengali language and culture is erroneous.

In so far as the decision to elevate Urdu as the lingua franca, the language of communication and the state language of Pakistan is concerned, it was obvious that the language of communication was one that was understood in all five provinces of the new state. This was Urdu and Urdu alone. How could Bengali be made the lingua franca of Pakistan? It was of course an important Pakistani language that could have been made the language of the East Pakistan province but no case could be made out for Bengali as state language of Pakistan. To draw an analogy, should Punjabi language be made the state language of Pakistan simply because the Punjabis enjoy the same demographic majority that the Bengalis did pre-1971?

Nor was this something unique to Pakistan. Here it is important to bust a myth about India. It is suggested that Hindi is not the state language of India. Hindi is the constitutionally declared official language in India. The Indian constitution in Part XVII states: “The official language of the Union shall be Hindi in the Devanagari script.” Of course practical experience in both Pakistan and India forced these states to recognise other languages — Bengali was declared the national language alongside Urdu in Pakistan in 1954, which was duly recognised in the constitutions of 1956 and 1962 — but the point is that both India and Pakistan chose a variant of Hindustani, in Devanagari script Hindi and in Arabic script Urdu, respectively.

In any event, Pakistan’s position vis-à-vis Urdu cannot be compared to Turkey’s elevation of Turkish as the national language and similarly, unlike Turkey that oppressed the Kurdish language and culture, Pakistan did recognise Bengali as a national language (not just state language) and documents and currency notes from the 1950s and the 1960s are all in both Urdu and Bengali. Even Jinnah’s mausoleum has both Urdu and Bengali inscriptions.

Therefore, I submit that this accusation against Jinnah — though very popular — fails the test of facts. This misrepresentation overshadowed other more monumental decisions taken by Jinnah. For example, on the same trip Jinnah overturned the martial race theory, declaring that the martial qualities of the Bengalis had been suppressed by the colonial rulers and that the Bengalis were second to none. He thus became the first ruler in 200 years to undo the officially sanctioned racism against the Bengalis.

The common Bengali continued to revere the Quaid-e-Azam despite the deliberate misrepresentation by certain quarters on the language issue. An example of this is how Jinnah’s memory helped galvanise the Bengali masses in support of Fatima Jinnah. Leading this campaign was none other than Mujibur Rehman. Fatima Jinnah swept East Pakistan. The reasons for the separation of Bangladesh should be located in the political and economic disenfranchisement of the Bengalis. Had Pakistan managed a workable constitution, the two wings might well have been together. Had the transfer of power been allowed and Mujib’s reasonable six points (none of which had to do with language or culture, which were secure) accepted in 1970, Pakistan would have stayed together. To turn around and locate the root of the crisis in Jinnah’s perfectly sound pronouncement of 1947 is disingenuous. It may well be remembered that Jinnah had favoured an independent and united Bengal in 1947 and that it was Congress that had vetoed the idea of a Bangladesh in 1947. This pokes a million holes in Indira Gandhi’s astounding claim about drowning imagined identities in the Bay of Bengal.

Therefore, at least in the view of this writer, there was nothing in Jinnah’s conduct vis-à-vis Bengal that may be deemed undemocratic.

During the course of this series I was asked to also touch upon two other issues, i.e. Ayub Khuhro’s dismissal as Sindh chief minister and the so-called annexation of Kalat. On the first issue, suffice to say Ayub Khuhro was a Muslim League chief minister and the decision to replace him with another chief minister of the Muslim League cannot by any stretch of imagination be termed undemocratic. Are we suggesting that if Messrs Zardari and Gilani replace Qaim Ali Shah with Pir Mazharul Haq or whoever else, it would be undemocratic?

The history of Balochistan has been subject to much distortion from both sides of the conflict. Lasbela’s decision to join Pakistan and Kalat’s subsequent accession to Pakistan requires an article on its own. Here I would simply say that for the Baloch nationalists to base their case in the Khanate of Kalat’s claims of sovereignty pre-1947 is to defeat their own cause. The precedent in our neighbouring largest democracy in the world suggests that such claims have no value after independence. Hyderabad, Junagadh, Tripura and scores of other princely states were annexed in a manner far worse than what happened in Kalat. Baloch nationalists have very real grievances against the Pakistani state but their post hoc attempt to find legitimacy for their nationalism in assertions of sovereignty qua British Empire by the Khan of Kalat is a pointless exercise. A nationalism to be genuine does not need such arguments. Baloch nationalism is a nationalism because a mass of people believe in it and the Pakistani state needs to negotiate with them on that basis alone.

Courtesy Daily Times.

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