Monday, June 11, 2012

Did Jinnah want a secular state?

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

 Taimoor Ashraf made a number of patently inaccurate claims, based on a flawed and utterly misdirected rendering of facts about Jinnah, partition and the making of Pakistan. The gist of his convoluted piece was this: Jinnah might have been secular, but did he want a secular Pakistan? 

Mr Ashraf claims that Jinnah was not secular because the August 11, 1947 speech was made as a consequence of terrible sadness on his part because of the communal bloodletting. By August 11, 1947, there were communal disturbances, but the communal bloodbath, largely, happened in late August and September. Then he claims that Jinnah was not secular because he was a pluralist. So in other words being ‘secular’ and ‘pluralist’ are mutually exclusive? There are no qualms with the fact that Jinnah’s secularism was more of the British variety than the strict French laicism of Kemal Ataturk. Does that mean Jinnah would have approved of ‘priests with a divine mission’? That incidentally is one of the more famous Jinnah quotes: “Pakistan shall not be a theocracy to be run by priests with a divine mission.”

The particular section of the August 11 speech that Mr Ashraf quotes may be argued to have merely endorsed religious freedom. However, if there was any confusion Jinnah put it to rest when he said, “In due course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual, but in a political sense as citizens of one state.” He then went on to give his listeners a lesson in the history of the Protestant and Catholic conflict in England. Anyone who is familiar with this history knows that the secular traditions of Britain’s parliamentary institutions are firmly rooted in these events. These were the traditions that Jinnah was schooled in and these were the traditions Jinnah admired.

Mr Ashraf then quotes out of context Stanley Wolpert’s book. Wolpert wrote an excellent book but it was not necessarily accurate on every count. For example, how many Muslim League leaders around Jinnah were actually religious in the least? Not that religious people were not welcome but Jinnah was absolutely clear that the mullahs would not be allowed to enforce their own understanding of religion on the people. The clearest example of this was Jinnah’s refusal to back down from his position that if Ahmadis said they were Muslim, nobody had the right to say otherwise. Undeterred by mullahs, Jinnah appointed Sir Zafarullah Khan as Pakistan’s first foreign minister because in Jinnah’s opinion, there was no abler Muslim in all of India. Similarly Jinnah appointed Jogindranath Mandal, a Hindu lawyer with no exposure to Islamic law, as the first law minister of Pakistan. Rather odd, won’t you say for an ‘Islamic’ state where the preoccupation should have been an imposition of Islamic law? Jinnah wanted a democratic and pluralistic Pakistan where religion would be a personal matter and every citizen regardless of his faith or origin would be able to aspire to the highest office. Is that the Pakistan you have today?

Then Mr Ashraf writes, “As late as 1946, he had no real desire or was in no real hurry to carve out a separate secular state for Muslims.” How does that fit in with Mr Ashraf’s other claims escapes me. Needless to say that just as the rest of the article, this too is representative of the flawed and inverted logic he is deploying. It is a fact that Jinnah did not want a complete partition. That he was ready to abandon the idea of a separate state for the loose federation envisaged by the Cabinet Mission Plan proves that creating an Islamic state was never the raison d’etre of Pakistan. It was in fact a question of power sharing. Incidentally, what does a ‘state for Muslims of India’ mean? Are we saying that non-Muslims in Pakistan are somehow not Pakistani? No, we are not in agreement that Pakistan was created for the Muslims of India. The fact is that Pakistan was a consequence of the inability of the two representative parties and the two major communities of India to come to a consensus on a constitution for a United India. Residual powers at the provincial level would have solved the issue but the Congress in winning Jinnah and the Muslims back lost precious opportunities. To suggest that Pakistan must be an Islamic state because the League played the Muslim card is also historically inaccurate. Arrayed against the League on the Muslim seats were not Congress’ secularists but Congress’ Islamist allies Ahrar and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind who were hardboiled theocrats. That the masses chose secular and westernised Muslims instead of the religious mullahs is evidence enough to suggest that the Muslim masses rejected theocracy in 1946.

I am as ardent a patriot as anyone is but to suggest “we are better off today than our elders who had to live through the nightmare of communal rioting” is a bit too much. Not all of us reside in our own echo chambers of self-delusion. It is true that Pakistan’s creation for the first few decades helped create an indigenous bourgeoisie in the areas that are now Pakistan, but our policies from the 1970s onwards have ensured that we become a theocratic dystopia where no one is safe. Therefore, whatever strides we made up until then are being lost to a religious extremism that Mr Ashraf promotes. He says, “Pakistan is no heaven on earth...” A more accurate view would have been that Pakistan is no hell on earth but it is definitely getting there. It is tragic to see people like Taimoor Ashraf, who are seemingly educated, try to sweep the ugliness of our current reality under the rug in the name of high patriotism, which in fact is the virtue of the vicious, to quote Oscar Wilde. So long as we have writers like Mr Ashraf distorting the facts using flawed logic, we will remain on the wrong side of history and our posterity will condemn us for leaving behind an unmanageable hellhole. You have been warned.

The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at http://globallegalorum.blogspot and his twitter handle is therealylh

1 comment:

  1. Good of you to comment back on Taimoor Ashraf's article in which he put forward some highly flaky arguments to prove that Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be an Islamic state. To pick up on the two points he makes, it is almost silly to suggest that just because some leading clerics were among his audience at the speech of 11 Aug 1947 one has the evidence that he endorsed the idea of Pakistan that the mullahs had in mind. How can Inclusivity, which is what Jinnah was demonstrating, and secularism, which is what his message exhorted, be mutually exclusive? It is equally facile to suggest that Pakistan had to be not secular because India was. But Mr Hamadani I could not possibly improve upon what you have said already.


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