Saturday, August 25, 2012

Two Nation Theory, Partition and Pakistan: Setting the record straight

There seems to be cognitive dissonance for some parties when one proposes a historical hypothesis that is at variance to their long held beliefs.  One such hypothesis is the formulation of the Cambridge school of thought on how and why partition happened. Over time this hypothesis has been confirmed by documents de-classified pertaining to partition but there is still continuing hostility and resistance by those who wish to remain mired in their respective nationalist discourses and/or their own personal biases.

1. The assumption that the much misunderstood Two Nation Theory suggested that Muslims and Hindus could not live together is patently false and historically na├»ve. Two nation theory was a consociationalist theory which argued that Muslims were a nation and not a community. The Lahore Resolution itself referred to and spoke about minorities and did not suggest that Hindus and Muslims could not live together.   It spoke of two federations – one consisting of Muslim majority provinces and the other of Hindu majority provinces. Neither federations were envisaged by the Two Nation Theory as being exclusively Hindu or Muslim. It was at a very conscious level an attempt to bridge the differences between Muslim majority provinces (which had wanted a loose federation) and Hindu majority provinces (which wanted a more centralized federation).  A critical reading of the Lahore Resolution also shows that the door was not closed on an all India union. Therefore the assumption that Lahore Resolution or the Two Nation Theory envisaged a completely separate and antagonistic Muslim state in the subcontinent is false, frivolous and denied in toto.
2. Just as the idea of Pakistan did not necessarily envisage a partition of India, the Two Nation Theory did not envisage – necessarily – a partition of Punjab or Bengal. Both those partitions were imposed on Punjab and Bengal by the Congress Party. For all its long winded arguments against the Two Nation Theory, Congress Party practiced a more insidious and cynical version of the said theory to divide constituent units. It was not done fairly even then. After all if partition was to be reduced to a partition of districts, then surely many districts in India, with Muslim majority, not contiguous to Muslim majority provinces should have also fallen in with the Muslim majority provinces. 
3. The Two Nation Theory did not state that Muslims were Muslims and nothing else. The Two Nation Theory forwarded the multiple identities thesis.  The locus of Muslim identity was the middle tier, of regional, all India identities and atop all of that an Indian identity. This is why Jinnah said famously – in the aftermath of the Lahore Resolution- that Muslims were proud to be Indians and their demands were made on the principle of India for Indians.  Therefore the idea that a Punjabi or a Bengali was a Punjabi or a Bengali before he was a Hindu or a Muslim was not in contradiction to the Two Nation Theory.  Jinnah was and remained as proudly an Indian as he had been in the first thirty years of his political career.
4. By letting the Muslim majority provinces go their own way separately, Congress sought to make Muslim numbers more manageable. Instead of agreeing to the three tier federation that was devised to keep India united, the Congress party bosses, including Nehru and Gandhi, decided that a smaller more manageable Muslim population was in India’s best interest. Hence they let go of the Muslim majority provinces who were willing to come in the federation provided that they had a certain degree of provincial autonomy with residuary powers resting with the provinces (as opposed to the centre where Gandhi and Nehru wanted them).  Was it so horrible an idea? The residuary of legislation in United States of America and Australia lie with the constituent units i.e. states, provinces, territories etc.  In Canada Pierre Trudeau had worked out a compromise with Rene Levesque because Trudeau wanted Quebec to stay on.
5. Finally a gentleman wrote that Sikhs would have been badly treated in Pakistan just as Ahmadis were. This is a pathetic conclusion. Not just Ahmadi Muslims, but all communities, did fairly well in the early years of Pakistan right up to 1973-1974.  So long as East Pakistan with its significant non-Muslim minority remained in the federation, religious extremism was kept under check. The state had sent a strong message to the Mullahs in 1953 and generally Pakistanis, Muslim or Non-Muslim, felt secure. It may be remembered that these were the same Mullahs who had opposed the creation of Pakistan who were attempting to persecute Ahmadis in Pakistan.  With the departure of East Pakistan,  not only was the counter-weight to religious parties lost but West Pakistan was forced to look for alternative historical cosmology which it searched for in Islam.  Now imagine if Sikhs had decided to put their lot in with Pakistan in 1947. East Pakistan or not, there was no way that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would have or even wanted to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims.  Pakistan’s theocratisation is the consequence of the 1973 constitution and Bhutto’s pandering to the religious right. To try and trace that in the Pakistan Movement is not only unfair but historically untenable

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