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The creation of Pakistan has been the subject of fierce debate for a long time. Ever since Pakistan was created, it has been going through its ideological and identity crisis. Many theorists have been invoked to address this issue and to elaborate on the two nation theory, according to which Hindus and Muslims were two different communities. Muslims of India were always a separate community, they had their own distinct culture, language and heritage and this notion of being distinguished resisted their assimilation into the Indian environment after British left India in 1947. Jinnah in his famous speech said, “We are a nation of a hundred million, and, what is more, we are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature” (Toor, 319). This notion of Muslim nationhood was challenged by many theorists and historians after the creation of Pakistan, and many questions and objections were raised. “The relation of such nationalism to a territorial definition was at best problematic, and rendered further complex by the unnatural division of space and communities wrought by Partition” (Toor, 320). This notion also raised a number of questions regarding the identity of the nascent state, and the most important question is, “Is the demand of a separate homeland for the Muslims on the basis of distinct culture and religion viable?”

This paper focuses on the question of nationalism, the pre partition politics of the leadership and politics of identity in Pakistan. This paper starts with the literature review and critical analysis of the works of various authors on the subject of nationalism and identity crises in Pakistan. This paper then presents the findings to address the question. In the first part of the discussion, this paper explores the notion of nationhood and demand for a separate homeland for Muslims and the politics revolving around this notion of being a separate community in the pre partition period. This paper then explores the post partition politics of the League leadership and critiques the claim of the Muslims that they are a nation. To substantiate the arguments, this paper includes relevant examples, case studies and historical evidence.

This paper is mostly based on the secondary research including articles from JSTOR and books on the subject of nationalism and identity crisis in Pakistan. The articles chosen for the research are important because the authors of these articles are well known for their research on South Asian politics and history.

Saadia Toor in her article, “A National Culture for Pakistan: The Political Economy of a debate” argues that the demand of a separate homeland by Muslims of India on the grounds of distinct culture and civilization is void. According to her the claim of being a nation “had been based on cultural grounds, understood as an ethnic Muslim identity, as well as clearly identifiable cultural history” (Toor, 319). She challenges this idea of Muslims being a nation and argues that the state acquired for the Muslims in 1947 resulted in a physical division of the very nation. Except for those who managed to migrate to Pakistan, most of the Muslims stayed in India after the partition. In fact the number of Muslims residing in India is greater than the Muslim community of Pakistan. So the creation of Pakistani nation-state divided the Indian Muslim community at the demographic level. To substantiate her arguments, she also presents the case of East Bengal, the Urdu-Bengali language controversy and the politics of parity and the establishment of one-administrative unit.

Asim Roy in his article, “The High Politics of India’s Partition: The Revisionist Perspective” revaluates the politics of India’s partition. He denounces the traditional perspective on the subject matter and argues that the traditional perspective does not convey not only the true nature of high politics but also its intricacies and nuances (Roy, 104). So there was a strong need for the historical reconstruction and this much needed task was taken up by historians like Ayesha Jalal, Abdul Kalam Azad and Wolpert. He argues that the revisionist perspective demolishes the myth of Jinnah’s actual role in the creation of Pakistan and presents a much clear and convincing interpretation of this battle between League and Congress in which both openly confronted each other for what they didn’t want. Roy raises objections and doubts about the logic of Jinnah demanding partition on grounds of disregard of less than two score million people, not serving the interests of even the Muslim majority provinces, the economic and defense implications of partition, providing no convincing explanations for the strange dichotomy between the rhetoric and reality of Jinnah’s politics.

Sugata Bose in his article, “The partition of India and the Creation of Pakistan” talks about the contradictions and structural peculiarities of Indian society which eventually led to the creation of the nascent state of Pakistan. Presenting the case of division of Punjab and Bengal, which were the Muslim majority areas, he argues that initially demand for a separate homeland for the Muslims of India had never been the agenda of Muslim League. In fact Jinnah wanted autonomy for Muslims in the majority provinces within United India.  This demand for a three-tiered all Indian federation was worthy of consideration for Jinnah, so he put it forward in the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946. He argues that it was when Nehru refused to concede his plan, the struggle for a separate homeland initiated (Bose,135).That is when Jinnah resorted to religion as the binding force of Muslim nation, which had nothing to do with his ideological convictions. It was the gnawing organizational weakness which led Jinnah to make recourse to religion.

Ayesha Jalal in her article, “Secularists, Subaltern and the Stigma of Communalism: Partition Historiography Revisited” talks about the conflicting arguments which have been presented on the partition of India to provide a definitive view of this watershed event in South Asian history. She argues that during the past decade, the perceived ‘national’ wisdoms on the subject of partition had been questioned by a new generation of scholars (Jalal, 2). The debate on partition advanced when the class and regional dimensions of the Muslim communal problems were explored in detail. She also argues that the demand of a separate homeland on the basis of distinct culture and religion is also highly doubtful because Jinnah and many other leaders of Muslim League were supportive of the Congress’s secular creed and Jinnah was not a ‘religious bigot’(Jalal, 2).

Stephen Cohen in his book, “The Idea of Pakistan” focuses on the post partition politics of the political elite. To trace the evolution of both the idea and the state of Pakistan, Cohen uses historical approach and derives his methodology from historical institutionalism. In the subsequent chapters of his book, Cohen observes the role of army, Islamists and the political elite in shaping politics of the country. He also argues that there was a lot of unresolved tension in the ideas prevalent at the time of independence, and the current state of Pakistan is the result of those unresolved tensions (Cohen, 206). Cohen tried to explore two main points. Firstly, he explained why Indian Muslims felt need of a separate homeland to pursue their lives in accordance with Islam, and secondly, based on his findings and observations from the history he explained how did Pakistan become a military dominated state having hostile relations with its neighbors and nuclear capabilities.

The notion of creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims of India has been challenged by many theorists and analysts on various grounds. First of all the demand for a separate territory had never been the agenda of the leadership of Muslim League till 1946 when Nehru rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan. At that time Jinnah had two considerations:
 1)                         The autonomy for Muslims in the majority provinces within undivided India with a weak federal centre.
2)                         A separate homeland for Muslims of India.

For Jinnah the option of having autonomous Muslim majority provinces was worthy of consideration because with strong provinces it was possible for Muslims to deploy their weight at all India centre. On the other hand, the second option of having a separate homeland was not considered worthy by Jinnah because it would divide the Muslim majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal, and the Muslims will get a sovereign Pakistan stripped of Eastern Punjab and Western Bengal. According to Cohen, “The Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 for a three tiered all India federation offered Jinnah something worthy of consideration. Compulsory grouping of provinces handed the League a potential centre, deploying their weight at an all India centre” (Cohen, 149). Also these areas are very fertile areas, and if Punjab is divided, the Muslims will get the stripped Punjab in the lower riparian region, while the upper riparian region, where the head works of the canals and rivers flowing downstream were located, because of its geographical location becomes a part of India. Keeping in mind the consequences of the stripped Punjab and Bengal, on June 6, 1946 Jinnah rejected the idea of a sovereign Pakistan and presented the plan of three-tiered federal arrangement. Ayesha Jalal argues that, “ In Jinnah’s opinion the 1946 federal arrangement based on provincial grouping was better, and this was the theme that had been reiterated over and over again by a succession of Muslim League leaders, including Jinnah, in their meetings with Mountbatten” (Jalal, 540).  It was later when this demand for the autonomous Muslim provinces was not conceded by Congress; Jinnah was not left with any other choice but to resort to the demand of a separate homeland for Muslims, and Nehru voted for the partition. Considering this it can be argued that the Congress had a greater role in partition of India than Muslim League itself. If they had conceded to the proposal of Muslim League, this separate homeland for Muslims might not have been on the map. Asim Roy quotes Abdul Kalam Azad who writes: “I warned Jawaharlal that history would never forgive us if we agreed to partition. The verdict could be that India was not divided by the Muslim League but by the Congress” (Roy, 103).

The post partition politics of the leadership of Muslim League also indicates that the idea of a separate homeland on the basis of distinct culture was very vague and full of doubts. For instance by considering the case of succession of East Bengal it can be argued that after the partition, the policies implemented by the Muslim League never took into account the will of the people, rather what favored the political leadership. The leadership was never willing to share power with the East Pakistanis and they were always treated as minorities. Here two arguments can be presented:
1)      Declaration of Urdu as the national language of Pakistan.
2)      Establishment of ‘one unit’ to keep power.

First, the Bengalis constituted fifty five percent of the population, so by majority principle their will should have been considered. But the post partition history indicates that despite the fact that they were in majority, they had no say in the policy making. For instance Jinnah, while addressing a gathering in Dhaka in 1948, announced that Urdu will be the national language of Pakistan. Considering the majority of the Bengalis, Bangla should have been the national language, but many theorists argue that his decision was based on the fact that the language of the political elite of Muslim League, who migrated from Dakkan and UP, was Urdu. According to Saadia Toor, “The ruling elite’s first attempt through the rubric of national culture was the squashing of the Bengali demand for the cultural and symbolic representation within the nation-state. This first manifested itself in the Bangle Language Committee’s demand that Bengali be declared as national language” (Toor, 324). This decision resulted in severe language riots. In one specific instance quoted by Toor, police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in Dhakka in February 1952. This event is commemorated annually in Bangladesh as “Ekushey”.

Second, the West Pakistani establishment had no intention to share power with the East Pakistanis. After the elections of 1954, in which Muslim League was routed out by the United Front, the Muslim League was frightened that they might lose power. This fear of losing power led to the imposition of Governor’s Rule in East Pakistan. Apart from that, to undermine the edge which was liable to be gained by the East Pakistan under the proportional representation system, the West Pakistan establishment consolidated all the provinces of West Pakistan into one administrative unit. According to Farhat Haq, “The Bengalis, the largest ethnic group in the newly created Pakistan, felt that they were being trated as second class citizens, told to adopt Urdu as their national language, and forego the benefits of being the largest group in the union by accepting the parity formula which would make East and West Pakistan equal in number in the parliament” (Haq, 123).These instances indicate that the decisions taken by the establishment after the partition were merely political, favoring their own rule. The steps taken by the establishment not only deteriorated the notion of Muslims being one nation, but also it resulted in severe consequences. Considering the intentions of the establishment, the language riots, underrepresentation in the bureaucracy and government positions, the Bengalis strongly felt that they are being heavily exploited by the West Pakistani establishment. This was also a major factor in the succession of East Pakistan. Graham Chapman writes, “ East Pakistan was always the junior and dominated partner, so the next step would be to arrogate from Pakistan its share of sovereignty being granted in 1947, something it achieved by embroiling the whole of Bengal, in strife in 1971” (Chapman, 205).

Nation cannot be defined on the basis of culture because culture includes religion, language and lifestyle of a community which differs within a community. For instance within the Muslims there are Pathans, Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis and people belonging to a variety of different ethnicities. The lifestyle of all of these ethnic groups differs in various ways; they have their own distinct dress, language and lifestyle. Saadia Toor writes, “As long as no national identity and culture could be identified that corresponded uniquely to ‘Pakstani-ness’, the legitimacy of the Pakistani nation-state itself was at stake”(Toor,322). As there was no unique national culture, the authenticity of the claim to nationhood stays void. Farhat Haq writes, “Pakistan is a complex mosaic of languages, cultures and nationalities. Language is one of the most important markers of ehtnic identity” (Haq, 120). The tragic succession of East Pakistan left severe grievances on the other ethnic communities, bound under the banner of one nation, and this brought into serious question on the spirit of the two nation theory. It was after the separation of Bangladesh, other ethnic movements also rose in the country. The Baluchi separatist movement, the language controversy in Sindh and the foundation of Muhajir Qaumi Movement in 1984 quashed the idea of Muslims being one nation. It was until 1970 that the Urdu speaking immigrants were highly supportive of the idea of Pakistan as a nation united around Urdu language and the common religion. But after 1970, they also started to organize themselves as ethnic minority, when other ethnic communities initiated their demand for greater autonomy, a considerable share in the civil service and other government jobs.

Another important question which was raised on the identity of the nascent state of Pakistan was whether Pakistan was an Islamic state or state for the Muslims? The leadership of Muslim League was never in favor of an Islamic state; rather they supported the Congress’s secular creed. In response to the question, that will Pakistan be a secular or a theocratic state, Jinnad replied, “You are asking me a question which is absurd. I do not know what a theocratic state means” (Haq, 119). The Islamists, who were initially against the idea of Pakistan, joined the movement to achieve a state where they could spend their lives in accordance with the teachings of Islam. “The struggle for obtaining control over the organs of the state motivated by the urge to establish the Din and the Islamic injunctions is not only permissible but is positively desirable and as such obligatory” (Maulana Maududi, 177). This nascent state, unable to deal with the challenges after partition, had always been under the influence of the military and the Islamists. It was after the partition when the question of whether Pakistan should be an Islamic state or state for Muslims came under enduring conflict. After the separation of East Pakistan, the Jamaat Islami argued that the only force which can keep the people of Pakistan together was the Islamic identity of the Muslims. The imprint of Jamaat Islami was reflected in two instances. Firstly, in the 1973 constitution, which promised to make laws in conformity with Quran and Sunnah and no laws will be enacted if they are repugnant to the teaching of Islam. Secondly, the passage of the law in 1974 declaring Ahmadiyya minority as non-Muslims. This was a demand which was being agitated by the Islamists since 1950s.

To refute the argument that concept of Muslims being a nation and their demand for separate homeland was suspicious and vague, many theorists refer to the Allama Iqbal’s speech at Ala Abad in 1930 in which he made the very first proposal for a separate state based on the principle of Muslim nationalism. Iqbal said, “I would like to see Punjab, NWFP, Baluchistan, Sind amalgamated into a single state. The formation of a consolidated North-West Indian state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims of India” (Malik, 150). In response to the objection raised, it can be argued here that despite the yearnings for a separate homeland, the mainstream opinion of the leadership of Muslim League always persuaded cooperation with the congress. Youngendra Malik writes, “Muslim League favored a loose federal relationship among provinces within United India once independence from British was achieved” (Malik, 150). Muslim League leadership demanded for provincial autonomy within united India with weak centre; they had to pursue the demand for a separate homeland because of two reasons. Firstly, when Congress insisted on the strong central government at the expense of the minority communities’ interests.  Secondly, the Muslim League while running for the elections on the platform of undivided India was defeated heavily. So given this overwhelming defeat, Muslims League had to change the tactics, and therefore the demand for a separate state was portrayed as a defensive strategy to preserve the rights of the Muslims.
Apart from that many theorists favor the notion of Pakistan being an Islamic state. “Islamic identity is at the core of Pakistani beliefs and values. Its population is composed overwhelming of Muslims, who constitute ninety seven percent of the population according to 1998 census. So it possesses an Islamic mandate, a basis for the creation of an Islamic state” (Malik, 154). This objection can be refuted by presenting the argument that the Muslim League leadership were never in favor of creation of an Islamic state, and as discussed earlier, they were supportive of Congress’s secular creed. It was only when the congress didn’t concede to their plan of autonomous provinces with weak centre; Jinnah had to use religious cards, as they were afraid that their interests might not be protected under the Congress’s government.

The demand for a separate homeland for Muslims of India had never been the agenda of Muslim League. The pre partition politics of the Muslim League leadership indicates that they were in favor of autonomous Muslim majority provinces. They raised voice for a separate homeland for Muslims when they observed that they had no other option and the interests of the Muslims in undivided India were at stake. Till that time they favored the secular creed of the Congress, and it was later when they had to use religious card for the Muslims to get popular support. So this claim that Muslims are a nation because they have a distinct culture and religion, and their demand for a separate homeland had always remained under fierce debate. The post partition politics also portrays the image of this vague imagination of nationhood. The policies implemented by the leadership clearly favored the political elite and other ethnic communities and their interests were suppressed. The case of succession of Bangladesh was the most tragic incident and consequence of this partial behavior. Also considering the fact that there are various ethnic groups within Muslims having their own lifestyle, culture and religious sects, the notion of Muslims being one nation on the basis of a distinct culture and religion seems void. Using religion to foil unity in the Muslim community and to gather popular support also raised the crisis of whether this state is Islamic state or state for Muslims. Finally, as a consequence, it is very tragic that even today we are suffering from the same identity crises which were confronted by us at the time of partition.

“One wonders about the ultimate logic of Jinnah choosing to adopt his secretive approach-not wanting partition and yet using the partition threat to hang, like the sword of Damocles, over the country until it was too late to be discarded. What if he tried to confront the Congress with his ‘real’ demands to secure the interests of all Muslims in India, openly rejecting the partition option, and continue to play his long slow game?” (Roy, 132)

Written By: Motahar Saleheen

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