ISLAMABAD, Aug 16: As Pakistan celebrates its independence, a sort of gloom mires the festivity.
The attack in Kamra yesterday was another reminder for Pakistanis that questions of identity, state and power are as explosive, as they were in 1947.
Speaking at the second anniversary of Jinnah Institute, aptly on Jinnah, prolific writer and historian Ayesha Jalal revisited these questions in Islamabad.
It was a small gathering at Islamabad Club that she addressed. One can only hope that the travails of fasting kept a larger crowd away.
The greatest hero for most Pakistanis, Mohammad Ali Jinnah is somewhat of an elusive figure even for those who inhabit the nation he carved out on the map of sub-continent, she pointed out.
“It is interesting that a country with loopholes in its legal system was founded by a constitutional lawyer,” she said, while attempting to make sense of the politics, past and present, which haunts Pakistan.
The popular narrative, for decades, has been that Pakistan was based on religious division: Muslims and Hindus were distinct communities that could not live together. Jalal shattered this notion when she published her first book, The Sole Spokesman arguing that the division of the sub-continent was not so much about communitarian fault-lines, but the very real and pertinent question of power. This was an issue that she also touched upon in her talk.
She recounted that for Jinnah, the federal structure and provincial autonomy of Hindustan were critical as the British began to transfer political authority. From representation of Indian Muslims at the centre to a separate homeland for Muslims, Jinnah’s politics shifted over the decade leading to partition, but he never advocated an “acrimonious divide” between the layered communities of the sub-continent.
“He tried his best to avoid the partition and articulated a federal solution for India, which unfortunately was not acceptable to the Indian National Congress,” she added. Interestingly, Jalal’s argument has now found supporters among the BJP – as she herself wryly pointed out, BJP’s stalwart Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah uses her thesis with little acknowledgment.
For Jalal, modern Pakistan becomes a paradox. Not just because Jinnah would “recoil at the fervent Muslims,” but the state he envisioned was the very essence of federalism, where power would be shared rather than controlled by a dogmatic coterie at the top.
“Jalal’s lecture was about bridging the gap between Jinnah’s vision for the state of Pakistan, and where things are at present,” said Raza Rumi, Director of Programmes at Jinnah Institute. “The matter of federalism and rule of law, that Jalal raised, should be articulated in the mainstream through a wider engagement with policy stakeholders.”
In a divided Pakistan, Jinnah remains a figure of unity. A liberal and secular politician, Jinnah’s idea for a “de-centralised and locally empowered South Asia is still valid and perhaps the region needs to move a regional solution which leverages economic development and brings the countries together,” Jalal affirmed.