SEVENTY-FIVE years after the passage of the historic ‘Pakistan’ Resolution of the All India Muslim League, we must ask how two nation-states forged out of a religious minority’s fears of majoritarian politics could end up having such devastating consequences for religious minorities in both Pakistan and India.
The historical literature around the Lahore Resolution has largely focused on its importance in Indian history for turning a minority into a nation seeking national self-determination. But what is often forgotten about this resolution is that there were rather two distinct parts to it. With regard to regions where Muslims formed a majority of the population, it demanded “independent states”, and although its wording is laden with ambiguities, it is well known. In its second paragraph, the resolution called for “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards” for both non-Muslim minorities that would form a part of these “independent states” as well as for Muslim minorities that would remain within India.
This second part is important for it makes clear that 1) the “independent states” later dubbed Pakistan were meant to be multi-religious in character, with minorities that would require “safeguards”; and 2) that a substantive Muslim population of the subcontinent was to be left out of the “Pakistan” idea.
There were two distinct parts to the Lahore Resolution.
Indeed, when Jinnah was asked to clarify his position on Muslim minorities that would remain in India he gave a statement on April 1, 1940 that although an “exchange of populations … as far as practicable, will have to be considered”, he was insistent that Muslim minorities would not have “to migrate en bloc and wholesale”. As such he proposed the formation of Indian states that would place “a great responsibility upon the majority in its respective zones to create a real sense of security amongst minorities and win their complete trust and confidence”.
It is this very conception of multi-religious states in the Lahore Resolution that Bhimrao Ambedkar, the formidable Dalit leader, railed against in his seminal text Pakistan or the Partition of India, written within months of the Lahore Resolution. He argued that the resolution had put forward an unacceptable political solution in the form of “mixed states composed of Muslims opposed to Hindus, with the former superior in number to the latter”.
However, Ambedkar’s text was both fiercely pro-Partition and, as Faisal Devji put it, “paradoxically anti-Muslim” as it tried to convince the Congress of the futility of Hindu-Muslim unity and the strategic advantages of reducing India’s Muslim population. Thus it proposed a different kind of Partition plan from that of the Lahore resolution.
The problem as identified by Ambedkar was the very existence of majorities and minorities, “the crying evils of the day”, and therefore the only reasonable solution in his view was the creation of entirely homogenous nation-states. In order to create such homogenous nation-states in the 1940 on-the-ground realities of a multi-religious society, Ambedkar made a surgical proposition — “redraw the boundaries” of Punjab, Bengal and Assam so that Hindu populations of substance could be removed from the “Pakistan” plan and then conduct a complete transfer of populations.
In making such a proposition Ambedkar was drawing upon the experiences of inter-war Europe. The League of Nations Minority Treaties, that underpinned the formation of new European nation-states out of old multi-ethnic empires, had been deemed a total failure. On the other hand, internationally sanctioned, planned exchanges of populations between Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, under the Treaties of Neuilly and Lausanne in 1919 and 1923, were considered a success.
Yet this very idea of creating homogenous nation-states was extremely violent, as it became evident during the Second World War with Hitler’s ethnic cleansing through war, population transfers and genocide. Furthermore, ‘homogeneity’ was and remains an elusive phenomenon — although Pakistan emerged a ‘homogenous’ Muslim state as advocated for by Ambedkar, it has been fraught with problems of self-definition, and in the face of economic and political crisis old and new minorities have been created and are being systematically targeted and killed.
And of the large Muslim minorities left in India — what Rahmat Ali once called “the flesh of our flesh, the soul of our soul” and promised to keep safe by “reciprocity” of safeguards for non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan — the Indian government’s Sachar Committee’s Report of 2006 declared Indian Muslims worse off today than Dalits, and this even before Narendra Modi and the Hindu right’s electoral victory.
It is worth pondering this week if the Lahore Resolution or Ambedkar’s Partition plan solved the “minority problem” that lay at the heart of 20th-century nationalisms. Faced with escalating chauvinism and violence, minorities in both Pakistan and India would say the last century’s political machinations have left them more precarious than ever.
The writer is associate professor of history at Brown University and faculty fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies.
Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2015