In most nationalist discussions in India, Jinnah’s ‘Two-Nation Theory’, which became the basis of the partition of India in 1947, is often lambasted as being communal in nature.
The theory suggested that the Hindus and Muslims of India were two separate nations which needed their own geopolitical abodes in which they could govern their lives according to their distinct cultural bearings.
The Congress regimes dominated and influenced the Indian nationalist narrative between 1947 and the early 1990s. In it Jinnah and his Muslim League were squarely explained to have worked up myopic communal urges to disrupt the centuries-old Hindu-Muslim unity in the region.
This view still holds sway in India. But recently, with the mainstream rise of Hindu nationalism in that country and a more hardline approach towards anything to do with Pakistan, some peculiar scholarly ventures have begun to emerge. These are attempting to augment the afore-mentioned view with an additional dimension which is more in tune with how Hindu nationalism understands the creation and existence of Pakistan.
Theological explanations for partition are becoming equally popular in India
Venkat Dhulipala’s book Creating a New Medina is a case in point. In this book, he rather brazenly adopts the nationalist narrative of various conservative and ‘Islamist’ historians and political outfits of Pakistan to suggest that the creation of Pakistan was foremost a theological project driven by the Two-Nation Theory.
By doing this, Dhulipala is basically intellectualising a tendency developing among certain sections of India’s academia in which Pakistan’s supposed theological nature is ‘proven’ so that the mainstream rise of Hindu nationalism in India can be rationalised and explained.
What is being consciously ignored and repressed by such historians, however, is the rather confounding fact that the League’s Two-Nation Theory was not a spontaneous communal brainwave of Muslim leaders. It had actually been developed and forced upon them by Hindu nationalists.
In a speech that he made on 24 April, 1943, Jinnah said: “I think you will bear me out that when we passed the Lahore resolution (in 1940) we had not used the word, Pakistan.” He then asked, “Who gave us this word?” Cries of ‘Hindus’ rose from the crowd. Jinnah then added: “They (the Hindus) fathered this word upon us.”
Unlike many latter-day historians, Jinnah was quite aware of exactly how the Two-Nation Theory, which he eventually championed, actually came about. He was correct to assert that it was first formed by Hindu nationalists as a way to assert their political and social agenda. Jinnah finally accepted it for the Muslims after he witnessed Hindu nationalist tendencies emerging within sections of the ‘secular’ Indian National Congress as well. The perception of a communal Muslim League sat well with the existentialist justifications of the Hindu nationalist outfits.
This is how it happened. In the late 19th century, Nabagopal Mitra, one of the pioneers of Hindu nationalism, authored a paper in which he described the Hindus of India as a nation that was better than the Muslims and the Christians. He added that ‘the basis of national unity in India was the Hindu religion’ and that the Hindus should strive to form an ‘Aryan nation.’
In an early 20th century pamphlet, Bhai Paramanand, a leading member of the Hindu reformist movement the Arya Samaj, described the Hindus and Muslims as being two separate nations who were ‘irreconcilable.’ In his autobiography, ‘My Life’, Pramanand mentions how in 1908 he called for an exchange and settling of Hindu and Muslim populations in different geographical areas.
In a December 14, 1924 article in the Bombay daily, The Tribune, Congress leader and Hindu nationalist Lajpat Rai too called for a ‘clear partition of the region into a Hindu India and non-Hindu India …’
In 1923, poet and playwright, VD Savarkar, coined the word, ‘Hindutva’ in a book (also titled Hindutva). He coined the word to mean ‘Hinduness’ and wrote that the Muslims (and the Christians) of India were outside of ‘Hindu nationhood.’ Then, in 1937 while speaking at the 19th session of the influential Hindu Mahasabha, Savarkar insisted ‘there are two nations in India: Hindus and the Muslims.’
In 1939, MS Golwalker — the supreme leader of the radical Hindu organisation the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — published his book, ‘We, Or Our Nationhood Defined’. In it he asserted that the minority communities of India (specifically, Muslim) should merge with the Hindu nation or perish. He wrote that non-Hindus in India could not be considered Indian unless they were ‘purified’ (i.e. converted to Hinduism).
Golwalker described the Hindus as being India’s ‘national race’ and pointed at the example of Nazi Germany’s eradication of the Jews as a way to deal with minorities who refused to adapt to the culture of the national race.
Interestingly, during the recent rise in the attacks against Muslims in India, the country’s PM and the chief of the BJP, Narendra Modi, suggested that India’s Muslims should not be rebuked but need ‘purification’ (parishkar). Modi was referring to the use of this word in this context by BJP’s prime ideologue, Pandit Upadhyaya. Upadhyaya had first used the word decades ago as an extension of the Sanskrit word Shuddi used by Hindu nationalist Dr. PS Moonje in 1923. Shuddi also means ‘purification’ and Moonje had used it to mean the conversion of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism.
Indian academic and historian Dr. Shamsul Islam has extensively quoted speeches, articles and pamphlets of various Hindu nationalists in his 2015 book Revisiting the legacy of Allah Bakhsh, to establish the fact that, indeed, the communal impulse and justification of India’s partition (into two separate nations) was originally formed by Hindu nationalists and was adopted much later by the likes of Jinnah. And as mentioned earlier, Jinnah adopted it in 1940 for the Muslims after fearing that Indian nationalism had come to mean Hindu nationalism.
What is also interesting is how the historical narrative about the creation of Pakistan being formulated by Indian historians sympathetic to the BJP is being ecstatically received by the religious groups of Pakistan. Their narrative too had explained Pakistan as a theological project. But this narrative was badly battered by the likes of KK Aziz, Ayesha Jalal, Dr. Mubarak Ali and Hamza Alavi.
Indeed, there is certainly no dearth of ironies in the synthesis which emerges in debates on the partition of India between competing narratives.
For example, the owner of a large chain of bookstores in Lahore recently informed me that there is a rising demand for an Urdu translation of Dhulipala’s book. He added that certain ‘Islamic’ organizations have in fact offered to translate it themselves.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 9th, 2016