March 23 is celebrated as a national holiday across the country without any discrimination of area, language or culture. But a calculated assumption reveals that not many are actually aware of reasons behind this countrywide celebration — or at least are pretty much divided over its origin.
The first disagreement occurs over the name of the day, most of the people celebrate it as Pakistan Day since they have gained senses but there are some who call it the Republic Day.
Before plunging into the debate of whether March 23 is Pakistan Day or Republic Day, let us spend a few minutes trying to understand the difference between the two. As legend has it, the Lahore Resolution was tabled on March 23, 1940 at the Muslim League Convention in Lahore and passed the following day, on March 24, 1940.
On February 22, 1941, the Muslim League Working Committee had reportedly decided that March 23 would be celebrated in order to publicise the Pakistan Resolution (which was initially passed as Lahore Resolution).
But this was before independence. Once our country came into existence on August 14,1947, we started celebrating that day as the Pakistan Day — and quite rightly so as it was our day of independence, our national day.
Despite the fact that Pakistan had come into being, we were still not completely independent. After independence, Pakistan had the status of a “dominion” — one of the self-governing territories of the British Commonwealth.
To explain this further, if Pakistan government had to take an important appointment or decision, it would require an approval from the Queen of the United Kingdom.
For example, if there was an appointment to be made on the post of Governor-General or Prime Minister, our cabinet would send the nominations for the Queen’s approval.
It was then in 1956, when on March 23, Pakistan promulgated its first Constitution and formally became a “Republic” — severing the formal link with Britain.
As the norm is in developed world, the day was celebrated as the Republic Day to mark the promulgation of Pakistan’s first Constitution.
March 23 was celebrated as Pakistan Day till 1958, when in an unfortunate turn of events on October 7, 1958, the then president Iskandar Mirza revoked the Constitution and appointed General Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator. So, now in the absence of a Constitution, it would have been pretty incongruous to celebrate a day which marked the promulgation of the said Constitution.
In an apparent attempt to save face, the martial law authorities changed the name of day to “Pakistan Day” from “Republic Day”, but kept celebrating it on the same date — March 23.
Now, after many decades have passed since then, one would say that it was a smart move by the martial law authorities. They, quite technically, twisted a very important chapter of our country’s history, and managed to do so with so much success that now most of the people have no clue whatsoever what Republic Day is?
Or for that matter, did Pakistan ever have a Republic Day?
We asked these basic questions from the young members of the society, those who have now entered the professional world but are not much old to have totally forgotten what they learned in educational institutions —or at least that’s the general assumption.
Omer Ali Siddiqui, a civil engineer by profession, said that March 23 was the Pakistan Resolution Day, the day when Muslims leaders of the sub-continent passed a resolution to form a separate country where their fellow brethren could live peacefully and according to their beliefs. When asked whether he celebrates it or not, Siddiqui said the practice has varied over the years. “A few times I have woken up to watch the special television broadcast, while sometimes I have volunteered to work on that day,” he said.
Narjis Fatema, a public relations officer at a semi-government institution, had probably forgotten the significance of the day. She was asked twice, but both the times she ended up replying something else.
When asked what day we celebrate on March 23, her first reply was “Defence Day”, which she later changed to the day when Allama Iqbal had first conceived the idea of a separate nation at the annual gathering of All India Muslim League in 1930. Fatema later admitted that she was taught the significance of March 23 at school and university level but she had conveniently forgotten it. After this, there was no point asking whether she celebrated it or not.
Nousheen Ashraf, a federal government employee, said March 23 was one of the national holidays in the country and it was celebrated to mark the passing of Lahore Resolution which later led to the making of Pakistan.
She celebrated the day by watching Pakistan Day parade, a parade where military displays its might. When asked whether she was ever told about March 23 being a Republic Day too, her reply was a resounding NO.
“We were never taught this at our school and neither did I get to know this later,” she explained.
Aamna Saiyid, a journalist by profession, said the practice to celebrate Pakistan Day started in 1956 to mark the promulgation of the country first Constitution.
“But after the said Constitution was abrogated in 1958, March 23 ceased to be the ‘Republic Day’, since then it is observed as ‘Pakistan Resolution Day’ to mark the day when All India Muslim League moved a resolution for the formation of a separate homeland,” said Saiyid.
When asked how she celebrated the day, Saiyid said she spent most of the time reading editorials, articles and blogs published to commemorate the day.
Madiha Khalil, a visual artist and designer by profession, was of the opinion that March 23 marks the day when the first building block for the formation of Pakistan was laid.
“I have always celebrated this day in my school, college and then university, and most likely this year I will have to celebrate it at home since it’s a holiday from work that day,” said Khalil.
Mona Batool, a recent graduate and now a public relations practitioner, said the day was celebrated because Lahore Resolution was passed on that day.
But when asked further, she said she knew it was the Republic Day too and that our country first constitution was also passed on the same date.
“It’s the day when Pakistan became an Islamic Republic, in fact the first Islamic Republic in the world,” said Batool, adding that she had been taught this at school and university level.
If asked to draw a conclusion from the above mentioned survey data, one can safely assume that there is not much awareness about March 23 being a Republic Day too. And even in educational institutions the significance of the day is not taught in its complete form, or perhaps, we find it too convenient to forget.