THERE are three days that the Pakistani nation celebrates every year as national holidays — Independence Day on August 14, Pakistan Day on March 23 and the Quaid-i-Azam’s birthday on December 25.
The reasons for celebrating Independence Day are obvious — the country gained independence on this day in 1947 and became a separate nation. The birthday of Pakistan’s founder is celebrated on December 25 every year because the nation wants to recount the great deed of Mohammad Ali Jinnah of creating Pakistan and marks the day by paying homage to the founder. The other important holiday — Pakistan Day — is celebrated to remember two prime developments in the genesis of Pakistan. The first is that a resolution was passed on this day in 1940 in Lahore which formally presented the concept of the Indian subcontinent being a land where two distinctly different nations existed — the Muslims and the Hindus. The second is that Pakistan became a republic on this day in 1956.
In his address on March 23, 1940, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had stated words to the effect that while one of the two nations living in the Indian subcontinent had a clear numeric superiority over the other, in religious and cultural terms, there was a sea of differences between the two communities and if they continued to co-exist in a united India, frictions between them could lead to serious complications in future. This was his thesis for the two-nation theory and demand for a separate and independent country for the Muslims. The Muslim nation was to be carved out from the larger Indian subcontinent on the basis of Muslim majority populations living in various regions, mainly on the western and eastern flanks of the land. The idea was to give them a separate and independent homeland.
The country also celebrates Pakistan Day every year on March 23 because Pakistan’s first Constitution was promulgated on this day in 1956. This marked the country's successful transition from dominion status to that of an Islamic Republic. The ceremonial head of state of Pakistan then became the President while the position of Governor-General was abolished.
A nation that is enamoured with the concept of tabdeeli, can, perhaps, embrace the change by declaring the Pakistan Day a nine-hour working day instead of a public holiday.
A distinct memory of the day that I still preserve in my mind is that as a schoolboy in Quetta, while walking back home after ‘chutti’ time, I looked towards the sky through a clearing of trees and noticed an airplane dropping leaflets in a playing field. I rushed and gathered some. The leaflets were printed in lavishly shining bronze ink on smooth white paper and stated in both Urdu and English that Pakistan had become a ‘Republic’ on that day. Being a student of class five, I did not quite understand what that meant but when I reached home, I gave the leaflet to my mother and she exclaimed, ‘Shukar Hai’.
Many decades hence, we officially celebrate Pakistan Day with traditional fervour. It’s a public holiday and all offices, banks, businesses and educational institutions are closed. There are early morning gun salutes, military parades and illumination of buildings. In the evening, the President of Pakistan confers awards on those civil and military personnel who have rendered meritorious services and there is an all round air of celebration in the national and provincial capitals. The media also gets into the act with special supplements in newspapers and endless national songs on radio and TV. The evening of March 23 is commemorated with TV talk shows in which participants wax eloquent on the importance of Pakistan Day and why the day is so important in the nation’s history. The next morning, it is business as usual and everyone forgets about Pakistan Day.
March 23 is a public holiday but those who work in the ‘essential’ services, such as the police, armed forces, railways, airlines, postal services, etc., don’t get an off. Nevertheless, it is one day in the life of most Pakistanis when they get up late and do not have to go to school or office. The lady of the house looks forward to the day because she can nab the husband to complete some household chores that wouldn’t have been possible on the weekly Sunday holiday when everything is closed. The young person who goes to school or college sleeps for half the day, then gets up, has something to eat, watches a film or chats on the phone. The evening is for friends and everyone has a nice time. There is hardly a thought anywhere about the Lahore Resolution of 1940 or Pakistan becoming a republic in 1956. No one cares about the real reasons why the nation celebrates Pakistan Day — and perhaps a lot of them don’t even know what Pakistan Day actually stands for.
Perhaps, a new beginning can be made in this direction by declaring March 23 a working day. In 2020, Pakistan Day will fall on a Monday. It should be a usual day but with a slight difference. Instead of being an eight-hour work day, from March 23, 2020 onwards, it should be a nine-hour work day every year and the extra working hour on that day should be dedicated to the nation. The extra one hour should be extended in school and college class hours as well. While the offices, banks and schools should remain open during the day and carry on with their routines, an hour should be reserved at the end of the day for the office staff and students and teachers to gather for a brief lecture to be delivered by a senior person about what Pakistan Day stands for, what transpired on this day in 1940 and in 1956 and what its significance is for Pakistan as a nation. For those who are enamoured by the concept of ‘tabdeeli’ (change), perhaps this could be a good way to embrace change.
In years, when Pakistan Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, advance notice should be issued by the government to make the day a full working day for offices, banks and educational institutions.
The print media can highlight the importance of Pakistan Day by publishing exclusive supplements with emphasis being on how the people should come out from their reverie of merely recalling the past and continuing to dwell in history. The newspapers could perhaps launch a national writing contest (in both professional and amateur categories) on the subject a few weeks or months earlier and publish the best articles on the subject in their supplements.
The awards given on Pakistan Day by the President of Pakistan, in addition to recognising gallantry by civilians, the law enforcement agencies and the military, should also be presented to those who have really proved their mettle in nation-building by working hard and squashing corruption. In the awards selection, if there is even a whiff of nepotism and ‘sifarish’ it should be stamped out and nation-building efforts be acknowledged. It is known that in previous years, all kinds of pressures were brought to bear in determining the final list of award recipients.
Sports events dedicated to Pakistan Day can be organised and instead of becoming run-of-the-mill fixtures, they should be genuinely contested. Since the day represents Pakistan as a nation, all sports, and just not cricket, should be included in the fare. Perhaps, this could be one of the ways through which other sports could come to the fore, especially if the media plays a constructive role in covering and projecting these sports.
National campaigns that have a direct bearing on the present and future of the nation could also be launched on Pakistan Day. The need for planting more trees, water conservation and energy savings could be further emphasised. In fact, if every adult and able-bodied citizen of Pakistan is assigned the task of planting just one sapling every year on Pakistan Day, the impact this will have on the nation’s ecology can well be imagined.
A word of caution for the commercial advantage seekers. It has become customary for corporate organisations, multinationals and brands, to exploit every opportunity that comes their way to impose their commercial message on the public through various media. It would be a proof of the patriotism of such business houses if they spared Pakistan Day and did not take advantage of the opportunity to force their commercial messages on the public. They would be welcome to assist in forwarding the real spirit of Pakistan Day to the people but going beyond that should be forbidden territory for them.
Pakistan’s diplomatic missions around the world which serve more or less as just visa-issuing offices need to become more active. Instead of only throwing Pakistan Day parties and dinners, they could play a more proactive role in becoming focal points for the Pakistani diaspora in respective countries and explain both the historical significance of Pakistan Day to Pakistani citizens as well as the local people and educate them in how the Pakistani nation would now be utilising the day to forward its nation-building thrust. This task should not be performed in the stereotypical manner Pakistan’s foreign missions are used to doing but in a more effective and result-oriented fashion. Perhaps, the fact that they won’t have a holiday on that day and the work day will be longer than usual will give them the desired motivation.
The armed forces could also contribute to this effort and their chiefs could issue motivational messages to the officers and jawans. The head of the government, namely the Prime Minister, as well as chief ministers of all the provinces could also pitch in and do their bit in lifting the nation’s morale. The Prime Minister could have his usual heart-to-heart talk with the nation on the day through TV and radio and explain to the people the active role they could play in various nation-building efforts. The same goes for the President and the Governors.
The time has come when the people of Pakistan should move forward on constructive lines towards building a strong nation by imbibing honesty and hard work and eradicating corruption in all walks of life. Pakistan Day offer a good opportunity to do this.
The writer is a senior journalist.