“Resolved that it is the considered view of this session of the All-India Muslim League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to Muslims unless it is designed on the following basic principle, namely, that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority, as in the North-Western and Eastern Zones of India, should be grouped to constitute ‘Independent States’ in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”. — Lahore Resolution, March 23, 1940, presented by A.K. Fazlul Haq, the Prime Minister of Bengal.
THE movement for the accomplishment of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent got an impetus after the passing of the Lahore Resolution which formed the basis of the Pakistan movement and changed the course of history. Islam was used by the Muslim League and its leader Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah as a slogan to unite Indian Muslims for the accomplishment of a separate homeland in the light of the Lahore Resolution.
Jinnah was quite clear in his vision for a separate state for the Muslims of the subcontinent by stating in his address: “Hindus and the Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literature. They neither inter-marry nor inter-dine together, and, indeed, they belong to two different civilisations that are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their concepts on life and of life are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Muslims derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other, and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state.”
However, the leadership of the Muslim League, which got strength from the Lahore Resolution and the subsequent Pakistan movement, was unable to comprehend the emergence of issues in the new state of Pakistan, particularly between geographically non-contiguous provinces of West and East Pakistan and the failure to prevent the surge of ethnic nationalism and the rise of non-democratic forces.
While the Pakistan Resolution had called for two ‘independent states’ in the north-western and north-eastern parts of the subcontinent, the central working committee of the League, in its meeting held in Delhi in April 1946, despite opposition from Abul Hashim from Bengal and others, amended the resolution and replaced the word ‘states’ with ‘state.’
The fact that the League’s Central Working Committee in April 1946 amended the Pakistan Resolution and replaced the word ‘states’ with ‘state’ opened the doors for interpretations and misinterpretations that continue even today.
The amendment made to the resolution was interpreted for seeking an independent Muslim state to be called Pakistan rather than as independent ‘states.’ Interpretation and misinterpretation of the resolution of March 1940 and amendment made to it in 1946 also need to be taken into account by those who want to seek clarity about the idea and the emergence of the state of Pakistan.
Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, in his book Unfinished Memoirs, narrated his participation in Muslim League’s meeting held in Delhi in April 1946 in the following words: “On April 8, this committee met for the first time. The resolution that was taken there altered the Lahore Resolution in some ways. Only Mr. Hashim and a few others objected when the word ‘states’ of the previous resolution was replaced with ‘state’, but they were overruled and the emendation was adopted. Scholars can perhaps decide whether this convention had the right to alter the terms of the resolution adopted in Lahore in 1940.”
Since the British had decided to grant independence to colonial India and the Muslim League leadership realised that two independent Muslim states, without the inclusion of the entire Punjab, Bengal and Assam, may not survive, the idea to strive for a united state of Pakistan made sense.
Furthermore, Muslims of the minority provinces of the subcontinent who were in the forefront of Pakistan movement had to pay a heavy price in the form of migration to the new state and killings/lootings which took place during partition. And not all Muslims were able to migrate to the new state which reflects the reality that today there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan.
The second migration of Indian Muslims took place when East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971 and the non-Bengalese, who had migrated particularly from the state of Bihar to the then East Pakistan after partition, were targeted by Bengali nationalists and many had no option but to migrate to Pakistan. Critics argue that had two independent states been established, as proposed in the Pakistan Resolution, the second migration of Muslims would not have taken place.
Those who quote the resolution as a basis for autonomous and confederal state of Pakistan argue that the struggle for provincial autonomy and social justice was suppressed by forces that took advantage of the amendment made in the resolution in April 1946, and imposed a ruthless system of exploitation on the provinces of Pakistan when it emerged as a new state in August 1947.
According to Stephen P. Cohen, a historian and an expert on South Asian affairs, in his book The Idea of Pakistan, “Pakistan’s ethnic and linguistic minorities often cite the founding document of Pakistan, the Lahore Resolution, as legitimising their claims to greater autonomy. Although the resolution does not include the word ‘federation’, it does say that the independent state it called for should have constituent units that would be autonomous and sovereign.”
Ironically, G.M. Syed, a leader of Muslim League who presented the Pakistan Resolution in the Sindh Legislative Assembly on March 3, 1943, in Karachi, was dubbed a traitor and arrested several times by successive Pakistani regimes. Likewise, Mujib, another activist and leader of the Muslim League, from Bengal, got frustrated and felt offended when he realised that the new state of Pakistan, dominated by ethnic elites, was not just and fair vis-a-vis the majority province of East Bengal.
As a leader of Awami League, Mujib presented his famous six points in an opposition meeting in Lahore on February 5, 1966, reminding the people of Pakistan that the six points unanimously accepted by the members of Awami League working committee were nothing but a reiteration of the Pakistan Resolution. However, opposition parties from West Pakistan termed them separatist.
After the breakup of Pakistan, the Lahore Resolution was again referred to by nationalist parties representing Balochistan, Sindh and North Western Frontier Province (since renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [KP]) who made it clear that the provinces had created Pakistan and not vice-versa, and without granting provinces full autonomy to manage their affairs the very existence of Pakistan may be at stake. But, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who assumed power post-1971, advocated a federal structure with a strong centre.
One can analyse the implications of the resolution on the state of Pakistan by examining three major factors. First, the debate about Pakistan Resolution still goes on in various circles because of conflict between centrifugal and centripetal forces. The very idea of Pakistan, which got an impetus after the resolution, is a source of argument between those who term provincial autonomy detrimental to unity and integrity of the country and those who advocate full autonomy to provinces as the only way to keep Pakistan together.
Second, it is argued that the 18th amendment, passed by parliament in 2010, is close to the spirit of Pakistan Resolution. In fact, the six points of Awami League have their echo in the 18th amendment.
Third, even if an amendment was made in the Pakistan Resolution in 1946, it did not question autonomy for the provinces. It was only after the creation of Pakistan that feudal, military and bureaucratic elite of Pakistan conspired to usurp the rights of the provinces and to impose a unitary form of government. The imposition of One Unit was a gross violation of the resolution and of the very idea of Pakistan.
With the passage of time the mindset of governing elite in post-1947 and post-1971 Pakistan was not in conformity with those sections of the resolution which granted sovereign rights and full autonomy to the suggested ‘states’. They interpreted the amendment made in the resolution as a justification for a unitary form of state, with provinces unable to assert their position vis-a-vis a strong centre.
It means those who had replaced the word ‘states’ with ‘state’ in the 1946 meeting should have made it clear that it was not at the expense of provinces becoming part of Pakistan and that full autonomy will be granted to them. Had this been done, centripetal forces believing in strong centre and using religion as a cover for their authoritarian and dictatorial motives would have been neutralised.
Critics in favour of adhering to the actual clause of the Pakistan Resolution granting full autonomy to Muslim states of northwest and northeast argue that, unlike the Indian union which existed as a state before partition, in Pakistan was created by provinces because it did not exist before August 1947. This is the difference between Pakistan and other post-colonial states that it was created by the provinces with an understanding that their rights will not be usurped. Hence, the debate about interpreting and misinterpreting Lahore resolution continues.
The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations, University of Karachi.