Our Quaid, his Pakistan

The Lahore Resolution rejected the idea of a united India and reformulated the Muslim demand to 
attain separate states. Here, the  Quaid-i-Azam arrives in Allahabad to address a session of the 
All-India Muslim League in 1942.
The Lahore Resolution rejected the idea of a united India and reformulated the Muslim demand to attain separate states. Here, the Quaid-i-Azam arrives in Allahabad to address a session of the All-India Muslim League in 1942.

The Lahore Resolution of March 1940 is rightfully considered a turning point in the struggle for the freedom of the Muslim polity of British India. After the disappointing experience of the Indian National Congress’s (INC) rule during the late 1930s, a sizable number of Muslims and other communities believed that majoritarian rule under the prevailing political structure of the time might not guarantee true freedom for the masses. Against this backdrop, the leading politicians of the All-India Muslim League (AIML) charted a unique political path in the form of the Lahore Resolution. This path recognised the enormous diversity prevailing in the Indian subcontinent and diagnosed that the dominant majority would always threaten the life and liberty of numerically smaller communities and peoples.

The Lahore Resolution rejected the idea of a united India and reformulated the Muslim demand to attain separate states. Equality of status of all peoples; social, economic and political justice; freedom of expression, thought, belief, faith and association, subject to law as well as public morality, were important tenets of the resolution. The resolution presented a multi-state solution to existing political problems. The struggle for this narrative eventually led to the creation of Pakistan and India in 1947 as two sovereign states.

Mr Jinnah elaborated on several occasions how he saw the nation-building process for Pakistan progressing. The gist of his expectations was a purposeful and disciplined struggle towards realising national goals, selfless service to build the country, and the aspiration to high public ideals in contrast to individual gains. Unfortunately, the nation-building pursuit fell drastically short on several counts.

If we can provide adequate representation to the marginalised, strengthen the political process, enhance and safeguard civil liberties and freedoms, we may yet rescue the Quaid’s vision for Pakistan

Failing the minorities

The 1951 census revealed that 3.44 per cent of West Pakistan’s population comprised non-Muslims, while the demographic comprised 23.2pc of East Pakistan’s. Among these had been many prominent non-Muslim leaders, including Jogendra Nath Mandal. Mr Mandal was a trusted lieutenant of Mr Jinnah, and served the country in various capacities, including as law minister in the first post-partition cabinet. After Mr Jinnah’s demise, he was appalled to observe the unfriendly conduct of the subsequent administrations towards the minorities.

He resigned from his post and complained to then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan about the various instances of brutalism and injustice perpetrated upon local non-Muslims in former East Pakistan. The alleged rape and murder of scheduled caste citizens in Habibgarh in Sylhet; the killings, loot and plunder in Mollarhat in Khulna in 1949, under the guise of a crackdown on communist sub-groups; communal atrocities on the premise that the same was being done in west Bengal; and the looting of shops owned by non-Muslims in different locations, including Dacca (now Dhaka), during February 1950 were sad episodes.

Mr Mandal had sided with the cause of Pakistan and the AIML leadership in the belief that being liberal, upright and forward-looking, Mr Jinnah and his companions would safeguard the smaller communal groups with greater generosity. The AIML had appeared as a ray of hope for the downtrodden. The party could not carry this image after Mr Jinnah departed.

Ideological unmooring

Soon after Independence, various interest groups took hardened positions to interpret Pakistan as they pleased. The exercise occurred without much possibility of debate or discussion, and continues in this manner to date. Yet, despite much bickering and heated dialogue, there is still no conceptual clarity over the entity of the state.

The ‘liberals’ interpret the 1940 Resolution to argue that the country was founded for the Muslims of the sub-continent to live in peace. The Muslims as a community now have the liberty to frame the objectives, statutes, rules, codes, customs and norms of life as they please. In support of their argument, they quote several speeches from Mr Jinnah and other leaders of the freedom movement. In other words, they subscribe to the classical segregation of religious doctrines from state practises.

On the other hand, the ‘conservatives’ assert that the country was made ‘in the name of Islam and Islam alone’. They argue that the Muslims decided to secede from the overwhelming political, cultural and religious domination of the Hindus through the ballot in order to carve a homeland wherein life could be organised under the divine principles of Islam.

These arguments have been continuing since 1947. Neither side has attempted any conciliation or accommodation. With the possibility of settling this matter in an intellectually reasonable and peaceful manner becoming remoter still, the citizenry has grown increasingly confused. Unless this fundamental question is resolved, nation-building efforts will remain futile.

Besides, our national history has been beset with self-serving experiments. The Constitution of 1956 is an example. Soon after independence, provinces — especially East Pakistan — experienced tough political challenges. Its numerical majority was seen as a threat. To neutralise it, a strange principle of parity was derived and enshrined in the Constitution of 1956. The One Unit scheme merged all the provinces into West Pakistan, which was declared equal to the Eastern wing. The Constitution of 1962 continued with the same arrangement.

Self over the collective

Another great tragedy has been that most of our privileged citizens have tended to be self-serving rather than genuinely interested in public issues. Our generations — be they the young, the middle-aged or even the elderly — seem to believe in the neo-faith that self-progress is the only desirable goal. Any context that guarantees the realisation of this dream is the only one worth residing in. Affiliation with the nation and a genuine inclination to serve it are considered ideals too romantic to be seriously considered. It is also worth noting that the desire to chase comfort is prevalent more among the affluent, who already have many of life’s luxuries.

This phenomenon may not be restricted to Pakistan, but is of greater concern for the country since it has yet to prove itself a nation. Our mutilated political processes and the lack of principled organisation in public life are some of its visible symptoms.

Schism

There is now a great schism in the nation conceived of by the signatories of the 1940 Resolution, and it is only increasing. In religion, sects have now divided into sub-sects. Geographic regions are dominated by clan affiliations, and communities by ethnicities. When differences and disputes occur, violence and force become tools to settle the score. Ignorance, lack of education, impoverishment and devious leaderships with medieval orientations are all adding to the social divide.

The way forward can be rewarding if a realistic approach is taken. A consensus on our ideological fundamentals can be reached through the sustenance of the institutions of democracy. Mr Jinnah categorically referred to the wisdom of elected assemblies in establishing such matters. If they can be allowed to function without the establishment’s interference, they shall develop the capacity to formulate a viable interpretation of the nation’s ideology. Lateral inputs by the intelligentsia, academia and press can help streamline and enrich this discourse.

The priorities of nation-building can only be laid down if every cross-section of our society is judiciously represented at each forum where national decisions are made. Strengthening the political process, enhancing and safeguarding civil liberties and freedom, and encouraging continuous public input in the social sector are a few basic steps that must be taken. A model of leadership living in austerity and frugality should replace the ceaseless images of excessive spending. The media must make an effort to accommodate the life and sufferings of the oppressed in its discourse, rather than simply provide them symbolic coverage.

It cannot be denied that, as a nation-state, the country still has to overcome many hurdles — most of them demanding and unconventional. If the leadership succeeds in convincing its cadres and, after that, the masses to relinquish selfish goals for a simpler life of service to a common cause, the nation as idealised in the Lahore Resolution can start to be built.

The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi

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