The Quaid-i-Azam and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan along with other All-India Muslim League leaders arriving at the venue of the ‘Pakistan Resolution’ session at Lahore — March 23, 1940.
The Quaid-i-Azam and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan along with other All-India Muslim League leaders arriving at the venue of the ‘Pakistan Resolution’ session at Lahore — March 23, 1940.

To be in Lahore in March evoked ruminations about the related commonalities and contrasts between 1940 and 2023. For instance: severe polarisation in politics. The present miasma plumbs dark new depths of viciousness and vitriol.

Dangerous violence erupted on March 14, 2023, between Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf workers and the police. Almost coincidentally, 83 years ago, on March 19, 1940, about 300 members of the Khaksar Tehreek of Allama Inayatullah Mashriqi violently clashed with police on the city’s streets. Killings occurred, and injuries were aplenty. The Sikander Hayat-led Unionist Party, which then ruled Punjab, had covertly facilitated the rally as a timed distraction from the All-India Muslim League’s (AIML) Convention, set to open on March 21 — all because Hayat strongly opposed the content of the draft Resolution approved earlier in February 1940 in a New Delhi meeting. Logistical arrangements for the about 25,000 AIML delegates who had travelled from across the region to the city were pointedly inadequate and discomfiting.

The Khaksar clash spun out of control and greatly embarrassed Hayat. He became a virtually silent spectator during the preliminary sessions of the various committees to amend the draft text. His views were fundamentally different from the strategic approach of the Quaid-i-Azam and the Muslim League. The Unionist leaders did not want a division of the subcontinent and no diminution of Punjab’s importance compared to other Muslim-majority provinces or aspects affecting Muslim-minority areas.

Yet, to secure unanimity and help Hayat avoid being openly condemned for violence against the Khaksar workers, Mr Jinnah dexterously postponed tabling the subject of the Khaksar episode in the convention sessions until after the Resolution was unanimously adopted on March 24. For the first time in the evolution of Muslim nationalism in South Asia, the Lahore Resolution introduced a precise, tangible framework within which such national aspirations could be peacefully strengthened and productively developed.

Chaudhry Rahmat Ali, who invented the name ‘Pakistan’ in 1933, deliberately absented himself from attending the pivotal AIML sessions in March 1940. He had a radically different, quite eccentric vision for the future of Muslims in South Asia, compared to the ambivalent concept gradually being evolved by Mr Jinnah and his colleagues with differing views from across the region. He chose to convene on the very same date, far away in Karachi, a meeting of the Pakistan National Movement, which he led. In previous months, he absented himself from two scheduled one-on-one meetings with the Quaid. It was ironic that such a wide gulf in perspectives separated the man who formulated the unique name for a new nation, and the man who overcame formidable opposition to create a new nation-state named by the other man.

And though the Lahore Resolution was soon called the Pakistan Resolution in popular and media discourse, the word ‘Pakistan’ did not appear even once in its adopted text. Without acknowledgement of the fact that Rahmat Ali had written the original words succinctly defining the distinctive separateness of Muslims and Hindus as the rationale for the Two-Nation Theory, both Mr Jinnah and the Muslim League used the same words in their statements.

Popular perceptions

In early spring, and an early Saturday night in March 2023, this writer became an anonymous vagrant in the Greater Iqbal Park on which is located the Minar-i-Pakistan erected on the site where the Resolution was moved on March 23 and adopted on March 24, 1940.

One was in a fulsome company. Thousands of people — including women with families, single women in small and large groups, children of all ages, and male adults of all shapes and sizes — milled and flowed in and out. The Lucky Irani Circus beckoned with bright lights, loud music and sound. Swings swept kids up and down, screaming with delight. Local fast food stalls briskly handed over hot snacks and biryani. Murmurs and movement meshed together in the shadow of a historical monument that silently surveyed the merry melee below.

In brief interactions with randomly accosted persons there and elsewhere, some questions arose within oneself. Does remembrance require fine detail? Is the broad picture, or even a vague notion, good enough? Is respect for history about exactitude?

Two women were seated on a roadside. Joining them uninvited, fortunately, did not provoke resistance. Razia, in her late 50s, a bit bedraggled, was selling glittery twirler sticks for children at Rs15 apiece. Her friend, Rashida, sat next to her, giving her company. Razia had been gifted three boys and two girls by her late husband. Both girls were married off. One boy — rather, young man — was a drug addict. The other two were beyond her daily reach. She managed to survive by selling her wares. When asked what the Minar means to her, she seemed surprised at the banality of the question. “Pakistan,” she simply offered. She did not know of any other facts, so the conversation was of a rather eloquent brevity. She had an infinite dignity, a kind of resigned acceptance of her poverty and condition. She tolerated my inane questions with patience. Rashida’s daughter, Kainaat, an eight-year-old with a charming face, walked up, curious to find out why a stranger was making small talk. She did not go to school; probably never will. The prospects for her life on the streets seemed ominous. Callously, presenting token gifts of cash for both ladies, I walked off with a twirler stick to look for new prey.

At the virtual foot of the Minar, three men, visibly in their mid-30s, clad in spotless shalwar kameezes, each with cell phones serving as cameras, responded to my queries. They were farmers from Attock, holidaying in the provincial capital, and appeared to have completed at least an Intermediate level of education. They affirmed that the Minar had something to do with the “Qaraardaad-e-Pakistan”, but when I asked where the Resolution had been adopted, they said they did not know. Nor why the Minar was put up where it stands.

A short walk away, a young welder from Vehari, with two little daughters, a son and wife in tow. Like his fellow countrymen from Attock, he knew the context of the location to which they had come for an evening excursion. He credited the Quaid-i-Azam (who died September 11, 1948) for constructing the Minar (built between 1960 and 1968). Yet, in one sense, he was right — Mr Jinnah did construct the country. The welder smiled upon being relieved of my intrusive company.

My anonymity was compromised when a young journalist from a leading Urdu newspaper recognised this suspicious interrogator. As his three daughters smiled shyly and his hijab-covered wife kept a polite distance, the newsman clicked selfies and snapshots while we exchanged wise insights about politics and the economy.

Not too far away, inside a flower shop, Zain knew that March 23 and Pakistan had something in common. But his deft colleague outside, Farhan Siddiqui, who could put together fine bouquets in minutes, confessed readily that he had absolutely no idea why March 23 was always a holiday. He had never been to school and did not seem to regret it. A Christian denizen who served as an efficient car driver ruefully conceded an equivalent lack of knowledge about March 23.

Three young graduates, including a woman, also offered morsels. One man credited Hafeez Jullundhari for coming up with the name ‘Pakistan’. The other revealed a deep disquiet about current conditions. The woman despaired at the growing desire of many youths to migrate to an overseas country.

Three women social workers offered mixed views. One said the Pakistan of 2023 had nothing whatsoever to do with the vision brought forth in 1947. Another felt disturbed at the lack of connection of most people with the message of sovereign progress for Muslims outlined in the 1940 Resolution. The third categorically asserted her faith in the country’s stable future.

Reviving glory

Aptly uplifted by this last expression of positivity, one turned from the site where the Resolution was adopted to enter Huzoori Bagh close by. In one large area, there is a spectacular convergence of our country’s rich history and resplendent diversity: the Badshahi Mosque, Lahore Fort, the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh, the mausoleum of Allama Iqbal, Roshnai Gate, and several other landmarks of the time.

To revisit the monuments now in 2023 is to gain strength and succour; to transcend the disappointments felt about the lack of precise knowledge of our formative documents and factors; to realise afresh the treasures that our country offers the world; to acknowledge the capacity of our country, which was ultimately created through the direction set by the Resolution, and the ability of its gifted citizens to engage support from across the world, and from within the nation as well; from the oft-maligned bureaucracy and political governments — to cooperate and to revive the splendours of our history.

Over the past 11 years, the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) — led with extraordinary dedication and competence by a former senior civil service officer, Mr Kamran Lashari — has gradually transformed neglected, decaying sites within many of those landmarks into clean, vibrant, absorbing spaces and settings.

Fittingly, in the evenings in a city that, in March 2023, has sadly achieved the dubious title of the world’s most polluted city, a mystic ambience enfolds this beautiful island of conservation. With the restored structures, streets and spaces, including the Fort Road Food Street, Craft Ghar, Photo Walks, Guided Tours and special performances of the kathak drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors and tourists every year, the sounds of the bugle, sitar, sarangi, flute and tabla, and periodic qawwalis cast a magical spell. As the city’s streets witness excesses, here in the parent city’s premises stands solid evidence of the excellence that Pakistan can achieve — excellence that is recognised as meeting the highest global standards.

Benign amendments

Restoring monuments, courtyards, and streets is also to restore the memory — of what later happened to the Lahore Resolution. Thirteen months after its adoption in Lahore, the Resolution was amended at the next annual meeting of the Muslim League held at Madras on April 12-15, 1941. Whereas the previously approved text called for an agency at the centre to oversee the transition to a new phase of history, the April 1941 version eliminated this provision. There was now a freshly categorical assertion that the birth of Independence would be concurrent with the creation and establishment of two Muslim-majority states. Mr Jinnah estimated that the two Muslim dominions would contain 72 per cent of Muslims and, overall, have over 70pc majority.

The cumulative effect of the amendments was also to substantially meet demands by the Unionist Party so as to minimise territorial demarcation and adjustment of the constituent units whose status was elevated by being designated, for the first time, as “complete independent states” (in the North West and North East) and as “Muslim free National Homelands” and by introducing the word “together” to preserve geographic contiguity between the constituent units within each of the proposed two new Dominions.

Historian Mohammad Aslam Malik memorably wrote in his book, The Making of the Pakistan Resolution (OUP, 2001): “The soil of Madras, far away in the south, turned out to be more fertile for the protection of Punjab’s interests than its own soil.”

Notably, Sikander Hayat did not even need to be present in Madras for this to happen. The climax of basic change in the Resolution came five years later, in New Delhi in April 1946, when a convention of Muslim League legislators unanimously agreed to strive for the creation of one single state instead of two or more states as previously specified in 1940 and 1941 — a change masterfully, amusingly explained by the Quaid as being necessitated due to a “typographical” error in the original text. For the record: the Quaid was the only major political force in the subcontinent who, just three months before the establishment of a two-winged Pakistan, fully supported in May 1947 the proposal of H.S. Suhrawardy for an independent, sovereign, united Bengal. The Congress and the British stoutly opposed the idea wherein a united Bengal would have a Muslim majority.

Even a cursory study of the different stages through which the drafts for the Lahore Resolution had to pass before its adoption in March 1940, the subsequent phases before the amendments in April 1941, and the typographical classic in April 1946 — reveals how multiple conflicting viewpoints were assiduously balanced and reconciled, how complex challenges were adroitly addressed by collective determination and the discipline enforced by Mr Jinnah. In many ways similar to the meticulous attention to detail and abundant patience required for conservation and restoration of sublime, irreplaceable yet vulnerable structures, so too the concept and the edifice of Pakistan deserve, in the tumult and torment of conditions today in 2023, reverential respect for each shade of opinion, for each citizen, for the letter and the spirit of the law — to ensure national renewal and the pursuit of a progressive destiny.

The writer is a former senator and federal minister, and author of, among other books, Pakistan —unique origins, unique destiny?

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