The Quaid going through a document.
The Quaid going through a document.

AROUND 1899, empire’s beloved envoy, Rudyard Kipling — fresh from Lahore — wrote ‘The White Man’s Burden’, urging the master race to serve “your new-caught, sullen peoples, half devil and half child.”

Addressed to America, the poem was a hit in his home colony: at a safe remove from the world wars, the British Raj seemed set to rule forever.

But not everyone was for it: per the anti-imperialist poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt, “The White Man’s Burden, Lord, is the burden of his cash.” Praised by no less a fellow critic than Edward Said, Blunt was a rather unique son of Sussex. (“The British Empire is a structure that might crumble at any moment,” he wrote, “the sooner the better, say I.”)

He was also an early voice — per some, the first — to argue for a separation of the Hindu and Muslim parts of India, if retaining a common British defence. Writing a day short of 140 years ago, he wished “to put Northern India practically under Mohammedan [government], Southern India under Hindu government …”.

Blunt’s proposal — which, per historian K.K. Aziz, was of “breathtaking novelty” for 1883 — landed at the close of a century that had seen nonstop tragedy for India’s Muslims. The most searing case had been 1857, which ended in a years-long revenge spree by the Crown: natives were fi red from cannons, others driven from their homes.

“When the angry lions entered the city,” Ghalib wrote of the British taking back Delhi, “they killed the helpless and burned [their] houses.” Yet even after the swords were put away, the minority was still seen as the culprit: Punjab’s John Lawrence, for one, felt the Muslims had “displayed a more active, vindictive, and fanatic spirit than the Hindus — but these traits are characteristic of the race.”

Thus, when Lawrence’s statue went up on the Mall outside the Lahore High Court, it was inscribed with a warning for the city’s angry young men: “Will you be governed by the pen or the sword?” For India’s foremost Muslim leader at the time, Sayyid Ahmed Khan, the answer could only be the pen.

Scarred by 1857, his lectures to fellow believers to stop spitting on the Union Jack — and learn something, get a job, and grow strong along the way — were scorned by Muslim conservatives too freshly humiliated to pull focus. Rather than see his Aligarh College as an oasis, they dismissed it as an assembly line for British flunkies.

Besides, Sayyid Ahmed was a bit of a morning star; his thinking too ahead of its time to sway the Muslim mass. To him, siding with the Crown — a temporary overlord — was a matter of tactics, and guarding against the Hindu majority — a permanent overclass — a matter of strategy. “Suppose … the whole English army were to leave … then who would be the rulers of India?” he asked Meerut in 1888. “Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations — the Muhammadans and the Hindus — could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power?

Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down.“ While never urging division like Blunt — and thus, per one historian, stopping in the middle of his own argument — Sayyid Ahmed nonetheless pointed to the divide at the heart of imperial India: the expression ‘two nations’ was his result.

“By the 1930s, Jinnah had closed out the first two phases of his public life: as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, and then as a frustrated moderate amid Gandhi fever. The third phase, as we all know, was embracing the idea of Pakistan”

The next clear plan for separation — for which a primary source exists — would come from Hindu sectarian Lala Lajpat Rai in 1924, urging “a clear partition … into a Muslim India and a non-Muslim India.” Appalled by the idea of separate electorates ripping through his Bharat, Rai thought it best to take a knife to the whole thing. He would be killed by lathi charge four years later.

Finally — in the last landmark before the Lahore resolution — it was fiery Cambridge student Rahmat Ali’s pamphlet in 1933 that spelled out the surest plan for partition, and also coined the new state a name: ‘Pakistan’ or land of the pure, pulled from Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan. (Bengal showed up in its own right, as the unfortunately named ‘Bangistan’.) During all of this — the pre-partition trinity of Blunt, Rai, and Rahmat — leading lawyer Muhammad Ali Jinnah was still miles short of calling for independence.

This also brings us to a bit of a delicate point: to say poet Iqbal dreamt up the idea around the same time, as Pak Studies types so often do, isn’t borne out by the record. His famous Allahabad address of 1930 did indeed wish for “Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh, and Balochistan” to be “amalgamated into a single state,” but “within the body-politic of India.”

After all, Iqbal meant ‘state’ in the lowercase Indian fashion, as a province (the uppercase ‘S’ is a sly revision in later texts by other writers). Son Javid Iqbal confirms in his book Islam and Pakistan’s Identity that this was for a “Muslim India within India, as the word ‘state’ used by Iqbal, only implied the grant of full autonomy…” The elder Iqbal clarified as much in his letter of October 12, 1931: that such “Muslim provinces …would be the bulwark of India … against the hungry generations of the Asiatic highlands.”

He wrote again of Hindu-Muslim ties in 1931, “… I cannot allow myself to believe … that all human efforts directed to uniting the two communities are doomed to failure.”

To say Iqbal thereby doesn’t figure in Pakistan’s genesis, however, is unkind. While enough has been written on the hold his words had on the Muslim street, he had also endorsed the politics of partition by 1937. His letter of June 21, addressed to Jinnah, is definitive: “A separate federation of Muslim provinces … is the only course by which we can secure a peaceful India and save Muslims from the domination of non-Muslims.

 The Quaid addresses a mammoth gathering at Dacca’s Racecourse Ground on March 22, 1948. He declared at the meeting that Urdu would be the lingua franca of Pakistan.
The Quaid addresses a mammoth gathering at Dacca’s Racecourse Ground on March 22, 1948. He declared at the meeting that Urdu would be the lingua franca of Pakistan.

Why should not the Muslims … be considered a nation entitled to self-determination …? “Which brings us, at last, to creation’s key fi gure. By the 1930s, Jinnah had closed out the first two phases of his public life: as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, and then as a frustrated moderate amid Gandhi fever.

The third phase, as we all know, was embracing the idea of Pakistan, and creating a country less than a decade after it was proposed. “I am an Indian first and a Muslim afterwards,” Jinnah said, “but … no Indian can serve his country if he neglects the interests of the Muslims.” Less remarked-upon is what caused that final shift.

While turning points are aplenty, perhaps the clearest came in 1928, when Gandhi’s populist magic met the cold, black-letter law of the Nehrus. Unlike his easily bored son, Motilal Nehru was a seasoned lawyer.

When he brought out the Nehru Report — the all-Indian counter to a British roadmap — Jinnah was left reeling: his constitutional safeguards had been tossed out the window.

But these had been the great work of his life, going as far back as the Lucknow pact in 1916, when Jinnah’s skill had gotten even hardliners like Tilak and Lajpat Rai to comfort an anxious minority — promising the Muslims separate electorates, as well as reserving them a third of the central legislature, greater than their numbers.

“As the Quaid nears his 150th birthday, the idea of Pakistan has been made real for a while now. Yet it remains as unfulfilled as ever”

But those handshakes had been a while ago: the Congress of the late 1920s and ’30s was a new beast altogether as the logic of brute majority started dawning on winner and loser alike. Even when Jinnah went as far as dropping separate electorates — in return for keeping a third of the assembly — it mattered nothing to the Congress bosses.

In his letter to Gandhi, Motilal jeered that “even the most advanced Mussalmans” had given up such a demand, leaving “the Ali brothers and Jinnah to stew in their own juices.” All said, Jinnah had asked for a tiny piece of the federal pie; just not tiny enough for Motilal.

The Hindu-Muslim question would be settled, Motilal wrote to Annie Besant, “by throwing a few crumbs here and there to the small minorities.” With such indifference all around, it was becoming obvious that the Congress and the League had fundamentally different visions for India’s future.

Hence, also, Jinnah’s heartbroken farewell to the nationalist cause at 1928’s end. Up against a hostile audience at the all-parties convention at Calcutta, he pleaded for reason. One Congressite called him “a spoilt child” and “a naughty child”; the Hindu Mahasabha said he was a fringe wonder.

Jinnah didn’t take the bait. “… Here I am not speaking as a Mussalman but as an Indian,” he told them gently. “… Minorities cannot give anything to the majority.

It is, therefore, no use asking me not to press for what you call these small points. I am not asking for these modifications because I am a ‘naughty child’ … I am asking you for this adjustment because I think it is the best and fair to the Mussalmans … Majorities are apt to be tyrannical and oppressive and particularly towards religious minorities … We are all sons of this land. We all have to live together.“

Otherwise, “if we cannot agree, let us at any rate agree to differ, but let us part as friends.” And part he did: when he left, Jinnah kicked away the Nehru Report as a ‘Hindu document’ — the sort of binary that would now colour his speeches and statements. Unity was over.

But Pakistan was yet to beckon. Stunned by his wife’s death and abandoned by his own cause, Jinnah spent a lonely wilderness in private practice in London.

Discussions with Liaquat and letters from Iqbal followed, as did politely brushing off Rahmat and his friends: “My dear boys, don’t be in a hurry; let the waters flow and they will fi nd their own level.” From 1937 to 1939, Jinnah’s foes in Congress, in power at last, stirred those separatist waters all by themselves; his tone hardened with it.

“We Muslims have made up our minds to have our fullest rights,” Jinnah told Patna, “but we shall have them as rights, not as gifts or concessions.” By 1940, the tide had come in: the idea of Pakistan captured the Muslim imagination like none before it.

But the extraordinary popularity of the Lahore Resolution meant fresh critiques aimed at the Quaid, as well as the idea he was determined to adopt and now own.

While meriting a separate essay by themselves, these can nonetheless be touched upon: that Pakistan was meant as a bargaining counter, for a better deal in undivided India. This writer has rebutted that claim in detail elsewhere, whereas Jinnah sighed almost every year since the resolution that “it is not a counter for bargaining”, and to “remove from your mind any idea of some form of such loose federation”. Amid these countless denials post-1940, not a single credible source where Jinnah says otherwise has so far been discovered.

There’s also the canard that Jinnah’s Pakistan was a British plot. But this glides over the fact that the vast majority of empire’s officials would go on record again and again to oppose Pakistan, not least for what it meant for defence: the division of the Indian army, with the Russian bear breathing down the mountains.

(The hilarious claim that the British wanted a ‘buffer zone’, defended by two small armies instead of one, is yet more magical thinking.) Even past guns and steel, the coloniser would also weep for India’s unity for emotional reasons. India had a geographic, racial, and above all ‘political unity’, wrote secretary of state Leo Amery in 1941, “… which we have confirmed in far stronger fashion than any of our predecessors … I would say, indeed, that if some sort of Indian unity had not existed, it would have to be invented.”

This form of self-soothing was part of a broader trend — the white man’s burden in crisis. As historian Sikandar Hayat has rightly pointed out, “Neither Linlithgow, Zetland, nor Wavell, Amery, Attlee, or Mountbatten supported the [Pakistan] demand.” But for a lull during the war, when the League was preferable to a striking Congress, the Raj sprung right back to its default contempt for Jinnah’s party as soon as the Japanese fell.

All this bad blood is only ever countered with a few random letters between Jinnah and Churchill, an opposition relic far from the levers of government, who’d never wanted to free India anyway. Taken together, London’s endlessly documented sneering at Pakistan is met with near-zero evidence to the contrary.

Most important, the minority question: if Pakistan was meant to be a land where the Muslims could breathe free, what of the millions left behind in India? For Jinnah, his answer would unvaryingly be in terms of the greatest good, as a counter-question: whether all of Muslim India “should be subjected to a Hindu-majority Raj, or whether at least six crores of Mussalmans residing in the areas where they form a majority should have their own homeland … and shape their own future destiny …?” More recent treatments of the idea also merit mentioning.

In Creating a New Medina, Venkat Dhulipala is correct to say Pakistan was no vague slogan; he isn’t as correct in the latter half of his thesis — that it was a popularly envisioned theocracy. Save a few clergymen, the religious right overwhelmingly rejected Pakistan and attacked Jinnah, from Maududi’s Jamaat to the Majlis-e-Ahrar to most of the Deoband school. The feeling was mutual: for the Muslim modernists that had founded the new nation, it certainly wasn’t “to be ruled,” per Jinnah, “by priests with a divine mission”.

To play up such a mission would be almost as wrong as its mirror image, Faisal Devji’s Muslim Zion, linking Pakistan’s birth to Israel’s apartheid project — as two states that transcended ‘blood and soil.’ But Pakistan was “of course nothing like Israel,” historian David Gilmartin has already rebutted, “…for the areas that became Pakistan were already occupied by tens of millions of the Muslims in whose name the state was created.” Zafrulla Khan, the Quaid’s foreign minister, opposed Palestine’s partition for the same reasons at the UN.

Hence, also, Pakistan as a mass movement that became the world’s largest Muslim-majority state at birth, and not a settler militia blasting its way in. To call it a ‘Muslim Zion’, then, is, as Gilmartin says, “an act of historical erasure”.

Finally, we turn to the idea now realised, and what came of its founder’s wishes. Here, unfortunately, there can be no defence: since the creation of Pakistan, Jinnah declared parliamentary sovereignty (Constituent Assembly, August 11, 1947), civilian supremacy (Quetta Staff College, June 14, 1948), and religious pluralism throughout.

Today, the lights are out in all five assemblies, the military establishment reigns supreme, and the country’s minorities eke out their days on the margins, with civil liberties — closer to the lawyer Jinnah’s heart than anything else — long faded from view.

As the Quaid nears his 150th birthday, the idea of Pakistan has been made real for a while now. Yet it remains as unfulfilled as ever.

The writer is a barrister and columnist.



First steps
29 May, 2024

First steps

IT is, without doubt, a positive development. The chief minister of KP seems to have reached an arrangement that ...
Rafah inferno
29 May, 2024

Rafah inferno

THE level of barbarity witnessed in Sunday’s Israeli air strike targeting a refugee camp in Rafah is shocking even...
On a whim
29 May, 2024

On a whim

THE sudden declaration of May 28 as a public holiday to observe Youm-i-Takbeer — the anniversary of Pakistan’s...
Afghan puzzle
Updated 28 May, 2024

Afghan puzzle

Unless these elements are neutralised, it will not be possible to have the upper hand over terrorist groups.
Attacking minorities
28 May, 2024

Attacking minorities

Mobs turn into executioners due to the authorities’ helplessness before these elements.
Persistent scourge
28 May, 2024

Persistent scourge

THE challenge of polio in Pakistan has reached a new nadir, drawing grave concerns from the Technical Advisory Group...