Resolutions and realities: between 1940 and 2024

Reducing and ending dichotomies which could become explosive requires a new resolution which can help enforce radical, painful, essential change.
Published March 23, 2024

It has now been 84 years since the Lahore Resolution and 77 years since the birth of Pakistan. The more we move on, the greater the contrast in some principal conditions for the vast majority of citizens: for example, the average life expectancy in the subcontinent in 1940 was only about 28 to 30 years; today, it is 68 years. Literacy at the time was barely 25 per cent; it is now over 67pc.

Per capita income then was about Rs2,500-3,000 (with the dollar at only Rs3.30); in the current year, it is about Rs430,000 (with the dollar at Rs280). Figures can be misleading, and some comparisons odious. Yet, it is incontrovertibly true that over the past eight and a half decades — even as high population growth, disintegration in 1971 and skewed priorities have limited our potential — there has also been phenomenal improvement in vital indicators.

Though we still rank in the bottom 40 out of the 193 members of the UN in human development indices, and though the progress of the majority of our women is still impeded by patriarchy and repressive practices, there are also millions of girls and women presently enrolled in schools, colleges and universities; some at work as Air Force jet pilots; others as leading bankers, school teachers and specialist doctors. Access to electricity, water supply, and roads has also made huge strides.

Multiple realities

At the same time, some fundamental conditions of today invite reflection. The first of these conditions is the multiple realities we seem to occupy. In 1940, for the first time in the political history of South Asia, the Lahore Resolution unanimously adopted by the Muslim League on March 24 specifically identified the territorial demand for the autonomy and sovereignty of Muslim-majority areas. Without using the term “Muslim nationalism” in the Resolution, the truth of Muslims and Hindus being two distinct, separate nations was forcefully articulated in the speeches delivered on the occasion by M.A. Jinnah, Fazl-e-Haq (who moved the Resolution on March 23), and other leaders. Such expression rep-resented the political reality of the time as many, or most, Muslims perceived it. There was no expression of hatred towards Hindus, only an acknowledgement of distinct, inherent differences.

The Hindu-dominated Congress claimed an alternative reality: that all the diverse, heterogeneous people of the subcontinent misleadingly called “India” were actually part of a single, composite nation. To this day, in 2024, no scientific definition of a “nation” has been agreed upon. Meanwhile, the ruling British colonial authority of the time had slowly yet surely begun to recognise the facts of the basic, unalterable differences between the two communities. Theirs was a grey reality, the third reality. Fortunately, seven years later, in 1947, the ‘Two-Nation’ reality — having evolved over a thousand years, as lucidly, powerfully described by Chaudhry Rahmat Ali in his pamphlet Now or Never in 1933 — came to prevail over the other two versions.

A by-word is tempting because of a slight parallel in current times. For the record, not often cited is the fact that this historic pamphlet, written by the inventor of the word “Pakistan” and issued on January 23, 1933, was co-signed by three others. One of them, decades later, actively served in Pakistan’s political affairs. This was Mr Aslam Khattak, an undergraduate student at Oxford, who was a friend of Mr Rahmat Ali, who had been at Cambridge. The former went on to become governor of NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) during Mr Z.A. Bhutto’s rule and federal interior minister during Mr M.K. Junejo’s government. But, in 1933, under pressure from those who were not ready to consider, at that time, the division of the region into two new entities — including Mr Jinnah, then in London, as per Mr Khattak’s account in his autobiography, A Pathan Odyssey (OUP, 2004) — Mr Khattak informed Mr Rahmat Ali in March 1933 that he was disassociating himself from the pamphlet. Ninety years later, we have seen several prominent leaders recently disassociating from their past political beliefs, perhaps under pressure from a political re-configuration that is not ready to receive them.

Electoral realities

In 2024, as in 1940, we, too, have multiple realities; of another kind, but nevertheless present. In February of this year, dozens of independent politicians, who contested for seats in the National Assembly and four Provincial Assemblies with a dizzying variety of election symbols and despite numerous coercive pre-poll impediments, managed to secure more votes than both other leading political parties, as well as smaller but older parties. This unusual feat was achieved despite Pakistan’s anomalous First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system, which can give a party securing a minority of the total votes cast a majority of seats.

A Muslim League session in progress, with Jinnah sitting fourth from right.—Dawn Archives
A Muslim League session in progress, with Jinnah sitting fourth from right.—Dawn Archives

Subject to detailed research: the initial result in February 2024 was surely the first time in global electoral history that individual candidates using separate, unrelated election symbols moved far ahead of long-established major political parties with extensively known common symbols used consistently over multiple general elections. Yet, for reasons mysteriously unexplained, even the belatedly announced official seat counts won by these independent candidates were eventually whittled down. A few cut their links with their sponsoring party to cross the floor. The remaining were denied their quota of seats reserved for women and non-Muslims — a development that threw up some interesting questions regarding representation of the public will.

In 1940, despite the many excesses of colonialism, to the credit of the British, no similar example existed in terms of pre-poll rigging, in-process rigging and post-poll rigging to alter the public’s mandate in ways suited to the rulers of the time. Despite a foreign rulership controlling the levers of the state, no such thing was witnessed in the elections held four years before the Lahore Resolution, in 1935/36, nor six years after, in 1946. One wonders how the Pakistan Movement would have turned out in present circumstances.

Business as usual?

Parallel to the present reality of tailored mandates is the reality of all five of Pakistan’s legislatures assuming formal, legal status and going about their business as if all is perfectly normal. Follow- ing Feb 8, 2024, each forum has held internal polls to elect speakers, deputy speakers, and leaders of the house, and indirectly installed their respective cabinets of ministers. Half the Senate will soon follow on April 2, 2024. Meanwhile, with due awe and solemnity, the highest office of State has been regained by a previous occupant representing what is electorally a minority party.

Bestowing this spectacle with full legitimacy is the reality of implied judicial sanction, with suo moto now in disrepute after the misuses of the past. In the face of blatant official biases, police aggression against unarmed protesters, re-arrests despite bail, incarceration of hundreds of political prisoners, non-production of an elected Senator despite legislative orders, judicious indifference and silence have rarely been louder and sadder.

Even the overdue pronouncement on the unfairness of the judicial-military murder of Mr Z.A. Bhutto in 1979 and a few instances of strong individual judges and judgements have not helped melt the eerie frozenness of the superior judiciary regarding the visible, obvious transgressions in the exercise of power.

This reality is difficult to reconcile for any student of history familiar with the trajectory of how Pakistan came into being. In 1940, the courage and brilliance of South Asia’s ablest barrister, a certain Mr M.A. Jinnah, would never have permitted the British or the Congress to attempt such violations without successfully challenging them at every step. Back then, the political tug of war was constrained by rules set in the law. It seems today that there are no longer any guardrails around power in the country created as a result of that struggle.

Use of resignations

Around the time the Resolution was passed, the Quaid demonstrated exceptional strategic vision. When the Congress resigned its ministries in the provinces in late 1939 to protest not being consulted in advance by the British before the declaration of war against Nazi Germany in late 1939, the Muslim League sought to fill the vacuum to reinforce the validity of its claim to be a nationwide force with a balanced, mature leadership. While maintaining its demands for Muslim statehood, the Quaid reorganised and expanded the League’s membership to include far more middle-class professionals.

Regrettably, about 82 years later, a party claiming the ideological heritage of the nation’s founding fathers angrily and ill-advisedly resigned en masse from its legislative assembly, following it some months later, in February 2023, by the surrender of its two provincial governments as well. Though these tempestuous actions were effectively used to mobilise a significant surge of popular support, in actual terms of the possession and application of power, the party in question enabled almost all of its rivals and the state to unite against it, take over the federal and provincial governments, instal par- tisan caretaker governments, and register scores of cases against its leadership.

The beneficiaries of this abdication did no better. Though contexts differ, in 1940, Mr Jinnah used the Congress’s resignations for a higher, more sublime purpose — to strengthen the Muslim League movement for a sovereign Pakistan. Those who inherited an empty legislature and near-complete control of the state in 2022 only managed to utilise the opportunity to pervert the soul of the Republic with widely criticised, self-serving legislations.

Minority becomes majority

The second set of multiple realities, separated by almost eight and a half decades, also arises from the first set, and specifically relates to the majority-minority relationship dimension. In 1940, the Muslims of the subcontinent, while being the largest religious minority living beside a pre-dominant Hindu majority, rightly demanded recognition as a separate, distinct nation. They eventually achieved that recognition in the form of an independent Pakistan.

In 2024, in a non-religious context, there is the starkly evident conversion of an overwhelming electoral majority into a sizable but limited minority — in full public view and under the nose of (or with the compliance of?) — the civil and military branches of the executive, as well as the superior judiciary. In effect, now the political minority — as determined by the votes cast by the people — has become the electoral, ruling majority.

The military’s role

The third set of dualities or parallels is the role of the military, then and now. In 1940, seven years before statehood, there was obviously no entity called the Pakistan Armed Forces. Nor were armed struggles or armed rebellions against the British part of the political, entirely peaceful and non-violent struggle for Pakistan so carefully nurtured and led by the Quaid. Yet, Muslims of the subcontinent, many of whom hailed from what became West and East Pakistan, constituted, by a slim majority — but a majority nevertheless — a larger part of the British Army than Hindus, even though Muslims were a religious minority in the total population.

As pertinently cited by one of our country’s most eminent historians, Professor Dr Sikandar Hayat, in his book A Leadership Odyssey: Muslim Separatism and the Achievement of the Separate State of Pakistan (OUP, 2021), the respective composition of ranks and officers was: Muslims 37.65pc, Hindus 37.5pc. Overall, this indicated a disproportion con- sidering the population ratio, which was substantively more Hindu in comparative terms.

Yet, the strong presence of Muslims in the pre-1947 military played no political role in the movement for Pakistan because the Quaid did not take advantage of the relatively high numerical presence of Muslims in uniform. Soon after Independence, the founder of Pakistan categorically stressed the need for the military to focus exclusively on professional duties — to protect and defend the State’s frontiers and to support civil and political authority.

Since Independence, four open violations have been followed by a strong covert role in statecraft through the machinations of intelligence agencies, which otherwise excel as custodians of our security interests and are ranked among the finest in the world. Yet such excellence, when distracted and diverted into the political realm, damages both the institution itself and, much more so, the political realm and the country at large.

Be that as it may: from 1940 to 2024 — a panorama of enormous change replete with numerous parallel realities; for the future — reducing and ending dichotomies which could become explosive requires a new Resolution, to enforce radical, painful, essential change.

Both the bell and the cat are waiting.

Header photo: All-India Muslim League leaders with Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah after arriving at the venue of the Pakistan Resolution session in Lahore.—Dawn Archives