Aug 13, 2011
A critical look at the two nation theory
By Kashif Jahangiri
The kind of history that is taught right from the early school years in Pakistan has not helped us a great deal. By the time we grow up, with some of us getting into policymaking roles, we have developed a rigid approach which is India-centric. Be it foreign issues or economic matters, our focus is India rather than our own people, even if it comes at the cost of national prosperity. History should serve the purpose of being a guiding light. We should learn from the mistakes of the past in order not to repeat them. While history cannot be changed, the road to the future can certainly be.
One such tweaking of the history is the Two Nation Theory, which led to the incorrect belief that Pakistan was created as a religious state. The Quaid-e-Azam had not conceived Pakistan as a theocracy, and that is something he clarified on a number of occasions.
While reference is made to his presidential address to the historic Muslim League convention of March 1940 where he stated that Muslims and Hindus were ideologically different nations, the fact remains that it was in the context of Muslims being unfairly treated as a minority in British India. One should not forget that the slogans of Hindu nationalism were first raised by some Hindu extremists in the 1920s and 1930s. These included Lala Har Dayal, who in 1925 declared in his statement published in the Pratap of Lahore that the future of Hindus was based on four pillars namely: (a) Hindu Sangathan, (b) Hindu Raj, (c) Shuddhi of Muslims, and (d) conquest and Shuddhi of Afghanistan and the Frontier. These also included Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, whose 1925 book Hindu Pad-Padashahi bemoaned Muslim rule in India and called for an all-India Hindu empire under the hegemony of Maharashtra.
The sole objective behind the demand for Pakistan was to achieve the economic and social uplift of Muslims as much as possible. The objective was not to create a hate-filled divide between Muslims and Hindus. The demand was only for those areas where Muslims were in clear majority. Of course there were Muslims all across India, and not just in the areas covered under the demand for Pakistan. It was therefore implied that even after the creation of Pakistan there would still be Muslims living in India as a minority.
If the sole objective of the All-India Muslim League were to isolate Muslims from Hindus, then in June 1946 it would not have accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan of the British government which had proposed a confederation of United India comprising three provinces. The Muslim League was forced to withdraw its backing to the Plan when Pandit Nehru, on assuming the presidency of the Indian National Congress from Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, stated that Congress could make changes to the Plan after the British left. This assertion defeated the very objective of the acceptance of the Plan and the Muslim League was left with no option but to move on with its demand for Pakistan. It can therefore be said that Pandit Nehru partly contributed to the creation of Pakistan. Thus, the Two Nation Theory or the false notion of Muslims not being able to live with Hindus or the setting up of a Muslim theocracy had nothing to do with the creation of Pakistan.
Even if it is assumed that the Two Nation Theory was the basis for the creation of Pakistan (which is something going against the facts), should the State of Pakistan become a hostage to this concept in today’s world? The creation of Pakistan is now an established fact that cannot be just undone. We now need to move on.
We need to put this so-called theory to some logic test and see where it takes us to. The following questions spring to mind:
1. If Hindus and Muslims could not live together under any circumstances, why did it take Muslims a few centuries to realise this fact? Where was the Two Nation Theory when India was being ruled by Muslims?
2. If the Two Nation Theory was to be followed, why were there Muslims left in India to live under Hindu rule?
3. If the Two Nation Theory is still applicable, what is the status of Hindus living in Pakistan today? Why do we issue them National Identity Cards when they are not to be considered part of the same nation as Muslims? And why do they have representation in the Pakistani parliament?
4. Aside from the Two Nation Theory, are Muslims one nation themselves? If Muslims were one nation, why would the more wealthy Muslim states not grant nationality to less privileged Muslims from other countries, including Pakistan? On the contrary, why would Pakistan have a visa requirement for a Muslim from another country – including India?
5. If the Two Nation Theory was the binding force, why did East Pakistan secede to become Bangladesh?
Clearly, it takes more than religion to form a nation.
It would also be useful to see other examples of Two Nation Theories and related geographic divides in world history.
The idea of a Two Nation Theory was previously used by Thomas MacKnight in his book Ulster As It Is in 1896, where he tried to establish that the Protestants living in the North of Ireland were a nation distinct from the Catholics living on the rest of the island. The so-called Two Nation Theory was then pursued by many, including the writer W F Monypenny in his 1913 book The Two Irish Nations: An Essay on Home Rule. Interestingly, the Two Nation Theory was also supported by Arthur Clery, one of the Irish Republicans leaders. Mr Clery backed the theory to secure independence from British rule, perhaps feeling that independence from the British was not possible until the Protestants living in the North of Ireland were divorced from the Irish nation. Mr Clery’s test of Irishness was based on the Gaelic language and Catholic beliefs. The Irish Two Nation Theory matured over time and resulted in the creation of Northern Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act passed by the British Parliament in 1920. The Act then led to the formal division of Ireland in 1922 with 26 counties forming the independent Republic of Ireland and six counties of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom. The division on the island of Ireland caused by the Two Nation Theory still carries its bitterness after 89 years of the divide. Even after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, violence still revisits this lovely island to haunt its inhabitants.
In his historic speech of Aug 11, 1947, the Quaid-e-Azam had stated: “In course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of the individual, but in the political sense as the citizens of one nation.” With this statement, the Quaid-e-Azam clarified that he did not see religion playing any role in the future politics of Pakistan. This statement of the Quaid-e-Azam should be enough to set aside the Two Nation Theory in the sense it is understood by many in Pakistan.