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Jinnah and the Notion of a Nation-State

by Dr. Syed Jaffar Ahmed

Executive Director, Pakistan Studies Center, University of Karachi

Since her creation, Pakistan has remained subjected to a persistent ideological crisis. A set of questions highlights the various aspects of this crisis, for example:

1. What was the objective of the creation of Pakistan? Was it the establishment of an Islamic state authenticated by the religious ulema and the clergy, or was it to be a democratic state of the Muslims, in which the consensus and Ijma of the Muslims had to determine the policies of the state. In other words was it to be a theocracy or a democratic nation state?
2. What is the status of the Two Nation Theory on the basis of which the demand for Pakistan was made? Is it still valid or has it come to outlive itself once Pakistan was realised?
3. Is Pakistan an ideological state and is Islam the ideology of Pakistan or there is room for re-defining and re-statement of our ideology?
4. What relationship religion has with state in the context of Pakistan? Should the two be merged together or would they fulfill their respective purposes more amicably while remaining apart?
5. Was the creation of Pakistan a step towards Islamic revivalism across the world, a phenomenon which in the 1980s and onwards has become increasingly militant or Pakistan had to project Islamic ideals of morality and social justice while remaining in the lego-political confines of the international law?
Had these questions been answered adequately keeping in view the actual historical context, and the rationale of the creation of Pakistan, the subsequent ideological predicament could have been avoided. In a way, these questions have been responded to and these responses have also been embodied in policies. So before moving ahead, it would help if these responses are looked into. These have been:
1. Pakistan is an Islamic state. India was partitioned to bring this state about. In 1949, the Objectives Resolution declared the sovereignty to be vested in the Almighty Allah. Though the resolution also suggested that this sovereignty would be exercised by the people of Pakistan through their elected representatives, yet the legislation made by these representatives was to be guided and supervised by a set of religious ulema who were assembled in different advisory bodies created in the respective constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973.
2. The constitution of 1973 went to the extent to declare Islam to be the religion of the state, a unique and unprecedented event in the annals of modern state-craft.
3. The constitution, as it stands today, prohibits a non-Muslim from becoming the president or even the prime minister of the country.
4.Ensuring the Islamic way of life constitutes a part of the principles of policy in the constitution, an obligation under which successive governments took various policy decisions like introducing Islamiyat as compulsory subject, the state’s taking upon itself the responsibility of managing zakat and auqaf, etc.
5. Two Nation Theory was attributed permanence with the suggestion that since the country was created on its basis, its survival can only be ensured by it. In the major part of the country’s history, separate electorates remained on the statute books. All constitutions of the country ensured the rights of minorities. Notwithstanding the fulfillment or otherwise of this promise, the fact remains that the constitutions did envisage the citizenry to be divided between the majority and the minority.
6. Pakistan has all along been described as an ideological state with Islam defining this ideology. The ideology of Pakistan has been asserted more vigorously with the passage of time and in a more concerted manner by the state itself. The educational system, the political lexicon, and verbiage of most of our politicians as well as the media have all been tuned to that end. At times it was also claimed that Pakistan is the only ideological state, or if some other state shares this status with Pakistan, it is Israel.
7. Pakistan was described by many, particularly a wider section of the clergy, as the first stage in the pan-Islamic mission. In the 1990s, when the Pakistani and foreign students coming out of the religious seminaries were recruited as Taliban, to take over Afghanistan, the experiment turned out to be so encouraging for the clergy that in the late 1990s, a religious scholar, Dr. Israr Ahmad, suggested the liquidation of the boundaries between the two countries and creation of an Islamic Khilafat in Pakistan and Afghanistan together, with Mullah Umar as the Khalifatul-Muslimeen.

Assessing the efficacy of the above decisions taken for giving a particular religious identity to Pakistan, one notes that despite so much of religious talk all around, and so much of ideological indoctrination, a number of disturbing facts haunt us. For example:

1. Pakistan has continued to lack national integration. The regional, ethnic and linguistic contradictions have continued unabated. Half of the country comprising more than half of its population seceded after twenty-four years of the creation of the country.
2. An environment of Islamic brotherhood and solidarity could not be realized in the country. The society has remained subjected to moral degradation. Despite all the lip service to religion, nepotism, corruption and hypocrisy have unfortunately come to define the Pakistani way of life.
3. Pakistan could not become a social welfare state which was an objective for which it was created. It remains one of the poorest of all countries with almost 40 per cent of its population living below the poverty line and almost half still illiterate. Women, agricultural and industrial workers, slum dwellers, and minorities constitute a big under-privileged section of the society who are discriminated against under law and by the policies of the state.
4. Religious harmony is still a dream with religious extremism persistently on the rise. Extremist groups have hijacked the society. Places of worship are attacked by these groups, and prayers are held under the security of the police. At places women guards equipped with automatic weapons come to guard their men-folk while they pray. Religious minorities feel themselves to be insecure. The accounts of the highhandedness meted out to them constitute a large section of the reports published by various human rights bodies.
5. A large number of people are becoming disappointed with the state of affairs. Those who afford, prefer to go abroad to begin a new life.
6. And above all, the talk of an ideological crisis does not come to an end. Not only this, but those whose ideological recipes have so far been followed, are all the more insistent on the presence of this crisis.

It should not be difficult to assume that the ideological dictums under which the country was tried to be guided, have exposed their ineptness and weaknesses. These have brought about anything but a country envisioned by the Quaid-i-Azam.
So it would not be out of place to examine what weaknesses our hitherto ideological formulations have had, and to ascertain how the country can be rescued from the continuation of its ideological predicament. For this, one needs to look into the actual context of the creation of Pakistan and to ascertain the imperatives of national integration in the post-independence environment rationally and with an objective eye.
Truly, the demand for Pakistan was couched in the Two Nation Theory as is well-known. However, as demonstrated by the Muslim League documents, the statements of the Quaid-i-Azam, and the lego-political terrain culminating in the creation of the country, the Two Nation Theory was the political device chosen to ensure the rights of the Muslims, first, in the context of united India, and later, as the source to demand a separate homeland for them. The demand of Pakistan was made at a time when the principles of the nations’ right of self-determination and national sovereignty had been accepted internationally. While speaking about the Muslims as a nation, Jinnah was, therefore, employing an existing political concept of group formation. Before doing this, he had earnestly strived to secure Muslims’ interests within an all-India milieu. Once, he was regarded as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. In 1927, he had even offered to give up the principle of separate electorates – a principle which was one of the most important causes behind the creation of the Muslim League in 1906, if the Muslims were given constitutional safeguards in united India. At the time of coming of the Simon Commission, he tried to make a common cause with the Congress. Even after 1937, when the League took recourse to the Two Nation Theory more regularly, he did not close doors to the solution of the communal problem in an Indian context. Even the Lahore Resolution spoke about a proposed constitution for ‘this country’ which in 1940 was no else but India. Jinnah’s search for an amicable solution to the communal problem in India continued till the Cabinet Mission Plan.
While projecting the Two Nation Theory, Jinnah was in fact employing the cultural identity of a minority for the construction of its political identity or for its group-formation in the political sense. In the world of ethnic politics it was not a new thing; numerous examples exist where political group-formation was done on the basis of cultural indices. While doing so, Jinnah was not expressing a religious prejudice nor was he trying to demonstrate the superiority of one religious community over the other. His sole argument was that the Muslims and the Hindus were different. Thus while speaking to the Memon Chamber on 7 March 1947, Jinnah said:
‘I assure you that I have respect for the great Hindu community and all that it stands for. They have their faith, their philosophy, their great culture; so have the Muslims, but the two are different… I am fighting for Pakistan because it is the only practical solution for solving the problem, and the other ideal of a united India and a rule based on the parliamentary system of government is a vain dream and an impossibility’ (emphasis added).
Jinnah had avoided getting embroiled in religious contests; he had even demonstrated a distaste for using religion for political purposes. In the beginning of his career he had taken up the responsibility to plead the case of the Muslim minority but the difference between standing for the rights of a religious minority and employing religion in politics was all the more evident in his politics. Jinnah had avoided joining the Khilafat Movement declaring it to be an outcome of ‘religious frenzy’ and suggesting that ‘sentimental nonsense and emotions have no place in politics’. Similarly, at one stage, after the demand of Pakistan was made, he had this to say:
‘What are we fighting for. What are we aiming at. It is not theocracy, not for a theocratic state. Religion is there and religion is dear to us. All the worldly goods are nothing to us when we talk of religion; but there are other things which are very vital – our social life, our economic life. But without political power how can you defend your faith and your economic life?’
Regarding the question of sovereignty, Jinnah had no confusion in his mind. He had certainly used the phrases of Islamic system and the Islamic state time and again but while doing this he did not perceive the new state to be a theocracy. Rather he envisioned a modern democratic nation state with a federal and parliamentary form of government which are modern concepts of political science. Jinnah’s concept of an Islamic state should be viewed in the context of his commitment to federalism and parliamentary democracy, and also in the context of his projections for a social welfare state in Pakistan, for which, in his speech in Chittagong in March 1948, he used the phrase of ‘Islamic socialism’. Regarding sovereignty, while speaking to Doon Campbell, the correspondent of the Reuter, Jinnah said in 1946, that:
‘The new state would be a modern democratic state with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights of citizenship regardless of their religion, caste or creed’ (emphasis added).
In as far as the relevance of the Two Nation Theory after the creation of Pakistan, the assertion rests on the assumption that the ideologies are ends in themselves and that they are permanent and permanently delineate the path to be taken by their followers. The assumption also implies that the ideologies have an a-priori existence, that they are pre-given, and have a primordial existence. This explanation of ideology has been seriously contested in the modern age by rational thinkers and objective historiographers. It has been argued with convincing empirical findings that ideologies are essentially a political construct and they emerge in the context of given political contests. With the change in context the nature of the contest may also change and hence the recreation or restatement of the ideology.
The insistence to project the Two Nation Theory to the independent Pakistan will not only amount to suggest that the communal problem of the pre-partition era continues to exist, which would further imply that Pakistan’s creation has not resolved anything, but would also suggest that a religions minority within Pakistan would always have the potential to take recourse to its cultural and religious identity in order to build its political constituency. This is anathema to the idea of a united Pakistani nationhood and it is this prospect which was foreclosed by the Quaid-i-Azam, when he underlined the imperatives of the Pakistani nationhood in his 11 August 1947 speech. Thus Quaid-i-Azam, while speaking to the Constituent Assembly, clearly stated that:
‘If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.’

Quaid-i-Azam further said:
‘we should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority community – the Hindu community and the Muslim community… will vanish. Indeed if you ask me this has been the biggest hinderance in the way of India to attain its freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago…Therefore we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste, or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state’ (emphasis added).
Jinnah’s 11th August speech is a classic embodiment of the idea of a nation state. The suggestion that Jinnah was pacifying the religious emotions which had ignited violence on the eve of partition, and that he was trying to win over the minorities in the highly sentimental and charged atmosphere, does not fully ascertain the spirit and message of his speech which may well be regarded as the Magna Carta of Pakistan. Notwithstanding the immediate and the short term importance of this speech, his message was more substantial, all-encompassing and carrying long-term validity. More than restoring the confidence of the minorities, he was in fact nullifying the notions of minority and majority in the new state. So, if in Pakistan there could be constructed an ideology representing the views of its founder, it could not be anything else but the ideology of a nation state. This ideology could serve as a cementing force in a plural society which Pakistan was and has all along been. It was this ideology that could have safeguarded the fundamental civilian rights and which could have served as a vehicle for a prosperous and modern state.
A religion’s designation as the ideology of a state involves a number of complexities. Religion is, primarily, a trans-territorial reality which transcends all local, national, ethnic and linguistic boundaries and bring into being a wider community of faith. In contrast, state is a territorial entity in which the boundaries of the state play pivotal role in defining the nationhood. By making religion the ideology of the state, the territory becomes secondary, if not a totally irrelevant, reality. The bond of religious solidarity may compel the followers of one religion in a state to undermine the territorial confines of their state and get into a project of group-formation along their religious identity which may threaten the group identity of the state itself.
Second, religious ideology has the tendency to discriminate among the people of the state along religious lines. Thus, at best the minority could be ensured better rights but such states do not and can not bring to rest the dichotomy of the minority and the majority within its citizenry. This dichotomy negates the very idea of a nation state.
For a state to claim an ideology is not an unusual thing nor is it something confined to Pakistan. Almost all states take recourse to one or the other ideology. The socialist states had been ideological states and so are the capitalist states. Since ideologies are political constructs they are used by the states for their legitimacy and this legitimacy is important for all states no matter how they correspond with their societies. As states essentially represent a dichotomous relationship with the society, ideology helps gloss over this dichotomy and helps ensure the allegiance of the people to the state.
Thus one hears about the American values and American nationalism in the United States, British nationalism in the United Kingdom, secularism in India, Juche Idea in North Korea and so on and so forth. As we live in the era of a nation state, nationalism as a rule, is the ideology of all these states. It is not that the nation states do not have their inherent weaknesses. They certainly have not yet overcome the discriminations of class and also, in most cases, of gender, yet the nation states may well be designated as an advancement on the previous forms of state man has built and experienced. As an astute observer of the world in which he was chosen to lead his nation, Jinnah knew the spirit of his age and the dictates of his times. He thus envisaged Pakistan to be a modern nation state which could have taken a respectable place among the community of the nations through its achievements in economy, social justice, system of governance and overall well-being of its people.
As to why Pakistan could not become a united nation and why unity could not be evolved amidst its multifarious diversities, one needs to see that in other parts of the world, nation states were created under certain historical conditions. It is a set of social factors which contribute to the emergence of the nation state. The social classes – the emerging industrial and trading capitalist classes with a degree of autonomous existence lead the creation of nation state as they did in France, in Britain and in the United States. Inherently in contradiction with the feudal class, the emerging capitalist class forged alliances with the general populace to strengthen themselves and, in return, offered equality of citizenship, equal rights, political participation etc to them. In Pakistan this autonomous capitalist class did not exist and whatever small class of traders and entrepreneurs was there, was, like its feudal counterpart, dependent on the colonial patronage. With partition, the power structure changed only to the extent that the patrons were changed from the colonial rulers of the Raj to the civil military oligarchy. Our feudal class as well as the dependent indigenous capitalist class could not be expected to offer an enlightened ideology of a modern nation state. The power holders, having no roots among the people and totally bereft of legitimacy, could only raise the slogan of Islam in order to secure the allegiance of the people. Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan got lost in this mist.

Jinnah’s vision of a nation-state can be resurrected if we undertake to:
a. make Pakistan a modern democratic state ensuring equality to all its citizens not only in letters but also in spirit.
b. Reshape the political matrix of the country ensuring the supremacy of the people which would imply bringing to an end the omnipotence and supremacy of the civil and the military bureaucracies.
c. Ensure substantial and effective land reforms in the country emancipating the people from the bondage of feudalism in whatever form it exists in Pakistan.
d. Give priority to education, promoting rational and scientific thinking in order to decolonize the colonial mindset that we continue to have even after sixty three years of independence.
If we do not address the issues highlighted above we will continue to bewilder in an ideological mess and Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan will remain a dream. On the other hand, addressing these issues would help realize his vision and would make Pakistan a country we would all be proud of.

The author holds Ph.D from Cambridage University in Political Science.He is the Executive Director of the Pakistan Studies Center, University of Karachi. He has authored several books and articles on Pakistan’s Political, Socioeconomic and Constitutional history. Comments may be directed to

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