The whirl of events in Pakistan causes concern in an historical sense. Pakistan’s political transformation has unfortunately negated a legacy, the legacy of Jinnah, inheriting which would have allowed better mediations for peace and democracy in the region. The ideals cherished by Jinnah who believed that Pakistan will progress only if they “work together in a spirit that everyone, no matter what is his color, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations” has been completely undermined both in India and Pakistan.
Jinnah’s visions of a non-theocratic democratic Pakistan are in no way inferior to the aspirations shared by Indian National Congress (INC) leaders of the time in rest of British India. Indian textbooks probably provide an uncharitable account of his role in India’s freedom struggle. After all, he was a great leader of the INC who took a profound role in re-imagining Hindu-Muslim unity, shaping INC’s Lucknow pact with Muslim League (ML) and democratizing minority politics in the subcontinent. Torn with sectarian violence, State repressions and increasing human right violations, South Asian countries in general and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in particular, would immensely benefit from a reassessment of Jinnah’s politics and ideals.
Jinnah’s image as an adamant fighter for a separate Muslim Homeland and hence as someone responsible for the division of India is often reinforced by Pakistan’s own constructions of his persona as father of the nation. An unkind fashioning of his politics as inherently sectarian obliterates the nuances of the strategic political positions held by Jinnah, his multiple subjectivities; the subtleties of the subaltern/minority politics he upheld and his visions of regional peace, cooperation and security.
Jinnah worked under constraints of negotiating minority rights and fractured nationhood. It was not Jinnah but Rehmat Ali who first demanded a separate State for Muslims in the North-West British India. Rahmat Ali clearly stated in his 1933 pamphlet (Now or Never: Are We to Live or Perish for Ever?)that he will not be satisfied with any arrangement that keeps what he for the first time called as PAKSTAN(an acronym for a confederation of regions such as Punjab, Afgania (part of NWFP), Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan) in the federation of India as mooted by INC. It was Ali who persuaded Jinnah to return to India in 1934 and assume the leadership of Muslim League.
Rehmat Ali’s pamphlet is an important political document which challenges the very concept of India as a nation. He eloquently questioned the historical foundations of such a Nation arguing that Indian State is a British construction in which different cultures and “who have never previously formed part of India at any period in its history; but who have, possessed and retained distinct nationalities of their own” were being subjugated. (The later rhetoric of Communist Party leaders on nationalities and national struggles in the subcontinent perhaps owes to Ali as much as to Lenin and Stalin).
He talked about the viability, necessity and inevitability of a Muslim majority State in the North West with historical examples and detailed the role of a futuristic Islamic State in the subcontinent. Emphatically he declared that it will be unfortunate if “Muslims of PAKSTAN” were “deluded into the proposed Indian Federation by friends or foes”.
However, undivided Communist Party of India (CPI) has taken credit for identifying the political role of Jinnah, ML and the demand for Pakistan. PC Joshi has said: “We were the first to see and admit a change in its character when the League accepted complete independence as its aim and began to rally the Muslim masses behind its banner. We held a series of discussions within our party and came to the conclusion in 1941-1942 that it had become an anti-imperialist organization expressing the freedom urge of the Muslim people that its demand for Pakistan was a demand for self determination and that for the freedom of India, an immediate joint front between the Congress and the League must be forged as the first step to break imperialist deadlock. A belief continues to be held that League is a communal organization and what Mr. Jinnah is Pro-British. But what is the reality? Mr. Jinnah is to the freedom loving League masses what Gandhi is to the Congress masses. They revere their Qaid-e-Azam as much as the Congress do the Mahatma. They regard the League as their patriotic organization as we regard the Congress” . (Congress and the Communists, PC Joshi, People’s Publishing House Bombay, p 5).
Communist Party regretted that they had toed the Congress line for a single Indian State for too long. CPI leader Adhikari maintained that ” In 1938, were yet wrapped in the theory like the rest of the nationalists, that India was one nation and that the Muslims were just a religious cultural minority and that the Congress-League United Front could be forged by conceding ‘protection of cultural and religious rights and demands’. We stood on the same basis as the Congress leadership, and were guilty of the charge of denying the peoples of the Muslim nationalities their just right to autonomy in free India. Since 1940, the party began to see that the so called communal problem in India was really a problem of growing nationalities and that it could be solved on the basis of the recognition of the right of self determination, to the point of political secession of the Muslim nationalities as in fact of all nationalities which have India as their common mother land. In those days many comrades were shocked by the formulation that India was not one nation and its development was in the direction of a multinational unity… the demand for Pakistan if we look at its progressive essence is in reality the demand for self determination” (G.Adhikari, Pakistan and National Unity, People’s Publishing house, August 1942, pp. 29-30)
The issue is not whether the two nation theory of Muslim League or the multi nation theory of the Communists was historically wrong. Fundamental issue is the pathological nature of democracies that emerged in the subcontinent during the post colonial period. Destiny had it that Jinnah did not live to realize his dreams. I am not certain if he had lived longer he could have built up a nation he cherished. Politics is too complex to make such counter factual questions relevant. Nevertheless, a near total absence of a discourse on the political ideals and passions of Jinnah in the whole subcontinent in the post-colonial period is indicative of the archival violence that silences voices different from the mainstream views. Not only Pakistan, India also stands to benefit from a reassessment of the unique positions that Jinnah upheld. His leadership still remains as an exemplary example of a practice of minority politics foregrounding democracy for nation-building and achieving fundamental human rights.
(The writer is an Assistant Professor, Communication & New Media Programe ,Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences ,National University of Singapore)