The Tragedy of Jinnah

n699541328_1231741_29051From The Liberal
BY Simon Kovar

‘Inexplicability’ is the word attached by one historian to the communal bloodletting that accompanied the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. The term suggests a certain exhaustion with an archive that paints a picture of what, in hindsight, appears to combine both political stupidity and popular barbarism.

It is easy in such circumstances to search around for a villain of the piece. For many, the character of Muhammad Ali Jinnah fits the bill perfectly: Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film Gandhi depicts Jinnah as patrician, cold and distant. The ‘Mahatma’ is shown receiving almost as a physical body-blow Jinnah’s (fictitious) threat of civil war unless the demand for Pakistan is acceded to – the saint cowed by the opportunistic politician.

‘Mahattenborough’ (to use Salman Rushdie’s memorable phrase) is certainly guilty of semi-deifying a man, Gandhi, who – in his religious doctrines, abusive personal experiments and response to European fascism in the 1930s – was far from blemish-free. But he is guilty too of libeling Jinnah, one of the sole liberal voices at the high table of Indian politics. It is noteworthy that the Hindu nationalist politician L.K. Advani, an apologist for the slaughter of Indian Muslim citizens in Gujarat, chose the word ‘secular’ to describe Jinnah during a visit to Pakistan in 2005. Advani was criticised for apparently having ‘praised’ Pakistan’s founder; but the Hindu far-right is not noted for regarding the epithet ‘secular’ as a term of praise.

In fact, Jinnah fits quite closely the model of the classic liberal politician. He disdained populist politics, not least of the sectarian religious variety, and argued for constitutionalism, equality under the law and the separation of ‘church’ and state (explicitly stating that “religion should not enter politics”). It was this that lead him, in 1920, to resign from the Congress Party which had by then fallen under Gandhi’s sway. Gandhi sought to mobilise mass sentiment, both Hindu and Muslim, through a naked appeal to religious symbolism – an appeal Jinnah regarded as highly dangerous. He had no ideological commitment to separatism: instead he was focused on what he termed the “political issue” of how to safeguard minorities in the new India. While many Congress politicians had no problem with simply taking over the old unitary colonial state (in Nehru’s case in order to pursue socialistic planning policies), Jinnah argued that the whole basis of the nation had to be renegotiated in order to safeguard the rights and interests of all minorities.

It was only in 1940 that this concern was framed in terms of a demand for Muslim nationhood, for ‘Pakistan’ – but this was not a demand for partition. Jinnah’s Pakistan was envisaged as part of an all-India federation, founded on power-sharing as the basis of equality. The Muslim minorities in Hindu-majority provinces would be guaranteed protection, as they would be in the same position as the non-Muslim minorities in Bengal and Punjab. This was, in other words, a constitutional – rather than a communal or ideological – proposal.

What, then, went wrong? There is no simple answer. Jinnah found in Islam a means of uniting his disparate and divided constituency behind a common political front. Undoubtedly this played a part in stoking religious antagonism and violence to a point that was beyond any political control. Perhaps the real tragedy was the refusal of the Congress Party to concede the principle of a unitary centre, including its rejection of the Cabinet Mission plan of 1946 for a federal Indian Union, a scheme which Jinnah had endorsed. The consequence was that the Congress effectively opted for partition, against Jinnah’s wishes, and ultimately aligned with the Hindu nationalist demand for the removal of Muslim-majority regions. This, combined with the over-hasty British withdrawal, made inevitable a proposal that commanded neither public support nor fulfilled Jinnah’s ultimate concern. Jinnah played a dangerous and ultimately tragic game; but he was not alone in doing so, nor was he wrong in his critique of the dangers of an over-centralised state that carried colonial powers over into a post-colonial polity.

The unitary Indian state that emerged had a sound rationale, particularly in the hands of a benign citizen-philosopher politician like Jawaharlal Nehru. But Jinnah perhaps saw a little further, foretelling the dangers of a leader such as Indira Gandhi or the BJP governments of the 1990s. Military dictatorship, theocratic government or feudalist democracy were not his models; like Nehru, he aspired for a liberal constitutionalism respectful of India’s diversity. It is this model that continues to hold the best prospects for peace and prosperity on the Indian subcontinent.

Simon Kovar is a Contributing Editor of The Liberal.


Filed under Pakistan

80 responses to “The Tragedy of Jinnah

  1. Chris Hayes

    So the core message is that end results don’t match peoples intentions? Maybe jinnah was somewhat simplistic in his European profiling of Indians (as everyone was back then), looking at the rather flimsy religious constructs rather than the combination of ethnicity, culture and belief that forms peoples identity.
    Of course its easy now to compare the various parts of the subcontinent and say they would have been better off united, but the various situations they find themselves in aren’t a consequence of their geography (ok, Bangladesh would still be dissappearing into the sea but thats a problem for the future) but rather their interplay. Pakistan no doubt would have been a lot better off if it hadn’t decided to confront a far more powerful nieghbour. India better off if it had ignored Pakistan and instead had a go at poverty reduction.
    Indeed in some regards the world is lucky India isn’t China – China after all has a stated ambition to rule everything that was ever once a part of China. If India had expressed the same imagine the problems today.
    The greatest irony is though that today if the subcontinent had remained united the muslim minority would be well on the way to being the largest religious group in India. Oh the benifit of hindsight.

  2. yasserlatifhamdani

    “looking at the rather flimsy religious constructs rather than the combination of ethnicity, culture and belief that forms peoples identity.”

    On the contrary it was Mountbatten who did this when he didn’t grasp Jinnah’s layered argument on why a Punjabi was a Punjabi or a Bengali was a Bengali before he was a Muslim and yet Muslims were a nation.

    “The greatest irony is though that today if the subcontinent had remained united the muslim minority would be well on the way to being the largest religious group in India.”

    I am afraid this is not true. 160 million (Pakistan) + 140 million (Bangladesh) + 144 million (India) = 444 million…. still less than half of the Hindu population.

    Besides the Pakistan Movement, it is now clear, did not envisage a complete severing of the kind partition brought.

  3. Chris Hayes

    On the contrary it was Mountbatten who did this when he didn’t grasp Jinnah’s layered argument on why a Punjabi was a Punjabi or a Bengali was a Bengali before he was a Muslim and yet Muslims were a nation.
    Well i stand corrected.

    As to population I had thought the population of Pakistan and Bangladesh a bit more and the Hindu population a bit less. Still I can see the logic of partition if you are a Hindu fanatic – Punjab and Bengal are two historically dominant states in India and would have been Muslim majority states.

  4. yasserlatifhamdani

    Now all you need to do is reverse engineer from here and you’ll have Ayesha Jalal’s view.

  5. stuka

    I guess I don’t understand the layered arguement either. If Muslims consitute a nation, then Islam is the primary identity, not Punjabi or Bengali.

  6. swapnavasavdutta

    Stuka, now that you make such a clear
    argument, why would have Punjabi
    and Bengali Hindus wanted to be part
    of a nation created for Muslims instead
    of a nation created for everybody?

  7. stuka

    “nor was he wrong in his critique of the dangers of an over-centralised state that carried colonial powers over into a post-colonial polity.

    Does the danger of an over-centralized state apply only to India? After all, Pakistan too became a centralized state from it’s conception.

    This movie Gandhi popularized a lot of misconceptions – one that said Jinnah alone stood for partition. It should be mentioned that Patel as well as a significant popular section of the Congress did prefer partition to the CMP. When Nehru went against CMP, he was carrying out the wishes of his political constituency. It is a different matter that both countries revised history to suit their respective national agendas. Pakistan’s dominant narrative is that “Hindus” (Congress) were against partition and they do not acknowledge Patel’s support for it. India whitewashes the factional support for Partition from within the Congress as well and “blames” only the Muslim League. Neither side acknowledges that partition was a result of the two sides not having a commonality of vision of the emerging state – therefore, a shared responsibility.

    Ultimately, partition was a given. The idea of a liberal democracy works only when it is predicated to one man, one vote and no communal identity is given sanctity. If that idea does not work, it is better to go for partition rather than a sanctioned political identity predicated on religion alone. At the end of the day, massacres aside, both India and Pakistan (and Bangladesh) are more cohesive states after partition, relative to what would have been under the CMP.

  8. stuka

    sdutta: As a Punjabi , I can speak for Punjab. People voted with their feet on both sides.

  9. These days it is becoming very fashionable to heap praise on Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani but shall we be doing it at the cost of facts.
    Being from the same city of Multan as Yusuf Raza Gillani and Javed Hashmi, I can tell you that the Prime Minister may be a good wheeling dealing politician and he may have served prison for his beliefs but he represents the same medieval thought of “Gaddi Nasheens” which is so prevalent all over Pakistan.
    Gillani’s own constituency is a mess and he gets elected on the base that he is a Syed (descendent of the Prophet (PBUH)) and a lot of people who are followers of his particular “Gaddi” live in his constituency. I can tell you that despite him becoming the member of the national assembly many times, the people in his constituency have never seen any development whatsoever. I am aware of the fact that members of the federal legislature are supposed to do law making and not take care of local infrastructure but one need to be blind to not raise this issue in the parliament or appropriate funds for the city’s development.
    The’ Gaddi Nasheens’, the ‘Makhdooms’ try to retain their power by marrying their offspring into families of similar credentials and Mr Gillani was no different when his son married the daughter of Pir Pagaro.
    Please do not lionise these people until they start working for the common man on the street. They write their books to absolve them of the wrongs they have committed in the past but they are not worth a single word of praise until people on the streets of Pakistan see the benefits of increase in GDP and other financial indices.
    To realise that common man is suffering, just come to the streets of Multan, and see for yourself. The irony is that Multan has given current Pakistan National Assembly a Prime Minister (Makhdoom Yusuf Raza Gillani), a foreign minister (Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi) and the leading light of Pakistan Muslim League (Makhdoom Javed Hashmi) and after all that ask the people of Multan if they have reaped any democracy dividend and answer will be resounding ‘No’. All these ‘Makhdooms’ have to become ‘Khadims’ to deserve any praise. These guys are the past, they should be discussed as people whose practices should be held as a guide ‘what not to do’ after getting into power.
    We must work towards helping people understand who really is worth voting for, who has never worked for a dictatorship (Gillani was a member of Mujlis-e-Shura) in General Zia’s government) and who will not bring their own offspring to rule us. We don’t need any further Billawal Zardaris, Hamza Shahbazs or Monis Ellahis and for that we have to tell people the truth and nothing but truth.

    By Sikander Hayat

  10. Dal Chawal

    Gillani was a member of majlis-e-Shura in Zia’s government oh eww

  11. Majumdar


    India better off if it had ignored Pakistan and instead had a go at poverty reduction.

    India’s failure to reduce poverty has nothing to do with Pakistan. It is a consequence of about half a century of bad economic policies of JLN and his daughter.

    If India had expressed the same imagine the problems today.

    Even if India sometime in future were to become an economic and miltary power as big as China, it is unlikely that India wud want to bring Pakistan and BD into the fold.


  12. yasserlatifhamdani


    The points you raised are essentially valid questions that need to be raised in order to dispel the myths surrounding partition. What I write below is academic only and has no bearing on the present. I think Pakistan has the potential to do well as it stands today … and so we have no regrets. That said… here is my response:

    On the issue of Muslim nation and Punjabi, Bengali etc… what Jinnah was probably saying (or what he over-stated as a lawyer i.e. “Punjabi was a Punjabi before a Muslim or a Hindu” and a “Bengali was a Bengali before a Muslim or a Hindu”) was that we exist not in one distinct sphere of identity, but rather have several identities … how and where these identities interact with the constitutional questions of a nation state is a separate issue. Implicit in Jinnah’s model was a latent Indian identity sitting atop the two fundamental tiers.

    This brings us to your point about unitary state. There were only marginal differences between the Congress and the Muslim League on the issue of center v. provinces. Hear me out. This is not the unitary state that the author above seems to be talking about. The difference between Congress and the League … Nehru and Jinnah … was not on how strong the federal center should be (the differences here were marginal) … but rather how many federal centers should there be.

    Now if you keep this in mind, let me try and put Jinnah’s thinking as I understand it:

    1. India was the common motherland of many groups -several overlapping ones- inter alia Hindus and Muslims … the two groups which had become more prominent due to i- British emphasis on these groups during the 19th century ii- the rise of Hindu bourgeoisie with active British patronage (the British used the religious question as a final nail in the coffin of the “Muslim” Mughal Empire) and the decline of Muslim nobility iii- Delayed Muslim response in form Sir Syed’s elitist Aligarh Muslim movement with British patronage iv. introduction of separate electorates at the insistence of educated Muslim Ashrafia (a move that Jinnah as a Congress had both denounced and denigrated in 1906).

    2. As an Indian Nationalist, Jinnah believed that Hindu-Muslim Unity was key to presenting a joint front against the British. This was the rationale behind the Lucknow Pact, and League’s overtures to the Congress in 1937…. it was here he realized that the biggest stumbling block in the way of League carrying all Muslims in its camp (which was the only camp other than Congress which stood for independence of India in 1937) were the Non-League provincial pro-British Muslim politicians … like Sikandar Hayat and AK Fazlul Haq and with whom League was working cross purposes… (League had – at Jinnah’s insistence- agreed to letting go of Muslim majorities in Punjab and Bengal in 1916 in return for more than proportional representation for them in Hindu Majority provinces and this had not gone well wit Punjabi and Bengali Muslims). Now Jinnah had to come up with a scheme which would meet both the concerns of these politicians at their provinces and give Jinnah and the League the all India mandate to carry Muslims into a second Pact modelled on Lucknow with the Congress.

    3. The silhouette that the League came up with became known as the Lahore Resolution… which was vague enough to meet the provincial autonomy impulse of the provincial Muslim politicians and yet give the League an umbrella cover to meet Congress at the center. More significantly the resolution envisaged two centers and had in the original draft a reference to a super-center where these two centers would send their delegates.

    4. So the Conglomerate League demand after 1940 was of two centers, two federations but one country. It was as one Leaguer put it not a scheme to create ulsters but rather two nations fused together in shared sovereignty over their homeland. More specifically it envisaged two states – one Muslim majority and one Hindu majority- in one country.

    The confusion that some of our friends create on chowk… like the much ado about about one-man one-vote (which is what League had resolved as early as 1936 and Pakistan adopted from the get go) … or the so called “hostage theory” which exists in the over-active imagination of self styled nationalist ideologues in india… is just hogwash when one considers that almost everything was up for negotiation… which is clear from the CMP which did not give League even half of the things mentioned above but which the League was ready to accept. You said Nehru was merely obeying the wishes of his electorate is not historically true. What Nehru was denying was the League’s mandate which elections had given it.

    That said… yes partition was an option that the British gave the Congress Party… and Nehru chose it, instead of working with another representative Indian party. What is upsetting is that while Congress and Nehru not only chose but insisted on a partition of provinces, they don’t own up to the consequences, blaming instead Jinnah and the League for asking for Pakistan… which in any event was not the same as partition of 1947.

  13. Majumdar

    Yasser mian,

    Had the CMP been accepted, India would have had one of the most bizarre political structures in the history of mankind.


  14. yasserlatifhamdani

    Looks like Sadna Didi has gotten you…

    Canada defines itself as bi-national state. The model emerging out of India would have been a perfect confederation.

    Had CMP been accepted by Nehru- the resulting India would be constitutional beacon …towards a more integrated world…

    You might argue it still is… but not really.

    But anyway we are happy and so are you so let’s just accept this as an academic debate and leave it at that.

  15. Majumdar

    Yasser mian,

    Had CMP been accepted by Nehru- the resulting India would be constitutional beacon …

    More likely it would have been another Lebanon with the social and economic indices of Burkina Faso.

    You might argue it still is… but not really.

    I have never considered India a beacon for anything.

    The comparison with Canada is ridiculous. Canadians are civilised people.


  16. yasserlatifhamdani

    Well that is certainly one view.

  17. stuka


    Thanks for a nuanced reply. The problem as I see it is this:

    1 am educated, I have two master’s degress. Yet, I had to read through your post twice, and some sections three times, to get a sense of what you are saying. This is not because you are communicating badly; it is because you are making a very nuanced, layered arguement. Now, you tell me, is such an arguement scalable in the form of broad based political acceptability?

    Regardless of your views on Gandhi the individual, you will concede that by the end of 1947, Gandhi was considered a Muslim stooge by the Hindu right and by the refugees streaming across from Pakistan. I am talking about perception and not reality. The perception of Gandhi being a Muslim stooge led to his killing.

    Now, we are talking hypotheticals – but I believe that even if Nehru had conceded to CMP, he too would have been considered a sell out out and would have lost his political primacy to Patel and other more right of center congressies.

    Essentially, there is law and there is politics. The former is rarified and stands for sanctity, the latter is shifty, open to manipulation and dependent only on perception. Jinnah made a legal and constitutional case for Pakistan, but ultimately he succeeded because the masses of Muslims in the majority districs supported him. The legal arguement had political muscle behind it. Flip side, the politics of the other side matters as well. The result therefore was essentially a fair one in the broader sense.


    “You might argue it still is… but not really.

    I have never considered India a beacon for anything.

    The comparison with Canada is ridiculous. Canadians are civilised people.”

    I have to agree with Majumdar. The civilized people of India are a small elite ensconced in their bungalows drinking tea in fine china. Most of us are one generation removed from being semi-urban, superstitious and prone to lawlessness.

  18. stuka

    ” we exist not in one distinct sphere of identity, but rather have several identities … ”

    Agreed, but we have one primary identity. Let’s speak of post partition so one can be truly neutral. The rump reast Punjab went through multiple linguistic agitations with Sikhs holding on to a Punjabi first indentity whereas Hindus taking the mantle of Hindi over Punjabi. Thus, the primary identity of even Indian Punjabis is now religion (Hindu, Sikh) rather than ethnicity (Jatt, Khatri) or language.

  19. stuka

    “You said Nehru was merely obeying the wishes of his electorate is not historically true. What Nehru was denying was the League’s mandate which elections had given it. ”

    Yasser Pai, you have to recognize that the mandate of the Congress and ML was at cross purposes. By accepting one, the other was to be denied. Let’s put the blame on the voters along with the leaders.

  20. Gorki

    I too read your writeup very carefully and like Stuka, I had to re read it several times; it is rich in texture and substance. I approach it with utmost respect not the least because this is the exact same argument made to me by a very close friend, who I respect very much but I still find it hard to grasp completely.
    Thus I ask the following question more to try to understand my friend’s argument rather than to undermine yours:
    Accepting India of ML’s vision, how would life be different for say a Punjabi Sikh in the federation if he was a part of India vs. Pakistan;
    How would a Hindu in Pakistan live a different life than that of a Hindu in India; and a Muslim? Personally I feel that if both components of the federation believed in a secular vision, then how would if be any different one side versus the other? (Quebec and the rest of Canada is the closest model that comes to my mind but it is a very different model and I can not conceptualize it in an Indian context)

  21. yasserlatifhamdani


    That is the point. I don’t think there would have been any major difference… The issue was not of aspiration but of sharing sovereignty.
    Quebec is precisely the model…and I think it was only a few years ago that Steven Harper accepted the Canadian Two Nation Theory as a principle of the state.

  22. bonobashi


    The more I read you on this subject, the easier it becomes, but even now, I must admit that the subtleties need careful navigation, and it is only too easy to over-simplify, and make a complete hash of the matter. Actually, asking you questions or offering alternative views for consideration on a blog-site is self-defeating, because it really deserves a full seminar, and you really need room to expand these arguments (I am aware that you are tracking Ayesha Jalal in some key aspects, but am not knowledgeable to the extent that I can figure out what is hers and what is yours).

    Having laid down escape routes with great care, I must share with you my feeling that this is really a question that can never be resolved. It calls for an understanding of the inner workings of the minds of very complex individuals, Jinnah, Nehru, Gandhi and Patel, to name just the top four that force themselves onto one’s consciousness; it calls for a sympathetic but clinical explanation of the motivations of two separate electorates, and their interpretation by two separate political organisations with their own internal dynamics influencing the analysis and interpretation acts; it calls also for retaining at all times the perspective of the times, and an awareness that the British had effectively thrown in the towel and wanted nothing so much as to return home, come what may in their former Empire. There is also the temptation and the genuine opportunity, mingled into one seductive package, of writing history-by-hindsight, interpreting what could have been, should have been, would have been, by looking at what happened subsequently. Unfortunately, however tempting it is to interpret Bangladesh in the light of the Lahore Resolution, as I think you have done in one of these posts, I am sure that your scholarly side will oppose your polemic side and reiterate the complex interplay between East and West Pakistan in those years between 47 and 71 (actually this should include a longer span, from 11 to 71, for a proper perspective on the Eastern side). I don’t think that Indian views had much to do with this interplay (I am referring to the Bangladesh sub-plot), except to be used as a convenient whipping boy by both sides against the other.

    In short, I think we can slice, dice and analyse the facts as available till kingdom come; we can speculate about individual motives till the day of judgement that the religious are so fond of; but we can’t really do much about reality, the reality being that three sovereign nations exist today, and why they could or should have come about it is no longer relevant.

    Please don’t misunderstand my argument; I am not decrying the scholarly value of the deconstruction of those decisions. This has thrown invaluable light on the internal dynamics of the states concerned, and further research and analysis, especially based on further discovery of facts from documents hitherto unexamined, will undoubtedly bring more into play. But my core misgiving is that this may be misused by opportunists of all kinds to build myths and quasi-historical systems which are only going to hold us back. I can trust, for instance, you with the facts and their interpretation, and of course the great one herself, as well as, for instance, other very subtle analysts who have been writing on this, but it is difficult to trust all your compatriots; needless to add, I would be equally sceptical about our own Indian bunch of myth-makers. Except for a small handful of academically rigorous and scientifically inclined (in the sense of social sciences, I hasten to add) scholars, this is dangerous stuff, especially in today’s explosive atmosphere.

    Am I suggesting a suppression of this research? Far from it. The truth must be known; once it is known, it must be published abroad; and it will inevitably, with a sidestep or two, make us free. It is just that I need to point out, in case it has not become abundantly clear to you already, that you (and your senior and junior colleagues) have a responsibility to stay involved and committed to the analysis and interpretation that you have initiated, and to ensure that it does not go into the wrong hands.

    These are my arguments against excessive political science being built around the events that overtook our nations. Yes, it has revealed that nationality is not a simple matter; yes, it has revealed that dealing with this multi-faceted concept is not easy for politicians, especially those without a sense of history, or those who are in a hurry to acquire and exercise power; yes, it has revealed that the roles of villain and hero that each nation held up may have been roles with shades of grey rather than the black-and-white that our respective national myths made them out to be. But there is little that we can, or should do beyond that. If we take your arguments to their logical conclusions, we will have to spend the next three to four centuries coping with the consequences; the reason is obvious to you, and I am sure that you have already grasped the matter much earlier and are entirely aware of what I am referring to.

    Perhaps the tragedy of Jinnah should remain merely that, the tragedy of Jinnah. His personal role was so wretchedly misunderstood, his motives were so mischievously distorted, his character was subjected to so much assassination, his personal life was so burdened by the world that he had shouldered of his own volition that it is hard not to see him as a Promethean hero, distinct from equally great personalities on the other side of the border that they both unwillingly created because so alone, so bereft of critical friends and allies and loyal foes alike. The great book on this great man is still to be written; I hope it will be soon.

  23. yasserlatifhamdani

    Well we are on the same page. The reality is what it is… and the “what ifs” are at best academic questions… and trajectories of what a,b,c wanted doesn’t change the present reality… now what we have to do is to move forward from here. Since all nation states and other entities are products of history, they should be taken as such.

    My interest is mostly academic… but part of it has to do with explaining why Pakistan- my country- shouldn’t be wedded to any particular ideological utopia/dystopia that a particular section wants to make of it based on the fallacy that “Pakistan should be sharia based because it was created in the name of Islam”… Pakistan in its present form was – like any other country, creation or creature in the world- an accidental product of history and/or conflict… and atleast wasn’t imagined as the theocratic state that it has been on the brink of for the last many decades. This is all that I am concerned about.

    I liked Prometheus analogy… Jinnah is a fascinating figure in our combined history… one who proved himself to be a crowd puller even as late as 2005 in India… I await that definitive book as much as you do.

  24. bonobashi


    Your reply disappointed me. I had rather hoped to get a hint that you had such a book in mind. Is that impossible?

    What is fascinating about Jinnah is his unalloyed loyalty to the ‘rule of law’. As you will appreciate, more than others, this is a uniquely European concept, at least in contemporary times, excluding any consideration of what is covered by the term ‘dharma’, which governs the gods themselves. Not adhering to this concept is what seems to me to blight most of public affairs in South Asia. With two exceptions, Jinnah’s life was devoted to the upholding of the rule of law.

    As I look at the situation in India, where any sect or tribe, the Gujjars most recently, could set fire to the whole country because they wanted what they wanted and would not stay to reason, I believe that this is the vital element missing. I believe that Jinnah as an Indian leader would have taken us much further much faster than we have progressed. And who is to say that Nehru and Patel alike would not have grown in stature in combat with a Titan? Taken together (and that does not imply acting together), I believe that such a leadership would not have been found in any country with perhaps the exception of Communist China. Given the possibilities of democracy, I believe that this leadership would have exceeded any other in grasp and scope.

    But as you said, ‘trajectories of what a, b and c wanted doesn’t change the present reality.’

  25. yasserlatifhamdani


    That requires a lot of discipline. I don’t think I am upto it.

    Very interesting the way you put it. All these great what ifs…I think in terms of leadership, US was very lucky …it had giants and titans as founding fathers … The fundamental contradictions and conflicts between Jefferson and Hamilton, Jefferson and Adams..and a score of second tier leadership were much greater than the gulf that divided Jinnah and Nehru/Patel..and others. And the Indian leaders Jinnah, Nehru etc were in no way lesser men than any of those founders.

    There was one fundamental difference ofcourse…there everyone was from the same religious tradition and often religious…here they were from different religious traditions and largely irreligious or non-orthodox in their observance.

  26. Chris Hayes

    I think you should review some of the US founding fathers views on religion. Most either despised it or saw it as the refuge of the weak minded. They very much wanted it kept out of government.

  27. yasserlatifhamdani

    Well that is true of Jefferson partly and even he wrote that book on Jesus as a perfect man…but John Adams was a devout Christian…a real puritan.

    Ofcourse all of these gentlemen were the products of the age of reason and therefore favored a separation of Church and State.

  28. stuka

    ” I believe that Jinnah as an Indian leader would have taken us much further much faster than we have progressed. ”

    This is something I had mentioned a few years back. I think Jinnah, without the baggage of leading ML, is actually closer to the aspiration of the Hindu middle class than he is to the Pakitani middle class. Ironically, Gandhi with his faith in religion in politics, is closer to the Nawai Waqt reading Pakistani middle class 🙂

  29. Gorki

    YLH, Bonobashi, Chris, Stuka; Fascinating exchange.

    Sixty odd years is too early to judge our founding fathers; a couple of hundred years from now, our people will certainly judge them differently. Also certainly the verdict of history will also depend on what kind of states emerge in those intervening years. While the absolute truth will matter to a historian, (I take it, Bonobashi, YLH etc.) in a purist completely objective sort of a way, to us lesser intellects it matters more at to how the lay people see them.
    The generation of these freedom fighters was populated by men so tall that we who follow them still can see their shadows. I am not a man of letters; my background being in sciences yet I still choke up with emotions whenever I read the timeless speeches delivered by Mr. Jinnah and by Mr. Nehru respectively on the eve of our independence from Britain. Here, in their own words, is a blueprint of what they hoped their countries would look like, in the days to come.
    People like Jinnah gave the nation a new start; what happens to that nation or nations (including India) is now the responsibility of our generation. The least we can do is to pass it of to the next one, in the shape we received them in. The mess we find in our two countries today and the confusion of our people makes today me afraid that we may fail in our duty.
    Jinnah and Gandhi; (and to a lesser extent, Nehru) are now icons of their respective nations and as icons, and are routinely hijacked by the lesser politicians of today, in order to justify their own selfish goals and actions.
    It is for this reason I find it important that at the bare minimum, the original positions of these great men and the vision of the nation that they hope to create should be articulated to our peoples.
    The absolute, nuanced positions can wait for the judgment time; (YLH and Bonobashi’s point noted) what can not wait is the distillation of their hoped for vision for each nation, which should be actively highlighted and then set in stone; so to speak.
    It is for this reason, I call upon people like YLH and Bonobashi to find the time to write the biographies or at least propagate the visions of these great men; not so much as historians but as transmitters of a national ideal which sometimes seems at a risk of being forgotten.
    YLH is right that such a work needs discipline yet so does fighting for freedom from a racist foreign rule and so does nation building. We were preceded by a generation of freedom fighters; they expected of us to be a generation of nation builders.

  30. Majumdar


    Your are right. I really regret that MAJ (pbuh) was not born in a Gujarati Hindoo bania household and MKG in a Muslim household.


  31. bonobashi


    This is quite a paradigm breaking flight of fancy. It has its charm and its interest as a destroyer of stereotyping.

    Fortunately, it is a flight of fancy. I say fortunately because the task of reconstructing a complete new world of fantasy around these fundamental changes is not the work of an historian. Nor the work of poor, humble blog-respondents – like me.

    BTW, isn’t the formula pbuh being misused here?

  32. bonobashi


    On the other hand, this quaint conceit could serve as the crystal around which a very interesting alternative time-line work of science fantasy can be built!!

    Apologies to PTH for the double-posting.

  33. Shahzad

    Great article and good arguments folks. Being a Canadian just wanted to address some of the similarities that were drawn between Quebec and it’s status in Canada versus our own Two Nation Theory.

    Canada’s current constitution is derived from the Constitution Act of 1982 which consists of the Canada Act 1982. The latter was passed by the British Parliament ceding all legislative and constitutional authority over Canada and was signed by the Queen in the same year as the ceremonial head of state. Prior to 1982, Canada’s constitution was based on the Constitution Act of 1867 which is also known as the British North America Act.

    I have dug up and presented this information as it’s important to note that none of these official documents mention Quebec as a separate nation. In fact they are wholly British in origin, and based on Common Law. Also, Quebec does not have any significant special rights compared to any of the other provinces.

    What Harper did a few years ago was in response to local politics. The Quebec separatist party The Bloc Quebecois at that time was presenting a motion in the federal parliament which pushed for recognition of Quebec as a separate nation. Harper countered with his motion stating that the Quebecois are indeed a separate nation with their own culture, language etc BUT within Canada. The latter passed, however it should be pointed out that it does not carry any legal weight, namely, it does not confer ANY rights to Quebec.

    Our own Two Nation Theory, however, as supported by Jinnah was to have specific Muslim rights enshrined in the constitution of united India. This obviously did not happen leading to partition.

  34. yasserlatifhamdani


    I am afraid that is not true…the constitutional solution that Jinnah asked for did not ask for a documented recognition of the two nation theory.

    What he wanted was reconstitution of federal centers to create Muslim majorities without naming them as such.
    The Quebec example is therefore quite accurate.

    How much Quebec’s leaders managed in getting the leaders of Canada to agree is then a separate issue.

  35. Shahzad


    I am not a constitutional lawyer, so wouldn’t wana get into an an argument with you on the specifics 🙂

    Generally though Jinnah did want some specific guarantees for Muslims, they could have been addressed within a written document like the constitution or a reconstitution of federal centers like you mention.

    Quebec, on the other hand does NOT have any constitutional rights above that of any other province, that are written down, nor does it have any explicit guarantees that are unwritten which allow it any sovereignty of any kind. There are no multiple federal centers in Canada. The country is a federation with all provinces having equal rights.

    I am afraid the Quebec analogy is not what Jinnah envisioned for Indian Muslims. If we were to continue with your argument then Muslim majority areas in united India would obviously have had the same status as Quebec does within Canada and therefore Partition would not have been necessary. What was it that Jinnah was fighting for and could not get which resulted in him pushing for a separate country ?

  36. Shahzad

    Furthermore, what Jinnah advocated for and accepted initially under the Cabinet Mission plan was a Confederation of Indian provinces with the Center being responsible for primarily defense and foreign affairs.

    Canada, on the other hand has always been and continues to exist as a Federation.

  37. bonobashi


    “I am not a constitutional lawyer, so wouldn’t wana get into an an argument with you on the specifics…”

    You just did!

    This is a very tricky area, and you’ve very subtly misunderstood the situation then, and the intentions in question. But let me not stand in the way; let the experts handle it.

    BTW, this has been the graveyard of better scholars than you or I, if it’s any consolation ;-)>


  38. Shahzad


    My intent with the statement that you quoted was to show that I am not a legal expert. Lawyers on the other hand have the unique capabilities of working away at an argument like peeling an onion to show there’s an orange inside. I unfortunately don’t 🙂

    All kidding aside, mine was a genuine attempt to show how truly Quebec’s case is so different then ours.

  39. yasserlatifhamdani

    Dear Shahzad,

    All I am saying is that he recognition of Quebecois as a separate nation within Canada shows that two nations can live in a single state. How they negotiate their sovereignty is another matter…that Quebec hasn’t gotten greater autonomy or recognition than what it has right now is not what I am concerned about. That answers your Cabinet Mission Plan confederation issue as well… While Jinnah had hinted on a confederation, what he accepted in the Cabinet Mission Plan was not a confederation but a federation- however watered down- because it did not give the Muslim majority areas parity with the Hindu Majority areas but retained the central legislature
    as is which gave league 79 seats to Congress 260 something. It was no doubt a loose federation but confederation it was not because a confederation would suggest either a parity at the center between representatives from the two federations or no legislature at all- both of which Jinnah had earlier asked for but did not press in the Cabinet Mission Plan. The point of departure between Congress and League was over the issue of provinces’ rights within groups ie Congress wanted provinces to be free to leave a group and join another…presumably to weaken the united voice that League wanted to speak with.

    That said- the only thing I can think of which could be considered a specific safeguard that Jinnah asked for would be a communal veto on matters pertaining to a communal issue. Essentially that would mean that for a law directly affecting a community would have to have the majority of that community’s elected representatives to pass. Beyond that I can’t think of any specific built in “muslim rights”. Perhaps you can guide me on this.

    On what Jinnah wanted we’ve had a discussion above. You may revisit my response to Stuka above.

    None of these arguments have to do with constitutional law …but simple facts of history.

    The issue at the end of the day is that obviously no two cases are exactly similar…you are pointing out some differences in form and to you they are insignificant. Yet another person might jump in to point out that Quebec’s case is not based on religious identity. Another one might point out the difference of geography or the fact that Quebec is just a single constituent unit. But these points have nothing to do with what I am trying to say: that nation and state are two different conceptions …and that Canada has managed to work out a constitutional compromise between Canadian Unity and its own Two Nation Theory…and a similar compromise was almost worked out by British Indians. If you concede that a French Canadian has a different conception of identity than a British Canadian and yet both have worked out a compromise, the analogy I have put up holds valid.

    So I am afraid the differences you point to are in form -not substance. You are mistaking the shadow for substance. There is no need to get insulting about peeling the onion and getting an orange for so far you haven’t shown it to be an onion.

  40. yasserlatifhamdani

    “Cross purposes”

    I wouldn’t define Congress and League mandates to be cross purposes as much as they were divergent.

    They would be cross purposes if they shared their respective electorates equally…. Partition of constituent units was not a mandate given to the Congress but Pakistan was League’s mandate.

  41. bonobashi


    So long as it comes across that I’m just pulling your leg and mean no harm.

    Now, two disclaimers before getting started: my history learning is forty years old, give or take a year, and I can’t keep up with you young lions. This interest in Jinnah and Pakistan came through the impassioned advocacy of a person that Gorki and I sometimes refer to, who has a firm grip and an instinctive sympathy for the problem and its enactors. I still haven’t caught up with recent research.

    Disc. 2: this is really YLH’s scene. I really feel under-equipped.

    Having said that:

    YLH thinks that the Canadian example is a good fit to the original plan that Jinnah had. He never insisted on explicating a defensive position for the minorities. He believed that the dynamics of the situation would itself sort this out, once his basic concept of three centres was accepted and implemented. Two out of these three were architected (sorry! awful word!!) to have Muslim majorities; one, the largest bloc, was a Hindu majority. If I got Dr. Jalal/YLH/the Jinnah revisionist school right, this in Jinnah’s view would have done the trick, and no special written mention, no special additional provision would have been necessary. The safeguards for the biggest of the minorities, the Muslims, would have been taken care of by two centres being Muslim majority, therefore ensuring that they never fell behind and never were backed into a corner. Artificial boundaries, rather like provincial boundaries in Canada, were created to ensure that the minorities thus became majorities in sections of the country.

    The Muslims in the third ‘centre’ would always have the option of voting with their feet. In a single nation, any feeling of deprivation could, in principle, be met by walking across to either of the two alternative ‘centres; let us say, from eastern UP, or Bihar, a disgruntled Mussalman would migrate to the ‘eastern’ centre, from Haryana, Rajasthan, MP, they would perhaps prefer the ‘north-western’ centre.

    The Hindus in the two Muslim-majority ‘centres’ would have exactly parallel rights and options.

    Other minorities would either have the delightful prospect of flitting from ‘centre’ to ‘centre’ depending on who offered the best facilities, prospects of jobs, law and order, education for their kids, preferably in parochial schools, the companionship of their own kind, freedom to worship, and so on, or the shared doleful fate of being equally miserable everywhere.

    In all this, there is no explicit tampering with the laws to give one community or another the advantage, irrespective of which ‘centre’ is involved. It would just be the case that in two centres, the Muslims would have the lead, in the third, they would be in the minority.

    If you take Canada, that is the exact same situation. So in Quebec, the Francophone is in the majority, but nothing is legislated to give them an upper hand, except that the language used in public life reflects this, all systems reflect this, and the way of life tacitly admits that this is the French state. Elsewhere, the Francophone is in a minority, and that is not the subject of any legislation either. If I have understood him correctly, this is what YLH is referring to as it being the same situation in Canada as it was envisaged in Jinnah’s India.

    The point about Confederation and Federation is not vital to the argument.

    The real kicker: what was it that Jinnah was fighting for and could not get which resulted in him pressing for a separate country?

    If I might enumerate:

    A protection of minorities which would be done at a very high level, by structuring regional boundaries, and would not damage the structure of the common law, nor vitiate the rule of law which he prized above all things; also, an avoidance of the Gandhian injection of religion into politics, which frankly he abhorred;

    A possibility of the Muslim genius and the Muslim ‘way of life’ being preserved without being constantly pressured by an imposing majority with neither understanding nor sympathy for Muslim ways; this too without fiddling with the law of the land;

    Unity of India, with preservation of the diversity at least at the religious level, which he equated with the cultural level, without damaging the basic fabric of nationhood.

    Now I shall hunt me a hole and stay in there until I am told that the real experts have given up looking for me. Farewell, cruel world.

  42. yasserlatifhamdani



  43. bonobashi


    Was it that bad?

  44. yasserlatifhamdani

    You are very lucid. What do you do for a living?

  45. Shahzad


    I have not stated that two nations can not be part of one state and that’s not what my argument is about. It is primarily about the differences between Quebec’s situation as compared to the Two Nation Theory and the latter’s affect on the subcontinent’s history.

    The Cabinet Mission plan as approved by the League and Jinnah was to have three distinct groupings of provinces namely today’s Pakistan, India and Bangladesh give or take some provinces. These groups were to have their own executive and legislative powers and the provinces were free to join or leave any of the groups at any time. The center was only responsible for defense, foreign affairs and communications and only had powers to raise funds for those three areas. The three individual areas were to meet at a later time to decide on the Union Constitution as a whole. With the center having powers only over areas mentioned above, direct representation would not not have adversely affected Muslims regardless of how many seats they had. This in my opinion is the protection that Jinnah was after when he agreed to the plan. Nehru, however offered the opinion that based on Congress’s majority in the Constituent Assembly this arrangement could just be legislated away. Gandhi also did not believe that Congress should not be able to have any Muslim members of the Interim govt that was being advocated. Those two stances primarily led to the failure of the plan.

    Groups of provinces with their own executive and legislative powers under an umbrella union constitute a Confederation in my opinion.

    Coming back to the original argument, I firmly hold that multiple nations can exist within one state. None of my arguments go to show that that is not a possibility.


    “and that Canada has managed to work out a constitutional compromise between Canadian Unity and its own Two Nation Theory…and a similar compromise was almost worked out by British Indians. If you concede that a French Canadian has a different conception of identity than a British Canadian and yet both have worked out a compromise.”

    May I state again that Canada’s constitution has not been changed at any point, therefore, there is no constitutional compromise in Canada over the status of Quebec. The motion passed by the Canadian parliament is essentially a statement which recognizes Quebec’s people as a Nation and the contributions they have made to Canada and it’s culture, history etc but does not give them any rights because of that. French and English Canadians do live with separate identities and have not managed to come to terms with that and there has been no compromise on that by either side. That is essentially what has led to the current impasse and Parliament passing a motion which is essentially vague. It has also resulted in at least two referendums in Quebec, the latest averting separation only by a few percentage points. The separatist issue currently is on the back burner for all Canadians, yet it lingers in the background and may result in separation at some point in the future.

    The differences,therefore, that I point out are not just in form but substance. Ultimately, this may be a debate over what exactly constitutes a federation compared to a confederation. In my humble opinion and without getting too legalistic, any grouping of territories which have their own legislative powers with the center being responsible for only foreign affairs, defense etc is a Confederation. We can call it a watered down federation but that would not do it justice.

    And regarding discovering oranges in onions, that was meant as a compliment 🙂

  46. yasserlatifhamdani

    Dear Shahzad,

    We are going in circles. Please read Bonobashi’s post above … I think it is as lucid as it gets.

    Also you are mixing up the facts. The issue of who would nominate Muslim ministers to the Cabinet was limited to the interim government which would be in place till the finalization of the constitution. League ultimately did come into the interim government with Congress nominating a Muslim of its own… to which League reacted by putting up a scheduled caste Hindu as its nominee.

    Both League and the Congress had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan … and the point of disagreement was ultimately on the issue of whether groupings would be compulsory or not.
    May I suggest you revisit the facts of what exactly formed part of the Cabinet Mission Plan.

  47. yasserlatifhamdani

    PS: Your opinion as to what constitutes a confederation is your opinion… however it is wrong.

    A confederation consists of two federation with equal representation in a joint government …. no matter how big or small either federation is.

    That was not the case in the Cabinet Mission Plan… though that was certainly what Lahore resolution had suggested.

    Also I don’t see what we are arguing about because you’ve already admitted the similarity that I was pointing to between Canadian TNT and the South Asian case.

    Either you are not reading what Bonobashi wrote or I wrote or you want to drive home a point about Canadian case which is irrelevant to the analogy I drew.

  48. Shahzad


    No need to hunt for a hole. I am not an expert by any means, just presenting an empirical argument.

    As for the Francophones, Canada officially recognizes both English and French as national languages. That has helped in keeping the federation together.

    The federation/confederation issue is important to the debate as Jinnah was after a confederation and Congress/Nehru/Gandhi were firm believers in a strong center/federation. That dichotomy ultimately led to Partition. Like I said earlier one may call the League’s views and those of Jinnah a watered down federation but that would not be true. Contrasting this with the Canadian situation, Quebec is subject to a strong federal presence like all other provinces and does not have any national parliament of it’s own. On the other end let’s take UK today which is a unitary state, essentially a confederation. Scotland, Wales, N Ireland all have their own national parliaments. The House of Commons is trending towards power devolution regarding issues which do not affect England, if ever so slowly. Perhaps, that is what Jinnah wished for as well.

  49. Shahzad


    Only the League truly accepted the CMP, Congress eventually rejected it when Nehru said the Constituent Assembly could change it at any time.

    You are certainly entitled to have your own opinion but I stand by my loose definition of a Confederation. They may exist in many forms and for you to say I am wrong based on your formula alone does not deny the essential argument.

    The differences that I have pointed out between Canada and the TNT of the League are valid. The only reason I went to great lengths in explaining those was to point out how they are different. By claiming that they are irrelevant to the analogy that you postulated, you are essentially responding to valid empirical facts by just dismissing them.

  50. yasserlatifhamdani

    No. The differences you’ve drawn are procedural differences between solutions presented in both cases and those too just barely.

    You’ve not presented any differences between the Canadian case and the TNT. Infact you’ve only reaffirmed the analogy that I presented…

    Had you applied your mind to what Bonobashi wrote you would not be wasting your time or mine…

  51. yasserlatifhamdani

    “Your formula alone”

    I can prove why my formula is the correct one …vis a vis a confederation but that would mean that this angle has any bearing on the discussion…which it does not.

  52. Shahzad

    Historical facts are not procedural differences unfortunately. Every time I have presented my argument you have rejected it by calling it procedural, irrelevant and just restated your position instead of truly taking it head on.

    You are essentially running away from defending your position when you say :

    “I can prove why my formula is the correct one …vis a vis a confederation but that would mean that this angle has any bearing on the discussion…which it does not.”

    You statement only goes to show that you have not understood my position at all, I was rather hoping for a solid defense on your part. May I suggest you review what a Confederation exactly means…….Anyone who’s ever taken Pol Science would also be able to clarify that for you.

  53. yasserlatifhamdani

    Look dude I don’t know why you are making an ego issue.
    The analogy that was drawn was of two nations claiming cultural differences and working out a constitutional compromise to co-exist in a constitutional framework.

    Now you’ve admitted that Quebec presents such a case and so did Muslims in South Asia…and you’ve also admitted that Cabinet Mission Plan was one such attempt as well. The issue of whether this constituted confederation or a federation is irrelevant because that was not the analogy I drew (that you’ve bungled up your facts about Jinnah and Nehru’s stance is quite another matter and you might want to read up on it).

    Historical or not, even if we accept your “differences” they still don’t negate the analogy which you’ve admitted above.

    My suggestion is that you take a deep breath, fetch yourself a glass of water and read Bonobashi’s post again to understand that it does not matter what the finl shape of the solution is but the substance of the TNT in both cases is the same.

    As for understanding your position- it is you who has failed to understand the stated position that you are trying to de-construct.

  54. Shahzad

    “The analogy that was drawn was of two nations claiming cultural differences and working out a constitutional compromise to co-exist in a constitutional framework.”

    That’s exactly what I was referring to, for the umpteeth time, there is no constitutional compromise for Quebec and thus no co-existence in a constitutional framework as Canada is a federation. There are no special rights for any population.

    My position on federations vs confederations is the core of my position which you fail to understand for some reason. You can not protect a minority’s right fully under the former thus leading to the predicament that Quebec finds itself in. Your understanding of the Quebec problem seems to show me that you think all is fine, when it is not. The Quebecois can not wait to get their independence, thus showing that they are not happy with their position under the Canadian federation. The CMP clearly outlined the rights of different groups to legislate while Quebec does not. Therefore, the South Asian plan was more closer to a federation as compared to Canada which exists as a Federation.

    No ego issues, just saying it as it is. Any professor of Canadian historian would tell you exactly that.

  55. Shahzad

    It’s not an ego issue Yasser.

    “The analogy that was drawn was of two nations claiming cultural differences and working out a constitutional compromise to co-exist in a constitutional framework.”

    That’s exactly what I have been trying to refute. There are no constitutional compromises between Quebec and the rest of Canada and thus no constitutional framework that has been agreed upon. Quebec like all other provinces is part of the Canadian Federation. This ties in to my argument of Jinnah’s vision for a Confederation where minority rights are better protected. The CMP indeed offered all the three groups to exercise their executive and legislative rights. This is in stark contrast to Quebec which does not have any such right and therefore the analogy is not valid.

  56. Ali

    Very well written…

  57. Gorki

    Very well written indeed and well debated.
    In this battle of the constitutional experts, I as novice will venture out of my hole with a little trepidation to make the following points:
    1. Reading Bonobashi’s and YLH’s stated positions regarding the league, it appears the ML had in mind something more like the United States; only three rather than the original 13. The US states were indeed a confederation, with equal rights regardless of size, personal legislatures and a right to cede. (In theory, since Mr. Lincoln failed to read this part 😉 four score and some years later).
    2. The US federal govt. only evolved into a strong center much later; during the war of independence the young nation was plagued with financial and material shortfall and it was the personality of Washington that kept it intact. (Even during the civil war, general Lee always refered only to Virginia as ‘my country’ as opposed to the Confedracy of the South.
    3. A cursory reading of Nehru’s history books, speeches gives an impression that while he understood that India was a product of many many layers of humanity; he liked to believe that India was not a mishmash of several individual component nations but already a homogenous finished product of that melting pot, with a new Indian which represented that composite identity. Jinnah on the other hand understood that our people were far more complex still. In other words Nehru fancifully felt the Indian of his day was already like an American of today; with an individual identity subordinated to a larger national identity while Jinnah knew that some day it would happen (independence day speech) he knew we were not there yet and wanted constitutional garantees for the minorites till then.

    So, who was right. Before I answer this notice that only patriots with the highest regard for their land and people would debate such questions. Ego played a very small role in this (unlike the bad rap given to them by the lazy\ignorant later day historians).
    It is immaterial to argue who was right or wrong. We are here and today; in the hands of a new generation. I hope India will someday emerge as a melting pot of a greater national identity that Nehru imagined and at a later day Pakistan and India can mature enough to form somekind of a lose federation that Jinnah had asked.

  58. Gorki

    Sorry for the typos. The word should be ‘loose’ in the second last line. Kindly overlook this and any other errors 😉

  59. Chris Hayes

    Just a small point
    The Quebecois can not wait to get their independence, thus showing that they are not happy with their position under the Canadian federation.
    A minority want independance. They’ve had ample chance and so far failed to mobilise the population for it.

    Otherwise interesting stuff, even if it is in the realm of what if.

  60. yasserlatifhamdani


    That is very well put…


    I think we are going in circles. Since my analogy had to do with the similarities in cultural nationalism, which you’ve not denied but have accepted, I don’t know why I am supposed to go in circles on this issue.

    However, you are mixing up a lot of things (and this unconnected to the analogy that I have drawn which you’ve already admitted whether you like it or not)…. but you are wrong when you say there is no constitutional arrangement :

    1. Quebec is not a signatory to the current constitutional scheme (Constitution Act of 1982) and that Quebec continues to have a unique status… Quebec can very easily secede from Canada in the event of a referendum victory. Meechlake Accord failed to get Quebec to agree …the fate of Charlottetown Accord was similar.

    2. Canada’s constitutional compromise can be witnessed in the special mandatory status French language and culture have in official Canadian literature.

    3. The proposed “Sovereignty Association with the Rest of Canada” is an idea that is a lot like Jinnah and the League’s idea of Pakistan within an Indian Union.

    4. The “NATIONAL ASSEMBLY” of Quebec (correct me if I am wrong, but other provinces have “legislative assemblies”) passed a resolution declaring Quebec a nation which was then accepted by Steven Harper and his party at the center i.e. House of Commons.

    5. The new Canadian Constitution ( Constitution Act of 1982) devolved powers to the provinces specifically to accomodate Quebec… Quebec alone exercises these powers…. a small example Quebec has its own Pension plan… where as all the provinces and territories follow the federal plan.

    6. Quebec maintains its own international ties … and is part of the French equivalent of the British Commonwealth….

    Your contention that unlike the CMP, Quebec doesn’t have the right to legislate and doesn’t have executive power is very strange and ironic…. maybe you should pick up a good book on Canadian constitution and give it a read. Quebec legislates – thanks to its “Statut particulier”- much more than any other province.

    Infact… from the looks of it…. Quebec – as things stand right now- has much more autonomy than a group would ostensibly have under the Cabinet Mission Plan.

  61. bonobashi


    I beg your pardon, but I am not a player; my role was only to try to understand and then, to strengthen my understanding, paraphrase the scholars. The job I took up was the journalist’s job.

    My absence for some hours was because I was getting treatment for minor bruising and shock. This was due to falling off my chair.

    Incidentally, for amateurs of the subject, the single most important paragraph in our communications on this thread is para 3 in YLH’s post of April 2, 2009, 6:22 am. This paragraph is key.

    For the comparison with the USA, we never studied that country’s constitution in college, so I obviously know little or nothing about the subject. Your account is fascinating; I have no opinion on it just as yet.

  62. Shahzad


    This is what you had written originally:

    “That is the point. I don’t think there would have been any major difference… The issue was not of aspiration but of sharing sovereignty.
    Quebec is precisely the model…and I think it was only a few years ago that Steven Harper accepted the Canadian Two Nation Theory as a principle of the state.”

    The motion passed by the Canadian parliament only recognizes the Quebecois as a separate nation. It does not involve sharing of sovereignty under any circumstances. The motion itself therefore being very vague has generally been panned by all sides as it does not address any of the underlying concerns. By now stating your original intent was to only show similarities in cultural nationalism is changing the debate all together.

    Coming to the arguments you have put forward:

    1- The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that provincial acceptance is not required to promulgate the 1982 constitution and therefore Quebec’s acceptance or lack thereof does not have any legal bearing whatsoever, the same as all other provinces. The Meechlake and Charlottetown accords failed due to two reasons. First they were pushing Canada towards a Confederation recognizing the right of individual provinces which the country was not ready for. Secondly, Quebec felt that their concerns were not being fully addressed leading them to withdraw their support. The failure of these two accords goes to show exactly what I have been alluding to, Canadians as a whole want their country to exist as a federation with no territories having rights above those of any other.

    2- Canada’s acceptance of two official languages is an effort to keep both French and English Canadians within the federation on equal footing. Both have equal rights across the country. There is no official mandate granting any special privileges to French culture and would be nearly impossible to do so anyhow, as all sides would never be able to agree to it’s precise content.

    3- The proposed sovereignty association of Canada is just that, a proposal. Canada as a whole and the Quebec nationalists in particular have never been able to agree as to how this arrangement would work or what it would look like. Your original assertion was that such an agreement on shared sovereignty already exists,(this is what your statement quoted above implies) which it clearly does not. Also by stating “The proposed “Sovereignty Association with the Rest of Canada” is an idea that is a lot like Jinnah and the League’s idea of Pakistan within an Indian Union.”, you are essentially accepting what I have been saying all along. Quebec may be fighting for a model that is similar to Jinnah’s but has yet to be attained. This negates your arguments in which you claim that Quebec/Canada already have such an agreement which they do not.

    4- The National Assembly of Quebec acts and has all the powers of any other legislative assembly, it is National in name only. As to why the French would choose to call it that, well they’re French. As is clear from your own argument Quebec’s passing of the resolution declaring themselves a nation is not binding in Canada. Even though the motion passed in Quebec it had to go through the Canadian Parliament for it to have official status, regardless of the fact that it confers no rights of any kind to the Quebec people.

    5- The 1982 Canadian constitution devolved powers to all provinces in a similar fashion. Canada’s constitution allows all provinces to have their own pension plans. All provinces save Quebec were fine with the federal govt administering their pensions. Quebec wanted to administer their own pensions and this is their right which is available to all other provinces as well. Furthermore, any monies that are paid out of the Quebec pension plan are subject to the same federal taxation as all other provinces.

    6- Your assertion that Quebec maintains it’s own international ties is simply not true. This would imply that Quebec is able to have it’s own foreign policy and embassies abroad which it does not. Quebec certainly has trade offices in other countries to promote international investment. All of Canada’s provinces are welcome to do that and some like Ontario also have their own representation abroad but these offices are strictly limited to promoting just investment opportunities back home.
    The French equivalent of the British Commonwealth in strict terms would be the French Community(now defunct) which was formed by De Gaulle as a heir to the French Union. These were primarily French colonies which eventually gained independence. Quebec was never a part of this organization. If you are referring to La Francophonie, this is an organization of French speaking peoples across the world and is not limited to former French colonies or possessions. Canada itself is a part of this organization being a French speaking country. The British Commonwealth on the other hand is comprised of countries which were at one point or the other parts of the British empire and Canada is a member nation.

    Quebec certainly does have it’s own legislative and executive powers which are the same as all other provinces. They may be asserted a little more forcefully in Quebec but that’s all. They are able to pass legislation in the same way that any province within a federation would be able to do so.

    Based on all the above, like I have been saying before, Jinnah’s acceptance of the CMP and it’s proposed character is what Quebec may be fighting for but does not exist today. Canada remains a federation as per all constitutional experts thus there is no sharing of any sovereignty. The Cabinet Mission Plan proposed a Confederation of groupings of provinces which Jinnah had accepted but was dismissed by Congress as they saw it as only delaying the inevitable, partition itself.

  63. Gorki

    You wrote:
    “My absence for some hours was because I was getting treatment for minor bruising and shock. This was due to falling off my chair”.
    Your flair for drama makes me laugh uncontrollably.
    For someone who loves to read historical dramas, you don’t know the delights that await you when you read US history. The forging of the American nation is one of the most fascinating stories in human history. The founding fathers, Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Mason, and of course Jefferson were the men who were equals of our own giants of the Independence generation, both in intellect and in foresight.
    The entire story is way too much to discuss here and awaits a good reading but consider the following:
    1. It was nine days after the declaration of independence in 1776 that the congress drew up the first ‘Articles of Confederation’. It was something like the charter of the UN, an agreement between equal states. Congress was to manage foreign affairs, war, debt etc. yet the right to raise taxes, participate in the congress etc. was left with the colonies (states).
    2. American colonies considered that they were independent states and went to war against Britain as such. (eg. Ethan Allen of Vermont wrote to the congress that his men were fighting alongside the congress only for the complete independence of Vermont; that he was unable to demand this at the end of the war was a little matter of a large unsettled debt, which required him to make a fast getaway).
    3. Following the end of the War, a continental congress met in 1787 to draw up a new agreement. It debated for weeks and could not agree. Several proposals were circulated in secret; once one such proposal left on the floor was read by Washington, who was so upset at this that no one would claim authorship of that particular piece.
    4. Finally the document that emerged (and is the basis of the US constitution) was the product of a certain Madison (who had said that ‘if men were virtuous as they all claimed, then there would be no need for governments).
    Madison armed with examples of confederacies, ancient and modern; claimed that you could never reconcile the individual sovereignty of the states with an aggregate sovereignty of the republic. His goal was to prevent any majority faction from becoming a tyrannous majority. (notice the position Jinnah would take two centuries later). The way he envisioned this was to leave many powers with the states and have a federal government representing interest of individuals.
    Thus the final document was a masterpiece of checks and balances.
    The individual US states were to have rights over taxes, education, banking, and even their own civil and criminal codes that vary from state to state. Federal government was to handle the issues of war, foreign policy postal service etc.
    5. The civil war was fought by many in the South, not to preserve slavery but for the ‘states rights.’ Fine lawyer that Mr. Lincoln was, he interpreted that the states’ rights to cede were subject to several other conditions which he argued, were not met. His position is difficult for me to discuss here in the short space but suffice to say that he saw his role as a civil war commander in chief, first and foremost as a constitutional one.
    6. I discuss this last issue here to make the point that laws a laws and only as good as men who will interpret them and follow them. Good men will be called upon to stand and defend them from time to time, even violently if neccesary. The American republic is still young at 232 years but appears rather healthy at the moment.
    Building nations and then watching over them is a very tedious jobs and republics can only last as long as they are peopled by ever vigilant citizen patriots. The Roman republic lasted 450 years and yet could not withstand the unbridled ambitions of a few devious men. Let that be the moral for our generation when we discuss the futures of our two nations.

  64. yasserlatifhamdani

    “Changing the debate altogether”

    On the other board you accused me of taking out “Islam holds faith between man and god” when I hadn’t. Isn’t it possible that you’ve misunderstood the debate ab initio. I was talking about Quebecois as a nation within a Canadian union… I don’t know what you got from it.

    1. The Supreme Court’s ruling notwithstanding (which merely said that provincial assent was not required to amend the British North America Act), Meechlake and Charlottetown Accords were attempted… Quebec is still bargaining its Cabinet Mission Plan. The model is valid.

    2. This is what Jinnah wanted… like I pointed out in the first post, there were no specific Muslim rights that were to be written into the constitution… infact Steven Harper’s recognition of the Canadian Two Nation Theory goes beyond what Jinnah asked for vis a vis Indian Two Nation Theory.

    3. Where are these assertions? I have already pointed out that you’ve failed to understand what I said and are now essentially arguing with yourself. My analogy was between Quebecois’ idea of nation and that of Jinnah’s two nation theory 1940…

    4. This point is neither here nor there. How does it prove your point I can only wonder.

    5. It would not be fair not to give all provinces this option… that is like saying that in the Cabinet Mission Plan should have had different rules for Muslim majority groups and different ones for India… which it did not. The fact is that the said devolution took place to allow Quebec to enjoy the powers it wanted… and of all the provinces, Quebec is the only one which has chosen to exercise this option… this is what is called constitutional compromise… your acceptance that this happened – devolution to provinces- essentially torpedos your earlier assertions. Infact the more I read up on this, the more I realize how much you are wrong even in your subsequent assertions.

    I think all the points I made and all the points you think I made stand proved by your own statements:

    A. That Quebecois see themselves as a nation (which you accept and so does the Canadian House of Commons). This is analogous with the Two Nation Theory and my only original assertion.

    B. That Quebecois seek either a special status (statut particulier) in form of “sovereignty association with rest of Canada” or “independence”. This is analogous to the Lahore Resolution and its various interpretations.

    C. That Quebec negotiated a devolution of legislative and executive powers through a constitution (that it did not sign interestingly). This is analagous to the Cabinet Mission Plan which did not give Muslims any rights by name but created a general three tiered federation with an all India center, sub-federations and provinces. It might also be mentioned the Cabinet Mission Plan did not go as far as to accept Jinnah’s and ML’s ideas of confederation …

    Add to this the “Urdu-Hindi jhagra” and compare it to “French-English dispute”…. I am surprised at just how precisely similar the Quebec case and that of Muslim India is.

  65. yasserlatifhamdani

    Gorki, Bonobashi, Shahzad… This has been a great discussion… I think a lot of people can benefit from this…

    Perhaps the time has come to write joint Indo-Pak history books ….

  66. Gorki


    Tell me about it.

    I believe the story of the hopes and visions of the generation that fought for our independence is the story of the greatest generation that lived in our ancient common South Asian homeland. Ever.

    It is high time indeed to write a joint history which is written by objective intellectuals (and not by little men whose judgment is clouded by emotional and prejudicial baggage.)

    People like you, Bonobashi and some others here at PTH and ATP have the intellect, the understanding and the command of language that if put to a good use has the capacity to not only churn out a great book or books, but who knows, may over time, even change the course of our history for the better.

  67. bonobashi

    Yes, no doubt about it, this has been very stimulating, very liberating almost. I can see the possibility of very good collaborative writing; for instance, a teaming up of YLH and say, Mukul Kesavan. The chemistry is good, the outlook is similar, knowledge levels match; what’s to dislike? But then it’s up to the principals.

  68. yasserlatifhamdani

    Bono, Gorki,

    Is either one of you Mukul Kesavan?

    I am not the right person for the job. As I admitted a while back, Gandhi the movie scarred me rather badly and I doubt that I can be objective…

    But I think Ayesha Jalal or Raza Rumi would have my vote on the Pakistani side.

  69. bonobashi


    It was completely unexpected to receive the kind of appreciation that you extended. The fact is, I read history 40 years ago at Presidency College in Calcutta. Subsequently – you asked me what I did for a living – I took an MBA from the IIM Calcutta and started working as an executive. The closest definition of my profile at present is an unemployed software and IT services CEO, who took a year off to sort out family problems, and who will have to look for a job once these problems are sorted out.

    I solemnly declare I am not Mukul Kesavan.

    I am not very sure, but I think Mukul Kesavan is the son of the famous scholar and librarian, Dr. Kesavan, former Librarian of the National Library, who was kinfolk to my wife’s people. That is, alas, the closest I can get to this very impressive scholar of your generation.

    It is better for Gorki to swear his own affidavit.

    I would willingly work in the background if any of you recognised scholars takes up a work of this sort. For me to take it up, given my profile, would be bathetic. I hope you have gained a sufficiently favourable impression of me not to think that a spelling mistake.

    It is true that trying to talk you into writing such a biography was unfair, but perhaps not on the grounds that you might have in mind. From the evidence available, a good biographer is a very specialised breed of author, and it is a lifetime vocation. Taking up biography as a way of academic or scholastic life requires sacrifices, not least of all the company of fellow scholars; a biographer is a solitary animal, rather exclusive and nocturnal in his habits, and not always a scintillating gem in company.

    It is not, in short, everybody’s cup of tea. Let us hope that the champion happens along sooner than later.

  70. yasserlatifhamdani

    While that collaboration might take some time to come, how about we reproduce the discussion here as a fresh dialogue on partition in form of an independent blogpost on PakTeaHouse… would that be acceptable to you, Gorki, Shahzad and Chris Hayes? Stuka is an old buddy and he would not dare object 🙂 So is Majumdar.

  71. Gorki

    I am not Mukul Kesevan either but having read him; I am flattered by the comparison. I know it is not deserved.

    I am a Punjabi physician in the US and have many South Asian friends and patients from both sides of the Radcliff line. I am alarmed at the way the situation is spinning out of control back home.

    Maybe more sane voices such as yourself will step into public service soon and help turn the tide before it is too late.

    I admire what you are doing and would like to extend my best wishes and any help in the future. Please let me know if you ever happen to visit California. You have an open invitiation to a friendly place.

    Feel free to contact me by email.


  72. yasserlatifhamdani

    🙂 I am actually going to be in California in the very near future.

  73. Shahzad

    It has indeed been a good discussion. The Quebec/CMP debate I believe would be hard to resolve, as all of us are coming at it with different viewpoints. In Urdu as they say ‘bal ke khal utar rehay hain’. The study of constitutions and their interpretation in fact are rarely agreed upon by all sides and this includes all constitutional experts. A prime example would be the US constitution which divides the US supreme court itself, the conservative/Republican members would like to stick to a literal interpretation, with the left more in favor of it being expanded so it’s relevant to modern times.

    Regardless, it’s been a stimulating debate and yes Yasser I would be open to the idea.

  74. Gorki

    In that case, consider youself officially invited for some Indian home cooked food.
    (I may be biased but I think my wife is one of the best cooks for Indian food that I know of ;-))

  75. bonobashi

    @YLH, Gorki

    Gentlemen, you are completely off-thread and off-topic! Besides, you are driving me crazy at the thought of the session that might ensue if you two do get together, perhaps with some like-minded people with an interest in the world of ideas, and the accompanying nectar and ambrosia that Mme. M is likely to dish out.

    Damn, damn and damn.

    If a meeting does ensue, why not tape it, Doc?

    On a different topic, YLH, Sumit Ganguly was in town, and visited us at home to get an insight from my father in the Naxal terror in Calcutta which the old man was up against during his career. Shamefully, I knew nothing about Dr. Ganguly, this was some months ago, when I had no idea about contemporary 20th century history and politics and the issues that you had immersed yourself in, and an opportunity was wasted. It was a great adda session, however!

  76. Majumdar


    A couple of points I would like to make and hopefully included in the dialogue.

    First, I think the comparison of CMPed India with Canada is misplaced. India would have been a three layered state- strong provinces, three groupings above them and a super-state on top. Canada to the best of my knowledge is a two-tiered state. The correct comparison would be Germany. Strong provinces many of them being historical powers in their right (Bavaria for eg), a FRG above it and a EU super state on top.

    Second, had CMP been accepted there would have been a minefield to cross in constitution formation. The INC would have insisted on strong centre and moderate powers to groupings and states while AIML would have insisted on the opposite. Besides, one thing worthy of consideration is that Pakistan, completely dominated by Muslims and AIML took more than 8 years to finalise a constt, you can only shudder to think that a state where such antagonistic forces- AIML/INC, Muslims/Hindoos sat down for constt forming, how much time they would have taken!!!


  77. Shahzad

    Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly in fact was horribly delayed in it’s formation and it’s results less then desirable.

    The late Khalid Hassan edited “Memories of Jinnah , reminiscences of K.H.Khurshid” in which Fatima Jinnah had a lot to say about the character of some of our other founding fathers. I hope to read it soon once I get a hold of it.

  78. Ganpat Ram

    Just a mild query:

    Would A Hindu political leader who stood for, in relation to his community, the same things Jinnah stood for in regard to the Muslims, be called a “secularist”?

    A Hindu leader who said Hindus were a nation, who called for a Hindu nation? Would he or she be a secularist?

    Just asking. Because it is very fashionable to call Jinnah, who said Muslims were a nation, who called for a Muslim nation – a secularist.

  79. Hayyer 48

    Ganpat Ram: You have to go into Jinnah’s background to know what he stood for. The period 1937-47 gives the wrong impression of Jinnah because he was negotiating from a position of weakness and used the weapon he did. The official Indian version is, to put it mildly, duplicitous.
    The question you raise can be answered only by imagining a Hindu leader, someone like Jinnah let us say, in a state where Hindus were a minority, having bashed his head for nearly forty years to promote a secular and constitutional discourse, finally settling for the hindmost, if that was the only thing available by the only tool available.
    We in India have bought the image of a secular Congress against a communal League, but there were a fair number of communalists within the Congress too. Imagine the difficulties Nehru had with Purshottam Das Tandon and Rajendra Prasad even after Patel had died.
    We also confuse the meaning of secular in the political context. Many Indians I know who consider themselves secular are observing Hindus; yet for them the only secular Muslim is one who does not practice his faith.
    Now a person can have deep religious belief and yet also believe equally strongly that faith should not intrude into matters of state. It does not follow that an atheist or non believer is by ipso-facto secular.
    Not much is said about Jinnah’s practice of Islam. By most accounts he was negligent in observance. But that did not make him secular. His secularism sprang entirely out of his firmly held belief that religion has no role in affairs of state and his consistent stand against the communal discourse for all except the last ten years of his life.
    By that standard Gandhi is not a secularist.He could not imagine politics without religion. One can easily imagine the destructive role he could have had on the making of India’s constitution by his insistence on inducting quirky religiosity into it. For example would a ban on cow-slaughter have become a fundamental right? Would singing Ramdhun compulsorily start the morning school day for Hindu children?
    I exaggerate of-course but it is to make a point.
    Jinnah’s apparent flirtation with communal sentiment must be seen from the perspective of the corner that Nehru and Gandhi drove him into rather than by itself. And as you probably know he reverted to a completely secular stance once Pakistan was formed.

  80. Tarun Dattani

    Wow!What a debate.I am truly impressed.Just a couple of points.The great tragedy is for the peoples of South Asia – in that our leaders could find no room to compromise.I have no doubt in my mind that Jinnah was at heart a secularist and would have been the best man to lead and mould India into a modern federal state.However this is all behind us.I shuddder to think what future holds for South Asians .The titans are gone and the dwarfs are in charge.