By Ayesha Siddiqa Dawn, 19 Feb, 2010
Some time ago, I had a chance to read veteran columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee’s article ‘Bring back Jinnah’s Pakistan’ in which he talked about the founding father’s liberal vision for the country.
Mr Cowasjee’s argument was that the state envisioned by Mohammad Ali Jinnah would have been governed by a different set of social norms than the one in place today.
I would like to inform the respectable writer that while he is searching for Jinnah’s Pakistan, we might be threatened with the eventuality of losing Pakistan’s Jinnah.
A journalist friend was recently presented with a historic photograph of the founding father in which he was holding his pups.
I am glad it was given to a friend rather than a foe because there is always the possibility these days that the person presenting the photograph would be accused of being a foreign agent for distributing such photographs of Jinnah.
We shouldn’t be surprised if in a few years’ time we come across a doctored photograph of the founding father in a turban and a beard to prove a certain point.
There are now devious elements who are tinkering with Jinnah — the person — and his narrative. We are being told that all those details which describe the Quaid-i-Azam as a man with western liberal habits are but a conspiracy and a figment of the imagination of enslaved minds.
We are being told that Jinnah never had a lifestyle that might not get the approval of the puritanical-religious crowd in the country. The purpose behind altering details of Jinnah’s personality is the first step towards changing the national narrative.
The next step will be to argue that Jinnah wanted a state where only a certain school of thought could live. Others would have the status of second-class citizens or be shunned, or put in jail for their alternative identity.
But why is a liberal Jinnah unpalatable to these people? Mohammad Ali Jinnah could have hidden his identity as a liberal as he concentrated on the legal case of getting a separate state for the Muslims of India.
He didn’t hide his reality or make an effort to adapt to what the majority of the people followed because in his mind the new state could allow for all creeds, castes and religions.
The Muslims of India had not struggled to move away from the dominance of one culture to the dominance of another. This would be a country where people of different religions could proudly become equal citizens.
In a speech in 1948, Jinnah had said: “We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.
We have many non-Muslims — Hindus, Christians and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”
Having access to modern forms of media, these characters seem to be assisted by ‘ghost warriors’ in creating a new national narrative formulated on the basis of a post-modernist agenda.
The country’s survival, hence, does not any longer depend on the struggle of its citizenry to make its political system work, but on establishing an imagined political system which these people guarantee their followers will rid the state of all its evils. Based on puritanical norms, the new political system, which they call the ideal khilafat, can do wonders.
These people are not the Taliban, nor are they even a single bunch of people. There are several layers operating at various levels and in different forms.
There are those that market the traditional religious identity and then there are others who appeal to the secular. Not to forget those who sell high doses of what they term ‘nationalism’ while pursuing a very western, liberal kind of lifestyle.
Very few people realise that the country’s national narrative is being strategically and cunningly reorganised and rewritten. The underlying norm of the new narrative is a puritanical version of religion and history.
In the process, the nation-state is being stretched and society adjusted to meet the challenges of the new version of nationalism.
What goes without saying is that there is probably very little space for those who do not conform to the description of an ‘ideal’ citizen. The description not only extends to those condemned as ‘enemies of the state’ but also others who cannot fall into the category of this description due to their peculiar caste, creed, faith, ethnicity, or other factors.
So, it is with a heavy heart that I would like to inform Mr Cowasjee that the new perimeters of citizenship define a citizen and give him/her rights on the basis of their putative relationship with religion as interpreted by a certain set of people.
This is no longer about a pluralistic state and a multi-polar polity. Therefore, the new narrative makes it imperative for this ‘gang’ of people to kidnap Pakistan’s Jinnah.
Can the honourable columnist and citizen do something about getting the founding father back? Surely, there will be those willing to fight for his recovery or even pay a ransom to do so.