By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Muhammad Ali Talpur and Ishtiaq Ahmed, in their articles in Daily Times, have addressed the issue of identity and nationhood in their serial articles in recent weeks which require careful review. Addressing a very fundamental issue i.e. the interplay of identity with citizenship, regrettably both gentlemen have turned the facts on their head and equally unfortunate is their appeal to each other’s authority on the subject which is neither here nor there.
Therefore in this present series of articles, I will strive to achieve two objectives – first to dispel some of the obvious historical fallacies and myths repeated by both of the aforementioned gentlemen and second to outline how identity or in our case multiple identities interact with the state and how ultimately the idea of a modern citizen- fundamentally a creature of constitution and law- in a state ought to be unfettered by considerations of nationalism or identity, be it racial or religious or linguistic, as all of these are fundamentally the ideology of the other.
To start with I was struck with the irony of Mr. Talpur appealing to Nehru Report and Mr. Ahmed feigning rather a naive posture vis a vis the same document. Nehru Report was the first Indian response to the ill-advised Simon Commission. The overtly racist Simon Commission, which had been denounced by Jinnah as the “butchery of our souls”, had not included even a single Indian in the constitution committee. So then what was Jinnah’s position vis a vis the Nehru Report. It will come as a surprise to those schooled in Pakistan but Jinnah was widely hailed as pro-Nehru Report non-Congress leader. Many a newspaper in Britain characterized Jinnah as a staunchly pro-Nehru and pro-Congress politician and these can be verified from various primary sources, including the three volume Collected Works of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, compiled by S S Peerzada. Jinnah’s faction of the League was decidedly pro-Congress whereas Shafi faction was decidely pro-British. The Shafi faction wanted to cooperate with the British and wanted to retain separate electorates at all costs. Similarly other Muslim parties were closer to Shafi’s view than Jinnah’s.
Consequently Jinnah proposed four amendments to the Nehru Report in which he was ready to secure the Muslim acceptance of joint electorate provided there was a 33 percent reservation for Muslims and residuary powers would rest with the provinces. Summary rejection of these very reasonable amendments forced Jinnah to re-state Muslim conference’s demands in the form of the famous 14 points. The 14 points as such were a re-statement of federalist principle and significantly Jinnah left the door open for the eventual adoption of the joint electorate through the 5th point. On the Hindu side, there was a division between Nehrus and Hindu Mahasabhites. Nehrus, particularly the elder Nehru, wanted to come to an arrangement on the basis of Jinnah’s original four amendments. Mahasabha would have none of it. Nehru Report thus – despite its noble ideals- was formulated on the basis of a centralized form of government with residuary powers lying with the center, a rather unique concept for a federation. United States of America and Canada for example vest residuary powers with constituent units and not the center. More than anything else, the Nehru Report broke down on the issue of residuary powers because otherwise both Jinnah and Motilal Nehru were flexible on the issue of communal representation. Jinnah himself would have preferred the residuary powers to stay with the center but as the bridge-maker, the quintessential Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity, he pleaded with with his comrades in Congress, famously asking them if it was enough that Mr. Jinnah was in Congress’ pocket and whether it was not prudent to take all Muslims along?
Now herein lies the rub. Mr. Talpur speaks of the Nehru Report while also championing the cause of Balochistan’s provincial rights. The main opposition to Nehru report did not come from Jinnah and other Muslim Leaguers but from those Muslims of Muslim majority regions who wanted the center to keep out of their affairs. Jinnah and his faction of the League in turn had to support their demand to remain relevant. The main opposition to the Nehru Report was the Punjab premier – Sir Fazle Hussain – and from Sir Muhammad Shafi. Indeed these gentlemen emerged as the foremost opponents of Congress thesis as well as Jinnah. Jinnah on the other hand was scorned by Muslims as being too “pro-Congress” and by Congress as being too “pro-Muslim”.
All of this obviously becomes quite meaningless when one considers that sidelining Jinnah and ignoring Congress, the British bought the so called “Punjab thesis” and gave their communal award and subsequently the Government of India Act 1935, which was rejected by both the Congress and Jinnah’s Muslim League, but under which both parties contested the 1937 polls as allies. The League, which failed to do very well in Punjab and other Muslim majority areas, nevertheless emerged as the largest Muslim party in United Provinces with 29 seats. Congress did remarkably well in most of what is now India but failed to win Muslim seats, winning a solitary seat in UP and adding one more to the tally in the bye elections. It was – as several historians in India have noted- the about face by Congress and its refusal to form a coalition ministry in UP that forced the League to look for alternatives and indeed territory that was hitherto unexplored : Muslim majority areas.
The real issue was the inability of the Congress party to break through its 19th century nation-state mould and deal with the ground realities of India, foremost of which was that the people of India had always had multiple identities of caste, region, religion, sect and tribe. Jinnah as a young man too bought into the Congress thesis of one Indian nation. However when Jinnah famously told Mountbatten “A Punjabi is a Punjabi and a Bengali is a Bengali before he is a Hindu or a Muslim”, he betrayed an instinctive understanding of what Benedict Anderson famously referred to as “imagined identity” and what we subjectively call nation. Thus the famous 11 August speech was not only a call for separation of religion and state, which was indicative of Jinnah’s classical liberalism, but was also an attempt to draw a distinction between state and identity.
The issue is not of inclusive and exclusive nationalisms- that is just hogwash more suited to discussing European politics in the Bismarckian era- but the acceptance of the basic contract between state and citizen which ought to be based not on religious, national or any other parochial considerations but on the principle that any law abiding, tax paying citizen has vested in him or her certain inalienable rights of which equality before law and constitution is paramount. This is what Jinnah was about. This is the principle that his Pakistan needs to accept.
To be continued