Multiple Identities II

By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Part III of Ishtiaq Ahmed’s article, reproduced on PTH website, has considerably clarified his position on many issues. 
While he is on the money on the issue of exclusive nationalism,   especially when such an idea is adopted by a state to the disadvantage of those who are not from that group,  he fails to see that nationalism, inclusive or exclusive, is ultimately the ideology of the other.  For example the difference all but disappears between the inclusive and exclusive variety when both nationalisms try to over-ride diversity and differences.  
One may even consider each and every nationalism to be exclusive at one level and inclusive at some other level. 
 Consider:  The Congress believed that Indians were a nation to the exclusion of all others and that deep seated differences of religion, caste etc did not matter but most importantly and this needs to be underscored did not qualify for any special treatment or affirmative action.  Such inclusion is automatically designed to favor the cultural group was most predominant in such nationalist equation. The Indian National Congress’ tried – at all negotiations with the British- to present itself as the sole representative body of all Indians and pooh poohed the rest as being lackeys of the British.   Muslim League – learning from Congress- deployed the same strategy arguing that Muslims, whatever their theological, cultural and ideological divisions, were one nation and Muslim League was its sole representative.  There was thus just one Muslim nation and the distinction of Shia, Sunni, Ahmadi and others did not exist nor were these emphasized. When Jinnah on 11th August reverted to his old self and spoke of a new inclusive discourse for Pakistan, he spoke these words which have for some reason not found as much focus as other parts of his speech:
“We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this.”
How extraordinary!   After having pleaded that Muslims were a nation,  he was now arguing that Muslims were a community not a nation anymore divided into several other communities – both theologically and ethnically-  and India was “a nation of 400 million souls”.   This decisive un-making of the two nation theory by someone who allegedly was its biggest champion did not indicate a change of heart but rather a change  of circumstances.  
The truth is that what Jinnah had championed in India was a group nationalism of a minority, which was bargaining for a share of resources by asserting its nationhood and thereby making numbers irrelevant.  Religious, ethnic, racial, linguistic and even sexual minorities do this all the time.  One may consider the case of gay and lesbian groups in the United States of America.   They may not have called themselves a “nation” but overwhelmingly the demand is for recognition of one’s sexuality as intrinsic to one’s politics. 
In Muslim majority Pakistan,  Jinnah logically, as a liberal, saw majoritarian group nationalism as not just fascist but divisive, not just in terms of social justice for minorities -of whose fate Jinnah said Pakistan could not be unmindful having been created as the result a minority’s struggle-  but for the majority itself.   What Jinnah now asked – and he did not imagine it would happen over time but rather “in course of time” was to build a Pakistani identity which was inclusive and secular.  However a few months later though Jinnah himself was in East Pakistan emphasizing the Muslim bond to ride over the provincial differences. The former was his vision for the state he had founded, the latter was an ill-advised tactical blunder, which would cost Pakistan dearly in the long run.  The tactical blunder of emphasizing over-arching Muslim identity at the cost of Bengali identity to a people who had been at the vanguard of the Pakistan Movement mirrored the same blind Congress’ politics against which Jinnah and the Muslim League had rebelled in United India.  Atleast Jinnah should have known better. 
In the final analysis Congress and League both had it wrong. Their failure lay in being caught up in the 19th century and 19th century ideas of nation-state and nationalism.  South Asian polity required a different kind of imagining.  The people of South Asia lived in concentric circles and over-lapping sets and sub-sets of identity. There was no one Indian nation.  Instead there were multitudes of people(s) who defined themselves religiously and ethnically and linguistically.  Thus you had a Muslim Bengali and a Hindu Bengali who would come together as Bengalis, but could also come together with say their co-religionists from Punjab or NWFP as Muslims or Hindus. However a Bengali Hindu would have nothing in common with a Punjabi Muslim, except a common link in a Bengali Muslim.  Ultimately everyone was linked to each other without having an over-arching Indian identity.  Hindu-Muslim Unity was key to a united secular Indian state, not denial or neglect of Hindu and Muslim identities by one nationalism.  Indeed Pan-Indian Hindu and Muslim bonds – existing in relative tension and the “other” to each other – is what ultimately kept India one country instead of allowing it to disintegrate along ethnic lines ala Europe.  Not many Indians would accept it  but Hindu-Muslim antagonism is what keeps other more parochial and regional centrifugal forces in check even today. 
 The need in the pre-partition era was to find a durable compact between Hindu and Muslim identities to build a united Indian nation on it.   India’s leaders chose to emphasize a solitary Indian identity that alienated the Muslims and especially the Muslim bourgeoisie whose economic interests were directly threatened by the prospect of a Hindu-dominated Indian state.  By comparison Jinnah, despite his reputation of being an Englishman, was closer to the ground reality of South Asia than his former comrades in the Congress.  His famous 14 points contain an explicit recognition of this underlying current in Indian polity. Ironically Congress Party in post independence India all but adopted Jinnah’s thesis without giving him credit for it and began to champion Muslims and minorities. 
Pakistan’s creation as a separate and sovereign state from India ended the Hindu-Muslim conflict in the areas that formed Pakistan and especially West Pakistan, but it was replaced by ethnic and sectarian conflict instead. Bereft of Hindu-Muslim antagonism,  it was only natural that the ethnicity would become the central feature.   It is now that Pakistan must learn to appreciate its own cultural diversity and linkages.  Clearly the Muslim bond, without the “other”, is not enough to keep us together.  The more the lie that Pakistan was created as an Islamic utopia is hyped up, the more it will be shown up as a falsehood of immense proportions.  The reasons for the creation of Pakistan were economic and political, driven by the interests of the rising Muslim bourgeoisie.  To imagine another – perhaps nobler- purpose would be to shoot one’s self in the foot.
First and foremost, Pakistan should – like India- be a religiously neutral state.   The importance of a secular constitution has been discussed many times on this forum and many others.   The state should go a step further and explicitly recognize and celebrate its diversity, religious, sectarian and ethnic.  The politics of accomodation and multiple identities is already at work.  Erstwhile champions of independent Pakhtoonistan will never want to secede from Pakistan because today the Pushtun “nation” has a large presence in Karachi and Lahore.  In Karachi,  ANP plays an important role in the politics. Instead of imposing its idea of nationalism,   Pakistani state needs to recognize the various groups and make them stake holders in the economic prosperity of one Pakistani state.  
Pakistan must be ready to reinvent itself as a common homeland of many nations, ethnicities, faiths, sects and cultures which have come together as one state and one polity under common constitution for a common march towards progress. This it can do by making the idea of citizen and citizen’s rights paramount above all other ideas.  Only then will all aspirations find equal expression. 


Filed under Pakistan, Partition, secular Pakistan

15 responses to “Multiple Identities II

  1. libertarian

    Not many Indians would accept it but Hindu-Muslim antagonism is what keeps other more parochial and regional centrifugal forces in check even today.

    Disagree strongly. Independent India is increasingly showing it’s fault lines. They are overwhelmingly caste-based. Religious fault-lines do exist, but these are diluted to near irrelevance by caste, economic and linguistic divisions. The Indian Achilles Heel is squarely, caste.

    The reasons for the creation of Pakistan were economic and political, driven by the interests of the rising Muslim bourgeoisie.

    Yes. Agree completely.

    There was no one Indian nation. Instead there were multitudes of people(s) who defined themselves religiously and ethnically and linguistically.

    Yes, absolutely. Today, too, India has a yawning North-South divide at the least, and comprises many nations (by the UN definition). Nehru’s achievement was force-fitting (with no small help from Vallabh Patel) India into one political unit long enough for large numbers to see the benefits of a single unitary state, rather than a federal (secession-ridden) one. With 21st century communications, and a rapidly integrating economic state, the mai-baap unitary political state seems to build/coerce consensus much better than a chaotic federal state, as envisioned by Jinnah, may have.

    Instead of imposing its idea of nationalism, Pakistani state needs to recognize the various groups and make them stake holders in the economic prosperity of one Pakistani state.

    Disagree. The nationalism needs to be more inclusive, not abandoned. It’s unnecessary, and downright dangerous, to go down the federal path, especially with Balochistan, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Instead, basic land reform, vastly improved delivery of basic services and sharing of wealth, with (fairly representative) political power concentrated in Islamabad, might work much better at this stage.

  2. YLH

    I don’t think there was anything chaotic about putting residuary powers with the constituent units. USA is a federation with a similar arrangement.

  3. karun1

    Not many Indians would accept it but Hindu-Muslim antagonism is what keeps other more parochial and regional centrifugal forces in check even today.
    as of now at no place in India do i see Hindu-Muslim antagonism. If the thought gives you hope, relief and excuse so be it.

    India’s achilles heel is not even caste. It is economic.

    1) Naxalaism is purely economic (MNC’s pitted against Tribals)
    2) Telengana(vs andhra there is only economic divide)
    3) UP/Biharis In Mumbai and Delhi (Inflow is seen as loss of economic opportunity for locals)

  4. YLH

    You would need to have brain cells to understand what I am trying to say.

  5. karun1

    well dont try so hard!

  6. Tilsim

    Naom Chomski (Extract from The Iranian, June 14,2000)

    RJ: Don’t you think one of the ways to fight against this hypocrisy and injustice is to have a dialogue among the intellectuals of different countries and not just wait for our governments to establish the diplomatic bridge?

    NC: I agree, because I am personally involved in a constant dialogue with people all over the world who are opposed to their own governments and in fact we all work together. How do I keep up with the Middle East or South East Asia or other places like this? Well, the way it works is that there are people who are pretty much like me in other countries like Israel or Australia and so on. They have the same interests. We are all dissidents, meaning that we are cut out of the main stream. We don’t have resources, we have to work on our own and so forth. So we have to cooperate with one another. I mean if I want to find out what is going on in India or the Middle East, I have very smart people working for me. They are much smarter than the people working for the CIA. These are the dissidents in their own countries. And I do things for them and we interchange and are in a constant dialogue over issues which concern us. These are not only intellectuals. They could be doctors or workers. I learn more talking to them than to the intellectuals. In fact that is what Seattle is. Seattle is a meeting place of people from very diverse backgrounds. Students, steel workers, environmental activists and so on. That is a real dialogue. A dialogue does not have to be necessarily between governments. It is between people and the people who make constructive changes are mostly opposed to their own governments.

  7. YLH

    Poke …

    If you don’t have anything worthwhile to add or write, please don’t feel the need to post here.

  8. NSA

    It was clear from the 1940s onward that Pakistan if formed would consist of several provinces. How much of the “residuary powers to the provinces” was expressed in any constitutional plan for Pakistan? How did this idea fare post-Independence?

  9. YLH

    Residuary Powers lie with the provinces in the 1973 constitution as they did in GOIA 1935 and 1956 constitution.

    I am not sure what your point is.

  10. Hayyer

    “Not many Indians would accept it but Hindu-Muslim antagonism is what keeps other more parochial and regional centrifugal forces in check even today.”

    Not just Hindu Muslim antagonism. There is always an ‘other’ antagonism to keep us together behind some cause perceived as larger. In states where there are almost no Muslims such as Himachal and Indian Punjab, just for example, other antagonisms, regional or parochial are always at work.

    Here is a quote from Wikipedia-:

    “….. the concept of “self” as a separate, singular, and coherent entity is a fictional construct. Instead, an individual comprises tensions between conflicting knowledge claims (e.g. gender, race, class, profession, etc.). Therefore, to properly study identity ( I have inserted the term ‘identity’ in place of ‘a text’ that is in the article) a reader must understand how the work is related to his or her own personal concept of self. This self-perception plays a critical role in one’s interpretation of meaning. While different thinkers’ views on the self (or the subject) vary, it is often said to be constituted by discourse(s).”

    So there you have it. Identity is a discourse. But identity is ‘real’ nevertheless. ‘Real’ of-course is as defined below-:

    Again from wikipedia- ……(the) concept of the Real dates back to 1936, a term which was popular at the time, particularly with Émile Meyerson who referred to it as “an ontological absolute, a true being-in-itself”… the Real for Lacan is not synonymous with reality. Not only opposed to the Imaginary, the Real is also located outside the Symbolic. Unlike the latter which is constituted in terms of oppositions, i.e. presence/absence, “there is no absence in the Real.”………. Whereas the Symbolic opposition presence/absence implies the possibility that something may be missing from the Symbolic, “the Real is always in its place.”…. the Real in itself is undifferentiated, it bears no fissure. The Symbolic introduces “a cut in the real”, in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things – things originally confused in the “here and now” of the all in the process of coming into being.[27]

    Thus the Real is that which is outside language, resisting symbolization absolutely. Lacan defines the Real as “the impossible” because it is impossible to imagine and impossible to integrate into the Symbolic, being impossibly attainable. It is this resistance to symbolization that lends the Real its traumatic quality. In his Seminar “La relation d’objet”, Lacan reads Freud’s case on “Little Hans”. He distinguishes two real elements which intrude and disrupt the child’s imaginary pre-oedipical harmony: the real penis which is felt in infantile masturbation and the newly born sister.”

    Now if you will overlook the verbiage and the rest of the bs what we are being told by post structuralists is that even the Real is a construct, not real, but also not possibly described by symbols.

    We are trying to capture textually what is inchoate and incapable of reality but possibly Real.

  11. Girish

    “Not many Indians would accept it but Hindu-Muslim antagonism is what keeps other more parochial and regional centrifugal forces in check even today.”

    Not supported by any evidence whatsoever, other than for brief periods of time. This is what the BJP put its bets on when it moved away from the Vajpayee brand of politics from 1980-85 and embraced Advani’s idea of making the Ram Janmabhoomi / Babri Masjid issue its central issue. It gained some success, but what is not understood is that part of that was purely good timing. But they themselves discovered its limits.

    For the last decade and a half (and probably for the foreseeable future), it has been seen that politics of coalition and consensus obtains success. We have seen repeatedly that politics of creating and sustaining “antagonisms” of various kinds can have temporary success, but is not sustainable in the long run.

  12. Iqbal

    Karun, what about Hindi chauvinists forcing their language down the unwilling throats of the Southerners, especially Tamilians?

  13. YLH

    Had there been no Hindu-Muslim tension, the so called “17” breakaway movements would have much greater momentum. Kashmir, hostility with Pakistan and the general Hindu-Muslim dichotomy has masked everything.

    My point is that this could have been worked around without the trauma of partition had Congress and League been more accommodating.

  14. libertarian

    My point is that this could have been worked around without the trauma of partition had Congress and League been more accommodating.

    However we got here, in hindsight, India got a sweet deal. Pakistan’s land area was “moth-eaten and truncated”. Specifically, it did not include all of Punjab, Bengal (with crown-jewel Calcutta) and Kashmir. The trading class and bureaucracy essentially stayed in India or migrated to India in short order. Needless to say, in a zero-sum game, someone got a good deal and someone else got screwed.

  15. Girish


    To the contrary, there was significant net wealth transfer from India to Pakistan. In rural Punjab, of course, there was movement on both sides and loss of wealth and property on both sides, at comparable levels. In urban Punjab, on the other hand, there was a disproportionately higher loss by those who left Pakistan and came to India than vice versa. In Sindh, the same situation existed – much of the urban business class migrated to India, leaving their wealth and property behind, or selling them at fire sale prices when possible. Either incoming immigrants or existing residents benefited immensely from this. And in Bengal, much of the migration from East to West Bengal was of the landed elite and urban middle and upper classes, who again left behind their property in the East. This was at a smaller scale in East Pakistan than in West Pakistan at partition itself, but happened gradually over the next decade or so.

    There were some wealthy Muslims (particularly the landed elite) who migrated from India to Pakistan, from UP and other places. But in most such instances, the entire family did not migrate, leaving somebody behind to claim the property and manage it. Most such property left behind in these places stayed within the families and were not given to or occupied by incoming migrants.

    Add to that the fact that many of the migrants to Pakistan ended up getting new jobs and occupations which they would not have had as easily had they been in a competitive situation with other communities. It was not a comparable situation in the opposite direction.

    In sum, there was a net transfer of resources from India to Pakistan at the time of partition.